Learning About My Own Anxiety
Anxiety and how it affects me and Motherhood.
I am 32. For most of my life I had no idea I dealt with anxiety issues on the daily. It hasn't been until having children of my own; going through disconnection postpartum; feeling so overwhelmed I could barely breathe; and turning into a momster that I realized what I was truly dealing with. I began to invite some self care rituals into my life. And became more cognizant and less judgmental of the feelings that arose inside my mind and body. And while many of these feelings weren't, at first, connected with a verbalized emotion, my body and mind - almost on a molecular level - could feel these emotions - poignantly. The turbulence of certain situations. The heightened awareness. The processing of so so many things at the same time. Seeing them in my mind's eye .... Flooding .... I began to come to terms with my anxiety. Though, even that word doesn't seem to fully bring justice to the overall physiological sensation my body and mind go through when I am in the midst of it.
I thought all people just sensed and dealt with the world this way. I didn't realize this is MY normal, but not necessarily THE normal ... (What is normal anyway?) but now that I can see it I often wonder what it would be like to engage in the same situation without all.the.things. happening at the same time within me.
I wonder if a pill or a glass of wine before some of my "trigger situations" would do more help or harm for me overall. I wonder if being aware of it is enough to embrace the processing that happens simultaneously inside my body.
I know for sure that sleeplessness. Tiredness. Is a huge trigger for me. If I don't get enough sleep I am more at risk for these situations to feel overwhelming. But I have 3 children...the oldest is 8. And I am still a breastfeeding mama. I have been pregnant, nursing, and child-rearing now for nearly 9 years back-to-back. So, sleeplessness. Tiredness. Is basically my norm. I know it won't be forever, and it took a while for me to get to my breaking point, but when it did it went ba-boom. And now I know how important sleep is. I know when Lincoln is night-waking a lot that my anxiety triggers flare up. I know that lack of sleep and my emotional well-being are directly correlated.
I also know that Multi-tasking is a huge trigger for me. Which is interesting in a world that values the multi-tasking-abilities of women in particular. Until recently, I would have said that I was quite good at it. And, in many ways, I still am....in constructing a system of execution to get all the things done - I am phenomenal at. Buuuuuut, when glitches pop up (such as three little people, independently needing all the different things from me at the same time) while trying to be productive or efficient; my brain feels all wonky and I literally have to stop and remind myself, aloud or in my head, to breathe. The pressure I'm feeling is just a system overload. It's okay. It's like a bottleneck. All the things are queued up and I can't focus or do things quickly enough. But, really, who cares if one thing or the other needs to wait another five minutes? The sensation I get in my body, however, is that of extreme urgency. Emergency. All of a sudden all the things need to happen. Right. Now. And I find myself running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Yes, multi-tasking with uncontrollable variables is a huge trigger for me. And my sanity.
Tardiness is a huge trigger for me. In a world so driven by timelines and schedules and filled with efficiency and deadlines, I find the possibility of being late an extreme trigger for my anxiety. Not wanting to keep other people waiting. Not wanting other people to think I don't have my shit together enough. Not wanting other people to think I don't value them enough to be "on time." This one has been huge, for me, in a world where I appreciate presence. And if I only had my own body to manage I am typical timely and "respectful." But, again, the urgency of a CLOCK. This human-constructed thing that has so much power over me...and the later we are the more momster-ish I become trying to push, coax, and persuade my ducklings out the door. To no avail. I can wake them up 1-2 hours earlier than we really need, only to end in the same predicament - the same emergent rush out the door to be "on time". We would scream and fight and get there no sooner. Instead, we would be disconnected and I would feel guilty about our communication and frustration.
Reason number 346 why we are late today: toddler pooped for the third time this morning, unexpectedly.
Reason number 347: blueberry Keifer spilled (exploded) all over the kitchen counters and floor.
Reason 348: tried that waterbeads-inside-a-balloon Pinterest project before we left the house and the balloon exploded...and so did the water beads. All over the floor.
Reason 349: tried to clean up those water beads. Fuck it. They will shrivel as they dehydrate and then no one will notice they are all over the kitchen floor.
