Saying it out loud.

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This one reminds me to be strong!

 

I’ve been getting some great messages from a lot of you – and I want you to know how much I appreciate it!  I know that sometimes I write about touchy things and I’m glad that you feel comfortable messaging me to either tell me that you relate or to ask questions/get advice. I’ve also found that I get a lot more “private” messages after a somewhat “brutally honest” post – which reminds me I am not alone and we are all in this together!  That said, a recurring theme in these messages seems to be that you all think I have my sh*t together.

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.

Do you remember that horrible Laci Peterson case?  (Please don’t make me detail it here. Google it, for God’s sake!)  I was kind of fascinated with that case (as many were) and one of the things I always remember is how the media kept portraying Laci as this Martha Stewart-type wife who made everything look perfect. I remember clearly how her friends spoke out and said she would have hated that. They said that Laci liked to do things pretty, but she was also a smart-ass, sarcastic, big-mouth and the thought that she would be remembered as Betty Crocker, her friends said, would have made her furious.

I relate to that on so many levels. So, when I share these fun photos with you – or write about some new step-parenting issue I’ve maneuvered through, please don’t Martha Stewart me into a corner. As I’ve said before, we’ve all got our own sh*t – and we all get to share it – or not – how we please.

This brings me to something that I’ve been thinking about writing about for awhile now – but I have been on the fence as to whether I want to share. Not because I want you all to see me as a highlight reel, but because I’m not sure if this is something that anyone will really relate to – or even care to read about. And, it’s also very personal.  And maybe it’s partly selfish for me to write about, because, if I’m being honest, I kind of want to hear just one person tell me: I understand this.

So, here goes nothing – and shall this post disappear by tomorrow, I say this:

“What post? I have no idea what you are talking about.”

***

Let’s talk anxiety.

No, I mean, let’s really talk about anxiety. Real, heart pounding, mind-racing, insomnia-inducing, paralyzing and suffocating anxiety.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

If you don’t, then maybe this post will help you understand someone who is suffering.

If you do, then I want to tell you one thing: you are not weird or crazy – and you are not alone.

I have been suffering from anxiety that has gradually progressed to an extreme level over the last decade.  I am so used to the feelings and side-affects from it that, for the last three years, I have stifled it and kept it a secret from everyone – save for a few hints here and there to those closest to me.  In fact, it wasn’t until I found myself having a full-blown anxiety attack about a month ago (and not the “ha-ha! I’m having an anxiety attack!” kidding kind that everyone loves to exaggerate) – and called my mom, sobbing while having difficulty breathing because I felt like a gorilla was sitting on my chest – that I realized this is a real problem.

And it was affecting everything. And sometimes everyone around me.

When I finally confessed fully the extent of these attacks and the thought-process that goes on in my head to induce them, I did feel like a crazy person – but I also felt huge relief.  Finally. I said it out loud. I was laying it all out there: no matter how ridiculous it sounded, no matter how insane the scenarios in my mind appeared when I said them, I felt free from my secret.

No more hiding.

And why did I keep this a dirty little secret? For one, I felt like no one would take me seriously. No one would believe the extent to which my mind would go to induce these breakdowns.  As a parent, I am naturally laid-back with almost everything.  I don’t hover. I don’t overthink the “stages” Ivy goes through. I definitely could not give a flying f*ck about what Sally-Over-There can do compared to our girls.

So, what I mean is that, on the day-to-day things, I am pretty carefree and unbothered (and I’ve got an unapproved crayon-mural on one entire dining room wall to prove it. Whoops.).

But…

Tell me that we are going to a public place for some concert/festival/sporting event and my mind will immediately race into 101 Ways We Could Die mode.

I know. That sounds hilarious, right? It sounds like something funny someone would say in passing.  But guess what? It’s where my mind really goes. In 100% seriousness.  And me writing this right now – for anyone to see – is probably one of the most vulnerable things I’ve ever done.  (And I’ve shared a lot with you people.)

After finally confessing all of this to Brian and my mom recently, and hearing myself say it out loud and realizing it’s not healthy and that I need to address it, we talked about when it may have started. I have thought about that on my own for a long time and I believe it was triggered by three main events:

1.   I met Brian.  

I know, I know – that sounds terrible, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Before I met Brian, I was a train wreck for a long, long time. Horrible decisions from the time I was 18 led me on a downward spiral that lasted nearly a decade. I became self-destructive and irresponsible to a level that I couldn’t share even if I wanted to. (And I will never want to, so please don’t ask.)  I hurt myself, and, most regrettably, I hurt others. I don’t live in the past, but there is a mountain of regret that lives there – and, again, I will never, ever subscribe to the “No regrets!” badge of honor. I hurt too many people to be so selfish as to not regret my choices.

