I used to go to therapy. I was five or six years old. I used to pick my fingers until they bled, and it was an ongoing problem; one that I couldn't seem to resolve on my own. [Truth be told, I STILL struggle with finger picking. Apparently it's genetic and my grandmother used to also do it? I also think it's stemmed from a great deal of worry and subconscious thoughts.] My mom started taking me to see a counselor, though I don't remember much. I vaguely recall coloring, and a small room glowing with lamplight. What I remember the most is talking to this woman about my 'hiding place' in the house--where I would go when I didn't want to be seen. For whatever reason, the counselor told my mom and somehow it got brought back up into a discussion with me; I don't remember ever going back.
It's crazy to me that I never realized everything I felt and was feeling as a kid, through adolescence, through my entire life--has been anxiety.
I have always been the person who needed to 'figure it out.' I started journaling at a very young age and in those journals, I wrote down plans for my life and all the questions of what-ifs and then whats. It was never crippling as a kid. But there were days that I would throw up before school because I was so worried. Worried about what? I actually have zero recollection. One time a male teacher I had in high school asked if I was pregnant because I tended to get sick before his class, after my morning gym class. I can't remember very well, but I think I used to be anxious about being late and not having enough time to shower before his class? And then sometimes I would be sick and be late anyway! No, Mr. ______ I am not pregnant, I am not even having SEX. I have anxiety.
That's what I wish I would have said! But I didn't know that's what was even wrong.
Flash forward many, many, many years. I met my husband when I was nineteen, was engaged eight months later, and because I got sick while in my BROTHER'S wedding, I assumed I would surely get sick in my own. [Why sick in my brother's wedding? I locked my knees and their sermon was ungodly long...they're aware, no offending anyone here--and I started to yawn, lose oxygen, felt like I was going to pass out, and instead ran down the center aisle to vomit in the bathroom as they said their vows. Yep. It's on video.] I started to have mini panic episodes during our engagement and just felt stressed and worried, a lot. [Do you think it could have been the fact that I was nineteen-years-old and ENGAGED?! Bless me!!!!] My doctor prescribed something mild and super low dosage wise, and again, I really have no recollection of taking it on a regular basis? I did take a quarter of a Xanax the MORNING of our wedding, which I don't really think was necessary because I felt zero anxiety the day that I married my sweet, sweet Southern husband--but I believe my brain has always fought with the 'what ifs' and I felt safer having it.
As you can see, there is a lot of time that has gone past, and a lot of things that I don't remember well. There's no clear pinpoint of a day or time that I realized, "I have anxiety." I can tell you bits and pieces and here and there's of when I was feeling it, what triggered it, and I think what it all boils down to is this:
I put a shit ton of pressure on MYSELF. And it's not necessary. Like, at all.
Can you relate? Do you ever feel as if there are eyes on you? A LOT of eyes? I grew up a horse crazed girl and vowed I would someday move to Kentucky. Well, I did, when I was eighteen and fresh out of high school. I knew NO ONE. I landed a job with a not-so-good-man who was a horse trainer, and I never talked about or told ANYONE what happened. How could I? I didn't want to be the screw-up. I didn't want to be the girl who moved far away from home to pursue her dreams who ended up just being emotionally and mentally scarred from the damage done there. Or I should say, I didn't want to ADMIT that truth. And throughout my engagement, I also didn't want to admit that I was scared--scared that I was too young, scared that I didn't know what I was doing, very concerned that I had a lot of baggage walking into this union with an incredible man.
Pressure. On myself. When I had no reason.
I have loving parents and they love Jesus. At any time, I could have confessed anything and everything that I needed to. And they would have held me. Loved me. Wept with me. Walked with me and prayed with me. But instead, I often see giant red flashing lights with four bold letters:
Move to Kentucky and add a traumatic work experience to your resume? Fail. Getting married at twenty-years-old and later struggle immensely when your body/hormones/emotions change and you doubt your young marriage? Fail. And the newest one--the one that I have currently been struggling with for months: after 20+ years of dreaming and waiting, get a HORSE? Your biggest dream, your wildest adventure, literally the thing you have been waiting for your ENTIRE life? You have NO idea what you're doing, and you have two young children. You work full time and have multiple jobs and side hustles. You're already tired, like all the time. So what if something goes wrong....? FAIL.
