The state of the world today is enough to put anyone at unease. But for folks already dealing with anxiety, it can take an extra toll. This is the case for Philadelphia-based mother Chelsie DeSouza, founder of Matchstick Moms. In today’s Mom Talk essay, Chelsie—mother to Aria, 3—details how she’s dealing with her mounting anxiety during one of the most turbulent times in history.
As an avid subscriber (not by choice) to anxiety, my mind is constantly playing a loop of worst-case scenarios. I rarely ever speak them out loud. I’m a true believer in speaking things into existence, so by some self-imposed catch-22, I’m a Pandora’s box of unspoken morbid fears. Sometimes they’re off the wall, and sometimes not so much. From my daughter tripping and shattering her teeth to being caught in a mass shooting, my mind is constantly bouncing from one tragedy to the next. There is a constant need to inventory my surroundings, attempting to remain ready for that seemingly simple task to go horribly wrong. Whether I’m confusing paranoia with a heightened sense of awareness, it’s exhausting to say the least.
As I started writing this, I decided to dive deeper into anxiety and postpartum anxiety. I can pinpoint the emergence of my extreme worry with the birth of my daughter in 2017. “Some worry is adaptive. Anxiety is a natural response to protect one’s baby, and often that’s expressed with hyper-alertness and hyper-vigilance,” says Margaret Howard, Ph.D., director of postpartum depression at Day Hospital at Women & Infants in Providence, RI. For a very long time, I thought my postpartum mind was normal. I mean, I’m in charge of raising and keeping a little human safe, so of course with that comes some level of worry. It becomes a problem when anxiety outruns reality. When anxiety curbs your appetite. When you have anxiety that wont allow you to sleep when your baby sleeps, because you have to make sure she’s still breathing or that someone hasn’t snatched her out of her room. My mind is always working overtime, with possible tragedies waiting at my doorstep; which isn’t a fun way to live.
With the world on a constant downward spiral, I am anything but GOOD. I’m constantly longing for my life before coronavirus. The anxiety I took for granted. It’s hindsight bias that has me praying for the lesser of two evils. I went from battling my child tripping down our stairs and hypotheticals, to the very real possibility that one or all of us could be infected with COVID-19. The threat is invisible, which makes it all the more frightening.
I spray all our hands with pure alcohol and am beyond careful, but with an active 3-year-old it’s been hard and heartbreaking to stay inside, isolated while restrictions have lifted and cases begin to spike again. What is this “new normal” everyone is talking about? Going back into the world, trying to social distance because the economy is tanking, and praying we don’t one day wake up with a fever? It’s terrifying.
My daughter understood the word quarantine early on. We explained to Aria that things were closed because of germs. Now, I’m tasked with finding the words to redefine why I’m reluctant to go places that are now open. Aria enjoys wearing her mask and has fallen in love with hand sanitizer, but it’s difficult to reconcile social distancing and not touching everything in sight to a 3-year-old. Is there a solution? Can I find a balance between living our lives and isolating? Between extending our lockdown indefinitely and having to go outside to keep our world afloat? These are questions I’m still looking for answers to.
Next on my to-do list of things to be “anxietal” about is systemic racism. As a Black mother in an interracial marriage and raising a mixed child, I am constantly on a ledge watching the news. As blatant racism and hate have been more brazen and unabashed, I have anxiety that someone (police included) will harm me or my daughter because of the color of our skin. When I see unprovoked racist encounters caught on camera all over social media, it seems like it could happen to pretty much any person of color at anytime. Sad, but inevitable, Aria will be treated differently in one way or another because of the color of her skin. For a parent, this truth is earth-shattering. You never want your child to feel any amount of pain—emotional or physical—and the idea that she will ever feel less than for who she is, is an anxiety that will stay with me forever.
With these extreme thoughts often comes extreme guilt. This may sound ridiculous, but I get anxiety from having anxiety. When my thoughts begin to spiral, the feelings of self-doubt, shame, and panic as to why I can’t be present in moments that should be filled with joy make me nauseous. I question my ability to be a mother and wife when I can’t watch my daughter run in a park without cringing
As a mother, what do I do? In the beginning, I thought that postpartum anxiety would just go away. I thought that when she was older my fears would dissipate. But with each milestone comes a new set of thoughts. Flares are constantly firing off, as if to make me privy to all the things I need to be mindful of as a mother, all the things I need to watch out for to keep her safe.
Let me tell you, from a woman who is struggling with anxiety, it will not go away if you do not do the work. It’s imperative. Listen, I get it, with life and taking care of humans, dinner, lunch, work, self-care, and everything else that comes with living, I know it seems impossible to carve out time in an already jam-packed schedule. We have to make the time to address and improve our mental health and find coping mechanisms and ways to curb the anxiety.
It took a pandemic for me to realize that what I was feeling was common, but not normal. How amplified my anxiety became to the point that I couldn’t function and was petrified to leave the house, was eye-opening. I wasn’t starting on a level playing field and it was because my anxiety was running so rampant before the pandemic, that it was a catastrophic emotional experience for me. In my quest to combat my crippling thoughts, I’ve done research and spoken with medical professionals and have come across some helpful tips.
The first step for me was banishing my shame and the stigma associated with mental health issues and accepting that I had a condition. I’ve come a long way, I now think of my anxiety as something I need to treat and not something I need to try to avoid.
The second step was treating my anxiety like a common cold, a sickness. If I continue on, like I don’t have a cold, it will never get better. I needed rest, nourishment, and self-care. When things are bad, I need to acknowledge that things are bad. I take a break, even if it’s for an hour. I take a shower or a walk and try to reset. It’s ok to not be okay. What’s not helpful is to try and pretend to be okay when you are not.
I ask for help, when I’m triggered or exhausted from anxiety. I have open conversations about what I’m feeling, so that I verbalize these thoughts out loud and they lose their power against me. I no longer keep my anxiety a secret and that has been the most helpful. My anxiety doesn’t own me, it will not ruin me, and I will be okay. As will you!
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