“May 18th,” my daughter answered, incorrectly. Perhaps we should have skipped this event.
The night before, my soon-to-be 9-year-old had been concerned about attending Birthday Book Club as she does not like “rushing around” in the morning. I assured her that attending would not change what time we’d need to be ready in the morning, it just meant we would drive to school instead of her taking the bus.
But she was still uneasy. 12 hours before the event, she was already unsure about this change in our routine. I completely understood.
I don’t know if I’ve had anxiety my entire life or if it set in later. For most of my life, I didn’t know that the feelings I had—the anger, the hesitance, the frustration, the fear—were because of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I didn’t know that was the source of my stomachaches, my headaches, my antisocial tendencies. I didn’t understand that I am more sensitive to noises, feelings, emotions, and generally getting overwhelmed than the average person. Because I didn’t understand what I was dealing with, I did not have a very high opinion of myself.
I don’t know if my daughter has GAD or if she is just a Highly Sensitive Person. What I do know is that I feel at fault for her troubles. Through my guilt, however, I feel grateful that I recognize what she is experiencing. I wish I could take away her uneasiness, but I am thankful that I can give her tools to cope so that she will not be needlessly burdened with her feelings, whether they turn out to be anxiety or just the growing pains of a sensitive person.
After we gave the volunteer the correct birthday and the sticker with her name was placed on the front page of the book, my daughter found a place to sit and listen to the librarian read a story to the attendees. She sat two steps from where she had been standing, too overwhelmed to look around for a seat on the floor that allowed her a view of the librarian. I asked her if she wanted to just leave and go to her classroom. She did.
We made our way to the sea of backpacks near the entrance to the library, and the bell rang. My third grader froze; it was the tardy bell. I reminded her that the librarian had said no one in Birthday Book Club would be counted tardy, but she was not convinced.
I took her hands, looked into her eyes, and asked her to breathe. We took one deep breath and then another, after which she wrapped her arms around my waist, using all her strength to hug me. We said our goodbyes, and she walked with haste down the long hallway. I stood and watched until she turned the corner, trying to psychically suck up her bad feelings and carry the burden myself.
As a Highly Sensitive Person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, it can be difficult for me to be a mother. I often feel the emotions of my daughters before they do. What I hope is that I can be strong enough to help them when they need it but also perceptive enough to know when they need help before they need to ask.
As hard as it is for me to be a mother, I imagine it is—or will be—much harder to be my daughter. But I’ve learned we are rarely given a choice of which burdens we have to bear—only a choice of how we bear them.