Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month?
Yeah, me neither.
I found out last week when one of my friends posted it on Facebook, and I thought; “Shooooooooooot. Guess I’m going to have to step it up this month.” I wouldn’t be anything short of hypocritical if I didn’t, because….. I’m pretty much as mental as they come 😂
I put the “mental” in mental health, son.
HOLLA at your girl!!
Okay, but in all seriousness, I’ve been trying desperately for months to write another post tracking my mental health journey…. all the struggles, victories and progress that’s taken place since I first started this blog. I actually have 4 unfinished drafts just chillin in my file, waiting for their big moment that may or may not come. For one reason or another (anxiety), I haven’t been able to say what I want to say (anxiety)….. Or maybe, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say (anxiety), or how to frame it all so it flowed nicely (anxiety, anxiety, anxiety….) I guess that’s just one of the ‘perks’ to being a perfectionist AND having ADD at the same time. OR MAYBE it’s the ol’ anxiety doing what it does best….. #youolddog #thestruggleisreal
So, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve resolved to push past all my lameness and start writing and speaking openly again about mental health and how it has affected my life. AND I’ll be sharing things that have helped me cope and learn to live a happy life despite it!
Yay For Extras!
Now, I think I’ve mentioned before that I have lived (live, presently) with multiple mental illnesses. Except, I don’t really refer to them as ‘illnesses’ anymore. I call them my ‘extras’.
Yeah, that’s right. I have extras. 💪
When I think of them as extras, rather than illnesses, I don’t feel as much of a negative connotation surrounding (my) mental health. This also helps me as I reflect upon the end of a particularly hard day to think about how my extras contributed both negatively and positively. I feel a lighter, more accepting feeling… kind of like… telling all my issues to bring it in for a group hug, and saying, “Okay, I’ve spent most of my life trying to get rid of you. Instead, let’s see what I can do with you….” Then we all give each other a metaphorical high-five…… at which point I realize I really am crazy.
Just kidding. About that last sentence anyway – I swear I’m not alone in my kitchen giving air high fives to my anxiety, depression, and ocd.
So I’ve decided to break the extras down into 1 per post – rather than try to cram all this awesomeness into one insanely long smorgasbord of MH (mental health) information. I’ll try to post each week discussing a different ‘Extra’ or MH issue. Woohoo! It’s your lucky month, people!
So, without further adieu, I will begin first with
……..*drum roll please*………
Bet you didn’t see that one coming 😂😉
Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the U.S. affecting nearly 40 MILLION Americans! And that’s just adults! Another estimated 3% of children ages 3-17 suffer with anxiety as well. It can range from mild to severe and can completely alter one’s ability to function normally. It can also have serious repercussions if left undiagnosed and untreated (poor performance in school or work, strained relationships, substance abuse, self harm etc).
This was one of the first disorders I developed, and the earliest I remember struggling with it is 8 years old. I specifically remember it starting after watching a scary show at my grandma’s house. Some of my older, cooler cousins were watching “Are you afraid of the dark?” on Nickelodeon, and I thought it was a good idea for me to watch it too. Often times there is a trigger tucked away in the minds of people who have a predisposition to anxiety and ocd. And I think the images in that show were my trigger. That was the beginning. The image of that scary ghost man that showed up anytime the letter Q was present. That’s all it took to trigger that part of my brain that was prone to OCD and Anxiety (the two are often intertwined, and I’ll write more about the ocd later, and focus on the anxiety bit for this post). Like any kid who sees or hears something scary, I had nightmares and couldn’t sleep. Except, it wasn’t just that night, or that week, or that month. It went on for months.
And when the freaky Q guy stopped scaring me, something else was there to take his place.
So these months turned into years. Years of dreading the night. Years of small panic attacks every time the sun would start to set. Years of sleepless nights – wide awake for what seemed like hours….envisioning these terrible, scary things. However, I will say that there were times of reprieve during this phase. I didn’t seem to be as affected during the fall and winter months, whereas I would have frequent episodes during the spring and summer months. And even though the light of the morning brought a welcome respite from the night and the creatures of my imagination…. a whole other set of fears were waking up with me to accompany the day.
I WOULD ALWAYS WORRY.
I would worry that my mom was going to die. I was worried that I was going to die. Worried that ANYBODY I KNEW was going to die. If my mom was out running errands and I heard sirens somewhere in the distance, I thought for sure she had gotten in a car accident and died. I frequently thought I had some terminal illness or disease, like Cancer or AIDS (how would I even get AIDS??!), or even leprosy. I was frequently in a state of worry and fear. Total, irrational fears.
