I’m going to age myself a bit here, but am hoping some of you out there remember Thwomp from Super Mario World. You know, the large, menacing stones typically found in Bowser’s castle at the end of one of the Worlds...
You have to time your move JUST right to avoid being crushed. Sometimes you’d squeak through. Other times, despite all patience, pump-ups, and practice; poor Mario would be crushed. I can still hear the silly piano music that would play as you were relegated back to the beginning of the level; forced to complete the same obstacle course once again. All along, you know Thwomp is waiting for you. You might get so distracted that you succumb to a lesser threat earlier in the level. If you don’t take the time to slow down, breathe, and think; you might end up giving up altogether.
This is what living with anxiety can sometimes be like for me. Except without the cute music and hidden escape doors.
My anxiety has most often presented itself after major life change or challenging personal experiences. While these instances, which I’ll share more about below, are not necessarily unique to me (especially in the time of COVID); the shock of an unexpected Thwomp can easily create a near-constant fear of the future and what MAY happen next. Without the right tools, this fear can be debilitating.
When it’s at its worst, I am always waiting, preparing for, and waiting some more for something to go wrong - waiting for Thwomp to drop. There’s no limit to the disaster scenarios that my mind can create.
I’ve always been an anxious person, and I do believe that some of that anxiety helps make me better at my job (attention to detail, planning for multiple scenarios, back-up plans, etc.). However, when I became a Mom, I realized that those same personality traits could quickly become harmful instead of helpful.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the intense “doom spiraling” my brain initiated early in my maternity leave.
I have two beautiful boys, ages four and one. After both were born I experienced and have sought treatment for postpartum anxiety.
It took me a really long time to recognize it after the birth of my first son. In fact, he was a year old by the time I realized I wasn’t myself. My husband and I had a particularly stressful start to our parenting journey in early 2017. He was laid off from his employer of six years just three weeks before our son was born. That was the first “THWOMP”.
I was too overwhelmed with the experience of being a new Mom and our personal circumstances in the first eight to nine months of my son’s life to notice the decline in mental health. I was in survival mode and it wasn’t until after my husband had returned to work and things became more “normal” that I started to notice a trend of irritability, lack of interest, and my personal specialty - doom spiraling. I knew that was not the life I wanted for myself or my family; so, I started therapy and attended regularly while we lived in Milwaukee. You can read more about that story HERE. But, my journey does not stop there...
In early 2019, despite our best efforts, we were “THWOMPed” again. In the span of less than two hours we found out we were expecting our second child (1-up). Almost immediately after I received some incredibly disappointing news about a growth opportunity at my job (THWOMP). Followed-up by the announcement that my husband would soon be losing his job due to a funding crisis at the start-up where he was employed (THWOMP).
Pregnant and facing unemployment, again. THWOMP. THWOMP. THWOMP.
That two hours of change led to a whirlwind summer. Between April and September 2019 my husband started a new job in a different state; I solo parented our two year old while we sold our house in Wisconsin; we then moved in with my in-laws for 4 months; and I managed to navigate both a house and job search while pregnant (a topic for another post…). Fortunately, I landed in a great position with Xenith and exactly two months after my first day on the job, and one month after we moved into our new home, we welcomed our second son. It felt like the biggest exhale. We finally beat the pesky level that was 2019. We could FINALLY move forward.
Except, Thwomp wasn’t going to let me enjoy the moment and my presumed stability JUST yet…
Once again, after my brain came out of “survival mode”, I felt the anxiety creeping back (sometimes rushing) thanks to a heavy influx of postpartum hormones.
This time, however, I was prepared. When I transitioned my prenatal care to my new provider in Michigan, I shared my mental health history, and they connected with a midwife practice that prioritized behavioral health in the care plan. We preemptively scheduled a mental health check-in appointment three weeks after my due date, and I am so grateful today for that foresight from their team.
When I came in for that three-week check-up, overall, I was doing pretty well. Being a second-time Mom helped to ease some of the shock that comes with a new baby, and because the planner in me knew what to expect, I was prepared as I could be for the day-to-day of the new baby.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the intense “doom spiraling” my brain initiated early in my maternity leave. I spent several hours one night (when every physical part of my body was exhausted) researching fire escape ladders and fire extinguishers. I was convinced our house would burn down and I spent hundreds of dollars buying supplies.
Are fire extinguishers and ladders on the second floor a good idea? Yes. Just not when the constant thought of a devastating fire is preventing you from sleeping during the wee hours of the morning. With a two week old baby, two hours of straight sleep from 1:00 to 3:00 AM is an accomplishment. My anxiety was preventing me from sleeping even that minimal amount.
