Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Living with Anxiety...

I've been reflecting a bit today on some of my neuroticisms.  Me, neurotic?   I know, who knew, right??  If you know me for real, then deep down under my snarky remarks and my attempts at humor that more often than not leave me with a foot in my mouth, you know I am about one worried thought away from resembling this little lady some days:
Truth is, I've always been a worrier.  When I was little, I worried so much sometimes that I made myself sick.  I would sit up at night having a terrible time getting to sleep worrying about terribly implausible things like house-fires, Freddy Kruger attacks, and/or raging tornadoes. Then, when I became an adolescent, my anxieties turned toward more of a social focus.  I would worry over every little encounter I had with my friends, turning their comments over and over in my head, fretting that I'd said the wrong thing or done the wrong thing and they would hate me forever.  Turns out, a lot of the time I was right, but that had more to do with me choosing the wrong friends than anything related to my own personality.  Ah, hindsight.

Then, when I had children, my anxiety morphed once more. And grew about 5000% worse.  I started to spend EVERY WAKING MOMENT worrying about my children and my family.  The crazy part was, even though I knew I had a longstanding problem with anxiety and fearfulness, I noticed I wasn't alone anymore.  I started to develop wonderful friendships with other Mommies.  Friendships that were far more fulfilling and positive than I ever experienced in my adolescent and teen years.  However, one thing I noticed we ladies had in common (for the most part) was anxiety.  I know the Mother Hen instincts are common, but really what I noticed was that my friends and I were worrying an enormous amount about some things that if it weren't for a few well meaning internet articles ("cough cough... WebMD... cough"), we probably would never have wasted brain cells and time worrying, when all along we could have spent that time scanning Pinterest.  Er...ahem... I mean writing our Mom Advice Blogs.   Time we could have spent baking cookies, or hiding in closets eating those cookies so our kids won't see and ask us to share, was instead spent researching articles on whooping cough vs. common cold at the first sign of a sniffle from our little tykes.  

Apart from the wild world of the internet, though, I think we Mom's contribute to this through our shared advice sometimes.  I remember when my twins were itty bitty newborns, all sweet and pink and, strangely, worm-ish... and (dare I admit it?) utterly boring to hang out with, people would give me advice like: "Sleep when the baby sleeps," or "If you want to improve your babies' health and well being, you should stimulate them with [Insert name of overpriced baby stimulation program or toy here]."  That's really where it starts!  What if I don't want to sleep when the baby sleeps!?  What if I want to use that time for things that I find fulfilling, since the rest of my hours are going to be spent resembling either a moo cow or a sanitation worker??   Worried lest my babies turn out dumb somehow because I didn't "entertain" them, I would sit reading stories to my hairbow-bedecked, squirmy little dears while they stared frustratingly off at the houseplant behind me, leaving me wringing my hands and worrying that my babies had attention disorders.   And don't even get me started on the nightmarishly hellish battle I put myself through over stopping breastfeeding at 5 weeks.  You would have thought I had all the guilt of starving my little darlings to death or burning them on a pyre on the lawn.   All because I had 40,000,000 very well-meaning friends telling me not to give up, and "you can do it!" and "every woman has enough milk... you just have to keep trying!"-- Kind advice, mind you, unless you are that new mom who is willing to drive herself completely mad trying in order to NEVER FAIL HER BABIES, even to the point of hourly emotional breakdowns and teary calls to lactation specialists at 2 a.m..  

Then, when they were finally squared away with a true nutritional source and not dying of thirst from the wee trickle my minuscule lady parts scrimped up for them, and I finally began to feel like I might keep my children alive... well then there were the folks telling me how and how not to lay my kids down to sleep at night.  How my babies should be positioned in a carseat, and for how long.  Whether vaccinations will be an awesome pot-of-gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow o' health and wellness, or whether they would end up poisoning my children and causing them to grow to resemble this guy from "Goonies"
"Rocky Road?" ... at least he was a happy guy, though :) 
All of these things were not beneficial to my mental well-being, to say the least.  

As my kids began to grow, the worries became more creative: 
Will my kids catch some horrible infectious condition that so-and-so warned me about if I give them sushi?
Will they get cancer from the microwave like so-and-so says?
Will they be internally decapitated if I turn their carseats a month before the Pediatrician recommended?
Will someone come in and steal my babies in the night because I don't have a security system as advanced as so-and-so?  
Is my children's asthma caused by ____________ that I DID TO THEM?  Because ____________ said it could be related.  
Will my child end up a sociopath because I let them cry it out/didn't let them cry it out, like so-and-so said?  
If I homeschool/don't homeschool my child, will the become a deviant sociopath like so-and-so said?
Is my child's psychopathic behavior the terrible 2's [or 3's... or 8's] or is it happening because I feed my child [Insert non-organic, non GMO food source name here]... because so-and-so, who is an expert, says it is. 

As an aside, let me take a moment to note that the majority of my Mom anxieties did not revolve around the fear of my children becoming sociopaths initially... however, as they age, instead of becoming more normal and no longer doing insane things like licking handrails or chewing shoes, they get SO MUCH WEIRDER and seem to fear death so much less than a sane person should. They put strange things in and on their body parts for the sake of making others' laugh, and have the batcrap craziest ideas for how to solve problems.  Like Sarah's idea: "If I carry my pet chicken upside down when I hold her and sing really loudly in her ear, maybe she will be less frightened of me and finally LOVE ME as I love her. Or at least it'll make her fall asleep [pass out] so I can pet her all I want"  Note: this is one step from desperately creepy on the "how to make an organism love you" list.  So the fear of growing up tiny deviants is slightly justified, I think.    

