May is mental health awareness month, so I wanted to take a moment to share some of my own personal struggles with anxiety. Being anxious over the vast potential for bad things to happen is something I think that a lot of us are used to dealing with, unfortunately. I wish I knew how we got here, how we became conditioned to feeling this way. And I also dream of the day that I wake up without unfounded fear. I suppose that dream, that end goal, is what keeps me moving through whatever anxiety presents itself. This goal provides the strength that I need to ask for help, and to feel like I should share a bit of this struggle with you here, a public medium. Right now, I feel that I have fully stepped into a season of anxiety, stress, and overwhelm long ago. Right now, I feel like I am ready to step out of that.
The other day I was looking for my current journal – which shows you just how long it’s been since I’ve journaled – and came across an old, finished journal. The last entry was dated Halloween of 2016. Back then, my baby was a baby, his age measured in just weeks. The time of the entry was marked 11:51 PM. In reading this, my first thought was, “How was I up so late? And journaling?!” My past self soon answered my present question, noting that this very late moment was the soonest time that I had to myself in several days. I wrote that I had almost gone to bed, but thought better of it because I needed to get this out, write this anxiety down.
The entry is filled with a sadness over not wanting to leave the baby to go to work, feeling like I was wasting my day because I wasn’t doing exactly what I needed to be doing. Financially, I didn’t have a choice, and that was a hard pill to swallow. The entry ends with an encouraging note to self: keep pushing, keep moving, keep answering the call the Lord has placed on me, keep being a mom who also goes to work. I told myself to trust in this, that it would work out simply because there was no other choice to be made in the matter.
The entry is a very specific, very detailed illustration of my anxiety in that moment. It is clear that my anxiety consumed and overwhelmed me at the time. But, nearly three years later I had forgotten all about my fears on Halloween 2016. In the interim I had kept pushing, moving, and answering the call placed on my life.
In the present, my sources of anxiety, stress, and overwhelm are different. Sure, they all have a common theme (am I a good mom, how can I be a better person, what happens if something happens?!), but the specifics surrounding my panic change constantly. Which leads me to believe that the web of fear that I often get stuck in is not as strong as I believe it to be in the moment. If on Halloween 2016 I was really worried about being a working mom and now I really, really like going to work then that fear was unfounded. What’s more, it was detrimental in the moment, because I lost an opportunity to trust myself.
At the close of every fear attack, I feel the same way: exhausted from spinning my wheels and sad that I missed out on what would have been a good night – or, at least, a calmer one. Most importantly, I do not feel that the time spent worrying helped me in any way. I have never come out of a panic attack thinking, “Wow that was some great personal work I just did! I have really grown and learned something to help the situation!” No, those thoughts have never been the result of me freaking out. Reflecting on this makes me want to say to myself, “Look! Here is the fact of the matter: your anxieties are not helpful! Time and again, this proves to be true. Because I take a naturally difficult situation (returning to work as a new mom) and make it worse (returning to work as a new mom and convincing myself that it will make me a bad mom). Just stop this madness!”
If you can identify with this whirlpool of worry then you know just how difficult it is to heed the voice of reason in the midst of anxiety. Still, my goal is to step out and away from the death grip of anxiety, to be in control of my own thoughts. I am taking small steps, one at a time. I am honoring my feelings instead of denying or judging them, honestly journaling everything that I feel, instead of keeping it locked up from myself. I am asking for help from a trusted source. I am asking my friends about their experiences and coping mechanisms. In all, I am working, hoping, praying my way through this.