Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Stephanie Suire, an engineer and writer from Dallas, Tex., who lives in the suburbs with her husband, two kids and three dogs. She believes that good books, great coffee and travel are the keys to a life well-lived.
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My anxiety started when I was a teenager. Things were happening to my family that I could not control: My parents divorced, my dad moved out and we had to sell my childhood home the month I left for college. I dealt with these changes by becoming an overachiever — competitive in academics, extracurricular activities and highly focused on setting goals for my future.
Because my anxiety manifests from the loss of control, it reached a peak in my early 30s when I became a mother for the first time. Babies are needy, unpredictable and (surprise!) do not follow a schedule when they are born. My carefully crafted vision of being a wife with a nice house, a couple dogs and kids was not working out as I planned.
One day, I finally scheduled an appointment with my doctor. I left with a prescription to treat panic attacks, but when I wanted to get pregnant again a few years later, I had to stop taking the medication. After my son was born, my husband suggested I visit a counselor. Once I admitted I had anxiety, we were able to discuss a treatment plan. Today I manage it with a combination of medication, therapy, journaling and exercise.
The first sign is the unexplained urge to shake or wring my hands. My heart beats fast; my breathing quickens and becomes shallow. I tend to avoid eye contact and have difficulty following conversations.
To distract myself, I rub the palm of my hand with the opposite thumb. My husband now knows this is a sign that I need to find a quiet spot to be alone.
As a working mom, part-time writer and wife, I have many responsibilities and tend to multitask to fit everything into my day. However, when I am dealing with anxiety, I start several tasks but nothing gets finished. I have difficulty concentrating and become distracted by the next thing I need to do.
My mind starts running through all the worst-case scenarios about my job, if we should spend the money to landscape the backyard, or how are we going to pay for college for our two kids.
As soon as I get out of bed, I start counting down the hours until I can go back to sleep. My limbs feel heavy and my thoughts fuzzy. I play the part of a working mom, almost like following a script that someone wrote for me: I show up at work, look the part and say the right things.
However, I avoid conversations, conflict and physical closeness with my family because experiencing emotions is difficult. By the end of the day, I feel guilty for the way I have treated those who are closest to me.
When my daughter was 1, I signed up for my first 5K race. By the time my son was 2, I was running three to four half-marathons each year.
I return from a run feeling better both mentally and physically.
When running is not an option, I pick up my journal and write down my fears. I consider the worst thing that can happen in a given situation, and write down all the possibilities. By the time I finish processing it all on paper, I am more calm and able to see there is really no reason to be anxious.
It is exhausting to hide my anxiety, but I do it to make others feel more comfortable. Only my family and close friends have seen me struggle with anxiety, because I hide it well. At work, I am focused and professional. With friends, I’m happy and talkative. However, my husband can look at me and tell it is a bad day.
It’s also important not to judge or compare yourself to others on social media. I mainly post happy pictures of my dogs, kids and places I travel. I don’t think I am misrepresenting my real life, but I mainly post things that make me smile and memories I want to look back on one day. Even with the push to remove the stigma surrounding mental health care, I do not like to talk about my anxiety in spaces where I could be judged. Especially by people who have never met me, or don’t know my family history and day-to-day life.
Finally, if you think you have anxiety, I encourage you to talk to your doctor or visit a therapist. You do not have to deal with anxiety on your own and there is no shame in seeking treatment options.