Shared Jennifer Chavez-Duran
You don't know me. Some days, I don't even know myself.
I'm a wife and a mother to my five-month-old son and four stepchildren. I deliver newspapers for a living. If you met me while I was with my family, working, or if you scrolled through my Facebook page, you would see what appears to be a stable, loving, hardworking and sarcastic 32-year-old woman.
What you don't see is the mental battle I struggle with day to day. I suffer from anxiety, and my anxiety attacks can be debilitating.
Somewhere between middle school and high school I started developing anxiety issues. Of course, I didn't fully realize or understand it until years later. Since I was a child, I was always sensitive; I've always been a crier. Now that I'm older and understand myself better, I think I have an empathetic soul and my heart just feels too much.
During my teen years I felt out of place. I was awkward, introverted and struggled with my weight. A slew of rejections from the boys I liked led me to lower my standards on what I thought I deserved. After a few bad relationships over the years, my self-esteem plummeted, and my anxieties spiked. I've always chosen to brush it off and keep trudging on. I don't like the idea of prescription medications, and I do my best to live as “normal” a life as possible.
THE SOCIAL BATTLES WITH FRIENDS & FAMILY
Only my closest friends and family have been aware of my struggles. Some of them don't even know the degree to which it impacts me. Living with anxiety causes me to live in a hyper-tense state; I am always on alert and my mind is rarely settled. With the hypertension comes fatigue. I rarely feel rested, no matter how much sleep I get.
They don't know that I over analyze and obsess over every decision and situation. This happens during most of my waking hours, which can even mean during a conversation with them. As a result, I sometimes miss something that was said, which makes me feel like a terrible friend. I used to pride myself on being a good listener. I try so hard to be present and attentive, but I can never seem to clear my mind completely.
They don't know that when I only post happy positive moments on Facebook, it's not because I'm trying to portray a fake image. I try to keep a positive outlook on life, despite the negative battle within myself. For someone with anxiety it is difficult to let things go. Be that as it may, I let go of what I’m able to and move forward from the negative moments. Reminiscing the happy times helps me focus on the positive.
They don't know that if I'm invited to a social gathering, I'm going to spend days or weeks mentally preparing myself for it. When the time comes, I'll most likely show up late and leave early. It's not because I'm anti-social, or trying to be rude. Even with advanced preparation, on the day of the event my anxiety kicks into high gear and I've had about 50 different reasons go through my mind why it would be better to just stay home, which now has me running late. Since I'm running late, this adds another reason why I shouldn't go and now I'm even later. Reason finally wins over and I decide to go because I already agreed to and I need to drop off the gift I bought. My anxiety is at a high point by the time I get there and I end up leaving early since I'm now exhausted and can't handle all the energy from the people at the gathering.
Even with my closest friends I'm notorious for canceling or rescheduling one-on-one plans, because I never know until that day if I'll be able to function like a “normal” human being. They don't know how thankful I am that they have kept me as a friend despite my flakiness.
My brother, whom I'm no longer on speaking terms with, doesn't know that this feud between us hurts me in ways he may never understand. I chose to reach out while my anxiety was heightened, instead of waiting until I was in a calmer state of mind. As a result, harsh things were said on each end, and we are both too stubborn to make amends. I keep telling myself, “At least I tried one last time.” In my heart and mind it kills me that we will probably never speak again. When I think about how, if I had handled things differently, I may have been able to mend things instead of making it worse, I start to get a knot in my stomach. My heart starts racing and I feel a tight clenching in my chest. I start feeling lightheaded and numb all over. All of these symptoms happening at once take over, and I can no longer think straight, feeling like I'm going to pass out.
GOING OUT INTO THE WORLD
The store clerk doesn’t know that the line I've been standing in for 10 minutes makes me feel on edge and trapped and I'm now sweating and having heart palpations. By the time it's my turn in line, I have no desire to make small talk. I just want to pay and get back to my truck where I can breathe. I try to be as polite as possible in this moment even though my mind and body are fighting against me. They may think of me as unfriendly, but I'm just trying to focus on breathing before it becomes a full-blown anxiety attack.
