By Kimberly Zapata
“Can we go the park, Mommy? I want to go to the park.”
I look at the clock. It is 7:37 — 7:37 in the freakin’ morning — but the skies are clear, the weather is warm, the sun is up, and my coffee has been made. In fact, it is already cooling.
“Sure, babe. Why don’t you go to the bathroom, wash your hands, and get dressed.”
“OK,” my daughter squeals, as she runs out of the room toward the toilet. “I hope my friends are there. Mommy,” she yells, “do you think my friends will be there?”
Of course I don’t, because it is 7:37 in the morning, but I respond with one word: “Maybe!” Because who knows, she may not be the only kiddo headed to the playground at the crack of dawn.
However, as she futzes about, trying on tops and attempting to locate a pair of matching socks, I begin to worry. What if her friends are there? What if anyone is there? Because while my daughter is social (very social) and loves playing with old friends and making new ones, I loathe it. I never know what to do or how to act. I rarely know what to say, and the thought of approaching strangers makes me shaky and ill.
My mind starts racing, my stomach starts churning, and my back and shoulders tense. My head pounds.
Why? Because I have depression — depression and anxiety — and while the former affects my ability to keep friends, the latter affects my ability to make them. Anxiety keeps me stuck in an apprehensive, agitated, self-conscious funk.
Of course, to the untrained eye I probably appear “normal.” Hell, I probably appear better than “normal,” I probably seem “good” or “fine” because I have both friends and a social life. Because I hang out and hold it together at a work function or a cocktail party. But it is what you don’t see that matters. It is what you don’t hear that matters…and inside, I am yelling. Inside, I am screaming and shaking. I am struggling to slow my heart and catch my breath.
You see, my anxiety tells me I am not good enough. It makes me believe I am inferior and insignificant. That I am undeserving of love. And my anxiety makes me believe everyone is judging me; everyone is talking about me.
She’s too thin. She’s too fat. Do you see what she is wearing? God, is she talking? Is she still talking? Doesn’t she realize how stupid she sounds? Doesn’t she realize no one cares?
“Crazy,” I know, but this is a conversation I’ve had in my head when talking to other moms on the playground, at my daughter’s dance class, or at her school. It is a conversation I’ve had while talking to family, hanging out with friends, and speaking to colleagues. I’ve even had this conversation while sitting alone in a restaurant.
Logically, I know these thoughts aren’t true. I know these “voices,” fears, and feelings aren’t true. But reason and logic are no match for my mental illness. They are no match for my anxiety.
Ironically, I haven’t always felt this way. When I was younger, I was outgoing and fairly social. I waved to neighbors on our street and greeted strangers in the mall, but sometime between elementary school and middle school, things changed. I changed. Fear and insecurity began to take hold, and my anxiety became oppressive.
I began walking the streets with my head turned down and my Walkman turned up. But I can’t do that now, because, well, Walkman’s aren’t a thing and because I am a mom. As a mom, I must be aware. I must be present and engage with other adults. I must have mom friends … and that scares me. The thought has terrified me since I found out I was pregnant.
So what’s my solution? I mean, my daughter is 3 years old. How am I making it through? Well, if I’m being honest, I’m not. Not really. In fact, I can still count the number of mom friends I have on a single hand. (OK, OK, there are only two.)
But I have found ways to hold it together, keep my cool, and make it through. And whether my futzing and fidgeting strategy is cathartic, whether it’s a good or bad thing that I play with the kids at the park just so I don’t have to talk to the adults, I don’t know. But I am breathing. I’m meditating and medicating and pushing on for my daughter — my outgoing, social, carefree, and confident daughter. And that? That is something.
That is everything.
A version of this story originally appeared on Babble.