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How Anxiety Made Me Miss Out on My Son's First Years


I’ve missed out on my son’s first years. I’ve been here pretty much every day as it goes, but I’ve not been here, if you comprehend? Before my son spoke, there were many quiet moments. I would sing and read to him, but speaking, engaging my own thoughts and verbalizing them was sometimes impossible. How could I, when I had no thoughts? I was empty.

On nights when he wouldn’t stop screaming, sometimes we would just lie together, our chests heaving as we cried in tandem. A trip to the shops invariably ended in tears. I don’t know what the definition of a nervous breakdown is, but I broke down so often I can’t recall the half of them. It started during pregnancy. Many times since then, pushing my son’s buggy, I have been overcome with anxiety. It’s an overwhelming sense that takes over your body and soul, a shortening of breath as you feel your life spiraling out of control, unable to regain the reins.

Fighting to keep that cloud over your head from creeping down until it’s smothering you is hard work. The extreme stress I experienced from my relationship going into meltdown and the subsequent loneliness, hopelessness and anxiety, made me want to take my own life. It was a “none” life. So it was nothing to take.

The exhaustion of rising again and again was too much. Other times, when I knew the guilt wouldn’t allow me to take such action, I would dream of someone knocking me over and putting me in a coma. This way my life could be put on hold, giving me time to catch up with myself. Other times, the desire to cut myself and release the build-up of pressure inside my exhausted shell would be nearly overwhelming.

Now, as my son is older, I have to compartmentalize my pain and anguish. When, late at night I become distraught, I can cry loudly, rock myself back and forth until the tears stop and the fuzzing ear ringing silence descends upon me. When I have reached that point, where I have nothing left inside of me, no more screams of anger or anguish, no more tears of self-pity, I become numb. I am speechless and thoughtless in every sense. It’s a protection mechanism. Each of us has a level of pain beyond which we cannot sustain ourselves. When we surpass it, our mind shuts down.

Things are getting better now. It’s hard to be silent in the wake of a bumbling, chaotic toddler. There are still days when the strength I need is gone though. Mornings when he pulls and pushes at me to get out of bed. On such days, we often find a compromise. I lie on the sofa as he clambers over me. There are no words. Somehow my presence comforts him and he knows I can manage no more. I lie there, deadening silence within me and around me. I’m so fragile and the only person who seems to realize is my son.

Looking back, sometimes it feels like I can’t remember his early days. What did he do all day? What was the crawling stage like? I remember so little of it. I hardly have any photographic evidence. It wasn’t just about not having someone around to take photos (though as a single mom that was an issue). It was about not having anyone to share them with and not wanting to immortalize these moments, which while they contained bursts of happiness, were also filled with sadness and despair.

Even now, it’s rare that I will revisit those photos, the few I have, for fear that the sadness lingering around the frame, might seep out and take center stage again. Maybe it is this feeling of having missed out on so much in my son’s first years, which means I miss him so dearly when we are apart.

It hurts I don’t remember all the moments because it wasn’t all doom and gloom. I used to dance around the room while my son giggled in delight. I kissed and cuddled him numerous times a day, vowing he would always know the physical presence of love. Despite all he has witnessed, somehow my son seems to be turning out pretty damn fine, but that doesn’t stop me feeling guilty and worrying about the long-term effects.

Sometimes, I think things are improving. I’m an instinctively optimistic person when I’ve had a good couple of days, and the hope and happiness tricks me into believing it’s here to stay. Then, something happens. It doesn’t have to be much, a disagreement or an unkind word. It’s like a right hook socks me across the face, and I stumble backward.

I don’t fall. Being a parent doesn’t allow you that luxury, especially when there’s no one else to pick up the pieces. Yet, my journey toward a better state of mind flounders. Who was I to think I could do this? Who am I to think I can have happiness? Invariably such crashes occur at night when there is no one around to reach out to. Ultimately, perhaps this is why they happen. I have no one to reach out to and no strength left to reach.

The morning after a crash, I wake up feeling unnerved. It feels like something awful has happened, but I can’t quite remember the details. Then, I realize I’m still here. It’s fine, and not fine, all in one. On those mornings, it’s like I have taken a battering on a boat stranded in a stormy sea. Somehow though, I have clung on and weathered it. The sun is rising, and so shall I, until the next crash.

This post originally appeared on Ella Mental Mama.

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