My Story of Living with Anxiety

anxiety.jpg

When I was a kid, aside from a few really bad nightmares, I was really adventurous and easy going. 


I grew up in Guam (an island in the Pacific near Philippines)—pretty much in the boonies. I lived right next to the mountains, hills, a waterfall, and a river. It was normal for me to go hiking by myself, even though there was a very real threat of encountering a wild boar—or three.


It was also not unusual for me to go snorkeling in 40-foot-deep open ocean and to jump off high rocks to dive into the water that could very well have had a shark swimming in it.

Hiking in my “back yard” in Guam.

Hiking in my “back yard” in Guam.

It wasn’t until I turned 14 that I started to experience crippling anxiety. 

There were a variety of factors—physical and emotional abuse, my parents’ marriage falling apart, money was extremely tight so there was a general lack of resources and constant fear that we were going to lose our house or that there wasn’t going to be any leftovers after dinner to pack for my lunch the next day.


I also went to an academically challenging college prep high school for two years. It wasn’t the work that stressed me out so much as the fear I had of losing my full-ride scholarship and having to go back to homeschooling A.K.A. teaching myself from old textbooks that were sitting on the shelf at home.

A blurry picture of me in music class.

A blurry picture of me in music class.

Fast forward to college, and the anxiety became almost all-consuming. I was working multiple jobs to put myself through school while working incredibly hard to get great grades to keep my scholarship.


At this point I’m 21 years old, and the anxiety had gone unchecked, unmanaged, and worse—unacknowledged. I truly thought that the tight chest, regular nightmares, rapid heart beat and constant fears were something that everyone experienced for the most part. 


Regardless, I didn’t want confirmation that what I was going through wasn’t normal, so I kept it to myself, decided to generically label it all “stress,” and drowned myself in work so that I didn’t have to face it.


Then, the “ignore and keep going” tactic stopped working, and the anxiety started to manifest itself as back pain and migraines so severe that I couldn’t move. I had to miss work and class to stay at home under a blanket and popping Ibuprofen like there was no tomorrow.


Looking back, I didn’t really understand that what I had was an actual medical condition. What I had is something that could have been diagnosed and treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.


I just thought I needed to figure it out. I thought that my hard childhood and my tendency to feel tense about...everything...was something I just had to handle unassisted for the rest of my life.


My back pain became so debilitating that I started tapping into the little money I did have to pay for massages, a chiropractor, a physical therapist, x-rays, and a spine specialist because I was convinced that the stabbing pain I had in my neck was due to nerve damage of some kind.


It wasn’t until I was at my spine specialist appointment and my doctor finished conducting a nerve test that I was told—for the first time in my life—that I might have clinical anxiety.


My doctor told me what I kind of feared—there was no nerve damage and no apparent physical cause for my back pain. She said that she sees what I’m going through a lot—severe anxiety causing physical pain in the body.


Although that wasn’t an official diagnosis by a mental health clinician—it was a start. I was prescribed medication for the pain, and I finally started to understand more of what I was going through, which helped me see a clearer path for what I needed to do and who I needed to see to get some help.


Jump ahead almost five years, I’m 25 with two kids, and I’ve gone through two bouts of postpartum anxiety and depression. I’ve been in therapy for two years, but not on any medication. The migraines, nightmares, and back pain returned with a vengeance. 


Because I was no longer dealing with postpartum anxiety, I guess I didn’t realize that my typical “baseline” anxiety was still a lot for my body to deal with. I was worried, yet again, that I had a pinched nerve and because I had never had an MRI done, I wanted to make sure there was nothing physical once and for all.


Because I was having tingling and numbness, my neurologist was able to get the MRI approved. I anxiously (no surprise there) waited for the results. And guess what? There was nothing! No physical signs of pinched nerves, tumors, or anything that would be causing the pain I was in.


From there, I was told to start going to physical therapy, where I met a chronic pain specialist. He was this super down-to-earth guy who assured me that what I was experiencing was normal for people with anxiety. He said he struggles with anxiety too and his physical manifestation is a burning sensation in his chest and pelvis. He said for everyone it’s different. 


He said there were some neck-strengthening exercises I should do to make my neck muscles stronger since that was the area where the pinching and burning feeling stemmed from, but ultimately, I needed to prioritize managing my anxiety. 


He explained that when our bodies are in states of chronic anxiety, our nerves are firing constantly—always in fight or flight mode as if we’re in constant danger. We had to work on retraining my nervous system to function normally.


Since working with that physical therapist, I have figured out what works for me to keep my anxiety under control. However, this past month I’ve had a major flare up of my anxiety, migraines, and back pain due to being triggered by something significant from my past. 


I want to mention this because you might discover a few things that keep your anxiety under control, but you need to know where you anxiety stems from (mine is almost entirely connected to the abuse in my childhood), and you have to be open to your anxiety management tool box evolving as you do.


