“I remember not liking sleepovers. I liked staying home and sleeping in my own bed. Every time I was at a sleepover, I would have obsessive thoughts and worry. Thoughts like ‘What if someone breaks in?’ ‘What if I’m not there when they need me?’ and ‘What if someone gets hurt at home?’ would flood my mind as I lie awake on a living room floor strewn with snacks and nail polish, listening to the soft snores surrounding me. I would worry myself to sleep as the sun rose. I was 11 years old when this started happening and I didn’t have a name for it then. Now I know it was anxiety. After the sleepover panic the first time, it happened more and more throughout the years and I accepted it as a part of my life. I learned to deal with it and it didn’t impede me much, or so I thought.
Growing up, we were very poor and didn’t have a lot. I also had a racist stepdad who didn’t like me and my sister. We were different than our blond-haired blue-eyed siblings, quite literally the black sheep of the family. I am the oldest of eight children and I took on the role of a mother to my siblings without any fight from our parents. I was the ‘stable’ one. I took care of everyone, even my mom. I continued to have anxiety and I continued to push it down. I shoved it away so much I would often find myself rocking on the bathroom floor in a cold sweat, tears streaming down my face. My heart and mind were racing and worries flooded my brain. After a bit, I could gather myself and step back out into my traumatic existence and be what they all needed me to be.
As I continued through high school, it got better and I could finally spend the night at a friend’s house without calling or texting someone at home multiple times. Then in my senior year of high school, at the end of the school year right before graduation, my whole world shattered. My uncle Andy died. Andy was the only positive male role model in my life. I had a dad I never saw and a racist stepdad, but Andy was the sun in my dark world. He cared about me and took care of me. He was my safe place. When he was 18 (I was 10), he used to come over to our house and sit and watch our ‘dance performances’ with such enthusiasm. His death was sudden and to this date, it is the most tragic experience of my life.
It was Sunday, May 16th, 2004. He hadn’t been feeling well and finally decided to head to the hospital after a couple of days of being unwell. My mom and grandma were there with him, along with his wife. I was babysitting his kids, along with my sister, and was on the phone with my mom. ‘He’s waiting on dialysis. He has an infection and his kidneys aren’t doing well. He should be able to come home tomorrow, on Tuesday at the latest.’ It was a Sunday, so ‘a couple of days isn’t bad,’ I remember thinking. I got off the phone and raided the fridge for a snack. Andy always had good snacks and sodas, things we didn’t have in our house. He loved stocking up at Costco. For us, Costco was more for bulk toilet paper and not so much for good snacks. I remember my sister and I found some key lime pie in the fridge, but we moved on to the ice cream because we knew he would want to eat it when he came home the next day. Key lime pie was his favorite and there were only a couple of slices left.
I called my mom again to see when she would be back. I had school and early morning seminary the next day and I liked my sleep. ‘I will be on my way home in about…’ She was cut off and I heard the hospital PA system, ‘Code blue room 202.’ ‘That’s Andy’s room!’ my mom said with panic in her voice. The line immediately went dead. I quickly gathered the kids and my sister and we dropped to our knees in prayer. I remember pleading with God to please let him be okay, to please let him come home, but in my heart, I knew he was gone.
My mom called a bit later and through her sobs, told me he was gone and I needed to bring my cousins up to the hospital so my aunt could tell them. Once again, I had to stuff it down and make my way to the hospital while showing no pain. Inside, I was being ripped apart. My stomach felt like it was filled with hot coals and I wanted to scream. My heartfelt like a brick inside my chest. I got the directions on MapQuest and told the kids we had to go up to the hospital. I loaded them into the car and somehow made it there. As we arrived and made our way upstairs, the 5 minutes from the parking lot seemed to drag on for hours. It felt like an eternity until I heard my aunt telling them their dad had died. I was escorted back to see him and he had a half-smile on his face. His heart had given out due to the stress of the kidneys failing. They couldn’t resuscitate him. He was lying there with his hospital gown open and I covered him up. He hated not having a shirt on; even while swimming, he would wear one. I saw him and I sobbed uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop. I wanted to see him again, to have him hug me, to hear his voice. I would often call his cell phone just to hear his voicemail. My aunt kept the phone on her plan for years because of the comfort it brought everyone to hear his voice. He was only 26 years old when he died.
I remember waking up in terror during the night realizing his death wasn’t a dream. Instead, I was living in a nightmare. He was gone, and I wouldn’t see him again. I would be fine going along living life, then it would hit me out of nowhere, he was truly gone. When he had been gone a few months, I vowed to not cry about it anymore. Instead, I just avoided thinking about him. When everyone went to the cemetery on his birthday for key lime pie, I would skip it. I would quickly change the subject when his name and tears flowed out of people. I didn’t forget him, I just made myself forget he was dead. I pretended he had moved far away. I could remember him, I just couldn’t see him.
