Becoming a parent can affect people who live with anxiety in different ways — for one mom, anxiety after children allowed her to see the roots of worried thoughts as her mind's attempt to ensure a safe family.
My anxiety has been with me since I can remember. Wrapped around me like a coat made of static electricity, my anxious state colored nearly ever moment of my life. What if I said the wrong thing and looked stupid in class? What if I tried to play basketball and fell down? What if it started raining? What if it started snowing? What if a serial killer broke into my room at night? What if I couldn’t fall asleep? (Fun Fact: I never, ever fell asleep.)
For years I existed like this, in a heightened state of miserable worry. Not gonna lie – it was sh*tty. And worse? Instead of hating my anxiety, I just hated myself for being so weak. As I reached my 20s I tried to deal with it by drinking a lot of booze, but weirdly that only made my anxiety louder.
Finally as I neared my 30s I’d had enough. I quit drinking and started on an anti-depressant. And with a little work, support from friends, and better self-care, I started to feel better. Happy even. I even thought that I’d beaten my anxiety for good.
After the dust settled on my new sober, happier life I realized that my anxiety was still here with its panicked little whispers. What if you get fired? What if you can’t get pregnant? What if your apartment is filled with cockroaches? (Fun fact: it was.) But I had a new skill to combat my anxiety with: perspective. After 30ish years I knew that some stuff would go badly and some stuff wouldn’t and I was at peace with that. I also came to think of my anxiety as well meaning but annoying co-worker that lived in my head.
“Don’t do that thing!” my anxiety would say. “It could go wrong!”
“Thanks for the suggestion,” I’d answer. “But I’m going to go a different direction.”
Then I became a parent and I gained a whole new appreciation for my anxious thoughts. I identified the worried voice in my head for what it really was: survival skills run rampant.
“Don’t put the baby down on the bed near those blankets!” said my anxiety. “He could smother!”
“Dang, thanks anxiety!” I’d respond woozily, with only two hours of sleep under my belt. “I totally agree.”
“Keep the baby away from that weird dog!” yelled my anxiety. “It looks cute but what if it secretly hates red-headed babies?”
“Huh, I never thought of that,” I’d agree. “I think I’ll choose caution over skritches this time.”
“DON’T LEAVE TO PEE WHEN YOUR BABY HAS A CHUNK OF FOOD IN HIS HAND HE COULD CHOKE IDIOT!” screamed my anxiety.
“First — RUDE — but yes you’re totally right.” I’d say, quickly pulling a 180 and returning to the kitchen.
There were so many things to worry about, but an equal amount of things to rejoice in.
Suddenly, my anxiety was the perfect mother’s helper, jumping in to cut through the exhausted new-mom fog and keeping my baby safe. Instead of trying to freak me out with worst-case scenarios, my anxiety was my bodyguard and royal advisor rolled into one. All I had to do was sit back and listen.
I loved my anxiety!
As my son grew and my daughter joined him, life became more and more happily chaotic. There were so many things to worry about, but an equal amount of things to rejoice in. For every week of stress over Harvey starting school there was the joy that he’d grown so strong and beautiful. For every tense doctor’s appointment about Mabel’s heart murmur was the assurance of a strong and loving family support. For every anxious moment at the playground watching my kids deal with difficult children was the knowledge that they were learning to fight their own battles and grow.
Slowly… cautiously… I allowed happiness to take over as my natural state. I know that I’m lucky. Lucky to have what feels like the perfect family, to have a good job, to have access to anti-depressants, to be sober, to be a writer. But besides all those amazing thing, I also love and accept myself — warts and all — and that truly makes the biggest difference. (Fun fact: It rules.)
And through it all my anxiety has been there with me. No longer a hated flaw or an internal enemy, but a comic sidekick who wrings it’s hands and whispers, “Phaea… I don’t know about this. Do you think this is going to be OK?” And I whisper back, “I honestly don’t know. I’m just happy to be here.”