What’s Wrong With Me?

Let’s talk about anxiety and depression, because nothing says Happy Thanksgiving! like a big old chat about mental health, am I right?

So, essentially all my life I have been a little high strung.  A little shy.  A little bit of the type of person who has a hard time with change and new things.  I’ve been that way since day one, so I hear, from my mama.

There were times that these issues were worse than others.  There were times in high school when I just wanted to not be in high school.  There were times in college when I felt adrift and I had no idea what I was doing.  There were a few times when I felt sad for no reason, especially when fall rolled around every year, but all those times, I could always pull myself out of the funk, all on my own, or I could see that those circumstances would end.  (Thank god high school only lasts for four  years.)

Then I had Eli, and then he got the failure to thrive diagnosis, and suddenly, things were different.  Worse.  I felt lost.  And it was not that my feelings of depression felt insurmountable, because I was not at a point where I thought “here’s what I need to do to get out of this but I can’t do that.”  I had no idea what I needed to do to get out it.  I was lost.  My only strategy was to cry, and to yell at my  husband.  That was pretty much the extent of my coping strategies.  Crying and yelling.

It finally got so bad that I realized I needed help, and I got help, and it’s been much better since then.  The truth is that I would prefer not to be medicated, and it’s not because I am afraid of the social stigma of anti depressants or because I hate pharmaceuticals or because I am anti doctors, but simply because the side effects suck, especially when you’re the kind of person with a dicey stomach who gains weight at the drop of a hat.  Anyway, it is what it is.

But the thing is for me it’s never that simple.  Because I am a self blamer and I like to know where I went wrong, because I assume it’s my fault and I need to figure out what I did so I can fix it.  It’s hard to complain about anything on a blog because inevitably if you are a stay at home parent someone will tell you that you should get a job.  That you need to go on more play dates.  That you should send your kids to mom’s day out.  That you need to spend more time alone.  That you should spend less money or make more money or read a certain book or buy a certain pair of pants or lose weight or start running or eat more vegetables.  There are so many ways to fail.

Whatever it is, people think you should do it or not do it, and I am not one of those people that think “Suck it! Who cares what you think?!”

Instead, I am one of those people who already thinks these things about myself. I already spend A LOT of my time wondering if this is my fault because I don’t have a job, or because I don’t do Mom’s Day Out or because I signed up for two days of preschool instead of three or because I need to lose weight or WHATEVER. If it can be fretted over, I have fretted over it.  If there’s a way that this could be my fault, if there’s a way that this depression could be a failure of mine, I have already assumed that the fault is mine, yes, one million times over.  This is why I take it hard when people tell me it’s something I did or did not do, that I am doing something wrong. I already feel like that.  So it’s just extra reinforcement, added onto my own bad feelings about myself, my own doubts.

And then I started noticing that A LOT of mothers of young children that I knew were on anti depressants, and so then I started wondering if collectively, as a group, we had failed.  If ALL OF US were doing something wrong.  If ALL OF US were fooling ourselves, because otherwise, why were so many of us on medication?  Should we all be at work? WHAT WERE WE ALL DOING WRONG?!

Then one day I got into an email discussion with a friend of mine who is also on anti depressants, and who works part time, and somehow in the course of this discussion it was as if someone gave me a “Get out of jail free” card for fretting about WHY I was depressed, because she assured me that it had nothing to do with working, or not working, and we had a long talk about why this all was and it made me realize some things about life now and life then.

My life has been changed in ways I could only ever imagine.  Before I had kids, I spent every Sunday cleaning my house.  I spent all my disposable income on lattes and clothing.  I had endless amounts of time to myself, for long runs and sleeping in and baking and watching Gray’s Anatomy and making salads and long phone calls with friends.  I ran three half marathons.  I went to the movies every Friday night.  I threw parties and I had a really really clean house. I had a structured careful world, all the things I needed to stave off anxiety, all carefully stacked around me, protecting me, keeping me calm.

