Through the darkness and the daily struggles of trying to find the light at the end of the tunnel, I made decisions to slowly and surely start living again and to get myself on a non-rutted path. I was very thankful to my mother-in-law who flew in from New York at Coco’s request, didn’t ask any questions and stayed with me for three weeks to help me take care of the kids. She helped pick up the slack that my anxiety wasn’t letting me. She would sit and hold me as I cried over feeling this way and didn’t roll her eyes when I would make her watch episodes of 30 Rock on repeat. While she was here, I upped my therapy game even more. I’m from the mindset that everyone should have a therapist and if it weren’t for mine the first time around, I wouldn’t have known how to help myself when this one came around. I was seeing an anxiety specialist 3-4 times a week in addition to phone sessions. It was a safe haven. The more I spoke about it, the better I felt and that gave me hope.
Another big thing I did, was get on medication. This was difficult for me because of the stigma attached to it. I kept telling myself at first, “I don’t need it. I was able to do it without it the first time around, I can do it again.” But I couldn’t. I had to remember that when I had my first big anxiety attack at the age of 17, almost two years after my mom’s death, I was a teenager dealing with different life stressors. My stressors at 17 were very different than the ones at 35. I made the choice to get on medication not only for myself, but for my kids. I needed to function for them, and if the medication was going to help me do that, then I would try for them. I’m not talking about a ‘calm your nerves at the moment’ pill like a xanax (though I do keep those when I fly because they are huge help), I wanted something that would balance the serotonin in my brain chemistry so I could find that stability that I was lacking physically, mentally, and emotionally. It was one of the best decisions I made. I want to make it clear though, that because you are on medication, it doesn’t mean that your anxiety is gone. You still have to do the work. Medication allowed me to use my tools more effectively, to think with a more rational mind and to redirect my obsessive thoughts. It gave me the power to keep going. I gained the weight back, the physical symptoms of anxiety subsided and little by little, I was able to perform day to day functions with ease and even delight.
I made the very personal choice of getting off social media. Social Media is one of the most amazing technologies to date but it can also be very isolating and negative. It has the ability to consume you, if you allow it. It can create feelings of negativity, false realities, and disconnect you from emotional growth with others and ourselves. It’s easy to let it effect you, so I shut it down. I got off Facebook completely, and didn’t post on my Instagram for seven months. Being a writer/influencer, social media is a significant component of what I do but at that point, my sanity and getting better was far more important. Besides, I wasn’t in the mood to post fashion shots of myself. That’s how you know I wasn’t in a good place! Ha!
I spent a lot of time with Coco and the kids. They were the only people I wanted to be with. My friends were hugely supportive and respectful, always checking in with Coco or myself, giving me space, but also worried. I can’t blame them. Their support, their texts, their words of encouragement, meant the world to me. My best friend even took Maya a few times for me when I wasn’t feeling like a fun parent. I’m grateful for that. Coco continues to be my angel on the ground. His patience, compassion, love, and understanding, gave me peace of mind, but also strengthened the fact that marriage isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. It’s during tough times like these, that bonds get reinforced and respect grows tenfold.
My anxieties are always triggered by abandonment, loss and control…and they will always be. During my first Big One, it was a short breakup with my boyfriend at the time, that threw me into a scary anxiety episode of endless tears, sleepless nights, panic attacks and fear that ultimately revealed that I was grieving the death of my mom and all the empty thereafter that came with it. I was so concerned with moving forward and keeping my head up and keeping it together for everyone else, that eventually it caught up to me. It always does. This isn’t fun to deal with when you’re 17 on the cusp of graduating high school and going off to college. It was frightening. Going away to college was something I had to put aside and it devastated me. But I knew I needed to get better and I didn’t want to risk another attack while I was away and have no one there to help me. With the help of my therapist, my uncle (who would fly down from Chicago every weekend to be with me), my boyfriend at the time (a lot for a 17 year old kid to deal with so I commend him for that), and my Mom’s guidance, I got back on my feet. It took me a good year but I came out stronger, wiser and a lot more confident. I learned that I did not let anxiety define me.