The year after he died, I got married at 19 and from there, my family grew. A child 2 years later, another one 2 years after that. I had a screaming newborn who cried 2+ hours nightly and a husband with undiagnosed medical issues. Something new was happening, but I didn’t have a name for it. I was angry all the time, I felt rage towards my 2-year-old and small things made me want to pull my hair out. I now know it was postpartum depression and combined with my anxiety, it was a recipe for disaster.
I finally got on some antidepressants, reluctantly, when I was pregnant with my son (my fourth child) and took those, weaning off towards the middle and I still felt pretty good after. He was about 8 months old when it started happening again. My husband missing school and work because I couldn’t cope with my daily responsibilities. My house was in a constant state of mess, clutter, and chaos. I was spiraling down, not feeding myself, and only feeding my kids. I was yelling too much, getting angry for no reason, but this time was different. I just knew the gray cloudy skies in Portland 9 months out of the year was the issue. I knew the sun would make a difference. The medication wasn’t an option for me. It was dangerous and I couldn’t allow myself to ask for a pill. That little pill held so much shame and embarrassment. It meant I couldn’t handle my life. It weakened me. I wasn’t the strong one anymore and I couldn’t have that. I now had four kids to take care of. I had to stay strong.
I wish I had realized sooner the little pill didn’t weaken me, but instead, helps me regain my strength and remember who I am. My husband and I both thought moving to the sunny state of Arizona was a surefire way to heal me. I graduated with my bachelor’s and he got his master’s and we were off. We sold our house, said goodbye to family and friends, and moved to Arizona.
After 3 years of living in Arizona and being pregnant with my sixth, child, I realized the sun wasn’t going to help me. It wasn’t the answer to my depression and anxiety. I needed help. I was in my OB’s office, letting it all out and sobbing. We decided to start on a low dose of medication and see how I felt. After a couple of months, I felt much better. Then it was time to wean off around week 35 of pregnancy. My postpartum experience was better with baby number six. She actually slept through the night at 4 months old, something none of my kids had ever done. I was actually getting rest. My anxiety would still creep in. On my bad nights, I would wake up, my heart racing, and rush to the crib and place my hand on her chest to make sure it was rising and falling. Once I felt the breathing, I could settle back into sleep, but it was never a deep restorative sleep, just a light sleep. My heart racing would always keep me just awake enough. I was on guard, ready to take action if anyone needed me.
2020 was off to a pretty good start. My husband had a good-paying job and it was almost bonus time. In March, all the kids were home. We had virtual learning and my husband was working from home. The world was uncertain, but I had my family safe with me at home and it actually wasn’t the most terrible thing. Then COVID became a worldwide pandemic. Even though we haven’t gotten it, we weren’t spared from its devastation. Before I knew it, we had two ER visits in a week, and my husband was jobless. We have six kids and live nowhere near family. We have no backup. No one to help us with bills or a place to stay. The stress of this became too much. I wrestled with the decision to get medication yet again. I am not sure why I forgot how it had helped me. I let the loud voices of the world scream at me, ‘You don’t need that!’ ‘What will people think of you?’ ‘The side effects are terrible, just try drinking more water.’ Except I can’t eat, drink, or exercise my depression away. My brain chemicals won’t allow me to do this. Finally, I gathered the strength to go to the doctor and ask for what I needed.
My days aren’t perfect. I still have bad days but for the majority, I am able to handle things. What I don’t think people realize is in life, it’s normal to feel emotions. It’s normal to feel sad, to feel happy, and to feel angry. It becomes a problem when it’s impeding your ability to function. If it is, reach out for help. Talk to someone you trust. So yes, I have hard days where I am not sure how I will make it through, but now I am able to control my thoughts and realize it’s part of my life. We aren’t meant to be happy all the time. Feeling a range of emotions is a normal part of life, and it’s okay.
When people hear the word ‘anxiety,’ the first reaction is to say things like, ‘Just don’t worry’ or ‘That will never happen.’ Anxiety is more than worry. It’s having your palms be sweaty, the inability to think, feeling like you can’t breathe, and having an extreme panic attack over simple tasks. Anxiety steals fun away, it takes your choices, and it has the ability to take over. It’s thinking your family will be in mortal danger every time they’re out of your sight. But it’s also made me stronger. It has made me face my demons and move past the traumas of my youth.
I may have anxiety and depression, but I am Myranda. I am a wife, a mom of six, and I am everyone’s favorite big sister. I’m a mean bargain shopper, I bake the best rolls and bread around, and I am amazing. You are too.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Myranda Barnes from Pheonix, AZ. You can follow their journey on Instagram and their website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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