Reason number 350: No one can find their shoes. Two. Shoes. Two of the same kind of shoes. Nowhere to be found (even though we have CUBBIES for the organization of such footwear).
Reason number 351: toddler pooped for the fourth time today. And decided to try to handle it himself by taking off his diaper in his sisters' room. And now. The poop. Oh, the poop.
Reason number 352: someone needs to refill their water bottle before leaving....if not they will whine the whole way and then end up drinking MY water bottle. Even though I have asked several times before to make sure such water bottles were filled.
Reason 353: out the door to find construction vehicles on our street. The toddler sits down. On. The. Sidewalk. To watch. He refuses to move. Refuses to get up.
Coping: This is an anxiety I am slowly starting to release because so much of it is outside my realm of control. I am learning to DO THE BEST I can to get out the door on time ... And breathe through the rest. I apologize in advance for our tardiness or lateness but my perceived social contractual obligation to be on time is simply not worth the disconnect that often occurs between my children and myself to get out the door "on time". I certainly do try my best to be on time but now my mantra is "Do not hurry." "You are not late." "It's going to be okay." "You are enough."
Confrontation is a huge trigger for me. If I even think I may end up in a place of confrontation somewhere along my day's journey or schedule....I will avoid it. I internalize it all. I think maybe I did something wrong. Maybe I'm not good enough. Maybe you hate me for this reason or that. It's all usually my fault (even though it never really is) ... I avoid it. Nothing is worth getting my blood pumping and body boiling to that degree.
Social situations have me processing all the stimulus all around me simultaneously. I thought this was normal, but I'm pretty sure it isn't or else I don't think concerts, shows, and street fairs would be A THING. I will give a relatively demur for instance and then you can multiply that to get an idea of what a carnival or concert might be like.
Going to a restaurant. I love going to a restaurant. Trying new foods. I love not cooking. I love not having to clean everything up. I still go to restaurants. But my experience is as follows. I hear:
The conversation in the next table, and the next table; all surrounding tables.
The clatter of the silverware on plates.
The sound of the glasses being set down on the table.
The radio playing in the background.
Servers asking what people would like to eat.
The sound of the kitchen pots and pans banging about.
Order Up! Words from the back.
Conversations at my table.
Shoes squeaking as they walk past.
All at the same time. I hear all of these things together. I sense all of these things simultaneously. My heart beats faster. I feel the urgency to waffle my food. Hurry through. Making the panic seem more potent. I "listen" to our conversation but find it increasingly difficult to breathe and to actually HEAR what you are saying to me. To remain present and engaged in our conversation is nearly impossible.
Coping: I have learned to ask for a booth - booths tend to muffle some of the sounds and create a a kind of protective bubble for me, from all the goings on. I try to go during "off peak" times - when it's a bit quieter, less hectic; less busy.
Multiple that by 5, 10, or 50 and you can imagine a glimpse of what it's like to sense a bigger event for someone experiencing life the way I do.
Sometimes I feel a little bit broken. I try really hard to provide my children with all the opportunities to sense and explore the world in new ways. I try really hard to push myself to put these kinds of activities on my schedule so that we can create new experiences together. I also try to remind myself that when I'm feeling overwhelmed, it's okay to go. I try to have a grownup buddy with me to help lessen the amount of stimulus I have to process. To divide it a bit. And I remind myself to appreciate my going in the first place. To acknowledge and affirm myself for showing up when I can. For experiencing what I can. And for sharing / showing the world to my children when I'm able. I try to be gentle with myself when I know I need to leave. To recoup. And I have been trying really hard to explain what I'm going through to my children when such panic arises ... And explain how I am trying to deal with and cope with it. The anxiety used to manifest into my yelling and becoming out of control...but now that I am beginning to see it; beginning to avoid my triggers when I can; beginning to put safeties in place where I can; and try to see it and verbalize it when I can it has, somehow, had less power over me. Sometimes naming things gives them more power, and sometimes naming things extinguishes some of the power they have (thank you for that reminder, Sheila.)
Through mindfulness.....becoming aware of how my body is experiencing things; what my thoughts are at the time; what I'm sending within; the messages my thoughts are sending my self and my body that I have been able to observe my own anxiety. To see it. To put a name to it. I still deal with it, every day. But it has less power.