Fast forward almost twenty years later and the pattern seems to be familiar. A silly fight, which I can no longer remember the cause (probably brought on by the insane amount of stress we’d been dealing with), triggered a whole new feeling of abandonment and fear of losing Coco – of losing what I love. On top of that, pushing myself in an unhealthy way and not taking into consideration that here I am, with a new baby, that I should be taking it easy and all I kept thinking was, “you have to keep it together. you have to do this for your family, Go go go.” It’s a nice thought, but by doing that I did the opposite. Hell, I went straight from the hospital after getting discharged from my delivery to Maya’s school to pick her up at dismissal. I did a Selena Gomez interview with stitches still in my vagina, one week after giving birth. I don’t know the definition of ‘stop’ sometimes but if it’s one positive thing about having anxiety, is that it’s quick to remind you when it’s time to put on the brakes. Post-anxiety attack Kathy, doesn’t pack her calendar with things to do. There’s a lot more ‘me time’ in there or as I like to say, ‘mental health days’ and I love it.
Before I wrap this baby up, I wanted to touch upon those thoughts. Thoughts related to anxiety vary from person to person. Like I mentioned earlier, anxiety has a funny or I should say, fucked up way, of taking on a form and infiltrating your mind to making you think these are real or hold any merit whatsoever. Guess what? They don’t. When you pay attention to these thoughts or focus on these thoughts, even fight these thoughts, you make them bigger and give them more power. They’re more menacing. One of the things I learned is that instead of fighting these thoughts, step aside, let them be and redirect them. The more we fight and give attention to these negative thoughts, the more they’ll stick around. I know it’s not always easy to focus on the positive, but I am a big believer in that. One of the more positive things I learned about anxiety is that these scary, anxious thoughts do serve a purpose – and that’s to remind us of what matters to us and what we value above all. For me, it’s my family, my husband and my kids.
When you lose a parent or someone you love, your triggers when it comes to loss and abandonment are heightened and if you are a parent, make that double. Looking back at my childhood, there were definitely instances of smaller scale anxiety episodes or obsessive compulsive worrying over things that were non-existent but that consumed me to the point that I couldn’t function. For example, I was traumatized by the movie Chucky and for many months thought that he would come get me in my room, while I bathed, in school, etc. I would use towels and trash baskets to secure the door when I would shower, and when someone came over for dinner and brought their ‘My Buddy’ doll, I practically died. I snatched the doll, climbed to the highest shelf in the closet, and hid the doll there so it ‘wouldn’t get me.’ When I was an early teen, I convinced myself I had AIDS. I know, you’re probably like “WTF?” So am I, don’t worry. But I did, I convinced myself that because I had swapped spit with my teen crush and some video in Home Ec class told me that if you had an open sore you would get AIDS, well that’s all I needed to self-diagnose. I didn’t eat, I made my mom write a note to the teacher so I would be excused from watching that video and even came clean to my mom, that I had (GASP!), made out with a boy at the age of 14. So when it became clear I didn’t have AIDS, I let my thoughts runaway with me again and convinced myself that I had Leukemia instead because they were taking too long to give me blood work results, because why not? Anxiety, you have a wicked sense of humor. Only this time my mom wasn’t having it and whipped me back to reality quick. So you see, the point is, that anxiety and overactive imagination have always been a part of who I am.
I did so much research and read so many books and sites on anxiety, I can pretty much add ‘Dr.’ to my name. Joking aside, these sites and books dedicated to anxiety were a big part of my healing process. I wrote down pieces that resonated with me, like these ones for instance. I’m not sure which site specifically they came from but when I find it, I’ll add link, but it said…
“Why do little children think ghosts, goblins and monsters are real? As adults, we know they aren’t. Your thoughts aren’t ‘real’ either in the sense that you create and reinforce them and the emotions that go along with them. Your thoughts are only what you decide to believe in and continually reinforce in your mind.”
