Giving Mental Illness a Voice
The Anxious Brain
Brandon and I have been married for over 21 years, and during those 21 years, as you can imagine, just like in any marriage, we have faced our share of challenges and struggles. We hadn’t know each other very long when we got married (we met in July and got married the end of December), so as you can imagine we really didn’t know a lot about each other at that point…other than we were in love.
Over the years, as we have learned more and more about each other (not all of it good), we have found each other’s weaknesses, flaws, vulnerabilities as well as our strengths! For me, fully opening up and being vulnerable has been a constant struggle but one that I work on all the time. I have come to realize that when I am vulnerable it creates more safety in our relationship, not less.
About 2 1/2 years ago Brandon was experiencing some symptoms that took him to see a Doctor for some tests, which then led to a phone call around 6pm. one fateful Tuesday night. The Medical Assistant very “matter of factly” told Brandon that they had found cancer in his prostate. We didn’t know what that meant, other than the word cancer was said. Our appointment with the Doctor wasn’t until Friday, and it was at that point we realized what a major part of our lives anxiety and depression were!
For 3 days it was almost impossible to function. Brandon was paralyzed with fear, while I immediately went into “take care of everything” mode. We finally made it to the Doctor’s appointment and got even more scary news. The cancer was an aggressive form of cancer and his numbers were really high. The Doctor recommended surgery as soon as possible, which we scheduled. Over the coming weeks prior to the surgery, we did a lot of research wanting to make sure it was the “right” thing to do. We met with a multitude of Doctors, all of who recommended whatever service they were specialists in. If they were a surgeon, they recommended surgery. If they were a Radiation Oncologist, then they recommended radiation. We had no idea what do to. Again, more anxiety. Finally, we found a surgeon that recommended something that was NOT surgery, and it just felt right. So we went with that.
After months of treatments, fear of the unknown, an emotional rollercoaster, Brandon finally finished treatment. I heaved a huge sigh of relief. I had never felt any doubt that he would be OK, but still, the relief it was over was huge! I though we were on the road to going “back to normal”, but little did I know…
We had a checkup scheduled for 3 months after the end of treatment, which created severe anxiety in Brandon – the “not knowing” of whether or not the cancer was gone. Fortunately, the appointment went really well, and we got amazing news that the cancer WAS gone! Again, I thought we were on the road to normalcy again. While there were definitely days where everything felt great, there were more days where anxiety was fully in control.
Here’s the thing about anxiety. It’s sneaky. It sometimes appears as if it’s something else. It gets your brain over-thinking and obsessing before you even really know what is happening. And that’s what I saw. I saw Brandon functioning but so fearful of what could be, that we was constantly anxious. I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea how to be a support to Brandon without wishing the anxiety would just GO AWAY! It was messing with the life I thought we should have. It was taking Brandon away from me. It was not allowing us to enjoy the little things.
Here’s the thing that I love the most, and the thing I think Brandon is most proud of…Brandon immediately set to work on himself. He sought out. coaches, body workers, energy workers, enrolled in programs, and committed himself to learning about how he could work through the trauma that was showing up whenever he was experiencing the anxiety. He worked on still being present and there for me and our boys, and because he was working with people, I started to learn how I could show up for him in he best way as well!
One of the things we have realized is that the anxiety is probably never going to go away, but that’s OK. In fact, we have learned how to use it so we can help others like our children, in our business and with our clients. The problem with wanting anxiety to just go away is that when we are focused on that, we are judging ourselves for having the thoughts and feelings that go along with the anxiety, instead of giving ourselves the thing we need the most…acceptance and grace! I truly had no idea that anxiety could wreak havoc in lives like it can, and I think that reason is that for so many years Brandon didn’t want to share the fact that he was experiencing anxiety because he felt ashamed of it, he thought it meant he was weak and didn’t want me to see that. It wasn’t until he couldn’t work through it by himself that he finally let me see him in his weakest, most vulnerable moments, because honestly, it was because of those moments that our relationship became closer and more open!
There is so much stigma around mental illness, and the feelings that go with it that so many people don’t talk to those they love about how they are feeling. For someone that does not experience anxiety (or at least not on a heightened level), I can tell you I WANT to be there for Brandon and my boys (a few of them experience symptoms of anxiety)! We have created a space in our home where we have open conversations about anxiety. About the different levels of trauma, and how sometimes the only way to rebalance ourselves is by asking for help. But the safety and the conversation has to be before the trauma or anxiety.
HAVE “SAFE” CONVERSATIONS ABOUT THE 4 LEVELS OF TRAUMA
So how do you do that? How do you create the safety? First things first, having a clear understanding and recognizing when someone is “offline” is key. I am pretty sure our kids have rolled their eyes when we’ve talked to them about certain things, until there comes a time that they need what we were talking to them about. For example, the 4 levels of trauma, our kids know what they are, and when they need help to get back “online” again. When I say offline and online – I am talking about when we are in the rational part of our brain or if we are letting our amygdala control us or not. The amygdala is responsible for our fight, flight or freeze part of our brain, and it can cause us to be highly irrational, completely shut down or run away from a situation!
If you are someone that experiences anxiety or you are just looking for a greater awareness so you can help and be a support someone you love or someone you work with…you should plan on attending our 1 day virtual event May 13th! it will give you the tools you need and walk you through exercises so you have a greater awareness around mental illness. After all, if we want to give mental illness a voice, we need to understand it and not be afraid to talk about it!
Click HERE to find out more now!