The Inner Monologue of a Mom With Anxiety

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It’s 6:30 a.m. I stumble into my son’s room to wake him up. I rub his back as he awakes, and he tells me he feels bad: his stomach hurts, he has a headache. He complained of the same thing last night and yesterday morning.

“You’re just over-tired, sweetie, you haven’t been sleeping well,” I say out loud.

“He’s probably got leukemia and is going to die,” I say in my head, as my stomach contracts and twists. “You’ll probably have to take him out of state for treatment, and how are you going to pay the mortgage if you can’t work? You can’t even afford a plane ticket right now. You’re such a poor money manager. You’ll have to borrow money from someone. Why can’t you stick to a budget? If people really knew how disorganized and useless you were, they would be amazed. You’ve got them all fooled.”

“Ok, time to get up and get dressed,” I say out loud.

“He’ll probably be dead by Christmas,” I say in my head as my stomach gives several more twists. “How will you even function if he dies? You could just give the house back to the bank, and go live in your mom’s basement. But what about the dogs? She’s got cats and her backyard isn’t fenced, and how would I afford to get them there anyway? It’s 3,000 miles. I guess we could drive but then there is the cost of hotels and gas and food. And our passports are out of date so I’m not even sure we could get across the border. You’d better look at the budget when you get to work and figure out when we can spare $400 to renew those. You’d better get on that NOW, what if you have to rush back home if Mom gets sick?”

In the shower, I do the meditative breathing techniques and visualize my anxieties running down the drain, as my therapist has taught me. I consciously relax my muscles, and when the intrusive thoughts start up again, chiding me for hitting the snooze button too many times and insinuating I’ll be late and lose my job and lose the house, I address them directly:

“Really? That’s all you’ve got this morning? We talked about this all yesterday, so you’ll have to do better than that,” I say out loud to myself.

“But seriously, you’re only a few paychecks away from losing it all,” I say in my head as I dry off. “And what if one of the dogs gets sick or eats something they shouldn’t and needs to go to the vet? Ferguson is 13! That’s old, he’s probably going to get sick and die soon and you won’t be able to afford the vet bill. You probably shouldn’t even have pets, since you are so irresponsible. If you tried to adopt a dog or cat from the shelter right now they would consider you a bad candidate. If people really knew how disorganized and useless you were, they would be amazed. You’ve got them all fooled.”

“Again with that?” I say out loud to myself. “Stop!”

Yelling at my anxiety usually quiets it down for a while so I can finish the morning routine of making lunches, feeding dogs and getting ready for work. But it also feels pretty silly, especially when my son knocks on the bathroom door to ask who I am talking to.

I tell him: “The mean voices in my head.”

I am as honest as I can be with my son about my anxiety disorder — without scaring him. I try to normalize mental illness as much as possible in our house, being open with him about the challenges and thanking him for being supportive. It helps if he knows when Mom might be edgy or distracted or (and I cringe at this), might be more likely to snap at him. I want him to understand my condition. He lives with it, too, and, given his DNA, there’s a good chance he will struggle with anxiety or depression — or both — at some point during his life.

As I collect my bag and coat and hit the remote start on my keychain, the thoughts start up again:

“The car felt a bit funny when I braked yesterday. Is the alignment off? You should probably have it checked, or you could over-correct on ice and skid off the road. Then you’d be late for work and the car would be wrecked, and you’d have to get a new one and who is going to loan you money, you loser. That’s OK, you’ll probably have to leave work early to pick up your sick kid who shouldn’t even be going to school, and that will irritate your boss and you’ll get written up and they will see how useless you really are. You shouldn’t have even had a child. You’re passing this on to him and sentencing him to a life with nasty voices in his head too. Is this stomachache a sign of early anxiety? He was complaining his leg was sore last night. Is he growing? Great, how will I afford new pants and shoes again so soon? Or did he play really hard at school yesterday? Or is it bone cancer?”

“Get your coat on, sweetie, it’s time to go,” I say out loud.

And the three of us – me, my son and my anxiety disorder not otherwise specified – step outside, to start another day navigating the world with a chorus of doom on repeating loop in my head.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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22 Phrases for When Your Child's Anxiety Is Making You Anxious

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As parents, we have a natural tendency to reach out to our children when they are anxious, scared or stressed. What none of us can anticipate is how our children’s anxiety can make us feel anxious, helpless, hopeless, angry or desperate. The next time your child is ridden with anxiety, repeat any of these phrases. You will be surprised that your child will likely mirror your reaction.

