The Anxiety Chronicles is a new series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Glynis Ratcliffe, who refers to herself as a “recovering opera singer who pivoted to writing four years ago.” She lives outside Toronto with her family.
I began experiencing anxiety as a child. It manifested in the form of frequent stomachaches, trouble sleeping and a tendency to worry about everything.
My anxiety decreased and became manageable as a teenager and into adulthood, until I became pregnant with my first child at 34.
By the time I was pregnant with my second child, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.
The muscles at the side of my neck, called the sternocleidomastoids, are ropes of tension, leading up to where my jaw meets my earlobes. When I’m anxious, that tension increases and leaves me with terrible headaches at the base of my skull. I get a strange tingling sensation behind my eyes and forehead that makes me dizzy, and my hands shake. There’s a constriction in my chest that can result in shortness of breath, which in turn causes me to panic more and breathe more shallowly. Finally, my dermatillomania (skin picking) may flare, leaving my fingers bloody and aching by the end of the day from all the hangnails I’ve picked at.
When I’m feeling anxious, I become short-tempered and irritable. My tolerance for virtually anything out of the ordinary – be it a driver cutting me off or my 3-year-old son refusing to eat his dinner – diminishes to virtually nothing.
On top of having a short temper, my ability to concentrate and make decisions shuts down. I suffer from brain fog so simple, everyday tasks seem monumental to me.
My morning begins with the kids doing everything wrong, and me yelling at them for it. I find myself getting mad prematurely at them for things they haven’t even done yet and then feeling ashamed when I discover I was wrong. After I get my kids off to school – with even more yelling – I check social media virtually nonstop, switching between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
I scroll through my feed and notice a post that is particularly offensive, and instead of moving on, I engage with that person, getting into an online spat and spending a ridiculous amount of time crafting replies and researching facts to back up my argument. All of this is at the expense of my work productivity.
By the time my kids get home, I have accomplished virtually nothing. I spend the hour or two leading up to dinner panicking for not having worked, send my kids to watch TV so I can get something done, and hate myself for losing so much time.
Finally, I spend a disproportionate amount of time in front of the refrigerator, unable to make a decision about what to feed myself, my husband, and our kids. I prioritize the kids’ meal, and don’t eat anything, letting my husband fend for himself.
When it’s time to put the kids to bed, their usual joking around becomes intolerable, and I yell at them again to listen, hating myself moments later for doing so. I continue into the evening checking my social media accounts on my phone, unable to stop myself.
I used to binge-eat sugary foods like cookies or chocolate chips in order to cope with my anxiety, but two months ago, I gave that unhealthy habit up. Now, I try to sit for a few moments and breathe, trying to bring myself into the present by focusing on sensations in my body.
Sometimes, there’s no reason or trigger for feeling anxious. Before I was hit hard with prenatal and postpartum anxiety, I didn’t understand this. For me, anxiety was situational, so there was always a trigger. That simply isn’t the case for everyone, unfortunately.
Anxiety is your body in “fight or flight” mode, and when you have a predisposition for entering that state, it’s possible that nothing in particular has actually set you off. This can make it difficult to fix, and even more difficult to relate to and understand.