‘I didn’t like the green doily curtain she hung up, so I moved out. I’d make my bed 2 minutes before crawling into it. I was always on edge.’: Woman with anxiety advocates for mental health, ‘There IS help’

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“I’m tired. I’m physically tired. I’m emotionally tired. I’m mentally tired. I’m tired.

Right now, I don’t want to do life. I would really like to throw on my yoga pants, put on a super comfortable sports bra (or honestly, maybe not), a long sleeve shirt, and my ugly beige crocs and get into my car, drive away blaring some good 80’s and 90’s music, and have a good cry. A solid good cry, while somehow figuring out my next adventure in life and how to let everything go. I want to come home several hours later to look at my sweet and beautiful babies sleeping, maybe wake them up purposefully and hold them, then fall asleep with hopes that tomorrow will be better.

How do I get out of this rut I’m in? How do I get myself not to think the way I do sometimes and even overthink things that shouldn’t be over-thought about? How do I get well so my girls can finally meet the Sandi I was just five years ago when I turned thirty years old and had it all together? Where am I?

Why is anxiety such a taboo subject? Why do people not want to talk about it?

According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., with more than 3 million cases per year. It’s a highly treatable disorder, yet only 36.9% receive treatment. Why? If you have anxiety, then you understand why it’s tough to talk about it. If you don’t, then it may be more difficult for you to understand.

I don’t think I realized I had a ‘problem’ until I was a freshman in college. It honestly may have been in my elementary days. When I would play ‘house,’ I would have to keep my fingers completely straight and not let my nails touch anything. To start the ‘house’ game or play with dolls, I would have to hum this song in my head that sounded something like, ‘Hmm Hmm HmmHmmHmm.’

Back to my freshman year in college. I was supposed to figure out how to live away from my parents and really live on my own. I was supposed to be learning about new cultures from those that surrounded me. I was supposed to find me, the me I should have forever become. And I didn’t. I really don’t even know if I’m still found that person I’m supposed to forever become. During my freshman year in school, my roommates were three girls in a one-bedroom dorm room. We slept in tinier than twin size beds, had cubby sized lockers to hold our four and a half pieces of clothing, and a shower that was always fought over. This was not an easy transition for me. It was so bad, I moved out four weeks after the semester started. The move got so ugly, I requested my half of the shower curtain back. It did not come back in the form of payment. It came in the form that the actual shower curtain was cut directly down the middle and handed to me. We were downright rude to one another.

So here’s my first clue… maybe I don’t make a good roommate. I’ve only been ‘roommates’ with my parents and younger brothers at this point in my life. Moving on to the second year of college, I decided to live in a different dorm with a girl I’d met the year before. Same situation, much smaller room. NOPE! She moved out. I then had the entire dorm room to myself. This was awesome! Year three, I tried living with another girl I’d met and…honestly, she was just too cluttered for me. I really didn’t like the green doily curtain she had hung up, so once again, I moved out. I lived in my own dorm for the rest of my college days.

Through the rest of those college days, I realized that in order for me to study, write papers, watch television, and even just go to bed, my room needed to be cleaned and organized. I didn’t want posters on my wall. I didn’t have picture frames out. I dusted and vacuumed daily and organized my closets at least every two or three days, making sure my clothes were hanging up by category from color, to size, to length. My bed had to be made before I would crawl into it 2 minutes later. I chalked this up to OCD. I self-diagnosed myself with a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, not even knowing if I fully understood what it was at the time or that it was even a form of anxiety. I didn’t tell anyone about this self-diagnosis, because I was sure I would be laughed at and told I was being silly. To most people, I just had a super clean room and my car always was very organized.

This ‘diagnosis’ carried over throughout most of my 20’s and even into my life today. It has taken a toll on my work life, my home life, my relationship with in-laws, and even my marriage and with my daughters. In the early years of our marriage, I was not a very nice daughter-in-law. It wasn’t because I didn’t like Andy’s parents. In fact, I adore them and appreciate everything they’ve ever done for me and currently do. But looking back, I know now it was an illness I had no control over.

I would stress out about dishes not being rinsed off or the random cups sitting around. If my mother-in-law wanted to load the dishes for me, I didn’t want her to because I like to load mine a certain way. I just always felt on edge because I felt this constant need to entertain, yet all I wanted to do was clean up. I would actually feel relief when they left at the end of the week, yet so incredibly guilty for being so mean to them. I would miss them shortly after realizing I wouldn’t see them for several months. Side note: I’ve since talked to my mother-in-law about this and apologized, with hopes she understands.

