“Quit freaking out,” my wife Sarah said, stirring a steaming pot of Annie’s super hippie Mac & Cheese that comes in the recycled paper box. “We’ll be okay. You’re not a terrible dad, and you’re a good husband. The world isn’t ending. We’ll find a way, we always do.” She dropped the spoon when I kept pacing and grabbed me by the shirt, offering a quick squeeze before pushing me away because I was dripping wet and nasty.
I’d just come in the house after walking off an anxiety attack to find our 2-year-old, Luke, sitting on the couch munching Goldfish Crackers and watching Hey Duggee. Meanwhile, our 5-year-old scallywag, Jackson, streamed Halloween videos on our iPad. The two were oblivious to daddy storming in, stuck in a mental state somewhere between “my heart is going to explode” and “should I walk straight into traffic?”
“I never expected it to be this hard,” I said to my family, feeling a like a dripping wax figure in the Texas heat. “I’m sorry I let you and the boys down.”
Over the past few weeks, a whole lot of terrible had rained down upon us. Our dog Gracie kicked the bucket. The next day, I rolled into work clutching my still-warm vegetarian Bahn Mi and was greeted with a pink slip. They didn’t need a writer on staff anymore, so I was back in the unemployment line. By Tuesday afternoon, I was stuck explaining to Sarah how once again I was out of a job. I was most definitely not living my best life.
And then, after applying for a bazillion jobs, I thought I finally had a life-changing one in the bag. I was making plans for a last-minute family trip to Disney World, and ready to finally put in new floors, when whoops, the dreaded “thanks, but no thanks” call came. They said “I’d get bored with the job,” one that would have dramatically changed our lives ⏤ the pay was insane.
I walked out of my home office with that news and found Sarah stirring all of the little orange powdered chunks out of the cheese. “I gotta get out of here or I’m gonna explode,” I told her, and she looked at me and sighed. “I didn’t get that job,” I barely squeaked out, then slipped on my knock-off Ray Bans, slid my feet into my Vans, and split. Sorry offspring, but Mickey, Buzz and Woody ain’t in our immediate future.
Everything bubbled up inside. All of the terrible things I feel about myself and my place in the world came roaring back. Despite trying my hardest to be a competent father and a good husband, I have to live every day with severe anxiety and some depression sprinkled in for good measure. Anxiety and me, we’re locked in a knife fight. One of us might catch a lick and win a round, but the battle never stops. There are hot flashes, GERD, panic attacks, bounding pulse, and major mood swings. I’m a joy.
While the kids have no idea daddy has a few screws loose, Sarah takes the heat. I would fight a ravenous Siberian tiger for my wife. I adore her. I am not my anxiety. But I get moody and never say I’m sorry fast enough. In my head, I’m processing how I was just an asshole and figuring it out how I can make it up. I want to apologize, but for some reason, I can’t. I know I’ve hit the wife lottery jackpot ⏤ my wife is a badass nurse who saves lives every day ⏤ but the struggle is real.
Once my anxiety has peaked, and I’m coming back to my right mind, I focus on how Sarah is a tireless mother, an immovable partner, a woman who after seven years, a house note, a dead dog, and a 2001 Mazda Protege that barely runs, still makes my heart thunder when I see her come in for a kiss. On my walk back to our house that evening, my mind kept returning to thoughts about how I don’t want us to struggle. I want her to look at our bank account and not worry about whether we should skip our fancy night out. I fantasy shop for things all the time. I want her to be able to buy stuff she loves, like cute rockabilly dresses. But the reality is she’s stuck with a TV that’s hard to watch in the dark because it has a weird blue streak running across it.
After washing the nasty off with a cold shower, I came back to the kitchen to find Sarah taking bites from a small bowl of leftover macaroni. “I believe in you,” she said, with cheese-soaked noodles perched on the tines of her fork. “I always have. And I always will.” I listened to her voice, stern, but ultimately loving. Living with severe anxiety sucks, but we’re here for our boys, and we love each other ⏤ even if Sarah sometimes feels like she wants to kill me. Thankfully, she’s more level-headed. But, if there’s one truth I do know it’s this: for all of my ticks and flaws, there’s no one I’d rather silently freak out in bed next to than Sarah, Siberian tiger and all.
Robert Dean is a father of two and writer living in Austin, TX. He’s currently shopping his newest novel, A Hard Roll. He likes ice cream and koalas.