How My Tween’s Anxiety Triggered My Own

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.  

A tween's anxiety can trigger the feeling in his or her parents.

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. 

A native Austinite, Nicole moved to Fort Worth in 2007 after meeting her husband of 13 years. During that time the couple has welcomed their three children ages 12, 11, and 6. Nicole stays active with her three children (and four dogs) by getting outside in the sunshine daily. She has been a full-time elementary school teacher for the past 11 years. Nicole’s main goal as a writer is to shed light on raising a child with special needs and the challenges it brings.


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