In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m recalling what I am thankful for this year: Of course, my number one reason is my child, who is growing a love and joy in me like no other. It’s been a FUN year watching him grow, celebrating his first birthday, and achieving many major milestones, like walking. I’m also thankful for a wonderful marriage with my teammate; fun trips to Wisconsin, Texas, Atlanta and Oxford; good health for all my loved ones; and enjoying pretty much everything I have asked for. But one thing I didn’t ask for, what I would have told you 4 weeks ago was the worst thing ever handed to me, that I could never dream would be a blessing, has become what I am most grateful for this Thanksgiving: my struggle with anxiety.
Anxiety isn’t a feeling I’ve identified throughout most of my life. Although I’ve been a high-achieving person, and I’ve been instructed several times to just chill out, this year I dealt with the crippling, heart-gripping pain of chronic anxiety. I can recall several times this year when I felt on the verge of a panic attack, the feeling of my heart beating in my chest so great that it scared me. I don’t know exactly when it started, but I do know that it was earlier in the year. The first several months of my new journey through motherhood was pure bliss. I was thriving in my role as a new mom, completely smitten with my little blue-eyed boy. His newborn life was met with many (though minor) medical issues, and our struggle only strengthened our bond. Going back to work was daunting, but since I love what I do, it was manageable.
For a while.
I guess eventually the juggling act became too great. My efforts to maintain a happy and peaceful family, household, and career just couldn’t be contained anymore. I called my husband, sobbing, completely undone by the pressures. I told him something had to give. I just couldn’t do it anymore. Now, typing this as tears well in my eyes, I realize that I was heart-broken over missing those first few months with my boy. I missed lying on his bedroom floor, reading books, watching the clumsy movements of his newborn body, and filming videos to send to Bryan at work. I missed lying on the couch all day, totally undone and exhausted from the round-the-clock nursing, but loving nothing more than the 24/7 snuggles that were found in this new relationship. Sure, the housework was constant, the first year of bottle prep was grueling, I had to start hiding dark circles under my eyes, and I longed for rest each night, but that didn’t compare to the feeling of dropping off an all-to-often sick baby at daycare, leaving my heart with him at the door.
I thought this was all part of newborn life. I didn’t expect it to be easy, and I knew lots of other working moms had to do it. But by the Spring, I began to realize that something wasn’t right. My brain was foggy, my vision blurry, and I hadn’t experienced chest tightness like this so often. I tried to put my whole being into my moments with my son, but after a few minutes, I would realize that I had mentally drifted off, feeling outside of my own body. I constantly feared for his safety, my brain racing ahead to imaginary moments in time, either to what would need to be done to keep him on schedule or safe from harm. I was doing everything I could to soak up this precious time, although I wasn’t there. It’s this part of the story that makes me want to chalk up 2017 to a wash, angry that something had stole my ability to fully enjoy motherhood, the time I had always looked forward to the most.
But then I learned how God was going to redeem my story for HIS story. He wasn’t going to let me live with regret of this year. In fact, he was going to make me downright thankful for it.
Knowing something wasn’t right, I reached out to other Mama friends and began the process of healing. I visited my OB, discussed my symptoms, and heard the words I had heard too often before: “You need to let go.”
*Disclaimer: This is not a suggestion for treatment. If you’re struggling with similar symptoms or you think you have anxiety, you need to get a personalized approach with the help of trained professionals. This is just what worked for me.
I knew she was right. I knew I was doing it to myself. I knew, because I always had. I was the classic Type A perfectionist my whole life. The over-achiever, good-at-everything type. (Trust me, I’m not bragging.) Except singing. And maybe dancing. I didn’t even try to be good at those, and that’s what you should be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Not long after the sobbing phone call to my husband, I embarked on the process of letting go – beginning with letting go of the stigma of counseling. I couldn’t even think about it at this point, I had to find relief. In my first appointment, I started with the medical list of symptoms, only to end with the emotional release of my broken heart. The tears came again when she said I was grieving the bond with my son. Here the tears are again, right now. Spot on. She said it. I had to give up the notion that other Moms seemed to do it just fine. No one else could tell me how to do motherhood. It was my own experience. And as I said before, I think the medical issues we overcame only made me that much more attached.
Bryan and I decided to make a change for our family. It was the answer, and I knew it would provide the relief. I was stoked. My counselor was thrilled for me.
It was prolonged.
Still is, actually.
Moments were frustrating, sure, but I decided that I was going to do everything possible right now to make the change. I couldn’t let my circumstances define me. I needed healing. I gave up coffee, focused on getting more sleep, and prioritized exercise. I worked hard to start letting the little things go. I read more, and Rebekah Lyons’ book You Are Free has become the anthem to my year. I am reading it painfully slowly, highlighting, underlining, and note-taking my way through it. I’m still only about halfway there.
I am thrilled to share that just about 4 weeks ago, the anxiety lifted. Just, completely disappeared. I can’t attribute that to anything but God, even though I had taken many steps toward this end, if it was up to me, it would have vanished a long time before. On Sunday morning, after a yoga session on October 29, I was set free.
“It’s not my story of struggle, it’s his story of rescue.” Rebekah Lyons
The anxiety has tried to creep in since then, but I am now able to sense it and work it through. Yoga really helps, and most mornings at 4:30am, you can find me on my mat. Counseling helps too. A lot. You’ll be able to find me there probably forever.
So, why am I thankful for my struggle? Because halfway through You Are Free, I had a life-changing moment. It happened precisely in Chapter 5. Each word was an epiphany to my story, a rescue to my struggle. I had identified with Rebekah throughout the book, realizing that the achiever and people-pleasing mentality only showed it’s dark side in my adult life. Anxiety put me in front of a therapist, and once the anxiety of my new motherhood life lifted, it left behind the spotlight on my natural tendencies that had been there all along. Anxiety pointed out my true need for surrender. It was a product of who I was, and someone I no longer wanted to be.
Half-way through the chapter, I abruptly stopped reading and decided I needed to find a baby name that meant “surrender”. OK, pause, this is a funny way of honoring my struggle, I think a lot of people get tattoos or something, but I had to convince my husband to grant me another child somehow or another. 😛 I went to Google, began typing “baby names that me….”
I stopped. Dead in my tracks.
My son’s name dawned on me: Harvey. We liked the name originally, then when we learned the meaning, it sealed the decision. It meant “battle-worthy”. We were immediately connected to it, for the hope that his life would be marked by his fight for what’s right, noble, and good in the world. We knew that any battle he faced would be worthy if he fought it for God. But one day in November, his life took on a whole new name, and that baby boy who stole my heart in 2016 sent it Heaven-ward in 2017. It was his presence that brought crushing anxiety upon me. And just when I began to question why my biggest blessing would also bring my biggest struggle, I got chills with the realization: His life uncovered my need for my greatest healing. His name wasn’t just for the world, it was for me. He made my battle worthy. The world didn’t need him. God didn’t need him. God needed his daughter to be set free, and he used our son to do that. For that, I am ever thankful.
Why am I sharing this?
This is my most vulnerable spot. I have put words to my soul and laid it all out there for anyone to read. The old Alyssa says I’ve just opened myself up to judgement. The new Alyssa says I am letting that go, trusting that His story of rescue may hopefully ignite yours.
You see, I’ve learned that anxiety is so very real. I can now identify with anyone afflicted by it, and I know that many are. It’s my hope that you can find relief through your struggle, whether that’s through realizing you’re not alone, or through using some of the resources I did. You’re worth the battle. Keep fighting.