“You need to pick what you worry about.” “Relax.” “It’s not a big deal.” “Who cares?” “Don’t worry about it.” All things I very commonly hear!
The first time it happened, my head was spinning. My throat felt like it was closing. My heart was racing, and I couldn’t get a breath in. I couldn’t concentrate. I was nauseous. I felt completely out of control. Everything seemed like a catastrophe that I couldn’t solve. There was nothing that could calm me down. I couldn’t focus, and no matter what my husband said, how many deep breaths I took, how many rows I vacuumed into the carpet, how many walks I took, nothing was helping. I was panicking. I couldn’t get myself calmed down and I didn’t know what to do. I contemplated going to the emergency department because I was so out of my mind.
Looking back, I think I probably had some anxiety growing up, and I definitely did in college, though I didn’t recognize it as such. I actually didn’t really identify my thoughts and feelings as anxiety at all until after college when it started getting so bad that my husband encouraged me to see a therapist. After the first time talking with her, she quickly identified, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and some compulsions. It was almost a relief to hear that there was a reason for my head feeling so “crazy.” I have hundreds of thoughts and worries rushing through my head one after another. I perseverate on things I have said, or decisions I have made and replay them over and over. It can be as simple as if I made the right decision on what I bought at the grocery store that day, or it could be wondering if I should have handled something differently at work and I will think about it over and over for weeks. They are often irrational and foolish but it is impossible to stop them from taking over. I can’t shut my mind off.
Sometimes I can’t identify what makes me anxious. I can go days feeling anxious and overwhelmed and never be able to quite pinpoint what it is that is making me feel that way. Sometimes it is a self-perpetuating cycle. Like most moms, I often feel that I have too much to do and not enough time to do it. But I get so overwhelmed with things that it paralyzes me to the point that I am unable to do anything, which in turns makes the anxiety worse. The smallest things make me feel very anxious and frazzled. Making a doctors appointment could be on my list for weeks. It makes me anxious to have it staring at me on my list, but the thought of doing it is too overwhelming to actually do it, so it just stays there, making me more overwhelmed. I know the things that I worry about or feel anxious about seem ridiculous and irrational, but to me they are very real feelings. I know that there are many more important things to worry about than most of the things that get me worked up, but in the moment, these things are huge and feel extremely heavy in my head.
I obsess. I obsess about my body, food, cleaning my house, about the sheets being on the “right” way, about if I bought the right toothbrush, and my kids’ sleep schedule. I obsess about car seats. I obsess about if the cheese is close enough to the edge of the tortilla, if toys are sorted correctly, if the “right” rag is being used. Did you know that there is a “right” rag? If you didn’t then you might be using the wrong one! That makes me anxious!
I like to be in control. And when I don’t have control, my anxiety increases. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed or out of control or overstimulated that I have to get out of the situation immediately. I am sure it can come off as rude or abrupt, but when I need to leave, I need to leave immediately or panic will set in. Sometimes I have anxiety about getting anxious. I get very worried that my anxiety is going to get out of control and that gives me anxiety…(even typing it makes my heart rate increase).
I knew something needed to change when my mom, and then a friend, made comments about my behaviors and my moods. I knew something was wrong but I kept telling myself it would get better, or I would work through it. But when I was having obsessive thoughts and anxiety almost all day, I finally decided something needed to change. I had taken an antidepressant in the past, but went off of it because I felt like things were well controlled. I kept thinking I wanted to avoid it, but my anxiety was making me irritable, and sad, and obsessive and overwhelmed and guilty. Guilty because I have this beautiful, fortunate life and how could I be upset and anxious about all of these things that truly don’t matter? I felt like I could deal with these things without taking meds. And I felt embarrassed. But I also knew it was affecting my marriage, my happiness, my parenting and my sanity.
I finally made a call to see my Primary Care Provider. The call was the biggest hurdle for me. We talked about what I was going through, what my goal was, what the options were and I decided it was time to start feeling better. And for me, the first step was an antidepressant/antianxiety medication. When I was finally feeling better I started talking to some close friends about it. The more people I talked to about it, the more people I found that also suffer from anxiety and who also take medication for it. Surprisingly the more I talked about it the less ashamed I felt. I know that medication alone is not a magic cure-all. And I have had to figure out some other things that I can control that help me feel better, and that helps to mitigate some of the triggers of my anxiety. For me, the combination of exercise, a clean house (which is extremely hard having two small children), and medication is what finally helped. When my house is cluttered, my mind feels cluttered. When my house is clean, picked up and vacuumed (I do a lot of vacuuming), I feel much more calm. I certainly still get anxious, usually on a daily basis, but it is much more manageable. My feelings are less intense, and I am able to cope with small things much better. I rarely have panic attacks and I am much more likely to be able to change my thought process if I get into a situation that I don’t have control over or if my thoughts are becoming increasingly out of control.
I don’t know if I will have to take this medication forever. But I do know that, at least for now, I am a better wife, mom, friend, sister, daughter and person when I take meds. I am less irritable, I feel more in control, I am more motivated, I enjoy things more, and my mind can finally relax!