25Nov

Let’s Talk About the ETB (Early Thirties Breakdown)

I know I joke a lot about “chocolate is my therapy” and “I’m saving up for the kids’ therapy one day,” etc. But I was sharing my own experience recently with a friend and she said, “Would you please blog this? Because you’re the first person that has made me feel like I’m normal in a long time.”

So I share…

Everyone knows that when you become a mother, your anxiety goes into overdrive. We lay awake at night replaying the near misses, worst-case scenarios, and most terrifying possibilities that could happen to our loved ones. I think God built it in us so we’d be on high alert while we raise young people who seem hell-bent on bringing harm to their bodies.

But, because it’s a broken world, sometimes this mothering mechanism can over-do it.

When we traveled to Africa to get Mira, my sleeplessness and anxiety went into overdrive. And even months later, it never really went away. I was on the point of seeking some help when I found out I was expecting Finn. I knew any doctor in his right mind would blame my sleeplessness and anxiety on hormones.

So I waited. And I fought the fear as best I could.

After Finn was born, I went through the usual hormonal swings and waited for those to die down a bit before we began talking about getting me some anxiety help. It had been over a year since it began and still I couldn’t sleep at all without my headphones in, listening to something to distract me so I wouldn’t go down the rabbit hole of mommy fearfulness.

We found a Christian therapist who was willing to sit and talk to both Andrew and I. He spent an hour or so getting to know us and listening to my story before reassuring me that what I was experiencing was something he and his cronies referred to as “The Early Thirties Breakdown” or ETB, for short.

He said that it happens most often in women. Sometimes hard things just have to be survived and there isn’t time to work through our emotions. So we stuff them and figure out a way to work around them. And then we get to a point in our lives (usually in our early thirties after our mommy mojo has kicked everything into high gear) and our brains simply refuse to work properly until we DEAL WITH OUR JUNK.

This can manifest itself in either anxiety or depression. For me, it was anxiety.

Andrew and I left holding hands and talked for an hour afterwards. He said he felt reassured to hear a total outsider with some wisdom say, “Let’s talk about some of it, work through it. This isn’t normal to feel this way and we can fix it.”

It was strange to me to hear him talking about “fixed.” After the session, all the wounds and scabs we’d picked at in my emotional past felt raw and open and I assumed they’d never heal.

Let me say this before I go any further, I had a blessed childhood, full of love. But we all have hurts and scars from living in a broken world and relating to broken people. Sometimes our situation doesn’t allow for us to properly cope with those hurts at the time and it gets put off to be dealt with later.

This was the case for me.

I HATED going to therapy. It felt like being led to slaughter every. single. time. I felt guilty for the expense, I felt guilty for leaving my family. I would try and argue my way out of it every week.

But Andrew would say, “You’re doing this for us. We all love you and want you to be healthy and feel better. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the kids and for me.”

And because he wisely appealed to my hearty Dutch sense of duty, off I’d go to the gauntlet for an hour of navel-gazing and wound-picking.

At therapy, sometimes I talked (and cried.) Sometimes I listened (and cried). Sometimes we’d argue and I’d be mad enough not to cry.

(Even my Christian therapist would occasionally say something that I’d hold up to the light of Scripture and make my own choices about. No therapist will be perfect. I don’t think they try to be. If anyone claims to be the authority in your life, run. They’re there to help you, in their own fallible way, not rule you.)

I’d go home and tell Andrew I was never going back and he’d say “ok” and then he’d ask me what I learned. And doggone it, I could always come up with something. Despite myself, I would leave there with at least one small nugget of truth to noodle over for the week.

So I’d have a headache for a day from all the crying I did and then I’d buck up and by next week I’d be able (if not willing) to do it all over again.

And that sounds miserable, I know. Sometimes I thought it was. I cried more than I had in years, over the slightest things. I’m sure I was quieter at home. I know I was quieter here in blog-land because I simply didn’t know what to say.

Once or twice after a therapy session, I actually went into a full panic attack. Stirring up those emotions and working through how I felt about it was messy, y’all.

But you know that saying that it gets darkest before the sunrise?

sunrise

I didn’t see it at first. But Andrew did. After just two weeks of meeting with the therapist I would catch Andrew looking at me with his head cocked to the side.

“What?”

He’d smile and say, “There’s something different.”

Bit by bit, day by day, I felt a bit stronger. I didn’t panic at the thought of having to actually FEEL an emotion. After weeks of crying it all out, suddenly I didn’t need to cry at the drop of a hat.

I didn’t fear the thought of going to bed.

I still used my headphones at night, but it wasn’t the panicked, clawing NEED I had before. Now it was a soothing habit I’d learned to cope that I found relaxation in.

After a few months of weekly meetings, my therapist looked at me and said, “Ok. Why don’t we just wait to schedule our next appointment and you can call me if you need me?”

Huh. Even he thought I was better.

