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I have anxiety and, because of it, my husband has three wives—and they’re all me.

This is not a joke nor a play on words. Mental illness and emotional struggles are not something to cast jokes at or roll into a meme to share at the office. But this is how most of us handle it because our society hides anxiety, depression, and other very real battles behind shame-filled doors. Not today, sister!

Let me introduce you to the public version of myself. She is strong and tall. She carries herself with esteem and self-respect. She commands attention whether it be in her classroom or a dinner table with friends. She is witty and charming and loves to laugh. She doesn’t doubt herself or her decisions.

She is a proud mom and a noble wife. She does everything she can and lays the rest down because, honey, no one is Super Woman. She is fierce, and though she faces stares and sideways glances because of her weight, she knows without question her husband finds her beautiful because he tells her so. She carries her head high and rocks herself as if on a runway whether in a new flowy dress and boho headband or her spit-up covered yoga pants, which she honestly and proudly declares have never actually been worn for yoga.

Public me is pretty rad and I love her. But then there is the second version.

Panic me is no joke. She is filled with worry, anxiety, and terror. She lives in a constant state of fear. She never stops moving, shaking, or thinking. She constantly fidgets or bounces her leg while she sits. She bites her nails in times of stress. She, at times, can seem manic.

Anxiety me can’t sit still, stop talking, or remain rational. She is always thinking of the next thing that will happen so she cannot allow herself peace or rest long enough to live in the moment or enjoy simple victories. She can’t keep it together long for herself or her family so she has to take several “time-outs” to breathe so she doesn’t erupt.

This one, this version is quick to anger because she is constantly living on the edge of how things can go wrong. When life seems beautiful and joy-filled, she worries about everything from whether or not a compliment was actually a criticism to whether her husband will die in a fiery car crash on his way to work. There is no rest for anxious me.

My husband’s third wife, she is a different variety. On the outside, she appears to be the perfect Proverbs 31 woman (you know, the twisted parts that society doesn’t interpret correctly). She is slow to anger, slow to speak. She is submissive and humble.

But, inside, this version of  me is riddled with self-doubt and discouragement. She is sad. She is the one who doesn’t want to get out of bed, and doesn’t want anyone to touch her lest you become infested with her toxins. It doesn’t get more disgusting than her. The third wife is the worst and I have been trying to shake her since fourth grade.

This is the wife who shoves herself as far as the east is from the west in the bed from her loving husband. She lies on the furthest sliver of cold mattress because she feels like she is protecting him from having to touch her body. This outer shell is the thing which has caused her the greatest pain. It is her prison and she feels a tremendous weight of guilt for having subjected her innocent family to its presence.

This is the version of me that causes me the most pain. This wife physically hurts. Her heart feels intense and striking pain as she sinks to the bathroom floor to cry into the hand towel in hopes that no one will hear her muffled screams for help. She feels like a failure. She can’t ever do enough or she always does too much. She is worn and haggard from trying to get back up and try again countless times.

My husband is an incredible man. See, he knew all three versions of me before he made the conscious choice to love me anyway. He would describe me using an entirely different vocabulary than I would myself. He knew I had anxiety before I even knew what that meant. He has never expressed any feelings of doubting me or being ashamed of me. He constantly beams with pride and tells me I am beautiful and that I am an incredible wife and mother.

See, mamas, to love me is to love each version because they are all very real. While they do not live separately, as some mental illnesses do, they are all very tangible parts of myself. It requires prayer, accountability, and violent vulnerability on my part to share this with you and to prayerfully navigate through each day making my boldest attempt to find the best in each of these wives and make her into the real me; to present my best self to the world and really believe in that woman.

Find out who you really are. Dig deep and stop lying to yourself. She is in there and she is fierce. But she can’t live behind closed doors anymore. No one should live like that. Whether your versions are happy, sad, and joyful, or depressed, angry, and anxious, it doesn’t matter. Search for the good and you will find it. She is in there. I promise.

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Brynn Burger

Mental health advocate, extreme parent, lover of all things outdoors, and sometimes a shell of my former self. Parenting a child with multiple behavior disabilities has become both my prison and my passion. I write so I can breathe. I believe that God called me to share, with violent vulnerability and fluent sarcasm, our testimony to throw a lifeline to other mamas who feel desperate to know they aren't alone. I laugh with my mouth wide open, drink more cream than coffee, and know in my spirit that queso is from the Lord himself. Welcome!

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