I find it inspiring to see other parents who have anxiety taking proactive steps to facilitate and create a life that includes trying to thrive despite anxiety. Parenting is not an easy task and when you factor in living with a mental illness, the challenges can be different. The stigma attached to mental illness often ignites the feelings of shame that makes parents reluctant to seek support and help for their anxiety. This can perpetuate the feelings of isolation that make parents feel like no one else is going through what they are going through every day.
Guilt plagues the self-esteem of parents and can make them feel like they are failing. The feelings of guilt that come from their inability to take their children on big adventures due to social anxiety or agoraphobia can be consuming. When anxious parents compare themselves to other parents who don’t have anxiety, it can leave them feeling like they just don’t measure up in comparison. Many worry about the affect their anxiety is having on their children, which initiates a never-ending cycle of worry on top of worry that feels like there is no end.
The thoughts and feelings associated with anxiety can be overwhelming. Carrying the load of those thoughts and feelings while trying to show up in life as a parent can be an unnerving task. How do you cope with anxiety while sitting at your child’s sports practice? How do you navigate through the panic attack while trying to prepare dinner, bathe your children, and read bedtime stories with a smile? The truth is, there are no easy answers and the solutions can be different for everyone. Some parents find ways to cope, while others are still searching. What works for one person, might not for another. This is the reality of parenting with anxiety. Sometimes parents find ways to hide and work around their anxiety so that others would not suspect they have it. Many parents become experts at hiding their anxiety by using a little creativity with the intent to try and create some normalcy in their family’s life. Others have a fear of what people will say if they knew they had anxiety and do their best to keep it concealed the best they can. The worry of being judged for having a mental illness is one reason many individuals suffer for so long.
When you are a parent with anxiety you don’t always know where you fit into the world. Sitting awkwardly at the back of the gym during your child’s school assembly, and hoping you can stay the whole time while eying the exit makes it difficult to engage with other parents and build connections. It doesn’t mean that parents with anxiety don’t want to. When you consider the statistics of people living with mental illness, many of them will include an anxiety disorder. It can be said with confidence that if you are a parent with anxiety, you are not alone even though it can feel like it.
Part of dispelling the myths of mental illness is knowing the facts. In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada and 1 in 4 people in the United States are living with a mental illness. I am part of these statistics. There are people all around us living, and sometimes thriving with a mental illness and we might not even know. This includes other parents in that school gym that are secretly eyeing that exit too. Being a parent with anxiety does not make you a bad parent. It does not make you less capable or inadequate. As much as I wish I did not have anxiety; I have learned that being a parent with anxiety makes me a better person. Having anxiety has given me the ability to have compassion and care for people who are struggling with their mental health on a much deeper level. Having anxiety has taught me to look for the signs in my children and do mental health check ins. I believe very deeply that you can have a mental illness and participate in the world as a parent, employee, spouse, friend or whatever else you do. I also believe that you can do these things with great achievement, success, and authenticity. A little help from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), meditation and mindfulness, art therapy, physical exercise, and a good support network are just a few ways that can help support parents who are living with anxiety. It doesn’t always mean that it will go away forever, but what it can do is offer someone the hope and strength to keep trying to find what works to ease the anxiety and make life enjoyable regardless. Over the years what has worked for me has evolved and changed. Sometimes I have found meditation most helpful, while other times therapy has been my respite. What hasn’t changed is my desire to live beyond the stigma of parenting with anxiety and to help others know they are not alone. “The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too” (Brene, Brown).