And then I had kids, and honestly, my kids make my anxious.  There! I said it! MY KIDS MAKE ME ANXIOUS.  This is not because I am a bad person, and this is not because they are bad children.  This is how I am wired.  I am always wondering what else they will do. I am always nervous that they are about to start crying.  I am always wondering when they are going to do something awful  in public.  They are so damn unpredictable, and you never know what they might do next, and whether it’s going to be awful.  My children are like ticking time bombs, and they could go off at any minute.  They do go off at any minute, and it makes me anxious, and my whole support system, my running time and my tv time and my relaxation time and my Sunday cleaning time, it’s gone.  It’s just gone.  All that time for all those things is gone.

One of the reasons I know this is true, that my children make me anxious, is because my husband is my parenting inverse. (THANK GOD FOR MY HUSBAND.!)  Our children do not make him anxious, because hardly anything makes him anxious.   Sometimes they annoy him, but they do not stress him out.  He is not worried about the next thing they are going to do in the aisles of Target.  He is not waiting for the other shoe to drop.  You can just tell.  And it’s not because he’s better than I am, or because he’s taken some awesome parenting classes or because he has a job.  It’s because he was made that way, and I was made this way.  It’s just how it is, and seeing that makes me realize the futility of blame.

And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I don’t want those things back.  Those things sound like lonely ways to spend my time, from where I sit today. I don’t want to spend all Sunday cleaning my house all by myself.  A clean house is not more important than my children, or my family.  But that doesn’t change the fact that a clean house makes me feel centered, and sane, and calm, in a way that almost nothing else does.

A few months ago I was talking to my psychiatrist about my new anti depressant, and how well it was working, because I think it’s actually working quite well.  I have moments of genuine joy.  I feel happy many times a day.  I yell less.  Some things still make me anxious, but only ahead of time, not for hours afterwards, not to the detriment of my whole life.  I’m having fun, over here. I really really am.

But it is not PERFECT.  I am not a whole new person. I am not floating on air and walking on sunshine.  I still frustrated and I still yell and I still feel overwhelmed a thousand times a day. I still get raging PMS.  I am not calm and level and self centered, I am far from perfect.

And as I was telling all this to my doctor, she leaned over and she said “This may be as good as it gets.  You have a really stressful job.”

And damn it, if that isn’t true as all get out.  I have a REALLY STRESSFUL JOB.

For sure, I am doing the hardest job I have ever done.  Taking care of these two children is a really really hard job, and if anyone else I knew was doing a job THIS HARD, I would expect them to be stressed.  I would expect them to be tired. I would expect them to be anxious. I would expect that it would affect their life in a big big way.  I don’t know why I am so hard on my self when these very same things happen to me.

I have finally realized, maybe just now, that it is possible, that actually?  There’s nothing wrong with me.  I am simply a person who likes predictability, living an unpredictable life.  I am person who likes quiet and calm, living in the midst of chaos.  I am a person who likes a clean house, living in the midst of a never ending mess.  I am a person who likes to check off a job as finished, doing a thousand jobs that never end.  I am person who needs a lot of sleep who never gets enough.  I am a person who doesn’t like change, living an everchanging life.

I am doing a job I love.  But it’s a really hard job, and it makes me anxious, and I take a little pill every day, and it helps.

I have some things I could work on, as I think we all do, and I have some things I could do better.  There are books I want to read about how to deal with children who growl like dinosaurs for 18 hours a day. I could get out more. I could spend less time on the internet.

But I’m finally starting to believe, for the first time in a long time, that when you get right down to it? This is not my fault.  There’s nothing wrong with me.  And I am doing the best I can.

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33 Responses

  1. “This is not my fault. There’s nothing wrong with me. And I am doing the best I can.”

    Yes, yes, yes. Print that on a notecard (or whatever you have handy) and tape it somewhere you can look at it on a regular basis. My version has been, for years: “I did the best I could at the time.” It finally broke my lifelong habit of replaying the smallest events time and again, trying to ferret out what went wrong. (Even if, objectively, I was pretty sure that nothing went wrong at all.)

  2. Wonderful, wonderful post. You so perfectly said a lot of the things that I’ve been struggling with too. Including the FTT diagnosis- that’s such a punch in the stomach, and hard to comprehend, particularly if you are someone who has always been chubby (like I have). A severely underweight kid was so confusing to me 🙂 Thanks for sharing- I’m having a rotten day here and needed to read this.

