How My Anxiety Presented

Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

There are times when I wonder how in the world I lasted two years with postpartum anxiety and depression. If I am being fair to myself, I can think of several reasons...but it always feels weird.

  However, the thing I come back to again and again is the idea that my feelings did not line up with what I thought anxiety was. 

I knew I didn't feel good, but I didn't know if a) it was bad enough to say "I need help," and b) what it was.

 I thought anxiety was out of control thoughts about bad things happening. I thought anxiety was not being able to breath. I thought anxiety was not wanting to do things or be around people.

But I never really had panic attacks. I had periods where my heart raced...but not to the point where I couldn't breath. Not to the point where I actually had to stop what I was was just noticeable. I could always breath.

It was more that I felt...weary. My life was just too much.

And I was so upset with myself because it was a life I wanted. 

Also, because it happened after I had a baby...I had a really difficult time knowing what was fair to feel after this momentous life change and where the line into "seriously ill" was.

Baby blues is phrase we hear, and postpartum depression. But the first is usually seen as just sad, and what I heard over and over is that it was sadness over not being pregnant and therefore more separation between the mother and new baby. I never felt this...I was so happy to have my body back ( pregnancy makes fundamental changes that do not go away). While I was pregnant, it was simply a part of the process...I wanted the baby, to see her independent self and get to know her.

On the other hand, postpartum depression is usually talked about only in terms of wanting to hurt yourself or your baby. And again, I didn't have this.

I just had crippling self-doubt.

I thought I wasn't a good mom. I thought no one believed I was a good mom, even though I was trying so hard. I thought my baby didn't like me. I was trying to hard to put on the happy mom face but it felt fake, and that felt like shit because what kind of mom isn't immediately bonded with her child?!?! (hint- the kind with postpartum anxiety and/or depression!)

Everything felt so damn hard, and I was just waiting for something terrible to happen. 

I didn't know what it was, but it just felt like I was waiting for everyone to realize how bad I was at everything.

According to my husband, none of this showed. At least not in a way he recognized either. I wish I had seen this picture before I let things go so far, because it hits all of my personal anxiety cues.

See, because I felt so insecure and worthless and my anxiety was largely based on my believed personal faults, I was killing myself to overcome those.

Because day-to-day life had become so exhausting, I tried to shape it into something halfway manageable by sheer force of will and desperation.

I became hyper focused on making sure everything went exactly like it should all the time. Helpful hint- this is pretty freakin' dumb when you have a baby. I worried about the worse possible outcomes of every situation. I over-planned everything. I became disappointed in myself if my child cried or if I snapped at her or if I got a low A on my test.

These were all aspect of my personality that existed before I gave birth*.

But they became unhealthy.

Instead of just having high expectations for myself, I expected perfection.

Instead of being prepared, I became obsessed with identifying all potential outcomes and obtaining all required tools for survival (and yes, it felt like survival).

Instead of being organized, I became dependent on control.

Instead of having moments of insecurity, recognizing it, and making peace with myself...I listened to that little voice that pointed out every flaw and internalized it as truth.

And those were hard distinctions to make at the time. 

I didn't know how far was too far, how bad was too bad, and how to identify all these things.

So...I guess my point of writing this is to say, not everything presents the same way. Just because you know or have heard about some mental health issues does not mean you know it all...and you definitely can't always be trusted to figure it out in yourself.

 None of us can. It's hard to see the ivory tower when you're inside it...and it's hard to realize you're in the dungeon when your eyes have started to adjust to the darkness.

I have a freakin' degree in Psychology, y'all. I am a military spouse. I have very close family members who suffer with this stuff. But they suffer in their own way, for their own reasons. What was a balm for one person was a trigger for me, and vice versa.

I wish we talked about it more. I wish we talked about it before it became unmanageable, because maybe then we would spot it in the early stages. I wish we were honest about the many different ways we are all suffering.

Because no, I didn't loose my life. I didn't become addicted to harmful substances.

But I did suffer. And I did cause emotional harm, however unintentionally. And I do wonder if I will ever trust certain people fully because of the tricks my own mind played on me that I haven't completely recovered from.

After medication, honesty with my loved ones, and an ongoing mental renovation I feel much better than I did six months ago.

It's much more stable with less dramatic swings now. Things don't feel as heavy...and if they do, I have moments of pride for lifting them up and throwing them out of the way rather than feeling like it was luck I survived.

But it took failing at foster care to make me realize exactly how tenuous a grasp on my sanity I had...and that's something I can't completely come to peace with.  Our foster boys didn't deserve that, and neither did Hubs or Babycakes. I let pride and anxiety and confusion drag a lot of innocent people onto an emotional roller coaster. And I'm not mad at myself for it...but it will never be a good thing. It will never be something I can be proud of. It will always be a practice in forgiveness and faith and thoughtfulness to think of that time in my life.

Don't wait that long. Educate yourself. Check in with your loved ones. Look past the surface. Know all the signs, for yourself and others. And about it. Let's be honest and real and slow to judge.

*I specify this because I think it was this life change plus the hormonal changes that really caused my anxiety to become unhealthy...not my child. It's a weird distinction but very important one.

1 comment

  1. MFD is having a really hard time right now, switching medications. We've been through various cycles of this as medications have changed over the years and it never gets any easier. Good thing to talk about, what you wrote here and just all mental health issues in general.