It’s been years since I have had a major attack. One that made me consider the scary scenario that I may actually be dying. Knowing that I experience these types of attacks, I am usually able to talk myself down. To remind myself of what this really is and that it will pass. Everything will be ok.
But tonight, I was completely taken by surprise. I had just finished up dinner and done the dishes. I was getting my kids finished with their baths and ready for bed. I was getting ready to finally RELAX for the day. And suddenly it hit me. It came out of nowhere. In an instant I felt like my entire world shifted.
My vision changed, just slightly. I felt for a split second like I was floating, but not in a good way. In a way that made me feel like my equilibrium was shifting rapidly. And then fear set in. I was scared. My throat was tight and my body felt weak. I was sure I was going to pass out. My heart started racing and my mind and my body went into flight mode. I wanted to run but I also wanted to go nowhere at all.
These are all common symptoms I have experienced in the past with a severe panic attack. Attacks that I was having on an almost weekly basis. Attacks I had started to attribute to my failing marriage because coincidentally after my divorce was finalized they seemed to vanish. At least at the severity they had be coming in.
My attacks in the past had landed me in the ER a number of times. Convinced that something catastrophic was happening to my body, only to find out, every time that I was having yet another panic episode.
But today, after years of being able calm myself down and talk myself out of these situations before allowing them to escalate to something unbearable, the unthinkable happened. I was scared.
If you’ve ever been scared about anything at all, you know the feeling. You know that rush to run. Get the hell away as fast as you possibly can. But what happens when the source of the fear is inside your own body? In your mind? It’s your heart, your shallow breath, your clammy hands? You can’t run from that as hard as you may try.
You try to count your breaths, you take deep, melodic ones in hopes that your heart will catch up with the rhythm and they will slow down in synchrony. You walk around, you lay down. You close your eyes and pray for this to stop. And the panic becomes overwhelming because you now start running the terrifying options through your head. Could this really be something more serious this time? It doesn’t seem to be going away, does that mean I AM dying? My body feels tingly, my head feels light and empty. Is this what a seizure feels like? Could I be having a stroke? Maybe it’s a heart attack? Should I call 911? What if I wait and it’s too late?
Meanwhile, my boyfriend is trying to help and it’s relative to when you have a significant other with you while you are delivering a baby. EVERYTHING they try to do is annoying and hurts or pisses you off. They want to help but they simply DO. NOT. GET. IT. Tonight, mine looked at me like I had completely lost my mind. I felt like he didn’t believe that in my head, what was going on was very real and VERY frightening. And it hurt. It hurt so bad because I just wanted to feel like someone understood how scared I was feeling.
And it’s not his fault. How would he understand if he has never experienced this in his life? He wouldn’t. Yet it hurt because you just want someone to tell you that you’re not crazy, but you ARE ok and that it will pass. And someone who can’t do that you just want to go away. Leave you be so you can work yourself down off the ledge and feel better.
It took hours tonight. I ended up falling asleep after and that’s really the only thing that put a stop to it. When I woke up, I felt slightly better. It was a relief. But now I’m going to live in fear. Worried about the next attack. Tonight’s attack seemed to have no obvious trigger I can put my finger on and that scares the ever loving crap out of me. Next time this happens will I be at school pickup? At the grocery store? Will I be far away from home and have nowhere to retreat to when what I really need to is hide in the fetal position and convince myself that life WILL go on for me?
And then there is the guilt. I feel bad for not wanting or need to accept help from anyone tonight but really I couldn’t take it. And what little help I did accept was from me ordering people around to do things I thought might make things feel better. And then swiftly to go away because it wasn’t helping. Or their presense alone was exasperating every symptom I was having.
My son came into my room in full doctor garb to give me a check up and I had to turn him away with a promise that he could finish his full exam later that evening. But after I woke up, he was already in bed. And I felt terrible about that.
I feel like now I am going to live my life in fear like I did years ago when these attacks came regularly. Scared to leave the house in worry that this will happen in public, that I will be driving and have to pull over. That next time I won’t be able to calm myself down and I will take a trip to the ER instead. I was close tonight.
