“Her peripheral vision sparked and distorted the edges of everything so that when she turned quickly to look at something, it moved just out of sight. And even while everything inside her body seemed to speed up, everything outside of her body – the movements of other shoppers, the reaching and lowering of boxes and packages into carts – slowed.”

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

What a rush! I read this description of anxiety and was instantly transported back to when my children were preschool age.

In the past I could work all night at Disneyland surrounded by thousands of tourists and then go to university all day. I could design the sets and lights for live shows, direct a crew of twelve people, and schedule an entire department of technicians, but two toddlers in a grocery store had overwhelmed me and I could not for the life of me understand why.

Looking back, nearly twenty years later, the reason stands clearly before me. Before children, I was responsible for only myself. I slept when I was tired, ate when I was hungry, and went wherever I wanted, when I wanted to. There was no one to consider but myself. Having children changed that completely.

I had already spent my young life playing as much as possible. Now was the time in life to take responsibility for others seriously and I was ready to do it, I just wasn’t sure exactly how to go about it without losing myself completely.

Lack of sleep didn’t help matters. I wasn’t ready to give up my job. I’d worked so long and hard to get to that place and I’d only been there a year when I met my husband. Besides, I didn’t think I’d need to, lots of people work and have kids. The situation seemed perfect to my young mind. My husband worked during the day and I worked after he got home. The shift was only a few hours in the evening anyway, so I was home at a reasonable hour, and I figured a few hours of sleep and I’d be fine to take care of my kids.

I was wrong, but it took me a few years to realize what was happening. I had no idea how much energy little people can consume! I had an amazing support system; my husband was understanding, my family helped me out, and having my Mother-in-law living with us was a blessing beyond belief. Even with all the help, I still found myself getting angrier and angrier every week. Anxiety attacks became more frequent, emotional outburst became more destructive because I could not find a way to escape from confrontation. My family needed me, and I was so afraid of letting them down that I refused to walk away even for a moment.

I’m not sure how it happened, but at some point I had said something my doctor about feeling so angry all the time, that everything seemed to be moving at breakneck speed and couldn’t keep up. I remember telling her about an incident that had worried me. I was standing at the kitchen sink, doing the dishes, when I heard the front door open. I instantly cringed and prayed that my husband would not talk to me, that a child would not call me, that somehow, I would be invisible, and they would just pass me by. I had been flushed with the heat of anger over something as simple as a hand on my back and a kiss hello while I was doing the dishes alone. She immediately prescribed an anti-depressant and told me that I needed to talk to a therapist. I cried and she hugged me. And that’s when the healing began.

Nearly twenty years later, I’m still working on my depression and anxiety, but I’m definitely better than I was back then. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful that I spoke up when I did, before things could get worse. I still have bad day, weeks, but in general I’m good. I’ve learned new ways to cope with anxiety, new outlets. Most of all, I have better understanding of who I am and what my needs are, that they change from time to time, and that everyone is a work in progress.

I stopped medicating ten years ago, the year I moved out of the city. Something about the slower pace of rural living (and the fact that children do grow and don’t need constant attention) helped me immensely. Recently, I feel like I’m self-medicating with alcohol more than I probably should, and I’m working on that. Sign of the times, I guess. The upside is that I’m aware of it earlier and I’m not letting it get me down.

Fascinating the things that a piece of fiction can bring up from your memory. I hadn’t thought of that feeling specifically in years. Writing about it helped me clarify it and clean it up, like gently probing a wound to make sure there’s no debris in it so it can heal properly.