While it pains me to admit, I find myself apologizing frequently. I tend to start sentences with, "I'm sorry," and I make amends for things I didn't even do. It's infuriating, but, for the most part, I don't even notice that I'm apologizing. Of course, social conditioning that teaches women to apologize constantly can be blamed, as can a toxic parent and an abusive childhood, but it's clear that I have some work to do. Which is why I'm proud to say there are reasons why I won't apologize for being an anxious mom; reasons that I hold onto when I feel an, "I'm sorry," start to climb up the back of my throat. Because, in the end, I should never have to apologize for my humanity.
I realized I was suffering from postpartum anxiety around the same time I was forced to admit that I was suffering from postpartum depression. A difficult pregnancy, a twin loss at 19 weeks, and a traumatic birth were all contributing factors that made it difficult for me to bond with my baby, hard to leave the house, and impossible to keep intrusive and terrifying thoughts at bay. I would forgo sleep so I could stare at my son's chest, making sure he was still breathing because I was convinced he would randomly stop. I would cancel plans and stay home because, well, the world seemed too terrifying to justify a trip to a friend's house, or even the grocery story. Now that I have a 2-year-old toddler — and since seeking treatment for postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety — I can say that I have a handle on my anxiety. However, that doesn't mean it's "easy" and it doesn't mean that I no longer experience difficult days.
It does mean, however, that I've learned not to apologize for my anxiety. While it's been a battle and while it hasn't always been easy and while it has provided certain people with reasons to doubt my abilities as a mom (or my strength or my fortitude or whatever else people assume) it has made me the mom I am today. It has shaped my parenting, and I would argue I'm a better mother for it. So, with that in mind and because the social stigma surrounding mental illness is bad enough, here are just a few reasons why you won't hear me apologize for my anxiety, anytime soon.
My Feelings Are Valid...
It's nothing short of disheartening to know that some human emotions are constantly validated and labeled as "good," while others are considered "bad" or "wrong," and, in turn, are not validated at all.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion, and while it can (and sometimes does) get out of control and needs to be regulated with medication or therapy or whatever method works for any particular person; it is part of the human condition and one that I won't apologize for or try to rationalize to those who think my anxiety is a sign of weakness. The only person who knows what it's like to live my life, is me.
...And I Have Valid Reasons To Worry
I mean, we're talking about my kid and the world which, you must admit, can be a very scary place. If I don't watch him close enough and something horrible were to happen, I would be blamed (and would probably blame myself). Simultaneously, if I worry "too much," I'm being overprotective or too anxious or a "helicopter parent."
I can't win, so I defer to my own judgment and remind myself that while we aren't living in a post-apocalyptic world just yet, there's plenty to be afraid of and for. There's plenty to worry about, and owning that fear, confronting that fear, and then working through that fear and anxiety is only making me a better mother (and human being, honestly).
My Past Gives Me Good Reason
When you've experienced any number of hardships, your view of the world, life, potential problems and the chances of them befalling you again, changes. If you're a mother and you know what it's like to experience a difficult pregnancy or a pregnancy loss or a traumatic birth or anything life-threatening to either you or your child, it's difficult to "shake it off" because, well, this is your kid you're talking about.
I am acutely and painfully aware that not all goes "according to plan." I know what it's like to lose a baby, to birth a baby that's alive and a baby that isn't, to think about the "worst case scenario" because the "worst case scenario" actually happened. That can (and usually does) change a person, and I won't apologize for the anxiety that's a byproduct of a difficult past that has made me more vigilant, more responsible, and stronger.
My Son Means That Damn Much To Me
The only thing more pointless than telling a person with anxiety to "calm down," is telling a mother with anxiety not to "worry about her kid."
This is my kid, people. I don't expect you to fear for him the way I do because, well, you're not his parent. However, I will never apologize for caring about my child so much that, sometimes, I have to deal with a debilitating case of anxiety. I won't apologizing for being so vigilant that, sometimes, it's difficult to focus on the glass being half full. If people calling me "weak" is the price to pay for making sure my son continues to live a happy, healthy, thriving, and fulfilling life, so be it.
A certain level of anxiety is more than normal, and more than understandable when you have a baby and your heart is living outside of your body. Of course, if you're experiencing intrusive thoughts or you're confined to your house or you're no longer able to function because of your anxiety, you need to speak with a physician and seek the help and treatment you need and deserve.
However, dealing with mental health issues and tending to your mental health, is normal. It's about as normal as going to the doctor when you have a cold or a broken bone. I won't apologize for being a human being.
My Anxiety Can Motivate Me
With help, I have found a way to channel my anxiety in a positive way that motivates and inspires me. It's a hard balance to procure, to be sure, but it's worth the work (work that is done by multiple people, including a counselor, and not just me).
Thanks to my anxiety, I'm more aware of my surroundings, I plan more diligently, I am more open and honest, and I work harder to ensure that I can combat my fears with positive actions. There's no way I'm saying sorry for learning and growing and becoming a better version of myself.
My Anxiety Forces Me To Ask For Help...
I can admit that when you're dealing with anxiety, it can be hard to find the silver lining in a fog of fear and defeat. However, when I found a way to take a step back, I realized that my anxiety has made me reach out and ask for help. I am more open with my partner about my needs — in our relationship, as co-parents, and as a human being — and I'm quick to seek out a mental professional when I think I need to speak with one. I don't hide my anxiety anymore, and that has done wonders for my self care.
...And Has Brought Me Closer To My Partner...
The more I opened up about my anxiety, the closer I felt to my partner. My anxiety, essentially, reminded me that we were a team and I didn't have to deal with feeling consistently anxious all by myself. He was, and is, there. He can help and he can take the necessary steps to combat my anxiety and he can offer the support that a partner should offer.
...And Other Moms Who Feel The Same
It's amazing to be able to speak open and honestly about my postpartum anxiety (and the anxiety that has remained, thanks to motherhood) and know that I'm not alone. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of women suffer from postpartum mood disorders, including postpartum anxiety, and women are twice as likely to develop anxiety than men are.
While I wouldn't wish anxiety on anyone, it is comforting to know that I'm not alone. I have a newfound sense of solidarity amongst mothers because of my anxiety, and I won't be apologizing for that anytime soon.
I Won't Apologize For Being Human
Motherhood hasn't stripped me of my humanity, and feeling scared or anxious is part of being human. Admitting that I need help, is human. Breaking down and speaking out and finding the support I deserve, is human.
I don't have to "suck it up" and hide my anxiety, or apologize for ever experiencing it, because it makes other people feel comfortable or gives other people a better "feeling" about my parenting capabilities. My son will know, always, that we do not and cannot be "perfect." He will know that human beings feel a wide range of emotions, for so many reasons, and he will know that's something no human being should ever apologize for. He will always have a silent permission from his anxious mother to be his unapologetic self. Every scary, sad, unsure, flawed, wonderful, excited, hopeful, anxious version of him, he gets to be. Literally, all of it. No apology necessary.