When it All Feels like a Big Deal
I worry about things and I struggle with some daily tasks that might feel basic or silly to others. Anxiety is a word I have seen many times before but I never truly understood what anxiety looked like, not enough to realize that word was a part of me. The internet has evolved into this over-sharing kind of space and I absolutely love it. I mean, you can google anything in the world and someone else has already thought to google it or write about it. Weird stuff. It’s oddly comforting. All the different stories about anxiety floating around helped me feel less alone and a lot more comfortable with something that felt isolating and scary. While I didn’t fully comprehend what anxiety looked like for everyone, seeing others put it into words made me finally understand I had to define it for myself because I know what it feels like for me.
Anxiety flared up for me quite obviously after I became a mom. When I quit my job to become a stay at home mom a lot of my emotions amplified, and my anxiety exploded and covered me in a tight and uncomfortable cocoon. I know now that it has always been a part of my life, but before motherhood I managed it by:
Dismissing it as weird artsy person angst.
Trying to be someone I wasn’t. (Hiding)
Sleeping. A lot.
All of the above.
There are two examples that come to mind when I try to put a face to my anxiety. I generally summarize it as inwardly freaking out and sometimes that freak out gets bad enough that it leaks outside the edges we build to retain the secret parts of ourselves. Being a parent has created all kinds of new scenarios to freak the hell out about. The most recent is a fun one. As parents, we over analyze our children’s bathroom habits. I never believed I would be one of those people that pondered the color of my child’s poop let alone actually talked about it. The word “potty” was previously a shudder-inducing word. I now say the word potty approximately eight millions times a day. Poop is also a popular topic of conversation among four year old boys.
Anyway, I was recently thinking about all kinds of things I never imagined thinking about, and one of those things was the color of my sons poop. As an artist I think about color quite a bit but not usually in this context. I’ll spare you the graphic details but let’s just say the color was not quite what you would expect. Easy enough, I knew I could call the way more intelligent people known as doctors. (Avoid Dr. Google) Here is where the anxiety kicks in. I imagined calling up the nurses line to express my distress over the unusual color, and as I played out the potential conversation in my mind (doesn’t everyone do that?) I got stuck on one part. When I have to explain the issue do I actually say the word poop? Like, is that immature? Should I say feces instead? Would I ever actually use the word feces in real life? Can I say the word poop to another adult without stuttering or blushing?
Seriously. These were the things that ran through my head. Not only was I worried about a potential health issue with my kid (normal) but I was even more worried about whether or not I should say the word poop. This is my life.
Another daily life example: I got in my car one morning to take my son to school and the gas tank indicator had two bars. I felt stressed but even more so when the gaslight came on. I imagine the most typical response to any empty gas tank is simple: get gas. It’s not so simple for me. Of course, technically, I could have filled my tank. There was a gas station literally at the end of my street and two more on the way to the school. But I didn’t get gas after dropping my son off because the things that went through my brain were these things:
What kind of gas do I get? I can never remember. Husband gets gas.
What if I hit the wrong type? I once tried to use diesel. True story.
What if the gas station is crowded? Because, people.
What if I have a hard time turning left when I leave? Because, traffic.
What if my credit card doesn’t work and I have to talk to someone? Again, people.
What if I lock my keys in the car? Nightmare.
The list goes on and on. And not the bulleted list prettily laid out above, but a wild, rolling conglomeration of crap wound up in so many other issues, questions and stresses. So the simple solution of “get gas” becomes lost somewhere inside all of the “what ifs” skipping around in my frazzled brain. My mom brain is busy and confused enough as it is. My anxiety ridden brain is mom brain on overload.
Transitioning from a working mom to a stay at home mom gives me all kinds of extra time to worry about even more things because I am no longer obsessing over work related concerns and my brain has extra room for silly fixations. On the “Day I Didn’t Get Gas” I had several hours before I had to pick up my son and during those hours I thought about the car and the gas it needed and why am I so crazy that I can’t just go get gas like a normal person.
As I was driving to pick up my son the bars went down to one and I started to panic. Even though logic told me my car would likely make it the few miles no problem, I still panicked. At the last minute I pulled into a gas station because OMG I was determined to win that particular battle with my brain. I would get gas. I would solve the problem.
I pumped the gas and everything was fine except I worried I would be late so I didn’t even fill the car up all the way. I pumped $19.67 worth of gas and worried my husband would think I was a moron. As one worry fades out another rushes in. Sometimes they pile on top of each other until my internal self is gasping. I have to sit still for a moment and remember these things are really not a big deal.
It is extremely helpful to have support when these thoughts overwhelm you. My husband is incredible. On that day I proudly texted him “I got gas!” He responded with a little party celebration emoji followed by a sad face and the words “I didn’t know it was so low.”
Because he knows.
Meeting other moms makes me feel breathless and achy. I want to find those connections but it's so difficult when new random mom doesn’t “know”. I can start out just fine, with friendly conversation and a good impression but then I worry something will happen that will bring that anxious part of myself to the surface and I’ll have to explain, or worse I’ll have to just hide away again. As moms we are often hiding, hushing our kids in public, wiping away crumbs, shoving toys in the closet when a friend visits. We are glossing over and doing our best to make sure we look like we have it together. When you add anxiety to that party the music gets louder and you are shoved even further back in the corner, a wallflower wondering if you’ll ever fit in and feel normal.
Anxiety can be crippling for some and a nuisance for others. It can be hidden and bottled up and it can show its awkward face when you least expect it. It is often difficult to navigate these feelings, especially when you are lost inside the often lonely stay at home mom world, arguing with a four year old about dropping jelly covered waffles on the floor. The tactics I listed above did not help me. I now find a lot of beauty and comfort in the internet, heavy with mommy blogs and articles about our inner thoughts. Sure, it can be a harsh place with anonymity allowing for cruelty, but in its best use it is a space to show a piece of yourself you might not be so comfortable throwing out to the mom you just met on the playground. It is these pieces of our true, inner selves that are so important. It is these words from the heart that help us look at each other with different eyes, that see the mom crying quietly on the playground and just know. They know and they understand that some things truly feel like a big deal, even when they aren’t, and when the gas tank is near empty their support can help you fill it up.
Can you relate to Allison's experience with anxiety? How has this impacted your life as a mother? Please share in the comments below or join us in our Facebook support group here!