But by then, I knew it. I’d sorted through my past. I’d held it up to the Light, found the truth, tossed the junk away. God, in His kindness, had sent balm to His daughter. I found rest. And I found strength.

I stood up a little straighter, didn’t back down in the face of confrontation as much. I FOUND MY BRAVE.

IMG_5914-WM

 And it feels good, y’all.

There’s still sorrow. Things that make me sad. Relationships I mourn. But the panic, the inner clawing, clutching fear… they don’t win any more.

Now, I know as Believers we often want to say, “Well, clearly, she just wasn’t reading Scriptures enough. She wasn’t praying hard enough. She needs to put on her big girl panties, grow in her faith, and just move on.”

I’d been doing that for years. I’d been saying that for years. And my body was physically telling me through my anxiety, “Not any more you don’t. We fix this now or you’re headed for Ugly Places.”

Intellectually, I knew the Truth about my fears and anxieties. But talking to someone with experience helped me see Truth again and finally apply it better in my life.

Also of interest: not once in therapy did we discuss my current life. I was certain the therapist would say, “Well, obviously, you just need to reduce the stress in your life. SEVEN KIDS, what did you think would happen?”

But he didn’t. Because God is faithful and gracious and even though my beautiful mess of a life is sometimes stressful now, that wasn’t where the root of my problem was. It was all hurts and brokenness from years ago where my fears stemmed from.

I had to reconcile with my Past in order to be better in my Present.

I never imagined myself writing about this experience. But if we were all hanging out in the coffee shop, sharing about our lives and what we’ve learned in the last year, this would be my story.

And if you looked at me and said, “Wait, sometimes I feel that way…” then I would pat your hand and say, “It’s fixable. You’re not alone. Don’t put off getting somebody to help you.

And then I’d buy you another mocha latte in solidarity…

 

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Comments

  1. Thanks for being brave enough to share your story.

  2. can totally and completely relate. By the way like your new blog design.

  3. Bravo, dear friend. Bravo.

  4. Thank you.

  5. Thank you so much for this! I have struggled (past and present) with pregnancy, probably due in large part to my Hyperemesis. I love babies, I love having babies, but for whatever reason my pregnancy seem plagued by a dark cloud of guilt, anxiety, and depression. I have fought so hard to “put on my big girl panties of faith” and it has been so difficult.

    I also go silent on the blog when all is not well on the inside and my husband even mentioned it the other day. I know this was difficult to share but I suspect there are many of us who need to know that we don’t have to fight this fight of faith in hard times all by ourselves.

    Also, I have been meaning to ask you how you deal gracefully with the “you brought this on yourself” crowd as we head for five and I’m sick I seem to be getting it more often lately and I’m not sure rolling my eyes and walking away is the best answer!

    Thanks again for sharing! (Sorry for the novel!)

  6. I am so proud of you. Proud of you for getting help, proud of you for doing the hard work, proud of you for sharing your story. God will use it. His glory.

  7. love this – love you!

  8. Jen in al says:

    Beautiful my friend. So thankful you shared because it is such an encouragement to me! We all need to be this kind of brave. Thank you for sharing the good and the messy which so often are one and the same. :) tons of hugs, Jen

  9. I’m so so proud of you for sharing this, friend, but I’m even more proud that you went to therapy in the first place. It takes courage and faith to trust an objective person (but still an outsider) with our hurts. It’s not a pretty process but as you’ve illustrated so well, beauty and healing can emerge in the end.

  10. I’m so grateful you’re sharing your story…all while I chuckle at the Early Thirties Breakdown. I had an experience that was kind of similar, kind of not…after years of “stuffing” some old issues it finally occurred to me at age 31 (ETB, right?) that maybe seeing a therapist would be a good idea. I found a wonderful Christian therapist and working with her was such a good experience. I try to talk about it so other women know it’s an option for them, too.

  11. Amanda Keys says:

    Hello sweet girl,
    I don’t usually comment on your blog but I always read it and feel compelled to comment this time.
    We were such good friends as little girls. You were my best friend. I am able to read between these lines and I am pretty sure I know what some of this is about, my darling old friend. I want to hug you and tell you how proud I am of you. You have become such a wonderful mother and grown up to be the wonderful adult I was certain you would be.
    With love and fond memories, Amanda

  12. You’re freaking rad. Good for you for opening up and sharing this piece of your life…may it encourage others who are struggling and lead to peace!

  13. Beautiful. My favorite line, “I had to reconcile with my Past in order to be better in my Present.” More women need to acknowledge that we need help and we need to be honest with ourselves and others.

  14. This is brave and wonderful, LL. I love you.

  15. Beautiful and brave. Thank you.

  16. I don’t really know what to say here except thank you. I feel like if I made my husband read this it would sum up just how I have been these last months… year? Thank you.

  17. I am nodding my head and saying “Yep. All of that? Yep.” You know I’m a fan of therapy, too. I’m so glad you shared this, LL. xoxo

  18. LL, this is so gentle, shameless, and true. I’m so glad you typed it out.

    I love you!

