To My Daughter With Anxiety: These Are the 2 Words I Cannot Accept
Dear Baby Girl,
Yes, I realize you’ve been tall enough to ride Space Mountain for the past few years, but you will always be my baby. My first born. The one who made me a mother. The first to know what my heartbeat sounds like from the inside. You have my freckles, my blue eyes, and sensitive (yet fierce) disposition. Much to my dismay, you also have my anxiety disorder. Well, I mean, you have your own anxiety disorder — but I often wonder which of my genes is to blame. As you actively work to navigate your anxious thoughts, I work just as hard to release myself from the shame of having passed this beast along to you. I do know that shame has no place in either of our stories, so I turn my angst into advocacy for you. I want to ensure you never feel alone, or different, or worse yet — broken.
Today wasn’t my finest moment, sweet girl. I have already asked for your forgiveness, and you have already graciously granted it to me. I wasn’t mad at you, I was enraged by the small-mindedness of your anxiety. I was infuriated with your Story Bugs, as we refer to anxious thoughts in our home. Your Story Bugs were telling you lies. Heartbreaking, debilitating lies.
I have watched your relentless battle with anxiety increase as each long, new day of our governor’s COVID-19 Shelter in Place order passes. It has been 51 days since you’ve seen any of your friends — since you’ve had any glimpse of normalcy. While I expected we might be used to the isolation by now, it seems a cruel reminder that there is something bigger than us, something threatening and scary, looming around out there. An eerie feeling that leaves you, my precious daughter, on high alert. I’m not sure if you’ve even realized it for yourself yet, but your sleep has been interrupted, your sense of security has been threatened, and your desire for independence has been thwarted. Your anxiety is having a heyday.
This morning when we set out to take our walk, and I grabbed the leash of our biggest dog, I saw the panic set across your face. You’ve been afraid to take him out of the house ever since he got loose and got into that scuffle with our neighbor’s dog. You lost trust in him that day, and maybe you lost a little trust in me, too, since I couldn’t stop him. I made a promise to you, that we wouldn’t take him out without daddy, because you trust in daddy’s strength to control those 90 pounds of solid pup. This morning, I overlooked that promise, and then I got angry at you when red hot tears came pouring out of your eyes. You looked at me, and with sheer conviction, you said, “I can’t.”
Those words nearly broke me, love. I felt the anger rise up inside me, from somewhere deep within. I was instantly filled with rage, and the Mama Bear in me wanted to wage a war against your Story Bugs. How dare they have the audacity to trick you into thinking you can’t. How dare your anxiety convince you that are incapable or inadequate in any way. I immediately dropped the leash, and stomped through the house, asking you to follow me. You were likely concerned with my anger, feeling unfairly targeted — and, in those first few seconds, you were. It took that transitory walk from our front door, through the house and into our backyard for me to realize that your Story Bugs were the object of my fury. Not you.
We sat down under the sun in the backyard, and I pulled you in close. I felt your wet face lean into my ribs, and we sat quiet for a few moments. That’s when I asked for your forgiveness. That’s when I accepted responsibility for mindlessly attempting to break a promise to you. It’s also when I told you that I wouldn’t allow you to use the phrase, “I can’t.” I told you that you could be “too afraid,” “too nervous,” or “too uncomfortable,” but that when it comes to your anxiety, I will not accept “I can’t.”
I refuse to allow your Story Bugs to reduce your abilities. I refuse to allow you to believe in their limitations. You are too talented, too intelligent, too passionate and too courageous to believe you are anything less than capable. You have far too many gifts to offer this world, and too many small wonders to uncover, for you to ever believe that you are bound by the lies that anxiety dictates to your brain. As your mother, whose pride in you runneth over, I will not tolerate a mental illness which wrongly convinces you that you can’t. You are not broken.
You, my precious daughter, have a fire within you. A fire that fear cannot stoke. A fire that is only fed by what is honest, and good. The fire within you is grown only by truth. You are brave, and you are enough. It is OK to be afraid. It is OK to be worried, unsure and unsettled. I battle generalized anxiety disorder, too. I’m assaulted by the lies, too. But, I’ve missed too many moments of life by backing down when anxiety has whispered, “I can’t.” Because I have promised to walk alongside you as long as I am alive, I promise to also raise hell against those same doubts when they make rise in your life.
Baby girl, there is nothing that you can’t do.
Image provided by contributor