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Parenting With Anxiety

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ne night last week, Terry and I decided to take Max for a walk down to the playpark at the bottom of our street, and, on the way home, Terry made a comment about how much busier the street will feel once the ongoing building work is finally done. 

(Oh yeah: we literally live on a building site right now, in that the land next to us was bought by a developer, who’s currently in the process of putting houses on it. It’s actually less annoying than you might think…)

Almost instantly, my stomach lurched with fear, and I found myself spiralling down into a pit of anxiety. 

More houses equals more cars. More cars equals more danger. More danger equals…

“What if when Max is older, he’s walking down to the park, and he gets run over by a car?” I said, knowing even as I said it that I was being completely and utterly ridiculous.

Terry gave me what I think would be best described as a withering look, and walked on. (I love the way we don’t even have to say I’m talking nonsense again, seriously…) I, meanwhile, spent the rest of the night feeling vaguely sick and anxious, and like something terrible was about to happen, and I had no idea how to stop it. 

This isn’t an unusual feeling for me: and nor is it a remotely surprising one, really. I mean, I’ve suffered from anxiety my entire life: it makes sense that I’d have anxiety about the most precious thing in my world, doesn’t it? 

This isn’t an unusual feeling for me: and nor is it a remotely surprising one, really.

It does: but, surprisingly, on a day to day basis, I actually think I cope pretty well, all things considered. Contrary to what this post will probably make you think, I don’t spend all of my time worrying about what might happen. I’m happy to let Max do all of the things that other kids his age do, and I don’t think my behaviour is outwardly any different from other, less anxious parents. I certainly don’t avoid doing things that I know are actually safe, just because my anxiety is doing its best to tell me otherwise, and I’m also careful to hide my fears from Max himself:  anxiety can be catching, I find, and I don’t want him to grow up feeling like he’s in perpetual danger or anything. (Even though he so obviously is…) I don’t even sit and obsessively watch the video monitor when he’s asleep any more: which is definitely progress for me, because, for the first few weeks of Max’s life, I was almost too scared to go to sleep at night, just in case something happened to him. 

Every so often, though, the anxiety rises up and hits me smack in the face.

parenting with anxietyIt could be anything, really. A story on the news. A crashed car by the side of the road. A couple of weeks ago, it was as simple as a walk through a nearby mall, which has an aerial zipline course in the roof: as we passed underneath it, there was a little girl swinging precariously high above our heads, and all of a sudden it occurred to me that one day Max will want to do that, or something like it, and what if the line breaks, or isn’t properly secured? What if he falls? I spent the rest of the day feeling weirdly sad and anxious – knowing I was being silly, but not knowing how to stop myself. 

Before Max arrived, these things would have upset me, sure. (Well, other than the zipline, obviously: I probably wouldn’t have given that one a second thought…) Now, though, they have the power to totally ruin my day: to the extent that I’ve actually had to ask my nearest and dearest not to repeat any of the sad stories they hear on the news (Especially ones relating to children), because, a couple of weeks after Max was born, a baby died in a car crash somewhere in South America, and I STILL think about it to this day. It tortures me: that, and all of the other sad stories people insist on sharing on Facebook, or otherwise bringing to my attention.

Before Max arrived, these things would’ve upset me, sure. Now, though, they have the power to totally ruin my day…

To be fair, I’ve always been a bit like this. I remember a few years ago, there was a horrific accident in Glasgow, in which a truck mowed down a group of pedestrians, and it upset me so much that I actually thought I was going to have to go and speak to my doctor about counselling, because I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. To this day, I can’t walk through George Square, where the accident happened, without this crushing feeling of horror sweeping over me. And, yes, I totally realise how crazy that sounds. 

So these feelings aren’t new to me, as I said. Since Max arrived, though, they have become more frequent and more upsetting: and they all revolve around him. Holidays, for instance, are a source of both excitement and fear to me now. It’s mostly fear, though, because every time we book another trip, I get maybe five minutes of looking forward to it, before the anxiety kicks in, and I start to think about all of the things that could go wrong. Plane crashes. Car accidents. When we visited the U.S. this summer, I spent a huge amount of time worrying about the possibility of being caught up in a mass shooting.  In London last year, I was terrified there would be a terrorist attack, and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t shake that feeling of doom.

