When I See My Anxiety in My Sweet Little Girl
She’s got my eyes.
My golden hair.
My half-moon smile.
She is like looking at myself in the mirror 28 years ago.
Inside and out.
And that’s why I worry.
You see, just as much as she looks like me, she also very much has my heart. My book-smarts. And my anxiety-ridden mind. At just a half-dozen young years old.
It absolutely breaks my heart.
Because I know how it feels to be filled-to-the-brim with worry as a child. And not sure how to function without it flooding and overflowing everywhere. Or, in my case, holding it in with all my might, to prevent the dam from breaking.
By her age, I had already witnessed a younger sibling pass away as a baby. And in just another year, I would see my mother go through months of chemotherapy, after an Earth-shattering diagnosis of breast cancer at such a young age.
So, I watched.
I took it all in.
And I kept it there.
My mind was reeling.
Always on edge, waiting for the next “bad thing” to happen.
My parents had me in therapy. And the therapist told them out of any of my siblings I would be the most likely to struggle with anxiety and depression as an adult — because I did in fact hold so much inside. I never knew that until I had children of my own. And, wow, what truth has come from that statement.
I will never forget her second year of preschool. A week of nightly tears. Every time we tried to tuck her into bed. She couldn’t hardly talk. Telling us she had thoughts in her mind, and she could not get them to leave. As I worked hard to hold my own tears back, I worked even harder to put together a game plan. A powerful one. That was going to overcome this beast. Using every resource available to make sure it didn’t rob her of her happiness as a sweet, young girl. I contacted her teachers. I phoned our pediatrician. We scheduled extra time at her upcoming well-child check-up. I reached out to her caregivers. And together, we worked overtime. To “not make a big deal” out of the little things. And, thanks to her incredible teacher, we had the perfect response to those everyday hiccups:
“Sweetie, unless you see a dinosaur walk through that door right now, you have nothing to worry about.”
She loved it. It made her giggle. So we used it. Constantly.
Together, we had created the strongest weapon we could. A team. A village. Working toward one goal. For one child. To combat her anxiety.
This fight is nowhere near over.
The littlest things spark a whirlwind of thoughts in her mind. And the tears begin. And I begin doing the best thing I know how to do.
Talk. to. her.
Do not dismiss her.
Because when I do… I can see it in her eyes.
It might be so incredibly minute to me. The most miniscule thing to worry about in the entirety of the world.
But to her… at that moment… at that place… in her mind… it is greater than any mountain imaginable.
And I know what it is like to feel dismissed. As though what I am worrying about is “silly” or “nothing.” Because when you have anxiety, those “nothings” are e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. Heartbreaking. Forcing an even more intense bottling-up of worries and emotions, racing on a closed-circuit track through your mind.
With school starting in just two weeks, I can already see a shift in her behavior. Thankfully, kindergarten is out of the way. She knows what to “expect” at grade school. But, true to my own nature, she never, ever wants to make a mistake in the eyes of others. Perfectionism is her game. And her enemy. Because it feeds this thieving monster. And keeps it coming back for more.
We expect some acting out to unfold. Never away from home. And that’s OK. Because we know that this house… our family… these grounds… are all part of her “comfort zone.” Where she can free those thoughts. Anxious feelings. And constant worries. And, as long as she knows what she can/cannot appropriately say when she is letting those fears go, this will continue to be a “safe” place for her to release, always.
On our part, we will continue to comfort her. To listen intently. Not to dismiss. But not to feed into making anything greater than it needs to be. We will try to remind her to keep her eye open for dinosaurs. We will be firm, but gentle. We will keep in contact with her teachers. Her doctor. And anyone who will be a significant part of her life.
And if this crook tries to finagle his way in to take even more from my daughter than he already has? You better believe, this mama is ready. To fight, with every ounce of my being. For her happiness. For her childhood. For her mental health. And to break the cycle of hereditary anxiety. As much as I possibly can.
Because, oh, how I know that our precious girl is destined for incredible things in this life. Already wanting to change the world. And there is no way I am going to stand idly by and let a thieving seven-letter word stop her.
Image via Thinkstock.