I’ve hosted three birthday parties in the past three years, two of them being in my own home. I’ve had several get-togethers with friends at my house and they’ve ALL been the same feeling for me. I absolutely could not enjoy myself because I was consumed by trying to please everyone. I was consumed with trying to make sure the snack plates remained replenished. I consumed myself with ensuring trash was thrown away immediately and constantly just cleaning up after people.

In Grace’s first year and a half of life, I would come home from work and do nothing but laundry, dishes, organizing our food pantry, and even decluttering our junk drawer. I wanted everything done… and by everything, I mean dishes loaded, counters wiped down, and floors vacuumed before I went to bed. I went to bed when Grace went to bed, which meant I rarely spent my nights with her.

Shortly after Addison was born, I knew I couldn’t continue to be that type of mother. I wanted to be on the ground playing with them after work. I wanted to be outside pushing them in the swing or taking beautiful evening walks. I just wanted to be WITH them and enjoying the moment, because I just KNEW I would regret it in the future. I would regret them moving out and having nothing to clean up after. I would regret not snuggling them in their beds or rocking them in the rocking chair. I just didn’t want to be that mom to them.

While I was in the hospital delivering Addi, I knew I needed help. I needed to see a doctor and get this under control. I made an appointment and the day before I brought Addison home from the NICU, I met with my new doctor. I told her why I was there. I told her I felt I had anxiety, told her some of the symptoms I experienced, and I wanted something to ‘chill me out.’ We played the questioning game of ‘did I experience any type of depression,’ and that answer was a quick no because I hadn’t… yet.

I was prescribed something to help me through my anxious moments. I was excited to be starting something, yet still, in denial I truly needed it. I took the medication sporadically, maybe three times per week. If I’m being honest, I don’t know if it was helping me or not. It wasn’t until a year after I started the anxiety medication I experience a real ‘Debbie downer’ situation in my life. I was really beat down. I was mean to my daughters, my husband, my family, and my friends. I pushed people away who shouldn’t have been pushed away. After a family beach vacation in November 2018, where I was miserable the entire time when I should have been enjoying my youngest daughters’ first trip to the beach and my oldest daughter’s joyous time splashing in the cold water, I made the decision to commit to taking the medication.

For the past four months, I have taken my medication consistently. I can see the difference in myself. I can see the difference in my relationships.

Do I still struggle with anxiety? Absolutely! The medication can only help me so much to ‘cope’ with my feelings and surroundings. I still struggle with reassurance and feeling the tightness in my chest, when things aren’t ‘in order.’ I still feel fight the urge nightly to do the dishes and laundry versus playing with Grace and Addi, but I sleep well in knowing my time was well spent with them. I realized in order for me to get more enjoyment out of life, I need to begin taking care of myself in other forms I KNOW will help me: church and exercise.

Why are anxiety and other mental illnesses difficult to talk about? It feels like a weakness. There’s the fear of being judged, labeled, and rejected. There’s that risk of losing different relationships, simply because people don’t understand or are unsure of how to react. When you receive even one negative reaction to what you try and hide, it makes you want to not want to speak of it again, not even to the ones you love.

It can keep us from being our true selves. I don’t think people understand how difficult it is to explain what’s going on in your head when you can’t even understand it yourself.

In today’s society, there is more awareness about mental health, for which I’m thankful for. I have a desire to help end the stigma with anxiety. This is a true illness. I see it every day in my career and I experience it in my own life. There IS help. Breathe. You are strong. You got this. Take it day by day.”

Courtesy Sandi Chambers

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sandi Chambers. Visit her website here. Do you have a similar experience? Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more from Sandi here: 

‘I am a C-section-having, formula-feeding, disposable diaper, working kind of mom. I do not regret it.’: Mom explains her parenting choices, but says, ‘Please respect my parenting views as I’ve always tried to respect your parenting views.’

‘I answered the phone. ‘Anne?’ No, this is her daughter.’ ‘Oh, I didn’t know she had a daughter.’ Did my mom not talk about me? Was I not good enough for her?’: Woman recounts relationship with her mother

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