  19. thank you for sharing this. i have recently had some experiences that have really thrown me for an emotional loop. i kept joking with my friends that i felt like i was having a mid-life crisis or breakdown at 36 years old. this is encouraging to me.

  20. Beautiful. Thank you for being brave and sharing with transparency!

  21. Thank you for being so honest and real! I’ve been having a mid-30′s breakdown for a couple years. My therapist keeps blaming it on circumstances out of my control – where we live, husband’s job, how many kids we have, me not taking care of myself. Never once have we delved into the past hurts and trauma. You’ve given me courage to seek a new therapist and stop blaming myself for “bringing this on myself” by how many kids we’ve had. I agree with another person who commented – how do you deal with the people, especially family and close friends, who say things like “well maybe you shouldn’t have more kids” (or stop homeschooling, etc)??

  22. Someone’s life will change because you shared this! Beautiful and honest and real. Thanks.

  23. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey. There’s much food for thought here.

  24. Thank-you. Thank-you for being brave and putting all those words on the screen.

    Reading your words and all the words of the other ladies who chimed in make me feel not alone. And that getting help is a good thing and not a failure as a mom/Christian/wife.

  25. It would have been easy to place the blame on the rigours of 7 children and homeschooling and never get to the true issues, and I am so glad you did and that you are happier for it.

    My sister kept huge issues of guilt and anxiety to herself for years because she saw them as character defects and weakness. Finally, after reaching her breaking point, she saw a therapist who traced back to our childhood, where our mother laid so much of her lifelong anger, guilt and regret on us. I always saw my mother and sister as best friends and often felt left out, not realizing that my mother was projecting herself onto my sister in such a negative way and that I was actually fortunate to be spared that close relationship.

    Your honesty and heartfelt words will inspire all of your readers, but if it helps just one, it has been worth the time and effort of sharing so openly. You have such support in the readers of your blog! Thank you for sharing!

  26. Ah, it is called EBT? Now I have a name for my break down even though I was is my late thirties. It is true that all that stuff we sweep under the carpet comes back to bite us and that if we do the hard work, there is healing under His wings. Thanks for sharing your story!

  27. THANK YOU, cyber friend.

  28. May I say how wise you are to confront the hurts now, while in your 30s, instead of waiting for the 40s to hit along with perimenopause? Middle school emotions all over again unless the past is dealt with in a safe, trusting way. Kudos to you.

  29. Thanks for sharing.

  30. Yes, how do you deal with “you brought this on yourself?” Neither my family nor my husband’s is particularly supportive of a large number of children (our 4 babies are already blowing their minds). And we are planning to start homeschooling next year.
    I can also relate to this post. My ETB hit at 29, when my parents started dealing with maritial problems. It dragged up many lifelong patterns of behavior within my family (parents, siblings, etc.). This was also around the time of my third child’s birth, so add in no sleep and crazy hormones, and I was a mess for awhile.
    I forwarded this post to my husband to read. Glad to have a name for this besides “crazy.” =)

  31. After reading this, I’m certainly considering Christian counseling as well. We’ve moved a ton in the past 5 years causing lots of pain for our oldest son, and the guilt I have for that is huge. But, I know there’s hope in Christ and I need to live in the now, not in the past. If I can’t get past the past, I guess I should talk through it. Thanks for the encouraging and honest post.

  32. So glad you shared this! I too have been there, although my bouts with anxiety happened pre-kids, for whatever reason. It was so hard to come to the realization that it was okay to get help – it doesn’t mean I’m “mentally unstable” for the rest of my life. I hope more and more people can realize that!

  33. Love you so. So thankful and proud for the journey you’ve made this year and for the healing God has brought about. xx

  34. Thanks for sharing this and being so brave to encourage all of us. It makes so much sense . . .

  35. Kaylie – I’ve been thinking about how to answer you and I’ve decided that, yep, rolling your eyes and walking away IS the right answer. I just don’t think its worth the effort to argue with someone who would ask that question. So yea, walk away, ignore, whatevs. Just don’t engage with them. :-)

  36. Amanda – Thank you, sweet friend. :-)

  37. Thanks for putting into words exactly what the Holy Spirit has been stirring in my heart. I started going to therapy earlier this month and have had so much confirmation that this is what God wants me to be doing before we adopt two more kids.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Here’s the read. Let the Spirit sift through your own heart. Then do what is needed. Even if you’re scared. Talk to your husband. Be fully honest. (Oh, this FULLY HONEST subject in my life is no less than 3 part series that is to come). Phone a friend. Don’t walk it alone. And as I often say “The best thing I can do for my husband and kids is to work out my own crap”. Thanks be to God. [...]

  2. [...] of mental health, last week Andrew encouraged me to take the day [...]

  3. [...] Let’s Talk About EBT (Early Thirties Breakdown) by Lora Lynn of Vitafamilae [...]

  4. [...] loved: Let’s Talk About the Early 30s Breakdown. [...]

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