From the outside my life is beautiful. And it is. My husband is kind, loving, thoughtful, hard-working and handsome. My son is funny, spunky, and adorable. We live in a neat city and have a great place to live. I get to stay home with my son, a long time goal of mine, and explore the world every day with him. I have time to explore hobbies like painting, drawing, and knitting. I cook, walk, hike, adventure in the city, read cookbooks, garden, play race cars and blocks, and enjoy time with my family. It really is a wonderful life.
But I have a confession to make. Several in fact.
I struggle every day with anxiety.
And a borderline eating disorder.
And bits of obsessive compulsive disorder.
These struggles have raised their ugly heads at different times in my life, starting in college. Over the years I’ve learned to manage my struggles and conceal their effects. I thought everyone was this way. Everyone else could manage, why couldn’t I? If only I was braver. Or had more faith. If I tried harder or just “got over it” then I could leave these thoughts and feelings behind.
Unfortunately, I got really really good at managing. It wasn’t until my son was born that things really got out of control. My fears and anxious thoughts grew inside me. I was driven to more fear by intrusive thoughts. I didn’t feel like eating, so I would skip meals. My thoughts scared me, so I avoided them. I was supposed to love motherhood, so I pretended I did.
Surely I was a bad mom…
If I could just nurse better…
If I just tried harder…
If I could just stop thinking and sleep…
If I could just feel better…
The tunnel got longer and darker. While traveling through Europe in the spring insomnia, anxiety, nausea, and anorexia took over. I thought it was jet lag, combined with a bad cycle of being awake at night and then feeling sick because I was overtired. I barely slept. I ate maybe one meal a day, maybe. Then, when we came home my cat had run away and our apartment was overrun with fleas. I didn’t sleep at all for days and felt crushing weight on my chest in the wee hours of the night.
Looking back the signs of trouble are so clear. But when you are in middle, it’s your “normal.” I didn’t know it wasn’t ok.
Around little man’s first birthday I started suggesting we have another baby. (as I mentioned before, I had no idea how sick I was). My husband suggested a doctor visit to “just check things out and make sure everything was good to go.” I thought this was about a pap smear and a skin irritation on my toe. For my husband, it was the gentlest way he could find to get me some help, he was really worried and didn’t know where to turn. As the day of the appointment approached I told my husband that maybe I would just mention to the doctor how I was feeling. It was probably nothing but maybe worth at least asking. But surely it was nothing out of the ordinary, I mean, it’s hard to be a parent and we are all tired.
When the time came to share my thoughts and feelings, I struggled to fight the tears and haltingly let my fears spill out. At that first appointment I shared only a small portion of the darkness with my doctor, but even some of those things were secrets I had kept from my husband. I left that day with a referral for a therapist and mix of relief and sadness.
For anyone who’s gone through therapy or any major life adjustment, you know it can be a huge battle. I started strong, relieved to have help and feeling courageous for having stepped forward. But it was hard. Really hard. I started an antidepressant and it took a long time to work. During that first 6 weeks I was an emotional disaster. Each time I upped my dose (this is one I had to ease on to), my insomnia went crazy. I felt like I had someone had turned my brain on fast forward and hooked an electric current up to my muscles. I had zero control over my emotions and resented all the “normal” people.
I was angry a lot.
Angry at my husband for making me go to the doctor.
Angry at all the people who threw the word anxiety around like it meant nothing.
Angry at the people who didn’t understand.
Angry at my therapist.
Angry at anyone who tried to help.
Mostly I was really angry with myself for ever letting on there was a problem.
One afternoon I screamed at my husband that I wish I had never told him, that I had kept it all packed away so he didn’t know and then none of this would have happened. I cried a lot through these days.
It was a dark time for me and I would imagine for my husband as well. But thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. My incredible husband just took it and loved me anyway. I think he could see the pain and understand that it wasn’t about him. He is more than what I deserve in so many ways and I am incredibly grateful for him every day. He took me to therapy on terrible days. He helped me remember my medicine. He never judged my struggles. He always encouraged my positive changes and cheered me past my setbacks.
Slowly things started to change in little ways. My medicine started to help and the volume in my head started to turn down. My doctor prescribed a second medication, a sedative, for the really terrible days so I would not get stuck in the dark places. I worked hard to retrain my thoughts and be kind to myself. I scheduled meals and snacks every 90 minutes to keep my eating disorder in check. I exercised every day and planned outings with little man many times a week. I studied my anxiety book and went to therapy. I prayed for strength and courage.
I felt happier and a little more flexible. I started to feel less fragile and more steady. But I was still dancing on the line and had many days of stumbling through the dark fog. My husband started to talk about “the new you” and we both noticed changes in me. It was a relief to finally see some light in all the darkness. I told my husband countless times that I didn’t know that I could feel this good, this happy, this balanced. And I was getting better all the time.
I still have so much to learn, but being healthy feels so good. You can leave the darkness. You don’t have to stay here. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Although I still have further to go, I’ve learned some really important things along the way. Most importantly, I’ve given myself permission to be me.
To make mistakes.
To be unsure or afraid.
To take care of me.
To be really happy.
To be me.
It’s a small thing, but it changes everything.