On Anxiety

My daughter is four and a half months old. We are a third of the way through a year. Time is passing. She is growing – stretching and plumping and advancing before my eyes.

Since she was born, I have had the full might of the wonderful Australian health system behind me. Obstetricians, GPs, paediatricians, maternal health nurses and gynaecologists all working in unison to ensure my daughter and I have had the best start possible, into this brave new world.

My family have been there. Offering help when it wasn’t asked for. Allowing me to need support, to feel helpless; to be helped. At every instance, every milestone, I have been checked in on. How are things? How am I coping? How am I feeling?

Fine, fine. She truly is a wonderful little baby. I have nothing to complain about. Everything is OK.

But, it’s not. I am not OK.

I think I have a problem with anxiety. It is getting worse. I am getting worse.

It’s crept up on me, because she is not a newborn and I am no longer so new at this myself. And she is – really is – a happy, settled, beautiful little girl.  So, how could I possibly be struggling?

It’s other mothers that make me feel this most acutely. If I’m having a particularly bad day, I venture a hesitant, ‘It’s hard’, out into the conversation. But unless I can back this up with tales of abject baby-based horror, I’m met with blank looks. I’ve even been second-guessing this post. Fretting that my anxiety isn’t seated in something with more substance.

You have nothing to complain about.

And I don’t. She’s perfect. I know, it’s me.

I don’t think I’m depressed. Every day begins with my heart hurrying at the chance to see her face again. I function well. I get dressed, put on make-up, eat, clean, visit friends, run errands, make sure I tick off the endless list of Things To Do. And I enjoy myself. I know I am lucky to have this life.

But what were a few road bumps a while ago, now send me into a tailspin of fear and worry. When she doesn’t nap. Or doesn’t stick to a routine. Or life intrudes into whatever carefully mapped-out schedule I have in my head … I don’t cope.

There’s a constant, endlessly repeating cycle that exists … like living in the twilight of happy and not. When she’s awake, I am ecstatic, hungry with love for her. When she’s crying in bed, not sleeping, I am exhausted with disappointment. The other times, I’m brittle and taut – watching the clock, eyeing the monitor, one ear and eye always out. ‘Is she awake?’ ‘Is she overtired?’ ‘Have I failed this time?’ ‘What will I do if things don’t go to plan?’

It’s affecting how I enjoy these precious days. When I leave the house, knowing she’ll miss a nap, I worry she’ll be ruined for the rest of the day. When Mr Bun and I settle down to dinner, I worry she’ll wake up ‘early’.  When I pop her down after her late feed, I worry about the night ahead. Worry worry worry.

When she doesn’t sleep, we both feel it. She is unhappy. Her smiles drift away. Her feeding and playing and sleeping all suffer. She has a worse day – and then, so do I. But I should be able to bear that. I should be able to take it in my stride, shrug with the understanding that she is just a baby, that these things happen – and that it will get better.

Instead I obsess and worry as to what it means. I fear for what’s to come, constantly. Every time I use the dummy, I picture a spiral of screaming addiction ahead of me. One bad night has me convinced months of bad nights are coming up. One tough morning and I’ve already written off the entire day.

It’s affecting my marriage. Poor Mr Bun now asks, hesitantly, ‘Has she had a … good day?’ He’s not asking because of her. It’s because of me. How will his wife be when he gets home? Will there be tears? Snapped whispers of ‘Don’t wake the baby’? Or just the silence of my concern filling the room?

I had a realisation last week that turned a corner for me. I’m not so sure fixing Little Bun’s sleep will mean I am fixed too. The rising panic in my chest will remain, and just find some other cause to focus on.

I have always been a huge proponent of therapy and getting help when you need it. I am the first to encourage loved ones to seek help. I am an avid believer in mental as well as physical health. But what’s unsettling is when it’s me, I feel helpless and – yes – embarrassed.

None of what I’m feeling is normal. I know that – but it’s still hard to face. On the good days, I forget all of the above exists; with relief I let it fade like a bad dream. Then I have a bad day, and I’m desperate for help again.

I am seeking help, I will get it, and things will improve. We are looking into sleep school, and support for me too. In the meantime, I’m writing this post. Because no matter how much you wished for this, how tough you are, how wonderful your baby may be, and how tight your support network is – you may still need a little help.

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17 thoughts on “On Anxiety

  1. I am sending you the worlds biggest hug right now. Sleep depravation is a killer. The last two weeks have been awful for me with sleep regression and the absence of my happy girl. Your life is so entwined with little buns it is to be expected that if she has had a bad day you will as well and if you don’t get restorative sleep it starts to roll into each other.

    I understand the anxiety. I am considering leaving my birth club. I adore them but hearing people talk about all these awesome things there bubs are doing is makings second guess myself and my abilities. Surely I don’t have the only baby that is not talking yet, sleeping through the night and eating solids? Surely there must be some other babies with a flat head? The hip dysplasia has completely shaken my belief in myself the stress over her head makes me unable to sleep at night because I go to her room every five minutes.

