For me, it starts with a wave of panic. It’s small and sudden at first, but then gets bigger. Before I know it, it’s grown into a full-blown tidal wave of fear, and I’m pretty much powerless to stop it. My breathing gets rapid; blood drains from my face. I’m here, but I’m not really here.
Most of all, my mind races. Sometimes, it fixates on the thing that’s caused the panic. Other times, I have no idea why I’m panicked at all.
I’ve been called a “worrier”, “overly sensitive.” and “easily upset.” But for years, no one ever really called it what it was: anxiety.
As it turns out, I’m far from alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), nearly 3.3 million people suffer from anxiety in the U.S. alone, yet it’s only recently becoming a thing we actually talk about.
“It’s like a wave of coolness washes over me,” says Kim Zapata, a mom of one from Staten Island, New York. “My chest tightens, and I become hyper aware of how hard my heart is pounding, how fast it’s pounding … everything just becomes so much more intense.”
“It feels like this constant inner voice telling me I’m not good enough, no one wants to hear what I have to say, you’re never going to be enough,” says Chaunie Brusie, a mother of four from Michigan. “Almost everything I’ve ever done has been either shaped or propelled by my anxiety.
I hear their stories, and I can’t help but nod along.
For Kristen Hewitt, a mom from Miami, Florida, anxiety feels “like an elephant” sitting on her chest; an ever-constant feeling of heaviness she can’t escape.
For Amber Leventry, of Vermont, it feels like “a storm building” inside; even if on the surface, she may seem calm and collected.
According to the ADAA, women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety than men. And while that stat, at first glance, sounds pretty startling, maybe it shouldn’t be. Perhaps this is what we’re seeing play out in classrooms, meeting rooms, and boardrooms across America each day.
Girls afraid to raise their hands in class; grown women wary of taking a seat at the table.
Maybe we’re not just being polite. Maybe it’s not because we don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s because we’re freakin’ scared.
Anxiety doesn’t just hit us hard when it comes to school and work, either. When it comes to motherhood, women often see their symptoms intensify in a myriad of ways that can be all-consuming.
“As a mom, I think anxiety really plays a part when I’m feeling especially touched out or over-stimulated,” says Brusie. “When there’s too much noise, or too many people want something from me, that I just shut down.”
“Motherhood doesn’t stop. It doesn’t take breaks,” adds Wendy Wisner, a mother of two from Queens, New York. “And when you’re anxious, it can feel like it’s one thing after another piling up.”
Wisner herself only recently realized that what she likely suffered from after having her first son wasn’t actually postpartum depression — it was postpartum anxiety; a condition that’s only recently being recognized within medical circles. In fact, a 2016 study found that PPA is much more common than previously thought, and affects nearly 17 percent of new mothers.
And yet, because of the stigma that still surrounds mental health issues like depression and anxiety, we often keep quiet.
But what if we didn’t? What if we stopped trying to hide behind the facade of everything being okay, and were honest with ourselves — and others — about the voices we fight inside our minds every day?
This month, Babble spoke with moms about their own battles with anxiety. We’re talking about the day in, day out struggle of quieting the voices in their heads; the heart-racing, sweaty-palmed realities of just getting through the day; and the battle of trying to raise tiny humans in an intense world, when your mind won’t stop racing with negative thoughts or worries.
Anxiety may be a battle that millions of us face, but it’s not one we have to face alone.
So let’s start talking about it — without fear, or judgment.