My space here at the Daily Drip is in the financial arena. I typically write about things as they relate to my profession: college planning, retirement planning, estate planning and so on. But, I wanted to share something personal with this community because in my mind and in my heart what makes us better in our personal and professional lives is finding a community around us that we feel supported by and with whom we can identify. By sharing this side of me, I hope that we can open a dialogue and help each other grow professionally and personally. That is really what the Daily Drip is all about. Creating a space for us all to support one another and help each other in a meaningful way in all aspects of our lives.
My father died suddenly, and right in front of me, when I was 22 years old. My mom had said to my sister and me when my dad died that we had “nothing left unsaid, just things left undone.” She claims that I said it. But that seems far too wise for a 22-year-old hot mess. I reconciled this tragedy as, “Shitty things happen to people every day, and we were so fortunate to have had what we did for as long as we did. Some people will never know this kind of relationship in a lifetime. We are not victims. Life goes on.” 8 months later I walked down the aisle at my wedding, without my dad, because the show must go on.
My takeaway from the loss was to never waste a moment. Be grateful for each and every second. Be grateful and revel in the mundane. Make the most of every opportunity. And this was particularly true for me when it came to my kids. I relished every second, regardless of whether it was a fun trip or something basic like driving them to school. Never missed a practice, a game, a school event.
It was about 3 years ago when my oldest, my son, started having panic attacks and terrible anxiety. I have always been proactive, solution-driven and never too proud to get help. Especially when it comes to my kids. I started working tirelessly on finding him a therapist, dietary changes, meditation, holistic supplements, and encouraging fitness. I pulled out all the stops. The first therapist just threw meds at the situation. It helped a little. But, it certainly wasn’t solving the problem. My son wasn’t developing any skills to deal with the anxiety and in my mind there was just no way that this was going to work long-term- for him or for me.
I’m blessed to have an incredibly close relationship with both of my kids. And because of the closeness between him and me- how intermeshed we were- I couldn’t make it through the days he was struggling because I would have a visceral reaction to his anxiety. The stress and panic in his voice or in his texts from school would paralyze me and cause me to spiral into my own panic. A friend I confided in offered to pull some strings and get me in with a new therapist who worked as part of a team, one was a psychiatrist and the other a psychologist. And they approached treatment in the same manner, meeting with parents and children. Typically, it is not in my nature to accept favors, but when it comes to my kids, no shame in the game. And I was eager for new solutions.
After we attended a few sessions together, one day the doctor took me into his office alone and asked me if I would be open to coming to see him without my son. He asked if I would be willing to sit with him and discuss my own anxiety. I was shocked. I looked at him completely stunned and replied “I don’t have any anxiety?” His response was, “It isn’t a question. It is severe, and I think it would be good for you to sit through a few appointments on your own for us to talk about it.” As I sat here, trying to process this, he hit me with the next sentence, which really threw me for a loop. He said, “It is very common to develop severe anxiety when you experience a trauma.” I was so confused. Trauma? “I haven’t had any trauma.” And then the next revelation was, “You watched your father die suddenly in front of your eyes, unable to save him. That is the definition of a trauma.”
It was hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I may be struggling, unbeknownst to me! I was reluctant to consider private sessions, but then he explained all the ways it could not only benefit me, but my son. And there it was- not only did I have anxiety, but it was affecting the ones I love the most. That was a very tough pill for me to swallow. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my kids, even therapy, so I booked my first session.
I was somewhat closed in the beginning, but through the sessions, I started learning a lot about myself. My anxiety was not the kind that kept me from operating at a high level which is why I never saw it. It never got in the way of me working, parenting, or fulfilling the mile long laundry list of other commitments and obligations. But it affected me in a million other ways. And once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it.
Like I do with everything, once I commit to something, I commit to something in the most EXTRA of ways. As I began to “do the work”, I began to talk more openly with people close to me in my life. And what became alarmingly obvious was just how many of us were out there- walking around suppressing our anxiety because it implied a weakness. I come from a long line of strong independent women who take on way more than they should. We all operate at a very high level, never taking a moment to slow down. We take on everything for those around us. We are caregivers. And because the women in my life were so strong and accomplished, I never noticed that we were all in fact high-functioning, anxious hot messes. But, there it was. Anxiety was so normalized in the women around me that it was impossible to really see what was going on.
In today’s world, we women feel the need to have it all together. We have to look like the models on the cover of Shape magazine, make wholesome organic meals for our families, have accomplished careers or businesses, raise accomplished kids and get them everywhere on time, be the perfect wife.... and do it all with ease and grace.
We don’t talk about how hard it all is, that we may be struggling (or hanging on by a thread), because if we do, there must be something wrong with us. If we’re struggling, we must be failing. And, if we’re all being honest, on the days we feel like we are just coming up short, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for transparency. Maybe we don’t want to let people down, maybe we don’t want to admit it to ourselves, but that kind of honesty is just hard. But the more I began talking openly about my anxiety and how much it was controlling my life, the less alone I felt. And the connections I was making with women were more meaningful and fulfilling.
I also realized that the work I was doing with my therapist, while difficult on so many levels, was truly liberating. Being able to understand myself on the deepest possible level was a game-changer, for everyone. The truth is that my anxiety had served me well in many ways for many many years. Until it didn’t. And, as I prepared to send my oldest child off to college, my trauma surfaced and was forcing me to deal with over 20 years of anxiety that I hadn’t even realized was driving me.
Taking control of my anxiety has positively affected my entire family. My son was doing remarkably better. The open dialogue in our home about anxiety, how we all felt, brought us even closer together. (And I was so terrified that the opposite would happen!) But our already close-knit nuclear family was getting closer and closer each and every day because of empathy and understanding about anxiety and how we were all affected by it.
It also allowed me to make strides in my professional life. I was performing better at my work and in my business because I was learning how to identify the things that caused me to feel anxious and determine what things to address first in order to make the day run more efficiently and ease the overwhelm.
I wanted to share this side of me because I think that this is something that we should be openly discussing. I know how alone I felt when I first came to the realization that I was suffering from anxiety. I know the shock and sadness of learning how this can impact the ones closest to you. While my intentions were only the best, I had been projecting my own anxiety and fears onto my family, and inadvertently contributed to their stress and anxiety. It was stunting them- Standing in the way of them being able to grow and mature into strong independent people. It was standing in the way of me having faith in the job I had done as a mother.
This journey is a work in progress, and a daily struggle, but most of all, it is a gift. It is a gift that keeps on giving in the most surprising of ways and one that continues to push me towards being the best version of myself, the best mom and wife and sister and daughter, and friend and professional. It has strengthened countless relationships and created new meaningful ones. It has opened the doors to amazing adventures like The Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis, and has given the courage for dreams and visions like The Daily Drip.
So, if any of this article has resonated with you, I pray you too, will give yourself this gift. And if you’re in the mood for a little genuine transparency and candid humor, please reach out. You’re never alone, and life is so bright on the other side.