It's mostly the things that I have zero control over that I struggle with the most. We have five pets (well, six with the horse!) and all at different times have had a multitude of health problems. From ear infections, aging bodies, asthmatic cats, intestinal garbage, incontinence, and now a sweet and very young horse who has mild arthritis. The arthritis isn't a big deal [at least I think??] but the anxiety within me can send me down and around the rabbit hole of anxiety QUICK. The other day I found myself thinking this:
"His first cortisone shot was in March. Oh my word, I forgot he has arthritis. How do you forget he has arthritis? What if he can't be ridden? What if he's in pain? What if he needs another shot and I don't know it? What if he needs one every few months and I can't afford it?"
What if, what if, what if, what IF. And for WHAT?!
My new horse Paddy [I need to write more about him later!] is a SAINT. He JUST turned five in January and he's a baby. He isn't in pain, he has and is on excellent anti-inflammatories, I know I'll learn as each day passes, and I have lots of amazing horsewomen in my life I can get answers from, ANY time. I thought my anxiety would stop when he arrived, but the truth is, it hasn't. I have a GIANT fear of failure. I want to succeed, I want to do well, I want to have Paddy for the REST of his hopefully long and healthy life, but often I put immense pressure on myself. I've had time to heal on the issues in my life, and my marriage is actually doing incredible. By the grace of God I've found redemption + restoration and I believe that I can help other women with my story. So darnet, Ashley, STOP WITH THE WHAT IFS.
The other day my mom told me that Dad sometimes teases her and says, "Your anxieties have anxiety" (clearly he got this from Charlie Brown, haha!) I decided that that nailed it, that's exactly how I have been feeling. Especially since having kids, there was something about becoming a mom that really heightened all of this? [Other moms, can you relate?] It's not all doom and gloom though and still, none of it has been crippling or debilitating. Annoying, tiring, and stressful, sure. But here are some things that have helped when I am in the midst of a spiral downfall of anxiety:
*GoNoodle: I use this in my classroom with my students, but I have also honest to God used many of these videos for myself. It's a mindfulness and movement website and helps teachers and parents get kids moving with short interactive activities
*Prayer: It may sound trite or too simple, but I will often pray one or two specific Bible verses over and over and ask God to relieve the pressure and tension I feel--for instance, "Be still and know that I am God," is one of my favorites
*My husband: I have to be VERY upfront and honest and tell him very specifically, "I need you to help calm me down." I'll tell him exactly what I'm feeling, what I am feeling scared of, and he legit helps break my thoughts down for me. When I feel overwhelmed by time restraints or balancing life, he will come up with a very functional and easy schedule, which almost immediately brings my heart rate down to healthy levels.
*Exercise: even though I have slacked IMMENSELY since getting my horse...running 10+ minutes ALWAYS boosts my mood and calms my spirit. Now my exercise looks like time at the barn and riding Paddy 20-30 minutes a few days a week :) I'll take it! And eventually, I'll get back into running I'm sure!
*Journaling and writing: I've done this since I was in VERY early elementary and I pray I journal forever. My Gram journaled forever, and I love going through them and reading her sweet words.
*Hugs and physical touch: sometimes I ask Asa to just hold my chest. It's like a weighted vest I suppose, there are days and moments I feel I need literal pressure to help my heart rate slow back down and get my breathing regular again. Having a supportive and loving husband who empathizes with what and how I feel is quite honestly the LARGEST and most helpful calming tool.
When I sent out my newsletter a few weeks ago also regarding anxiety and how I feel it is very prevalent and NEEDS to be talked about--I had a HUGE positive response. So many of y'all e-mailed me back and told me how it's something that you too have struggled with for years. So tell me, what has been helpful to you? Counseling, medication, groups, friends, relationships, a happy place....please do tell! I'd love to give my subscribers more helpful tools and feedback. As always, thank you for reading. I pray that wherever you're reading from tonight, that you feel loved and heard.