I knew I was going to marry my husband when he pulled into the drug store so I could get a Tide Pen for my cloth wedges. During one of our dates, I had made the terrible choice to wear white shoes on a day we would spend walking outside. What was worse, it had rained just hours before that. Throughout the day I managed to avoid most of the puddles, but as careful as I was, I still managed to get a few spots of mud on my shoes.
When you suffer from anxiety, it isn’t the dirty shoes that bother you, it’s the thought process of how such a simple mistake could have been avoided and it plays over and over in your head until it drives you crazy. Something as simple as mud on a white shoe can turn a small tragedy into a gigantic ordeal. We sat in silence as I gripped onto the door trying to center myself. I went to work on the war inside my brain to talk myself down from a potential panic attack. Suddenly, my date pulled into a pharmacy parking lot. He put the car in park, looked over at me, pointed to my shoe and said, “Do you think a Tide Pen would get that out?”
Small little details like this in our relationship told me that he was listening, and he took my concerns seriously. No matter how small they might have seemed to other people. For me, this was a big deal, a game changer, he was the one. He didn’t tell me I was over reacting, he didn’t laugh at me, and he didn’t ignore my concerns. He listened, and he acted and for someone with anxiety, that is huge.
About a year into our relationship my husband was aware of my tendencies to “over react.” To him, however, it was just a cute tick. He was not aware that a small characteristic of my anxiety had seeped out. It wasn’t until we moved in together that he began to understand my obsessive reactions to small details was much more than an innocent trait. As my husband and I were building a foundation around our relationship, I was also learning a lot about my anxiety triggers and how to manage them. When I felt a panic attack coming on I would run away to the bathroom and lock the door.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I had opened up about my anxiety to my husband. I still don’t go into much detail with him on how my brain works. I still escape to the bathroom when I feel my chest start to tighten but he’s aware that my brain doesn’t process events and situations like most people. Every once in awhile he’ll ask me how I’m feeling or do his best to calm me when I start to feel overly anxious. I know he tip toes around certain topics and he’s careful how he delivers some of his conversations and I appreciate him for that. What I love most, however, is his ability to read the room when it comes to our daughter.
For the most part, my daughter helps me conquer my anxiety and manage my emotions. Maybe it’s my mom instincts kicking in and allowing my brain to properly process information. Maybe it’s the determination of wanting to be a good mother. It amazes me how calm I can be during certain situations that involve my daughter. Normal things that would send someone with an anxiety disorder over the edge, like a high temperature, fussiness, or a persistent cough. I don’t obsess over some of these things as much except when my anxiety spikes. For the most part, I have been able to handle these situations calmly and effectively.
Having a baby, however, has introduced me to new triggers, like when she is crying in the car while I’m driving and I cant sooth her. When she fights with me for 3 hours in the middle of the night. If she has a melt down in public and I didn’t pack all the essentials to calm her down. Amazingly enough, my husband has picked up on cues that suggest I am starting to feel stressed out and he swoops in. Without passing judgment or criticizing, he takes over and allows me the opportunity to re-center myself. Moments like this, I am extremely thankful for a support system like him. He truly is my life line and I am not sure how I would be able to get through some days without him. He is a great husband, but above all, he is an amazing father. As our daughter grows, she’ll watch us work together as a family, she’ll see a mommy who tries her best and a daddy who loves both of his girls very much. I want to be a good mom to her and have it all together all the time, but the realization is sometimes I need a moment. No one understands that better than her dad.
When I walk away feeling like a disappointment, he reassures me with a kiss on the forehead and tells me I am a good mom. In the moment, it’s hard to find truth in the statement when I feel like I failed my daughter. When I feel like my anxiety is consuming me and I’m exhausted from lack of sleep, my husband fly’s in like Superdad. He whisks our baby away for a fun filled day of daddy – daughter time and I get a moment to recharge. After this, I can come back calmer, the mom guilt is gone, and my daughter reassures me that I am doing just fine when I am greeted with a large gummy smile and her two hands reaching up for me. My self-care moments are important. It allows me to build the strength I need to properly car for my daughter and I have a wonderful partner who agrees.
Support systems are so important when you are a parent struggling with a mental illness. Whether it’s a partner, a friend, or family, my advice is to connect with someone you trust. Ask them to be your life line if they are familiar with your struggles. If you try to do it all yourself, your mental illness could consume you. A mental illness is draining, and it takes a lot of work to manage it, so don’t feel guilty about needing a break to recharge and rest. No, not everyone is going to understand what it is that your going through and why you are having a hard time, but if they love you they will want to support you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is important for your health and for you as a parent. You’re not always going to nail this parenting thing, no parent does. We all have our moments of feeling helpless and overwhelmed. Self-care is very important for all parents, even you.