Feeling like your mind and body are betraying you is the more terrifying thing. You start to feel like you have to live in a bubble because the one thing you rely on most, your intuition, has betrayed you. You can’t trust your instincts anymore because they are sending mixed, jumbled, and fucked up signals.
I hope the next time I’m able to calm myself down faster. I’m able to remind myself that even though it might FEEL like this is the end, it’s not. And I hope that it will gradually be less and less until I go another few years without another excessive episode like tonight. Until then, if you suffer from panic attack, I see you. I feel you. And I trust you even if you don’t trust yourself.
I’m not talking about saying “NO!” to my kids. I know some moms are very anti N-word. But not me. I say no at least 300 times a day. It’s a regular part of my conversational interactions with my children. I say “no” more than I say yes, and I’m not afraid to admit it.
That’s not where I’m going with this though. I’m talking about saying “no” in terms of not spreading yourself too thin. Allowing yourself (as a mom, as a person who needs self-care) to take a day off, to skip the laundry for today, to cancel on your dinner plans and stay home with a book.
Moms these days have so much pressure to be perfect, to be super mom. We have to make sure our kids don’t get too much screen time, but get enough that they aren’t the only kids at school who don’t know what Fortnite is. We can’t yell or scream or swear. We have to use our words carefully as to not bruise their fragile egos. We need to be their advocate, but make sure we aren’t helicoptering over them… they need their independence too, but not too much. We need to keep them away from processed foods and GMO’s and ensure they are only supplied gluten-free, sugar-free, non-GMO, fresh, clean, and homemade meals shaped like their favorite Disney characters. We have to make sure everything is fair, because (as we all know) life is always fair and simple participation in life is always awarded. Our kids must be the best in everything or it’s a direct reflection of us as parents. Hell, you can’t even apply sunscreen on your kids nowadays without someone chastising you for using an aerosol spray can of SPF that causes cancer. DEET? That’s absurd. No one uses that. It’s homemade essential oil concoctions to repel bugs in this century. Get your shit together, bad mom.
That is just the pressure we women have with KIDS! When you add in the pressure of just being a woman it’s seriously overwhelming. If you show up to school drop off looking like you just woke up, sure, some moms might get it, but some will judge the fuck out of you. Show up late for pickup? Clearly there is something wrong with you! Don’t make it to the gym on a regular basis? Stop at McDonald’s on the way home from running to school to sports to clubs and home for homework? You must not care enough about your family. What’s wrong with you?
You’re not part of the PTA, PTSA, PTSO and the NRA? Well then… you’re not a real “mom” at all!
In this world of perfection, it’s hard to take time for yourself. It’s even harder to FIND time for yourself. I have found that the only time I get any time to breathe, think, focus, or plan for the upcoming days is at night when my kids are asleep. Which is great, if you can live off no sleep. I can’t.
When my marriage started to come to an end and I had to take a look at my life and my family on a much deeper level, I realized, I was doing WAY too much. I was falling apart at the seams trying to keep up with sports, school and after-school activities, dinner and PTA meetings, cub scouts and parties and the list. is. ENDLESS. When things got really bad I was having such anxiety I couldn’t even fall asleep at night even though I was walking around like the living dead because I was so damn tired. And when I finally did fall asleep I couldn’t get my ass out of bed in the morning without hitting the snooze fifteen times (or more).
It might be an unpopular opinion I have, but I am a firm believer after years of spreading myself so thin I can’t breathe, that sometimes… I just have to say no. If I am not up for a night out, I will say so. And I won’t feel bad about it anymore. If I don’t want to drag my kids to a party where I know they (and I) are going to take days to recover from…. I make a call, send a text, and apologize, and STAY HOME. If I have to skip making dinner and order in just to save my sanity, I do it. If I have to send my kids to school with a lunchable instead of a homemade sandwich in a bento box with carefully selected fresh fruit and vegetable sides, then so be it. I overslept so I’ll stop at 7-11 on the way to school, and I might even throw in some ho-ho’s (GASP!).
In most cases when speaking about anxiety and depression, women are TWICE as likely to be affected than men. I think that speaks volumes to the amount of pressure we are under as women, as moms, and as wives. It’s a hard thing to admit when you are in over your head. It’s almost like you’re admitting defeat. Admitting you can’t handle the stress. But, in reality, if you can be someone who knows their body, knows their mind and their soul so well that they know when enough is enough and it’s time to slow down. To do what it takes, for your own well-being, and ultimately for your overall health so you can actually take some time to ENJOY life and have FUN with your family, with the strength to not give a DAMN about what anyone thinks about it. Well, that makes you the real super hero.
