I’m having a day. Feeling like you are not in control of your own emotions is incredibly daunting. I have Attention Deficit Disorder and Generalized Anxiety. Neither are debilitating, thank goodness, but impact me. How?
Anxiety meds take the edge off of my anxiety. It is like I am able to take a minute to process my feelings before reacting, instead of just reacting. It’s like the intensity of my feelings are taken down a notch. I feel in control of my emotions instead of my emotions controlling me.
Attention deficit disorder means I lose things regularly. Like my anxiety meds. Which have been missing for a week and a half.
Therefore, those emotions I was referencing, feeling pretty intense.
So, I’m having a day.
The difference between this day, and other days in the past, is that I’m owning it. It took me a long time to own it, but I am.
If I were sick with the flu, I would let my kids and husband know that I’m not feeling well. I need to rest, and take care is myself, and I’ll feel better soon. Why don’t we do that with our mental health?
So, I told my husband exactly what was going on, that I didn’t feel in control of my emotions, didn’t feel right and needed support.
I let my kids know that mommy’s brain doesn’t feel good. It will be fine, it’s just feeling a little run down, and I need to take some time to take care of it.
Need some help figuring out how to own your mental health struggles? Here are five things I have learned to do to normalize my struggles, and get the support that I need.
Normalize it in Your Every Day Life
Treat your mental illness like you treat all illnesses. If you are somebody who tells the whole world when you have the flu, then do the same when you have depression. I shared openly with a colleague that I was not currently on my anxiety meds and that my brain was racing a little more than normal. Just like I probably would have shared with him if I had a stomach ache.
That goes the other way too. If you aren’t somebody that shares openly about things, treat your mental illness the same way.
Make Self Care a Part of Your Daily Life
They say it takes 30 days to build a habit, right? If you can build small self care activities into your daily life, you won’t feel as desperate when things are bad. You will have the habits set in stone, meaning it won’t be as hard to practice self care when things are hard.
That Part About Talking About It
Do that with your doctors too. I get it, it can be tricky to find a doctor you can trust. It took me some time too, but I finally did. It didn’t start there though.
I needed to get real with myself first. If I continued to pretend that I was fine, my doctor would believe be. If I was honest about where I was struggling, my doctor would know how to support me.
When I was struggling with post partum anxiety, I knew what was happening, but I was nervous about trying meds. My amazing midwife looked me in the eye and simply said, “Jennie, it’s time.” She was right.
Don’t Shy Away From Hard Conversations
If you notice others are struggling with their mental health, lean in. If they want to talk about it, talk about it. It doesn’t have to be awkward. If somebody was telling you how hard things can be with a broken leg, you would probably listen. Do the same with their mental health.
Be Honest About Your Hard Days
Especially in times of COVID, we are talking about our physical symptoms. I have a sore throat, a cough and a runny nose. How about bringing I’m having a hard day, I’m super anxious or I’m grieving into the conversation. Yes, some people may struggle with hearing this at first. But, the more we talk about it, the more natural it becomes.
So, yes, I’m having a day. My mind is racing, my emotions are a bit of a roller coaster, and I’m pretty irritable. But, I’m writing, which is part of my self care.
If you are looking for a sappy “look at all I accomplished and all the growth I made” end of the year post, this is not that. I will post one, as positive reflection is important. This, however, is a tribute to the pure struggle that was 2020. 2020 kicked my butt, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. It may go down as the year that kicked my butt the most in the last 38. I hope that it’s the biggest butt kicker of all time, but that remains to be seen. In the meantime, let’s honor all of the butt kicking ridiculousness that was 2020.
Before doing that however, I want do a quick privilege check. My life has continued to be devoid of many challenges. I know many who have lost loved ones this year, and not just due to COVID. I’m fortunate enough to not have that happen. We continue to be blessed financially, I continue to have a loving supportive family, and of all the challenges that I have had, the color of my skin did not provide additional challenges. It is important to me to keep all of that in check while I write, and I encourage readers to do the same. There was definitely some butt kicking going on though, and I think many readers can relate.
Fear took over in March. I am not somebody that makes decisions through fear. Keeping it in it’s place has always been a strength of mine. March 2020 took fear to a whole different level though. With so much unknown about COVID, I took it pretty seriously. Schools (which means work for me) were closed, the youngest didn’t go to daycare, and we barely left the house. In fact, my children didn’t leave the house for two months. My husband was essential, which meant I was terrified that he would bring germs home. I cleaned like I had never cleaned before, while experiencing a fear like I had never experienced before. As the mom of the family, I felt an immense pressure to keep my family safe, and at times that felt debilitating.
At the time of this post, 9 months into the pandemic, the fear still exists, but it’s different. I believe that’s for two reasons. First being, I felt like we got a break from it during the summer. Our numbers were pretty low, and that combined with good weather, allowed for a modified version of normal. I was able to see some friends, and my parents, and we were able to get out. That, combined with decreased work expectations for me, was good for our mental health. It felt like a bit of a reset.