For me, when my PTSD was triggered, my usual tactics of getting extra sleep, going out without my kids, meditating, journaling, therapy, and exercise didn’t do anything for me. At first, this was really frustrating. But, then I realized that when my anxiety is spiked due to being in a situation that reminds me of feeling unsafe as I did as a child, I need more support until I work through that trauma completely via EMDR therapy.


I made the decision to try an anti-anxiety medication, and I’m so glad I did. I don’t know how else I would have made it through this month of having so much past trauma brought back up without the additional support of medication.


It’s been a month now, and I take the medication on an as-needed basis. I’ve also been working with my therapist who encouraged me to continue EMDR therapy with a specialist to help me re-process the trauma I went through in addition to my usual tactics of journaling, yoga, meditation, and self-care.


I could sit here and write long descriptions of the benefits of journaling, meditation, believing in a higher power, but odds are, you’ve read a few Instagram posts about those already.


What I wanted to add to the conversation is that I believed that taking medication would be a failure on my part. But, what I’ve finally come to understand is that taking any step to acknowledge what I’ve been through and am going through and love myself enough to ask for help and get support is really what living with mental illness is all about. 


At the end of the day, the techniques you will use to manage your anxiety are going to be different than mine. All I can tell you is to experiment with them all until you find a few that work for you. Be open to things evolving because some things might not work at different times in your life. And know that understanding the cause of your anxiety—knowing where it comes from—is key to figuring out a course of action that will help you to manage your anxiety and start living fully again.


While I’m currently in the process of re-evaluating what works and re-processing some trauma that came up, prior to this, I had several months of having my anxiety managed, and I can tell you that working towards that is well worth all the experimenting, evolving, and hard work it takes to get there.


Looking back on my journey, I wish I could go back to my 14-year-old self and tell her that the constant fear, migraines, and nightmares were not her fault. My anxiety wasn’t due to a lack of praying or believing in a higher power. It wasn’t due to not drinking enough water or whatever else people decided to blame it on.


Unmanaged anxiety is a huge burden that can affect every area of your life, and I want you to know that you don’t have to blame yourself for it or try to carry it alone anymore.


As I’m working this hard time right now, I’m reminding myself that I’ve conquered this before, and I can do it again. So, I hope that sharing this part of my story gives you hope and encourages you to love yourself, honor your struggle, and ask for help. Life is so much lighter when you do.

P.S. Did you like this post? If you want to get inspiring and helpful content to brighten up your inbox, sign up to receive my weekly email here. :)

My Traumatic Birth and Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Story

charlie%27s+birth+photo.jpg

*Snnniiipppp.*

October 1, 2016. My doctor performed an episiotomy on me (where scissors are used to cut the woman “down there” to make it easier to push a baby out).

Even though there was so much noise from my hard breathing and pushing after 23 hours of labor, the hustle and bustle of nurses around me, and the loud baby heart monitor going “beep, beep, beep,” the sound of that scissor practically rang in my ears. 

I stopped mid-contraction and looked at the male, mid 50-year-old doctor, and said with fear in my voice, “What did you do?!”

I had an epidural, so I couldn’t feel the cut, but I heard it. He just stared at me, his face blank. No response. My husband, standing next to me, holding my hand, said, “Why did you cut her?! She didn’t give you permission to do that.”


I felt my blood boiling from rage. I could sense my husband’s rage rising too. I squeezed his hand and said, “We can’t do this now.”

Even the nurses in the room had paused. They were all looking at me and then at my doctor. 

I felt another contraction starting to build. I said, “Another one’s coming!” I inhaled sharply and pushed as hard as I could. I saw the doctor reach in and pull my son, Charlie, out. 

Despite trying to be wrapped up in the moment of holding my son on my chest, and saying out loud, “He’s so beautiful,” I could feel that the air in the room was still so tense from the exchange that happened just minutes before my baby was born. 

I looked down as I laid there holding my baby and saw the doctor, face in an angry grimace, sewing me up without much care. 

Just 30 minutes before I pushed out my baby, my doctor told me, “I have somewhere to be at 7 o’ clock, so you better be able to push this baby out soon.” He said that to me at 5:30pm, and he pulled my baby out of me at 6:45pm.

You see, I was one of those people who tolerated people and experiences that hurt me. After 2+ years of therapy, I’ve learned that this once unconscious habit (yes, it’s a habit) developed as a result of being abused throughout my childhood. 

Being abused as a child by people who were supposed to protect and love me taught me that even people who are supposed to care for me can hurt me and there’s nothing I can do about it.

After a lot of inner work and therapy, I have now learned that that is a LIE. 

Yes, people who are supposed to care for you and protect you CAN hurt you, but YOU DON’T HAVE TO STAY WITH THEM. 

Even though my gut said over and over again, “This doctor doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t seem like he respects you and has your best interests at heart,” I let my scared inner child tell me, “No, Mia. Stay. So what he’s not very kind or considerate. Do you think there’s better out there?” So I stayed, and I ignored my gut, and then got hurt.