  3. Oh, my. This is so me.

    The thing that struck me while reading this is (and this was NEWS to me) how much I’ve settled into this crazy, unpredictable existence since becoming a mother almost 9 years ago. I feel like every year, I relax a little bit more into this role, into this life, and the things you mentioned make me a tiny bit less anxious and unsettled with each passing year.

    In my case, it could be that my confidence is always increasing. Also, my kids are less unpredictable all the time, and my confidence in know that I can deal with them when/if they DO act up is always getting better.

    I still function best when my house is clean. I’ve told my husband thousands of times that the condition of our house DIRECTLY EFFECTS my mental health, but I’m LESS effected all the time. And like I said, I’m just realizing this right now. I’ll be thinking about this post for awhile.

    I love your honesty and your ability to articulate how it really is. Thanks for this post, lady. Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. OH. MY. GOD. This may be the best post I’ve read all year. Or ever. I needed this. To hear the fact I’m constantly stressed out doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me or with my life (just quit your job or the internet and you won’t be as stressed!), it’s just the way I’m wired. I like things neat and clean and orderly and my house is NEVER that way. EVER. There’s so much clutter. And I’m so, so tired. And always waiting for the next mess, the next time my husband makes another dinner featuring tomato sauce my daughter will get all over her clothes and the (CARPETED) floor.

    It’s also crazy how much husband and I are a different mix from you and Eric. The constant living with messes, etc drives me crazy, but I don’t get anxious about their behavior in public – he does. If they’re misbehaving, or just being loud kids, it annoys me, but I don’t really worry about the peope around us. But if my husband is around, his anxiety level goes through the roof at the thought we might be annoying or inconveniencing or even breathing too close to others.

  5. Wait – your husband spells his name Erik, right? Sorry. My brother-in-law is Eric, so that’s my default spelling.

  6. Upon seeing a therapist after Iris was born and talking about how I felt, I remember her saying, “It’s okay to be sad and angry. A lot just happened.” And then I cried a lot.

    Much like you, to be told or reassured that what was on my plate was stressful AND THAT’S OKAY–well, it just kind of made me feel better.

    And not so nutty.

  7. When I first started reading this, and you said, “Maybe it’s because I don’t have a job,” I wanted to jump down here and say, “But you do! Your job is to be a mom, and that is a JOB.” But I made myself wait till I finished reading, and I’m glad your doctor said it. Because it’s true. Being a mom is the hardest job EVER.

    And you’re absolutely right. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re doing the best you can. And you know what? I bet your family thinks you’re doing a great job, and that’s really the most important thing.

  8. I am reading this with tears in my eyes because… well, because you are a kick-ass writer for one thing, but also because I get this – the anxiety, the fear I’m failing, the worries that I’m not doing ENOUGH.

    I’m so very glad you came to this realization. You ARE doing the best you can. Your family is so very lucky to have you.

  9. I swear you just just took these words and fears right out of my head. I’ve recently started seeing a therapist again because the anxiety and depression. Much of my issues center around the fact that, though not a control freak, I dislike unpredictability. Which, as a mother, wife, and working person, predictability is hard to come by.
    Like you though, as a self blamer, I think I’ve already got it figured out-I should take my vitamins regularly, I should be home more, watch less TV, craft more, work harder at my job, etc. I have a hard time believing it’s my brain chemistry and personality quirks rather than me just being not good enough.
    Your words are beautiful, and are a great reminder to me to stop and breathe and be a bit less critical of myself. Thank you for sharing the amazing life you lead online, even the deep stuff.

  10. Oh my gosh oh my gosh. I could easily quote almost every sentence up there and then give you an instance of how I feel the same. My husband and I have EXACTLY the same response to Anna. Why couldn’t I have been the one that isn’t bothered by stuff? And I am also sick of peoples’ freaking “nice” suggestions on how to deal w/the stress in my life. My favorite one is always how I should find time to exercise because it’s a really great stress reducer. This is always from people without kids. I am like seriously fuck you because I exercised like every day of my life since I was 11 until I was pregnant and don’t you think I know the truth about exercise you jerk??
    Ah!!
    And whenever I think about mom’s day out or date night I think of Emily’s hilarious blog post how they spend date night wandering around the beer section. That’s not going too far on stress reduction right?
    Anyway, enough yelling about my life in your comments.
    Speak it sister, speak it true.

