Over five years ago now and after a very rocky fertility journey, I became a mommy to the most beautiful baby girl on May 12, 2014. I will never forget what it was like holding her for the first time. Truly in my first few days as a mommy I can honestly say life was bliss. Then fast forward to a few days later once we were home from the hospital when something suddenly changed. Out of no where and without any rhyme or reason I started experiencing intense anxiety. It didn’t make sense to me. Nothing was “wrong”. In fact, things were going really well! My daughter was nursing like a champ, friends were bringing us meals and my husband was doing whatever he could to help me recuperate. Sadly though, what should have been one of the best times of my life ended up being one of the hardest times of my life. I no longer felt like me. I was suddenly struck with postpartum anxiety and I was scared and unsure how to cope. It was like the chemicals in my brain decided to do a flip flop and I was left feeling sick to my stomach with anxiety over seemingly nothing day after day.
I'll never forget one day when my daughter was four months old, I went out to lunch with a friend and when I got back into the car all of the sudden I couldn’t breathe. My heart felt as if it were racing and I felt incredibly shaky. I called my mom to come and drive me to the ER. I thought for sure I was having an heart attack. I was scared to death! A few hours later and after multiple tests that all came back normal, I was told I had suffered a panic attack. See, I had been walking around with crippling anxiety for months while at the same time trying to hide it and brush it off. I guess my body had had enough.
I started asking myself what I was afraid of. Several things caused me anxiety but the most prevalent topic I concluded was health. I was scared after trying so hard to become a mom that something would physically happen to my daughter and take her from me (SIDS, pneumonia or leukemia were at the top of my Google search list). I blew up every little sniffle or new bruise she had. Then I started worrying about something happening to me and my baby being left without a mother or something happening to my husband leaving me and our daughter alone. Basically, my anxious thoughts and hypochondriac fears went ramped and the rest was history.
Since I became a mom a fever has never just been a fever and a headache has never just been a headache. At least my brain rationalizes that it MUST be something worse. I actually feel physically ill when I walk into a doctors office because I am just sure that the doctor will find something terribly wrong. Even my kids wellness check visits stress me out. I can honestly acknowledge that my thoughts and fears don’t make sense. But that doesn’t stop me from having them. Some days, I feel great and don’t have a single anxious thought! Other days.... well, not so much. What you see on social media is the highlight reel you guys but behind it all I can honestly tell you that I struggle almost daily.
I do have a strong prayer life and faith in God and I trust Him with my life but I still suffer. Some days anxiety exhausts me to no end and I find myself just praying through my day to get through it. I am happy to say that even after having my second child I no longer struggle as I once did five years ago because I have learned many ways to help ease my anxiety but still some days are really hard. “Shouldn’t I be happy? I have such a great life and I am so blessed. What’s wrong with me?” These are the questions I used to ask myself. Then the guilt would kick in that I didn’t feel the way I was “supposed” to feel and I would spiral down the rabbit hole to depression. It was and still sometimes is a viscous cycle that I get stuck in.
When I’m having a really anxious day, I literally can not eat. I just don’t have an appetite at all. It’s as if my stomach is in knots. Sometimes I get palpitations (don’t worry I’ve had a thorough exam by the cardiologist and I’m fine). Sometimes my anxiety builds to such a point that I suffer severe acid reflux and am miserable for days on end (yup, stress can do that). Anxiety can make you sick. It can cripple you and leave you lying in bed totally unmotivated to accomplish anything. You just want your brain to be quiet so you can go about your day but it won’t shut up. I don’t WANT to feel this way. I sure as heck don’t ENJOY feeling this way but often times I still do. I have no shame in admitting that at one point I tried anti anxiety medication. Unfortunately though, my body had adverse side affects to the medication so I had to go off of it.
I am very thankful to say that I am married to a man who lovingly talks me off the edge often multiple times a week and reassures me everything is okay. I also have very close and amazing friends who offer me support whenever I need it. However on the flip side, I have also been told by some individuals in the past to “just trust God and stop worrying.” or “You always think the worst Laura. Be more positive!” Let me tell you, those comments hurt more than you can imagine. See the truth is someone suffering with postpartum anxiety or anxiety of any form can’t just “snap out of it”. Anxiety is a DISEASE you guys. We can’t control how our brain works. That is what I want everyone to understand. It is not your fault or their fault and no one chooses or wants to live this way. Mental health is one and the same as physical health and we need to stop separating the two.
Think about it this way. If you had a heart condition would it be your fault? Would you want to feel too ashamed to talk about it or too afraid to get help? If your child was afraid of the dark would you tell them to just “get over it.”? How about if someone was afraid of heights but you would gladly go sky diving at the drop of a hat? Does that mean their fear is not valid because you don’t share it? The answer to all of the above is NO.
Just because you can’t relate to someone’s anxiety know that it is VERY real to them. I would honestly describe anxiety as “pure torture”. The world keeps on going while you are stuck with your hands tied behind your back drowning in fear. But listen friends…there IS hope!
I have found several ways to go through life more smoothly while still struggling with anxiety and I want to share my coping mechanisms with you!:
Schedule rest days at home and don’t over schedule yourself. Practice saying “no”.
Ask for help with the kids and or the house work and don’t be afraid to take a break.
Do whatever you have to do get 8 hours of sleep a night.
Focus on low key exercise (cardio actually makes me feel keyed up and even more anxious so I hardly ever do it. Pilates, strength and yoga are my favorite!)
Get outside every single day even if it’s only for 10 minutes!
Take magnesium and/ or use it topically (but first consult with your doctor).
Limit dairy and gluten in your diet (inflammatory foods can trigger mood swings).
Eat small meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar stable.
Limit your caffeine intake (I recommend no more than one cup of coffee in the morning before 10 AM).
Balance your hormones and ask your doctor to recommend an over the counter, bio idential progesterone cream. This was a game changer for me and I can tell a big difference when I miss a day!
Avoid “Dr. Google” as much as possible. It never gets me anywhere and I doubt it will help you either. The worst case scenario is typically the first scenario you will see when you go searching the internet.
Avoid social media triggers (Facebook and the news can cause me to spiral so I limit my time spent on them especially before bed).
Discover your creative outlet (blogging is actually very therapeutic for me)!
Declutter your house! This has been shown to help relax the mind. Our brain likes to see clean surfaces!
Journal your thoughts and your fears and then look back at them and see how many did NOT come into play!
Value and hold on to friends that are willing to listen to you and support you in your struggle.
Seek professional help and don’t be ashamed! I personally see a Christian counselor once a month and it has helped me immensely!
Lastly, and maybe most important 😉 …enjoy a serving of dark chocolate and walnuts daily. These two superfoods work together to help our bodies make and produce serotonin (our “happy, feel good” hormone). I swear by them!
As I write this blog post I can not help but get emotional because this is such a raw topic for me. I feel as if I just ripped a page out of my diary and posted it all over social media. But you know what? I am no longer ashamed or embarrassed by my anxiety because it is part of my story and if God allows me to help at least one of you by sharing all of this then that is all that matters to me. If you are struggling with anxiety know that you are NOT crazy or alone. You are in pain. But listen to me. There IS hope and light at the end of this tunnel I promise! I see you momma, God sees you and you are NOT alone! Today is a new day. Every day is a new beginning and a chance to break free of these chains. Let’s break through them together! Let’s stop being afraid to talk about our struggles. Let’s empower one another! I get you momma and I’m sending hugs to you today. We’ve got this!