What My Son Taught Me About My Anxiety
There are a million ways parenting is made harder by mental illness. Probably more than a million. I don’t have time for self-care; I can’t work through your emotions right away when you’re triggered; every minute of every day I am needed by this other human being who relies on me for everything. It’s exhausting, having to put my needs aside every day to make sure my child’s needs are met. It’s terrifying, doubting my every move and parenting decision. It is just plain overwhelming to have to push my anxiety down to be fully dealt with and worked through later when my child is asleep. The thought of my anxiety bleeding over onto his experience has literally kept me awake at night.
You know what, though? I wouldn’t choose any other experience for my life right now.
My son is the reason I sought help. My anxiety reached peak levels after having him and forced me to see it for the illness it was, instead of ignoring it as a personal flaw. My son pushes me to be my best self every single day. The best illustration of this happened in therapy a few days ago.
I did a guided imagery for PTSD for the first time. I wasn’t sure what to expect, just lots of emotion. I have a very active imagination so it turned out to be a great exercise for me. The recording starts out having you picture yourself walking on your heart, seeing all the damage on the surface. Walking through and past the trauma, the pain, the shame, the anger. Then you are supposed to picture a tunnel with a light shining through it; this tunnel would lead down to the safe, pure, undamaged, loving part of your heart. My tunnel was guarded. A large grizzly bear blocked the entrance. It was not threatening, it simply said: “People are not allowed here.” With my husband by my side, we eventually stepped into the tunnel and the bear walked through with us. When we reached this room of love and light, which I keep so well guarded, I saw my son. He was sitting on the floor, playing like I have watched him do millions of times. He looked up at me with his beautiful, joyful, smile and seemed to say, “Hey mom, welcome to my room.”
The beautiful, loving, undamaged part of myself that I keep so walled off I cannot even reach it myself is where my son lives his life. I may not be able to accept love from others, or able to love myself yet, but my son has just nestled in without my realizing it. He has helped me to open my heart to others’ love. Most of all, he has helped me to open my heart to myself. I have no doubt he is the reason I can picture a safe and undamaged part of myself at all.
I can never thank him enough for the influence he has had on my life. I can never fully express the impact motherhood has made on my mental health. I can say with full certainty that I would not be on this road to healing if he had not shown me that it is possible.
Is parenting hard with a mental illness? Abso-fucking-lutely. But, parenting is what makes my daily struggle a little brighter. It is what forces me to live in the moment. It is what shows me multiple times a day that life is beautiful, no matter what my negative voice says. On my hardest and darkest days, I still have moments of clarity and love because of the little boy who lives in a room of light and love, mirroring it back to me, showing me what I’m capable of every time I forget.
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Thinkstock photo via Archv