My name is Christine and I am a professional worrier. You read that right, a professional, I worry like it’s my job… if only I could get paid for this ability, because I’m really good at it, and I’d be a billionaire by now.
I’ve had anxiety my whole life, but it wasn’t diagnosed until well into my adulthood. Now, I wear it like a badge of honor, but I refuse to let it define me. I am so much more than just “a worrier”. I am a Mom to two incredible children and a wife to a handsome husband, a daughter, a sister and a friend. I am an Educator, a hard worker, a good listener and a woman who is trying her hardest to advocate for mental illness to end the stigma.
As a child, I had a lot of stomach aches. I saw a lot of doctors who concentrated more on the physical manifestation of my anxiety and tried to look for physiological reasons for these “invisible” stomach aches and head aches. But 25+ years ago, children’s mental health just wasn’t talked about so there had to be a more logical reason for these ailments other than just worrying-right? Wrong, well in my case it was wrong. After years of being poked and prodded (which ironically just added to my anxiety level) my incredible Mom said enough was enough and I began to see a child counsellor. I was able to speak to this person about the bullying that was happening at school, and my lack of self confidence but the true root of my anxiety wasn’t addressed until I was finished school, post secondary, had moved across the country to start a life with an amazing man who I would call my Husband. Then came motherhood…
Our journey into parenthood wasn’t easy and was met with a lot of uncertainty and you guessed it, anxiety. At one point, I was told I may not be able to have children. But we persevered because If there’s one thing that anxiety has taught me it’s tenacity. We sought fertility treatments and a few years later I was pregnant with our first. Being a first time Mom (and a worrier) I researched, everything-to death. I tried my hardest during that pregnancy to keep my own anxiety at bay because I had read that it can affect the babe in the womb. Again, more worry about worrying too much-go figure! After 40 weeks and a very quick labour and delivery (3 hours, don’t hate me!) he was here. I had never been so elated in those moments post birth. He was just perfect.
Then things got real in the days, weeks and months after. I feared the little things and big things. Like SIDS, breastfeeding/bottle feeding, cold and flu season and the best daycares and schools that he would attend (he was 5 months old!) and everything in between. Lack of sleep was also a real issue for our little stinker-pants and I learned around 4 months postpartum that running off little to no sleep was also a trigger for my own anxiety. So here we were, at 6 months into this motherhood journey; a hot friggin’ mess, coming out of winter and cold and flu hibernation, across the country from family and our support system and absolutely convinced that I was doing this Mom thing all wrong.
From the advice of my husband who was doing his best to love, encourage and support me-the woman whom he loved dearly, and was watching fall apart, it was time for babe and me to get out of the house and join some parent and tot groups and make some Mom friends. I’m quite positive, although that point in my life is still hazy, that I met his suggestions with a lot of pushback and tears and likely a full-body-eye-roll met with some sarcastic comment that probably sounded a lot like “you want me to go out and see people and be nice to them when I am so exhausted I could barf….Ya Right Buddy!”(sorry husband) None the less, we joined swimming lessons and went to a few drop in groups and our social circle began to expand, and you know what-my anxiety slowly started to decrease. I finally had the opportunity to discuss my fears, challenges and victories with others and it helped immensely to realize I wasn’t alone. We’re all in this parenting thing together and whether you have a magical unicorn baby who is a perfect sleeper and doesn’t scream their little face off during car rides, or you have another perfect baby who does the opposite of said unicorn baby and pushes you to the brink of your sanity, there’s always someone else who gets it. Motherhood is hard but we are all doing our very best and we need to be gentle with ourselves.
