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How My 2-Year-Old Son Was the Catalyst for Challenging My Anxiety Beliefs

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There’s only so many times you can be told you’re not good enough before you absolutely cannot hear anything else. The kids who didn’t want to be my friend in primary school because they thought I was a loser and “smelled funny.” The family member who told me I had to like the same music as everyone else or I’d get bullied in high school (spoiler alert, it made no difference whatsoever). The teacher who said I couldn’t play the clarinet because I didn’t have the memory ability. The math teacher who told me I didn’t need to bother trying too hard, I just wasn’t the type to understand math. The girls who said it was OK to be their friend, but not at school, not where people could see. The kids who laughed at me when my Nan died and I cried on the school bus.

All my life, I’ve behaved how other people think I should, because I’ve been terrified of more people telling me I’m “substandard” as a human being and the result is my oftentimes debilitating anxiety disorder. If I couldn’t keep everyone in my life content with my existence, I fell apart and ended up damaging either them or myself emotionally. I’m sure this is a scenario that sounds all too familiar to a lot of us:

Twenty people: “You’re a great person!”
One person: “You’re an awful person!”
Me: I must be an awful person.

For every family member or caring friend that told me I was worthy of my place on this earth, there have always been voices that call out from the dark, reminding me, actually, there’s not a lot I have to offer. It doesn’t matter if those things were actually said, or if they were remnants of memories long passed. And therein lies the utter devastation of an anxiety disorder. The spiral of “what if someone really thinks that?” picks up speed very quickly and before long, I cannot distinguish between what I’ve convinced myself is true and what is not. The long-term effects of bullying are only recently outlined to me since I’ve become a parent and have been forced to look at myself objectively. Why have I never challenged the negative? Why do I just accept I don’t seem to be perceived as a good person?

Weeks before my wedding, my husband and I endured some trying times and people taking advantage of us. It hit us both hard, but still I let the cycle continue. I believed as long as others were happy, it didn’t matter.

While going through an episode of grief so consuming I’d spend hours staring at walls, I was emotionally unavailable to everyone, even my husband. Right there and then, the people who trotted off out of my life should have been a big red flag for how I was allowing myself to be treated, but I continued to ignore the pale, rotten grass under my feet, thinking it was just as green over the enormous fence. I mirrored other people with ease, seamlessly adapting my personality based on what shape hole I was supposed to be fitting in and then I would wonder why I’d spend hours of the day fighting anxiety attacks. Why did I say that? Perhaps I shouldn’t have laughed at that point. Should I have said more? It comes full circle and the “what if” maelstrom thunders back into play.

But I have a message that is clear.

If you deal with social anxiety on any level, especially based on how you’ve been treated in the past, it is not forever. I assumed I’d be like this forever, constantly alienating myself and others from the dynamics of human relationships. I was lucky enough to have a few exceptions in my life (husband and a loyal friend or two), so I should just be OK with that. I was wrong. One day — some day — I believe something will happen that will shake our own beliefs about ourselves down to the core and it’ll change everything.

For me, it was my son. At the time, he was less than two years old and saying only a handful of words to go with his standard issue toddler whines and grunts. I’d recently been ejected from another person’s life because I “wasn’t good enough,” and my little boy, in his barely legible language, asked where this person was.

All at once, I saw his life tied closely to mine. People bonding with him through me and then breaking his heart because I was all too desperate to make connections with people. At the time, I believed I’d doomed him to years of feeling left out, but now, more than six months later, I can look back at recognize that experience was the catalyst. All my life I’ve been terrified of having no friends like in school, because it felt so horrible and lonely and so I’ve had no standards when it comes to trying to make and retain friends. Behaviors that made me uncomfortable, not speaking the same language in terms of morality and outlook — I’d just ignore how my gut felt and try to fit in. That’s not good enough for me anymore.

Let me make myself abundantly clear. No one can tell me what I deserve. Neither I, nor you, are required by anyone or anything to put on an appearance. You may not feel this way now, but I promise one day you will. Maybe you’ll start clambering out of the fog with medical intervention. Maybe someone will come into your life and make you realize that you, in all your glory, are enough.

You. Are. Enough.

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Thinkstock photo via pimonova.

Originally published: April 21, 2017
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