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Pancakes and Panic Attacks: A Tale of Parenting With Anxiety at Target

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We woke up today, just like any other day. It’s just you and me and a pancake date planned. After all, we don’t get many days where it’s just us. I thought I was ready. I perfectly planned your purple tutu and favorite polka dot bow last night. It was laid out neatly, right next to my list of quick things we needed to grab at the store. It would be a quick stop. After all, I was prepared.

We’re shopping away, laughing and giggling as we work as a team to knock things off my perfectly planned list. Toilet paper — check. Milk-check. Tampons — check. Bathmat — check. Wait. Wait. What size do I need? And then I feel it coming. It comes like a freight train, and I am chained to the tracks, forced to watch the wreckage.

Why didn’t you measure the bathroom, Shelby? How could you forget? When will you have time to come back to look for another mat? There’s no time. There’s too much to do. Because, Shelby, you must always be doing, and if you stop doing, then something will fall apart. Something always falls apart. Something will go wrong. My God, what if something goes wrong? And people will expect you to have a damn bathmat. Why can’t you do this? Why are you constantly failing? People expect you to have it together.

Now I’m sweating. I feel like I’m being swallowed alive by the shelves of bathmats in all different unfathomable sizes around me. And feel the train run over my chest. I am gasping for air, but my chest feels like it’s been crushed. And I struggle to breathe. I didn’t realize it, but people are looking, waiting to see if I can relax. Because, for f*ck’s sake, Shelby, you should be able to relax. Why can’t you relax? Then I try to relax but my heart won’t slow down, and I panic all over again because I can’t get the damn bathmats to stop swallowing me alive. OK, think about other things. Oh sh*t — all those things. Things you need to do. If I don’t do them, I will let people down, and if I let people down, I am failing and Shelby you cannot fail.

I can’t breathe now. I am gasping for breath, sweating and shaking, in the damn bath aisle of Target.

You saw it all. You witnessed mommy break. I promised you princess outfits and pancakes, and you got Mommy’s panic attack.

Soon, after I regrouped, after the train had backed off my chest and the air was back into the room, I stood up. I took you from the Target employee who had come to help, and I held you in my arms. This is my coping skill. In those moments of fear and the feeling of doom, I need to know what is real. I need to touch what’s important.

Anxiety is different for everyone. I have learned mine is stress-induced. I function just fine and lead a seemingly full, happy life because I know my triggers. Most days, I know I am so much more than my anxiety. I am smart and brave and kind and good. I am not a failure. I am enough. But some days, the doubt and feelings of inadequacy creep in the cracks of my tired, overworked, over-stressed self. It gets under my skin and spreads like a rapid virus that may show its ugly head, or may lay dormant until triggered by an outside force. My outside force is fear of failure. I just don’t want to mess anything up or let anyone down, especially you, my sweet girl. I want you to know your momma is strong and capable and knows what she is doing.

At the end of the day, I just have to remember to be in the moment. Whatever it takes to get me through. In seconds, in minutes, in hours. Just get through. Just get off the floor. Just breathe. Because there will always be things to do and lists to make.

But right now, I owe you pancakes.

Lead photo source: Peter J. Romano 2nd on Wikimedia Commons

Originally published: July 16, 2016
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