5 months ago
How I’m Taking Control of My Anxiety
I’ve touched on having some issues with anxiety but haven’t really talked about it. Sharing the real stuff is never easy but it’s always cathartic, and it’s these posts that really connect us. The details of my home, what I’m wearing, and the toys my girls are playing with are fun and for some, helpful. But this – this is the kind of “content” that might really help someone, and it’s time I put it out there. So let’s talk about my struggle with anxiety and what I’m doing to take control of it.
How it started
I can’t really pinpoint a time when anxiety became an issue for me. That’s probably because it’s been there for as long as I can remember. My childhood came with some traumatic events – a great deal has been blocked – and I know it all played a big role. I’m willing to share one example I do remember for context. I was afraid my dad would kidnap me at night and was often too scared to fall asleep. This was a very real fear and years later (I have never shared this before) he kidnapped my youngest half-sister. I had only met her a few times as a baby and barely saw him throughout my teenage years, so it didn’t directly impact my life but it also did. She was fine and I never heard from him again.
Worry has always been a part of my life, but we all worry. It’s part of being human. When that worry is an intense worry that you are incapable of controlling, it’s time to start thinking about talking to someone. When my daughter went on her first walk with our nanny at just 4 months, I almost asked our nanny not to cross the street so they wouldn’t get hit by a car. Any time she drove her to the library, I worried about a possible car accident. I was otherwise happy, did not struggle with PPD, and forced myself to get past my “worry” because I couldn’t keep my baby in a bubble and had to let go. I thought it was just me being a first time mom.
As you can imagine, cancer is an anxious parent’s worst nightmare. The toxic drugs, not knowing if everything is going to be ok, and not being able to do a thing about it – it’s one of the worst things any parent can go through. Other moms I’ve spoken to who hadn’t dealt with anxiety before diagnosis needed to go on medication to get through it. My anxiety was crippling as it would be for any parent, but I couldn’t do anything to ease it.
My anxiety and how I coped
I would always take control by organizing. Looking back, this has been a coping mechanism since I was a child. When I was young (as young as 9/10) I had a big bin with drawers to organize lego pieces by type. In high school, I’d organize closets when I didn’t have anything else to do. In college, I’d organize my drawers and closet before an exam. And now? I clean, organize, and purge, but have a lot less time to do those things since I’m with the girls, so I’m feeling the stress more than I usually would.
The thing is, I also enjoy organizing, so it’s not always how I cope. Last year, Conor walked in on me putting custom labels on glass spice jars and asked if I was ok. I was great. Just making our spice drawer look a little better. So yes, it’s one way I cope, but it’s not always a sign that something’s wrong. For me, there’s a difference in how I feel when I’m organizing because it feels good and organizing when I’m stressed.
Normal things can make me really anxious. When I found out the oral surgery I knew was coming was imminent, I was unfazed. Strangely, I had really anxious thoughts about it all last year. It’s all perspective from what we’ve been through with Margot, but those were things that a year ago, would have really stressed me out. I’d fixate on things that were coming up that I could not control.
I’ll stress over small things like messages on instagram that I don’t have time to reply to, or having too many unread emails in my inbox. While I’ve chilled out when it comes to our house and will leave dishes in the sink all day and let toys remain scattered all over our first floor, I do feel better when things are tidy. When I have a moment to myself, until recently, I would choose cleaning over relaxing, but I’m making an effort to put myself first. Last week, both girls napped at the same time and instead of cleaning or working on my blog, I crawled into bed and slept for an hour. Feeling like I can’t do what I want or need to do will take a toll, and that can leave me feeling stressed. I love being with the girls but can’t get much done, and that’s not always easy. Then there’s COVID and general loneliness from isolating.
I haven’t worried about Kate the way I worried about Margot, but will say that I probably would have been more anxious without the nanit breathewear, and that’s something to consider. I don’t think I would have let Kate nap in a room without being able to see a monitor and know she’s ok. I don’t check it while she naps, but can if I need to. We don’t keep anything in her crib and follow all AAP guidelines, but being able to see that she’s breathing via her monitor eased my mind when we transitioned her into her crib.
When I’m really anxious, I have a lot of trouble sleeping, and will go to bed after midnight. That’s something I do when I’m not stressed, too, because that’s my only time to get anything done. But lately, I’ve been a lot more unplugged and using that time to rest and relax, because that’s what I need right now. It means fewer blog posts but that’s ok.
