Anxietyville USA

It’s been so touch and go around here that when I wrote this post last week, I decided to focus on my recent experience of depression. I just didn’t have enough time to go into the whole kit and caboodle. The truth is, a couple weeks after starting the Zoloft, I found myself smack dab in the middle of Anxietyville USA. The last time I visited anxiety-town was during that special time in Jo’s 4th/5th month of life that I often refer to as “The Downfall.”

Like then, the anxiety has had a consistent and tight grip. The layer of my body beneath my skin and above my muscles is always tense and on alert, particularly in my arms and face.

Photo by arbyreed

My mind and body feel as though things are always about 13 seconds away from complete catastrophe, even if I’m just strollering baby C up the sidewalk while Jo runs and whollops everything he passes with a stick he found.

Anxiety. A real dream come true, let me tell you.

When it first crept in, I thought it was because I’d had a couple nights of sort of crappy sleep and because baby C started doing the old 40 minute napping routine that Jo started doing just before The Downfall. (Thanks to my sister-in-law, I’ve learned that this whole 40 minute thing is a Thing commonly referred to on blogs and parent forums as “the 45 minute nap intruder.”)

Desperate to reign in the anxiety, I made a plan to get more sleep (Ambien) and to simplify my daily routine (put the cloth diapers on hold and supplement with formula a bit if necessary). Check and check. I was going to nip this in the bud.

I got the sleep, and am still getting it. Our trashcans overflow with disposable diapers. And we did supplement with formula a few times. But my little friend Anxiety is still kicking. Right now as I type, I’ve got that old familiar tight ache in my biceps and wrists, as if to say, “Stay on guard. Be ever vigilant. You might be needed for swaddling at a moment’s notice.”

I’ve started to wonder if the anxiety could be a side effect of the Zoloft. I don’t remember this happening the first time I started taking the stuff, but I was also goggle eyed with exhaustion and depression, and anxiety already had me white-knuckling it through every day. (It was quite a time, let me tell you.) My primary care doc confirmed this for me today–anxiety is a common side effect particularly during the first few weeks on Zoloft. But I’m already 5 weeks in.

Whether it’s a side effect or situational doesn’t really matter, though. Because it’s happening. So what I need to do is figure out how to manage it while its here and hopefully to help it go away.

I made an appointment to talk with a psychiatrist (it only took 26 phone calls to find one who could see me this month and accepts my insurance–such a joy to do that while parenting 2 kids and feeling emotionally unstable) so I can wade more efficiently through my questions about side effects and what the best meds (if any) would be for me, given that I’m breastfeeding.

And I also have had some great revelations about things that calm me down and things that leave me feeling like a frayed live wire.

  1. Trying to connect with the anxiety in my body makes it feel better than trying to wish it away. Thanks to yet another great idea from my miracle therapist, I try to find the time to sit quietly for a couple minutes during the day and touch my arms and face where I feel the coiled up tightness. That physical connection often makes it feel better within seconds, and helps me feel less afraid of it. Yep. That layer of my body feels tight. And here I am. And everything’s okay.
  2. Trying to control things makes it worse. When I nurse baby C in the early morning between 5 and 7, I try and get one or two of his infinite burps out of him and then put him back down to sleep in the co-sleeper. Then I creep over to my side of the bed and lay down. And then I find that I’m barely breathing because I’m trying to disappear any possible sound I might make for fear of waking anyone up. I lay there, in whatever strange position I landed, worried about rustling the covers because I might wake AJ or the baby. I flinch when I hear a blunt thud –is Jo waking up? Is he going to burst in the door with his new helicopter and wake up the baby? Shockingly, being in a state of hyper-awareness and frozen silence does not help me get back to sleep. And on those rare and blessed mornings when everyone else actually sleeps till 7:30, it would be lovely to be sleeping myself or at the very least resting and relaxed in bed. So I’ve trying to breathe a lot more deeply in the morning, and, god forbid, let myself make some noise. I walk around like a normal person who takes up actual space. I even flush the toilet. If I wake someone up, so be it. We’ll figure it out. Cause its not worth the emotional and physical toll it takes to try to make myself so small and silent. And even when I barely breathe and tip toe around, they still wake up sometimes.
  3. Simplicity rules.