The worst thing is, while the rational part of my brain (Er, there IS a rational part to my brain, I promise. At least, I THINK there is…) knows that these things are unlikely, the fact that no one can tell me they’re impossible plays on my mind, and validates my fear. Exactly one week after our trip to London, for instance, someone deliberately drove a car onto a pavement we’d walked down just a few days earlier, with the intention of running people over. And there may be only a tiny possibility of being caught up in a terror incident, or an accident or some sort, but yet some people are. And sometimes I have been one of those people.

There is something like a 1 in 100 chance of a woman having an ectopic pregnancy, for instance, and I was that one.

The condition Terry had, which resulted in him needing a kidney transplant, is so rare that Terry ended up buying medical journals in order to try to fill in the gaps in his doctor’s knowledge. The chances of him getting this condition were tiny – and yet he still did.

Is it any wonder that I’m a bit of a pessimist, then? Or that I no longer go through life feeling like the Very Bad Things that happen are all things that happen to other people? I know they’re not: I know they happen to US, and the knowledge of that fact is what keeps me awake at night, more times than I’d like to admit.

Parenting with anxiety: what it's like to parent when every moment brings something new to worry about...I don’t often talk about this: in fact, I hesitated even to write this post, because I’m scared of both internet diagnosis, and the knee-jerk reaction of, “There’s no point worrying: worry won’t change anything!” Which is true, of course. The problem with that, though, is that I don’t worry because I think it will help: I worry because I don’t know how NOT to worry. That’s why, when Terry started a conversation a few days ago about the bid to land a spacecraft on Mars, my first reaction wasn’t, ”How interesting!” but, “OMG, what if Max wants to go to Mars when he grows up?”

Yeah, I hate myself too, don’t worry.

(WHAT IF HE DOES, THOUGH?)

Back when I was pregnant with Max, I remember the midwife telling me my anxiety probably wasn’t something I’d be able to get rid of, exactly,  (Or not in the space of 9 months, anyway…), but rather something I’d learn to live with. I actually found that quite helpful: I find that people who’ve never experienced anxiety can struggle to empathise with it, and will generally want to either change or dismiss the person suffering from it, when sometimes is you want is for someone to say, “You know what? That sucks.” Or, better yet: “I get it. Because I feel that way, too.”

So, to all of the people out there who are parenting with anxiety: I get it. And I most definitely feel that way, too…

parenting with anxiety: what it's like to live with fear about your child

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16 Comments
  • OCD
    July 15, 2019

    I have Something very smilar. Actually I found out that I have OCD. People always think it is about compulsions, like washing your hands hundred times per day. But actually there is also another type of it. These obsessive thoughts of worry and anxiety that wont go away, even when you know they are ridiculous. The more you try to NOT think about them, the more persistent they get. Luckily there is good treatments for this!

    • Jordyn
      July 18, 2019

      I am in the exact same boat! I’m not a crazily tidy person, so when I let people know I have OCD they roll their eyes because that’s what most people associate it with but it’s so much more. Mine is normally unfortunately tied to the death of my parents, and it’s never a fun thing to really obsess over. I know first hand it can be very difficult to help someone who isn’t in the same boat understand what it feels like to obsess over what if’s, so I wanted to reach out and let you know I totally hear you!

  • Lila Athanaselis
    July 15, 2019

    You probably feel things more deeply than others and it affects you.

    It’s true the thoughts don’t ever go away, anxiety is always there, that’s the hard bit 😢

    But…you can always squash down those bad thoughts, learn to talk back to those thoughts, and do the opposite of whatever they’re saying to you; it does takes a lot of practice.

    You really have come so far with your anxiety 👌I am very proud of you ❤️ you to me are quite a relaxed parent 😊

    I know the worrying beliefs are always there, they go round and round your head a lot, bad things do happen to us now and again.

    You are learning to live with it in many ways, you have good support around you, you are living life and getting through any situations you come across, you are facing everything head on and living life for your family.
    Max is helping you with this as you see him getting on with things, without a care in a toddler’s world and through his eyes.

    • Myra
      July 15, 2019

      I feel proud of you and how you are dealing with anxiety (I almost said your anxiety, as if it belonged to you). I’m sure Terry keeps your worst fears at bay, most of the time, as we know it’s not rational, and that the events you describe are very very rare. Keep on doing what you’re doing, living with your fears and anxiety, and keeping it as real as you can.

      • Myra
        July 15, 2019

        Oh, and I think you are brave in publishing this. Sometimes, including now, I feel a low level of anxiety that I really need to think through before I realise what I am worrying about. How weird is that?

  • Anxiety too
    July 15, 2019

    I feel you. I hope it will get better for us and for all the living beings in the world.

