The Anxious Canary

I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, a special needs advocate, an occupational therapist, a writer, a champion for orphans, and most importantly, a follower of Christ.

And I am mentally ill. 

There is shame accompanying those words and that should not be. As a community we say we need to destigmatize mental illness in this country. The world needs to understand millions of us live with these diseases and we are not mass shooters or serial killers. We are not weak or pathetic, although we feel like it very often. We are simply broken individuals just like you, trying to find what works, how best to live with the hand we’re dealt.

canary_bird_ii_by_taleb83Being a canary is lonely and terrifying. It’s isolating, too. The first time I heard the comparison of those with mental illness to canaries from Glennon Doyle Melton in this post, I felt almost weak in the knees.

Because yes, I’ve got these conditions—anxiety, depression, addiction—and they almost killed me. But they are also my superpowers. I’m the canary in the mine and you need my sensitivity because I can smell toxins in the air that you can’t smell, see trouble you don’t see and sense danger you don’t feel. My sensitivity could save us all. And so instead of letting me fall silent and die — why don’t we work together to clear some of this poison from the air?Why the World Needs the Mentally Different

I also felt empowered. Finally, someone who expresses purpose for my crazy. And on good days, I can be thankful for my sensitivity and recognize that the creativity that pours from these fingers and the passion that oozes out my core is interconnected to the anxiety that often sends my heart racing.

But there are days like today. Many days like today.

All I feel are the nerve endings tingling in my fingers. My thoughts bounce from one thing to another, like my brain can’t find a safe place to land. I woke up with my head literally buzzing (and, yes, I do know what the word literally means and am using it appropriately) like a cell phone was vibrating inside my ear. I am snappy with the children and their incessant questions and general neediness is almost more than I can take.

And the tears. I feel like fifty percent of my communication is accompanied by tears and I am on the verge of them the rest of the time.

It is so much more than simple unhappiness or stress. It is a constant fight with my amygdala to overrule the fight or flight hormones that it insists on flooding into my bloodstream for no apparent reason. It is spending way too much of my concentration and emotional energy to slow my heart rate and regulate my breathing.

It is fighting to keep myself physically present downstairs with the rest of the family until I just can’t any longer and I escape to my room, to my bed, where the waves of failure wash over me as the depression that so often accompanies anxiety takes a deeper hold.

The children wander in throughout the day, wanting me to settle disputes, read a story, offer a snuggle, or tie a shoe and I willingly comply, grateful they don’t shut me out as I do them. But it’s painfully little I am able to give on a day like this and my inadequacies flash in neon above my head. The fact that they don’t question where to find me or why I’m there is most telling of all.

I manage to pull it together on work days, although I’ve ducked into a bathroom on more frequent occasions and my red-rimmed eyes are a telltale sign to my coworkers that all is not well. (As if the increase in swear words weren’t enough to tip them off.) I pray and practice my breathing on the very short commute home, but still retreat to my room most days after brief greetings with the family. Work and retreat. Work and retreat. Repeat.

This is the reduction of life generalized anxiety disorder causes, the toll of mental illness.

The fear and darkness affect all of us. It should not be normal for children to find their mother in her bed in the middle of the day. It’s that realization alone which propelled me to make the call to my doctor for medication. I’d been looking at my condition myopically. I could struggle through. I could deal with the sleepless nights. I could figure out better ways to cope.

But my family shouldn’t have to cope.

It will be weeks before we know if it will lift the fog and slow the fear, but just filling the prescription gave this anxious canary a glimmer of hope.

And that is grace.

I am mentally ill. 

Destigmatization can only happen one voice at a time. I’m shaking off the shame and raising my voice. Will you add yours? (#shameless)

I am pretty sure there is grace for that.

4 thoughts on “The Anxious Canary

  1. Mmm, virtual hug friend! My sister and I were talking about growing up with a mom who struggled with mental illness through our lives, just today. It was hard. But God was good. He taught us compassion and important lessons about handling our own weakness. My mom struggled with depression and at times I even wondered if she was bi-polar. But in the pit God was there. I remember the day she told me she realized Jesus was in her pit with her and wouldn’t leave. I cried, to know that we have a God so tender, and near! My favorite name for Jesus is Emmanuel. Probably because I’m so touched he didn’t stay away from our broken mess but came near and sat down in it with us.

    I was diagnosed with ADHD at 17 and have struggled with anxiety myself. The most important thing I learned from growing up with a depressed mom is to be sure my kids know they’re not responsible for my mental health or happiness. I often felt like I was responsible for my mom’s happiness, and that damaged our relationship for a while. But God did amazing things in her heart and our relationship.

    It’s no small thing to rip the mask off and expose our most tender parts, but honesty is liberating. And it will liberate your kids too! It’s amazing how resilient they are and what better way to display God’s grace than through embracing it in our need! Trusting God will do some surprising, tender things in your relationships and your kid’s hearts!

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