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When Anxiety is More Than Panic

Becoming a mom completely changed my response to my anxiety. I've always been a very anxious person. By nature I'm very shy. There are few things I like less than taking to strangers on the phone. Just the thought sends me into an avoidance spiral that has definitely had a negative impact on my ability to get things done. I didn't know until relatively recently, though, that a lot of my hot-head anger issues were because of my anxiety.

Not everyone experiences anxiety as fear or panic. Whether it's just the way some people are, or because of circumstances growing up that provoke an attack response, some people experience anxiety as irritability. That's me. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America list the symptoms as:
  • restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
  • being easily fatigued
  • difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • irritability
  • muscle tension
  • sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep)

All of these things, for as long as I can remember, have made me a really grumpy person. I'd accepted long ago that this is just who I am.

Then I had a baby. Like most moms, I fell in love with her instantly. A love so warm and overwhelming that I couldn't imagine ever hurting her the way my mother hurt me. That's a topic for another blog post maybe, but long story short my mother was a very angry and mentally ill person when I was a child. She took it out on me, verbally and emotionally. The consequences of growing up in that environment have been long lasting.

The worst for me was in the middle of the night when my daughter started teething. With my irritability dialed up to 11 thanks to sleep deprivation, I would say things to my husband and baby that I would regret intensely in the morning. Thank goodness she will never remember. I couldn't stand the person I was becoming so I went to the doctor for help. I started seeing a therapist and taking medication.

This step, especially the medication, was a major decision and one of the hardest I've ever had to make. With the way our culture stigmatizes mental illness and medication, I'd avoided it for over 20 years. I was determined that I could overcome it on my own, treat it naturally or with mental exercises. My first week on medication, it helped so much that I couldn't believe I waited so long and suffered so much.

Medication is not for everyone, and it should ideally be used in conjunction with emotional support from a therapist. But for me and my family, it's essential. It's been a bit of a rough road finding the right medication and the right dosage, but I feel better than I have in years. The relationship I have with my daughter and husband is calm, stable, and loving. It's hard to admit that maybe the issues you're having in your life are caused by you and not someone else. It's hard to admit sometimes that you need help. It's even harder to seek it out. But if you can see yourself in the words I've written, I encourage you to seek the help you need.


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