    Did I just hijack?

    The anxiety is real and present for a reason. You aren’t just sitting at home depressed or upset for no reason.

    It’s easy to say that this will pass but if you are scared that it won’t pass then anxiety will kick in.

    It’s ok to admit that this shiz is hard xxxxxx

  2. I am so, so, so grateful to read this post. Last night I laid in bed, trying to fall asleep, heart racing at every click my 113 year old house made, thinking each one was the baby waking up and preparing to cry. When he did wake at 2:15 and I got him settled back down, I laid awake for an hour staring at the damn monitor, positive I could hear him crying although he was dreaming sweetly.

    I am in the same boat. A ball full of anxiety, all the time, trying to make my little baby’s days go smoothly with enough sleep. Terrified that any choice I may could, effectively, break him.

    I can honestly say that I know how you feel

    • Oh, honey. It’s so hard, isn’t it? I can’t believe how you manage this AND working too. It’s bloody impressive.
      (and I hear you about the phantom baby noises – last night for me it was a dog barking about three blocks away … was CONVINCED it was LB stirring!)
      Hang in there xx

  3. I’m so sorry that you’re struggling with these thoughts and feelings. On one hand it does seem “normal,” but on the other, I know what you mean – you want to be able to ‘let it be,’ more, right? High five for reaching out and getting the help you need and deserve; it will only benefit you both, I’m sure.

    I struggled greatly with anxiety during/after my miscarriages and during my pregnancy. Talk therapy helped me immensely, even if it’s not a magic anxiety eraser (million dollar idea, somebody get on that!). I can also imagine that if I were lucky enough to stay home with Ike instead of having to go back to work, I’d be worried about these exact same things. As much as I loathe having to do it, I think it does help me ‘let it be,’ in general, since I can only control so much not being with him all day every day. (That is of course not at all a suggestion for you to get a job or anything, just a thought that occurs to me – it would be so easy for me to fall back into the worrisome thought patterns without the forced distraction of work.) I just have to let some things go, and am only slowly realizing that this new life as a mama is not going to be exactly as I had imagined it – it’s more important to know that we can roll with the punches and deal with what comes up than to try to live up to unreasonable expectations (of us or of our babies!). You are definitely not alone – those that give you blank looks when you’re honest are either in denial or flat out just lying. It IS hard, whether you’re working or not, whether your baby is sleeping/eating/pooping/whatevering “perfectly” or not – it’s just hard sometimes, and it’s so important to say that, lest others think that it’s easy!

    • I think you have a good point – if I was working, I probably wouldn’t be feeling like this. That’s the realisation I mentioned above … if her sleep miraculously improved overnight, I think I’d have anxiety about something else.
      I need to fix *me*, not her … although some sleep would be nice too!

      x

      • Exactly. When it’s not ‘normal’ new-mom anxiety, fixing one thing that you worry about never stops it – there is always something else to worry about, you never really feel the relief that you should. I don’t think you need to be ‘fixed,’ but I really hope you get some relief soon – also, lots of sleep!!

  4. You are completely normal for experiencing this. Anxiety is a bitch of a beast that can creep up at any time (just like depression does.) I’m so glad to see you’re getting help. I’ve struggled with anxiety on and off, especially during infertility, and just recognizing it is happening and FACING it is such a HUGE step. You are doing right by your baby to seek help and maybe even try some medication if that helps. This is a time you should be able to enjoy and the fact you aren’t is not your fault.

  5. I recognize a lot of what you said in this post of myself. Anxiety has been my crutch since we began our journey to becoming parents. I worry about absolutely everything and freak out when things don’t go the way I had hoped. I’m talking end of the world freak out. I think it’s really emphasized when sleep deprivation is happening as well. Your body and mind go through hell. What I can tell you, is that the sleep thing, will get better. It will. I am a firm believer in sleep training when age appropriate and will argue with everyone who tells me that it’s horrible or wrong. I’ll be honest, I needed it. I could not function waking up during the night. You will find a method that works for the two of you and sleep will happen.

    As for the anxiety, talking to your doc is the best thing you can do. Once you are closer to 100% (mind, body and spirit) you are just that much more there for your babes 🙂 At least I felt that way.

  6. I don’t think what you are feeling is abnormal! Unfortunately I think it is all too normal, but I think it is also normal to feel like you ‘shouldn’t’ feel like that and therefore shouldn’t express it. But it sounds normal to me. We live in Australia; we can get help. Please ask a professional for it – there is help. I found it hard to express when I’ve had trouble coping with my son – he’s such an easy baby really, so I felt inadequate when I felt like I couldn’t cope. but when you are hormonal, constantly tired, and just plain wanting to be a perfect parent to this being you have wanted so much it all becomes TOO MUCH too quickly!

    ((HUGS))

    • Definitely agree to this. Sometimes I wonder how different things would be if it were 7 years earlier and I’d fallen pregnant ‘by accident’ … do you think it would be easier to call things Hard then? Hmm …

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