Parenting with an Anxiety Disorder

Parenting with an Anxiety Disorder

Parenting children while dealing with an anxiety disorder can be a very tricky dance.

If you are like me, of all the things you worry about

Messing up your kids is probably your number one worry.

They come into the world so sweet and perfect, that it is almost overwhelming to imagine how you will get them to adulthood healthy and whole.

In terms of parenting with an anxiety disorder, there are two main ways that I struggle.

 

One struggle is dealing with the limits that my anxiety places on my parenting.

It hurts my heart to think of the number of times that I have told my children

Mommy can’t

play,

help you with homework,

take you to soccer today,

because she

has a migraine,

doesn’t feel well,

is worried about flaring up her allergies.”

 

Add to that all the extra things my kids have had to do because of my anxiety-induced limits. Just in the past month they have taken on laundry duty, carried items and pushed the cart at the grocery store, and generally been my arms and back around the house while I sort out this stress-related neck and shoulder pain.

I try to tell myself that my kids are resilient. That learning to help others in their family/community is an important lesson. That if I didn’t struggle with this, there would be some other limitation that would affect my relationship with my kids.

But at the end of the day I still worry that I am shortchanging my kids.

 

The other big issue I face in parenting with an anxiety disorder is trying not to pass on the habits of worry and fear to my kids.

This may be the bigger factor of the two for me. I pray that one day my children will forgive me my faults and brokenness, like all children eventually have to do with all parents.

But Dear God in Heaven, let them not inherit my anxiety.

This is doubly tricky because I believe propensity towards anxiety can actually be inherited as in written into our DNA. But I also know that anxiety can be learned.

We have two children, one that was born from me and one that is adopted. Of the two kids, I actually notice our adopted child mirroring my anxiety more than the one that shares my DNA. Now is this because she came with her own anxiety, having been abandoned at birth, moved from foster home to orphanage and then finally across the world until she settled in her forever home? Or is this because she is modeling her same-sex parent who has taught her to be anxious?

Since anxiety is a complicated beast, we may never know.

So mainly I focus on damage control.

1) Sometimes I am honest with them about the fact that I am anxious.

And I tell them I am probably more anxious than I need to be because worry is something I struggle with. We think we can hide these kind of things from our kids, but young ones are uncannily sensitive and smart. I figure if I don’t put it out there and explain what is going on, they will still feel my fear and come to their own conclusions on why I am afraid.

 

2) When possible I defer to the braver, calmer parent. 

I am lucky in that my husband does not suffer from anxiety. To me he is a fearless rock. When we get in a situation where I know I am more anxious about something than I need to be, and he is just fine, he takes the reigns. This is why Daddy takes our kids zip-lining while Mommy tours a winery. The kids learn to be brave and I soothe myself until I can greet them at the end of their adventure with a smile and pretend it is fun to hear how they flew down a mountain.

 

3) I teach them how to soothe their own anxiety.

Since I’ve taught my daughter to be anxious, I figured it was only fair that I also teach her deep-breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, and how to recognize and switch her anxious thoughts. Since my son tends more towards irritability, we work on breathing and easy meditation.

 

4) I try to be brave.

Honestly, having kids has brought out the brave in me more than anything ever could. So when they want to ride the chair lift at the fair or watch the tightrope act at the circus, I summon up my courage and go along for the ride. Sometimes they are sweet enough to encourage me, “Come on Mom, you can do it!”

And when they want to ride around the block by themselves or go to the middle school dance, I take a deep breath and say okay. I may be breathing the worry away until I see their beautiful faces again, but I know it is important to believe in them enough to let them go.

 

In the end I guess we all just do the best we can with what we have.

And learn to say I’m Sorry.

And I Love You.

And hope we’re not hugging them too much because we’re worried about how badly we’re messing them up.

 

Relapse is a part of Recovery

relapse is a part of recovery

One of the more frustrating elements in my journey with mental illness is relapse.

Things will have been going pretty good for months, if not years, and then some trigger hits that sends my anxiety into a flare.

Next thing you know, I’m back on the panic train and having to implement all my strategies of healing in order to to slow down the train enough so that I can get off.

Even in the midst of recovering from a panic and anxiety flare, there are ups and downs. Oh how I wish recovery went in a straight diagonal line that only moved up!

But unfortunately, in the midst of healing there are good days and bad days alike. So many times it is two steps forward, and one step back, to the point that the image of recovery looks more like a corkscrew moving upwards instead of a line.

I have to frequently remind myself that this is okay.

It does not mean I am a failure.

It does not mean I will never get better.

It does not even mean I will go back to square one in my healing process.

 

To borrow a line from the substance abuse community:

Relapse is a part of Recovery

 

I still don’t understand all of why this is true, but if you want to know more, you can look into the work of researchers Prochaska and DiClemente. My nerdy (but adorable) social worker husband loves what they have to say about change.

 

I also have to remind myself periodically that relapse is not the same as free fall decline, though at times for this anxious girl it feels like it is. I feel myself loosing ground and I wonder and worry about how bad the fall will be this time.

