At 2:30 pm I leave my house to wait for my son to get out of school. Before I go I make sure all the lights, fans, dishwasher, washer and dryer are turned off and all the doors are locked. This may seem normal until I tell you this is done three times before I leave the house. I wait for fifty minutes near the front of the line because if I arrive any later I will be near the end of the line which sits on the access road of the interstate just before the on-ramp and cars speeding past makes me panicky.
As I wait there, the most fantastic pain in my chest feels like a red-hot poker is driving itself just right of my sternum clear through to my shoulder blade, but at the same time, it feels tight like a building is sitting on it and I can’t breathe. Tears build and sit on the rim of my lower lids making everything slightly blurry and difficult to use a sensory technique, so I try to focus on my breathing: in for four seconds, hold for seven, release for eight.
The speaker system in my car plays my Spotify playlist of Kpop songs, I like the language and trying to recognize the words helps me calm the racing thoughts, but my three-year-old, who thinks the car is the only place she can speak loudly, babbles on about her Chanyeol and Jungie kitty-kitty-cat-cats which plunges me into a sensory overload. I’m having a full-blown anxiety attack.
I am a mother with anxiety disorder.
More precisely, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and major depressive disorder. These days I control this with medication and a slew of calming techniques. I meditate, do yoga, count breaths and use a color system on days that the symptoms are louder than everything else.
My journey to this point was not easy. I’ve probably always had anxiety, even as a child, definitely when I was in high school, but it wasn’t until I was twenty-nine that I was diagnosed. It was work induced then. There couldn’t actually be something wrong with me. I quit that job and the panic attacks stopped, so I stopped taking the medication.
Then I got pregnant. I had the daughter I had waited five years for. Side note: at the time I didn’t know I had Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome which causes infertility.
She was the sweetest, happiest baby, but after the first year, it was becoming difficult to stay calm when she was crying, or loud, or the fact that she didn’t start walking until after she was one or talking until after she was two. My son, nicknamed “The Boy”, was saying bicycle clear as day on his second birthday, was always months ahead on all the milestones, so there had to be something wrong with the girl. There wasn’t.
My mother-in-law, who is very involved with my children was hurt by my inability to let her keep my children. I tried with the boy, I don’t want them to miss out on things because I have a problem, but each time my sister or mother-in-law drove away, it induced a panic attack.
It wasn’t because I didn’t trust them, but the moment they left with my child, I would start thinking about everything that could go wrong: car wreck, dog attack, he got out of their sight and they lost him, he got kidnapped, bit by a snake cause their home is in the country. If I had this big an issue with them taking the boy, how could I allow them to take the girl too?
I thought I was crazy. Even in this day and age, there is such a stigma surrounding mental health problems. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 19% of Americans have some form of anxiety disorder. Of this number just over 23% are women and 14% are men. If you think of this in terms of the American population, these are staggering numbers.
This lead me on a journey to find what works for me as a parent and I woman with anxiety. Here is a list of things that help me parent with anxiety.
You are not alone.
When I really understood this, it was liberating. I saw a person, with whom I thought had it all together, publicly announce that she was suffering from anxiety, I realized I wasn’t alone. You are not alone. There are a plethora of online communities:
Facebook: here you will have to look and decide which group is best for you. Most groups that I have seen promote a safe place for you to talk about your anxiety and get first-hand accounts from others who experience some of the same things you are going through.
Tumblr: I’m very active on Tumblr, so this is a lot of help for me. My favorite blogs here are Anxietyproblems, and Psyc2go. Here they have encouraging quotes articles and cartoons that help you feel connected and not so alone. Take care with this one and find the right kinds of blogs, some have a tendency to romanticize mental illness and this can be dangerous
The Tribe: This one is new to me, but it gives you access to communities that are not only for anxiety but depression, addiction, OCD, LGBT. It also allows you to find a therapist if you feel like you need it.
Make some "you" time.
This was the most difficult for me. I feel “me time” takes me away from my kids “mom time”. I have learned, through much trial and error that my kids know when I am at my best and when I am at my worst. I feel like I must set an example for my children because the last thing I want is for them to carry those moments with them into adulthood.
Step outside and breathe, have mom or dads reading time, where you can close yourself in your room and read or write or do whatever makes you happy. If this is difficult find a way to include your kids in a way that works for all of you, just as long as you get a moment to focus on yourself. You are important, and your health is important.
Find what is best for you.
Anxiety is a spectrum, like most other mental disorders, not everyone goes through the same symptoms. I stress, get anxious, this triggers a feeling of disgust when I’m touched, my mind races then sounds become an overload, TV, kids playing my husband talking, music playing. When I get to this point I become verbally explosive, and I can’t always control what I say.
I chose medication to help control these types of symptoms. But medication may not before everyone. If your symptoms are not as severe, you can try holistic medications or scents that are made from natural herbs and flowers and promote a calm atmosphere. There are also some helpful calming techniques to help you work through those moments.
Discover your triggers.
A trigger is anything that can send you into an attack. For me, it could be smells, the sound of glass breaking, too many people talking, or people I don’t know, even just large groups of people. Avoid these triggers as much as you can or take some time to understand why this triggers you and come up with the right technique for you.
Find the techniques that fit your family.
As I said before, I use a color system to let my family know on the days that I’m not able to get control of the anxiety. This way they know the days that touching is going to be an issue, or if a lot of noises are going to trigger me. I decided to try this instead of verbalizing it because it always started with "I love you, but..." I find this to be unhealthy and confusing for the children. I take warm showers to calm down and get some alone time.
During an attack, I count my breaths, I also use a sensory technique, I look around where ever I am at and find 5 things I can smell, 5 things I can feel, 5 things I can hear, and 5 things I think is visually interesting. This helps to ground your mind and pull you out or the world your anxiety creates and back into reality. Parenting and Psych Central has articles that I found very helpful in learning about taking time for myself and overcoming the attacks.
If you think this may be you and you are not sure, the Mayo Clinic has a list of symptoms you can check, and if you do exhibit some of these symptoms you should speak to a Psychologist about your options. It’s important to try to understand that though you have these issues, and you process things differently, there is nothing wrong with you.
Today, my first article ever has been published, and I’m anxious about if people will like it, or if people will think I’m stupid, or if my editor just put it through because she feels bad for me. But today, my first ever article has been published, and today, I will pick up my son late, sit at the end of the line on the access road, while the cars speed by.