Welcome to Mommy Mondays, the one day of the week where I talk parenthood. The good and bad and funny and not. It's hit or miss, really.
On Sunday afternoon while my husband was golfing and I was recuperating from a weekend away, I put both of my children down for a nap and then I laid down myself.
I fell asleep quickly, deeply. I dreamed that while I was sleeping my three-year-old had cut off all of her hair and dyed the remaining bits bright pink. In the dream I was so upset about this that it made me start to have a panic attack. This meant, actually, that I was having a panic attack in real life. In the dream, my heart raced and my throat closed to where I couldn’t breathe. In real life, the same.
Later in the dream my husband found me on the stairs naked except for a furry sleep mask. I had been sleeping, dreaming, walking, and hypervenilating, and I didn’t know where the kids were.
He wasn’t mad at me, but I was very mad at myself. I was still dreaming.
We went down to the backyard, me now in a nightgown, with a sleep mask on top of my head, my daughter with very short, self-dyed hair, and we found my mom with a photographer there to take our family photos. I clung to my mom, physically held on to her so hard that I was almost dragging both of us to the ground. “Help me,” I pleaded with her, staring into her eyes, trying to make her understand that I was having trouble breathing, and that I had lost track of the children.
She assured me that my kids were fine, and that she understood I couldn’t breathe. And that she couldn’t help me.
I have struggled with anxiety my whole life. I know I have alluded to that here, joked about it, or put it in the context of something bigger.
When I was very young, in the early parts of elementary school, I was so internally stressed that whole parts of my mouth would break into canker stores. They would spread in my tiny mouth for inches. In the third grade I started getting migraines, something I had no words for, so in order to make my mom understand that this was beyond a headache, I would tell her that my eyes were rolling up into the back of my head. This wasn’t actually happening, but the pain was so fierce that it felt like it was going to at any moment. I thought my head would explode and that I would die. It rendered my very chatty self almost speechless.
I didn’t have panic attacks until I was in late high school and college. The first few times I again thought I was dying. These panic attacks have followed a pattern that stays with me today, they come two to four days after an event that gives me anxiety. In college this was mostly finals, in my life now it’s sometimes after travel or, as in yesterday’s case, like an event such as delivering a speech to a large crowd.
In my Sunday dream, my daughter dyed her hair the same color I did last year. Am I afraid she’ll make the same mistakes I will? Am I more worried about the damage I’m passing on than I think I am when I’m awake? In the dream I had a literal sleep mask on while I was supposed to be watching my kids. My subconscious has never been subtle.
I have had varying degrees of anxiety lately, but only in the last year have the attacks started to happen in my sleep. Am I so determined to press down any feelings that they are now only able to escape in my slumber?
I’m not much of an over-sharer, at least I don’t think so. In this online space, I am protective of my family and show you enough of them that you understand me (who is fair game), but not enough to unfairly expose them. But on Friday I stood in front of several hundred bloggers and told them they - we - were all writing the wrong crap. So instead of posting the adorable photos of my children today as planned, I’m telling you this: I have anxiety. At times it greatly affects my life.
I don’t want this to sound confessional, as there is no shame in something that has ailed me since childhood. It’s like allergies. You can manage it, but it’s still something that is there. Okay, it’s not really much like allergies. But it’s something I have no control over. And like depression, or PPD, or any other number of mental health issues, severe anxiety is not something you can talk yourself out of. One can’t simply “calm down.” Deep breaths are not the answer.
Sometimes, inexplicably, I feel guilty about my anxiety. But it is not a reflection on my soul. Having anxiety doesn’t mean I don’t love my family, love my life. Right now I am in one of the most peaceful seasons I can remember, and I still have panic attacks in my dreams.
Taking my own advice, on this Mommy Monday I am sharing a side of parenthood (or rather, simply adulthood) that isn’t polished and perfect, but also isn’t so messy that it qualifies as a quirky anecdote on the internet. This is real life, the beauty and difficulties, the kind of thing you don’t toss out at a playdate or on your blog.