Nighttime is the worst. I often lay awake with my husband sleeping peacefully beside me, my brain replaying the terrible moments of the day. Every moment of compassion I missed with my kids and my husband replays like a CD tripping over the same measure in a song. I try reading, praying, sleeping, listening to music. Nothing shakes me out of this downward spiral. If I’m lucky, I’ll just lie awake for three hours before I get up to take a sleep aid. Some nights the constant memory replay turns to a pathetic show of crying myself to sleep, but at least with these nights, I am allowed some peace in sleep. The worst nights find me crying myself to hyperventilation–so much that my arms and hands and face grow tingly from lack of oxygen. The latter doesn’t happen often, but a few weeks ago my husband witnessed it for the first time in our nearly ten years of marriage and it was humiliating.
I’ve struggled with anxiety for quite some time, but it reached a peak last spring and dipped off until a few weeks ago. My anxiety is usually situational and grips me when life just feels too much. It hits when I’m not busy working or doing stuff for my family – so nighttime. I think this is what fueled my constant need to fill my schedule for so many years.
Six or seven years ago a doctor told us that we’d never have biological children–confirming what we had already suspected two years prior. To avoid facing my grief, I plunged headlong into advancing my career. I graduated from college, started teaching full-time, began my Masters Degree, coached speech, quiz bowl, cross country, and helped with my school’s musical. I presented at state and national level teaching conferences. Most of my energy was spent on my job, and whatever time I had left, I ran–logging usually 25-35 miles a week, and when I ran, I listened to podcasts and thought about my job. There was no time for me to feel anxiety.
I kept this habit up until one year ago. My husband and I had adjusted after making a big move from a tiny town in western Nebraska to Omaha a few years earlier. We were teaching at a large, urban school; I was adjuncting part-time at UNO, and we had just adopted our first child from foster care and welcomed a second child the same age as our first child. Our proverbial plates were full. A breaking point was inevitable.
It was sometime in December when I was up at one in the morning chipping away at the stacks of my students’ research papers that I felt the choking, burning anxiety creep into my throat. It was something I felt many times in the last year but had managed to push down with more work and more miles. But I couldn’t do it anymore. I rested my head on a stack of research papers and cried to the point of hyperventilation–my hands, arms, and face tingly from lack of oxygen. I knew something had to give. I couldn’t sacrifice my husband or my kids or my health, so the obvious choice was my job–the very thing I used as a distraction for seven years. I had tried to quit my job a few years before, but I chickened out and took a last minute teaching job again. Over the next few days, I spent time praying about this difficult choice, and I ended up resigning from my teaching position mid-year and found my way to a part-time job.
With part-time work comes moments of stillness (no matter how much housework I do to avoid these moments) when the anxiety creeps in and tries to consume me. I’ve juggled immediate feelings of sadness, inferiority, and doubt about my decision to leave a job I was good at (teaching) and replace it with a job I’m still fumbling my way through (parenting). I’m learning, though, that while I prefer to keep these moments of anxiety to myself, I simply can’t ward off the anxiety on my own. That night in the bathroom a few weeks ago with my husband rubbing my back, holding my hand, helping me breathe, crying with me–I realized that I don’t have to be alone in my anxiety. When I finally moved past the immediate feeling of humiliation, I was able to feel liberated.
It’s difficult to let others in on these moments when we are nothing but a hot mess, but for the love—just do it. Find one person with whom you’d be okay exchanging hot mess moments. Be there for each other and allow yourself to feel liberated even in your weaknesses.