Second, we have adapted. We have learned how to live with COVID, and to find a sense of normalcy within it. Even though, at this time, the numbers are high, it feels more like I know how this works. So, even though it’s still exhausting, it’s not quite as scary for me because it is less unknown.
Holy crap has this been a hard year to parent. Never in my life had I imagined my son going to school at home, especially while I was working from home. When we first stayed home, I also didn’t dare send my daughter to daycare. So, there I was, working from home with a 5 year old and 2 year old under toe. To say that it was impossible is an understatement.
From March to June I cried at least once a day. This happened while I was putting serious effort into self care. I felt like I needed to focus on work, but could not because my children needed me. Then, I would say screw work and try to focus on my children. Which inevitably left me feeling behind at work. Many nights I would be up too late trying to catch up on work. It was like trying to run a marathon through quick sand. Hence, the tears.
Again, things felt better during the summer, and again into fall as we returned to in person learning. As we transitioned back and forth between in person and remote, I changed my approach a bit. Right now, my now 3 year old is consistently staying in daycare, whether I’m working at home or in person. I’m also sending my 6 year old 2-3 days a week. On the days that he goes, school work gets put on the back burner. We do what we can to get it all done, and sometimes that means it gets turned in late. I can only do so much, and them going to a safe regularly sanitized daycare helps me stay a little more sane. It’s still so darn hard, but I have found little things to help me keep it together just a little bit better.
I jumped right on that “I’m going to better myself” quarantine train in March. I was going to train for a 5K. Losing weight was going to happen! After all, I was stuck at home, what did I have to lose? In my defense, I did start strong. Running became a priority again, for about two weeks. After that, I walked daily. It was a great form of self care after a long day home with the kids. I did not initially gain any quarantine weight. I didn’t lose any either, though.
When I thought the quarantine was going to last 4-6 weeks, I totally thought I could use it as an opportunity to better my health. Things weren’t terrible healthwise, but one can always do better. What I didn’t anticipate was the mental load that COVID would place on me, and the lack of room available for making significant health changes. I just could not take on one more thing, so I let go of paying attention to my weight.
To be honest, it really wasn’t that bad for awhile. Yes, my drinking increased. My coffee intake did as well. But overall, we tend to eat healthy. We didn’t eat out, and I was cooking most nights. I was able to maintain this throughout the summer.
When fall came, and the next round of staying at home followed, I found myself having a harder time maintaining any healthy choices. We started eating out more, as I didn’t have the energy to make dinner. I was not doing a great job of packing lunches when we were in school, which meant I was snacking all day long. It all boiled down to complete and utter exhaustion, which led to a lack of caring.
At the time of writing this, I do not know my weight. By feel, I’d say I’m at my heaviest, which I’ve been at before. At 38, though, this is much less of a concern as it has been to me in the past. It does not help that my husband likes this version of me, and prefers some meat on my bones. All of that being said, I do take my health seriously. It is much more important to me to be healthy than how I look, so I do want to refocus. I am hoping to recommit to some healthy habits in 2021. That definitely sounds like a New Year’s cliche, but I have set some small measurable goals to make baby steps. Time will tell if this is a change that I can manage right now, and I will update readers as time goes on.
Politics and Marriage
What an insane year politically. It has definitely been brewing for a while, and many things came to a head this year. This was incredibly stressful for me, as I have become quite passionate about several things wrapped up in this election cycle. The most stressful part, however, is the toll it has taken on my marriage. I am going to, intentionally, write in generalities regarding politics. With the divisive nature of politics right now, it’s easy for the message to get lost when one becomes aware of political beliefs. The important part is the message right now, not the belief system.
When my husband I met, we both held somewhat moderate political beliefs, leaning either way depending on the issue. Neither of us were too politically inclined, and it honestly did not enter our conversations regularly. When it did, we were fairly close in agreement on almost everything.
Within the last four years, I found myself leaning more and more one way. At the time of the election cycle, I was firmly planted somewhat far away from moderate, and was more interested and passionate in politics than I had ever been. My husband was the exact same way. The problem, however, was that we had made our way to opposite ends of the political spectrum. We had some common ground, specifically human rights, but had very different ideas as to how those ideals should be addressed by our government.
Our marriage had already gone through it’s share of trials and tribulations. After years of hard work, we were finally in a place of peace and mutual love and respect. Things were going great, but then politics started to creep in. We were debating daily, and both of us thought we could convince the other they were wrong if they would just listen to us. The daily debates turned to regular fights, and hurt feelings. It was hard, stressful and heartbreaking.
