Imagine being so plagued by worry at your job and at home that you consider leaving a career you love. That’s what happened to Ryan Fasano, a high school English teacher who shared her story about the difficulty of raising three kids and working full-time with a husband who travels often. Ryan even took on extra responsibilities at work despite all the demands of her life at home. She eventually had to face the reality that her anxiety was out of control, and that’s when she was worried she might have to leave her job.
So many of us are great at looking pulled together on the outside, but we’re struggling to keep it all together on the inside. Ryan is a beautiful mom who looked so relaxed as she happily strolled through a festival with her husband and three kids ages 5, 9 and 12.
“There have been bumps in the road where I didn’t think I could keep teaching just because my mental stability has changed a lot,” she said. “I’m glad I’m a working mom. It is super challenging, as an English teacher grading papers and bringing things home. I’m a team leader. There’s a bunch of other stuff. I don’t think people believe me that I have anxiety issues and a little depression. About once a year I have a big breakdown.
“One of my kids was diagnosed with special needs, so he had an IEP a couple years ago, which I know all about. But sometimes you just can’t hold it all together. You need women that you can trust. You just have to surround yourself with women that are like-minded and will tell you honest advice. We’ll get a glass of wine and Facetime. I just need to see their faces. My husband’s great, but he’s not an educator. And he’s not a woman, and he’s not a mom.”
Ryan said she realized she needed medication to cope with her anxiety after a friend told her: “If the roles were reversed, what would you tell me? And I thought, you’re right! And she says, listen to your own advice because you give the best advice. And I was like, you’re right. I knew what I would tell her, and I wasn’t doing it. Don’t be too prideful or say, I’ll be okay.”
Ryan decided to make an appointment with a doctor that day. “I went and got medication, and I don’t even use it that much. But I feel like it’s a good security blanket for when I do need it, or if it’s in the back of my mind that this is going to be a rough day, or I’m starting to feel the anxiety.
“She knew I had to get medication. I wasn’t okay, and she was very honest with me. I think mental illness is something people don’t talk about. I say it. I don’t think people believe me. And it’s just nice to have a bunch of friends that have been through that road. I’ve chosen to surround myself with women who aren’t judgey and love me for who I am — ups or downs, ugly or pretty, fat or thin, whatever. It’s made an amazing difference in both my home life and my work life. It’s important to me to see those women. It’s important to me to keep those relationships fresh and honest. I couldn’t live without them.”
Ryan admitted that she almost quit her career after having a baby. “Right before I went back I had a meltdown. I was like, I can’t go back. My baby! I can’t go back. And my husband’s like, all your friends are going back. All your friends are off in the summertime. Please try one year; just see how it goes. And I’m very glad I did. I don’t know if I could be a good stay-at-home mom. I like having adult time. I like having my own identity. I think it’s healthy for me to leave home and have my own time just for my own mental stability.”
Now she’s been teaching for 17 years, despite acknowledging that she still faces anxiety from time to time. “I think you just have to be honest. You go through those bumps, and sometimes they’re bad bumps. And if you’re honest with yourself, and you can be honest with your partner like I am, and you have at least a couple friends who you can just vent to or that you know you can go to, it’s so helpful. You’re not crazy. You don’t feel crazy. You don’t feel like everyone’s perfect.
“I try to communicate with all my loved ones when I’m not having good day: Today I can’t really text. Or you want me to make this decision? It’s not happening today. And people appreciate it. I don’t know if they believe me a lot because of the things they say: You look great. You look like you could do everything you want. Oh no, I can’t. I’ll tell you when I can. It’s helpful to me because I just need to survive, and that’s really honestly what my life is — survival mode. I’m surviving, and I know that’s not the best word to use, but I’m surviving. Just this year I was having an anxiety attack, and I had to call my mom. And I knew I was going bananas, and my mom was really good about it.”
But Ryan’s co-worker didn’t understand. “She looks at me and says, you look like you’re so put together, and everything’s great. I just reign my crazy in! I’m very honest because when people aren’t they think — especially on social media — her life’s amazing. It’s not! You take pictures when everything looks nice. You don’t take pictures when your house is trashed, when your kids are fighting, when your laundry’s up to here. You just have to do what you need to do to survive. TV time? If that’s what you guys want. Chips for dinner tonight? Okay, we’ll have chips — especially because my husband is traveling so much.”
Ryan confronted her mental illness through 10 key steps: admitting her struggles, preparing for push back from others, recognizing mental overload, facing her fears, leaning on others from family to friends to co-workers, heeding her own advice, understanding her limitations, refraining from comparing herself to others, sharing her limitations with those in her life, and relaxing her standards from time to time to avoid the mommy guilt so many of us succumb to.
Ryan has accepted that she may have occasional meltdowns, but the people around her know that she will bounce back. And she knows she’s doing her best as a mom and a teacher.
For more inspiration to tackle your own challenges, watch Ryan’s story.