1. “This too shall pass.”

Like all emotions, anxiety will pass. Our bodies cannot physiologically maintain the heightened level of awareness caused by anxiety for very long. Chances are that waiting 10 to 15 minutes will result in a change in anxiety levels.

2. “Anxiety serves a purpose.”

Oftentimes we treat anxiety like there is something wrong with our child. In fact, anxiety serves an important biological function to keep us safe. Teaching your child to differentiate between anxiety that will help and anxiety that will hinder her/him is a valuable life skill.

3. “Breathe.”

Deep breathing actually reverses the body’s stress response. When we are anxious, we tend to take shallow breaths. Taking three conscious, deep breaths will alleviate much of our anxiety.

4. “We are on the same team.”

Have you ever watched two basketball players going for a rebound, fighting each other tooth and nail, only to realize they are on the same team? Remember, you and your child are on the same team and have the same goals.

5. “I am my child’s guide.”

Remind yourself that your role is not to control the challenges your child will face but rather to be her/his guide through the experiences.

6. “Observe. Observe. Observe.”

Instead of “doing something,” simply observe what is happening like an outsider. See if there are commonalities in your observations. By identifying triggers, you can help your child cope with them, thereby limiting your own sense of helplessness.

7. “The only way to get across this swift, deep river is to go through it.”

Allow your own feelings, even if they are dark, to arise and pass. If this experience is like a river, it means there is also a riverbank waiting for you.

8. “Stick to the routine.”

Anxious children thrive on predictability. You may not be able to do anything about the trigger, but you can reinforce the routine. Bedtime, family rituals and morning routines center our children, better preparing them for the outside world.

9. “Meditate.”

At our darkest moments, hope is rekindled simply by taking the time to be still and focus on our breath for a few moments.

10. “Help is available.”

Hopelessness usually means you have exhausted your ability to deal with your child’s anxiety. Having another set of eyes on the situation may make all the difference in the world. Whether a professional counselor, a relative or another trusted adult, turn to those in your child’s circle for help.

11. “My child’s anxiety is not a reflection of my parenting.”

Stop questioning whether you should or could have done something differently with your child. Focus rather on what you can do as their guide through their challenges.

12. “What would make my child laugh right now?”

Whether it’s a funny noise, a silly story or singing the wrong words to a favorite song, laughter is the fastest way to make you both feel better.

13. “I’m going to take a break.”

It’s OK to take five minutes of quiet time or put yourself in a place to reconnect with yourself when you are feeling angry. Not only are you modeling appropriate behavior, but you also have a chance to take a few breaths and remind yourself of a few of these phrases.

14. “I love you. I’m here for you.”

Your children will experience stress they cannot control. They will receive an injection, perform in front of an audience and face challenges. Reminding them you love them and are here for them is reassuring, not just for them but for you as well.

15. “In this moment, right now, what can I do to reboot my well-being?”

Some days it will be getting ice cream; others it will be going for a run. Whatever it is, make a long list for yourself that you can reference when you need it.

16. “She/he does not know how to deal with this.”

Frustration over our children’s anxiety can sometimes stem from forgetting they are trying to learn how to navigate a world of unknowns. Regardless whether their fear is rational, or of how many times you have been through this, ask yourself how you can be their guide.

17. “I am on a beach.”

There is a reason why guided imagery is used during labor and delivery to reduce pain. It works! Imagine yourself in a soothing, happy place before you speak.

18. “I am the adult.” 

Simply remind yourself you are the adult; you have the power to remain calm and provide heart-centered advice to de-escalate an anxious situation.

19. “My job is to help my child become a functioning adult.”

When you put it into perspective, you must teach your child how to acknowledge, reduce and wade through anxiety if she/he is to be a functioning adult. Suddenly, when your anxious child is crying about going to school, you can approach the problem as just that —a problem to be solved.

20. “I have control over my reaction.”

Ultimately, the only person you can control is you. Govern your feelings, control your reactions and then help your child learn to do the same. You can teach your child the art of emotional self-regulation by modeling it.