Big steps toward taking control
The months leading up to the most difficult block of Margot’s treatment, things got really bad for me. I messaged my now close friend (a cancer mom who got me through treatment by really being there for me when I needed her) almost daily. I needed to know what to expect and desperately needed reassurance. I was ok when I was with Margot, or at least I seemed ok to her, but inside, the constant anxiety completely consumed me. This happened to every single mother I’ve spoken to and a few recommended medication. I couldn’t get a grip on my anxiety and knew it was time to do something about it.
That’s when I called my therapist and made the decision to go on medication. She gave me the name of a psychiatrist that it would have taken forever to get into, but because I was postpartum and didn’t really have time, I was able to call my OB. I am not a doctor and cannot recommend a specific medication or dosage, but because I know people will ask, my doctor prescribed 10mg. daily Lexapro. It helped a lot since it was just too much for me to try to bring myself down from all of this on my own. What I’m taking doesn’t matter – if you’re struggling, talk to your doctor. Find a psychiatrist or talk to your OB or general practitioner.
Once we made it through the most aggressive part of Margot’s Leukemia treatment, I felt like a weight had been lifted, and made the decision to stop taking my medication. When I spoke to my OB, she had recommended staying on it to get through everything, and once we were through the hardest part, I really thought I was ok. Then we started maintenance and had a traumatic experience that I’d rather not discuss, and my anxiety spiked again. Discussions about how to handle COVID, how to try to see people (I feel like we can’t), and when we’ll be able to have help with the girls…it was all too much. I was and am ok day-to-day, but found myself feeling far too anxious.
So now you know why I stopped taking my meds, but why did I stop seeing my therapist? We saw each other weekly leading up to my wedding and for a while after. I thought I was in a good place and should have continued sessions every few weeks, but our new house was an hour away from her office. As a working mom, I didn’t have the time to be away for three hours to go anywhere on a work day. I tried to find another therapist closer to home but didn’t connect with anyone and then the pandemic hit. Then my daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia and I had a new baby. My therapist was as flexible as possible, but it was impossible to know when we’d be in the hospital and when Margot would be feeling ok enough for me to leave her side those first few months. I saw her a few times throughout treatment but scheduling was so difficult for me. Therapy is something I strongly believe in, even when things are going well. Looking back, I understand how it felt like “one more thing” when I had nothing left to give, but it was exactly what I needed, and I regret my decision to stop.
Once we were in a good place with the girls naps and Margot was through DI, I called my therapist again. She got me in right away and we started scheduling weekly sessions. I went back on my meds. Fortunately, everything’s virtual and that’s working well for us, so we’re going to continue to see each other virtually. Learning to cope with the worry and fear after the trauma we’ve been through is going to be hard, but most of us don’t have the tools to cope on our own. It’s not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of being human. Asking for help is never a bad thing.
Most of us don’t have the tools to cope on our own. It’s not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of being human. Asking for help is never a bad thing.
Gratitude is something else that really helps me when I’m feeling anxious. Instead of focusing on all the bad that Margot has had to go through, I remember that we get to save her. The odds are so in her favor, we have access to an incredible hospital, can afford treatment, and I got to step down from work and get her through this. Those are all privileges that many people in treatment do not have, and choosing to look at the good can help. This is why I fundraise. Taking this nightmare and doing something good with it doesn’t make it worth it, but it brings some purpose to the immense pain that I’ve had to go through.
I’m trying to spend less time on social media and less hours on the computer late at night. No more working until midnight – I just can’t do it and need to unplug. I don’t scroll instagram the way I used to and miss a lot, but it’s what I need right now. I don’t have to answer every message because nothing is more important than my girls. I do my best, but have to have some boundaries. If it’s that important, I’ll get an email. We’re talking about looking for part-time childcare, if we can find someone isolated who is willing to wear a mask until they’re vaccinated. This, of course, is bringing up some anxiety, but if we can find someone we trust, I think it would help a lot.
This year has been a lot for so many of us, and whether you’ve struggled with anxiety or find yourself feeling anxious due to what we’ve all been facing with this pandemic, know that there is nothing wrong with you. Anxiety doesn’t have to take over your life, but it’s so easy to brush it off and keep going. Mental health is something we should be talking about, and I could have just left it as “I’m anxious” but hope that sharing my story will help some of you feel less alone.
If you struggle with anxiety, I’d love to hear more about some of the ways you cope. And if you find yourself struggling, please consider seeking professional help.