When you have spent time parenting any children, your sanity has likely come into question a time or two. Parent a child with special needs (be they physical, emotional, or mental) and you earn your Haz-mat, Hard Hat, and CIA Clearance badges from the Girl Scouts of Motherhood in a hot minute.
After what feels like a lifetime of meltdowns, tantrums, screaming fits, broken household items, and holes in drywall, many of us come under fire. The scrutiny may come from a spouse, family, friend, or fellow church-goer. Their judgment doesn’t discriminate. Regardless of your brand of brutal survival, mama, this is hard. It is messy and tear-filled and doubt-laden and just plain hard.
Now, nearing three blissful, medicated months, I sometimes lie in bed and think to myself (as my son hurls toys across the room in a rage): Seriously! How did you survive without Lexapro!? Honey. You are a champion.
Mental health is no joke, and it took my son’s generalized anxiety diagnosis for me to even realize my own personal volatile, obsessive introspective thoughts were not completely normal and totally happening in everyone else’s head too. Ridiculous. I know. But I swear I had no idea.
Briggs’ first diagnosis came at age 4. Five diagnoses later and we came to the conversation of anxiety. You may be asking yourself, “How, dear mama, did you not associate his Mach 5 morning meltdowns before school with some kind of anxiety?” To which I would remind you–clearly, I was ridiculous.
Parenting brings its own heap of doubt and guilt, but parenting extreme children should come with a guidebook or, least of all, some coupons for a respite weekend once a month to maintain parental clarity and emotional wherewithal.
“Does your son become fixated on one topic or thing?” the specialist inquired innocently.
“Does he ask a lot of questions surrounding what seem like unreasonable fears?”
“Does he have trouble falling asleep?”
“Does he tend to worry beyond reason?”
“Does he happen to usually assume the worst, even in a common situation?”
“Does he always seem ‘keyed up’ or have an inability to rest or relax?”
“Is he a perfectionist or insist on re-doing tasks he feels were inadequate?”
“Does he require an unusual amount of praise, acknowledgement, or approval, even for trivial tasks?”
Yes. Yes. Double yes. Cross the T’s, dot the I’s, holy sh*t, he has another diagnosis. I am the worst mom ever. How did I not see this!? This must be why he has such terrible mornings. I may literally never sleep again. Oh my word, I have been rushing him out the door. I am making this worse! I tell him to can it on the four millionth inquiry about thunderstorms because I just can’t take it anymore and he can’t control it. Mom Fail, population me. Aaaaahhhhhhh!!!
That entire inner dialogue took place in the span of about four seconds while the specialist spoke and I was too busy being the Captain of the S.S. Self-Shaming ship to hear her.
For the next week, I questioned and doubted the first five years of parenting our son. I verbally abused myself for the countless mistakes I had obviously made and started mentally reconfiguring our budget to begin to save for the therapy our soon would no doubt need as a teenager since I–his lowly, shameful mother–had ruined him for life.
My husband looked at me. He half grinned.
Clearly he is NOT taking this seriously. What even goes on in his head at a time like this!? How can he smile? Why is he not completely freaking out? And why has he not read the 49 articles on anxiety I researched, printed, and highlighted for him since yesterday’s appointment?
Jesus, take the wheel.
On the way home from that specialist appointment I had an epiphany. It was like the moment I realized Ginuwine’s 90s classic, Pony, was not actually about horses. Utter shock and horror at my complete naiveté and disconnect with reality.
“Oh my gosh, Spence. I have this, don’t I?”
He looked at me, unable to speak.
“I do. And this is genetic. And this is my fault. And he has this because of me. And…”
Before I could travel all the way to the Island of Misfit Moms, he interrupted to explain, in the obvious pain of a husband’s honesty, that I had pretty much been exactly like every one of those “symptoms” since he’d met me. He assured me that, no, in fact, they were not normal. Just because he is free-spirited doesn’t mean he is the only one who doesn’t lose sleep nightly and completely obsess over basically everything they cannot control.
I spent the next week researching every mental health article, combing medical journals, pinning Pinterest links about anxiety and self-diagnosing. It was gross and messy, a special kind of depressing only a struggling mother understands.
Finally, in aisle 5 of Kroger, I cried on the phone to a trusted friend and nurse practitioner.
“Honey. Come to the office. I will stay until you get here. You aren’t alone. Hundreds of millions of Americans take some form of antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds.* It is ok to ask for help.”
(*Note: One in six Americans actually take some kind of psychiatric drugs — mostly antidepressants, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Internal Medicine.)
I dried my eyes and drove to see her. Even in my ridiculously verbose way of living life, I will never be able to tell that friend what her phone call meant to me.
The next day I began taking 10mg of Lexapro every morning. It is the lowest dose available. Somehow that notion comforted me, as if taking the lowest prescribed amount would somehow impress the nurse at my next doctor’s appointment. “Oh, she’s only taking 10mg, NBD,” I imagined her saying.
Mental health is not a joke. It is a daily struggle for many people, worldwide.
Too many of us laugh about how “OCD we are” because we had to straighten the pens on our desk or because our planner is color-coded. Sister, I have legit obsessive tendencies and, while I am proud of my color-coded life, my intrusive thoughts have little to nothing to do with ink pens.
I have anxiety, and that’s okay. Say it outloud. It is pretty amazing and incredibly freeing. And guess what? I am not the only one. Cue the shock and awe.
As someone who would rather lose an appendage than ask for help, this step has been a mighty one. This has been one I have taken towards healing, health, and a happier family. This has helped me identify, embrace, and own things about myself that I assumed were terminally dysfunctional. This is opening communication between my husband and me on topics that I honestly never even thought about before because of paralyzing fear–and it. Is. AWESOME.
Several weeks into admitting I needed to reach out, someone recommended the book Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker. I had read her stuff before and enjoyed it. But this book?! Hold. The. Phone. Sisters!! Jen (we are bff’s, though she doesn’t know it) is my soul sister. If you are a parent or basically a person at all, you need this book in your life. It was soul soothing.
Mama, join the club. Breathe it out. Dig into some of those jacked up things you have told yourself your entire life.
Maybe you are that one mom who is just blessed beyond measure. Girl, bottle that unicorn brand of self-love you were born with because I will be your first customer.
If that isn’t you, do some research. Talk to someone. Call a friend. You, sister, are not alone.