As a little girl, as far back as I can remember, I was a worrier. I’d often crawl into the comfort and safety of my parents’ bed, in the sweet spot right between them that we’d affectionately dubbed “the hole,” in the middle of the night because I had worried myself sick and inconsolable because of one of the many, many intrusive “what-ifs” that circled in my brain. What if I have to talk out loud in front of the class? What if a black hole develops and sucks us in and we all die? What if my parents die? What if there is nothing after we die?
Rather embarrassingly, I was in my late 20s before I realized that what I had always experienced was anxiety. One would think that a reasonably intelligent woman would not become a full-fledged adult without being able to identify that they were unwell, but, well y’all, I don’t have any reasonable explanation. Even worse, once I recognized that I suffered from a wicked case of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I did not seek treatment until I was in my late 30s. I just kept on riding the anxiety roller coaster like I was having the time of my life (NEWSFLASH: I most definitely was not).
In spite of my close, personal BFF status with my anxiety, I totally missed the warning signs that my child- my sweet, sensitive wonder who made me a mama- was also plagued by it. Cue major mom guilt.
Retrospect is both a terrible and wonderful thing.
When my son was in 4th grade, my mom intervened. She, as mothers will do, sat me down and put me in my place as she said, “He is not okay, and you need to consider finding him a therapist.” And just like that, the veil had been lifted, and I was horrified at just how blind I had been.
I felt like I had failed my child. He was suffering because of my faulty genetics. He had been suffering for so long because I missed all of the signs and symptoms with which I was so familiar- his insomnia, the extreme toddler temper tantrums, his repeated questioning of the unknown, his inability to handle changes in routine. ALL of the things I’d experienced in adult form were present in my son. I’d written these things off as him just being a little oddball. I mean, he comes by it honestly- his mama is a strange character herself.
But when I took a step back and looked at all of the evidence through this new lens, it became abundantly clear that he needed to be seeing a therapist because I couldn’t let him live his entire childhood like I had lived mine- in a state of constant worry.
Building A Mental Health Toolbox
I knew it was imperative to find a therapist that we vibed with, one who could arm him with the tools he needed to cope with his intrusive and worrisome thoughts and keep them at bay. Luckily, we found a great fit with a family friend- an LPC and Child Life Specialist.
He needed concrete strategies that he could use in high-anxiety situations, and she delivered. I was even able to parlay some of those skills into managing my own anxiety demons. While his favorite 5-4-3-2-1 grounding strategy isn’t my jam, we both benefit from answering what-if questions until calming, mindfulness techniques, and meditation. And maybe, just maybe, after falling in love with his therapist’s emotional support/therapy kitty, we have adopted our own ball of fluff.
What I do know is that the most important thing that I can do as an anxious parent of an anxious child is to TALK about it. Anxiety thrives in the dark. We make it a practice to openly discuss the worries that circle in our minds, to validate those feelings, and then explore the reasons behind them. Our goal is to manage that worry through modeling and practicing rational thought, stacking his toolbox with everything he might need to build his best, most mentally healthy self now and in the future.