A Letter To My Children About My Anxiety

Image Source: Sara Lindberg
Image Source: Sara Lindberg

I know you both see it; the daily struggle that belongs to me. You have learned to co-exist with it and not ask too many questions. Sometimes I wonder if you know that another way to live is possible, or has this become your normal? I’m terrified that this is how I have taught you to approach life.

There is so much I want to tell you, but I’m scared. I can’t help but wonder, if I expose all of this to you, will you look at me differently?

As you get older, I know you’ll notice it more. And how could you not? There will be days when you are not sure which mom you are getting and dark nights when I am not available to you. Most days, I do a pretty good job of not showing it; of keeping it hidden; of keeping it under control. But you see, that is exactly what it is about: control. 

My life is defined by an endless cycle of thoughts that all say the same thing: what if?
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The intense feelings of anxiety and worry that live inside of me and well up at a moment’s notice are all about control. The way I approach everything in life is viewed through a lens of caution. This is why you very rarely see me do anything spontaneously; this is why I always seem to hold back. My life is defined by an endless cycle of thoughts that all say the same thing: what if?

I still remember the day I came home from the store and you were both playing on the Slip-and-Slide. 

It was scorching hot — probably 90 degrees — and you were squealing with laughter as you jumped through the sprinklers and launched your bodies down the big yellow Slip-and-Slide. In that moment, the pure joy about the simplicity of your world is what compelled me to do what I did next.

For a brief moment, I was brought back to my own childhood; feeling the lightness of life. As soon as I took off running, you got out of the way, but I’m sure you weren’t convinced I was going to do it. Once my body hit the ground and I was soaked, you were ecstatic. You ran to me and jumped on my body; and all three of us laid there in the water, messy and cold. You both looked at me with absolute pride and admiration.

I didn’t think first — I just jumped. And in that moment, I was the mom I want to be; the mom you so often need me to be. The mom I struggle with daily, never allowing her to be a part of my life.

What you didn’t see later on that night was me in the house crying — wondering why I won’t let myself be her more often.

I don’t know if either of you remember one of my more difficult nights. 

My boy, you curled up in bed next to me and handed me your blanket that you call night-night. You looked at me with those sweet eyes and said, “Here mom, take this and then take three deep breaths – like you tell me to do; it will make you feel better.” Your sister came in later and started asking questions; she is older in age and definitely wise beyond her years in empathy. 

And my daughter, as you sat on the edge of the bed, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was the reason you have such a heavy heart. Like me, you also worry a lot; you take on the weight of the world and feel the pain of others so deeply. Oh, how I love you and the your comforting heart — how you speak so few words, but always know the right things to say. 

The truth is, I so desperately don’t want you to be like me; it is one of my few wishes in life.
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You actually had the insight to ask me if this is why I chew my fingernails all the time and seem to always have a nervous energy that gets in the way of us. Those were the words you used for it: nervous energy. 

You brushed the hair out of my face and asked what it feels like to be me. And in that moment, I knew I couldn’t tell you what this feels like, because a part of me knows you feel the same way. The truth is, I so desperately don’t want you to be like me; it is one of my few wishes in life.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t come up with a complete thought to answer your question — at least one that made sense after it left my mouth. But how do I explain these suffocating thoughts and feelings that occupy so much of my life? Where do I find the words?

I wanted to tell you that my anxiety is debilitating and that I’m scared, every single day. I wanted to tell you that I hate it, and that I’m not sure it will ever leave me. But my little girl, you are only eight years old. Your world is still pure, hopeful, and perfect — I do not want to spoil it for you.

The truth is, anxiety has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s been my constant companion through adulthood; it was even with me when I was your age.

From the outside, looking in, I know how it must look. I know that what I worry about seems crazy; I know it makes no sense. Some might call me irrational, illogical, and overly emotional. Those words may not define me, but they so clearly describe the thoughts in my head. 

There are many times I want to say to Dad — and to both of you — that I’m sorry that I need to be told over and over again that it is going to be okay. I wish I didn’t need your constant reassurance. But I do.

I can imagine that living with me is difficult, and that there are times when loving me is even harder. I want you to know that I know – and I struggle with you.

Sometimes I just wish I could hit the pause button. But I can’t.

Sometimes it’s just down right exhausting and my body screams RELAX.

But I can’t.

I’m not sure if it will ever leave me. If I will wake up one day and be free of the pressure — the worry. What I do know is that there are days when it doesn’t take over and you are one of the reasons it doesn’t. Your smiles and hugs, your happiness and optimism — that’s what gets me through. 

And when I look at you, I am reminded of that hot summer day. The one when our bodies were entangled, as we shared a moment drenched in water at the end of the Slip-and-Slide; a moment I will always remember.

A moment that showed me there is hope.   

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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