Sunday, December 13, 2015

Magic in the Midst of Anxiety

It has been a week of sweet moments and hard moments.  I have struggled with anxiety since Sally was born (and probably long before that, but it really got bad in those first few weeks postpartum), and I think I am experiencing another "flare" right now--not nearly as bad as the panic attacks and insomnia that plagued me right after she was born, but just overwhelm and worry that makes daily life feel really difficult sometimes.

A friend asked me what anxiety feels like, and I told her that, for me, it's like all the normal stresses of motherhood are magnified to a point that feels beyond overwhelming.  Things that aren't a big deal feel like a huge deal, such as getting the kids meals, cleaning up the kitchen, or calming a fussy toddler.  It's like I can't face it.  I can't do it.  And that makes me feel worried, like, "What if I can't take care of my kids?" It's just this heavy brick of overwhelm that I carry around with me.

Another sign that my anxiety is flaring is that I start to have irrational worries about my health and the health of my children.  Lots of fear, lots of ruminating.  It makes it hard to fall asleep at night, and of course, sleeping would help manage the anxiety, so it's just one big vicious cycle.

Anxiety and depression are such hidden, lonely, inner battles.  It's hard to explain to people, and you often seem totally fine from an outsider's perspective, when inside something just feels off.  It's hard to reach out for help because you don't know if people will understand, you don't know if what you are experiencing is bad enough to "deserve" help, and you don't know if you are just a wimp or if you are dealing with an actual illness.

So that's kind of what it feels like.  And it feels good to be open about all of this and just acknowledge, "Hey, some days have been hard lately."

I am okay.  Like I said, it's nothing like it was before with the panic attacks--but I'm going back on a low-dose antidepressant just to keep this managed.  I stopped taking it a few months ago and felt fine for a while, but I can see the signs that things could get bad again, so after some research, I've decided that I will probably just stay on it.  After I made that decision, I stumbled upon this article randomly, and it felt perfectly timed.  Minus the whole star on Broadway thing, this singer's experience with anxiety seemed so similar to mine.  And I loved her advice about recognizing it as an illness and not a weakness and reaching out for help.

Hopefully in a few weeks things will be back to normal--and "back to normal" does include some hard days and stressful moments!  That is just life, especially with young children.  But "normal" doesn't include debilitating overwhelm that makes it hard to wake up in the morning and irrational worry that makes it hard to sleep at night.

In the midst of all of this, I am searching for the magic moments with my children.  I did this when I was going through IVF, and it helped a lot, so I've been doing it again.  These two kiddos of mine are the greatest source of joy in my life, as well as the greatest source of stress.  Sally is at a super needy age and sometimes it is so hard to keep her entertained and managed all day.  And Noah is my little buddy, but he is still a four-year-old: there is always some misbehavior to worry about or some epic meltdown to calm. But the perfect moments with them are so plentiful.  I have a note in my phone to record them, and it seems like I can't write them down fast enough.  So many perfect moments every day.

So as I sit here on a Sunday night contemplating the week ahead, I want to relive and share some of those magic moments.  Here is a sampling:

I can hear Noah playing in the bathtub while I do the dishes every night, and the sound of him chattering to himself without ceasing makes me feel like all is right in the world.

When he plays, both in the bath tub and with his Legos in his room, he is often re-creating the sinking of the Titanic, which is his new obsession.  He has checked out several library books about it, and he knows all the details about how it all went down (pun intended).  I will hear him saying things like, "Oh we're the Titanic.  We can sail with icebergs, no big deal."  And then "Oh no, we are sinking, and the Californian has already turned off it's radio for the night!"  And then the sad finale: "Well the Carpathia is finally here to save us--too bad we are at the bottom of the sea."

Do you see the Lego iceberg and Titanic? 

The things Noah says!  Could anything be funnier?  The other morning, he and Sally were sitting across from each other at the breakfast table eating yogurt while I was getting dressed, and I heard Noah say, "Sally, I'm bored.  Put your eyes on me, and let's start talking!"  Ha!  By the time Noah was Sally's age, he was saying about 50 words and forming phrases.  Sally, on the other hand, says about six words.  Her brother does enough talking for the both of them!

How about the fact that he named our Elf on the Shelf "Brad"? So random!  And not elf-ish at all!  But it's the best because whenever he finds the elf engaged in some make-believe antics, such as driving a toy car or making a snow-angel in the flour, he says in this dramatic voice, "Oh Braaaaad!" like the elf is just so silly.  Noah even said to me one morning when he spotted Brad roasting marshmallows over a candle, "Mom, I see something ridiculous!"


We had a fun afternoon decorating the Christmas tree together while dancing to holiday tunes, and when Noah came around the corner and saw the finished tree, he said, "Oh Mom! It looks fabulous!" ;)

He calls Hershey Kisses "Horeshoe Kisses" and Net Flix "Neck Flix." So now, of course, we all do!

He constantly says "No way, Jose!" lately, and he is fond of telling me that things are "easy peasy lemon squeezy." I think he picked up these sayings from preschool? 

My favorite is dropping him off at school because we shout things at each other as he hops out of the van and runs up the sidewalk. "You're my favorite boy!" "You're my favorite mom!"  "Have the best day ever!" "You have the best day ever!"  "Be a good boy!" "Be a good mom!"  He stops right before he gets to the door, and we blow each other a million kisses.  I love watching his little backpack bob up and down as he hustles into school.

Noah and I play a secret hand-holding game that my little sister and I made up when we were young. We would hold hands and one of us would squeeze three times to signal "I love you."  The other would squeeze back two times to ask "How much?"  And then we would respond by squeezing each other's hands as hard as we could until they were crushed.  I recently taught this game to Noah, and he thinks it's the greatest.  Sometimes I will stick my hand back there while I am driving so we can play spontaneously.

