Putting the banter away for this one. Mental health is a very real topic, and one that I do not take lightly.
Did you know that at least 18% of Americans will suffer from anxiety? Specifically, it will affect 23% of women. Some of the highest rates are in females aged 20-50. Yet, only 37% of those suffering will actually seek help.
My first guest blog comes from a strong woman. Speech pathologist, Army Wife, Mother—she is confident enough to share her story, and I applaud her for this.
Please, if this is all the boost you need to share yours, comment below…
...until next time, #IrishDoc07
“A” is for Anxiety
“Congratulations! It’s a girl! You are now responsible for another human’s life. Don’t screw it up!”
Okay, so that’s not exactly what the nurse said, but that’s sure as hell how I felt when she wheeled me out to my car with a 2-day old infant in my arms. “Don’t screw this up!” my inner voice kept repeating.
Oh what I wouldn’t give to be able to go back in time and tell that scared, 26-year old me, “Honey, you’re gonna screw up. Lots of times. But guess what? It’s okay! We all do!”
Instead, that inner voice grew louder and louder. She started out by saying things like, “Wow. Look at you. Can’t even breastfeed your own child? Ewww...is that formula?! Don’t you know, ‘breast is best’?!” or “How come you can’t get her to sleep the night? It’s been 3 months. Babies are sleeping the night by now!” (Yeah...that inner voice was a real b- )
It only got worse from there. When I started going out in public places with my daughter, I would hear my inner voice say, “There are so many people around you. If there was an emergency right now, there is NO WAY you would be able to save yourself and your child.” That’s when I started looking for EXIT signs and planning escape strategies each time I stepped foot in a public place with my daughter. I was always on edge thinking that an emergency was going to happen at any given second and that I would have to save us.
Not long after that, the panic attacks began. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know how awful and scary they can be. The best way I can describe a panic attack is this...you feel as if your own body is turning against you and trying to suffocate you. Your throat tightens. Your breathing becomes shallow. Your heart races. Your body becomes clammy. At some points, I felt like I would die from not being able to catch my breath.
Other than my husband, no one else knew about the suffering that I was experiencing. Being a doctor himself, he suggested I talk to my primary care physician. “Oh hell no! And admit that there’s something wrong? That I’m screwing up this whole motherhood thing? No way. I’m fine! I’ll be fine.” (::38-year old me inserts major eye roll emoji at 26-year old me at this point in the story::)
Instead, I decided I needed to meet other “mommy friends”. Being a mother at the age of 26, I was the first out of my group of friends to have a child. I didn’t have the support system that I needed as a first time mom. So, off to a local moms group I went.
It wasn’t long after joining this moms group that I connected with another first time mom who was my age. Laura’s son was just a month older than my daughter. BINGO! My first “mom friend”. (I often say that finding a “mom friend” feels a lot like dating....it’s frickin’ hard!) And even at the start of our friendship, my inner voice was never far behind whispering, “Don’t screw this up!” I so desperately needed a friend.
One day, as I was hanging out with Laura, we were discussing taking a day trip all together to a children’s museum. Laura said, “I have a therapy appointment on Tuesday, so why don’t we go on Wednesday?”
Hold. The. Dang. Phone. Did she just say “therapy appointment”? Like it was no big deal? As if one were to say, “oh, I’m just going to the grocery store.” But instead of the grocery store, it’s an office where you sit and tell a counselor your problems. So, right now, Laura is basically telling me that she has emotions and sometimes those emotions are sad emotions so she talks to someone about it and has no problem admitting to her friends that she sees someone for her emotions?! (::insert mind blown emoji here::)
Figuring that Laura was pretty open to discussing her therapy (after all, she did tell me she was GOING to therapy. Who has ever heard of such a thing?! Admitting you go to therapy!!!) I asked her why she goes to therapy. And again, in a most nonchalant manner she said, “It just helps me. I am on medication for anxiety, and going to therapy, well, it works for me!”
(::insert jaw drop emoji::) In that moment, I imagine my face was the kind of face you’d make if you were to see a unicorn. Here’s my friend. Who I enjoy spending time with. Who is so kind and fun. Who is always up for an adventure. Who has been a guiding light for me in this transition into motherhood. Who just happens to have anxiety. Who goes to therapy. But most of all, is an open book about her journey with anxiety.