21. “Progress is never linear.” 

Coping with anxiety is not a linear process. It takes time and practice for you and your child. Don’t assume you are at square one when you experience a setback.

22. “I’m doing the best I can.”

In this moment, with the tools you have, you are doing the very best you can. Some days your reaction to your child’s anxiety may be cool, calm, collected, empathetic and thoughtful — on other days, perhaps not as much. We are all a work in progress, and you are doing the best you can.

Read more from this author at GoZen.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The 4 Words I Tell Myself as the Mother of a Child With an Anxiety Disorder

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As an illness, I think anxiety walks a fine line between a condition one may deal with forever and one that can conceivably be “fixed,” or at least that’s what was stuck in my mind after we learned my daughter had an anxiety condition known as selective mutism.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, here’s the lowdown: Selective mutism is a childhood anxiety disorder that manifests in certain social settings where a child is completely unable to speak or communicate. Children with this condition generally speak comfortably in familiar settings and with familiar people, but then completely “freeze” and experience intense anxiety in settings outside their comfort zone.

In the case of my daughter, she’s able to speak (and act) freely in our home and in the homes of several friends and family members, but she hasn’t spoken in school in more than a year. Of course, this presents all sorts of challenges for her, including not being able to ask to go to the bathroom (this has led to bladder issues), not being able to participate in any activity requiring speech and subsequent social struggles.

She has made small improvements, but her biggest  challenge continues to be talking to adults, particularly in the school environment. This is fairly typical of her condition, but every case will present slightly differently.

My daughter’s condition first came to our attention when she started preschool, and my notion was that she was just shy and would speak “normally” once she had had a few weeks to warm up to the school thing.

I’ll spare you the details, but we tried all sorts of things to coax her into speaking at school, particularly to her teachers. However, everything we did just seemed to make it worse. As a parent, I grew more and more desperate for her to just speak so she could just get on and enjoy school as I had envisioned she would. I became quietly obsessed with “fixing” the situation, drawing her out of her shyness, thinking if I just said or did or bribed or encouraged or coaxed her in just the right way that I would draw her out of her funk.

This time wasn’t a highlight in our relationship, and that’s why I’m exceedingly thankful for a phone call I got from a school counselor who would forever change how I approached this issue with my daughter.

She called from school one Monday afternoon to discuss selective mutism and the best strategies to deal with it (specifically not bribing, coaxing or pressuring my daughter). The conversation was strictly professional, but then it strayed and she ended up tearfully telling me about her own daughter who had struggled with anxiety. “I wish we had just enjoyed her more,” she said. These words stuck with me.

I remember one time going to a birthday party with my daughter — one of those ad nauseum princess-themed parties with princess cupcakes, princess decorations, princess music, princess costumes. In short, a 5-year-old version of paradise! At one point, real live Princesses Anna and Elsa showed up for a photo op that I would never forget. The group of girls swooned while my daughter froze and turned beet red while tears welled up in her wide eyes. I all but dragged her into the group shot with the princesses.

Later, I tearfully relayed this story to my husband as I showed him the picture I had dutifully taken “It was like she was watching her dream come true, but she couldn’t participate,” I said. To me, her face was the very picture of her anxiety condition.

Later at bedtime, as is our family custom, I asked my kids what the highlight of their day was. “Meeting the princesses!” she said without a moment’s hesitation and with every ounce of enthusiasm you’d expect from a little girl who’d just met their childhood idol.

Just enjoy her more, I had to remind myself.

Later that week, my daughter ran into the house after school, pulled a princes envelope out of her backpack and ripped it open in excited haste. “Look mommy! Me and the princesses!” she said. In her hands, she proudly held the picture, the same picture I actually shed tears over just a few days earlier.

“How cool is that Genevieve!” I said as I proudly stuck the picture front and center on our fridge. Just enjoy her more, the words came back to me. As is often the case, my daughter was way ahead of me on that one.

I’m thankful to be past the point on this journey where I’m waiting on some “fix” so I can start enjoying my daughter. To that end, one might always be waiting on something or other. There is joy every single day in that little girl’s life, and no one knows that better than her.

