Parenting with anxiety

Mental Health is important as 5 a day for kids.

Anxiety is tough going for anyone, and so is parenting. Combine the two and you have the recipe for a very thorough, but exhausting job.

As a mum to two girls, aged 12 and 10 it’s hard to believe that the hardest part is yet to come. I’ve still got to battle the teen years, the relationships, the staying out late, moving out, life after school etc but it’s true. I might not be that it’s going to be harder as such, all ages have their challenges, but it’s going to be different.

It was just 2 years ago I was finally diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and generalised anxiety disorder. The perfect present in January 2018 as you’re looking to positively start your new year. Some handle these diagnoses well and use it to catalyst a recovery, which I’m pleased to say I am now in. But at the time, I took it all in as a 'wow is me' and used it to propel my downward spiral. I felt like I’d be given a life sentence.

Of course, it didn’t start on the day of my diagnosis, I’d been on antidepressants since I was 16 and over the years had battled low mood, depression and other mental health illnesses. I had turned to my GP though when I had struggled with the passing of my mum and realised that if I didn’t start looking after me, who would look after my girls.

It had become the norm to tell my girls I was having a bad day, my head hurt or I had a poorly tummy. Some of this had been true, I had had a hysterectomy after endometriosis, but more often than not they just saw mummy in bed. In bed sad and tired and not doing a lot.

It took an honest conversation, at their level to explain what was happening. For so long I’d tried to hide it or pass it off as something else, but kids aren’t daft. They see more than we know and they understand even more.

When I first explained to them that I had anxiety and my brain didn’t always work the way it should I likened it to the overflowing cup analogy or bucket in my case. For a number of reasons, my bucket couldn’t cope with everything inside it all at the same time. I needed to learn how to deal with those things. Some things had been stuck in there for years and I had not dealt with them. I didn’t go into details but I think they understood. My youngest asked if it was like having to remember lots of things and forgetting some and I nodded. Because that is what it’s like, sometimes our brain can only cope with so much, we need skills to deal with these things and then we can move on, or handle them better.

These events, concerns or issues grow and shrink. Often when one of my issues from the past starts to grow, everything does. Even the burnt toast mummy did yesterday then gets me really upset. And usually, I’d just take out the toast and do some more.

As the conversation progressed they each told me of times they could compare it too. Times of worry and sadness, times of uncertainty and feeling overwhelmed. I could see this conversation didn’t just need to happen for me, but it was helping them too. They told me how they hadn’t wanted to talk about grandma and how much they missed her because I would get upset. They cared more about upsetting me and would often cry on their own in their bedrooms. And I could completely relate, I did and often do the same thing.

Members of my family deal with it differently and I avoid talking about her with them, I suddenly realised that this was having a negative impact on my girls too. We then began sharing funny stories about her and we were all laughing.

You see we don’t need to hide mental health illness from our children and young people, we need to open up the conversation. We need it to be talked about just like we talk about exercise, five a day or studying at school. We have an opportunity now, today, to reduce the number of people too scared to talk about mental health illness.

I’m passionate about mental health awareness but more so with our young people. We can make a difference by educating them in schools and at home and we all have a responsibility to be involved.

Written by Sarah Cardwell


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