Before Baby: Battling Anxiety

Part of the intention of this blog is to become Eleanor’s mother more fully, but also to remember who I was before. That person is not gone. That person is only made more complete by Eleanor joining our lives and our family. Not every part of who I was before is something I’m proud of.

Check on the mothers in your life. Are they okay?

Many of us are not okay in the world we are living in right now. As I write this, there are fires ravaging the west coast, the notorious RBG has just past away on Rosh Hashanah, Americans are perfectly content to judge how the entire economy is doing by the Dow Jones Industrial Average (which only demonstrates the current prices of a sample 30 stocks on the New York Stock Exchange), the racial inequities in America are slowly being forgotten and ignored again, and total Covid deaths are over 200,000 in the United States.

Situational anxiety is a constant in American society. We are all operating with elevated levels of cortisol when we feel ourselves feel overwhelmed, scared, or stressed about a looming deadline, a world event that shakes us, or that tough conversation we have to have with someone. To make matters worse, many of us eat terribly in America, so our insulin levels are never constant and spike and plummet throughout the day as we eat garbage instead of sustaining food.

I’m not pointing any fingers. These symptoms were present in my life from a young age.

My mother tells me stories of being stressed out before any performance or even a “big” homework assignment as early at four years old. I would be so stressed that I would get sick to my stomach. This continued through my childhood and into my adulthood. I would have a big, stressful task ahead of me, and I would get sick the night before or on the way there or … didn’t matter. I would be getting sick.

My best friends were always there for me – some literally holding my hair back and others just knowing this was a part of me and asking if I had thrown up yet before a concert, performance, big test, any big trip, etc. I genuinely thought this was how life was going to be for me. Like Gaius Julius Caesar lived with “falling sickness,” I would live with vomiting as a form of preparation for anything worthwhile.

All of this came to a head one fateful day in April 2017. I was on a plane heading home from visiting a customer who I had no business being in front of. The trip was a disaster, and I did not invoke any confidence in these new clients all week. As I flew across the country, I wished the plane would crash and kill me. I knew wishing this was not right, so I made a decision while on that plane: I needed to take medical leave. I needed to get away from my job. My job was so terrible that I needed to get medical permission to not go in to work for .. weeks, months, I didn’t care. I was a reasonable person.

I made appointments to see a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) with the strict vision that I needed a doctor’s note to get out of work and I’d be on my way. This particular practitioner did not agree with me, despite my pleas to get away from the office toxicity that made me want to die and take hundreds of fellow flight passengers with me.

She told me that my experiences sounded like a panic disorder, and I should see someone to talk about the specifics of my case. She assigned me to several classes, multiple times a week, and a weekly meeting with my own counselor in Kaiser’s psychiatry department. ‘Once you meet with James,’ she said, ‘he can determine if you should take time away from work to work on your anxiety more intensely.’

I went home to Sara annoyed and defeated that I was going to be treated like every other patient with anxiety. I told her, “I’ll do this, but if they want to put me on meds, I’m canceling all further appointments.” I told her, “and can you believe they want me to see someone instead of just getting me out of that horrible work environment?” I told her, “these people have no idea who they are about to be dealing with.”

Of course, as many of you are imagining right now. I was wrong on all three counts. Meeting with the professional gave me the tools to accept my feelings of anxiety and not let those feelings take over my life. The tools James offered me included so much more than just “take a pill and this will all go away.” Most importantly of all, these people knew exactly who they were dealing with. They knew me better than I knew myself at that point.

I worked with my therapist through the obsessive journaling I have done all my life. One of the first things James assigned as homework was a ‘thoughts and feelings journal.’ I told him I was very good at journaling my thoughts and feelings, and he seemed excited to hear what I had to show him next week. When I arrived, I had filled nearly half the journal with what I had been thinking and how I had been feeling. Pages and pages full of my thoughts and feelings. He took several moments in silence, flipping through the pages and reading passages here and there to himself.

He closed the journal with a *snap* and said, “welp, I would recommend you stop journaling for quite some time.” WHAT? I said, I WAS SPOT ON WITH YOUR INSTRUCTIONS. AREN’T THERE VALUABLE INSIGHTS THERE? He answered that the most valuable insight this journal gave him is writing in a journal may be a compulsion I have had for many years. You see, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) gets a bad reputation for causing people to wash their hands and touch doorknobs. That’s the version of OCD that gets talked about. The definition of OCD is when a person’s obsessive thoughts cause them to cope with those thoughts through a repetitive action.

My classes taught me about persons with OCD who recite the rosary to cope with obsessive thoughts. Some people obsess that they may need these thing one day, so they hoard items. Or sometimes people repeat in a cycle that they need to be perfect, so they find compulsions that relieve that thought – even for a brief time. James did not diagnose me with OCD, but he did say that I clearly had anxious thoughts that I tried to deal with through journaling and writing down those anxious thoughts compulsively. He wanted me to pattern-interrupt while I felt the anxiety and thought the obsessive thoughts.

Today, I am vigilantly observing my thoughts and feelings for rumination in all its forms. There is a risk that the Abrupt Halt for Motherhood could turn into a ruminating journal where I go round and round about my thoughts and feelings. For example, I started writing an entry that started to look an awful lot like unhealthy ruminating:

I put Ellie to bed at 1:25, but didn’t fall asleep myself. Now I’m typing this at 2:30 in the morning. Worrying. Ruminating. Battling conversations in my head with imaginary arguments. Thinking about Ellie and the life she will lead. Every time I hear her whine, squeak, or breath loudly I feel grateful that I know she’s breathing. I know she’s alive.

I never had troubles sleeping, even as I battled anxiety. I feel asleep easily, didn’t wake up in the night, and I kept to a consistent waking time. Now that Ellie is in my life, its different. I must ruin my sleep cycle.

Unpublished “Up all night” post

So as you see, there is no cure. No “I got better” moment to point to. I am a constant work in progress, and Eleanor is another and new part of my life that I allows me to grow. I also can take every opportunity to remember how I want Eleanor to experience her thoughts and feelings. I want her to learn from my life lessons and experience her feelings and thoughts in the most healthy way I can teach her. I’m still learning and still settling into life with anxiety, but I am far beyond where I stared. I’m proud of that.

Published by @electrickduckdesigns

Eight days into motherhood, I needed a place to be myself again. Follow me as I grow into this new role.

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