Anxiety. It affects every part of my life and that includes how I mother. I wish I could say my mental health never caused me to lose my cool, but I believe being honest about motherhood and mental health is more important. I have certainly lost my temper and yelled for what seemed like no reason. I’ve pushed my kids away and needed to just lay in bed for a few days. The word NO has come out of my mouth one too many times for no other reason than the fact that even thinking about the very thing my child wanted at that moment simply overwhelmed me. Once my anxiety was “better,” the last thing I was prepared for was my kids being anxious as a result.
Looking back on the fog that was the months after my second child was born, I realize that I had undiagnosed postpartum anxiety. I remember sitting up at night crying, terrified that our house would get broken into. I wasn’t sleeping even when the babies were, which only made my anxiety worse. For a while I thought, This is my life now, moms of two must just worry more. Fast forward 19 months, my son was born and I was on an eight-week high of emotions. I remember thinking, My life has never been better, I’m not anxious this time! But there I was, in the ninth week, crippling anxiety scissor kicking me in the back of the head. You see, we lived on the northside but everything including our doctors was across the Dames Point Bridge. Every time we had to cross that bridge, I had an overwhelming sense of “Holy crap what happens if my car goes off the bridge?!” Everywhere we went my mind analyzed worst-case scenarios and possible solutions. It made going anywhere insanely difficult because an ax murderer might be there, or a freak tornado might happen on the interstate. It was at this time that I started Googling things like pepper spray and those nifty tools used to break car windows.
Thankfully I did get on anxiety medication after my son was born and that made life much more bearable for me and everyone who depended on me. Then life threw a curveball, and we found out baby no. 4 was coming, which meant no more life-changing anxiety meds. Doctors switched me to one safe for pregnancy but it didn’t help enough. After she was born, I was ready this time. I knew what worked for me and that it was necessary. More importantly, I knew it was OKAY that I needed medicine to help me cope with everyday life.
Once my meds were figured out, I thought that was it — things were in the clear and I could face it all. What I wasn’t prepared for was that my oldest started showing all the signs of my anxiety. Mostly the heartbreaking way she would speak to her siblings, word for word things I knew I had said during a low point. Talk about a shock to your system, being overwhelmingly embarrassed and ashamed. She would be quick to anger, unable to deal with the smallest situations being different than whatever she was expecting. I had to sit down and ask myself, Does she have anxiety? Or is she copying everything she’s watched me do? I realized it was, in fact, learned behavior, which meant that a heart-to-heart talk was long overdue. Enter the classic saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I started with letting her know that I was sorry for failing to be a better example of how to handle emotions. I did my best to explain that Mommy has anxiety but that I work on it daily. I asked for forgiveness and grace from my 9-year-old. We spoke about how we could both better react to things that upset us and how my mental health has affected her. I was reminded that children are wiser than we give them credit for and that they are much better at loving others despite their faults. Once I felt like she understood what Mommy struggles with and what I would be doing to work on being better, I asked the younger kids to come in so they could also be a part of the conversation, albeit a toned-down version of it. Again, I asked for forgiveness and spoke to them about healthy coping mechanisms, the power of communication, and that if they are ever feeling overwhelmed, angry, or too sad to do anything, that they can always come talk to me and we’d figure it out together.
At the end of the day, I want my children to know that mental health problems exist, that they aren’t anything to be ashamed of, and there’s a good chance more people have them than we know. It is because of this that we should always be kind and understanding of others because we can’t know everything they are going through. I may have failed in countless little moments, but if I am able to teach my children to love those struggling with mental health, to recognize the signs, and how to deal with their own emotions in a healthier way, then I have succeeded.