I suffer from anxiety.
Severe, crippling, life-changing level anxiety. Anxiety that handily turns small trivial things into hugely significant things. Pair this with panic attacks, add your nightly dose of insomnia, sprinkle in some body image issues, and there you have it: a snapshot of my daily struggle. I say daily because these issues, anxiety in particular, are things I face the minute I wake up each day until I lay down in my bed every night. Sometimes even sleep doesn’t offer much of a reprieve. They are things I carry with me everywhere I go; and they are things I will always be continuing to learn how to cope with. (And I say my struggle because everyone else’s won’t look like mine. I do not claim to speak on behalf of all people who have anxiety or depression or any other mental illness. I can only share my own personal experience.)
At best, anxiety is inconvenient. As a parent, anxiety is nothing short of terrifying.
When I found out I was pregnant one of my first thoughts was “What if I pass my anxiety to my kid?” My entire pregnancy was spent worrying about how to avoid raising an anxiety ridden child. Of course now, almost 3 years later, I can see the irony. But it’s still a big concern. I still suffer from panic attacks, and a lot of them are parenting-related. I spent the first year and a half of Little Man’s life as a SAHM, which meant I was with Little Man at least 12-14 hours a day. That’s 12-14 hours with a groping, hitting, pinching, crying, screaming, whining, needy, tiny human. Yes, there are good things sprinkled in there too, especially now that Little Man is becoming so independent and is able to actually communicate. But as soon as he became more aware of his surroundings, he started recognizing when I left the room which often sparked a mini meltdown. Sometimes I would swear he knew when I was thinking about leaving the room. For someone who is naturally introverted and has anxiety, that level of neediness can be extremely taxing.
I realize that this is dangerous territory.
In our society it’s still not totally okay to admit that I am more than just a mom and have other actual needs in addition to my motherly ones. It’s certainly not okay to admit that sometimes I struggle with parenting due to a mental illness that I have been fighting to overcome for the past six years. Because in addition to the bizarre stigma attached to discussing mental health, there is something taboo about a less-than-perfect mother. There is still an overwhelming amount of pressure to be a “good” mom; and in today’s terms, that usually presents itself as an all-organic, crunchy-granola, well-balanced woman whose children are totally zen and who somehow finds time to stay svelte and do her hair and makeup every day.
The reality, of course, is that very few mothers have the time, budget, or sanity to meet these ridiculous standards. Sure, I would love to be the SuperMom whose house is spotless and meals are always homemade and body looks fantastic because I go to yoga and pilates every day. And it’s great to want those things and work towards them. But to have those expectations looming over my head 24/7 is not only intimidating as a parent, it makes me feel like less of a person when I can’t meet those expectations. Enter, anxiety.
So how do I, as a mom with a mental illness, keep myself from getting bogged down by that awful feeling of not measuring up?
That’s a tough question. Lately the best coping mechanism for me personally has been making myself a daily to-do list with the goal of only accomplishing one task. This helps soothe my task-oriented nature while keeping me from becoming overwhelmed when life inevitably gets in the way. Just do one thing. Anything else is a bonus. It doesn’t have to be something huge….there have been days where I congratulate myself on taking Little Man for a 30 minute walk. Because parenting is hard, and sometimes making that 30 minute walk happen seems impossible. And if I get to it and suddenly feel anxious for whatever reason (I don’t like how I look in my workout gear, it’s too hot outside, what if I run into a stranger who wants to talk to me, etc.), I can skip it and move on down the list.
Sometimes I just have to be okay with saying “I’ll get to it tomorrow”.
As long as I can do just one thing on that list, I am one step closer to conquering my anxiety and living a better life. And hey, it may not be a perfect system, but you have to do what works for you. Self care is important for everyone, especially for parents who have a tiny human depending on them. So inhale, exhale, and keep it simple.
One thing, one day at a time.