Like AIDS. And Leprosy.
At one point it got so bad that I started to feel a displacement from reality. Like I was living in a dream and nothing was real….I was just part of some weird mundane dream, and I just tried to go about my business like normal. That lasted for about a week, and I was 9 or 10 at the time.
Luckily, around 6th grade things started to shift, and the severity, intensity, and frequency of my anxiety started to decrease . I was less scared and worried, and I stopped having those weird out of body experiences. YASSSS!!!
Buuuuuut, a few years later it came back.
Anxiety as a young adult vs Anxiety as a child
Some of the anxiety I experienced as a teenager looked a lot like what I went through as a child: The constant fear of death, the fear of becoming ill, or the fear of leaving my home overnight. As a teen I began to worry over seemingly insignificant things (something I did or said earlier in the day and how it was interpreted by others). I was (still can be) completely indecisive, because I was worried I would make the wrong decision or end up not liking my choice. I’d get this sick feeling to my stomach anytime I had to make a decision…. and that sick feeling usually wouldn’t go away until the event had passed and everything turned out okay. I began to have small panic attacks anytime I was late to class and had to enter the classroom after everyone was already seated. Bleh, the woooorst. AND I would have panic attacks anytime I felt confined or constricted in an area. Also, the worst.
Between the anxiety and the developing ocd, my parents decided to put me on medication, and that seemed to lift some of the burden of these magical extras 🙂
So, in full transparency, I have been on medication for anxiety (and ocd and depression…. one pill fits all, I guess) for 17 years. Since I was 15.
So what does anxiety look like for a 32 year old mom?
A lot the same, and totally different all at the same time. Let me explain: The things I worried about as a child and teenager have become less intense and less debilitating as they once were. There’s a few factors I think can take credit for that; 1. The right combination and dose of medication. 2. The learning and experience that comes with age and time. I still worry about death, probably more than I should, but I’m usually able to let those thoughts pass by quickly, rather than work myself into a nauseated, sobbing blob of pathetic-ness. I still worry about people’s perception of me, but I’m giving that rope more and more slack all the time, and becoming more comfortable with who I am. I still struggle to commit to attending an activity or go on trips, because I feel safer at home and find comfort in my routine. I actually love being with people, so the decision of whether or not to go somewhere is a real catch 22 for me and ends up being more complicated than it should be….. the desire to have fun and socialize, but the fear of the unknown as I leave my comfortable routine…. and that knot in my stomach…which doesn’t go away until; a) I get to wherever it is I’m going OR b) I stay home. Even then I’ll wonder if I made the right choice ha ha! It’s a suuuuper fun way to live, and I highly recommend it…
But not really
Live your life with abandon, people!!!
I also still get panic attacks every now and then (probably once or twice a year). *If you’ve never had a panic attack, let me catch you up to speed. Just imagine feeling really, really nervous about something for a long period of time. And that nervousness gets more and more intense until you feel like you’re having a hard time breathing. Your breaths become quicker and more shallow, and you start to feel like there’s a weight on your chest that’s making you struggle for breath. Sometimes it can feel like you’re having a heart attack and you’re convinced you’re going to die because you LITERALLY can’t breathe.
*You are now up to speed.*
So, now let’s talk about what’s different about my anxiety as a mom vs a teen and child….
The way it manifests itself.
It translates as anger and irritability, because so many things feel out of my control. People with anxiety necessitate control with everything inside their bubble. If we’re in control, we feel safe. If we feel safe, we’re at peace.
The problem is, kids bring so much unpredictability to every day life. Weird, right? 3 rambunctious, free-spirited, filthy, audacious, highly emotional and reactive little boys. I swear I’m adding lines daily to an already crowded forehead. The Lord definitely had a sense of humor when he sent me these 3 special spirits……Especially that last, very special, spirit…..
2. I procrastinate. A lot.
I’ll admit, some of my procrastination is due to the fact that old habits die hard lol. But a lot of times I will put things off until I absolutely HAVE to address them, because the idea of starting a task is so intimidating and gives me a lot of anxiety! Even seemingly small tasks… “Where do I start? Am I doing it right? What if I can’t get it done? What if I start it and the baby interrupts me and it remains unfinished for months? What if I mess up….”
