Parenting with Anxiety

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Let’s just come out and say it, shall we? Parenting is hard. Add in parenting while we’re struggling with our own mental health, and we have a recipe for the perfect storm. Only…it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m a mom of four (soon to be five!) little boys, and I’ve lived with anxiety and bouts of depression for the better part of my life. But how can the two possibly coexist?

When I think ‘mental health,’ I picture a flawlessly camouflaged lion in the wild, stalking its prey, and waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce. Likewise, we might not be able to see a breakdown coming. I think in most cases our mental health doesn’t fall apart all at once. It takes years to fully manifest. Based on personal history, I also think there can be early warning signs that we are being stalked, so to speak. For me, these began in high school in the form of migraines, extreme exhaustion, and a lack of drive to do anything, at times.

It wasn’t until I was 23 after I gave birth to my second son that my already crumbling mental health hit an all-time low, and I was slammed with what I now know was postpartum depression. To top it off, all tangled up in that depression was a horrible, crippling anxiety that reared its ugly head in bursts of anger when I felt overwhelmed or out of control. As a parent, let’s face it, there’s no shortage of that frustration. Unfortunately, back in 2010 I hadn’t even heard the term ‘mental health,’ and depression was just something a friend of a friend’s mom had (and she was old and weird and had issues anyway, right?). And anxiety? Forget it! Anxiety was comparable to Big Foot or The Loch Ness Monster. It was a myth, an excuse for the weak to fall back on. “It’s called being strong, kid. Pick yourself up by your bootstraps and carry on.” That’s the voice I had playing on repeat in my head; only I found that I genuinely couldn’t do what had always been expected of me, and by extension, I suffered through several excruciating years of crushing mom-guilt and self doubt.

The biggest reason I didn’t want to admit the unique struggles I was facing was based purely on fear — fear of judgment, of being mocked, or worst of all, being exposed as not good enough. It took a long time for me to overcome that fear and recognize that, in order to offer the very best version of myself, I had to get the help I needed. I had to insert myself into the “first priority” category I’d always reserved for my boys.

When I did reach out and began seeing a doctor, I finally had real names for the monsters that had plagued me for years. It opened my eyes and I began seeing the signs in others, young moms particularly, and I found that being open and honest about my struggles helped them to see that they weren’t alone. Talking about our battles, assigning each monster a name, and facing them head on has a way of stripping them of their power. They go from being this scary, unseen thing hiding in the dark, to being forced into the spotlight. When we can see our enemies clearly, we can fight back and ultimately rise above them.

I won’t sugarcoat it. I still have hard days. It takes time and a lot of effort to get back to an even somewhat healthy place, and that can be daunting when you’re also raising little humans. We are their whole world, after all. They depend on us. They look up to us, and they love us more than we know what to do with, at times. But admitting we need help is the first step in being the best parents we can be. We can’t expect to pour from an empty cup. It’s ok to put yourself first sometimes, mama! You deserve to heal and be replenished.

If there’s one thing you take away, I hope it’s this: there’s nothing weak about admitting you need help — it’s actually the bravest thing you can do. You can live with anxiety, depression, and a whole slew of other issues, and still be an awesome, amazing, invested parent. Don’t be afraid to face those scary things in the dark. Don’t be afraid to get the help you need. Don’t be afraid to reclaim your power. You were made for this life and everything it holds. You owe it to your family to be at peace, but most of all, you owe it to yourself.

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