During these years of recklessness, I didn’t care what happened to me. I was not married, I didn’t have kids and, aside from my family, I didn’t have a whole lot of love to lose, because I didn’t particularly love myself. By the time I met Brian, I had myself together, for the most part. I was living in Chicago with a great job that I worked really hard (for years) to get to – and I was finally free of a very unhealthy relationship. In fact, I was very happy and content – and just kind of doing my thing, in a healthy way.

Then this perfect man comes into my life and suddenly, I had everything to lose.  When we started to get serious, I started to experience small bits of anxiety. I am not saying my life was worthless and without meaning before Brian. But, for the first time, I had such a real, full love that the thought of any harm coming to him started to creep slowly in – and ignite small fires of anxiety that would gradually be snuffed out with my (then) ability to rationalize.

Then…

2.   A close family member was killed in an accident. 

This was the first time I had ever experienced a death so sudden and unexpected – and to someone so close and with so many years left to live. I remember going to the funeral and studying his wife the whole time. Her gracefulness. Her strength. Her ease in comforting everyone else (as so often is the case at things like these). I remember her seeing me after I first arrived at the visitation – and she walked to me and hugged me, with a sad smile, and said, “Your life can change just like that.”  That was all she said. That’s all she needed to say.

After that, I became almost obsessed with the idea that one day, he had left for work – and that night, he never came home. I thought of it endlessly. I thought of her endlessly. I thought of her and their children being taken off guard – of how their entire lives were changed with one sentence.  How do you wake up one day and make coffee and eat breakfast and say goodbye to your husband as he heads off to work – and then have your whole life change by that afternoon?

It made me realize – again, as these things do – that no one is guaranteed anything. YOU ARE GUARANTEED NOTHING.  And knowing this now more than ever, I became even more fraught with anxiety. Brian can be taken from me in a minute. Anyone can be taken from you in a minute. Don’t be caught off guard.

Don’t wake up and drink your coffee and think you are guaranteed the same life by dinner time.

The above started to become an endless mantra in my mind – almost to the point of obsessiveness. But I learned to stifle it, for the most part.  And Brian and I carried on – and were married and started creating a beautiful life – while I dealt with the underlying anxiety of losing it all in a second.

It still seemed manageable.

3.   The miscarriages.

I don’t like to talk about this area of my life anymore. At all. I had a whole blog about our fertility issues, which did help a few others out who were going through similar issues – but I was also criticized harshly for it (and maybe rightfully so).

That said, it was during this time that my anxiety started to skyrocket – and Brian and I talked about this in length recently.  Our miscarriages were ticking time bombs. I would get pregnant (easily) and we’d go in for an ultrasound and we’d see a lovely, strong heartbeat. And then we’d go back in again, and it would be gone. There was no shock or pain worse than the first time – when it hit us out of nowhere.  After having four miscarriages in a row, I taught myself self-preservation by constantly expecting the worst.  I told myself to never be caught off-guard again. Ever.

Assess the possible risk, regulate it in your mind and then assume the worst scenario will happen.  

And that is what I have carried around in my mind, like some sort of defensive weapon, ever since.

Obviously, the addition of our daughter, Ivy, has increased the anxiety ten-fold. I have suffered from insomnia for months on end. I lay in bed and think of awful scenarios and things that could happen. I’m not talking ‘falling off a bike’ things – I’m talking completely irrational, horrible things.

That’s why I think it’s so incredibly important that people know that real and severe anxiety exists. It is not just something we say to have a laugh at ourselves. It is real and exhausting and painful – no matter how irrational it sounds.  I think I realized the level of my anxiety when I really said out loud some of my recent worries to Brian. I don’t know that he took me seriously until I told him things I worried about. He was clearly shocked, but he finally understood the magnitude of what I was dealing with.

I have since consulted with a doctor and we are trying a mild anxiety medication (to start with) and some other things that are helping. When I first started telling her everything I was experiencing, I almost downplayed it at first – and she put her hand up to stop me and said, “Wait. Wait. Wait. First of all, you are ok. This is not weird or crazy. Please don’t give me excuses or downplay this: this is real and this is anxiety.”  

Brian – in his own sweet way – is teaching me to live in the “now” (as cliche as that sounds), because, as he says, “What is going to happen, is going to happen – don’t rob yourself of the moment you’re in.”  He knows it’s not that simple for me, but hearing it is a good reminder.

And I’m learning new tricks to instantly push away the fear and scenarios that routinely try to push their way in.

