The guilt I am ridden with as I write this post is consuming me. To think that my beautiful children that I waited a lifetime to have can sometimes (not always) be the subject of the madness of my anxiety breaks my heart, but it’s true.
I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life, and I knew going into pregnancy that my chances of being diagnosed with a maternal mental illness were higher because of that fact. The only thing I could do was collect resources and support for when, and if, that time came.
And, oh boy, it came.
I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety in September 2011 with the birth of my son. A switch had been flipped and it’s been one that I haven’t been able to fully shut off nearly seven years later. In 2013 after I had our daughter, I was lucky enough to have no signs of PPD or anxiety, but to be honest, I’m not sure if it ever went away from the first time.
Living with anxiety is something that if you’ve never experienced it, there is absolutely no way you can fully understand what it’s like. Watching a close loved one or friend go through it is one thing, but experiencing it in all its horrible glory is quite another. You can explain until you’re blue in the face, but it’s just not the same.
Unfortunately, after journaling and a lot of soul-searching, medication, meditation, therapy and everything in between, there is one constant throughout all of my panic attacks, cold sweats, the elephant sitting on my chest moments and more: my kids.
Before I go any further, I need to emphasize the fact that I love my children. They are everything I’ve ever wanted and prayed for, and I would never ever trade my experience with them for anything.
I write this not as a confession, but possibly as a sign for another mom who might be feeling the same way to know that she’s not alone.
All too often we’re made to think that motherhood has to be a vision of perfection and that straying from that path means you’re doing it wrong. I hate that idea. I feel if we shared more often what we’re ACTUALLY feeling and thinking, maternal mental health would benefit greatly.
I’ve been able to uncover a couple of the things that trigger my anxiety and how they have to do with my kids. Now that I’ve recognized them I can learn to harness them and keep the anxiety at bay.
Things become unpredictable from the moment you find out you’re pregnant. So many thoughts and worries run through your head that you can’t seem to quiet them down. Then the newborn phase comes. When will they sleep? Will they latch on? When will I be able to get some sleep or shower or do whatever I want to do? What if they stop breathing in their sleep? What if I swaddle them wrong? If I give them a pacifier will it cause nipple confusion? The list on this one is positively endless.
Then they become toddlers and start developing their own way of doing things. Sometimes they scream when you give them an orange cup. Sometimes they throw tantrums in the grocery store. Will we ever be able to eat at a restaurant or go ANYWHERE in public again? Why can’t they just be consistent for once!!!
For me, the biggest inconsistency is their eating habits. Will they eat what I put in front of them? Will they ask for seconds? The answer is never the same!
The endless questions constantly streaming through my mind then trigger my anxiety, which leads to more “What if” questions.
If my kid throws a tantrum in public, people are going to think I can’t control my child and think I’m a bad mother.
If I use formula because I’m not producing enough, people are going to think I’m a bad mom because I’m “giving my baby poison.”
If I make her drink from the orange cup, she’s going to grow up with a complex and only date men who wear orange.
Please trust that this list of questions could go on for days … and days … and days. My mind never stops asking questions. I’d have anxiety anyway, but I feel like having two lives to look after shoved it into overdrive big time.
The notion of unpredictability is one that I’m still working on. Repeating the mantra “they’re just kids” works sometimes. Other times I have to lock myself in my closet. I also like to remind myself that while my feelings are heightened due to anxiety, my children are not the only ones who act up in public, and a lot of the issues I had with them as newborns are things that all mothers face.
I will be the first to admit that I am a control freak. I like having things go the way I want them to, but who doesn’t?? Maybe it stems from being an only child or maybe it’s just hardwired in my DNA. Either way, it’s annoying to be this way. It gets in the way of a lot of things and keeps me from living my best life.
In regards to my kids and how it triggers me? The newborn stage is pretty self-explanatory. I like going to sleep when I like to, and the kids just don’t want to freaking sleep. I’m a human cow at their disposal, and they don’t really care about my needs. They poop up the back of their fancy Christmas clothes on the way to the big event. They need me to breastfeed them on the side of the road two hours from home. They need their pacifier put back in their mouths 29 times a night.
All of these things are out. of. my. control.
Now that they are older (five and almost seven), they have their own ideas of how to do things, most of which make my eye twitch and give me the cold sweats. Are they wrong? No. They are just doing things in a way that I would not. You don’t need 33 sheets of toilet paper for one wipe, Reagan. You don’t need to take the pants from the bottom of the pile and leave the drawer open, Colin.
I know these are things that all of us as mothers experience, but when you have anxiety, these situations are intensified. I’m not saying my situation is any worse than any other moms.
I just wish I could parent without anxiety. And if you’re in my boat, I want you to know that you’re not alone.
Do you parent with anxiety?
If so, leave a comment and let’s support one another.