It seems ridiculous to me now I was missing out and sobering to consider my attitude may have been influencing her otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, not a day goes by that I don’t wish her challenges would just vaporize, but in the meantime, there is no shortage of things to celebrate. So, wherever this finds you on your parenting journey, let this be your reminder to just enjoy your little people more.

Follow this journey on The Sisters Cafe.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When You Need Academic Assistance for Classroom Anxiety

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Sometimes when I’m sitting in class, I become overwhelmed. My head starts to spin and all of these thoughts come flying at me without much warning. Trying to focus becomes like trying to pin the tail on the donkey, after your friends have spun you ’round and ’round. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on where the butt is, the furniture from across the room enters your view. As far as I know, for me at least, there’s no way to stop this besides just letting it happen. Sitting/laying down helps, but that still doesn’t stop the ceiling from twirling.

I’m getting dizzy and nauseous just thinking about it — that’s basically what having anxiety in class is like for me. Just when you start to focus on what’s being said, an intrusive thought comes bursting through the door like an uninvited party guest. Needless to say, some days I find it really hard to focus on lectures. Which is a huge problem! I’m what educators would call an auditory learner, which means that although I can also learn by reading and sometimes prefer it, in subjects like math, history and computer science, I learn by listening.

In high school, whenever I took tests in history or math, it wasn’t the board or the textbook I was remembering; it was my teachers’ voices — the way they changed as they gave their lectures and examples. This also included remembering when teachers would make jokes, make grand arm gestures and repeat concepts. That technique got me through countless exams in high school and in college.

With an increase in my mood, I’ve also been experiencing a surprising amount of anxiety. Usually my mood and anxiety have an inverse relationship: when my mood is low, my anxiety is high; when my mood is high, my anxiety is low.

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve recognized the need to get academic assistance. If I can’t focus in class, I won’t learn. There were many ways to approach this. I could increase my medication, I could increase counseling or I could go to the accessibility services at my school for help. I decided to go to accessibility service to find out my options, and with the support of my counselor we created an academic assistance plan. I was really surprised to find they had agreed that recording lectures would be beneficial. They handed me a smart pen, or Echo, and some paperwork (because there is always paperwork), and I was good to go. The smart pen will record lectures for me and upload them to an application on my computer, where the notes I take while recording will also show up.

I’m excited to see how this will affect my level of anxiety and am forever grateful the people at my school recognize how debilitating anxiety can be. But having this opportunity made me curious as to how anxiety is handled at other colleges. Sadly, it didn’t surprise me when I learned that many don’t recognize the ill effects anxiety and depression have on learning.

If you think you need academic assistance, seek it — go see a counselor or trusted advisor who knows your situation. Having a professional ready to go to bat for you will make the process a little easier. If your school refuses to give you help, your new counselor can give you tips and tricks to get you through classes and this experience. The way people perceive mental illness is changing — speak up, and help bring change to your part of the world.

Follow this journey on Adventures of Shy Girl.

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11 Superpowers of Anxious Children

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Let’s not sugarcoat it: Life can be hard for anxious kids. Even simple, everyday tasks can seem big and scary when they come with sweaty palms, a pounding heart and the feeling that something — anything, maybe even everything — is about to go horribly wrong. Anxious kids may feel like it’s their job to stop a disaster from happening, or even like they’ve done something wrong and need to fix it. That’s a lot to shoulder at any age.

But they’ve done nothing wrong; in fact, those anxious feelings have some hidden advantages. It’s kind of like having a secret superpower. Here are 11 interesting ways anxiety can actually be a good thing:

1. You are creative.

Often, the people who worry the most have great imaginations. You are able to see situations in new and inventive ways. Your imagination is like a muscle; the more you use it, the more creativity can come out of it.

2. You prepare your body to perform at its best.

Having a little bit of anxiety can actually help you perform better at all sorts of tasks, both physical and mental. It’s like having your own secret rocket fuel you can channel into highly effective action, especially if you use it to prepare beforehand.

3. You are observant (and self-aware).

A little bit of anxiety might just save your life because it makes you more observant about your surroundings and aware of what’s going on inside yourself. You notice things that other people are more likely to take for granted.

4. You are leadership material.

You take into account the possibility of multiple outcomes when making a decision–a characteristic of a great leader.