So, this is what I want to tell you: if any of this sounds remotely like you, know that you aren’t crazy or irrational or ‘being dramatic.’ You’re human and this is real. Talk it out. Say it out loud. Seek some help.

And if this doesn’t sound like you – but maybe sounds like someone you know or love – please don’t discount them. Don’t discount their fear or their worry. I know it may seem irrational to you – or even funny. But it’s all very real, I assure you.  You may not understand it – or relate to it (on this level) in any way – but you can let them know you see them. And acknowledge their suffering. And hold their hand. And help.

xo,

Jen

18 Comments

  1. Jenica

    September 7, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Zoloft, baby. Postpartum I was sobbing on the floor every day after work because did you know global warming is going to destroy my child’s planet? Also, she might die of diphtheria because of antivaxxers. And did you know that if my husband died id be financially ruined because childcare?

    So, Zoloft.

    Life changing. And better.

    1. Jen

      September 7, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      Yeah, I think this may be my next conversation with my doctor. The Buproprian dosage I’m on now is causing issues (and definitely making the insomnia worse!). But man – do I relate to the fears you just wrote. 100%. What may sound irrational to someone else sounds perfectly logical to me. xo

  2. Jackie

    September 7, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    Jen,
    You articulate what some of us feel in a way I would be completely incapable of. I felt this way for so many years, and some days it resurfaces. I felt troubled, and on the run from so many people in my life. Then, when my Brian came along, the fear of losing him was consuming me. He is my rock, who can find the humor and silver lining in any dark cloud. He helped me to be a strong women! I am grateful that you have this with Brian! I hope you figure out a way through the panic attacks. Mine are manefested in other physical symptoms.

    1. Jen

      September 7, 2016 at 6:42 pm

      I am so sorry that you went through this and still deal with this. It really is paralyzing and as much as I hate that you have experience with this, I am glad to know that I am not alone. Your description of the thought of losing Brian is so relatable to me – completely. Thank you for your words, Jackie!! xoxo

  3. Heidi Keen

    September 7, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    I don’t want to make light of this great piece, but I think you should know this. Every time you write in bold or italics there is a millisecond that I’m afraid you’re done. Like your change in font is a final thought or closing remark. I get really disappointed for that millisecond, and then keep scrolling and find relief and excitement in your next paragraph.

    I Love. This. And……..I think we are anxiety soul sisters!

    1. Jen

      September 7, 2016 at 6:49 pm

      Heidi, that is probably the nicest complement I have ever received!! HA! Seriously! And I’m so glad you can relate (even if that does make you as miserable as me sometimes… so I guess I’m really selfish… ) xo

  4. Tracey B.

    September 7, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    I don’t get the attacks, but I think of every possible scenerio that could happen in a lot of situations. This post made me realize that maybe I need to look into things with a dr. While, my only sympton at the moment is chronic stomach pain, my dr. has mentioned that I could have anxiety. The meds would have to make me stop breastfeeding and I’m trying some meds for reducing stomach acid to see if that helps first….but I’m leaning towards possible anxiety. Thank you for your post! You are an amazing person, wife, and mother!!

    1. Jen

      September 7, 2016 at 6:52 pm

      Thank you so much, Tracey! And definitely discuss it more with your doctor! The stomach pain can definitely be from anxiety – I’ve had that as well. And I completely relate to your thinking of every scenario that could happen. xo

  5. Cari A...from high school

    September 7, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Oh my gosh Jenny this is so me too! I didn’t have it too bad until I had kids. My middle son had colic and I think the stress and lack of sleep pushed me over the edge. I would drive to work crying because all I could picture was the funerals of the people I loved. As soon as they drove off to go somewhere I was consumed with the thought of an accident. It was horrible. Went on zoloft for a year or so. Seemed to help. Now I just worry about everything and my kids safety is always the biggest one. We couldn’t get our oldest to answer his phone the other night and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. The terrible thoughts that pop in your head. It’s so embarrassing because you do feel like you are crazy. My new one is the kids making a mistake like texting and driving and killing someone and having to go to jail. It keeps me up at night and I can’t watch any shows about jail..lol! Anyway, just wanted to thank you for putting this out there. It’s always comforting to know we are not the only ones thinking these horrible thoughts.

