Anxious Brain

Mar 23, 2020
Written by
Jessica Whitaker
Photographed by
I

@jwhitak85 almost drowned last night. 

Waves from the ocean came crashing into our house.  Faceless friends ran up and down the stairs seeking shelter, and from my lookout on a balcony, I could see the massive waves rise high above the home.  I held my shaking breath as they crashed into the side of the house.  Outside, I could hear the roar of the water pounding against everything it came in contact with.  Inside, the water seemed to move smooth and slow like a silky bed sheet floating up and covering each crevice.  Every time the waves outside pulled back, the water inside found corners to drain down.  And with each repeating slam, the water inside rose higher and higher, nearly covering me from head to toe; catching in my throat. 

And then my alarm went off, and I grasped blindly against the tangled sheets for my wife.  Sleep quickly pulled me back into the house filling with water as the 10 minutes of snooze quieted the room until the next alarm, and I returned to my dream. 

The panic didn’t last long once I finally woke.  It never does anymore. I’ve almost come to peace with these anxiety-ridden dreams, sometimes wondering what the actual ending is. The panic and the anxiety had at some point become like a low vibration under my skin.  It’s always been present but not typically interruptive of daily routines.   

I once had a therapist finally call it what it has usually felt like: Anxious Brain.  In therapy, we called out Anxious Brain (AB for short, since we are all comfortable with each other by now).  When AB told me I didn’t deserve to be a leader at my job, we replied that my hard work over the past 10 years earned me that spot.  When AB told me that I wasn’t good enough for my spouse, we called out everything I did that made me a great wife.  When AB said that my friends didn’t really like me, that I was a bad mother, that I’d never reach my dreams, we shot back with facts and encouragement, and self-love. 

We did this until those things seemed to stop working.  I could blame stress, my job, mom life, fire-wife life, family stressors, money, literally anything in my life that could make things harder.  I could also blame my own brain chemistry for no longer being able to keep up with coping mechanisms, both the good and the not-so-good.  But none of those things matter.  It doesn’t matter the cause.  What matters most is that I woke up one morning and the panic never fully drained out like the waves in the house in my dream.  I woke up, and in my usual fashion, pushed through the hand shaking and the head spinning, but had a hard time not crying at the small things.  I spiraled out in my thoughts during every meeting and in every traffic jam while going home, and after putting my son to bed, wondered how I could have been better and thinking of the worst outcomes for every outcome in my future.  I lost focus.  I lost interest in the things I loved because I feared failing them. 

This overwhelming sense of constant dread lead me to calling a psychiatrist and scheduling an appointment to discuss medication.  I knew at this point that I could no longer go it alone.  So here we are, three new pills to take daily and a plan for a calmer future that feels and looks better than I think I’m even capable of imagining.  And if you’re in this place, or anywhere near it, and you haven’t sought help, I strongly encourage you to.  Or if you aren’t ready to speak to a professional, lean on a friend, or a family member.  Just know that you’re not alone.

I never wanted to get back on medication.  I thought that therapy and taking care of my health would be enough.  But sometimes we get in over our head, or life just gets too big.   And we have to fight against the stigma of seeking help for our thoughts. 

Listen to me, Sunday Girl, there is nothing wrong with seeking professional help for depression or anxiety or any other kind of mental health struggles.  If you’d tell your mom to get medical support for her physical health, you better believe that your mental health is just as important.  Therapy, meditation, exercise, medications – find whatever works for you, because the world needs you.  We need you.  You are more than your mental health problems and we can do this together.

Here is a breathing exercise that can help

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