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The Inner Monologue of a Mom With Anxiety

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It’s 6:30 a.m. I stumble into my son’s room to wake him up. I rub his back as he awakes, and he tells me he feels bad: his stomach hurts, he has a headache. He complained of the same thing last night and yesterday morning.

“You’re just over-tired, sweetie, you haven’t been sleeping well,” I say out loud.

“He’s probably got leukemia and is going to die,” I say in my head, as my stomach contracts and twists. “You’ll probably have to take him out of state for treatment, and how are you going to pay the mortgage if you can’t work? You can’t even afford a plane ticket right now. You’re such a poor money manager. You’ll have to borrow money from someone. Why can’t you stick to a budget? If people really knew how disorganized and useless you were, they would be amazed. You’ve got them all fooled.”

“Ok, time to get up and get dressed,” I say out loud.

“He’ll probably be dead by Christmas,” I say in my head as my stomach gives several more twists. “How will you even function if he dies? You could just give the house back to the bank, and go live in your mom’s basement. But what about the dogs? She’s got cats and her backyard isn’t fenced, and how would I afford to get them there anyway? It’s 3,000 miles. I guess we could drive but then there is the cost of hotels and gas and food. And our passports are out of date so I’m not even sure we could get across the border. You’d better look at the budget when you get to work and figure out when we can spare $400 to renew those. You’d better get on that NOW, what if you have to rush back home if Mom gets sick?”

In the shower, I do the meditative breathing techniques and visualize my anxieties running down the drain, as my therapist has taught me. I consciously relax my muscles, and when the intrusive thoughts start up again, chiding me for hitting the snooze button too many times and insinuating I’ll be late and lose my job and lose the house, I address them directly:

“Really? That’s all you’ve got this morning? We talked about this all yesterday, so you’ll have to do better than that,” I say out loud to myself.

“But seriously, you’re only a few paychecks away from losing it all,” I say in my head as I dry off. “And what if one of the dogs gets sick or eats something they shouldn’t and needs to go to the vet? Ferguson is 13! That’s old, he’s probably going to get sick and die soon and you won’t be able to afford the vet bill. You probably shouldn’t even have pets, since you are so irresponsible. If you tried to adopt a dog or cat from the shelter right now they would consider you a bad candidate. If people really knew how disorganized and useless you were, they would be amazed. You’ve got them all fooled.”

“Again with that?” I say out loud to myself. “Stop!”

Yelling at my anxiety usually quiets it down for a while so I can finish the morning routine of making lunches, feeding dogs and getting ready for work. But it also feels pretty silly, especially when my son knocks on the bathroom door to ask who I am talking to.

I tell him: “The mean voices in my head.”

I am as honest as I can be with my son about my anxiety disorder — without scaring him. I try to normalize mental illness as much as possible in our house, being open with him about the challenges and thanking him for being supportive. It helps if he knows when Mom might be edgy or distracted or (and I cringe at this), might be more likely to snap at him. I want him to understand my condition. He lives with it, too, and, given his DNA, there’s a good chance he will struggle with anxiety or depression — or both — at some point during his life.

As I collect my bag and coat and hit the remote start on my keychain, the thoughts start up again:

“The car felt a bit funny when I braked yesterday. Is the alignment off? You should probably have it checked, or you could over-correct on ice and skid off the road. Then you’d be late for work and the car would be wrecked, and you’d have to get a new one and who is going to loan you money, you loser. That’s OK, you’ll probably have to leave work early to pick up your sick kid who shouldn’t even be going to school, and that will irritate your boss and you’ll get written up and they will see how useless you really are. You shouldn’t have even had a child. You’re passing this on to him and sentencing him to a life with nasty voices in his head too. Is this stomachache a sign of early anxiety? He was complaining his leg was sore last night. Is he growing? Great, how will I afford new pants and shoes again so soon? Or did he play really hard at school yesterday? Or is it bone cancer?”

“Get your coat on, sweetie, it’s time to go,” I say out loud.

And the three of us – me, my son and my anxiety disorder not otherwise specified – step outside, to start another day navigating the world with a chorus of doom on repeating loop in my head.

Originally published: April 5, 2016
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