Being a parent is a 24-hour-a-day, 365 days-a-year job. You never stop being a parent; not in your sleep, not at college graduation, not at their wedding, and especially not when they have kids. You will always be this human’s parent; it’s wild! You will always walk this earth wearing your heart outside of your chest. Stress and anxiety may become your forever friends; foreva-eva, foreva-eva1.
I am a Mom who experiences depression and anxiety. I am also the Mom of a 13-year-old girl who experiences depression and anxiety, so mental health is a daily conversation in our home.
Anxiety had me in a chokehold at 13. It woke me in the middle of the night and distracted me throughout the day. When I started menstruating, my depression said, “it’s showtime”, throwing on a tophat, tails, tap shoes, and jazz hands-ing its way into my life. No one in my family knew what to do, and for years I suffered. There was a lot of crying, screaming, and panic attacks. When I became an adult, I learned about mental illness, started therapy, and found a psychiatric medication combination that fit me just right. I naively promised myself that my kid would never suffer the way I did.
Thirteen years ago, I gave birth to the most remarkable human being to walk the planet. She was a great baby, a fun and loving toddler, and my ride-or-die until she was nine years old. At 10, anxiety, depression and puberty (a.k.a the dreaded period) came knocking and she was all, “wait til they get a load of me”. The last three years have turned my world upside down. I have never experienced this type of stress before. My anxiety levels are at an all-time high and on the weekends, I have difficulty getting out of bed.
I was a fool because I thought I knew how to help my daughter navigate puberty. I thought I could throw on my supersuit and assemble like an Avenger with a child therapist to my right, a pediatric psychiatrist to my left. My personal knowledge and experience with depression and anxiety were my shield made of viburnum. But alas, my daughter Thanos-ed me2.
Some days I truly hate being a parent and want to tap out. There are days when her anxiety triggers my anxiety, my fuse is short, patience thin, and I have an overwhelming urge to scream, “I do not like you. Please leave me alone.” It is on those days that I must dig deep into my mental health reserve and ground myself. If I’m being honest, this doesn’t always work. There are days when the only way to the other side of these feelings is through them. I let myself feel anger, rejection, shame, hurt, and exhaustion; then I get up and I try again.
There is nothing on earth that could have protected my child for her mental health journey; she came to me hardwired. It’s important to avoid the trap of blame when it comes to our kids’ mental health. Sometimes it feels like guilt and motherhood go hand-in-hand, but then I remember that my job is not to hide her from challenging experiences, it is to help her find the right tools for her mental wellness. I want her to thrive and be happy with her life.
Every now and then, I get glimpses that she is actually internalizing my guidance in her own way. Recently, I had a severe panic attack. It was my first one in 13 years. My daughter found me in the fetal position, hyper-venting on our kitchen floor. She talked to me, and similar to her own reaction when she is panicked, I told her to leave me alone; and just like me, she didn’t listen. The apple fell pretty close to the tree. My daughter went into action by playing the one song that she knew would calm me. She sat with me and gave me the space to get through until I felt better. When I sat up, I felt exposed and raw. I thought, “how could I let her see me in this state?”. I felt so guilty for having her take care of me. Then I remembered the times that I’ve played music for her, sat with her, and attempted to soothe and ground her came back to me.
That day, my daughter showed me that through every battle she has had at the mercy of brain chemistry, she’s felt safe, secure, and cared for in a way that she wants to replicate for others. To me, that is priceless.
Written By: A Mom
1Outkast, “Ms. Jackson”. Ms. Jackson, 2000.
2Whedon, J. (2012). The Avengers. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.