Anxiety wears many hats in my world. Some days it decides to show up when I am hanging out with a group of friends, consuming my mind with feelings of doubt and insecurity. Then other times it takes hold of my body and plants a nasty, knotted tangle of black weeds in my stomach, which rise through my chest, practically suffocating me and resulting in a panic attack. And then there is the sporadic day where everything seems doomed and I am stricken with worry but I can't quite pinpoint the reason for it.
All of these situations are irrational, but very real to me. Unfortunately, they get the best of me every now and then.
The real stink of it all is when an episode strikes and it feels as if there is a looming sky of concrete waiting to crush me. All of those panicky, stone demons are simply waiting to pounce and knock me to the ground. I run as fast as I can, my heart pounding in my ears, but it seems to catch me. It will crack into my blind side, just as I thought I had finally outrun it.
So, how does this relate to me as a mother?
Well, it's frightening and debilitating. I can hardly stand being inside my own head, let alone having the pleading and needy voices of two small children making it a discordant trio. I have to fight back tears, and put on the show of bravery for them, although that armor sometimes cracks, too.
Just the other day, I was lying in bed crying. The anxiety was hot in my chest and the only way to release some of its venom was through those tears. I heard Luke's footsteps echo through the hallway to our bedroom door. "Mommy, you sad?" he said. I replied, "Yes, sweetie. Sometimes mommies get sad." He climbed up next to me with an uneasy and curious look on his face. "Don't cry — that's for babies!" And with that he slid down and jetted out of the room.
Admittedly, I couldn't help but get a good chuckle out of his simple consolation. It felt like a droplet of a precious antidote to calm my racing and worried mind.
My other concern with anxiety is of the social variety. I have had a moderate case of social anxiety my entire life. Some seasons it is almost nonexistent where I can carry on my normal daily routines; other periods it is absolutely crippling and can interfere with the health of my social life and mental and physical state.
The root of social anxiety is an intense fear of judgment or criticism from others. I constantly battle with myself in thinking, Abbey, why does it matter what other people think? Be yourself. If people don't like you for who you are then you don't need them in your life. You can't please everybody. Get over it and do your thing.
But my fears of criticism from others can reach into an extreme and irrational plane. I get major butterflies when I have to talk on the phone. Meeting new people scares the hell out of me. (I am positive they are just going to think I am the weirdest and most awkward person, EVER.) Don't even ask me to speak in public — I cannot think about anything else or eat for weeks. Most social events sound like torture unless I can bring a trusted friend with whom I feel safe. There are even times when I get nervous and fidgety out of the blue while simply hanging out with good friends. Sometimes I get really weird about eating around people and feel like I can't swallow my food, or I get panicky while I am driving. The main symptom that made me finally come to the realization that I suffer from social anxiety is the urge to urinate when I am in situations that make me uncomfortable. I get hot and flustered and then it is this horrifying tingling sensation that I am on the verge of peeing my pants, which then makes me even more anxious and agitated.
Because of these things, I tend to overly avoid social situations. Before I had kids, I hardly ever went to anything without Matt and he usually had to drag me like a stubborn dog on a leash. But, having kids changed things. I have to get out of my comfort zone for the well-being of Luke and Wes. I want them to be socially comfortable and confident in who they are. So far, it seems like they are on the right path with warm and engaging personalities.
Obviously, forcing myself into social situations has made it easier to interact with people. But again, WHY DO I CARE SO MUCH? WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES ME FEEL SO SCARED? It boggles my mind. I've been to therapy on and off. I have tried my hand at anti-depressants, but all of that medication makes me feel like a soulless robot. I would rather live in the deepest despair and feel something than live in a chemical-induced haze with no real emotion.
I also have this theory that people who are extremely active on social media have some degree of anxiety or shyness. It's the perfect world for us introverted, social phobics. There is still connection, but no unnerving small talk or having to worry about how we physically present ourselves. I can have meaningful conversations in the comfort of my own idiosyncrasies. And if I am obsessing over something I said, I can go delete or edit it! (Why, oh why can't life have an edit button?!) Obviously, this isn't entirely true because I have — ironically — met plenty of friendly and extroverted social media enthusiasts. But I still like to think it is. ;)
I guess what I am getting at here is that I kind of have some serious issues, but I am learning to overcome them. It is imperative that I do it for my boys and myself. I try to focus on the happy and the positive because I want my life to reflect those attributes. I go to therapy, I try to exercise and get adequate sleep, and generally try to avoid excessive amounts of caffeine. I also have the most supportive and encouraging husband on the planet. The combination of those lifestyle habits and a good support system generally keeps my anxiety under control, and if I am having issues, it is usually triggered by one of those things being out of sync.
While I struggle with anxiety and depression, they don't need to define who I am as a person. That is important for me to remember. I AM NOT MY ANXIETY. Those little voices in my head telling me that other people think I am weird/annoying/awkward/unlikable are generally an assumption made up in my head. And even if certain people do have that view of me, it doesn't matter! I feel like it's a good time to cue Stuart Smalley's Daily Affirmations . . . "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!" (Laughter is the best medicine!)
But in all seriousness, here is my ending declaration: Let's recognize our self worth and believe in our talents and capabilities. Let's have more courage and gratitude. Let's all try to be more kind and gentle with ourselves. Let's love ourselves for who we are.