Let’s talk…or at least try to…about what it means to have severe anxiety while pregnant.
I desperately want to talk about my struggles with severe anxiety here on this blog, but to be honest, I am afraid to. For the last week I have felt the urge to speak about how challenging the last 6 months have been for me, and although the words flow very easily when I am sitting with my journal open, they don’t at all when I’m attempting to write something meaningful for this public space. Let’s be honest…talking about anxiety does, unfortunately, make people uncomfortable, and I find myself mainly struggling to write openly and honestly about my experiences because I want to shield other people. For some reason, I am most worried about offending people or making them uneasy, which is actually absurd if you think about it because then I am the one left with the weight on my chest. But anxiety is something that, while a very personal and intimate experience, also sometimes involves other people or is caused by external triggers, and these can be harder to speak about out loud.
The fact is, I am scared to delve too deeply into why I have been so anxious during my pregnancy, and that is mainly because my anxiety and its severity have been exacerbated by feelings of intense guilt and shame. Shame about not being strong enough; shame about having no choice but to put myself and my baby first and make tough decisions because of it; guilt about even being pregnant at all because it might not be convenient or preferable for some of the people around me. And maybe speaking in such veiled terms about my feelings is an act of shame as well, but it feels hard to be honest about something I am only just beginning to work through and heal from.
Suffice it to say that, although some days are much happier and brighter and I have come a long way from where I was just 3 months ago, there is not a single day that goes by that I don’t feel at least a few moments of severe anxiety. At the height of my struggles 3 months ago, I was having around 7 panic attacks a day, and now, thankfully, I am down to 1 or 2 a week. But, the process to get there has been slow and arduous, and I know that if I slip up or something drastic happens, I could easily spiral downwards again. If I weren’t pregnant, I probably never would’ve taken the steps to work through my long-standing mental health issues, but honestly, I had no choice because I am not the only one at risk…my defenseless baby is also subjected to my panic attacks, and when my doctors blatantly told me that what I was going through was a huge risk to my unborn child, I had no other option but to react and take precautions immediately. After breaking down in public places with no warning multiple times over the span of a 3 week period, after being rushed by my family to the emergency room because I had back-to-back panic attacks with virtually no time to recover, after enduring some traumatizing and unexpected moments, what else could I do? I had to make changes, and fast, because I truly have never felt more vulnerable or scared for myself (and, consequently, my baby) in my life.
There are so many things I’ve been doing to try to get myself to a better place during this pregnancy, from seeing an expert psychiatrist regularly, to starting meditation practices, to studying the book Mind Over Mood vigilantly, to exercising on a daily basis, and luckily, it seems like a lot of it is working. I went from being unable to eat or sleep (particularly alarming and dangerous while pregnant) to being able to smile in photos, looking forward to being out with my husband, family and friends, and actually enjoying the adventure of pregnancy. But, as I said, this does not mean that my work is done, and I still wake up with feelings of guilt, a tight chest and racing heart almost every morning. There are still triggers in my dreams and in my mind that pop up when I let my guard down and in quiet moments, and I may be working through them for years to come. This fight against anxiety is a journey, a daily battle, but it is one I have no choice but to engage in, for myself and my growing family.
Maybe nothing I’ve said here will make sense to anyone but me…I don’t think that’s the point, though. I have let myself speak, I have given voice to the fact that I am not 100% okay, but I am hoping to get there. And, ultimately, I am pledging each day to be the strongest, best example to my soon-to-be-born son that, yes, anxiety is real, it is physical, it is debilitating at times, but it can be overcome.
Janille N G
Girl with a Green Heart