A year ago, I was under an immense amount of stress. My husband and I had just been matched with an expecting mom who was due in September. And while we had already adopted three other children, this time was different. This time unleashed an onslaught of anxiety.
I hadn’t experienced crippling panic attacks since college, but when they resurfaced again last spring, they came on suddenly. My heart would begin to race, leaving me breathless. My mind would go into overdrive, and I would become oblivious to the people and things around me.
The rest of the time, when I wasn’t in the middle of a panic attack, all I could focus on was when the next one would inevitably come.
Ever since I was 24, spring has always been a really hard time for me. It was that year, on March 25, that everything changed. After experiencing strange symptoms for well over a year — including chronic thirst and hunger, abrupt weight-loss, depression, and weakness — I was finally diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
That day, in the emergency room, I was sentenced to a lifetime of checking my blood sugar and administering insulin. From that point on, I would always need to be careful about what I put into my mouth, my stress level, and how much sleep and exercise I was getting. My diagnosis was traumatic, to say the least. It not only resulted in a five-day hospital stay, but also gave me the haunting realization that if I had waited just a little longer to go to the ER, I would have died.
So I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when the panic attacks came back around the same time as the anniversary of my diagnosis, and just when the idea of adding a fourth child to our family was becoming a reality. They returned with a vengeance like never before. My only escape was through sleep — and every hour that I was awake presented the chance for another attack.
Each day, I would wake up drowning in a mental sea of thoughts and fears. But then, something interesting happened: One of my friends came over to visit with her little boy. It had been a few months since I’d seen them, but I knew that she had also struggled with anxiety throughout college. So as nonchalantly as possible, I mentioned that I’d started to have panic attacks again. That’s when she shared more of her own experience, and said that while behavioral therapy has helped her in the past, she also went on anxiety medication a few years ago. She then gently encouraged that I seek out this extra help for myself.
A week later, another friend told me that her own life had taken some recent and unexpected turns, and she’d asked her doctor for a prescription for anxiety medication. She proclaimed that it made a world of difference in her life — not only did she have more patience with her family during the day-to-day chaos, but it also helped her interaction with co-workers. She was calmer and happier.
But when it came to trying medication myself, I’ll admit I was resistant at first. Let’s chalk it up to pride. You see, I’m a “put your big girl panties on” kind of girl. I consider myself a determined, strong, and passionate person. So, wouldn’t taking anxiety medication mean that I was actually weak and fragile?
So many questions swirled through my mind.
Would medication make me become a walking zombie?
What if people found out that I took medication for my anxiety? What would they think of me?
In the days that followed, my panic attacks became more frequent. I knew something had to give, and I couldn’t fix this on my own. I built up the courage to go see a therapist for the first time in my life. But while talk therapy would help, I knew that this alone would not provide me the relief that I so desperately needed — so I finally made an appointment to see my doctor.
Once at the office, I plopped down on one of the exam tables, and declared, “I need anxiety medication.” My doctor was compassionate and helpful. She recommended one medication to me that wouldn’t cause fatigue, weight gain, or affect my blood sugar. She also assured me that she sees many women (usually mothers) for anxiety issues.
I filled the prescription that very day, and immediately felt a sense of hope and peace come over me. Even before I swallowed the first pill, I felt like a stronger version of myself — empowered by the fact that I had taken charge of my health.
Since last year, I have freely shared my anxiety struggles with others, just as my friends had with me. Because of this, two of my friends have decided to meet with their doctors, and are now on the path of treating their anxiety in effective ways. I no longer feel the need to hide behind stigmas or self-preservation. Instead, I realize that there is power in being truthful about even the darkest parts of your life, and inviting others into that reality.
Coming to terms with my anxiety has also helped me recognize it in one of my children.
As women, we need each other. We need to extend empathy, support, and encouragement to our inner circle. It’s only when I made the decision to name my struggle, and share it with others, that it felt as if a veil had been lifted from my life’s lens. When we share our struggles and seek the help we need, we are all able to let it more light, and see things for the way they really are.