At one point, I was so convinced we were headed for disaster, that I would unplug the toaster and triple check the burners on our stove every night before bed. After a CRAZY year, things in our life were as good as I thought they could be. Yet, I was constantly waiting, looking, expecting something to go wrong. There had to be a Thwomp.
Take the time to find the methods that help you better manage (or avoid) anxiety, and then don’t be afraid to use them whenever and wherever necessary.
I shared my late night Prime purchases with the midwife during that mental health check-in and she immediately recognized my need for help. First, she referred me to an AMAZING co-working and therapy space for Moms in the Detroit area (I recommend Honey Space for Moms to anyone in Michigan!). I was able to sign-up for a weekly group during my leave and I gained the community I so desperately needed. I also found a new therapist and was able to start rebuilding my mental health toolkit. Which, in hindsight, was an incredibly valuable exercise in the months before 2020.
At that same check-in the midwife also asked if I had ever considered taking an antidepressant for my anxiety. I cringed at the thought. No. Absolutely not. I wasn’t THAT bad. She didn’t push it, but did suggest that we schedule another check-in in January, which was a few weeks before I was scheduled to return to work. We would wait and see how I was feeling after the rush of hormones had subsided and I had re-started therapy.
In January 2020, just a week before I was due to return to work from maternity leave, I went back for my follow-up appointment. Unfortunately, in a way that would take multiple posts to explain, Thwomp had crushed us again (nope - not COVID - not yet). I was struggling and our most recent set back was just proof that all of my anxiety and my mental preparation for the worst case scenario had been justified. It was in that appointment that I agreed to begin taking anti-anxiety medication. Considering the shock the world would experience less than two months later, I am SO grateful I did.
The next few months were not easy for our family, both for COVID and non-COVID related reasons; but, I truly believe that the skills I gained through therapy, boosted by a well-timed prescription, helped me to stay focused, present, and less anxious during some of the darkest days of 2020. Had I not experienced and sought treatment for anxiety prior to the pandemic, I’m not sure that I would have been able to manage the stress of work, parenting, relationships (and the general state of the world) last year. I’m grateful that 2020 was not my first experience with extreme uncertainty and that terrifying feeling of having no control. Both made up much of our everyday life in the three years prior. Because of that, I knew that not every day could be a great one; but, with the right mix of support, medication, tools, and exercise, I could have more good ones than bad.
Today, I am thrilled to share that our family is in a more stable place than we have been in four years. Things are REALLY, REALLY, good. That’s something I hate admitting out loud; both, because I know there are still so many other people struggling, and because my mind tells me that if I admit things are going well, there HAS to be a Thwomp up ahead.
Fortunately, because I’ve learned to prioritize my mental health, I am now less preoccupied with Thwomp; and am doing my best to enjoy these moments when things are a bit more simple. I now know what tools work for me, and I use them.
I consider these tools to be similar to one of the Secret Exits in Super Mario World. Once you know it’s available to you, it’s hard to justify the extra stress of preparing for Thwomp (or my least favorite world, Chocolate Island). Take the time to find the methods that help you better manage (or avoid) anxiety, and then don’t be afraid to use them whenever and wherever necessary. We’re all going to face challenging moments in our lives, and as much as we try, we’re never going to know when there is a Thwomp waiting on the path ahead. However, if we proactively work to acquire the mental health tools that best serve us, we can better handle and manage these difficult events, and not allow the anxiety from them to control our lives.
Abby Jacobs is the Retail & Partnerships Manager at Xenith, where she manages Xenith’s brand and experiential activations across the country; including those with IMG Academy, the Cleveland Browns, the Women’s Football Alliance, the Under Armour All-America Game, Rivals Camp Series, DICK’s Sporting Goods and Academy Sports + Outdoors.
She has extensive experience in partnership marketing, community relations, and event planning in the sports and retail industry. Prior to Xenith she worked as a Community Marketing Manager for DICK’s Sporting Goods and an Experiential Marketing Account Executive at Team One Advertising on the Lexus account.
In 2018, she founded the blog, Sports Biz Mom, which celebrates the stories of Moms leading the way in sports and provides resources and advice to women and families working in the sports industry. She is a proud graduate of the Ohio University Sports Administration program and the University of Nebraska.
Abby lives in the metro Detroit area with her husband, Ben, and two boys, Fraser and Clark. She's also a mentor in theClubhouse and you can connect 1:1 for a call with her here.