How My Tween’s Anxiety Triggered My Own

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Anxiety was never a part of my story — not as an adolescent and not as a parent. I lived and breathed all things autism and all things on parenting a child with special needs. Grief and coping with having to adjust my expectations. Yes! Surviving evaluations and therapy appointments day in and day out; these were topics I knew. But anxiety? This was not a part of my story, except that it is.  

Anxiety Scrabble Tiles

Anxiety Diagnosis

When my extroverted, over-achieving, seemingly perfect middle child was diagnosed with anxiety, I felt all of the air drain from my lungs. Even now, after months of counseling for the both of us, I cannot get enough air to feel the peace I had before.

At her very worst, she was inconsolable for days at a time. I would see glimpses of the baby I once carried, and then it would fade into the darkness. 

Following my daughter’s diagnosis of anxiety, I obsessed trying to save her. Anxiety became a volatile current; we were both fighting to swim up-stream. Some days we were each other’s anchors, pulling the other below the surface. It was an endless cycle of yelling, crying, and feeling like we had no hope.

I was devastated when she had rough days and struggled to swim on her own. Every time we had a setback of defiance, self harm, and suicide idealization, the water became less inviting. Even though I knew how to swim, I would swallow a bit of water and my brain would tell me I was drowning.

Realizing I Needed Help, Too

I sought professional help for my daughter right away, but I hesitated for months before I surrendering myself to counseling. I kept thinking I could tread water for just a little longer — that I was just feeling the normal “mom worry” for her. But thoughts of keeping her safe consumed me to the point that I felt paralyzed in everything I did.      

I had to reconcile that I, too, needed to learn to swim on my own, even at the cost of saving her. I’ve learned that I cannot panic when the water splashes over my head and life seems too heavy to stay afloat. I’ve learned through hours of therapy that I can allow myself to be submerge and still retain confidence. Going underwater doesn’t mean I cannot resurface. 

I Cannot Save Her

Every ounce of me wants to throw her a life jacket to take her anxiety away; and selfishly I hope someone will rescue me, too. But the only thing I know for sure is that I cannot do this for her. I can swim beside her and cheer her on, even offer words of praise. But I cannot allow her struggle to pull me under for too long or we will both drown.  

 For me, I must swim on my own and she must, too. I know now that every stroke makes me a stronger swimmer and more likely to survive. The true struggle with anxiety has been acknowledging its power over me. 

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