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?
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.
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.
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…