Aside from the residual flow of dirt, stink, noise, and missing shoes and socks (they can remember something I said a year ago, but not where the shoes are they took off 10 minutes prior…), aside from all that, I constantly worry that I’m messing up. Am I giving them enough love and connection to keep them from being addicts later on in life? Are they going to get cancer because we don’t eat organic and they eat things with read food dye?
Am I teaching them how to be strong, yet kind? To develop their interests and talents, but still have balance? Am I teaching them how to work hard, but allowing room for a magical childhood at the same time? Have I messed them up forever because I’ve used my ‘Batman’ voice for the 5th time today??!!
Now, these are all typical fears shared by mother’s everywhere. The difference is; those with true anxiety disorder think about these things non-stop. Day in, day out, and it affects our moods and attitudes, because there’s always this constant fear looming over us. Whereas those who do not suffer from anxiety disorder only have bouts of worry here and there and are able to move past it fairly quickly.
You lucky dogs, you.
I’ve HAD to teach myself to try and let go of the things I can’t control – otherwise I’m not giving the best parts of myself to my kids and my husband. I’m not really present or really happy when my thoughts are preoccupied with worry. I’ve noticed a big change in my connection with my kids the days I actively try to let go of the fear and the worry that fogs my mind so frequently. I’m focusing more on their smiles and laughter, the dirt on their faces and the brightness in their eyes and how much beauty surrounds me in that present moment.
THAT beats the pants off riding the rocking horse.
It’s definitely a process, and some days and weeks are harder than others, but the more I practice it, the easier it becomes.
What has helped me so far?
- Becoming more self aware by practicing mindfulness.
Basically mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique (Google search definition). I am a complete novice at this, and truthfully I’ve just applied techniques I’ve picked up here and there…but the things I’ve learned and practiced seem to be helping, I hope to take a class on it soon!
If you know little about the practice of mindfulness, and want to learn more HERE might be a good place to start!!
2. Listening to motivational, informational, and inspirational podcasts during my “Free Time” (exercising, folding laundry, doing dishes etc.)
This has really opened my realm of understanding and the way I view the world. I can’t recommend it enough! Some of my favorites are:
- Ted Radio Hour
- Inspirational Living Hour by livinghour.org
*Leave a comment if you’re interested in my favorite episodes from each one of the podcasts listed above!!*
3. Using my Anxiety to initiate change
You know that list I mentioned of all the possible ways I could screw up my kids forever? Well, turns out, my anxiety actually benefits me for this particular situation. I’m so worried about my mental illne….uh, extras, negatively impacting their lives, that I try harder and make more of a conscious effort to chill out have more of a normal mindset. You know, because they’ll undisputedly be alcoholics who spend their lives in and out of prison if I don’t lol
The Bottom Line
Out of the 40 million people who suffer from anxiety, only 36% seek and receive treatment for it. Which is really sad, because this disorder is highly treatable! Please, whether it’s therapy, medication, or meditation, find what works for you and make it a priority! Put your mental health first and live the happiest version of your life!
Even if you feel broken – which you’re not – just remember….
Also, if you’re a parent and you suspect your child suffers from anxiety, DO NOT hesitate to seek help for them. I’ve heard too many times where parents won’t take their children in for a diagnosis for this or that, because they don’t want to ‘Label’ their children, or they think it will hinder their growth and progress. This could not be further from the truth! You will be doing them the biggest favor of their lives…. Diagnosis aren’t made to give your child a ‘label’ or an ‘excuse’… their purpose is to allow your child to receive the best treatment possible by teaching coping skills and tailoring treatment to a child’s specific needs.
I can’t imagine you would deny your child insulin if he was diabetic…. why deny him a chance at a more normal life if he suffers from a (or multiple) mental health disorder(s)?
That’s just tragic.
The stigma needs to end.
Mental illness is real, and it is affecting more and more Americans every year. And it’s not going to go away by turning a blind eye to it. We need more people to step up. Open up and speak honestly about the reality of mental illness. We need to become more educated, more accepting, less fearful, less judgemental, and more proactive.
Otherwise, millions of people will remain silent sufferers in the dark, when – with help and proper treatment – they could be living a more beautiful, meaningful, and happy life.
A life full of color……
A life full of extra.
*Please visit these two websites for more helpful information concerning anxiety. You can find them here: https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics# AND here: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/anxiety-disorders.html