Dealing with anxiety and depression is hard. And dealing with anxiety and depression while parenting is often viewed as a monumental struggle. I would like to present an alternative point of view, however. I would like to submit the idea that my anxiety and depression have made me a better mom. Do I know what kind of mom I would be without these things? Not really, but I can look at the ways that my developed coping mechanisms have benefited those around me.
Though I hope that this article can help many mothers suffering, I want to make it clear that everyone has unique experiences and symptoms of their anxiety/depression. I want these ways to empower you to feel better as a parent even if you are struggling, but I in no way want to imply that your pain can be talked away or if you just slap the label “superpower” on it, it all dissipates. We obviously have gone years trying to fake and mold our minds to just be normal for once, and I have no interest in trying to shame you into normality. This is my way of understanding that my illness doesn’t hurt my children and, in fact, it can help them. I hope that you take that into your life, too. No matter your struggle, your children benefit from you.
Queen of The What-Ifs
When my children started school, they would ask a lot of questions about what they would do. What if I get lost? What if I don’t know my teacher? What if… Little did they know I had run through all of these scenarios while they were 6 months old. At this moment, I am working on all the what-ifs for some wedding 15 years from now. My chronic anxiety allows me to assuage their fears about the life around them. I can do it quickly and efficiently since it’s already run through my mind. My lack of hesitation lets them know that they can trust it.
Feelings? Tell Me What You Want to Do with Them
Most parents are attuned to their children’s feelings. They know when they are mad or sad. I do that, too, but I also discuss how those feelings are used. Are you scared? What are you scared of? Is it a “real” fear that is keeping you safe or is it something that is holding you back? We talk about sadness. What is causing the sadness? Does it help to write it down or draw a picture of what is making you sad? Are you angry? What can you do with that energy to put something positive out there? Are you anxious, or can we flip it into excitement?
The Stories I Can Tell… and Do
I know from experience that it will be ok. If you fall when you are walking toward your crush, it will be ok. If you toot when you are doing sit-ups in front of the whole class during the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, it will be ok. Chances are people will forget, until you write about it randomly in an article. If you get in a car accident, it will be ok. There will be really bad things that happen. I’m sorry for that. They are things we learn from. If you find yourself scared, remember it’s temporary. In this moment it’s uncomfortable, but things will be different.
When to Admit Help
When I’m on an upswing and my depression lifts due to meds and the work I put in, I can occasionally decide that I don’t need to take meds anymore. I start to believe that I can tackle things alone. Inevitably, after I’ve gone off the meds, I crash pretty hard. At those points I find my way back to the doctor and get help again. I take no pride in going off meds or having to return to them. It’s a non-issue. It’s like when I go get my eyeglass prescription adjusted. I don’t feel pride or shame. It’s not something I can control. I try my best. I am always watching for signs in my children that they may require additional resources to maintain their mental health. I know the signs. I know the physical symptoms that start and the questions that can help establish baselines. I know the words I wouldn’t say to my own parents. The feelings that crawled in as I got older.
Can I or anyone else prevent their child from going through their own struggles with depression or anxiety? No. I wish a million times over that I could. What I can do is use all the information that I have gained and try to make their life a little better — livable. I can hope that is enough. I can forgive myself for the little things that I struggle with when I have days that we don’t go places, or when I am irritable because my brain won’t shut off. Although those are negatives that I wish I could fix, at least there is a trade-off where I’m present for the dangers for my kids.
I hope this speaks to you as well as your greatness as a mother. I would encourage you to make a list of the benefits of your experience with whatever illness you have dealt with—be it physical or mental. Look at how they changed and shaped and taught you. Be proud of that woman. Because I am.