**did you know? According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America“
Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, yet only 43.2% are receiving treatment.
Panic Disorder affects 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the U.S. population.
Social Anxiety Disorder affects 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the U.S. population.
SAD typically begins around age 13. According to a 2007 ADAA survey, 36% of people with social anxiety disorder report experiencing symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.
Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 to 44.3.
MDD affects more than 16.1 million American adults, or about 6.7%of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.
While major depressive disorder can develop at any age, the median age at onset is 32.5 years old.
More prevalent in women than in men”
Can we talk about mom anxiety? I know this isn’t a technical illness with a formal DSM diagnosis, but let’s be honest, it’s a thing. I firmly believe there is a whole population of moms out there that experience this specified version of panic that only has an onset when you create a living, breathing being from your own body. Or, in some cases, even if you haven’t created said being, but care for it as if you had.
This debilitating “disease” can range anywhere from serious to seriously asinine. It starts off precisely at the moment you find out you are pregnant. For a whole second (or longer) you stop breathing.
It’s as if the world stops, and you crawl into The Matrix, there’s an absolute transformation, and suddenly you go from being an independent, free-thinking, free-spirited woman to an anxiety ridden, over-thinking, over-analyzing, always questioning, never sleeping, always worrying mom…. and the baby isn’t even here yet.
People will say things like “there is so much for you to worry about later, and stress is not good for the baby. Enjoy your pregnancy!” But you simply CANNOT when you are incessantly finding myriads of information on the internet that send you into a click hole of examples of what could go wrong at any given moment now that you are pregnant.
You could eat the wrong food. You did, in fact, yesterday… and now you are petrified that you have somehow stunted your unborn child’s brain grown with one bite sized sushi roll. You definitely haven’t taken enough folic acid, so surely your baby’s spinal chord hasn’t developed properly. That happens early, ya know. And that medication you were taking before you found out you had a fetus growing inside of you, that causes club foot. So that is inevitable.
I waited for each ultrasound like it was Christmas and I was visiting Santa to make sure he knew what presents to bring me. As soon as I left the doctor’s office knowing all hands and feet were in tact, I could breath… and start worrying about the next thing. Like what problems I would encounter on the delivery table (oh, GAWD, would I POOP on the table?!)
You tell yourself, once the baby comes and everything is healthy and perfect you can and will relax. But that is just a little inside joke we tell ourselves, as moms. Besides the sleepless nights that come with an infant, there are the sleepless nights that come with mom anxiety.
As my kids get older I worry about so much more. It was first development: rolling, crawling, walking, talking, running, eating, growing. I thought those were a really big deal. I was so blissfully ignorant.
Now, my fears have only been magnified as they grow figuratively and literally. I wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night wondering if I ever remembered to mount the new furniture to the wall so that when one of my monkeys climbs on it, it doesn’t come crashing down on them, killing them in the process. (I did, of course).
I think about all of the day’s events that could have went horribly wrong. Like when my child opened the door to the neighbor knocking to see if they could play. What IF that were a stranger? What IF they had come to steal my child away and at that very moment I happened to be in the bathroom screaming at them to leave me be so I could sit on the toilet in peace!? I’m a bad mom… I could have lost them to child trafficking today from their very own living room, and I was so selfish I wasn’t even THINKING.
Every day is loaded with examples like this. Where I simultaneously am screaming my head off at my kids while worrying in agony that something terrible will happen to them, to me (and leave them motherless), to our house, to my job, etc etc etc.
Mom anxiety is crippling and ruining my chance to enjoy my kids, but I take solace in knowing that absolutely every other mom out there has the same crippling (unwarranted) fears running their lives too. And I’m not alone. Neither are you.
Despite this terrible “disease”, be the mom you want to be. Even if she wakes up in the middle of the night wondering if the oven was ever turned off. Even if she calls the neighbors seconds after leaving the house because she can’t remember if she closed her garage door. Be that mom. And rock the shit out of it.