Over the next 3 years of parenthood and life which included some very messy and emotional parts and some incredibly joyous and grateful parts we underwent more fertility treatments and got pregnant with our second child-a beautiful daughter to complete our perfectly-imperfect little family. This pregnancy-go-round I vowed to myself (…and my husband) that I wasn’t going to research. So instead, I tried to enjoy every minute of being pregnant knowing that it was our last baby. Truthfully though, I didn’t worry as much about the health of this unborn child like I did with our first, I was worried more about how I could possibly love another little human as much as I loved our son, or how we could logistically all get out of the house on time, with a newborn and a “Threenager”, or the financial side of running a three-ring-circus household and adding another mouth to feed. All these real, anxiety provoking situations ran rampant in my brain for 38 weeks, until I laid eye on her little face and a sense of calm came over me. I breathed in the relief and exhaled the self doubt. She was here, and our family of 4 was complete. I could just be still and bask in the glory of all that we created. She was our magical unicorn baby, who slept great, ate great and was just a chill second child. Such a vast difference from her brother and a welcomed change for this new leg of the parenting journey. I don’t feel that I suffered postpartum anxiety as badly with her because it wasn’t my first rodeo. I’ve also come to know that another trigger for my own anxiety is fear of uncertainty, new things and not knowing what to expect. No one prepares you for parenthood, the real nitty gritty of 3am feeds, sleep regressions, diaper blow outs- in a car where said child then tries to eat it (this actually happened-barf!). I know for certain that I had what my husband called “new mother anxiety” with our Son that lasted for his entire first year of life. With our Daughter, it was just good old fashion anxiety. I still consulted “Dr. Google” on a regular basis, but was also way more confident in my own instincts as a Mom, a Wife and a Woman to make choices and decisions that weren’t stemming from unsolicited advice, helpful people or the internet.
Life picked up its pace over the next 4 years. I graduated from post secondary (again) for a different career, we moved twice and I landed a dream job that made my heart feel happy, but through all these tribulations, I was slowly starting to lose a parent to mental illness and addiction-Que massive anxiety. My father passed away in December after his own battle of anxiety and depression stemming from trauma and major events that happened later in his life and self-medicating to take his pain away. Watching him go through this and doing our best to get him the help he needed, it was another dose of reality that I needed to push for mental health advocacy.
Did you know that you can be genetically predisposed to mental illness? Did you know that you can develop mental illness (anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, anorexia/bulimia etc) at any point in your life stemming from a profound trauma or event? Did you know mental illness is not your fault? Did you know that 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 children suffer from mental illness and that 70% of mental illnesses emerge in childhood or adolescence? Many people suffer in silence, like I did as a child-because I didn’t have the proper coping tools and language to be able to articulate my emotions and worries, and like my father did as an adult. Whether you’re experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety, or you’re diagnosed with a different mental illness or you suffer in silence, please don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.
I’ve been told so many times “you’re brave for talking about it, you’re brave for being open about your own anxiety.” Bravery, to me, doesn’t come with being open and honest about mental health issues. Bravery doesn’t come when trying to help others and be a voice for those who suffer. Bravery and courage, to me, does come each and every day when those who suffer leap out of their comfort zones to grow and learn more about themselves and not be afraid of the resistance and uncomfortableness that comes with the stigma of mental illness. So, I don’t feel that bravery accurately defines speaking out about something that means so much to me, while fearing judgement and scrutiny. I feel it takes courage, and the difference is nestled between the lines of looking fear and resistance in the eyes, being kind and still pushing forward.
My own journey has been full of tears, defeat, self doubt and surrender but it’s also been filled with so much love, support, encouragement and help. Point being- If someone you know is silently battling mental health issues they probably won’t reach out. They may go inward. At points in my life, I certainly did, my Father did as well. Please don’t give up on them. They need you more than ever, even if it’s to offer a hello with a smile in the mornings and love on them unconditionally-even from a distance. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about them and the full-on war that’s raging inside an often-tired body and mind. Let that not be mistaken for weakness, because that I assure you isn’t true. Mental health is real. Fatigue is real. Trying to be the best you can for absolutely everyone isn’t real-istic and at the end of the day, be happy with yourself, your character, and your integrity, and don’t let anyone (including yourself) dim your light. It’s ok to take a break. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to breathe it’s ok not to be ok and it’s ok to be still. It’s OK.
This is a face of mental illness-anxiety. This is also the face of a Mom, wife, daughter, sister and friend, doing her utmost best to be part of the change for our next generation and end the stigma for mental illness. So be kind. Talk openly about mental health, so those who suffer feel comfortable to hopefully open up. Help us all end the stigma because we’re all in this together.
Just breathe darlin’ “Because every little thing is gonna be alright…” ✌🏼-Bob Marley
Christine Fishman RECE
Proud Mom and anxiety warrior, every-single-day.