I was recently diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It came as no surprise seeing as I’ve lived with the symptoms my whole life. But since becoming a mother, I’ve felt more of a desire to learn how to cope, seek help, and try to manage my mental health instead of ignore it.
So it’s no surprise that I see some signs of anxiety in one of my kids. When I first started recognizing some of the symptoms a couple of years ago, I was heartbroken. The last thing you want for one of your kids is for them to struggle with something that you’ve struggled with your whole life.
But recently, I was chatting with my pediatrician, and I was telling him about my concerns. I also told him about my own diagnosis. He took it all in stride, as pediatricians do, and proceeded to tell me about the strengths that my child would have, the things he would accomplish, and how it would all be okay. His positive outlook on all of it took me by surprise, and I think I literally sighed from relief.
We want to protect our kids from ever going through some of the heartache we’ve had to go through, but when I sat back and thought about it, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been right now. And that’s because I’ve learned to take the anxiety that was so debilitating for me for so many years and smack it right in the face. I’m overcoming that part of me every day, in little ways, and I’m stronger because of it.
It’s as if I suddenly looked at what I had previously seen as a weakness in my child, as a potential for huge strength in his life. No one was there to help me through my mental illness as a child, but I’m here for my son. And what better thing for a child struggling with anxiety than to have someone who understands right by his side?
Here’s what I’d say to my kid, and any other kid struggling with anxiety:
It’s okay. Yes, it sucks. Yes, some days will be hard, and yes, your anxiety will mess things up sometimes. But you’re also becoming stronger every single day by fighting it.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re weak. You’re not. Things that come easily to some people don’t come easily to you. And that’s fine. You’re a fighter, and you can win this battle.
It’s okay to be afraid. It really is. It’s okay to be scared, and anxious, and terrified. Own those emotions, but remind yourself that it’s okay to try to fight them too. You can do both. You can have your moment of fear, and then you can overcome it. It will seem impossible some days. And some days, it is. But there will be many days when you do it. Remember those. Those days are making you stronger.
It’s okay not to be able to do something someone else does. You have your own superpowers. We’re all made differently. Maybe crowds terrify you, or you would rather die than speak in front of a group of five people. It’s fine. You can do things that they can’t. Find those superpowers that you possess and don’t worry about the superpowers of another.
Recognize that your brain works differently, and love yourself anyway. This one is hard. You will wish that your brain is like everyone else’s. You’ll wish you could rationalize things away, or not think about them at all. You’ll loathe the way you see the world sometimes. But the more that you are open to loving that brain you were given, the one that seems broken, the more you will recognize when your thoughts are off-track, and then control them. Just love yourself and that annoying brain, exactly as you are.
Confide in someone you trust. I promise there are people in your life who will love you and accept you just the way you are. Don’t try to fake it. Be open and honest with your struggles now, and you will find your people. You will also find some help. Maybe it’s a parent, maybe it’s a teacher or friend, but seek out those who love you exactly as you are, and trust them enough to share what you’re going through so they can help you. Don’t hold it in.
It seems impossible, but remind yourself that if you just take things one day at a time, life is doable. Focus on today — not tomorrow or what might happen years from now. Just focus on doing your best today.
Forgive yourself. I will let you cry, and scream, and rage as long as you also work on pulling it together afterwards and forgiving yourself. Promise me you’ll do that. Forgive yourself after you fail. Forgive yourself for freaking out. Forgive yourself for not being like everyone else. Forgive yourself because you can’t help it, but you can fight it. And baby, we can win.