He is still obsessed with trains, and I am starting to wonder if he will ever grow out of it.  Maybe he will be one of those old men who sets up 100 train sets in their basement?  We watched the movie Elf the other night, and Noah loved the entire thing except for the scene where Buddy the Elf and the department store Santa get in a brawl and knock down the toy train set.  He was literally wailing.  He cried pathetically, "Not the toy train! Not the train!"

His favorite movie right now is a free documentary on Amazon Instant Video called "I Love Toy Trains."  The other day, I walked by him as he lay on my bed watching it, and he had his knee up with his other leg crossed over it, his foot just a-tapping as he belted out every word to the "Box Car Boogie."  That definitely made my day.

On Friday, we went on a Mother-Son date to a local toystore, and he used his allowance money to buy a couple of $1 plastic trains.  We sat together on the floor and he spread out his dollars so he could count them one-by-one and figure out how many trains to buy.  He meticulously went through the bins as he chose the perfect purchases.  So cute--an image I will never forget!  And he surprised me when he used some of his money to buy a little train for Sally too.

And speaking of that Little Miss, oh how I love her as well!  I cannot resist this little face:


She has suddenly become interested in books, and it fills my English-teacher heart with joy!  She will bring me a book (her favorites are "The Farmer in the Dell," "Where is Spot?" and "Goodnight Gorilla") and then she will grunt insistently until I sit down and read them to her.  She is very particular about where we read, and she will often lead me to the bed or her recliner for our reading time.  I love that she will now sit in our laps for a few minutes to read.


The other day, I came around the corner and caught her sitting in our tiny reading chair with a book open on her lap, and it was so unexpected and made me so happy that I gasped.  At that sound, she looked up and grinned at me.  She has an open-mouth, craggy-tooth grin and the cutest dimple--her whole face fills with glee when she smiles.  There is nothing like it.

She has also become willing to sit to watch a show, and I am almost as happy about that as I am about the books. Ha! After ten years without a TV, we got one recently, and it has been heaven to keep our busy Miss Sally occupied with a Baby Einstein every once in a while, especially on days when I am struggling with anxiety.  She still won't sit for long, but hey--even fifteen minutes is amazing for an overwhelmed mama!


I love watching her play with her daddy.  They have a nightly game where she stands on the bed and he throws a red kickball to her.  She laughs and laughs, and then she rolls it back to him or lays on it on her belly for a while.  Noah always joins in on the fun, and I love hearing all of them giggling together.  I love our little family and the daily rituals we share.

Lately, Ryan has put his own twist on the old saying, "Last one to ______ is a rotten egg!"  When we are trying to get out the door for an outing, he will say, "Last one to the car is a rotten tooth!"  Very appropriate for a dentist, if you ask me.  Noah came up with his own variation today when he said, "Last one to the car is a rotten diaper!"  You can tell what we think about in our house!

Another little family ritual that we have is "I will punch you in the gut!"  I know that sounds completely bizarre, but my sisters and I have a small issue with "cute aggression" that makes us want  to squeeze and gnaw on things that we find adorable. Anyone else out there have this problem? ;)  At some point when Noah was young, I started saying to him, "Oh you're just so cute, I want to punch you in the gut!!!"  And then I would chase him everywhere and pretend to sock him in the belly and he would laugh maniacally, and thus a game was born.  One time a few years ago we were walking through the grocery store and Noah was sitting in the front of the cart and said out of the blue, "I will punch you in the gut!" and just bopped me one, and I couldn't stop laughing.  It was so great.  I'm sure everyone around us thought we were nuts!  The tradition has continued with Little Sal, and we are often chasing her around to get her in her chubby little belly.  She definitely recognizes the word "gut," and when we say it, she will raise her shirt and point to her stomach, or she will run up to one of us and find our bellies and give us a sock.  It's the best.  I know that probably sounds so random and borderline abusive, but it is the cutest, most bonding little game.  Now let's just hope Noah never does that to a friend at school!

Oh my gosh, it's such a happy life.  Writing that list was good for my soul tonight.  It reminded me that I am doing an okay job as a mom, even when I feel totally overwhelmed and full of worry.  It reminded me that there is joy all around me, even in the midst of hard times, even when I didn't want to face the day that morning.  There is always joy.

I wrote an article for Power of Moms a few months ago called "Anchored by Beautiful Moments" about how noticing perfect moments can sustain us through hard times, and that truth has been proven to me again tonight!  I am grateful.

So here's to a week full of love and laughter, gut-punching and giggling.  Life is good--even when it's hard.  I'm so glad I was reminded of that tonight.


  1. You are the greatest mom. Love you!

  2. You're really brave. You're brave to talk about it, and you're brave to take the steps to take care of the problem. I am struggling so hard right now- with panic attacks, with depression with crippling anxiety, and I am trying so hard to not fall in the hole. It is extrordinarily difficult to accept that this is the brain I got dealt- one that is probably going to have to cope with this forever, and I want kids very badly, and I am not sure that that I can do it. I always thought I could, but given how things have been the last few weeks- if I was on my own, there's no way I could parent as a single. (Something that has always been my back up plan.) I'm trying to get caught up on my blog- I'm going through a really awful, disappointing break up yet again and it took me from a manageable low level depression to a full blown episode and I'm trying to stay afloat. I think I've reached out to every freaking person I can think of, and I'm still clawing at the walls trying to keep myself from going back to the place I was at 5 years ago. I'm back dating posts to tell the story of this relationship, and then blogging in real time where my mental place is at right now and then I'll pos those in order.

    Anyway, this is really about you. You're really fortunate to have a partner to lean on, and I was so happy for you when you had Noah and Sally. I'm glad for you that you are able to get help when you need it, and I hope my help gets here fast too.


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