I’m sure this is something plenty of us can relate to: Your kids are misbehaving. Maybe the first 10 times, you calmly tell them over and over again to stop. But your frustration builds and builds, and finally, you explode — and then you immediately crash into remorse and regret. There are countless funny memes about this exact situation floating around on Facebook. Heck, I’ve shared them. And I made excuses, even as my anger grew and got harder and harder to control.
I found myself blowing up at my kids more. I was constantly irritated, frustrated, stressed out. Before I could even think about it, I would find myself yelling. Sometimes, I would think to myself that my kids would be better off if I just wasn’t here. I stopped feeling happy. Instead, I felt anxious all the time. It was like there was a ball of stress, tight and angry, right in the middle of my chest that never went away. Even when I wasn’t with my kids, I still felt the same way. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t in a stressful environment. It didn’t matter if I was happy or having fun. That little ball of stress was always there. And I found myself getting mad at my husband for the tiniest things, too, upset because I felt disrespected or like I wasn’t enough of a priority to him.
Eventually, I felt like my anger was out of control. It’s not that I was abusive, violent or even mean. It wasn’t that I was yelling every day. It was that it became something I felt I couldn’t control. And I knew I needed to get help. That was a big realization, but then I there was another problem. I felt paralyzed with fear. I was terrified to actually go and talk to a doctor about it. What if they laughed off my problems? What if they overreacted and thought I was a terrible mother? I kept coming up with a million reasons to put off going to get help. Until finally, I did. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew this: I was tired of being the angry mom. I was tired of always feeling anxious. I was tired of the utter inability to just be happy.
I sat, very timidly, in my doctor’s office, heart pounding a mile a minute. We went over the wellness exam, and I could tell the doctor was about to begin wrapping up the visit, asking if there was anything else I was having trouble with. I forced myself to meekly tell her how I had been feeling, and contrary to what I expected, she didn’t shame me, or criticize me, or judge me. Instead, she reassured me, told me I was doing the right thing, applauded me for being willing to ask for help, gave me tissues when I cried. It was a huge weight off of my shoulders. She wrote me a prescription for an SSRI, gave me a referral to a therapist, and told me to follow up with her in a month. It wasn’t until I got into the car that I looked at the referral she wrote for the therapist. Her diagnoses? Generalized anxiety disorder and depression.
I wasn’t surprised by the diagnosis of anxiety. I felt it, every single day. I expected that. What floored me was the diagnosis of depression. Depression? I knew I felt off, but how I felt and acted didn’t square with the picture I had of depression in my mind. Friends had described feelings of apathy and nothingness, a lack of energy, sadness, hopelessness. I didn’t feel any of those things. But it turns out that anger is a little-known symptom of depression, something I never would have considered on my own. Anger and irritability can be normal sometimes, but when you have problems controlling it, the problem may not just be that you need help with anger management.
Since starting medication — in my case, Lexapro — I’m glad to report that my anger has diminished significantly. It was actually a bit startling, how quickly I responded. The anxiety hasn’t lessened much, but I am yelling at my kids so much less. I’m able to stay calm more. And sometimes, I even feel happy. Imagine that!
There are still a lot of things for me to work through. One of the biggest goals I have in seeking help is that I want to break the cycle from my childhood. I grew up with parents who yelled with anger being a constant emotion we had to hide from. I don’t want my children to grow up the same way or look back on their childhood and remember a mom who was always angry, a mom they had to tiptoe around or be afraid of. I’m also struggling a lot with figuring out what is real and what’s not; when I’m flipping out over something, is the situation as bad as I think it is, or if I’m justified in being angry, or if it’s just my depressed brain lying to me. I look back at things I’ve been upset about and question all of it. It’s beyond frustrating to now not know what is real and what is not — but that’s what therapy will, hopefully, help me navigate.
Mental health stigma is still pervasive, something I’ve acknowledged myself, and yet when you’re the one suddenly having to face the reality that your mental health is crumbling around you, the stigma becomes a lot more real. I was so scared to tell people about it, but I forced myself to, because it doesn’t help me or anyone else to keep quiet and continue to perpetuate the stigma surrounding depression and anxiety. And as a mom especially, I have a responsibility to speak up, for the sake of my kids and for the sake of other moms out there. How many other moms are struggling like I have been? How many other moms have no idea that it’s actually not normal or okay to feel like this? We don’t have to suffer in silence. There is help available, and we owe it to ourselves, and to our families, to take it.
For more information, and to get help, visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.