A mom with high-functioning anxiety playing with her daughter on a playground
Photo courtesy of Allison Cooper

I'm A Mom With High-Functioning Anxiety, & It's A Tricky Beast

by Allison Cooper

If we want to put a lable on it, I'm what I would call a high-functioning mom with anxiety. It's a condition that doesn't lead people to check in with “how are yous” or give me extra support, because I seem generally pulled together and happy. But I do need help.

For years, it was manageable. It had all the daily essential oil regimens, read at night to help calm me down, and was always able to buck up each day and get through whatever it was that needed to be done. Things shifted a bit for me in the last few months and I could feel it all getting worse.

I was started to wake up all night and toss and turn. I would think about everything that needed to be done the next day and how I was going to manage the bills being paid. And numbers. I ran numbers through my head, keeping a metal tally of what was in our checking account. It became obsessive and I needed something more than oils and alone time.

So I did something that was pretty crazy for me up until this point. Something that I neglected for way too long because I’m the mom and everyone else and everything comes first. Basically, I had forgotten what self-care meant. I went to the doctor and had a physical. What the what? I actually got myself out of the house and to a doctor’s visit that was just about me. And it felt so strange to sit and talk about myself and my issues. I’m embarrassed to admit that it has probably been a good seven years since I had a true physical.

I talked to my PCP about the way I was feeling and without any judgement and he actually shared how he related to me and wrote me a prescription for an anti-anxiety/antidepressant that I took whenever I was in high school, but had gotten off of in adulthood. I have to say that whenever I went to pick up that prescription later on that day, I felt relief wash over me, like I finally had a little helper to clear my mind and get through the hard moments.

My anxiety keeps me up at night, when I need that sleep to be present for my kids the next day.

But unfortunately, it’s not an overnight resolution. Any type of medication takes time to work through your system and level out, and of course there’s all the trial and error you go through to figure out the right time of day to take your meds. I admit that I felt much calmer, but there are still parts of my everyday life — specifically the being a mom stuff — that still gave me anxiety. I find myself hoping that my issues won’t rub off on my kids.

My anxiety makes me emotional, means that I feel the mom guilt extra hard. I take on the emotions of everything happening around me and carry it with me on my shoulders. Whenever my kids feel bad about something or are upset (especially whenever they acted out and it involves punishment), I struggle. I hate to discipline. I hate for them to be unhappy, and this typically results in me being a complete pushover parent. (I know, I know...probably not good for them in the long run.)

Photo courtesy of Allison Cooper

My anxiety makes me overthink everything. Volunteering at school. Driving a car. My toddler probably having a meltdown at the playground at the mall. Sometimes I let it hold me back from leaving the house. Sometimes I let it hold me back from going somewhere exciting. Sometimes I feel anxiety if we don’t have plans and aren’t out doing things. Every day is different.

My anxiety sometimes comes out as anger.

My anxiety keeps me up at night, when I need that sleep to be present for my kids the next day. There’s nothing worse than being a mombie throughout the day. My kids need me to be present, but sometimes I lose hours of sleep at night, leaving me exhausted and chugging coffee to make it through the day.

My anxiety sometimes comes out as anger. Yes, sometimes I snap. Sometimes an attack will come over me and instead of being able to take five minutes to calm down, because that’s not always possible (hello motherhood), I take it out on the kiddos. I hate it whenever I snap at them for doing something that typically wouldn’t bother me. But it happens, it’s life and I’m human. I’m learning to forgive myself for these moments.

My anxiety is a part of me, just like being a mom. They are two pieces of the bigger puzzle and, inevitably, can each complicate the other. (When is that not true of motherhood and virtually any other part of your life?)

What I've realized is that, just like my kids, I have good days and bad days. Knowing this — knowing that my kids make their way through days littered with uncertainty, fewer footholds, constant change in a world that is much newer to them, bodies and minds they are still figuring out — has allowed me to close my eyes, take deep breaths, and push on forward, because I know there is always a better moment waiting for me around the corner.

If you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.

Season 2 of Doula Diaries shares the stories of fearless doulas helping their clients take control of their births and make tough choices that feel right to them. Watch the first episode of the new season Monday, November 26th.