Overcoming Anxiety as a Mom
It can happen at the most random of times, and can come on without warning or apology. It’s like a thief trying to wring every last ounce of joy out of my circumstance. Like a dark cloud that wants to sit over my head and surround me with darkness. Anxiety. I always thought of it as a crippling condition. I didn’t think you could power through it or escape it. I thought anxiety was something that needed to be medicated. Or, on the flipside, was it just the normal stress and frustration of life that most people experience, but with a diagnosis?
We’ve experienced a fair amount of change in the past couple of years. Some was expected and some quite unexpected (cough*cough*BROOKS*cough), but something that I never in a million years expected was to realize that I have anxiety. I remember being in a session with my counselor and talking about the different things that were going on in my life. I was worried about a few particular things, about being spread so thin. Afraid that I was raising my kids in a way that was going to leave them feeling unloved or unwanted. Stressed about all of the things that were on my plate. I went on and on and on for the entire session, and close to the end she broke down all of the things that I had said into bite size chunks and then said, “It sounds to me like you have anxiety”.
First of all, what? That was shocking. When I look back at myself 3 or 4 years ago, I see a woman who may have been slightly overwhelmed with a few kids, but was still happy, easygoing and generally felt in control of her life. I was content, I was joyful, I was able. I remember having challenging days, but I never would have said that the season that I was in was challenging or that the word “challenging” defined my life.
Secondly, of course. That makes sense. Our circumstances have changed dramatically, and those changes are the source of this added stress, worry, fear and therefore anxiety.
Thirdly, I think that this has actually been a problem for quite some time, but I have only just realized it because I stopped drinking. All of the sudden I’m feeling all of the feelings that I’m supposed to feel instead of numbing them with a glass of wine or a margarita at 5 o’clock. Before it used to be: Toddler had lots of meltdowns? Have a drink. Exhausted from a busy day of errands? Have a drink. Feeling nervous about social situations? Have a drink. I had “earned” it or I “deserved” it. It wasn’t a problem; everyone drinks once dinnertime rolls around, Right?
Now: I’m all of the sudden exponentially more stressed, worried, sad, frustrated, angry and upset than I ever have been before because I’m facing the stress head-on instead of running away from it. Therefore, anxiety is now a part of my life. “Oh, hey there, Anxiety. Nice to have you here. Come in and make yourself comfortable. Grab a seat if you wish. If you could introduce yourself to the others that are around, that would make things go much more smoothly around here. No? You’d rather hide in the shadows? Okay, suit yourself. Oh, you’re here to make things more difficult for me? Awesome. You’re here to fit into every nook and cranny of my life? Sweet. And you’ll be staying for how long? For an undetermined amount of time? Great. Thanks. Just checking”.
Not too long ago, during one of the many meltdowns I’ve had, I asked my husband, “How bad does this have to get before we talk about medication?”. It had gotten to the point where the littlest of changes would put me over the edge. A tantrum was no longer manageable, but detrimental to my day. Being around people, even people that I love was exhausting because I was constantly running on empty. Most days, I felt like I had reached my capacity by 11:30 or 12, but had to keep pushing through because I was responsible for this tiny army that I myself had created. By the time Seth would come home at 5, all I could do was tap out. Sometimes all I needed was 15 minutes of not being touched. Sometimes I would fall asleep and wake up hours later. There were a few times that I woke to find that I had slept through dinner and bedtime. My body literally shut down because it couldn’t handle any more stimulation. Did I have anxiety or was I just exhausted? They jury is still out on that one, but whatever it was was tangibly affecting my everyday.
The week following the conversation about medication*, I thought about it a lot. I thought about how strong I had once been and how weak I now felt. I thought about how I had once been so capable, and now felt completely inadequate to raise my own children. I thought about the different circumstances that had led me to this place, and about how I barely had enough time to think about the things that I was feeling let alone fix them. There was so much to filter through, so many things to identify and so many emotions to deal with, but through the clutter and chaos that was within my own heart and mind, I heard it. It was a reminder. It was a call. It was an encouragement. It was a soft and sweet whisper that told me to be “bold and courageous” and despite its gentle nature, it cleared my mind in an instant of all of the other fears and insecurities.
I was reminded that this life is not one that I’m supposed to live by myself. I’m not supposed to make it through the day with the strength that I muster up inside of me. If that were the case, I would have been done a long time ago. The truth is that God gives me the strength to live out all of my days, challenging or not. I need Jesus every single day of my life; some days it’s just more apparent than others. My inadequacies are innumerable, but He makes me capable and gives me the strength to face the day AND it’s mounds of crap. When I’m doing okay, I don’t realize my desperate need for Him. When I’m functioning within my own limitations, within my comfort zone, I CAN do it by myself. Now that all of our surroundings and circumstances are different, I’m painfully aware of how much I need Him, and you know what? I’m okay with needing Him. I can say with confidence, “I cannot do this by myself”, because it’s when I get to the end of my rope, that he supernaturally comes through for me and makes me strong. And that is true of my parenting, my friendships and my anxiety. I can be bold and courageous when I feel overwhelmed, when I’m stressed, when I’m afraid and when I don’t feel like I can do ONE. MORE. THING. Because in my weakness, my inability, my fear HE is strong.
This is the answer to, “Four boys? How do you do it?”. Him. It’s all Him. It’s all grace. It’s the reason that I can carry on, despite having my hands so very full. It’s how I remained standing when things were very, very hard. It’s why I can continue smiling, loving, giving and even rejoicing. I’ve faltered, but I did not fail because of who He is. I’ve been in the middle of storms, but He has kept me safe. I’ve doubted and wondered if I was the right person for the job, but He calls me qualified. He calls me a conqueror. He calls me lovely. He calls me to himself, because it’s there that I find my affirmation, my purpose and my strength. Him. It’s all Him.
*I do think that there is a time and a place to consider medication, but for me personally, now is not that time. Now is the time for me to lean into Jesus, to consistently remind myself that he is where my strength comes from and to share as much as I can about the fact that I cannot do this by myself.