My first experience with anxiety was during a pivotal time in my career. I was managing for a Fortune 500 company but also running my own business in my free time. I was very successful at both of these for a long time. Then one day I was at work for about an hour, and all of a sudden I felt like I was going to pass out. I was extremely dizzy and becoming short of breath. I left work and went home and within an hour I felt fine. This started happening daily. I would feel great until I would pull into the parking lot of work and then I would start to feel dizzy and short of breath. Some days I left work within 30 minutes of arriving, and then by the time I got home I was fine. At first my doctor thought I had vertigo, or an inner ear issue and prescribed me some motion sickness pills. The pills did nothing for my symptoms.
It turns out I was experiencing anxiety. This was a very hard reality for me to face. I felt very embarrassed that at 28 years old I needed to be medicated to deal with my everyday life! I started taking Zoloft, and my symptoms became much more manageable. In my experience, anxiety medication didn’t cure my anxiety, it just made me relax a little. In combination with the medication, I needed to make some changes in my life to de-stress. I stepped down from my management position and into a less stressful position in the administration office and I started keeping a very strict schedule for my personal business. No more, “Tell me what day and time work for you and I’ll make it work.” Instead, I had to set operation hours and stick to them. Within three months of all these changes, I was able to stop taking Zoloft. It was an amazing feeling! I continued to be anxiety free (requiring medication) for 5 years.
I Have Mom Anxiety and I’m Not Ashamed About It
Then I became pregnant with twins.
The level of exhaustion I experienced while carrying my twins was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I can remember dropping pieces of paper or pens on the floor, and I would kick it all into a pile for my husband to pick up when he got home. I was completely overcome by daily activities: vacuuming, cleaning bathtubs and showers, piles and piles of laundry. Making meals for my singleton took all the energy I had. At my 13-week prenatal visit, I sat on the exam table crying because my bathrooms were dirty and I didn’t know how I was going to clean them. My OB and I discussed options such as hiring someone to help. I was hoping to take an unpaid extended leave from work once the twins came and, because of that, there wasn’t any wiggle room in our budget. We decided the best option for me was to start on Zoloft again. This time around I didn’t feel embarrassed. I knew this could be the difference between a good pregnancy and a bad pregnancy. The Zoloft was just enough to take the edge off….it didn’t give me energy, but it made it okay if I didn’t vacuum that day (or the next).
My twins will be 2 years old in a month, and I’m still taking my Zoloft. In fact, my dosage has actually increased since the twins were born (turns out raising twins is hard.) The house is constantly a mess, even though I feel like I never stop picking stuff up and putting it away. My husband and I work opposite shifts so I spend 75% of my time at home, alone with three kids. I know plenty of moms that do the same thing and somehow manage to stay anxiety free. I am not one of those moms. I got by just fine with my singleton, but having twins has been hard on me. That is still hard for me to openly admit. Motherhood is hard for me.
I do not want to be on anxiety medication for the rest of my life. But this time around it hasn’t been as easy to eliminate the stress. I can’t step down from being a mom.
I realize, for now, there will continue to be stress and anxiety in my everyday life; some that I can’t control and some that I can. I’ve had to figure out what situations cause me the most stress and anxiety.
Recognizing my triggers
My biggest trigger is follow through. I’m a big list maker and planner and when I am unable to check things off my list my anxiety is off the charts. It took me a while to recognize this one. I would start my day with a running list in my head of all the things I needed to get done and when my day didn’t go as planned (this is my normal with three kids) and I wasn’t able to check anything off my list, I would start to get anxious and stressed out.
Making time for myself
As a mom, it is very easy to cater to everyone’s needs and putting your needs last. This isn’t something that gets to me daily or even weekly, in fact, most times it’s a sneaky stressor. Everything will be going fine and then one day I feel like the walls around me are closing in on me and I need to get out of the house!
Feeding my children
This is my least favorite motherly task. If I could hire a dietary aid to come to my home and feed my children EVERY meal, I would. They are all very picky eaters and are not willing to try new things. There is nothing worse than spending an hour making dinner just to have the plates immediately pushed away by all three children.
Once you recognize your triggers, you need to make an effort to not engage in these activities. I try very hard to not make daily lists…I still make “To-do” lists, but the items have no deadline. They are just things I will get done when I have some free time.
I have started making monthly dinner dates with friends to ensure I get some time away for me. My husband and I are also scheduling monthly date nights so we get some time alone together.
Feeding my children is required, so it’s hard to not engage in this activity. However, I recite to myself something my pediatrician told me when my singleton was a toddler, “I decide what they eat, they decide how much.” I live by these words. And veggie pouches (one of only two healthy things all three of my kids will eat.)
If not engaging in the activity isn’t an option then it’s time to compromise with yourself. I used to (emphasis on USED TO) keep an organized, white-glove approved home. Then I had twins. It’s been hard letting things go such as cleaning and organizing. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t just stopped cleaning altogether. I still get the cleaning done. It just takes a lot longer. When the twins were newborns I would stay up late doing the dishes, vacuuming the floor, and folding laundry. Then, just about the time I was ready for bed, the twins were ready for their next feeding. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this late night cleaning schedule was not going to work out. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was go to bed knowing my kitchen sink had dirty dishes still in it. Luckily, the more you do it the easier it gets. And no one loves me less! Family and friends still come over, and I’ve yet to have the Department of Sanitation show up.
When all else fails, hire help when needed! I’ll admit, I’ve hired a house cleaner when I’ve needed extra help. I’ve hired babysitters when I’ve needed to get away, even if it’s just to peruse Target for a while. I also make sure to schedule our date nights during dinner time so I also get the night off from feeding my picky eaters!
For now, and the near future, I continue to need my anxiety medication. I have learned to accept this trial in my life, and I’m not afraid to share my experiences. It’s actually very comforting to share with others and learn that they are dealing with similar issues! Odds are, whatever you are going through there is a MoM out there that is going through the same thing. You are never alone.
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Amanda Hadley is a part-time photographer and full-time dishwasher, cook, maid and financial assistant to her 5-year-old daughter, one-year-old twins, and husband of 8 years. She loves to travel, take naps and Atlanta Braves baseball. Most days you will find her at home sifting through the massive piles of laundry and dishes, and getting as many cuddles as possible before the kiddos are too cool to hang out with mom.