  • Bukola
    July 15, 2019

    I feel the same way Amber, and with the bad things happening around us. I’m always anxious. May God keep our children.

  • Brenda
    July 15, 2019

    I completely understand. This is me to a T, and then you throw in my kids life threatening food allergies and honestly it seems like some days the world will come crashing down. Anxiety never really goes away, like you said, you just learn to live with it.

  • Rocy
    July 16, 2019

    Reading this makes me wonder if I have anxiety as well…

    Since I had my son I can’t help but worry constantly about all the bas things that could happen. I don’t stop him from doing things he likes (he’s two), but I do worry. And reading, watching, or hearing anything on the news that involves children is so hard to deal with. I usually cry, because I just don’t know if I could cope if that was us, and you know it could happen to us, right? There’s always that tiny possibility…

  • Lou
    July 16, 2019

    It’s nice to read about someone else’s head thinking up such monstrous thoughts too, I thought I was the only mad one 🤣 My mum used to call it catastrophising. One day when I was only 5, then again at 12, I cried and clung to my mum, unable to go to school for fear that she would die while I was there. She’s quite an anxious person and has been preparing me for her dying since I was about 10! It’s so hard being completely relied upon when I know I couldn’t keep a cactus or fish alive, I’m not sure how on earth I have a healthy 9 month old, and kept my husband 😂 I feel like I’ve not made the good mum friends I was hoping to make, because there’s always that little voice telling me I look stupid or my baby will fuss, or they’ve already made friends and won’t want to be my/our friend, which makes it hard walking into a room full of mums 😩

  • Anna International
    July 17, 2019

    I absolutely 100% understand this. I have always been like this too, but only realised in recent years that it is because of anxiety – I used to just think I had a horribly fatalistic outlook on life.
    And it absolutely got worse after I had Emilia – she cried A LOT as a baby and never slept so when she was small I used to do a lot of walking with her in the pram or wrap to try and get her to sleep, and I found myself only able to walk on paths in the countryside nowhere near roads because I had managed to convince myself that a car would somehow mount the kerb and hit us, and she would be killed. My husband used to roll his eyes too. Because it was pretty insane, looking back, but at the time it was a genuine gutwrenching fear. Thankfully that particular one seems to have receded now, but it is regularly replaced by others and I am sure that as she grows there will be a never-ending stream of new hazard scenarios my mind can come up with and torture me with at every opportunity.
    It sucks. However, on the flip side, I like to think it will help me keep her safe! Thank you for making me feel less alone in this. xx

  • Catherine
    July 17, 2019

    I’m really sorry you have to live with anxiety Amber. You make it very clear how hard it is.

  • Jordyn
    July 18, 2019

    Recently, I’ve been trying to explain my anxiety to other people. It has never made much sense and I felt like those closest to me didn’t understand why i was frantically worrying about something or why I frantically googled how to handle different “what if” situations.

    I wrote a blogpost about it myself the other night and it made me think for the first time in my life that I should search to see if someone else had written one and this was so refreshing.

    I’m not a parent yet but I already have the same thoughts you mentioned regarding children, and I already get those same looks when I mention them to those around me. I have even thought about forgoing children because of my anxiety, which I feel like would leave me unfulfilled in the long run, so it’s refreshing to see it spoken about.

    Thank you for being so open!

  • dubliner in deutschland
    July 19, 2019

    I’m glad you wrote this post. I’m sure many people can relate! I think I remember reading somewhere about how your anxiety can be increased after having a child. It’s nature’s way of making sure the parent protects the baby from harm but if you already have anxiety it just makes it that little bit worse! To be honest I’ve seriously been thinking of avoiding reading the news because any bad stories involving children will literally upset me for days after.

  • Jackie
    July 19, 2019

    I totally get it – and I’m there with you. I didn’t think I could get more anxious than I was after having my son, but then my daughter came along and now everything is a potential disaster. I have that feeling of impending doom and it stays with me all day exactly the way you describe. Just know, Amber you are not alone!

  • Jade
    September 18, 2019

    I feel a little better knowing I’m not alone now. This is exactly how my brain works. I’ve always had anxiety, but after having my son 15 months ago, its gotten so much worse. Some thoughts keep me up at night, or bring me to tears. Just horrible things pop into my head out of nowhere! Usually about something bad happening to him. I try to remind myself where I am, and that he’s safe, and to be in the present. Doesn’t always work, but I guess that’s all I can do.

 

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