The traumatic experience of my birth, on top of the isolation from living far from all my friends, plus not having any close family around, and getting no sleep and struggling to breastfeed, all created the perfect storm that was Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. 

Even when my son did sleep, I couldn’t get my body to calm down and sleep.

I wasn’t used to talking about my feelings. Heck, I didn’t even know how to explain how I felt, so my rage and sadness and anxiety usually came out in the form of having meltdowns about insignificant things. My poor husband didn’t understand what was going on or how to help me.

That year was confusing, lonely, scary. Even on the days when I thought, “I can do this,” I would get showered, diaper bag packed, and ready to go, and then the anxiety would spike, “What if we got in a car accident? What if Charlie started crying and won’t stop while I’m driving? What if Charlie needs to eat when we’re at the store and there’s nowhere to sit and breastfeed? Do I leave my groceries in the middle of the store?”

These questions choked me until I felt paralyzed, so anxious and scared that I’d be unable to move. I would just sit on my living room floor while my breathing felt more and more restricted. There were many days like this.


Flash forward to my son turning one year old. Postpartum depression and anxiety started to lift. My son started sleeping through the night. I started making YouTube videos talking about my mental health journey, which became an amazing outlet for me. I started to feel more like myself, but like a new version—a better, stronger version.


One year later, I gave birth to my second daughter. This better, stronger version of Mia made better decisions. I assured my inner child that I knew what I was doing, and I chose a nurse midwife to deliver my baby in a hospital, and it all felt right and went amazingly well. It felt redemptive in a way to have an amazing birth experience after such a traumatic one.

I felt tired, but whole and happy. But that didn’t last for long.

After my husband went back to work 3 weeks postpartum, I quickly became overwhelmed with taking care of 2 kids, caring for my brother who lives with me (he has Autism and an autoimmune disease), coupled with the lack of sleep, and the difficulty I had to take care of my basic needs, I plummeted hard and fast into Postpartum depression.

My first thought was, “It can’t be postpartum depression because I’ve had it before. I’m better now. I’m more experienced, smarter.”

After weeks of crying, feeling paralyzing rage and overwhelm, and even feeling suicidal, I texted the nurse midwife who delivered my daughter. I told her how I was feeling, and she confirmed that I most likely have Postpartum Depression. 

This started my journey of connecting with Postpartum Support International and eventually getting formally diagnosed, and then starting weekly talk therapy at no cost to me through the Orange County Parent Wellness Program

The first visits were amazingly helpful. My therapist came to my house and was so gentle and kind to me. She listened and reminded me that I am doing a good job. She said, “You might feel like you don’t love your children because of the depression you’re going through, but I can see how much you love them. Look at what you’re doing right now. You’re getting help. Would a mother who didn’t love her children do that?”

I’ve been going to therapy for the last 6 months, and it has been transformative in a way that I cannot fully articulate. But, what I do know is I feel a massive sense of gratitude. It’s so massive that I literally feel this warmth in my chest when I think about how much I’ve changed in just 6 short months. 

Just 6 months ago, I hated being a mother. I thought I made a mistake. I wanted to die or run away. I felt simultaneously unworthy to be my kids’ mother and also angry that I was a mother, followed by feelings of self-hatred for not enjoying what I was told is “the happiest days of my life.” 

I felt like my Postpartum depression was my fault. “Maybe I did something wrong?” I thought. I felt broken and unfixable. 

None of that was true, but do you want to know what is?

Motherhood is hard. Childhood trauma plays a role in our transition to being parents ourselves. That’s not our fault. Your feelings are not your fault. The worst thing you can do is judge yourself and hate yourself when you’re struggling. 

I thought I was unfixable, but in just 6 short months, I’m a new person. I love who I am now. I feel strong and empowered and right where I’m supposed to be. I love my kids, even on the really hard days. I’m still learning to be loving and forgiving to myself, but if I’ve learned anything over the last 6 months it’s to practice self-love, self-care, and self-forgiveness BEFORE I feel ready to. It’s through the actions of self-love, self-care, and self-forgiveness, especially when I don’t feel like showing up for myself, that I learn how to love and be gentle with myself, which then enables me to be loving and gentle with my kids.

So this story is for the mother who feels broken beyond repair. You’re not, girl. You’re a fighter. You’re amazing. You ARE what your kids need. You’re worth getting help. You’re worth fighting for it. Help is out there. Just keep searching and keep fighting for the time and the space to work on you because that strength and healing is going to have a positive ripple effect in your life that will continue on through your kids and beyond.

It starts with you. You’re not on this journey alone. I’m walking it with you, and I want you to know that if I can do it, you can do it too.

P.S. Did you like this post? If you want to receive encouraging and helpful content to brighten up your inbox, sign up to get my weekly email here. :)