  11. Oh and this one is to subscribe to comments or whatever.

  12. Yes. Just, YES. This is making me cry. Because while I have very “good” reasons to be depressed (working full time, my brother died and I’m left with loads of PTSD, I have two young kids, blah blah blah) I’ve always had a hard time accepting that those reasons warranted me being “on drugs” – that somehow, I should just find a way to deal with everything and I wasn’t trying hard or doing enough and it’s just not true. I would tell myself that some people have it worse than me so I should just deal with it, which, of course, ultimately made me feel like an even bigger failure.

    But what I’ve come to realize is that some of us are simply wired to worry and fret and be a little sad sometimes. And when you couple those tendencies with stress – being a mom, a death, whatever it is, it’s just too much. But none of it is our fault. Thank you for sharing.

  13. This is a wonderful post. It just…yes. This. (I’m sorry, I seem to have lost actual words for commenting.)
    It’s okay. You’re okay.

  14. Yes. My kids make me anxious, too.

  15. I don’t have kids but I feel the same way about anxiety and depression. Given that Andrew is the Most Rational Human Being Of All Time, we’ve had to work on me realizing that just because I get sad/depressed/upset doesn’t mean I’m crazy or wrong. I think that being sensitive is really difficult.

    I love you for many reasons, but this post is definitely one of them.

  16. I adore this post. And I adore you. And nothing is wrong with you at all.

  17. Oh my gosh, I want to FRENCH KISS you right now. I could write long rambling paragraphs about how much I needed to read this right this second, but I’ll try to sum up quickly: Pouring rain all day. Muddy dog. Morning sickness. Dirty house plus no motivation to clean. Lingering head cold. Roof leaking again, omg omg. And poop. All over my bathroom, the rugs, and the tub. Not from the baby, but the four year old. And I managed to stay fairly calm and not yell, but then felt angry at myself for feeling like this day was seriously sucking.
    And then I read this, and thought, you know what? I’m not weak or a jerk for feeling grumpy today. Today HAS sucked! It would be weird NOT to feel stressed and kind of angry! In fact the last SEVERAL days have sucked, and I’m just going to embrace it and stop fighting the crappy mood, so to speak. It is okay to feel stressed out by stressful situations!

  18. I love that you are talking about it during thanksgiving week. You are no bs chick and that is so cool.

    One thing that makes me anxious is when my husband talks about all the things he wants to buy. He is sensible and rational and would never just go out and spend like crazy, but he is also a dreamer and so he just throws ideas out there back to back (like babies/big screen tv/new car) and I literally have to be like stop! stop! I cannot handle this, as though all 3 have been committed to and signed in ink. Meanwhile he’s just in happy dreamy mode and there is nothing wrong or irresponsible about it. It’s weird how our brains work, and how different from person to person.

  19. As usual, this is a great post.

    My kids make me anxious too. I just today un-enrolled my son out of preschool because I felt they were not vigilant enough about protecting him from nuts and he will be dead because they fed him a donut for snack.

    The one paragraph that really struck a bell is the one about liking quiet and calm and living in the midst of chaos. That whole paragraph describes me too. The one thing I want most in the world is to move 100 miles south back to my hometown, and right now there is a significant chance we are going to move 3000 miles in the other direction. My method of dealing with stress is to bake (and eat) chocolate chip cookies. I am plowing through cookies like you wouldn’t believe the last few weeks. (My pants believe, though. They believe they are too tight.)

    Just keep trucking. We are doing the best we can with what we got.

  20. See, this was such a great post that there isn’t really anything I can say here except: YES. EXACTLY.

  21. I love this and agree with every single word.
    And I just want to say thank you.

  22. I recently started seeing someone too, because I felt like I had everything I ever wanted in life, but I didn’t know how to enjoy it. Queen of guilt & anxiety over here (me), my Dr. mentioned that anxiety is the bodies response to a perceived threat. I’ve been questioning why I feel threatened by certain situations, and what I believe about myself in those situations.

    I’m hoping to walk away from all of this being able to separate unpleasant situations from myself personally. If my child ends up a failing grade school or something I can still feel good about myself as a person.