This past summer I flew for the first time in several years and as a part of a get over your fear of flying course, I learned a lot about turbulence.

Now let me just go ahead and tell you how much I hate turbulence. Bumping around in the air like that drives me crazy. I worry that the plane is going to hit a pocket of air that is so unstable it will cause the plane to just plummet all the way to the ground.

Imagine my surprise to learn that when a plane encounters turbulence most times it actually is only moving a few inches up and down.

Yes, that is right. Inches. It only feels like we are bobbing wildly through the air. The scientific answer for why it feels worse than that is that the plane is moving so fast. (Also, the anxiety probably amplifies things for me as well.) The course also informed me it is almost impossible for a plane to crash from turbulence. Turns out those flying metal cans are way more resilient than I thought them to be.

I think it is like this with our lives sometimes as well. We feel like we are losing major ground in a relapse, when in truth if we looked at the big picture it would only be inches. Also, we are much more resilient creatures than we often believe ourselves to be. We are not going to totally crash into chaos;   we are just bumping around a little bit. We will be fine. Let me say that again.

We will be fine.

So dear readers, do all the good things you can to help heal your anxiety, but know that in the end it will take some time to get to better. And just go ahead and expect some bumps along the way. For whatever reason, it is just part of the process.

But from one anxious flyer to another, I hope that your ride to healing is as quick and smooth as possible.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget to look out the window occasionally on your journey. There might be some surprisingly nice scenery along the way.

releasing control

 

 

For when others just don’t understand

The words below were written early on in my latest anxiety flare up.  I had been to a medical professional to be treated for a physical problem resulting from my anxiety.  During my treatment this professional got exasperated with me and said,

“You just need to relax. This is all in your head you know.” 

I was so hurt and frustrated (because if I could “just relax,” trust me, I would in a racing heartbeat). So then, the following words came out (at least I thought them and jotted them down).

 

An Anxiety Sufferers Manifesto

I have an anxiety disorder.

And I am kind.
And I am caring.

And I have an anxiety disorder.

And I am intelligent.
And I am creative.

And I have an anxiety disorder.

And I am beautiful.
And surprisingly funny.

And I have an anxiety disorder.

So sometimes I struggle.
Sometimes I am a bit of a mess.

But I still deserve your attention and your respect. Your compassion even if you dare for I have likely been through more than you know.

I am not crazy.
I am not to be dismissed just because I may be difficult to deal with or bothersome to you.

I have an illness.  And illness that is not any more my fault than diabetes or cancer.

If you will take the time to look and listen past my tense shoulders and racy heart you will find a person who has a lot to offer.

Even though . . . and even because . . . I have an anxiety disorder.

 

So that’s what I wrote. And maybe one day I’ll have the courage to say them out loud to those who just don’t get it.

Making Rest a Priority

Making Rest a Priority

 

Whenever I am stressed,  add overtired to the mix and you can watch my anxiety rise.

Because exhaustion amplifies anxiety.

For those of us who struggle with anxiety,  getting our rest is important priority.

However is our fast paced culture this is no easy task. To be honest most of us get too little sleep at night,  much less a chance to rest during the day.

In our house we have to be up and about by 6 am to get the kids to school on time.  My husband and I have been trying our best to turn off the tv, shut down the computer and put down our phones by 9:30 so we can begin our bedtime routines. (If you suffer from insomnia read about how light from all our blue screens disturbs our sleep here.)

This is never easy but oh so important to keep my anxiety at bay.

 

But rest is about more than just sleep.

I invite you this weekend to practice the discipline of Sabbath.

Close the laptop, lay down the chores, take a break from the busy kid activities and just relax.

Read.

Take a walk.

Nap.

Play.

 

You might just be amazed at how great you feel.

All or Nothing Thinking

all or nothing thinking

 

Another thought pattern that leads to anxiety (yes, there are many) is All or Nothing Thinking.

This is the type of thought pattern that leads us to label something is either really great, or just a total mess. In that way it is similar to perfectionism, but all or nothing thinking has a much broader scope.

In addition to leading me to have high expectations, all or nothing thinking also makes me very impatient. When I expect something to happen, I expect it immediately, or else I doubt it will happen at all.

This can be really frustrating to people when they are healing from anxiety and depression as they really want to get better, and they want to get better RIGHT NOW. It can be hard for us to see the small steps of progress along the way.

Moreover, if we are healing in a two steps forward, one step back way that many of us do, we can view that one step back as a chutes and ladders type slide all the way back to where we started instead of one move back on the game board.

When my husband explains all or nothing thinking to people, he often draws a little line graph and label it from one to ten.

When he hears someone talking about something using the language “always” or “never” or describes something as awful or a “total failure”, he asks them to chart how bad it was on the 1-10 scale.  Usually we are not at zero. Oftentimes we have made it all the way to a six or seven in a certain area when we used to be at a 2.  By looking at our struggles incrementally, we can see that we are making progress. Also, we can see that even our setbacks are not as dramatic as we feel them to be.