KEEPING MY SECRET AT WORK
My boss and co-workers don't know one of the reasons I love my newspaper route is because it is actually a good fit for my anxiety. Previously, I had worked in many restaurants and a few offices. While both environments were great for my ability to multitask, there was too much stimuli and lack of flexibility for me to be comfortable long term. On my newspaper route, I deliver the county area, which includes all the dirt roads in the mountains. My boss had a hard time keeping someone on this route before hiring me. My coworkers used to tease me about when I was going to quit. Some of them had bets going on how long I would last. I’ve been there three years now. Since it is during hours most people are sleeping, I don’t have to talk to many people, which is great for days I’m not up for socializing. I’m alone in my own vehicle, I get to listen to music and work at my own pace. If I’m having a rough day and need to take things slower, I’m able to do so. The biggest thing I have to worry about is getting a speeding ticket; and of course, crashing and dying (sarcasm intended.) Additionally, I see the sun rise over the mountains every morning. It is my daily reminder of the beauty and happiness in the world.
They don’t know that the day I walked into work and had an anxiety attack was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. All our workstations had been rearranged and for some reason my table was singled out with my back facing everyone. I felt utterly uncomfortable, like I was on display. For someone that lives life in the background, trying to hide amongst crowds, this was a horrible thing to endure. I tried my hardest to keep myself together. I just had to get through 15 minutes of putting newspapers together, and then I could cry all I wanted when I got to my car. I made it eight minutes before I broke down in front of everyone—and not just a few tears. No, this was a complete loss of composure; hyperventilating, shaking, broken up words and tears streaming down my face. I am a 32-year-old woman that had a complete breakdown at her job, in front of everyone, over a table. You don't know how embarrassing that is until you've experienced it. I’m sure by now my coworkers don’t have a second thought about it, but I still feel awkward and embarrassed when I walk in there.
STRUGGLING TO BE STRONG FOR MY CHILDREN
My step children don't know how much it boils my blood that their biological mom blatantly neglects them. When they show up to our house starving, dirty, in torn clothes and acting out, I want to scream at their mother for not taking care of them. When they tell us their mom ignores them or doesn't pay attention to them, it hurts my heart they don't know what it’s like to have a loving mother.
When my four-year-old stepson kept showing up every week for a month bloated and swollen with his immune system shutting down, his mother fed us lie after lie about his medical care. When we realized her lies and immediately took him to the hospital, we found his kidneys were failing and he could have died. It took every ounce of my being not to punch her in the face when she showed up at the hospital looking “all of a sudden concerned.” I bit my tongue and remained calm through the aching in my chest. We called Child Protective Services on her and it only led us to more frustration that the “system” can't help us. They don’t know that the seemingly losing battle we're in with their mother causes my heart and soul to hurt in a way I can’t explain. Yet I have to keep all of these frustrations in, because blowing up will not help our case in any way.
My five-month-old son doesn't know the guilt and anxiety I carry from the times I had anxiety attacks during my pregnancy. I'm convinced it's going to affect him physically or mentally. I constantly have to remind myself that he is growing and healthy. He also doesn't know he has been one of the best things for my anxiety. Being pregnant with him and giving birth made me feel like a superhero. I was able to conquer something I never thought I’d be able to handle with my anxiety. Seeing his smiling face and watching him grow helps me be stronger inside, because I know I have to be his rock.
WHO AM I BECOMING?
My husband doesn’t know how truly grateful I am that he sticks by my side even though he has seen me through many horrific anxiety attacks. When I'm in a calm state of mind, I'm a fairly rational person. I am completely aware that my anxious thoughts are ridiculous and in time it will pass. However, in the thick of an anxiety attack, nothing makes sense. All these racing thoughts and feelings make me feel like I'm losing my mind, my grip on reality. Things get foggy, and I forget things. I feel completely disoriented and unsure of who I’m becoming. During some of the worst anxiety attacks, when these things continue to escalate, the depression sets in. In this moment of uncertainty, I don't even want to deal with myself, let alone put that onto others.
There have been several times when I reached this point, I locked myself in the bathroom with a bottle of pills. I will never actually do anything with them; I know that is not the answer. But feeling like I’ve reached the bottom of the barrel somehow makes the rational side of my brain take charge again, and I am finally able to start rising above the anxiety and out of the foggy haze. I realize all of this is difficult for someone to endure, and I appreciate his faithfulness in this journey.
WHAT’S TO COME
While I am still searching for ways to manage my anxiety long term, I feel that I have been making some good progress these last few months. The road ahead is long, but I will continue to march on. You don’t know me, but I have one request: Be kind to others.
You never know what they may be battling.