    You to are a good person, you have great worth! Because of those two things, you are doing the very best you can. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  23. I love this post. Thank you.

  24. Thanks for writing this. Obviously there are a lot of us with very, very similar issues. I don’t tend to discuss it on my blog, but if you look at my very first post, I only started it as a way to deal with the anxiety/depression/isolation I was experiencing after Anna was born. For me, if I can take a day that was really awkward or stressful or difficult and find some funny aspect to it, it loses its power to torment me and I can move on. Plus, blogging has lead me to people like you who make me feel less alone, so anyone who suggests I not spend so much time on the internet can pretty much STFU.

  25. This. This is exactly what I needed to read today. It’s way past Thanksgiving up here, but I am so, so thankful for your posts.

  26. I think you summed this up so well – you can love being a mother and staying home with your kids and also recognize how DRAINING it is when you have zero time alone and when life is just unpredictable and every activity is so much more effort than it was before children. Thank you for sharing this.

  27. Also, just to add to everything, you do realize that you’re an amazing person, right? I don’t even have kids yet, but I think your insights have made me a better parent. If that makes sense.
    Happy thanksgiving!

  28. […] Elizabeth is one of my best friends and favorite people in the whole world, and I really loved this post, and have such respect for her for writing something that I think is difficult to share about anxiety, and writing about it beautifully. […]

  29. This is one of the most beautiful posts I’ve ever read, and something I really needed to see today.

  30. Very wise words, very true words (for so many of us), and a very very important lesson to hold on to.

    As I’m gearing up to enter the reality of TWO children in March, my anxiety threatens to take over my very existance, but I keep trying to remember that other fine and wonderful and just-as-anxious-and-needing-of-order-and-peace people have done it all before me. And they are surviving. And, in fact, THRIVING. And that’s a very good thing.

  31. This is a fabulously honest post. Thank you for talking about this without the drama or the whining that I see on mommy blogs so often. I feel like I get it.

    What you said about your kids making you anxious? That’s **EXACTLY** how I feel when my parents and/or my in laws are around. My kids, no problem. Parental type people? I cannot seem to stop regressing to my 14 year old self when they are around. My 14 year old self is not really that much fun for anyone.

    Being a mom is a juggling act, no matter what. And it’s different for everyone. Really there isn’t anyone who wouldn’t benefit from a New Year’s resolution to judge less (including me). You should do what’s right for you. This is just me, but I fully endorse you allowing yourself to be stressed out. Whatever. It’s who you are. And that’s okay. Nobody’s perfect. Accept yourself and the people around you will do the same.

    Personally, I like things organized and calm, too. I like for my kids to have clean clothes in their drawers and smooth beds. I want the time and energy to do art projects with them, and bake all the time, I don’t want to be impatient. I want for them the opposite of what I had in my house as a child. These things are meaningful to me. I crave stability and peace. We’re the house where everybody gets together. I always have zoo pal plates in the drawer and chicken in the freezer.

    Which is why I work, oddly enough. Because if I was with them my kids all the time, I know I wouldn’t appreciate the moments, and I wouldn’t have the energy to extend myself like this. It’s just my own weirdness, it’s what I need to make things work. Somehow I am focused and patient when we have the structure of daycare and work (note that I am totally spoiled because my daycare is walking distance to my house and my husband and I can both work from home part of the time). However you get there, is how you get there.

  32. Wow! That really struck home for me. That’s exactly how I feel. I started taking an antidepressant about a year and a half ago. It’s helped SO MUCH, but I’m an anxious person. And you said it exactly right… my kids make me anxious. A day alone with them without my husband is so hard because I don’t know what to expect. It usually turns out just fine, but it’s the not knowing that’s so hard. Thank you for being so honest. This is eaxctly how I feel, but I couldn’t find the words. I love my children so, so much, but it’s hard to live a life of constant change and chaos.

  33. Oh HAI. Here I am, finally reading this post. This AMAZING post.

    Thank you for this. That it rings so true for so many of us, says something. I’m not sure what but SOMETHING.

    I have long maintained that motherhood is intrinsically anxiety-producing for the highly sensitive among us. That I take medication to help me in this life of change and mess and chaos is not surprising or embarrassing.

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