My thoughts like to drift to bad places when I lay in bed. Usually, I think about something bad happening to my kids.
On more than one night this made my eyes pop open to glance at my daughter — she was always sound asleep in her bed. “Is she still breathing?” my mind worried. I gently laid my hand on her back so I could feel the rise and fall of her breath.
I caught a small sigh of relief.
I took the kids to run errands the next morning. We all headed to the car and my brain took off again:
“Are the tires good?”
“Are the kids buckled perfectly into their car seats?”
So, there I was triple-checking everything. I had to make sure my ducks were in a row before I could climb into the driver’s seat. I could finally leave.
I started to worry again when we hit the interstate. I always pretend that my white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel would help if something happened. It wouldn’t.
This is the harsh reality of anxiety.
I have been living with anxiety since my son was born. It has gotten worse since the early loss of 2 babies and the birth of my daughter.
My anxiety shows up in many different ways. Sometimes it’s a throbbing headache from thinking too much. Sometimes it’s a tightening in my chest and I’m on the verge of a panic attack. Sometimes I just cry about the horror movies that play on repeat in my mind.
I am not currently taking any medications for my anxiety. I don’t feel like medication is the right choice for me. It scares me seeing people struggle to find the right dose. Sometimes medication makes it worse for them — and I can’t afford to be worse than I am while keeping my kids alive.
I also love accomplishing things on my own – even managing my anxiety. Crushing goals makes me feel stronger and better about myself.
I still struggle. Some days are better, but other days I distort every cough, sneeze or bump on the road into a tragedy.
Finding better days.
The only therapist I’ve ever visited explained to me that anxiety was a learned behavior. She warned me about this because my kids could learn anxious behaviors from ME. Great, now I can be anxious about being anxious.
I want to protect my kids, so I knew I’d have to find more “better days.” Those days were a struggle to find, but some things do help.
Write it all out.
The first thing that worked for me is writing. My husband asked me if I would be willing to try keeping a journal, and I eventually agreed. I was willing to try anything. I felt like I was drowning.
Having a daily journal lets me see the scary thoughts resting on the page instead of bouncing in my head.
I do my writing at the end of every day. My entry starts with how the day went. Was it busy? Relaxing? Stressful?
Then I move to what I did through the day — and if I had any intrusive thoughts. If I did, I write them down as detailed as I can.
By the end of every entry, a weight has lifted off my shoulders. I can let that fear rest until it comes around again.
The results of daily writing — for me — were instant. My very first entry helped me a great deal. I started writing on a very very bad day. I sat there for what felt like ages, writing every tiny thought that whispered to me.
And at last, silence.
I remember laying in bed right after I finished writing — and I heard nothing. I could finally relax. I will write every night for the rest of my life if I get silence like that.
Talk to someone.
If you need it, talk to someone. This can be a sibling, parent, spouse or even a therapist.
My “someones” are my husband and one of my best friends. They both show me that they care and talk me through my problems sometimes. I can’t thank them enough for that.
If talking to friends or family isn’t working and your anxiety impacts your quality of life, then it is time to seek professional help.
I know it is terrifying to go into someone’s office and tell them everything. I never found the right therapist, but I have several friends who have. That’s important – you need to find the right therapist. When you find the right person to help, it can make all the difference in the world.
Like having a journal, saying your thoughts out loud gets them out instead of bottled up inside.
A word of warning – but a silver lining.
I have had moments where I regret talking to someone. When I feel like the person isn’t listening or like they don’t care. It hurts and sometimes makes me miserable. I have cried for hours, feeling alone. I wondered if anything happened to me, would anyone notice?
Also, being overly helpful is not helpful. I have had people share a million ideas to feel better — all while I start to feel more anxious with every word.
Sometimes talking goes wrong, and that’s okay. No one wants to make you feel worse, but not everyone understands anxiety. Sometimes people say the wrong thing. Try to remember that.
And finally, if you came here because you struggle with anxiety — you are not alone. I struggle day and night with intrusive, terrifying thoughts.
If you have nobody to talk to, my email is always open and I will always listen to my fellow mamas.