I might be am trying to make myself feel better with all these lists. Groping for some sort of structure in the midst of the soupy uncertainty of my days and hours. Here’s the deal–I don’t know if I’m okay. Sometimes I feel brave. Others, I’m scared and defeated. Either way, I have two boys in my care, and I’m still feeding them and smiling at them and trying to find ways to maintain an environment of safety when one of them (take a guess) rages in his little kinetic body and wants nothing more than to hit, kick and throw things at me. At any moment, I can’t say how my seretonin-challenged brain is going to react to all of this, but I do know its flipping out sometimes. I’m just hoping I can stay above water.

10 thoughts on “Anxietyville USA

  1. Oh, my heart goes out to you during this very trying time! I remember exactly how that felt. I love the idea of just taking some time to sit with it and “let it be ok” to have the tension and acknowledge it. You are so well written- I am inspired by your strength albeit right in the middle of it all. That is saying something- I could not have dreamed of being able to get my words down during those times, let alone share them on a blog. How much Zoloft are you taking? I know they need to start you out slow, (so the side effects aren’t so awful like you’re experiencing), but at 6 weeks you should definitely explore the option of a higher dosage if you’re still suffering. For me the side effects of going back in Zoloft were harsh as well- lots of muscle tension (like restless legs- especially at bedtime) and also major impulsive behavior- aka suddenly I just felt the need to pull over and vacuum out my car at the quarter hose machines I saw! Random. Anyway, at least you know you are not alone and that this will definitely pass (both stabilizing on the meds AND getting through the first months of another new baby). Try and get some down time from your husband or a sitter other than just sleeping more and do something you enjoy. This may seem impossible but it will be worth all the effort/expense. And try and do it often! Everyone needs a real break. Most of all the 24/7 heroines we call moms. Sending you warmth and healing, Amanda

    1. I started on 25mg, Amanda, and then went up to 50mg which I hear is a pretty baseline starting dose. It’s been 6 weeks since I started the 25 and 3+ since the 50. I’m happy to say that things are feeling a little better. SO HELPFUL to hear that you too had muscle tension. That’s not exactly like what I’m experiencing but similar. And definitely restless legs too. No impulsive vacuuming yet, but we’ll see…

  2. Reading this makes me think how reasonable it is that you’re feeling this. I don’t know if that helps; but I know the tendency is to find a cause and nail it down and also to try to fix it. The sentence about making 26 phone calls while parenting two and feeling emotionally unstable really grabbed me. I thought, well DUH, of course she’s feeling anxious! And I say that not to belittle it but to remind you that this all, sort of, makes sense. (In case you were wrestling with that familiar feeling of not being allowed to feel what you’re feeling because somehow it means you aren’t good enough, or something.)

    It’s funny, not so funny ha-ha–as you know, I am the one who typically struggles with pretty bad anxiety, but I tend not to be depressed. But I realized this morning how depressed I have been for the past couple of weeks. And it reminded me how anxiety and depression can be like this pendulum swing, you go from one to the other. And the devil you know is easier than the devil you don’t. Etcetera. Anyway, just some thoughts.

  3. Reading this reminds me of the days when my kids were babies and I did everything to keep them and my husband soothed and quiet but forgot about myself. I think it is a common experience. I remember feeling like keeping everyone else taken care of would soothe me, as I felt so rattled trying to operate in such a busy, noisy, chaotic environment. It took me a lot longer to assert myself the way you are, insisting on a place for yourself and I am glad to hear you moving in that direction. I congratulate you and offer one suggestion: I found the guided imagery available at Kaiser’s website ( extremely helpful. I lay in bed listening to these soothing words and breathing deeply. It may be a good tool for you. Hang in there and remember that this period passes and you’ll be on to the next stage hopefully with joy and ease.

    1. Thanks for this, lady. And for the link. I’ll check it out. And naturally, now you know why I haven’t set a date to hang out with you. But things are settling a bit and I’d really love to catch up.

  4. Thinking about you! Your post is moving and incredible. Something that always comes through in your posts of challenge is how thoughtful you are in considering your kids’ needs, in the midst of it. I laud your path and seeking and the great heartfull place you’re coming from. One day at a time. Namaste.

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