I was so inspired by Laura’s outlook on therapy. Therapy wasn’t something to be ashamed of - but rather, something to be proud of. I began to think of therapy like exercise. Why does one exercise? To be healthy! Why does one go to therapy? Also to be healthy...but on a mental and emotional level. If I’m not ashamed to tell someone I went to the gym to exercise, then why should I be ashamed to tell someone I went to therapy? In both cases, I’m working on my health!
So that’s what I did. I went to therapy. I opened up to my therapist about my anxiety. About my fears. About the constant inner voice that was telling me, “Don’t screw this up!”. And after pouring out my heart and soul, I was most certain that my therapist would look at me like I had 4 heads and tell me that there was nothing she could do to help me. But instead she said, “everything you are feeling is normal”.
I’m going to say that louder for the folks in the back….”EVERYTHING YOU ARE FEELING IS NORMAL!”.
(::insert bulging eyes emoji::) That’s when I realized…all my feelings, my fears, my panic attacks…it was nothing my therapist hadn’t heard before. There were others out there just like me! Others suffering from anxiety. Others coming to therapy to talk about their feelings. So why was the topic of anxiety something no one ever spoke about? Out of all my family and friends, why did I only know of ONE person who went to therapy and took medication for anxiety? Why did others allow their anxiety to silence them? Obviously, I was guilty of the silence too.
My therapist referred me to a psychiatrist, who prescribed Lexapro for my anxiety. Oh how that Lexapro did me good. It eased my anxiety and allowed me to enjoy those early years with my daughter, instead of constantly living in fear. A couple of years went by and I was able to wean myself off of Lexapro, while continuing my therapy sessions to keep my anxiety at bay. And that worked for a while too. Enter two more kids, a military move, deployment, my mother-in-law moving in with us, and now a global pandemic, and needless to say, I’m back on Lexapro. And guess what? That’s okay!
I’m going to say that louder for the folks in the back…”THAT’S OKAY!!!!”
Over the years, I have developed a “tool kit” of sorts to help me when I am feeling particularly anxious. And if you suffer from anxiety, I strongly urge you to find the “tools” that work best for you! Here’s what my “tool kit” looks like:
Exercise. That comes in many forms for me. Sometimes I need hardcore workouts, and other times, I need a good yoga workout to reset my body and mind. There’s a meme I came across that says, “I regret that workout…said no one, ever.” Often times, the hardest part about working out is starting. But I promise, you will never regret it!
Meditation. There are many fabulous meditation apps. My “go to” meditation app is called “Insight Timer”, which offers about 55,000 free meditations. Everything from guided meditations on anxiety, stress, and sleep, to music meditations, and even meditations for children.
Daily Devotionals. This is a new addition to my tool kit and I have found it helps me to seek the positive in tough situations. The daily devotional book that I am currently coveting is “Jesus Always” by Sarah Young. (https://www.jesuscalling.com/books/jesus-always/) The religious component to this book allows me to tune in to my Christian faith, while also finding the joy in each day.
Laughter. It’s the best medicine, after all! And if I might recommend a public figure, her name is Tiffany Jenkins, and she is the mastermind behind her Facebook and Instagram page, “Juggling the Jenkins”. Tiffany is a recovered addict who suffers from anxiety and is open and honest about her journey. She also makes THE. FUNNIEST. VIDEOS. EVER. Sometimes even poking fun at her own anxiety. My favorite is her video about, “If My Brain Held A Morning Meeting” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7N9r8nVogM8)
My Village. The people I surround myself with! My friends, my family, my support system. Find your community. Okay…a little louder for the folks in the back…FIND YOUR COMMUNITY! Each and every person in my village makes me a stronger and better person.
I’ve come to understand why Laura was so open about her anxiety. Admitting her anxiety allowed her to be in control of her anxiety. The anxiety didn’t DEFINE her. What I’m saying is, by admitting her anxiety, Laura basically gave her inner voice the big ol’ middle finger!
Now...I’m a Jersey girl...I like giving the middle finger, and that’s exactly what I wanted to be able to do to my inner voice!
So here it goes. My name is Christina. I am a wife, a mother, a speech-language pathologist, a fitness instructor, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I enjoy music, exercise, dancing, wine and Dateline Friday nights, and the North Carolina mountains. I enjoy my life. I have anxiety. I take Lexapro to control my anxiety and I seek therapy when needed. Louder for my inner voice….I ENJOY MY LIFE. (::insert middle finger emoji::)