Discussion of news topics with a point of view, including narratives by individuals regarding their own experiences

Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.

This week, we hear from Brianne Herrman, 38, a married, stay-at-home mom. She has two children, a 3-year-old daughter and an almost 8-month-old son. She also has a crazy Maltipoo named Jack.

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My history with anxiety

I’ve had anxiety as far back as I can remember, though I wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was in my early 20s, when I began seeing a therapist. I can remember lying awake at night as a little girl, terrified that something awful might happen to my father in Manhattan, where he worked. If I wasn’t worrying about him, I was just getting freaked out by the thought of death in general. I was always afraid of myself or someone close to me passing away suddenly, and as soon as I would even start to think about that, I would have a panic attack. In school, I was pretty shy and quiet. As I started to get older and go out more, I realized I also had social anxiety.

It’s always been hard for me to jump into a conversation without feeling like everyone is judging me or that I might say something stupid and embarrass myself.

On top of this, I now have two children, which I feel has only added to my anxiety. I live every day worrying that something is wrong with one of them or that something awful might happen. I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety after the birth of my daughter and postpartum depression after the birth of my son seven months ago.

How anxiety presents itself physically

When my anxiety is really bad, it will cause a panic attack. I can instantly feel my chest tighten and it gets really hard to catch my breath. I’ve had a panic attack that gave me such bad chest pain that I actually ended up going to the hospital thinking it was my heart. Typically, when I’m anxious, I pick at my fingers. There are times when my cuticles are absolutely destroyed. And I tend to shake my legs or tap my feet if I’m sitting down.

How anxiety presents itself mentally

It feels like my mind is just in a constant state of worry. I can’t stop the bad thoughts from racing around my brain. Something really small can trigger an anxious thought, then that will snowball into something huge. I can be watching a TV show where a character ends up in the hospital with a disease, and for the rest of the night I am in a panic wondering if I have those symptoms. It will quickly move from worrying about that, to worrying about myself dying, then worrying about what would happen to my kids if I died when they are this young. Before I know it, I can’t catch my breath and the panic attack begins.

I’m also constantly afraid that when I’m out doing something as simple as running errands, something bad might happen. Are we going to get in a car accident? Is that man looking at my kids because he wants to kidnap them? Is someone going to come to the mall and start shooting random people while I’m there with my children? In most everyday situations, I am trying to prepare myself for some type of disaster, because I always have this dark looming feeling that something awful is going to happen.

What a day when my anxiety is at my worst looks like

When my anxiety is at its worst, it makes for a really long, lonely day. It pretty much starts off bad from the second I wake up. I’m already anticipating the day being bad and everything going wrong. I tend to not want to see anyone on those days. I even keep my talking and texting to a minimum. It’s really isolating. I’m usually exhausted — mentally, physically and emotionally. Anything and everything makes me cry. I literally can’t wait to get in bed and end the day.

My go-to coping mechanism

Most recently, I was put on medication for my postpartum depression and anxiety. I didn’t want to be on it permanently if I didn’t have to. So once my therapist and I felt it was safe for me to wean off of it, I did. Now I manage my anxiety by exercising, trying to get enough sleep and learning to talk through my panic attacks logically, usually with the help of my husband.

What I wish people knew about anxiety

I wish people knew how frustrating it is to live with anxiety. I think sometimes people think that we want to be this way.

I wish people knew how exhausting it is to be constantly thinking and worrying about every little thing. To feel like you can never relax.

I tell my husband all the time, as difficult as it is for him to live with someone struggling with anxiety, he should try to imagine how difficult it is being the person actually dealing with the anxiety in your head every single moment of your life.

It ‘starts the moment my body wakes up’: This is how I experience anxiety

‘I move into fight, flight and freeze’

It ‘has been creeping up on me almost daily’: This is how I experience anxiety

‘Some people assume that anxiety doesn’t exist in teenagers and that we are overreacting’

‘Long bouts of insomnia, constant agitation, appetite dysregulation’: This is how I experience anxiety

‘I wish people who don’t suffer from anxiety knew how all-encompassing, deeply debilitating and disturbing anxiety can be’