Eighteen months. That’s the age difference between my toddler and my baby. I knew life with two under two would be hard, but nothing prepared me for the overwhelming anxiety I felt the first time my toddler was in the middle of a full-blown meltdown while I was trying to calm a screaming newborn.
I remember sitting on the floor of the bathroom sobbing—while nursing the baby—and wondering how I was going to get through the day. The feeling stuck with me as I went to bed and I asked myself how was I going to get up and do it all over again.
I remember my husband standing beside our bed, trying to get me to breathe as I entered a panic attack. There was nothing unusual about that morning—I was nursing my baby in bed when my toddler woke up at her usual time, calling out for me—but for some reason, it all came crashing down at once.
I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t do this another day.
With each thought, my anxiety level rose. My heart raced, everything around me became blurry, I couldn’t breathe and it felt like I was completely detached from my body.
I can’t do this anymore.
It didn’t get better as the day went by. I remember being in the parking lot of the grocery store, fumbling to buckle the carrier as my baby screamed and my toddler demanded to get out of her car seat. Racing heart. Tight chest. Dizziness.
I sat on the cement and put my head between my knees, trying to breathe.
A complete stranger picked me up off the ground, buckled the carrier and helped me get my kids into the grocery store. Before he walked away, he wrote down a number for a local therapist, saying his wife had seen her not too long ago after they had their first child.
Embarrassed, overwhelmed and exhausted, I shoved it in my pocket and set off to battle the grocery store with two kids, trying to forget everything that had just happened.
But it kept creeping up. I couldn’t stop it, I couldn’t control it and I was wasting these amazing years with our two little kids because I was too embarrassed and because I resented these feelings.
So I pulled out that crumpled piece of paper and dialed the number of the therapist. That moment saved my life.
My anxiety is still a work in progress, but this is what I’ve learned:
1. Know your triggers
When I started paying attention, I quickly realized I had one significant trigger. My panic attacks would come when both kids needed me at the same time: when they were both crying and screaming in the car or when my toddler was having a meltdown while I was attempting to appease a hungry, screaming baby (and trying to make dinner at the same time).
2. Get the right therapist
Thanks to the wonderful stranger in the parking lot that day, I found a therapist I clicked with right away. I immediately admitted to her that I felt ridiculous coming to therapy. My problems seemed insignificant compared to what so many people go through.
I am fortunate to have had an easy upbringing with very little struggle in life and live very carefree—we don’t worry about money, my husband has an excellent job, we have a home and reliable vehicles, we are healthy and we have a huge support system. My therapist explained how anxiety is a medical condition and doesn’t care about any of that. She helped me develop tools to control my anxiety that are manageable and realistic when also taking care of two small kids.
3. Develop some coping tools
The hardest part for me was letting go of perfection and accepting being what she calls the “Good Enough” mother. This is still something I struggle with daily, but when I feel my chest tightening and that familiar anxiety creeping in, I focus on breathing.
It sounds simple enough, but when you have two tiny humans hollering from the back of your car, even the most basic task like breathing seems impossible. Just a couple of deep, focused breaths can stop my anxiety from turning into a full-blown panic attack.
4. Self-care means asking for help
My husband works A LOT. I love him for it and I appreciate what he does for this family, but it means that the job of raising our kids mostly falls on me. I had to swallow my pride and learn to ask for help, even if that means he is scaling back on his hours.
This allows me to have a break so I can do something for myself—even if it’s just 10 minutes to meditate or journal.
Don’t wait. Don’t let yourself get to your breaking point. Ask for help now. You are doing the best you can, but you don’t need to do it alone.
5. Don’t resist it
“I’m fine” is my comfort zone. I put a lot of energy into presenting a composed exterior and pushing away any bad feelings. But I’ve learned that I can’t resist anxiety. I learned to recognize when it is coming so I can apply my tools before it turns into a panic attack.
I start by labeling the feeling (“I am feeling anxious”), focusing on where in my body I feel it—always my chest—and then start breathing. More often than not, if I can catch it early, I can work through it quickly and easily.
So to all the moms out there who go to bed not knowing how they will get up and do it all again the next day: We are allowed to not be okay. We are allowed to ask for help. We don’t need to do this alone. We are good enough.