    1. Jen

      September 7, 2016 at 7:55 pm

      Oh my gosh, Cari. I can relate to this on EVERY level! These are the same kind of thoughts that run through my head on a daily basis!! And with the kids getting older – especially the high school/driving years, I can’t even imagine how you are feeling/handling it! I am so, so sorry that you go through this. I have to say, I am honest-to-God shocked at the response I am getting to this post. I truly felt so alone and to know that so many other people suffer like this – at an extreme level – is so sad (but also selfishly comforting). Thank you for reading and sharing!! xo

  6. Chelsey

    September 7, 2016 at 8:09 pm

    Jen,
    Thanks for sharing this! You are such an engaging writer, and I felt just the same way as one of your commenters above. I’m so sorry to hear you go through this, but I think the steps you are taking make a lot of sense. I have a lot of the same worries you do and while they never get quite as loud as what you describe, they simmer on a backburner and are always right there waiting. I think it’s really healthy to – as you’ve done – look them straight in the face and acknowledge they are there. Again, thank you for sharing this!!

    1. Jen

      September 8, 2016 at 7:40 am

      Thank you, Chels! Simmering is an excellent word to describe it. Mine simmered for years and now, everyone once in awhile, they boil over. Normal things like routine mammograms send me into a deep anxiety spiral for weeks. My mind goes to the worst in completely normal situations – and then I hold onto it and obsess and create a pattern that ruins the moment. Thank you for reading and then writing. It matters to me so much! xo

  7. Beckee

    September 7, 2016 at 10:52 pm

    Well girl, let me tell you, I need to have a good long chat with you about how I thought I might get stabbed in the Apple store this past wknd or how I barricaded my door. Sometimes when the anxiety flares up I feel like I am on my way to becoming a complete fullblown paranoid schizophrenic and all my friends think I’m being dramatic but that shit is real and scary as fck and I feel you girl. I am a Buproprion girl myself…Lexapro made me feel like a zombie…but whatever you gotta do to keep that monster at bay I am here for it and for you. You call me whenever you need mama. I will be the one in the tinfoil hat.

    1. Jen

      September 8, 2016 at 7:36 am

      Beckee, I need you to know that I read the first sentence of your comment and I started laughing hysterically and crying at the same time. No joke. As funny as that sentence was, I also completely identify with it. I am blown away that OTHER PEOPLE feel like this! As I was writing the post, I kept thinking: “Everyone is going to armchair diagnose me with paranoid schizophrenia – and I was only half-kidding myself. I GET YOU! Thank you, thank you, thank you! (And I’m going to text you about the Buproprian. I think it’s doing ok, but I’m having terrible insomnia.) xoxo

  8. Jojo

    September 8, 2016 at 6:52 am

    You are so right on and so not alone. The levels of anxiety I feel on a daily basis are insane. So much so that I have anxiety about taking anxiety meds *rolls eyes* I have suffered my whole life with it but it really compounded in my early 30s after years of shoving the deaths of my husband and parents down deep and burying it.

    I like to joke that my type of dwarfism “Hypochondroplasia” has hypochondriac in it so it is in my DNA. The need to have control over the uncontrollable and then the thought process of what WILL happen since I have no control is exhausting.

    1. Jen

      September 8, 2016 at 7:33 am

      Yes, yes, yes!! Oh my gosh, Jo! “The need to have control over the uncontrollable and then the thought process of what will happen since I have no control is exhausting,” completely DEFINES this for me! Yes! It’s an exhausting hamster-wheel!! And I can’t imagine the level after having lost three people so completely close to you and the base of your family! I’m so sorry. Thank you so much for writing. You completely nailed it. (And you are still so fricken’ funny….you might want to trademark “hypochondr-palooza”. 🙂 🙂 xo

  9. Amy

    September 8, 2016 at 9:48 am

    Jen, thank you so much for eloquently and honestly writing about topics that many steer clear of. Whether the posts are about being a bonus parent, infertility or day to day life, I have found comfort and a sense of solidarity from so many of your posts!

    When my attacks hit, I feel like I’m dying. Like, really dying. This is it. My heart races uncontrollably, I can’t breath and I feel like I’m having a heart attack.

    The funny part is, in the back of my mind I KNOW it’s an anxiety attack and I’m not actually dying. I know it, acknowledge it, even say it out loud AND IT DOESN’T MATTER. I’m still convinced I’m dying which just compounds my anxiety and makes it worse.

    Anxiety comes in all shaped and sizes. I discovered that mine is a symptom of something else. I am anemic whic is pretty common. However, when my anemia is off the charts and my blood count is way low, I have a physical and mental reaction which manifests as an anxiety attack. Not the best warning system!

    1. Jen

      September 8, 2016 at 2:19 pm

      Hi Amy. I am so sorry you are going through this! When it’s happening, it almost feels uncontrollable. A spiral. And my heart breaks knowing so many people out there suffer from this. I hate that you have anemia, but I’m glad you know what a trigger it can be! Knowledge is power – especially when we’re trying to keep the anxiety at bay. Thank you so much for reading and responding! xoxoxo

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