It’s one of those mornings where I am once again shouting like a fishwife as neither of the kids is listening to a word I say. It’s windy and rainy outside and I am coming down with a head cold. “WILL YOU PLEEEEASE JUST PUT YOUR SOCKS AND SHOES ON” I yell for the fourteenth time and it’s not even 8am yet. I am such an awful parent, I shout all the time. Lack of sleep and a massive 4 year old bed invader trying to crawl into my skin every night doesn’t help, but my back and neck aren’t comfortable at the moment either. I also go to bed every single night worrying that because the kids rooms are the first you come to at the top of the stairs, they will either be attacked by an invader first or fall down the stairs and break every bone in their bodies, so hence I sleep very lightly.
Finally they oblige with the socks and shoes, begrudgingly, and we are ready to leave for school, everyone in a foul mood. We all get strapped into the car and we are all damp and cold. The weather is bad, so I ask both of the beans to turn their tablets right down so I can concentrate on the road. We leave every day at around 7.45am and cross one of the motorway junctions into Cheltenham, so our route is always busy. I have locked my car door from the inside as I do as a habit on every journey.
We head over the motorway and then down a thin country lane. The vision is poor and I am driving well below the 30mph limit. The kids are happily playing on their tablets in the back. We come round a corner to another car travelling down the middle of the road clearly going over the 30mph limit. Everything goes silent. We’ve been hit by this maniac. I wake up sideways, with the car half way in a hedge. I can’t move, I can’t talk but I am aware of what is going on around me. One of my babies is screaming in sheer panic and pain and the other is silent. I am helpless, I am useless and I can’t comfort my children. People have come out of their houses to help but because I have locked the door, they can’t get in. Then I black out from the pain I am in.
The screaming like a fishwife about shoes and socks bit is true, this happens most days before the school run, but the car journey and subsequent accident is not. Or at least it hasn’t happened yet. But this is the reality of what anxiety sufferers go through every day. I am an anxiety sufferer. Some days this scenario or a similar one, all with the same ending, plays in my head as I’m making a bowl of cereal or brushing my teeth. Playing out the worst possible situation in my mind.
I lost my Dad when I was just 14 years old. A key period in life when you are discovering who you are. I was an awkward teenager but happy, I had found my tribe and school was going ok, but a difficult few years leading up to my Dad’s death culminating in losing him, turned me into a negative person and always fearing the worst. This anxiety and worry still lives with me today. On the outside I am a far more positive person than I feel inside, full of motivational one liners and always wanting to turn around other people’s negativity. Since having babies, I always put on my positive pants to avoid showing my kids negativity but it literally haunts me sometimes.
I have anxious thoughts about the safety and security of my family and some people just don’t understand all the horrific episodes which are curdling in my mind. I have had some people say to me “Oh just loosen up a bit” or “live a little”, but that’s the worst thing you can say to an anxious person! It then sets my mind racing in another direction and I think ‘yeah, why can’t I loosen up a little bit? I must be such a shit parent/friend/wife/human being, that I just can’t loosen up a bit’ and then I over analyse a situation and it makes me feel worse.
I read a really interesting article recently that identified the link between traumatic events in childhood and adult anxiety (not the case for everyone with anxiety, but everything fit with me. I lost a parent and more recently a brother, I feel like losing people close to and important to me will happen all the time and I guess my anxiety is my mind’s way of coping with the fear – to prepare myself for it by imagining the worst possible outcome).
I was a care free child, this isn’t something I have had all of my life, but it sucks.
I worry about everything and I know worry is a part of being a parent, it’s natural, but I literally dwell on things and turn them into haunting, horrible, scary demons. Will this car journey be our last? What is our get out plan if there is a fire? What if one of the kids dies in the night? What if I die in a car accident on the way home from the school run? What if my husband gets hurt in a traffic accident or is blown up by a gas leak (he’s a heating engineer)? A lot of my major anxieties surround death and losing those close to me, understandably so. I was talking to my sister the other day about this very subject and it made me realise that I never grieved properly for my dad. I am stuck on the anxiety and confusion stage. I went to one counselling session when I was 14 and refused to go back as I found the patronising, condescending and she couldn’t even pronounce my Mum’s name!