Enter our 6 year old. One day in the car, he was in tears. When I asked him what was wrong he told me he, “Couldn’t decide if he should like Joe Biden or Donald Trump.” That stopped me right in my tracks. After explaining to him that this was not something he needed to worry about, I immediately decided to stop talking politics with my husband. After I told him what had happened, we agreed to call a truce.
The amount of pressure that was removed from our marriage when we did this was palpable. At this point, politics will still enter the conversation occasionally. When I notice it drifting that way, I will do a quick check in with myself. If I don’t have the mental energy for it, I stop the conversation immediately. On the other hand, if I think I can have an adult conversation, I do. I listen to my husband, and try to play devil’s advocate where I can.
Although I disagree with his political leanings, I understand why he believes what he believes. When I can find facts to show my point, I do. If I can not, I listen and try to help us both think critically whenever possible. It’s not easy, and sometimes it still feels like it might bring me to my knees. But, my marriage is more important to me than political debates. I will not alone change his political beliefs. If I am able to engage in adult conversation, I may be able to plant some seeds on topics that are important to me, but that is all. Therefore, in an attempt to preserve my marriage, politics is much more taboo in my house than I ever thought it would be.
I have alluded to this in other areas, but my mental health took a direct hit from the changes that COVID brought to our lives. COVID hasn’t directly impacted my mental health, but indirectly impacted me with all of the changes that took effect. So much happened that made it hard for me to keep my mental health at the forefront.
I always have had underpinnings of mental health struggles, specifically anxiety, ADD and depression. These have all been things that I have managed to work through on my own without medication for the majority of my life. Although I knew they existed, they never caused challenges that I couldn’t overcome by myself.
This changed after my youngest child was born. I struggled hard with Postpartum anxiety, but was unaware that it was a thing. I had no idea what was going on with me, nor how to manage it. After some research, I discovered that I had symptoms of PPA. Just knowing what was going on, helped me to manage it. I was able to get things under control on my own, but still had an increased baseline of anxiety as my daughter was approaching 3 years old.
For that reason, I started seeing a counselor. We were just getting to know each other when life shut down due to COVID. At that point, she was only offering tele visits. I could not manage tele visits in my life at that point. Therefore, after only a few sessions, we stopped. Then the anxiety increased and increased and increased. To the point where I felt like I was right back where I was when I had PPA.
The difference was that I did not have the mental energy to put into tackling this beast. My mental load was so high that I could not even verbalize that I needed help, or how people could help me. My husband knew that I wasn’t doing well, and was a great support, but I was not great at accepting and asking for support. I was in full on survival mode, and was going through the motions on everything. I felt completely numb, and dead inside.
After many days of being awful to be around, and yelling way too much at my kids, I recognized that I needed help. With the full support of my husband, I made an appointment with my midwife, who I trust implicitly. When I described what was happening, she let me know that I was not alone. The feelings that I was feeling are feelings that mom’s often feel, and that more mom’s were feeling due to the weight of the pandemic. As I was in tears, desperately wanting help, she said three words that I will never forget, “Jennie, it’s time.”
What she meant was, it was time to accept that this was a battle that I could not fight on my own. With that, she prescribed me a low dose of an anti-anxiety medicine. I had been so resistant to this for so long, but it felt like I had to take drastic measures to improve my mental health. I let her take the lead, and that is the best decision I have ever made in my life.
Three months in, I feel so much better. Life is still incredibly hard, and I do lose it sometimes, but my ability to manage has increased dramatically. I feel like myself, just a less stressed out version of myself. I am happy, and truly a much better mom and wife. I do not know if I would have gotten to this point had it not been for COVID. What I do know, however, is that I am incredibly grateful to have resources available to help me cope with the stress of COVID that can be suffocating at times.
If you are struggling with your mental health, I encourage you to find support. It has changed my life, and it can change yours as well. Your physician or another trusted health care provider can be a great place to start. If you aren’t sure where to turn, you can also find a licensed mental health provider in your area at www.psychologytoday.com.
So, yes, 2020 kicked my butt in many ways. I know that I am not alone, and I hope by reading this you know that you are also not alone. I so wish that when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, 2021, this would all be put behind us. I think many of us are fantasizing of that, but the reality is that it’s not that easy. The struggles that we are experiencing on December 31st, will still be there on January 1st. I do, however, have hope that we are starting to be closer to the end of this than the beginning.
With that, I am going to continue to take baby steps to help myself. I am not the same person that I was in early March 2020, and my expectations of myself have lowered significantly. I’m one hundred percent okay with that, and if anything, that is something that I have learned from 2020. I can not tackle all of these challenges overnight, but I can take small steps every day towards betterment. 2020 has been a magnifying glass on issues that were already there, and now that they have been magnified I have been forced to meet them head on. I have certainly not solved any of these challenges yet, but step one is identifying them, and I can honestly say that I have done that..
Peace to all in 2021 and beyond. My positive thoughts are with all of you, especially those who have been even deeper impacted by the challenges that 2020 brought with it.