This is a difficult thing for me to write. And I don’t even know what I hope to say but rather am sharing my story in hopes that if there is anyone who can relate - they know they are not alone. I get it. I see you. There is help. YOU are not alone.
I have anxiety.
It is something I have struggled with for the better part of my life not knowing what it was or if it was anything at all. There are days where I have full clarity. Those days are great. Easy. Non-resistant. Productive. They are also rare.
There are days when it is impossibly hard. I have irrational worry, panic, I cannot take a deep breath and experience a fear-gripping state. My husband describes these moments as me being “busy”. That’s what it looks like from the outside. In a rush - but carrying on. Getting things done. Perhaps a bit short (I am typically more compassionate) but otherwise normal. I wear the MASK well.
On the inside, though, my thoughts twist and turn and spin creating a hurricane. Chaos.
Time is both fast and slow in those moments. The clock TICK-TOCKING is audible and almost taunting me. The desire for time to either stop or hurry the fuck up so a new moment can present itself is strong. Lists of things to do flash in front of my eyes. I think I should write it down but then there’s another thing on my list. The worry and self-doubt starts to boil over and spits hot bits of water onto my skin. Another distraction. Being still is uncomfortable so I move and continue and carry on until exhaustion sets in then my body is heavy, dragging. It’s paralyzing.
Most days I live are somewhere in the middle. Neither elated or flat - just a happy medium. There is stress and worry and self-doubt as we all experience. These days are good. I can manage the thoughts, turn them up or turn them down as needed. I can meditate. I can redirect. These are the days I wish for everyday. I had gotten to here over the years, most of the time.
Being pregnant and postpartum ramps up the anxiety experience for me a little bit. Or a lot. My “functional” anxiety becomes debilitating. Postpartum anxiety, for me, is graphically seeing an image of your newborn baby falling onto an open scorching-hot oven door and then peeling them off leaving remnants of their burned skin behind. You can hear their screams . You feel soul-crushing pain at the thought of the unthinkable. And then it replays. And replays. And replays. And TORMENTS you whether your eyes are open or closed. Whether the oven is on or off. Whether you are holding your son or they are playing safely on the mat. The intensity lessens over time only to be replaced by another haunting display. Despite your silent pleas to your brain to stop being irrational, despite being a cautious Mom, a caring Mom, a loving Mom.
Despite others validating that you are doing everything right, postpartum anxiety wedges itself into your conscious and unconscious brain and leaves a thick trail of doubt in your heart.
I am almost six months postpartum right now. Most moments I can manage okay. I slow it down. Unwind. Turn the music up loud to drown out the noise. Snuggle my babies close. Reach for my husbands arm to hold me. I walk it off. I have a cry. I work out, releasing steam and stress. I reconnect to the earth. I practice self-love and gratitude. I talk to a friend. I am surviving. Just keep swimming. But sometimes, despite all attempts - anxiety wins.
Sometimes for a minute. Sometimes a day, a week, a month. Sometimes I don’t realize how hard it has been until the fog lifts and the sun pours through and I sigh a breath of relief. Sweet, sweet relief. On those days I think “Wow, that was dark. Darker than I imagined.”
I somehow thought having greater awareness of postpartum anxiety and depression would help me escape the magnified response the second time around. But it didn’t. What it did, was to allow be to be more aware of when I am struggling and to seek help. I sought help from a counsellor to help solidify my coping mechanisms. I am surrounded by love and support. I keep practicing.
Despite that - there are difficult times. Times when I wonder how wonderful it could be if I didn’t have anxiety. And with that I have made the difficult decision to trial some anti-anxiety medication.
I am scared. I am scared that it won’t help. I am scared the side effects will not be worth the reward. I am scared that it could affect my son. I am scared that I will be the rare person who experiences an exacerbated response. I am scared that I will give up before finding a medication and dose that allows me to thrive and improve my coping mechanisms. I am scared that I will be reliant on medication. I am scared that it WILL help and that I will beat myself up for not trying sooner. I am just straight up scared. BUT I am doing all in my power to manage this unfair condition I have been handed. I have years of maladaptive coping to rewire in my brain. But I am hopeful of what I can achieve. Of what it can be like. I know it will be a journey. I will stumble and fall. I will grow and learn. I know that I have much to offer that can be clouded by this struggle. I know that I am worth the effort. And in the meantime I just soak up all the joy and love that my life has to offer. Despite struggle - this life has much good. If this resonates with you, know that I am with you. You are not alone.