I became friends with Jaime first via Twitter and then by reading her blog, James & Jax, which chronicles her journey living with anxiety and fighting and overcoming Postpartum Depression. She has an unmistakable voice in the mental health community, and prides herself on her ability to help others through her honest writing on life and parenting.
I'm so proud to know her, and am honored she agreed to share her words and advice with us during our month of guest posts. I know there are lots of folks out there who will benefit from learning Jaime's story. Thanks so much, James, for sharing your brave with us!!
I've had anxiety since I was a little girl. In fact, my earliest memories, from the age of 3, include biting my fingernails down to the skin and crying with fear that something bad would happen to my mother--signs that are obvious to me now that I suffered early on. I'm pretty sure my anxiety was unrecognized by my family, through no fault of theirs. I was really good at hiding my anxiety.
As a teenager, I still struggled with anxiety, but it wasn't something I recognized as unusual. It manifested in ways I thought were normal, and I chalked it up to my being shy or aloof, like plenty of teens I knew. At age 20, I became depressed for the first time, due to a combination of life events and a hefty dose of hormones (in my birth control). I tried several antidepressants. Nothing seemed to help except time. I got better after a while. But my anxiety roared.
I should have been an actress, with my adeptness at pretending everything was fine when it really wasn't. It served me well enough over the years, until I had a baby and my anxiety grew to such a degree that I think it became clear to everyone, including me, that I needed help. I called people on the phone, hysterical with "what ifs" about my son. The intrusive thoughts about illness and accidents were too much to keep inside. I cried a lot, wondering what kind of mother couldn't even comfort her own child and if I made a mistake in thinking I could be a parent. I raged at my husband.
Three months postpartum, I sought help from a therapist at the recommendation of my obstetrician, who saw me break down in her office upon asking me how I was doing. My son is 4 years old now, and I'm still seeing the same therapist, although we took some breaks over the years. What I've found has helped me the most is dialectical behavioral therapy. Through DBT, I've learned how to manage my anxiety in ways that work for me. My anxiety attacks are few and far between now, and when they happen I'm able to pull out of them faster than ever before, thanks to the distress tolerance skills and crisis survival strategies I've learned in therapy. When I feel anxious now, I tell myself to see anxiety (and any emotion, really) as a wave; I ride it out until it dissipates. I review my list of anxiety-busting tricks I've gathered over the years and shared on my blog. I remind myself constantly of times that I didn't feel anxious, telling myself that these times far outweigh the scary moments. Or I simply distract the hell out of myself until I forget all about my anxiety!
I'm stronger now than I've ever been. Anxiety doesn't define my life or prevent me from trying new things anymore. Even though I will probably suffer from anxiety for the rest of my life, it no longer controls me.