A few years ago, I never dreamt that I’d be a mother. I have two older siblings, and neither ever had children of their own. When people asked me how I felt about having kids, my answer was, well, nothing. I felt indifferent. Maybe one day I’d have them, but it seemed like a million years away.
When I was a teenager, I knew that something was wrong with me. You couldn’t see it from the outside, but inside, I always felt like I was about to have a heart attack. One day, I started sweating, my heart started beating faster than I could keep up with, my eyes started hurting, my chest felt tight, and I couldn’t breathe. Finally, the sobs came out. I sobbed and I screamed into my pillow, not knowing that I was having my very first panic attack.
They came very randomly. One time, I was working at a pet store when I was twenty-one. I had a panic attack in the back where the fish tank system was run. My store manager was on the phone and the second manager found me rocking back and fourth behind the tanks and he tried to hand me the phone, but my hands didn’t work. I couldn’t grab the phone.
I was going crazy. Or I guess that’s what I thought.
A year or so later, I finally described to my siblings what was happening to me. My brother laughed. “Oh yea, those are panic attacks, I get them every once in a while.” I had no idea that what I was going through wasn’t so foreign after all. I did go to a therapist, and unfortunately, she was not able to help me in the way I needed at that time. Call it panic disorder, call it generalized anxiety disorder, call it crazy, but I dealt with it.
Now that I’m a mom, my problems aren’t the same problems I had when I first started having panic attacks. However, that brings me to the “A” word: Anxiety. It sits there and stares at me. All of the time. It doesn’t go away. I obsess. If I’m working and Wesley’s nanny doesn’t answer my text quickly enough, my mind goes to the deepest trenches of worry:
“Is he ok?” “What if he was eating and started choking?” “What if they were on their way to the park and got into an accident?” “What if what if what if…”
Now, I know that obsessing over irrational things isn’t healthy. But it wouldn’t be called a disorder if the thoughts were very orderly, now would it? Now that I’ve successfully given you the back story on why I’m so protective over my little bear and why he won’t be dating until he’s thirty (just kidding, kind of) I’m mostly here to tell you how I get through it.
Anxiety is a brat. But it’s not the end of the world if you can work to manage it. And guess what? Sometimes you cannot. Sometimes the panic or anxiety attack comes anyway and you’ve got to breathe like you just ran a marathon in a sweat suit. Another downside to my situation, is that Wesley’s dad knows very little about how to work with me to calm my anxiety. Fortunately for me, I’m super mom (definitely joking) but I do have little tricks to help me. (And yes, I know they’re different for everyone.)
- Writing. First and foremost, this is my only true talent. One day, my mom read a few of my poetry pieces and she told me that my mind “is too complicated for her” to wrap her head around. I don’t particularly see it that way, I just think that writing is a strength for me. It’s home. It helps me to untangle knots of thoughts and make them into art. Some people are really, really good at something, or they just love to do it. Maybe your “writing” is actually playing an instrument, or singing very loudly in the car. Heck, even if you aren’t good at it, do it anyway.
- Recognizing the thought as irrational. If you’re picturing walking on a nature trail with your little one and all the sudden a gator comes up and tries to eat you, you’re allowed to be freaked out. You’re also allowed to call yourself ridiculous and move on.
- Ask away, unapologetically. I had to upgrade the storage on my phone so that Wesley’s nanny can send me pictures endlessly while I’m at work. I ask her to update me about every hour. And she does! She sends me pictures of him in his walker and his jumper, video calls me after his naps, and even updates me after he’s eaten. I’m not going to lie, if she calls me after he’s been changed, I ask her if his poop looks normal. And you know what? I’m allowed to. I love him more than any other human being in the universe and I always will, and if it gives me peace of mind, so be it. The other plus side to the pictures and endless updates is this- it makes me feel like I’m there. I am no stranger to the hard fact that Wesley is growing up, and he’s growing up fast. He’s going to turn from a baby to a toddler, then to a little boy, then a teenager, then a young man, then a man. And I’m always going to be his mama. And I’m always, always, going to cherish the moments that I am able to spend with him, and those moments give me peace, they give me a sense of purpose, and they ease my mind.
- Don’t be afraid to take a break, and start something new. I don’t usually get breaks, and I don’t give myself breaks, either. Still, every once in a while, I need some quiet, some peace, and some clarity. Sometimes I find it nice to listen to music and cook dinner for the family, it’s not a chore for me, it’s actually enjoyable. Sometimes, I take a nice, long shower and I reflect on all of the ways I’m grateful and all of the good things that have happened and that I’m looking forward to. Sometimes, that involves me telling Wesley’s dad that it’s his turn. Honestly, they need some bonding time, too. As far as starting something new, take it slow if you need to. I have plans to start a garden in the backyard. This is helping me to focus on the excitement of starting something up that will help our family and also teach Wesley a lot of important scientific lessons!
- Reflect, Meditate, Pray.Some of you may not be spiritual, so simple reflection may help. Still, people like me, who rely on something bigger than myself, may need a little (or a lot) of guidance to be able to find peace and calm the anxiety of every day. Prayer, for me, helps me with faith, and it helps me to keep a hope for the future and keep my mind on how I want to raise my son- to have morals, to be respectful and respectable, to be loving, and as for me, it helps me to try my utmost to lead by example.
- Laugh (and/or cry.) Laughter is important. Whether it be watching or reading something funny, or planning a night with friends who know how to get your sense of humor piqued, I’ve found that laughing is really important. And beyond that- cry. It’s not a crime to cry it out on your way to work because you really wish you could have taken a shower instead of used dry shampoo for the tenth day in a row. It’s alright to cry because you miss your baby. Get it out.
- Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help.My anxiety is something that I’ve dealt with for a long time, and it’s something that I know how to handle. However, if it’s something more serious, and you need help, don’t keep it in. You are important, and your babies need you. They need you for strength, growth, confidence, safety, peace, and love. You can’t be the best you if you’re not getting the help that you truly need.
Anxiety is a powerful beast, and it’s okay to not be okay. But if you’re not okay, you’re also not alone. It’s alright not to have all the answers at once. Whatever you need to do, whoever you need to talk to, don’t be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed, mama. I’m here with you, too.
You’re not alone.