5. You are a good friend.

When you’re anxious, the entire world can feel like a terrible, horrible, no good and very bad place to be. But we promise, it’s almost always better than you think. In fact, researchers have discovered that people almost always think better of you than you expect, and your friends value your friendship more than you can even imagine.

6. You are trustworthy.

Even if people can see you’re a little flustered sometimes, they don’t mind because it shows that you care about the people around you and what’s going on. They’re much more likely to trust you than someone who’s completely calm and composed all the time.

7. You are prudent.

Anxious youngsters are considerably less likely to be involved in a fatal accident than less anxious peers.

8. You are people smart.

By virtue of constantly scanning the environment for threats, anxiety can make you more attuned to social and emotional signals of others. You’re an ace at figuring out who you can trust, and you’re also really good at seeing the value in other people, even if they don’t see it for themselves.

9. You can see right through lies.

Speaking of reading people: If someone lies to you, you’re probably going to see right through it. And hey, if you like playing poker? Some types of anxiety make you really good at that, too.

10. You practice and prepare.

It might feel like anxiety keeps you from thinking straight — but sometimes that’s actually a good thing. If you’ve trained hard for an exam, a performance or a sports match, a little anxiety can help you get out of your own way and let that training kick in.

11. You are brave!

It’s pretty cool that anxiety comes with all these hidden benefits, but let’s face it, when the anxiety comes on strong, life can still be pretty rough. Dealing with those anxious feelings requires a lot of courage and confidence, and that makes you one of the strongest people in the room.

Read more from this author at GoZen.

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write the article you wish you’d found the first time you Googled your or a loved one’s diagnosis. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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How Anxiety Helped Shape Me Into an Awesome Mom

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I know I’m supposed to tell you about my struggles and how hard it is to parent with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). And believe me, at times, it’s so, very hard. Parts of it are ugly, tough and sometimes seemingly all consuming. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned on my journey to better understand and accept my chronic anxiety, is that it never hurts to look on the bright side. Learning how to implement small shifts in my perception have meant the absolute world to my journey with mental health, so I thought it’d be great to celebrate some of the ways my anxiety has helped shaped me into the mom I am today — an awesome one!

I’m sensitive. Even “too sensitive,” as I’ve been told! But it’s helped me connect with my children in a way I never thought possible. By being openly sensitive and not associating shame with my vast realm of feelings, I’ve made a safe, accepting space where my children feel like they can do the same. Emotions run high in our house and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We’ve learned how to be supportive through all sorts of feelings and we now know we can better navigate them together as a family.

I also talk it out a lot. It helps me to share my challenges and victories with my inner circle. And it’s also gotten my children talking, too. From the start, we’ve been using words to help them express their feelings. I knew my new found love of sharing was paying off when in the middle of an emotional meltdown my 3-year-old son was able to utter the words, “I’m just having a tough time. I need help.” It may seem tiny and obvious, but to me it was monumental. Open communication is key to my success with GAD, and open communication is key to ensuring my children can properly identify the depths of how they feel and share it with us, the people who care about their wellbeing the most. One my proudest mom moments for me thus far!

Living with chronic anxiety has given me perspective I sometimes take for granted. When you live in an ongoing battle of sorts between you and what’s going on inside your head (sometimes your body,) it reframes life and highlights the most important bits. Even in the depths of my anxiety, the most important things in life become crystal clear. Thanks to that, I truly know the value of a unconditionally loving and supportive family. My comfort, my joy, my support and my everything is my family. Living my life with those family values at the very core shows my kids just how valuable we all are to each other and I hope one day they too celebrate our family unit!

Though challenging, isolating and at times, terrifying — chronic anxiety has not only taught me many important life lessons, but it’s also given me a new found confidence as I learn to successfully navigate it. When we made the decision to have children, my own apprehensions about becoming a mother living with anxiety skyrocketed. I am so proud to report that with plenty of professional and social support, with a new motivation to cultivate personal growth with my GAD (something I think is important to model for my children) and with plenty of affirmation and celebration of small victories, I can truly say I’m proud of the mother I’ve become — flaws and all!

Tania hold us her baby with trees in the background.

The Mighty is asking the following: If you’re a parent with a mental illness, tell us about a time you tried (either successfully or unsuccessfully) to explain to your children about your mental illness/mental health issues. How did they react? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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