Sometimes, it lasted days. Other times, weeks. It always returned. When it did, it was hard to read, concentrate or focus. It was hard to eat or sleep or work.
It was hard to parent.
Sometimes it came with dread because I’d feel dreadful about being so anxious.
How I felt in my body scared me. I wanted to be someone else. Someone who felt different.
Anxious time moved slowly. An hour felt like a month and a day felt like a year. Watching the clock, I’d try to will it to pass. It was the opposite of being present. I was trying to be absent. Absent of anxiety that was consuming. Anxiety felt like a way of being, not a feeling or symptom.
Getting through the day was my biggest goal, the high bar I hoped to reach. At those times it took all I had to rise to that challenge. To do that, while not falling flat on my face, as well as in my role as a mother, felt nearly impossible.
Bad. All of it felt bad. But being unable to enjoy or attend to my daughter the way she deserved was the worst part.
She was too young to complain. But she felt it.
She would get clingy. She would move in closer as though she could keep the balloon of me from floating out of her reach. Did I feel like an out-of-reach object of security, like a binky dropped from a high chair or a blanket from the bed? It must have scared her to see the shaky shadow version of me. It was scary to me.
It was as if I was disappearing and being crowded out by anxiety that was sucking up all of the space and air. It felt as if my anxiety was contagious, as if I was a flu that shouldn’t be nearby anyone or anything. Just being me, while anxious, felt like awful, terrible, no-good mothering.
There was no denying she noticed either. As she aged, she’d say, “I feel like we were together but not together” or “I need more Mama time.”
Part of me was proud of her ability to know and express her feelings and needs.
Part of me was frustrated. Her words felt like an insult, a demand and an accusation.
“I’m doing the best I can,” I wanted to scream.
“Do you know how much worse I had it at your age?” I’d think.
Self-hatred, guilt, and shame piled one upon another like pasta, cheese and sauce in a baking pan. They blended, baked and melted in the oven of me, only the dish cooked up was barely edible.