I remember at school, in the sixth form being told I just wasn’t very good at certain subjects by a teacher and when I started in my first job in the marketing team of a big corporate, no one would give me the time of day or listen to my opinion. All this has had a profound effect on me and forced my self esteem into the ground.
My anxiety also makes me socially awkward, I am so crap at starting conversations or being part of them in a group of people I don’t know. It feels like I have the devil and angel on my shoulders, telling me i’m a bad parent, i’m not good enough to join that group or talk to them etc, but then part of my brain (or the angel on my shoulder if you like), tells me not to be so silly, I am a strong woman, I am an amazing mama and wife, but sadly, more often than not, the devil’s voice is louder and more dominant.
All of this happens in my mind, so on the surface, I can often seem very confident and outgoing. One thing that has had an amazing impact on my anxiety and self esteem is Baby Prints Cheltenham. Being my own boss, motivating myself and doing something I love and am great at is wonderfully freeing. The kids see me as a positive, motivational force and long may that continue, as without this little project to keep me focused and positive, I just don’t know where I would be. A customer has just collected a beautiful pair of dainty footprints from me and I could tell she absolutely adored them. That gives me an enormous sense of self-worth, I have just created something, for someone that will be cherished. It’s a massive ego boost and helpful in overcoming creeping, negative emotions.
If you are an anxiety sufferer or know someone who is, they key is not to react to your/their anxieties, but to respond, repeat their worry back to them to show them you are engaged and listening to their problem. There is a myth that people should change their negative emotions, but that’s not true, we have to change our relationship with negative emotions. Emotions all have jobs. Sometimes just being there for people is the only thing you can do in stressful situations, no phones, no tv, just BE PRESENT!
It’s also a myth that people should be anxiety free, especially children. WRONG. Anxiety and worry are forms of protection and therefore have purpose. It stops children doing things like putting their hands on stove tops or in fires. But stress and anxiety are more dangerous when you believe that they are harmful. So please don’t tell an anxiety sufferer to ‘chill out a bit’, just empathise and try to feel the pain and the worry they are having. We can get anxiety from having anxiety, it’s often a vicious circle.
I watched an online presentation recently from an expert in child psychology who has developed a programme for anxious children, and as an anxious parent, I found it utterly fascinating and have applied many of the tips to my own life, with mindfulness and self-compassion being major factors in supporting anxiety sufferers.
Mindfulness is something I often neglect as a busy Mama, but obviously something which needs to feature heavily in my life for managing my anxieties.
My six year old daughter suffers a lot with anxiety too. The guilt that I face on a daily basis, wondering if it’s something I passed on to her, did I make her like this? Does she see me at my anxious worst? What did I do wrong as a parent to have caused this? crushes me every day. I get frustrated when she often doesn’t listen to me when i try to calm her down, but only because I don’t want her to turn out like me and let it rule a lot of her life. But one of the most important things that I took away from this online presentation is to find my inner zen and FEEL….
Freeze – remove the emotional charge from the situation
Empathise – listen to her problem, however small
Educate – allow the feelings to come out and then talk and problem solve
Let go – let go of the guilt you are harbouring (which is no easy task for a Mama!)
So, mindfulness is something that we will all be taking more time out for. Both my daughter and I have child and Mama appropriate affirmation cards, which we use daily, from the YesMum range and I have also invested in some mindful activity cards for the kids and I to do together from mindful kin, a wonderful primary school teacher sharing her ideas for wellbeing in the form of these beautiful family friendly activities. Tonight’s is ‘Blow a feather or a little piece of tissue across the room. Can you tell me how you did that? How far can you get it to move with just one breath?’ This is going to help focus their minds before bed.
Next problem I have to encounter once they are all chilled and ready for bed is getting the oldest (6 years old) to sleep beyond 6am and getting the youngest (4 years old) to sleep through the night (both of which cause me anxiety and worry!) easy right?! I think i’m going to have a gin and a relax myself, those little nuggets might take a bit more than mindfulness to tackle!