“Thoughts are a symptom of anxiety and depression, just like spots are a symptom of chicken pox. If you had chicken pox, you would just accept spots as part of it, ignore them while they can, and allow them to pass. Anxious, obsessive thoughts are the same as they are a symptom, need to be seen as a symptom, allowed to do their thing and pass over.”
“Analysis creates Paralysis. Our tendency is to think too much and to paralyze ourselves with our rumination. We have a choice; Realize what we’re doing to ourselves, get up, find a distraction do something positive!”
That last statement is a tough one to follow, but its absolutely true. It’s exactly what I am trying to do as I get ready to head out on our first trip sans the kids. For me, the night before I leave and the flight itself is the worst. I’m a mess. Its called anticipatory anxiety. Add that one to my list. I’m already missing the kids, I’m having panic attacks, and I’m second guessing my decision to go on the trip and try to convince myself that I don’t need to go on a trip. Thankfully, I push through. I normally take a xanax (lately I’ve been trying not to if the anxiety isn’t so bad or the flight isn’t bumpy), or I have a glass of wine to mellow out a bit. I always have to be connected to the internet when I fly because it helps me (like if screaming in all caps to someone that we’re crash landing is going to do anything), and lately I’ve been downloading movies or shows on Netflix to watch and keep me entertained and distracted. Lastly, I always pray (and breathe) for safety and smooth sailing. Oh and did I mention, I make it very clear to the stewardess when I board that I have anxiety and I would like to speak to the captain for a weather report and this, REALLY helps me. Extreme, but hey, we do what works for us!
Naturally, the thought of something happening to me and leaving my kids without a mother is one of my biggest anxiety struggles and one that is currently on my mind. I even called our estate lawyer to make sure our will was in place and called my sister-in-law to give her a rundown of wishes I wanted for the kids in the event…God forbid…that we expired. I am definitely keeping distracted, redirecting my thoughts and trying to focus on the positive, which is a sponsored trip that I get to share with my other half, where we get to spend quality time together, sleep in, relax and basically be child-free for three days. Most parents wouldn’t blink an eye. Truthfully, yes, I’m so excited but I’m terrified. When you lose a parent, this reality becomes so much more real to you. I’ve been plagued so many times with the unwanted ‘what ifs,’ “What if I die? What if the plane crashes? What if I get kidnapped and killed? What if there’s a terrorist attack? What if something happens to my kids while I’m away? What will happen to my kids if they don’t have me? What if something happens to both of us? What if they’re sad all the time? I don’t want to leave my kids!” And well, this song and dance is familiar when you’re a parent and have kids. Only when you have anxiety, it’s exaggerated to the 100th degree. I even toyed with the idea of putting Coco and I on separate flights in case one of our planes crashed. I mean, screw you, anxiety! That’s what my anxious mind says. I then have to work extra hard to get my rational mind into overdrive and say to myself, “Kathy, breathe. Everything is going to be fine. Enjoy this time away with your husband. Have fun and relax. The kids will have a blast with grandma. It’s only a couple of days. You will be back.”
It has been so reassuring and very encouraging to hear from other parents, from my own friends who have been my strongest support system in this and from you guys, my squeezers because when I first posted about my struggles on instastories, you all were quick to DM me – an instant connection! I also realized that many of you can relate to the struggles of anxiety and depression but are afraid to speak about it, and I’m here to tell you, that you are not alone. You would be surprised at how many women and men deal with this on the daily and there is nothing wrong with that. You’re awesome, strong and resilient! We are all here to help one another. We aren’t robots and we shouldn’t be. We’re allowed to ask for help and guidance from others and from God, to cry if you need to and laugh when we want to.
Anxiety and depression do not define us, we cannot allow them to stop us from living our best life, and dare I say, let’s embrace this strange gift, because it is sometimes through the hardships and frustrations of A&D, that we grow to become who we want to be and who we’re meant to be!
In Love and In Style,