Parenting with anxiety
Updated: Nov 3, 2021
I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression after B. was born. There were massive flashing signs I had both of these things before I was pregnant with her but it wasn't until I had her and could see how these things could eventually impact her life that I went and got help. I had asked for help plenty of times before -- from my parents, from my school nurse, from counsellors at the hospital. Nobody did anything. I didn't do anything. Until I looked at B. and realised I could really fuck her up if I didn't get my shit together. So I went and got my shit taken care of.
I went on medication. I went to counselling a few times. Everything fell back in place. But it's not all sunshine and roses. I still have anxiety over every little thing. I'm still terrified I'll mess up B's life and damage her beyond repair. How is one supposed to parent when they're scared of the world anyway?
Here's what I've learned:
If tracking feedings (or anything baby-centric) down to minute details stresses more than helps stop doing it. I did this when B. was little and it created more stress than peace. I think I wanted some control back after she refused to breastfeed. I was actually pretty laid back when she never latched but I tried to be perfect in other areas and I failed miserably.
Get comfortable with having no control. I have this mantra: if I die, I die. It may sound really screwed up but the basics are -- I can't control anything. So if I die going for a walk, at least I got to do something fun and wasn't trapped in my fear. I try to remember this as a mum too. Obviously, I don't want my child to die but I can't put my fears on her. Let your child go. If something bad happens you can handle it when that eventuates.
Talk through your "what ifs". Answer your worst case scenario. Lots of people have told me to not think the way I do. They say: "what if nothing?" But my mind doesn't work that way. I need to know that if a flying bus poked my eye out I could handle it. I need to know all the possible steps to take.
Be honest. Tell your child you have anxiety. Let them know why you feel a certain way. Let them know none of that is on them. If you have a partner who you can defer to when your anxiety is taking control do that.
Tell your fears to go fuck themselves. I don't actually think that's an insult, come to think of it. So... go tell your fears to never fuck themselves? Oh, I don't know. Whatever. I have learned that I'll always have fleeting thoughts. I can't control them and I can't stop them. I learned to think of them as being a part of me and without them I wouldn't be as fabulous. But I don't have to listen to them. In fact, I refer to my head almost as if it's a bully outside of me. My head is being a dick today. It is not me. I am not mentally ill. So when my head talks to me about death and bombs and whatever the fuck else it talks about I tell it to go fuck itself. I roll my eyes. I pretend it's some random on the street yelling at me that my daughter wasn't wearing pink so how were they to know it was a girl? I can hear it but I don't have to take it in.
Know your limits and communicate them well. I can't be busy outside of the house for more than two days at a time. I need that rest time. I can't have a messy kitchen (that's part of the OCD but it does affect my anxiety) so we make sure the kitchen is clean. Husband knows how to help me when I'm stressing about mess. We try and tackle it together. Trying to ignore my hard limits never worked for me so, now, I acknowledge them, rectify any issues and move on with my day.
Ignore your anxious instincts. If I didn't I'm sure my child would be home schooled. There would be no school camp or after school activities. She wouldn't be allowed to walk home from school with a friend or have sleepovers. I hate all of these things but I love my child more. So I say yes. Everything does not have a meaning. You are anxious about this because you have anxiety. You are not psychic. Do not trust your instincts here. Trust your child more than you trust yourself.
My head is a constant "what if-er". I will always find another what if but I don't have to let them consume me. But what if she's hurt during a sleepover? Then you'll tackle it when it happens. Obviously, I don't want my child to be hurt. Obviously, you don't leave them alone with someone you don't trust. Obviously, gut instincts are around for a reason. But, I can't trust my instincts here. I don't want B. to have to handle anything I've had to deal with in my life but if that were to happen I know we could get through it together.
The best thing I ever did for my anxiety was accept it was a part of me and that it always will be. At first, I tried to set time limits for when it would leave and that was painful and unhelpful. Telling myself that it was around for good and it was a part of the reason I was as amazing as I am really actually helped. Of course, I do things every single day to ensure it doesn't rule my life and, yes, I'd be thrilled if it just went away but, quite honestly, I don't think that's ever going to happen. This is me. I am anxious but I am not anxiety.
You can be a good parent with anxiety. It does not have to rule your or your child's life. But, really, I think the most important thing I did was admit to B. that I was absolutely fucking insane (I say this about myself with nothing about love). This means that we can sit down and I can tell her how I'm feeling about a certain subject and we can work through that together. Doing it this way has also opened up a healthy dialogue on her mental health and how she views the world and I love that.