It was 9pm and the 700th time my daughter had snuck out of bed. With an exasperated sigh I tried my best to be calm when I asked her why she was still awake.
“I just can’t sleep, Mom,” she said, “I just keep worrying about school tomorrow.”
The words covered my heart with fear because I’ve been there often. Tossing and turning and trying to sleep without success because I’ve been overly concerned about the next day or week or year. Her words were familiar to me because I live with anxiety and suddenly I was face to face with the possibility that my daughter may have some of that in her genes, too.
We cuddled and talked it through for a few minutes until she was either tired, or just tired of hearing me talk, and she went back to bed to finally fall asleep. I, on the other hand, ironically felt myself unable to follow suit.
In the following days I listened to her when she talked. Really listened. I heard the familiar phrases that crowded my brain. I’m worried, I’m scared, what if. It’s the what if that struck me because that’s what anxiety is, isn’t it? Just a string of “what if” thoughts that you can’t seem to control.
It saddens and pains me that my daughter may grow up to struggle with anxiety like I do. I know the fear that I live with constantly and that type of inner turmoil and torture isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy, let alone my own flesh and blood. I want my daughter to be the carefree five-year-old she is. I want her to look at the world with excitement about the possibilities in her life, not trepidation about what might or might not happen to her. I want her to be fearless in her endeavors, to be brave, not worried and scared.
While I could pull my knees into my chest and rock in a corner, lamenting over the possibility that somehow her anxiety is my fault, I choose instead to be grateful that I live with anxiety. I know it sounds weird to be happy about less than stellar mental health, but I sincerely believe my own anxiety may be a blessing in disguise.
Since I have it, and I am on the path to learn how to cope with it on a daily basis, I have the knowledge needed to aid my daughter in overcoming her own anxious thoughts. I can teach her the things that I have learned to help combat the constant worry. She can learn these techniques at an early age instead of in her 30s so that instead of being plagued by it for years before finally getting help, she can start implementing these coping mechanisms now. By the time she is older, she will hopefully know what to do before it becomes debilitating.
My seeing her symptoms of anxiety have also opened up a line of communication between us about the medication I take for it. When she used to ask why I was taking a pill in the afternoon, I would just brush it off with a blasé “these pills help mommy not worry.” Now I can explain to her what the medications actually do. I explain to her that sometimes Mommy needs a little help so she can calm down, so she can enjoy her day more . I explain to her that some people need a little help like talking to people or taking medicine to help them be the best version of themselves she can be. She is growing up learning that there should be no stigma in asking for help or taking medication. In today’s society where so many of us are deemed less than because we take medication for our mental illness, that lesson I can teach her is a true gift.
While I hope and pray every night that this is just a phase, that she doesn’t really have anxiety and instead is just working out her emotions, I’m at least at peace with the possibility, and I‘m proud of myself for preparing her for what may come in her future. Whether she has anxiety or not I know she will be just fine because she’s a fighter. Just like her mom.