My husband and I have always known that we would most likely have children who struggle with anxiety in some way.
I could write a 4,000-word post entitled “Things I Currently Am or Have Ever Been Afraid Of,” but suffice to say, “The Crazy” (as we affectionately call it) runs deep in my blood. I come from generations of what they used to call “worriers” — people whose fears eclipsed their happiness — but I was the first to be clinically diagnosed at the age of 12. I am grateful that that diagnosis opened the path for others in my family to get the help that they needed.
It wasn’t until I was 20 years old that I found the right combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy to keep my panic attacks and generalized anxiety in its proper place in my life. Before that (and definitely since, as well), my parents lived a nightmare as they watched a child endure periods of true unhappiness and pain. But my father always told me that he believed God would find a way to bring goodness from my ordeal. “Even if it’s just a moment where you’re sitting next to a stranger on a bench someday, and he’s having a rough time, and you’re able to say something to make him feel better.”
I can’t help but wonder if that person I’m supposed to help will someday be my daughter.
Right now she’s just a toddler, and has the typical irrational fears (and irrational bravery) of a toddler. But she’s highly genetically predisposed to clinical anxiety, and my husband and I have always known that chances are, we’ll be spending a lot of time with her on therapists’ couches. And I can already see her resemble me in so many of my more, ahem, complicated ways – my irreverence, my tendency to incite mischief and the anger I struggled with as a child who experienced a whole lot of feelings I couldn’t understand.
I can’t help but wonder if she will come to resemble me in some of my other complicated ways, too.
If that happens, I feel that I’m ready for it — it’s a dark forest I’ve gotten lost in before, but I know my way through now, and I can help her find her way, too.
Here are some things I want to make sure she knows in case The Crazy reaches her.
Okay, we joke, and we call it The Crazy, but you’re not really crazy.
Mental issues are not exclusively the stuff of horror movies and episodes of “Criminal Minds.” They have to do with very real chemical imbalances in your brain. It’s absolutely no different from dealing with a chronic physical illness. That being said, feel free to reclaim that term “crazy.” It might make you laugh and remind you of the fact that this disease doesn’t own you, you own it.
I love you and accept you in whatever trial you endure, whatever mood you’re in and through whatever lies you believe.
People who suffer from anxiety can be unreasonable, argumentative and just plain awful to be around. I know there were times when I was literally the worst company in the world for my parents, but they never made me feel like they didn’t want to be with me, love me through the pain and help me in whatever way was possible. I may secretly dislike being around your anxiety, but I will always, always, always want to be around you.
Your father and I are going to be an active part of your journey.
Your doctors are not the ones in charge. My mother took me to a doctor who was regarded, at the time, as the best child psychiatrist in the area. He put me on a powerful cocktail of SSRIs whose side effects were violent depression and suicidal thoughts. He had never observed these side effects in one of his patients before, and so refused to listen to my parents when they told him this wasn’t normal behavior for me. They fired him and carefully weaned me off the medication themselves. He accused them of being reckless, awful parents, but my depression and suicidal thoughts went away. Because they weren’t intimidated by this doctor’s Ivy League degree, they saved my life.
There will be days you feel like you can’t fight anymore. On those days, I will fight for you.
I used to envy my mother that she didn’t have an anxiety problem. Then I had a child myself and realized that my mother did have an anxiety problem ever since I, and all my chemical imbalances, showed up in 1989. All my problems belonged doubly to her, because our mothers love us more than we love ourselves. But she never got tired, never faltered, never lost faith.