This is definitely an area that I am still progressing in. It takes a lot of practice to move from a mindset where things are just “good” and “bad” to a multiple layered approach.

However, in doing so I find that life is often better than I had initially viewed it (not perfect=bad) and my struggles and setbacks were not as bad as they might have seemed.

How do you struggle with all or nothing thinking? What helps you see the middle ground?

My favorite Anxiety Relievers

After  yesterday’s post about relaxation, I realized I left out an important part of my own relaxation/anxiety management plan:

 

anxiety relief

 

I could pet these guys for hours, and honestly sometimes I almost do.

 

Settling in for a good pet/cuddle session with my hounds not only lowers their anxiety, but my own as well.

I think there is actually scientific proof about how petting a dog lowers blood pressure and releases oxytocin.

But you know what? Instead of looking that up and linking it here, I think I’m just going to go pet my dogs and experience the results.

 

May you too have someone warm and cute to cuddle with tonight.

Learning to Relax

Learning To Relax

 

People who struggle with anxiety often get told to “Just Relax” a lot.

But honestly, relaxing is sometimes harder than it sounds, and not just for people with anxiety.

Our culture is so fast paced and our demands are so many, that relaxation often seems a pipe dream. Sure if I had a week on the beach in the Caribbean I could relax (not really, we’d have to be a little further out of hurricane season for that to be true :-) ) Seriously, sometimes we get so amped from the stress of living life that it can be quite difficult to calm down.

So, how in the world do we de-stress? 

There are shelves of books out there that teach many types of relaxation techniques. I myself teach people to deep breath, stretch, progressively relax their muscles and practice mindfulness meditations in my role as a yoga teacher.

But all the knowledge in the world will not help us relax if we don’t practice these techniques sometime every day.

And there in lies the rub. Even when we know how to relax, we have to make it a priority in our life.

Learning to Relax

 

 

For the past couple of months I have given myself the guilty pleasure of a hot bath every night. (Three weeks in Africa taught me that  a tub full of hot water was quite a luxury. I guess I should just donate monthly to the Water Project so I don’t feel so bad about my copious use of clean water).

In the category of guilty luxuries, I am also getting a massage regularly right now.

(Honestly,  when you get super tense from anxiety a massage is more of a necessity than a luxury. I guess it just takes time to change our mindset that it is okay to spend time and money to take care of ourselves. This may be half the battle here, eh?)

I also take some time each day to practice counted breath practice, usually also at night.

I really want to get back into a regular meditation practice (20 mins a day). I am honestly still hit or miss right now, but I know it would help me so much. I usually practice Centering Prayer when I meditate, but also sometimes use mindfulness meditation.

Of course there are also the slow walks and netflix sessions on the sofa, but although this is de-stressing I am not sure if it technically counts as relaxation the way breathing and meditating would.

(Still, it doesn’t hurt to enjoy oneself. Again, getting into that mindset may be half the battle.)

I’d love to hear how the rest of you out there de-stress and relax.

Are there others with a regular mediation practice? If so, how do you make thing a regular part of your day? Anyone else looking to recommit to their own practice and wanting to be an accountability meditation partner with me?  

For when you just can’t

So I hit a wall tonight.

And I hate it when that happens.

As much as I’ve gotten better mentally and physically this past month there are still moments when I realize how much I am not well yet. How much healing there is still to go.

I was talked into trying something new by my adventurous husband.  The one who seemingly can do anything.  It was this creative movement class a friend was leading. All very spontaneous and free.

Except I am not.  Not now. Not yet.

The first question I asked our leader was if I would be able to do this class with a hurt neck and shoulder.  She said I might just want to modify a few things.

In the end it was everything.

While everyone else was stretching their limbs out wild and free I could barely bring myself to move my arms inches from my body. Weeks of painful muscles keep ringing in my ears.

Then we were to move about the room walking and running, whatever.  I found myself moving in tense tight circles as far away from everyone else as possible.

When she asked us to move backwards and mentioned that if we ran into someone else it was okay, I pretty much just ran from the room.

Because it is not okay. Not now. Not yet.

I ended up in the bathroom crying my eyes out. Because yet again I watch my family be so fearless and free while I am just not.

And I know I am keeping myself in my own prison.  But I am just not able to break out.

Not tonight.  Not now. Not yet.

I really envy people who are able to trust the world and themselves.

People who either haven’t experienced deep pain or trauma or have just dealt with it better than myself.

For when you have been hurt it can be so easy to live in fear of the pain.

To guard. To protect.

If I had a dime for every time I’ve been told to “just relax”, that I’m too tense, that I’m guarding too much,  then I could pay for my all my therapy and anxiety related medical bills.

But it doesn’t work that way now, does it?

In the end, I know it will have to be me who turns the key that sets me free.

That allows me to run and fly and do all the things I watch so enviously from the sidelines holding my fear and regret.

In the end I know I’ll have to just let go.

Let go of the pain. Let go of all the memories that haunt. Let go of the fear of what lies ahead.

But not tonight.

Not now. Not yet.