Anxiety and Motherhood
Parenting with a mental disorder is no easy feat. Raising children is hard enough on it’s own, now imagine doing it when you are constantly at war with your own head. It’s kind of like trying to rescue someone from drowning when you don’t know how to swim. It’s scary, it’s exhausting, and it’s a lot of work. There are day’s when you are not quite sure how you are going to get through it. You’re trying to keep yourself afloat through toddler tantrums, dinner struggles, and bed time wars. You’re running on little to no sleep, and your patience is being tested, constantly.
Fighting a mental illness of any type is draining. It sucks all of your energy while you fight to be “normal.” It’s a never ending battle that takes every ounce of that energy. When you think you have gotten a hold of it, the darkness comes out of no where and consumes you again. You deal with this torture while you do your best to raise a little human.
I can not pin point when my anxiety began because I don’t really remember a time in my life where I wasn’t scared, irritable, and overly anxious. I spent a good portion of my childhood “surviving” and my brain has been in fight or flight mode ever since. What I thought were weird quirks, turned out to be screaming alerts from my brain that I couldn’t shut off. I did my best to quiet them with positive outlets and organic self treatments like exercise, eating healthy and fun little hobbies. I managed my symptoms by understanding my triggers and organizing my life around them. I even went as far as giving up pursuing my dream career because it became a trigger. I allowed my disorder to make decisions for me because I had severe anxiety about my anxiety. I didn’t want to face it, until I had to.
My daughter was born after a complicated pregnancy and a difficult delivery. My symptoms erupted into chaos when I became a mother. My worst fear was coming true, I was not handling motherhood very well, and the grasp I thought I had on my anxiety was crumbling. I was losing, and once again, anxiety was winning.
As a mother, my anxiety triggers were becoming more challenging. I allowed anxiety to make choices for me, again, and it was affecting my daughter. My fears of not being the mother my daughter needed accelerated my symptoms and it got much worse. I couldn’t pretend that I was managing it just fine anymore. I had to do something.
I struggled with meeting my daughters emotional needs because I couldn’t get a grip of my own. The noise inside of my head was loud and it was screaming over my own daughters cries. She needed me to be her calm and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t respond appropriately to my daughters tears because I was trying to hold back my own. My daughter needed direction on expressing her emotions and I was completely lost in understanding mine. She needed me to guide her, but I couldn’t. I struggled through the days, but the nights were the worst.
Getting up at night, when she needed me the most, was extremely difficult. I couldn’t do it. As much as I wanted to be there for her in the dark, as much as I wanted her to know that she could count on me regardless of the time, I couldn’t drag myself out of bed. When I did, I only made things worse with my inability to remain calm through my exhaustion. I was the monster under her bed when I needed to be the parent. I was failing.
Anxiety and Sleep Regression
When my daughter was about six months old she started to go through the treacherous sleep regression, and she’s been in it ever since. At a year and a half, we were still waking up with her every night. Every! Night!
Every night she woke up wanting to be close to her parents. For most of those nights, it had been my husband who got up with her because he was the only calm parent at 3am. When she cried out alone in her crib, my husband was the one who responded to her. He responded to her because my anxiety kept me up all night and I’d fall asleep just as she began to wake. He responded to her because I was fighting demons while he rocked our baby back to sleep. He responded to her while the anxiety took over and weighed me down into the bed.
Some of those nights, she cried out for “mama,” and the tears hit my pillow as daddy did his best to calm her. The anxiety tightened around my throat and it pressed down on my chest as I struggled to breath. My body ached and my head pounded. I lost another round. I knew that if I had gotten up, the exhaustion would hit and the demons would win. I’d only add panic to her chaos, darkness to her fear. If I got up, the anxiety would take over and I’d be completely consumed.
Too emotional to sooth. So, I let the anxiety win as I promised myself that I’d fight it tomorrow, but tomorrow I would lose again too.
I’ve gotten up with her many nights, but there were only a few that I would consider successful. No, successful wasn’t her sleeping through the night, it wasn’t getting her back to sleep right away. For me, successful was the three hours I’d lay beside her as she babbled on and pointed to the ceiling. Successful was the peace I held on to while the anxiety tried it’s hardest to fester. Successful was when I didn’t have to wake my husband in desperation as I handed her off to go fall apart. Successful was losing sleep but being the mom she needed. So, I did what I had to do to have more successful nights.
From Struggles to Snuggles
I finally made the decision to seek help for my anxiety. I let go of the weight of needing to do it on my own and I accepted the doctors suggestions. Yes, that means I am currently on medication while still treating my anxiety with organic, self help methods. I sought out therapy and I have been consulting with my doctor about what could be causing my anxiety, where it came from, and managing it better. For my daughter, I refuse to give up this fight. I have started a new healing journey, but this time I have support. I am taking my anxiety seriously and I am fighting for my daughter.
The days are good but it is only the beginning. For now, I am calmer, tending to my daughters needs appropriately. Her tantrums don’t seem so bad and her demands don’t feel as overwhelming. I can be firm but understanding. For now, I am improving my days, but it’s the nights that give me hope.
I’ve finally lost count of the successful nights I’ve had with my daughter. I have won another battle but the war continues. For now, I am embracing the peace with the clock at 3am. I lay beside my daughter and I watch her as she sleeps confidently, snuggled against her mother. A mother that she knows who will never stop fighting for her. A mother who will always take the harder road. A mother who will be there, regardless of the time. A mother who will fight monsters, not be one. A mother who will never give up on her daughter.
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