My Son's Anxiety Should Come First But As A Fellow Sufferer It's A Constant Battle
Anxiety. The word alone conjures discomfort. For millions of people, the discomfort is part of daily life. It works its way into our functions and corrupts thoughts like a computer virus does files, causing errors and making it difficult to run smoothly.
Living with anxiety is difficult. Full stop. There is no sugar-coating it. I have lived with anxiety colouring my view of the world since early childhood; it has become so intertwined with my identity that it is often difficult to discern where it ends and I begin. Despite this, I was not prepared to hear my son’s pediatrician tell me my son suffers from it too.
Of course, I suspected he did. I recognized the signs. I saw myself in him. I was not at all surprised by the diagnosis, but it still didn’t prepare me for hearing the heavy word officially attached to my son.
In some ways, my own experiences with anxiety are helpful for parenting a child with anxiety. I know where he is coming from. I can recognize that what looks like a tantrum is really my little boy short-circuiting. I know too well what it feels like to have a million thoughts come flying at you all at once, and the difficulty determining which ones deserve your attention when they all seem too pressing to ignore. I know what it feels like to become fixated on an idea and be unable to let it go until it is resolved, while others look on wondering why it matters so much to you. I see you, Kiddo, I get you.
But parenting a child with anxiety while suffering from anxiety comes with its own challenges. Anxiety is not a one-size-fits-all disorder. My own acquired coping strategies for dealing with struggles frequently aggravate his. And when they don’t work, I’m at a loss for what to do. Having spent 30+ years developing anxiety strategies, it is only natural to try and impart them. But when they don’t work, I just frustrate him more.
The biggest challenge comes when his anxiety conflicts with my own. The response most parents want to give, and the one that is expected is that your child’s anxiety needs always come first and you deal with your own later: but the truth is, that isn’t always the case. Anxiety is cruel and it is powerful. It can get to the point where the drive to relieve your own anxiety is so strong, you will do whatever you can to satisfy it. I would never intentionally dismiss my child’s anxiety in favour of my own, but anxiety creates its own form of Stockholm Syndrome, and in helping him, I am always protecting my own anxiety. It is so ingrained in how I function as a human being, that when helping his anxiety requires intensifying my own, there is a real internal battle. I would take a bullet for my child without hesitation, but somehow surrendering to my own anxiety for him can prove too difficult.
Then there is the guilt. There is the anguish for the visceral understanding of what he is going through, and the knowledge of the struggles he will face. It hurts to know that I can’t make it better. I can comfort him and help him through it, just as my parents did for me, but anxiety is by definition irrational, and cannot always be combatted rationally. There are times I can’t make it better for him because we are a sword battling a ghost. Our conventional weapons are powerless.
I cannot promise to always have the answers, my dear boy. I can’t promise I will know how to handle it when your mind is running wild and you are trying to reign it in. But I promise I will try. I promise I won’t give in to the anxiety, and I won’t let you either. I understand it and I understand you. We will work through it together.