Now to Love
Anyone who's lived with anxiety knows that the countless symptoms can hit you at any given time — and sometimes all at once: the not sleeping, the conveyor belt of thoughts violently spinning around in your brain, the emotional turmoil, the feeling of utter helplessness. Now add being a mom into that already complicated equation.
I've suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember. It's easier for me to articulate how it feels now, but it's something I've had to learn to live with. Before I had my beautiful kids, I had coping mechanisms that worked for me when anxiety hit: going to the gym, meditating, trying to stay in and sleep. Regular therapy and Prozac also personally helps me keep it at bay. I knew as soon as I got pregnant with my son, Luca, it was going to be one hell of an adjustment.
I see you, new mama. I know what you're going through is tough right now. I know you're feeling alone, you're tired. Some days you are struggling. I know there's a part of you that misses when you were just pregnant, when there were no wondering about cries at 3am, and you could sleep... well as good as you could with a watermelon attached to you. When no one was judging you for the way you parented, when there was no pressure about how to do it - just pressure from the babies kicks to your bladder, but that was easier than what you're feeling now 😉 I know you wait desperately for their little eyes to close, those little beady eyes that are so large staring at you that you fear will never close I know you feel so distant from your partner, you both used to be so cool, now you argue over who's more tired, or your both panicking about why the baby's crying. You watch him leave the house so easily and that hurts. It's taken a little toll on you guys even though you made something together and in a weird way your love is stronger. I know you struggle to leave the house. Who wants to go anywhere when you have to pack a 10 man tent, a whole wardrobe and a baby store and bring a little time bomb that could explode at any moment... I'm talking poo explode here too. I know you are wondering if you're doing it right, If you're screwing them up because you didn't hear them cry when you tried to show for 5 seconds. But you are. And... I promise you it'll get easier There will be a day those eyes will close and they won't open until the next morning, you'll be shocked but it WILL happen There will be a day where they'll look at you and smile, even when you think you've messed it all up, they'll smile and your heart will feel whole again There will come a day when they can tell you what's wrong! All those tears will make sense, and they'll just need a cuddle from you 99% of the time, and the cookie you were hiding from them to eat later There will be days you and your man will go on dates, you'll have nights out with the girls or you'll even blissfully shop for groceries alone, and your mind will just be on your babies...the rest on tehlink in bio x
You see, having kids throws all those coping mechanisms into disarray; you no longer have the luxury of staying home if you need to or going back to bed. Luckily for me, my husband Domenic is ridiculously supportive. He understands when things get to be too much for me. He's my constant.
But the most difficult adjustment isn't how I cope with my anxiety — it's the added worry about the kids themselves. Becoming a mom is like someone giving you a billion dollars. You have to be very careful with it, make sure you don't lose it, and watch out so that it doesn't get stolen. When you have anxiety, the responsibility of this precious cargo can be overwhelming, to say the least.
I have two gorgeous children — Luca, 4, and Sofia, 2, and another little boy still "in the oven" as I'm 24 weeks pregnant.
Laura with Luca and Sofia. (Photo Credit: Now to Love)
Everyday life can be a serious struggle. Worst-case scenarios flash through my mind whenever we do anything. I get panicked and start playing out horrible scenes like watching myself let go of my kids' hands when we're crossing the road. Then I'm watching them get knocked over and we end up in a hospital. As you can imagine, it's very distressing, even though it's all in my mind. Even a simple trip to the park can spark waves of utter panic in my mind.
I do everything I'm supposed to do — the breathing exercises, repeating rational thoughts over and over. But it's not easy. It's just something I have to live with. If the kids are up in the middle of the night, I often have to repeat, "I am present in this" as I feel like I'm going mad.
(Photo Credit: Now to Love)
I also worry that my anxiety might somehow rub off on my kids; they're so perceptive. I've noticed Luca tends to verbalize his feelings by saying: "I feel scared" and "I feel angry." And while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, I do wonder if they are thoughts I've repeated. So then I start to feel guilty and worry I'm making them a bag of issues! It's a very vicious cycle. Of course, there's also the argument that mental health issues are genetic. I don't want my kids to go through bouts of depression or feel the nauseating wave of anxiety.
My advice to any moms who are suffering from anxiety is to take time for yourself (whenever humanly possible, of course!) There's definitely a greater understanding of mental health nowadays, and awareness will only continue to grow.
And talk about it! You'd be surprised how many women are suffering. Last year, I'd had a particularly anxious few days and decided to articulate it on the Facebook page for my blog, Mum on the Run. I posted some advice to partners of moms suffering from anxiety.
It began: "You might have heard that she has anxiety from sitting by her side in a doctor's office, holding her hands while the tears steam down her face. You might have seen her get angry and explode because she's overwhelmed. Wondering where this rage has come from. You might have seen her sit quietly staring into the distance with a panic in her eye."
"Anxiety isn't a one size fits all, it isn't consistent and it isn't always easy to tell. You might think she's just snapped at you, but it was anxiety that did it, you might think she's angry, but it's the anxiety that's got a choke hold, you might think she's not enjoying herself when you go out and it's your fault, but it's not. It's anxiety."
"You know how she can't understand when she asks you what are you thinking, why you would respond with 'nothing'... it's because she never thinks nothing. Her thoughts replay like a freight train in her head full steam ahead, over and over. It's exhausting for her. It's why she's tired."
I went on to advise partners how to deal with their anxious loved one. The post has got over 308,000 shares, 106,000 likes and 79,000 comments. I think that's testament to how many people are suffering, perhaps even in silence. I got lots of moms (and women without children) contacting me to talk about it, and it really opened my eyes to how endemic anxiety is. I've got a degree in psychology and recently graduated with a degree in social work. I've been constantly spurred on by the desire to help others who might even be suffering from the same issue.
Yes, anxiety is scary, and yes, it can multiply tenfold when you have kids, but it is something you can deal with, perhaps with the help of a professional. If you suffer from anxiety and are gripped by blood-curdling fear, anger, or however else it manifests itself, know you're not alone — and take it from me: You've got this.
Laura's tips for easing anxiety when you're a busy mum
As hard as it may be, try to reel in negative thoughts before they spiral out of control.
Think about your surroundings and various senses — smell, touch, etc. to get back to the present. Obviously meditation is out of the question when you've got demanding kids running around, but some simple breathing exercises can still be done.
Question your emotions: Ask yourself "Why do I feel angry?" If the answer is "Because I'm worried" then ask yourself "Why am I worried?" I find simplifying my train of thought works wonders, and asking myself questions can often work wonders too.
This post was written by Lorna Gray. For more, check out our sister site Now to Love.