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Why My Hidden Anxiety as a Child Became an Unexpected Blessing as a Parent

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It confused me, hurt me and made me feel eternally out of place when I was younger. It made me feel that nobody understood me. It made me feel unable to understand anyone else because I felt unrelatable. It wouldn’t be quiet — constantly jabbering in my head and heart, asking questions in an effort to understand why I felt so different:

“Is it because you’re adopted? Is it because nobody looks like you? Is it because your parents aren’t really connected to you like everyone else’s? Do they regret their decision and now they are just stuck with it, like accepting a role in a play? It is not like two of the main characters can just bail on the whole production, right? The show must go on. Is it because your friends have sisters that help them understand how girl friendships and boys and makeup and hair work? Is it because you don’t have self-control? Is it because you are just too fat, too skinny, too ugly? Is it because you just don’t get to fit in, you just don’t get to?”

It never quit harassing me. My inner voice was in perpetual fight or flight and I was always trying to outrun it. The more popular I was, the better the grades I got, the more I excelled at my sports, the more fun I was at parties — nothing worked. To my teachers, friends, coaches and peers, I seemed so “normal.” To my family, I seemed locked in teenage angst, mad at the world. Even in the seemingly happy bustle of my life, I often felt sad, mad and alone. I created a mask to hide it because pretending was easier. But the pretending just built the wall higher, brick by brick, and it did not drown out the noisy, uninvited guest. I didn’t invite it, I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t know how to get it to leave.

Anxiety is an angry, quietly lurking monster. It has a way of slowly wringing your joy out like a wet dishcloth, drop by drop until you feel dried out and useless. I so desperately yearned to be understood. I longed to have someone, even one person, who could empathize with me and help me stop spinning. I wanted a partner in crime who would not only help me pick out the best armor for battle but lock arms with me on the front lines as I fought and silenced the beast. Although in hindsight, I excelled at school, had many friends and a stable and happy home, I still yearned to be good at something, to feel like I was lovable. To feel understood. To be seen. To stop pretending.

My confusing, dark, ugly secret became my most beautifully unexpected blessing as an adult. I am so grateful for my monster, as it has allowed me to help my son. I am able to see situations through a scrappy, creative lens and find lessons that might have eluded me had I not suffered in my childhood.

My son’s friend has a severe nut allergy. His body’s immune system mistakes peanut protein for a harmful invader, causing his body to overreact. He reads nutrition labels and brings his own cupcakes to birthday parties, and although he has to do things differently than other kids, his allergy is simply part of his life and not who he is as a person. My son knows that instead of a nut allergy, he has a stress allergy. He knows is not his fault. It does not make him less. It does not define him. His body simply reacts differently to chaos and stress, and thus he needs to be proactive. He understands that if left untreated, his friend could die from anaphylaxis, and that untreated anxiety and depression have dire consequences as well. My monster gave me the courage to have tough conversations with my son that have allowed him to live more authentically than I ever could at his age.

His monster does not get to leave him alone and useless. He doesn’t have to wear a mask and be ashamed and confused. He knows he is understood and loved and worthy and able. He knows he can do hard things and that the biggest rewards come when he is the most afraid.

Pixabay Image via Klappe.

Originally published: February 4, 2019
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