As a mom who suffers from anxiety, I can tell you firsthand that it can be a challenge to convey how different my concerns are from "normal" parenting concerns. There are things every mom with anxiety wants you to know, though, especially if you want to understand what we're going through a little better and even though it might be hard for us to articulate exactly what we're feeling. For me, anxiety is like that one a**hole that just won't go home at the end of the party, only that a**hole is in your head and really doesn't have anywhere else to go. Just like the person who keeps going, long after things have ended and growing more and more obnoxious, my anxiety just keeps building on itself. What starts out as a manageable worry just grows larger and scarier until, eventually, I feel like I've lost all control of my fear.
I come from a long line of "worriers." Not warriors, my friends. Worriers. It sounds so innocuous when it's put that way, doesn't it? In fact, it's a horrible description for what I go through on a daily basis. It took me studying psychology at a university to finally realize that what I was actually experiencing was anxiety. And, unfortunately, becoming a mom only magnified all of those feelings, something I think a lot of women can relate to.
If there's one thing I've learned from my experiences coping with anxiety as a mom, it's that the world (and especially moms, who are often revered and praised for putting themselves last and sacrificing every single part of who they are as human beings) need more mental health advocates. The stigma we face is real, and needs to be actively pushed back against, which is why mothers suffering from anxiety need you to know the following things:
Telling Us To "Just Relax" Doesn't Help
As I was thinking about all the scenarios I hate hearing people tell me to relax, I realized that I actually use that phrase on other people (especially my children) all the time. Busted. Regardless, it's an offensive phrase that I can't stand hearing, and I'm definitely going to make more an effort to refrain from saying it to anyone else.
Being Told We're Overreacting Only Makes Us Feel Worse
I know I don't need to be actively worried about my kid getting abducted on a class trip. I'm fully aware that the images flashing in my mind of her being tied up in a dark basement somewhere are beyond a normal parenting worry. But intrusive thoughts often go hand in hand with anxiety (and OCD), and it's just another reason to feel like I'm being ridiculous again.
Sometimes, There's No Reason For The Anxiety
One of the worst feelings I've experienced while suffering from anxiety, is the kind of generalized anxiety that seems to have no reason behind it. I can wrap my head around fears regarding my kids's safety, but when I just begin to get more and more anxious, feeling like I want to crawl out of my skin, for no apparent reason? It can be harrowing.
Horrible Images Can Randomly Pop Into Our Heads
These are called intrusive thoughts. Lots of people have them, especially parents, but sometimes it seems a thousand times worse when you're suffering from anxiety. I went on a cruise with my family and in-laws, back when my daughter was just a year old, and I was terrified of my daughter going over the rails. So terrified, in fact, that I continued to have images and scenarios play in my head for months after the cruise actually ended.
We Sometimes Feel Out Of Control, Which Is Really Scary
Again, this isn't all that unusual these days. Our access to news around the country (and world) and increased knowledge events as they're unfolding, has made us hyperaware of the dangers our kids face in this world. When you're battling anxiety, though, it can feel like the danger is imminent, and it's only a matter of time before those we love are suffering as well. It's because of that heightened fight-or-flight response that people with anxiety are constantly living in fear.
We May Be Trying Really Hard To Cope With Our Anxiety, Even If It Doesn't Seem Like It
The truth is, not everything works for everyone, especially when it comes to treating mental illness. Personally, I struggled with mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy, both of which are well-known treatments for anxiety.
Essential Oils Probably Won't "Cure" Our Anxiety
Sorry to pick on those folks, but honestly, some of those essential oil combinations make me want to throw up. I own lots of essential oils, because I've spent some time being a hippie mom, but those oils are generally not the answer.
Telling Us To "Stop Worrying So Much" Has Literally Zero Effect
Thanks for the suggestion, but if I could stop don't you think I would have by now? I'm not worrying because I think it makes me a better mom, I'm worrying for a million different reasons that I'm currently working through with my therapist. Plus, biology.
Taking Medication Doesn't Make Us Weak
The stigma surrounding mental health continues to be pervasive, especially when it comes to moms who are trying to take care of themselves. No, it's not always "big pharma" trying to sell us more pills. Sometimes it's the only way someone can continue to parent in a way that doesn't damage their kids.