This is a true story.
“Jennifer” was returning from her weekly therapy session for her youngest child, Matthew (not his real name). Matthew was born with Down Syndrome. She educates all who need it, “It’s Down Syndrome, not Down’s Syndrome. He is not a “Down’s kid” either.” She gets furious with anyone who uses the word “retard” when referring to someone.
Matthew was eighteen months old and still not crawling. His older brother was only three. She works full-time, takes him to therapy twice a week (only one is covered by insurance) and has recently signed up for a sign language class. She hasn’t missed a beat since he was born, meeting each new challenge head-on.
Matthew has changed her life in ways only a few people know.
As a teenager, Jennifer (not her real name either) suffered from anorexia, depression, and severe anxiety attacks.
Anyone who knew her couldn’t understand why. She was pretty, extremely intelligent, and everyone who met her loved her. So how could she suffer so?
I’m not a doctor but I’ve done my research, plus I’ve lived it. I’ve come out the other side and am completing a book about the tools I developed in my own recovery process. So it was never hard for me to understand how Jennifer could suffer from depression and anxiety. Because I knew that:
depression is not a respecter of persons. It can affect anyone at any time.
That smiling person you see at work, that woman in your neighborhood who is so friendly, they both may be miserable inside and when they head home each evening, they completely fall apart. Most people hide their depression or their anxiety (or both) very well and only those closest to them know.
Jennifer had already come a long way since the birth of her first child. His birth had taken place when she had become strong enough to quit taking antidepressants. Her courage was something to see. Her happiness overshadowed any lingering depression and she embraced motherhood as if she’d been given a gift no one else had ever received.
But when Matthew was born, the few that knew her history worried, would her anxiety flare up again?
Who knows what she went through during those early weeks, what mental gymnastics she had to use to keep her mental feet solidly planted. What prayers she prayed. Only Jennifer knew what she had done to keep her anxiety at bay at a time when experts would’ve predicted a free fall. But she didn’t. Those that knew her well breathed a collective sigh.
She stopped at the stop sign, slowly applying the brakes as the winter storm was getting worse. A sudden bump. She tightened her grip on the wheel and held her breath. No sliding into traffic.
Her heart resumed its beating. It was just the one small bump when the car behind her couldn’t stop quick enough.
She quickly turned to check on Matthew. He was playing with his toy and smiling with that smile that melted every heart that saw it. He was fine. Hadn’t noticed a thing. She could feel the beats of her heart in her throat. Her stomach was churning. She was afraid, for the first time in years. Her car showed no damage. She and Matthew were fine.
So why did she continue to shake so?
She drove home carefully, every nerve in her body on high alert. She carried Matthew in the house, fixed dinner for the four of them and then succumbed to the fear that was enveloping her.
That was when she called me.
She told me she was terrified that her anxiety attacks were returning. I listened as she shared her fears. I reminded her she wasn’t the same insecure young woman she once was. I reminded her how hard she’d worked to overcome her anxiety and depression. She had fought her demons and won the battle. She had a great husband, two wonderful boys, and all in all, a great life.
The accident was like an exclamation point to the last year and a half. Matthew’s diagnosis, the accident that she knew could have been much worse, the physical fatigue, all blended together to produce one major anxiety attack. We talked about some coping strategies. In a few hours, she was doing much better.
The reason for today’s post is this: depression/anxiety can deal us a blow when we least expect it. In can take a single anxiety attack, no matter how small, and propel us into a state of panic. “Oh, no, our depression is returning”. Like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, we run in circles, wringing our hands and moaning, “What to do? What to do?”
That’s the hideous nature of depression. It can creep up on us insidiously or can jump out from the shadows.
Jennifer had learned over the years that if she practiced certain coping skills, and if she implemented them immediately, she could quickly turn it around. So she faced her enemy head-on, used her coping tools, and gave it no space in her mind or her life. She got busy with her precious boys and soon fear was no more her nemesis.
Jennifer and her story are real. If she can win her battle after a lifetime of anxiety, so can you. Anxiety doesn’t have to make us miserable. We can learn to stop it head-on but it requires determination.
For me, my best tool is distraction. I simply get busy doing something, anything. The more it’s something I’m interested in, the quicker the anxiety goes away, and the quicker I’m back to enjoying my life.
If you suffer from anxiety, I hope this post helped.
God bless and I hope you have a good day.
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