One of my most dangerous venues for anxiety-inducing advice is the homeschool conference.  Here in VA we have a large homeschool community and multiple opportunities each year to learn from more seasoned ladies and gentlemen.  These people who have gone before us usually have children and grandchildren to tow along as proof that homeschooling isn't a mill for producing socially-stunted puritans, but rather can produce genuinely bright, interesting human beings... sometimes ;) ...  I attended one of these conventions once, and while there I learned so many wonderful things and heard so many wonderful advisements for how to improve our homeschool schedule, our discipline model, and our overall family well-being.  Pages and pages of notes I took.  Hundreds and hundreds of dollars I spent on new curricula I HAD to have.  And you know what?  When I got home I tried to implement ALL of those ideas and notions AT THE SAME TIME because my worries told me what I was doing before that was not just useless, but it was DAMAGING.  I was YELLING at my kids, darnit, and no Proverbs 31 woman does that!  For shame!  I didn't wake up at dawn to have a Bible study so that I could start my day properly rooted in Scripture.   And I didn't have a training program in place to train up my child in the way that they should go, other than my knee-jerk, spank-'em and crank 'em when they're bad and hug 'em when they're good model, which clearly wasn't enough because it didn't involve a chore chart system or a laminated family discipleship model for the fridge.  And I wasn't teaching [insert subject]!  For shame!     

Don't get me wrong.  Not one person at the homeschool conference ever used the term "for shame" or intentionally made me feel bad about my parenting.  The problem with their parenting seminars was that they were just so darn much better at it than I percieved I was!   These people were all amazing parents who spawned and taught wonderful human beings who can recite whole chapters of the classics in Latin and tell you the square root of 98,462 without a calculator. And so the hero worship began and the self-shaming and anxiety came along for the ride.  The guilt was like an angry clown in a sidecar attached to my van on the ride home, yelling at me to get my life right or my children would not ever line up perfectly like the ranks of perfect angels at the conference in matching home-sewed denim jumpers.  And how would I ever get them to spend their school days in carefully scheduled timeslots either playing contentedly with neatly organized workboxes or managing independent study-time poring over the works of Homer and Socrates, as so and so did in her homeschool!!??  

My point here is that all too often I spend my time wringing my hands worrying over things like whether I'm doing enough to help them on their way to becoming kind, courteous, productive little beings because everyone around me seems to have some opinion or advice related to how to make it BETTER.   In reality, though, try as we might to raise our children perfectly, whether as a hovering helicopter mom or a laid-back, anything goes, just-don't-kill-yourself-and-be-home-by-five Mom, sometimes no matter what, our kids turn out to be asshats.  Pardon my french, but it's true.  And sometimes, miraculously, despite all the yelling, crying, and fighting amongst ourselves, our kids turn out to be wonderful people.  I'm trying, then, to remember that I can't control everything.  I can cover my kids in prayer... try my very best, and hope they become wonderful people and not asshats in the end.  In the meantime, because I have anxiety, I will still worry endlessly each night over whatever insane, imagined scenario I can dream up that will leave my life with my family in shambles.  For me, though, I have found two things to conquer the fears I live with each night when the lights go out: 
First, I try distraction. 
I'll bet you thought I was going to say something all churchy, like "I quote Bible Verses and say my prayers"... Sorry!  You forgot, I'm being real here.  I love God, and I'll get back to my relationship with Him on my next point, but I also really enjoy sci-fi and fantasy fiction, and have found that if I get my mind off of reality, sometimes I can forget my worry that Caleb will fall out of a tree he's climbing or Sarah will be attacked by a perturbed, child-pecked hen, and for a little while I can think of the tenor of a dragon's voice if I could hear it, or what it would be like to sail the seas of Narnia on the Dawn Treader.  I can be the hero from whatever story I have just read, or think through what I imagine the next installment of a story will hold in store for me to read when I pick it up from the library.  For me, it's what works, a good deal of the time, anyway.  

But sometimes I just can't get past my fears.  Like a walled castle, they hem me in no matter how desperately I try to distract myself.  Then, somehow images of whatever I fear still manage to sneak their way into whatever place in my imagination I sneak off to.  I could be thinking of Tolkien one moment, and the next I'm worrying about whether I should try to get Hannah off of the inhaled steroids (for her asthma) or leave her to take them, knowing that there are side effects... and off I go on the [oh-my-gosh-I'm-gonna-make-her-a-mutant] worry bandwagon.  I keep trying to change my thought pattern and it just doesn't work.  So you know what works for me then? 

I ask God to hold my hand while I worry. 
What works isn't recalling all the verses I know about anxiety; though I know many and they're helpful when I'm not in one of my half-insane moods. The fix, for me is not found in reading, talking, watching, or listening to anything, or even in a fancy prayer.  I just ask Him to sit with me and hold my hand.  And then I put out my hand in expectation that He'll join me there.  I still worry as I sit, but I know that He's there, too.  I even imagine what His hand feels like in mine.  And that, for some reason, most often closes my eyes and opens the door to dreamland after not too long.   I don't have to say anything or do anything... I just know He's my Daddy and He'll be glad to help me get away from the demons chasing me in my brain if I just call His name and ask Him to hang out by my bedside a while.  It's a good thing, too... I don't know how others do it, but it's what works for me and my anxiety.  

Now if I can just learn to keep my big mouth shut and not be the cause of others' Mom-Induced Anxiety Attacks!  Because I know I can't be the only one who compares myself with others, and goodness knows, with all the wierdos out there in the world, there must be some nutter out there who wants to be just. like. me! ;)