Monday, November 17, 2014

Parenting, with a side of anxiety

Last week, I put my son on a public bus. Alone. At night.

Clearly this wasn't my idea.

He was to take the bus all the way down to Denver and meet his father at the bus station in downtown for the Black Keys concert. He had his phone with him. My husband was planning to meet him at the bus so he wouldn't have to navigate the station alone.

He's a smart kid with a good head on his shoulders. He's pretty aware when he needs to be, he's good with directions and has always been a good traveler. He's basically man-sized these days, with his frame flirting with the six foot range.

He'll be 14 in the spring, old enough to start thinking about taking driver's training courses. He's trying out for drum line for high school tonight. For high school.

He's not a little boy anymore. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

For them to let go, first I need to.
Even if I have to force it.
And he was fine. He did fine. He got to where he needed to go and his Dad met up with him and they had a blast.

I, on the other hand, spent most of that day dreading what I knew I had to do. I knew that I was going to drive him to a bus station here in town and that I was going to tell him to get out of the car and go stand over there and get onto a public bus and drive away without me. I knew that. And I did it.

I did it even though I spent the majority of that day imagining all the things that could go wrong. I did it even though a huge part of me wanted to tell him to forget it and that I would just drive him down there. I did it even though I knew it meant that there would be a lump in my throat that would form when he stepped foot on that bus and it wouldn't dissolve until I knew he was safe on the other end. I did it even though a part of me wanted to follow that bus to make sure he was fine. I did it even though it was more than a little bit terrifying for me.

What if he was kidnapped? What if he had to go to the bathroom on the bus? What if there was an accident on the interstate? What if he got off at the wrong stop? What if what if what if what if what if what if what if.......

I can play the what if game like a professional.

You don't even what to know what goes on in my head.

Part of what I do with everything, particularly with new situations like that one, is that I go through every possible set of circumstances that could arise, imagining the worst case scenario played out, then I run these simulations in my mind. I have to let them all play out to their usually catastrophic finales, just in case it actually happens....which it literally never does.

My mantra is to prepare for the worst, hope for the best. 

I can prepare for the worst until the cows come home. All day, every damn day.

I have to remind myself of the second part of my mantra almost constantly to keep my anxiety from taking over and swallowing up that part of me that allows for normal functioning: the hope for the best part.

Without the hope for the best part, I would have never have let my son get on that bus. The fact that he's a fairly independent and responsible teenager wouldn't have swayed me, because anxiety isn't about reality...it's about all the imagined possible realities.

It's not about what is. It's about what might be.

The anxiety can be crippling at times when it comes to my kids because there are so many things to worry about with them. Some of the concerns I have are wholly legitimate ones, like the worries about Little Boy and diabetes. The vast majority of them, though, aren't real at all. I worry about things that will never ever happen. I worry about things that most people never even think about. I worry about worrying too much.

What I work to do every single day is to not let all that worrying I do affect how I raise my kids. I don't want them to grow up to be afraid of the world. I don't want them to imagine every possible thing that could go wrong constantly. I don't want them to hesitate. I don't want them to hold back.

I want them to get on buses to crowded downtowns alone and know that they can do that because they are smart and capable and can take care of themselves. I want them to be able to tell me goodbye when they walk to that bus stop and know that things will be okay. I want them to have the confidence to try new experiences.

I don't want them to be afraid.

I squash the anxiety down in my brain out of necessity. To let them live, to let them experience life, I have to find a way to silence the doubt in my brain enough. It can torture me, but it can't torture them.

I don't allow the irrational fears inside my mind to have a voice that speaks to them. I caution them about the likely things they will deal with, counsel them as a parent should...but I don't let my worries become their worries.

I don't want them to be like me.

Unfortunately, one of them is far more like me than I would have ever wanted. She has across the board anxiety, testing above the diagnosis threshold in every subcategory. Her anxieties have anxieties. She worries about things that will never happen almost constantly. Before we can even start to make plans, she's already imagining the unraveling that will take place. She builds things up in her mind like enormous cities of tall gleaming skyscrapers, only to have them squashed beneath the feet of her giant fire breathing monster.

She is her mother's daughter.

She's also the child with whom I suffered postpartum depression the worst. A therapist once told me that the fact that I'd had PPD with her almost certainly altered how we bonded when she was a newborn, that I was unable to be the safe place she needed me to be and that she picked up on that from birth. Coupled with her natural tendency to be this way already, it's not a good combination.

As an aside....I'm not sure that knowing that truth helped, at least not on my end. Telling a person with anxiety that they contributed in large part to the anxiety their child developed doesn't bring much comfort. No. No, it does not.

Anyway.

I spend so much time reassuring that child about life, most of my efforts falling on deaf ears.

I don't want her to be like me, but she already is. Maybe she would have been this way even if I hadn't had such awful PPD with her. Maybe she wouldn't have. I don't know.

All I do know is that as heartbreaking as it is to see her struggle this way, as frustrating as it can be to see her give her energy to these make believe scenarios, I know what is going on with her. Who could possibly be better equipped to help her navigate this than I am?

Those who don't operate the way we do don't understand. They think that we just worry incessantly for no reason. They think that we can just stop doing it, or that we should just stop doing it. They don't understand that we'd literally give anything for that ability.

She will, with time and maturity, become more able to tune out the anxieties in her head. She will learn to hope for the best, just so that she can function normally. She will, I am confident of it. She will get there. I know she will because I did. I know she will because I will help her.

Perhaps that is the silver lining here. Those of us who have children that struggle the same way we do are far more equipped to help them than anyone else ever could be.

There's comfort in that.

There is.

1 comment:

  1. Jennifer Fortune SteuerNovember 17, 2014 at 6:51 PM

    I understand. I get it. I am anxious about my kids getting to school. This is irrational. My husband walks them to school. I trust him, and yet I stand in the door way and watch him cross our street, a parking lot entrance and a parking lot exit. I watch to make sure the kids are okay. I watch to make sure he is okay. I am NOT okay. I have agoraphobia that is pretty well controlled most days. Other times I have to psych myself up to go pick the kids up from school. Talking to other adults makes me anxious. I think what you did was so brave!

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