Anxiety is a thief. It robs your moments, your peace of mind, it robs you of a part of yourself. For me, the biggest thing anxiety robbed me of was an ability to “drop in” to whatever it is I’m doing. When my anxiety wasn’t managed, I was unable to simply be in “the moment”; instead, I was managing “the moment”, or thinking about 3 moments ahead of this moment, or cleaning up the house while “the moment” was happening. I could never be here now. Even if something fun and exciting was happening, I felt distracted or anxious about “the moment” ending. Anxiety is a thief.
The first week of being on anti-anxiety medication, I remarked to my husband and my therapist as well, that if felt so very strange to not have my brain going a thousand miles a minute. I literally sat on my couch one evening and did nothing. I just looked around, and thought my thoughts. It was bizarre! I have seen my husband do this before (he’s a quiet, introverted, calm energy type person) and I always thought he was just wasting time. Now I know what a pleasure it is to just waste time! To just be.
It took me awhile to get used to feeling present. I had gotten so used to feeling constantly distracted, agitated, stressed, anxious, or just hyper aware. Anxiety isn’t all just feeling scared or stressed; a lot of the time it’s just too much energy, a simultaneous feeling of being to do it all and overwhelm, like there’s just too much to do. At first I felt like I was in someone else’s body, that my mind shouldn’t be so static. But eventually I started to enjoy my new normal and truly felt a sense of peace and rootedness I don’t think I’ve experienced ever before. The best part though, was the way I felt about my kids.
Before I started medication, if you viewed my motherhood from the outside in, it probably looked like I was mostly trying to get away from my kids. I needed a lot of breaks, I needed a lot of distraction to get through the day (music, podcasts, social media, busyness), and I constantly felt a sense of shame that I was failing them as a mother. I yelled a lot, I lashed out a lot, and despite my best efforts to address my anxiety so it wouldn’t negatively affect them, I didn’t feel like I was doing a good enough job. Anger and anxiety go hand in hand for me, and having a short fuse is not very helpful when raising 2 small children. CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and talk therapy definitely helped, as did reading books like No Drama Discipline. But I still felt on most days that my kids weren’t getting the best mom I could be, because my anxiety was habituating this sense of guilt and shame I couldn’t shake. Anxiety had me stuck in a cycle of being totally distracted and unable to be present with my kids, and believing that no matter how hard I tried, my kids deserved better.
I often talked to my therapist about this, as I tried to sort out why it was so hard for me to give myself grace in motherhood. I knew I was a good mom, but my feelings were telling me that my kids would be ruined by my anxiety and that I wasn’t doing good enough. I tried to reverse engineer this feeling and ask myself, “What would a successful day as a stay-at-home mom look like for you? What would you need to do in order to feel successful?” It didn’t take me long to realize that, although I wanted to yell less and find better ways to manage my anxiety so it affected my motherhood less, the root problem wasn’t my anger or how I was spending my days. I didn’t feel like a bad mom because I was a bad mom, I felt like a bad mom because my anxiety kept me caught this cycle of distraction and shame. My lack of self compassion was tied to my anxiety in a way I couldn’t really sort through until I went on medication. Let me explain:
In the same way that sitting on the couch and thinking my thoughts without multitasking was a brand new and bizarre experience, mothering my kids without the feeling of needing to escape or feeling like I was failing them has been a new experience. I always told myself I wasn’t the “play on the floor” type mom; I told myself I wasn’t a bad mom for wanting to get out of their bedroom as quick as possible at bedtime; I told myself other moms felt annoyed the moment their kids feet hit the floor because it meant now they were “on” the clock. And all of these things are still partially true – I would rather do something or go somewhere with my kids then build a tower of blocks; bedtime routines are short and sweet because by 7pm, I am exhausted and I still have to clean up supper; and the start of the day is hard for lots of moms and still can be for me too, especially when our kids are up before the sun is. BUT – what I didn’t realize, was how much anxiety had exacerbated the day to day struggles of motherhood and stolen my joy in raising my kids to such a point that snuggling them before bed and brushing their little teeth in the morning felt like tasks to do, instead of moments to enjoy. I was spending so much emotional energy managing my anxiety and fighting of feelings of being a failure, that I couldn’t recognize how much anxiety was stealing my joy in motherhood. Once the anxiety was managed (thank you, medication) the clouds of guilt and self-criticism also cleared, and I could drop in to motherhood and truly enjoy it.
I love being a mom. I have always loved being a mom. But what it has changed, is how I view myself as a mom and how much I’m able to enjoy motherhood in the day to day moments. Part of this is inextricably linked to leaving social media, which I recognize. Now that my time isn’t divided between being online and being present with my kids, I feel much less distracted and therefore less agitated when my kids need me. And now that my anxiety is managed, I’m not thinking about the million other things I could be doing while my kids beg me to wrestle or snuggle with them. I like playing on the floor. I enjoy reading their bedtime stories. I am in the moments with them, not in my head while the moments are happening around me. Instead of breaks from my kids and time spent scrolling through Instagram being the highlights of my day, moments where I feel a sense of inner peace and contentedness while being with my kids are the highlight to every day. I can finally just be.
And yes, I still have hard days. Even with therapy and medication to treat PMDD, I still yell at my kids and have days where my mental health takes more work than other days. But thanks to medication, those days are a much, much, much smaller percentage. But the difference now, is that I have the capacity to manage my mental health, mother my kids, and offer myself compassion when I make mistakes. Before I started anti-anxiety medication, I couldn’t do those 3 things at once. I was and am a good mom, but anxiety was stealing my ability to experience that. Now I can face my hard days with so much more grace, and when I make a mistake I can amend it and move on. I truly feel so much more joy in mothering, and that is something I won’t ever take for granted.
Be you, bodaciously.