I have anxiety. Not the cutesy, neurotic kind, but the heart-clutching, throat-closing, breath-stopping kind. There's not just one, singular way or reason for how my anxiety affects my parenting, because it affects every little thing. It's difference between worrying about a stain on my skirt and my children living in a post-apocalyptic nightmare. There. That was a trigger. Now I have to take deep breaths and consciously think of something other than figuring out how to make a living in a wrecked wasteland, or else I’ll have a panic attack. I have to mindfully make it go away with skills I learned in hours and hours of therapy. Other people can just move on, but my brain’s like a broken record for tragedy.
I could say it was always this bad, and it was always bad, but never so awful as when I had children. There have been plenty of moments when I'll curl up in bed with my middle son and think, this is how we will lay as the bombs go off. And when my youngest son was born, I worried about his head falling off. I worried that my kids would choke on grapes. I worried that they'd suffocate on their own reflux in the middle of the night. Car crashes. Drownings. When my anxious thoughts threatened to consume me, that's when my doctors upped my meds. And I have take some serious mother’s-little-helper drugs.
Disorder is a big trigger for my anxiety. And when I get anxious about it, I don’t get heart palpitations or panic attacks. I get stressed out and angry.
My kids are 6, 4, and 2. The older ones know how important my medication is. In addition to my anxiety medication, I take meds to keep my treatment-resistant depression in remission, including an anti-psychotic used off-label, an selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), and two other medications, one traditionally used to treat bipolar disorder. One day, about noon, me and the boys were planning to go out to eat before their ukulele lessons. We were sitting at the library, all happily reading, when I realized I forgot to take my medications. “Gotta go, y’all,” I said. “Mama forgot to take her medicine this morning.” The older two shut their books with no complaint and filed to the check-out. They really wanted to stay at the library, but they know how important my medication is. Missing it makes me a wreck later in the day, exhausted and irritable. I have to go to bed at 7 p.m., and the later I take it, the worse the effects. I get cranky and angry. I start to worry irrationally about car crashes and drownings and what if I decided to drive off the bridge right now? I need those meds on time, because the reality of what will happen if I don't is all too terrifying to repeat.
I try to take my medicines as early in the day as possible, because a normal round of childhood can stress me out without chemical help, but when my sons jump on the bed, wrangle over Legos, and kick each other — I may or may not fly into overdrive. “This is a no-yelling day,” my oldest reminds me. “Every day is a no-yelling day,” my middle son chimes in, reminding me that we don't yell in our house in order to keep me (and everyone else) calm. The reminders from my sons are enough to ground me. I stop. “I’m sorry I yelled,” I say. But I remind them that their behaviors really made me angry. I promise to try my best not to tell in the future, so long as they don't do whatever upset me in the first place. They get it, to some degree. The most important part to them is the fact that I've said I'm sorry.
My anxiety comes out in other ways the kids don’t necessary see, but which affects them nonetheless, especially without my meds. I get intrusive thoughts about traffic accidents, disasters, of terrible things enveloping us, hurting them, and swallowing me whole.
Disorder is a big trigger for my anxiety. And when I get anxious about it, I don’t get heart palpitations or panic attacks. I get stressed out and angry. This makes for an incredibly difficult situation with small children. They pick up swords and stuffed animals and goo-goo googles and pieces of string and just… drop them. All over the house. In every possible room. Maybe they do it during the course of play. Or maybe it's over the course of some mad plot to spread all their possessions in an even, knee-deep layer through the whole house. Maybe they do it because they're kids. But it drives me insane, for lack of a better word. I rant. I make them clean. I rave. I threaten to take their toys. They don't understand why I get so angry. They refuse to clean. I get angrier. They don't understand it's a function of my anxiety, or what my anxiety means.
But if I’ve taken my medication, the exchange goes more like this:
I’m able to clean without working myself into a towering rage. I don’t feel like I’m the only one who picks things up in my house; I don’t think we have too many possessions. I don't dream of setting the house on fire and starting over. An extreme version of KonMari, I suppose, but with insurance fraud. Some days the kids watch a lot of TV while I take a lot of time for myself. It's necessary so that I don't get angry at them.
My anxiety comes out in other ways the kids don’t necessary see, but which affects them nonetheless, especially without my meds. I get intrusive thoughts about traffic accidents, disasters, of terrible things enveloping us, hurting them, and swallowing me whole. One day, when I glanced back and saw my youngest son’s tiny Star Wars shoes, I thought, That’s exactly the kind of shoe you see on the ground, in the rain, after a devastating traffic accident. I nearly choked. I changed lanes. I slowed down. I tried to do the technique called “Teflon Mind,” where you let the thought slide over your mind without sticking and becoming an obsession. It eventually worked when I realized I’d forgotten my drugs; the reason I was having horrible things about traffic death in the first place.
These drugs haven't just made me a better, stronger parent. They've made it possible for me to parent, and not just in the gentle parenting way I believe is important. I'm able to make requests without yelling, able to cope with clutter. I can homeschool my son without getting angry when he isn't progressing as I think he should. I can cope with interruptions, like requests to paint from the younger two during reading time. I'm able to enact basic parenting functions.
Anxiety affects nearly aspect of my life. My medication minimizes those effects, particularly those on my children. Probably because my kids are around me the most, they bear the brunt of untreated or unmedicated anxiety. It’s unhealthy for them, difficult to deal with, and confusing in a caregiver. My mood can change instantaneously. It’s hard for me, and for them. But medication has been a godsend for our family. It’s made me a functional, calm caregiver who can demonstrate appropriate coping skills. Our lifestyle may not be conventional, but it'll help my kids grow up to be functional, healthy adults. As a mom, especially as a mom with anxiety, that’s one of my biggest goals.