The Illusion of Control

I feel my heart start to race.

My mouth gets dry.

My palms are clammy.

My chest is heavy, and breathing hurts.

I look around at my house, the piles of toys and laundry, and feel a level of overwhelm that I know isn’t normal. These are just normal “kid messes”…the result of actually LIVING in our home. (A crazy concept I know). And I know it really won’t take long to clean up, but the disorganization of it effects me immensely.

I am angry at myself for not being in control of my house.

I am more angry myself for not being in control of my emotions. Once again I am allowing myself to be consumed by anxiety.

But I am not “allowing” it. It just happens. And as hard as I try to change my methods of fighting it off, relaxing, or changing my mindset, it comes back whenever I feel a lack of control.

I have struggled with anxiety for my entire life.

It has taken different forms over the years. As a teen it flared up often resulting in a decrease of appetite, weight loss, intense nausea, ulcers, and a nervous feeling in my chest and stomach. Few people knew about my symptoms, and when I went to the doctor for help, he told me that I had an eating disorder. It was embarrassing, and untrue, and I just tried to pretend that I was ok after that. I would throw up in the school bathrooms, and would refuse to eat until dinner time, because the nausea was so debilitating.

After I got married and started having kids, my anxiety shifted from physically feeling ill all of the time, to perfectionism. I cleaned my house from top to bottom several times a week. I had a laminated page of chores that I gave myself, and I completed each on in order and crossed them off with a dry erase marker. At the end of the day, I felt like the marks on that page were a reflection of myself. If my house was a mess, I was a mess inside.

However, as more children came into our family, I realized that perfectionism was becoming increasingly impossible. I couldn’t be a good mother to my children and also have a perfect home. So I ripped up my meticulously planned to-do’s and tried to take on a more relaxed approach to housekeeping. I was successful for a while. And then Hudson was born.

A few months after my third child was born, I was a mess. I was crying every day. I felt empty, and exhausted. I was waking up in cold sweats in the night with my fingers tingling. I was obsessing over non existent threats to my children. I resented my husband for having, “a life” while I was trapped in our home completing the same seemingly insignificant tasks day in and day out. I felt like I wasn’t living up to my own expectations as a wife, home maker, or especially as a mother.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was dealing with Postpartum anxiety and depression.

Finally after months of feeling off, I called my doctor, and began using essential oils religiously. I started exercising, and I started making time for myself. My husband was so sweet and understanding, although I am sure I was not the most fun person to be married to at the time. Finally, when my son was 7 or 8 months old, the feeling faded, and I was able to feel more like myself again.

And then when my son was only fourteen months old, my husband passed away.

And anxiety and fear was all that I could feel.

I was so perfectly aware that life was anything but predictable or something that I could control. I had just helplessly watched my husband die, and I had to try to comfort my devastated little children. There was nothing I could do to take away their pain.

I was terrified about our future. I didn’t know how to be a mom and a dad, or how to provide for my family. I had been uninvolved financially, and had no way of asking my husband for the help I so desperately needed from him.

I couldn’t control anything as far as my own emotions went either.

I was angry at myself in the weeks after Ryan died, because no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t cry. I was in so much shock that I would sit on the floor of my shower and just stare into space, begging the tears to come so I could find some kind of release, and hating myself for not being able to get a single one to fall from my eyes. And then when the tears DID come, they were unstoppable. I cried at the grocery store, I cried at church, I cried in front of my children, I cried ALL OF THE TIME. I lost my appetite completely, was vomiting regularly again, and sleep was irregular and difficult to relax into.

I remember coming home from Ryan’s funeral, and furiously organizing and cleaning out drawers and baskets in my house. And then, when I was on my own as a single mom I was no where near functioning as normal, and my house was a disaster too.

I have never felt such a lack of control over every aspect of my life. For me, it was completely terrifying. My methods of dealing with my anxiety were obsolete.

For the next few months, my fingers would go numb, my arms and legs would ache, and felt like a constant weight was on my chest. I had so many anxiety attacks that I felt exhausted. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I was grieving, and my mental health had never suffered more. During those first few months, I tried a few medications for my anxiety, but then decided that I didn’t like the way I felt on those either. I went to grief therapy for a short time, but wasn’t ready to truly open up. I hadn’t even begun to process the horrific things that I had seen and experienced.

It was intense, and truly effected my over-all health.

Thankfully, as time has passed, the anxiety has lessened. Now two and a half years later, I rarely wake up with numb fingers and achy arms. I never have full blown panic attacks anymore.

But today, a messy house was all that it took to spark the symptoms that I have come to know so well. That intense feeling of overwhelm and lack of control. And now, when I feel those symptoms, I also feel so much grief. My anxiety has become a grief trigger. I have nightmares all of the time. I am SO afraid another bad thing is going to happen to my family. And often when I am consumed by anxiety, I find myself sobbing and reliving the trauma associated with my husband’s death.

Anxiety has taught me many things about myself.

I am SO imperfect.

But, it has also taught me where to turn when I need peace and to feel safe.

I have come to understand that fear and faith truly cannot exist at the same time.

So now, when I feel that familiar ache and tightness in my chest, I pray.

Well, I stress clean, AND I pray. 😉

And I know that although I really can’t control much, there is someone who IS in control.

And he is perfect.

And he loves me no matter how imperfect or weak I am.

HE is my new way of coping. ❤