Anxiety… who knew?

My mother suffered from anxiety.

She was never clinically diagnosed but those who knew her well had no doubt.

It used to drive me crazy.

She was jumpy… and nervous… and sometimes hard to be around.  And, as I am learning, she was incredibly brave.

I’ve experienced the jumpiness myself. I’ve had my moments of what I thought was anxiety.  I’ve chalked it up to genetics and cursed my mother.

It seemed just an annoying personality trait that I would have to deal with… until today.

Today, anxiety… that thing I used to joke about… kicked my ass.

The physical sensation, the stilted emotions; it is something I cannot adequately describe.  It limits your breathing, even your thinking.  The worst part seems to be that I can’t even point to a trigger.  I’ve had a low level of stress for weeks as we have prepared for the first real separation as a military family.  I face extended periods of solo parenting over the next year but I thought I had come to peace with it.  I don’t actually feel worried about what is to come… at least not much.

That’s part of what made today so surprising.  I woke this morning not even aware of why I felt a low level but intense panic somewhere deep inside me.  As this anxiety coursed through my body I kept thinking about my mother and all the tough life changes she went through: the multiple moves, my father being laid off when they were facing college tuition bills.  Through all of that she never really let us see anything more than the occasional sharp word or an overdeveloped startle reflex we found both annoying and funny.

Part of that makes me proud – that she faced so much so bravely – but part of it makes me angry.  I knew anxiety could be genetic.  I knew I’d inherited the tendency towards it.  I have no idea what it really felt like.

That’s why I write here today.  It’s not easy to admit to a mental disorder.  It’s not easy to live it either.  But doing it in secret helps no one.  Mental health disorders are underfunded, undertreated and misunderstood.

I’m astonished at my mother’s bravery now that I have faced just one day of real anxiety.  All I can do is hope I’ll face it with as much bravery as my mother did, and hope that my children will be more forgiving than I was.

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