A recent spring break trip sent me home with a souvenir of lessons about my anxiety and depression

A few months ago, I made my first video for my Facebook page about my struggle with anxiety and depression. I recorded it multiple times because making a video gave me anxiety (it still does!). The irony wasn’t lost on me. But that video got a decent response from folks who were glad I shared. That was my first indication that I’m not alone and sharing about my anxiety and depression may make me anxious and vulnerable, but it can help other people.

Since then, I’ve shared a few posts about anxiety and fear here on the blog like what a dog taught me about anxiety. I have a guest post about anxiety coming soon on The Mindful Mom Blographer. The proverbial cat is clearly out of the bag about my struggles with anxiety and depression.

Honestly, for years I just thought this is how I’m wired. I figured it was normal to have these thoughts and concerns or, at the very least, normal for me. I didn’t realize until more recently that the stuff going on in my head has a name: anxiety disorder. Knowing it’s an actual issue doesn’t really change anything, but does give me perspective. I can stop beating myself up so much for struggling with these thoughts. I can stop feeling like a huge failure when they win.

And all of this struck me yet again during our spring break trip last week to Florida for a visit to Disney World and Universal Florida. But it didn’t strike me in the way you might expect. Yes, I had some worries about the trip. That was to be expected. Yes, I thought a few times about how sad the story would be if on my kids’ first flight on the way to Disney World of all places our plane crashed and we all died. I pushed that from my head and didn’t voice those concerns to anyone else. Yes, I worried about losing track of the kids in the crowd just like any other parent. But, I probably focused on it a bit more than I needed to. Yes, I fretted about my son falling down the long staircase we were waiting on to board the Hogwarts Express, even though I was right behind him to catch him — or at least break his fall.

However, those things weren’t what I learned most about my anxiety. Those were normal-for-me things that I expected. And I’ve told you before how I don’t want to live life in fear of getting more hurt while doing something out of my comfort zone. My health issues of fibromyalgia and interstitial cystitis have caused me to be paranoid to do anything out of the ordinary and make my pain worse. But I knew that going into the trip. I did my best to be practical and realistic yet also not miss out on making memories with my kids.

What I learned, though, was how much anxiety’s good friend, depression, was hanging out with me. This past year or so, I would have told you that my struggle with depression was in a good place and I’m doing well. It turns out that may not be completely true. And this is where I’m going to get incredibly honest and vulnerable. I learned on my trip that I’ve been living life like I don’t have hope of the future. I’ve been living like maybe I’ll live another 10 years or so at most.

I don’t consciously think that way. In fact, having children who are 6 and 9, I am terrified I won’t live long enough to see them grown, which I desperately want. But, I haven’t necessarily been living like that is my desire. I’ve been beaten down and focusing more on getting through the present than thinking about what I want for my future.

Maybe it was the timing of the trip combined with a visit the week before to a new fibromyalgia doctor who has given me a sliver of hope that maybe I don’t have to feel like this all the time and can be proactive. (I literally got choked up in her office when she told me she thinks she can get me feeling better with tweaking my medicine and having me start physical therapy.) Maybe it was combined also with her talking to me about my weight. Maybe it was combined with realizing that my current weight is the highest it’s ever been aside from when I was pregnant. And maybe it was seeing myself — ALL of myself — in so many photos and reflections throughout the theme parks.

But for the first time in a few years, I felt like I got a good look at myself. I saw a woman about to turn 40 who stopped caring about herself. You might not know it from looking at me and seeing my face with makeup, my hair styled and my clothes halfway decent. But if you looked on the inside, you’d see a woman who didn’t think it mattered what she ate or whether she exercised, because everything was always going to hurt and there was no hope of it feeling better. On my inside, you’d see someone who had not pushed herself or tried to do better for herself because she really didn’t think she was worth it. You’d see someone who was so mad at her body and the multiple ways it has betrayed her these past few years that she didn’t really care what happened to it.

By the end of the trip, all of these things were churning through my head. When I put on my swimsuit to go swimming with the kids on our final full day in Florida, I knew it was time to live differently. My kids are now old enough that we can go and do things like theme parks and travel. I don’t have a grand desire to travel all the time; I’m a homebody. But this trip gave me hope that we can travel sometimes. It gave me hope and joy to watch my kids as they saw and experienced new things. I want to offer that to them. I want to find a way for us to take a big trip every couple of years.

I can’t guarantee that I will always be physically up to walking around in a theme park all day. I managed it this time, but barely. By the end of each day, I was hobbling out to the car with aching hips. But, I’ve realized I can actually do my best to feel well. I can try. And that is how I know that my good friend depression is being pushed away. Because now I feel more hopeful and purposeful moving forward. I’ve realize that turning 40 in May isn’t all that old. I realize that maybe I don’t have to just accept that I’m old and everything hurts. Maybe there is something I can do.

Don’t get me wrong. I am also realistic. I know that I have these chronic pain issues, and they aren’t going to go away. My body will never be pain free. But, maybe it can be better. At the very least, I can make an effort to be in the best health I can be in so that I can have adventures with my kids. I want to be able to do more than just take care of them, which was my goal and desire for a few years when that was a struggle. Now that I’ve attained that goal, it’s time to get to work. It’s time to stop listening to the voice in my head that tells me I’m not worth it and I will never get better no matter what I do. It’s time to try. Just try. Maybe my quality of life can be even better. And maybe it won’t get better, but I’ll at least know I’ve done everything I can.

That hope of maybe feeling better is what gets to me most. It’s why I choked up in my new doctor’s office. The doctor viewed me as a woman who was struggling with pain and being out of shape. I viewed me as a woman who is feeling the best she has in a couple of years. Both pictures are accurate, though. While I am feeling the best I have in a couple of years, I am now seeing there is hope that it could be better.

I wish I could say that having hope and joy always win over anxiety and depression. They don’t. I trust God. I cling to Him. I fall at His feet. And I have to do it over and over again, because the struggle is very real. I take medicine to help me manage. I’ve learned tricks and techniques to help myself with my anxiety and depression. But they are always lurking in the background. They are waiting to get me down. Many times I let them. But after last week, I feel a renewed desire to fight back. I feel a renewed desire to be proactive and not settle.

I want to do it for myself, but I want to do it for my children even more. They deserve a mom who can fearlessly adventure with them. I won’t always be that mom, but for their sake and mine, I need to move forward and really try.

About the Author: Stacey A. Shannon

Stacey A. Shannon is a freelance journalist and blogger who has been published internationally. She's also a Christian, a wife and a mom of two school-aged children. She started Families with Grace in 2019 to encourage Christian moms as they create homes filled with grace, love and faith.

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