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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