Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me? Or Why I Hate Anxiety.

A note about this post: This was both the easiest and the hardest post I’ve written. Easiest in that it took little time and effort to write it. Hardest in that I am typically a positive, ambitious, we-can-do-it kind of girl. This post is not that. Another note: My daughter serves on my editorial board and has approved this post. She is working hard at overcoming her anxiety and getting to school every day she possibly can.

I have to tell you, right now feels like the hardest time of my life. Why didn’t anyone tell me?

Picture of the author and her puppy dog lying on the bed.
One of my favorite anti-anxiety activities

Here I am in my mid-40s with an amazing job, a wonderful husband, three beautiful children, and my mom and brother nearby. We have a nice, safe home, plenty to eat (although my children would argue that point), cars that run, and both my husband and I have relative stability with our incomes.

And yet….

And yet, everything is so hard right now. The main culprit as best I can tell?

Anxiety.

This is probably something that is familiar to most of you. It would seem the world today is specially designed to evoke maximum levels of anxiety in all of us.

My daughter spent all of last year in her room. She was in 7th grade, and did school online. She did not do any outside activities. She communicated with her friends through SnapChat, Messenger, and texts. The few times we decided to venture out as a family she often opted to stay home.

As things started to open back up, my daughter did not. She had developed severe anxiety about leaving the house, falling into complete panic attacks when we pushed her to get out the door. We somehow managed to get her to a doctor and got her on some medication. Things got better.

Then, they stopped getting better. Maybe even got worse. It is a new school year with a confusing situation. At her school, masks are mandated for kids in the lower grades (who cannot yet be vaccinated), but for 8th graders, it is left up to parents to decide whether their kid should wear a mask. Better stated, it is left up to the mass of 13 year-olds, full of new hormones and flagging confidence, to decide whether to wear a mask. My daughter wears a mask because she is scared. She tells me very few of her classmates do the same.

My daughter decided at some point early on that going to school was too difficult. She couldn’t handle it. And so, we are now fighting school-avoidance, where every morning she gives us a compelling reason why she should stay home. We argue back, but in the end, if she locks down and decides she won’t go, we have no way of forcing her out the door. Trust me, we have tried everything.

This situation has created significant levels of anxiety in other members of the family – most especially me. Most of my anxiety stems from not being able to ‘fix’ my baby girl – to make it all go away.

My beautiful girl after her first COVID-19 vaccination

But this is not the only cause of my anxiety. I, too, share some of her fear over this virus. I am daily challenged in understanding how to navigate this world. Some people seem to be going about there lives like there is nothing going on. Am I missing out on life by being cautious? Am I being overly cautious? Is my caution what is causing my daughter’s anxiety?

Then I look at the data and I believe that I am doing the right thing – always wearing my mask inside, vaccinating myself and my entire family, and not going out anywhere unless I really need to or really, really want to.

I also try to keep up on various sides of the arguments, just to be sure I stay informed. That said, I see crazy stuff being written out there. Talk about anxiety-provoking. I believe in the healthy questioning of authority (just ask my Mom), but honestly – picking out your own (unproven, dangerous) medicine just because someone who works in the government tested and recommended something else? I feel like the world has gone crazy, or I have.

I struggle with the question of whether I am wimping out when I decide to stay home rather than invite a friend or colleague out to lunch. Or when I decide to skip out on joining a new group that has caught my interest, or run errands that are not necessarily required. Am I overly anxious? Or am I just being smart?

Anxiety has also kept me from writing – one of the big passions in my life. For a long time last year, I felt that my voice was not one that needed to be heard. I am a cis white woman in a happy, healthy heterosexual marriage. I realize my privilege, and I knew that for a time, I did not need to add my voice to the conversation and instead needed to spend a great deal of time and effort listening.

But then when was the right time to come back? Surely I needn’t stay quiet forever – writing is my passion, and I am not my true self when I stay silent. I wanted to do it right, and having no idea what that meant, I have continued to stay silent. For almost two years. Anxiety.

I believe that we are in the midst of the biggest mental health crisis we have yet to experience. Our children are suffering and we are suffering. And perhaps for a later post – our systems are ill-equipped to help us, even those with privilege and excellent insurance. I shudder in horror at the thought of what battles others are engaged in to get help.

I wish I had some solutions. I certainly have been taking a lot of deeper breaths lately. I have been stretching, and spending more and more time off social media. I have been reminding myself of all I have to be grateful for. All of this helps…..a little.

We need more help. Anxiety is here, and shows no signs of letting up. Why didn’t anyone warn me that this would happen? That being a working mom of grown children, that being a productive member of society in my 40s, that being a woman who is trying hard to make the world a better place, that all of this was going to be so damned hard?

For those of you suffering anxiety and other related mental health issues, I send light and grace and understanding. I hope you find your way out of those dark days safely and remember that you are here for a purpose, and that you are loved. If you are truly in crisis please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Back to School…Finding the balance?

school-bus

I have a question: How do they do it? How do all of these families manage to get their kids involved in activities like, say, after-school enrichment that requires pick-up by 3:15? Or soccer practice that begins at 5:30?  Or the game starts at 6pm on the other side of town?

I’ve done some thinking on this issue, and it comes back to the idea of balance.  Or a better word – prioritization. Sometimes you can leave work early. Sometimes you cannot. Sometimes making the choice is extraordinarily difficult. Then there are the times where the decision is not so clear, and it is those moments we have to look at how we balance and prioritize our lives.

It is that time of year. The kids are back in school and the newness of starting a fresh year has worn off. The bus schedules have been deciphered, the noise of the alarm clock is now familiar (not that we got the summer off, but hearing it go off that early?). Homework has begun in earnest.

Along with all of that the evening activities have begun.  For us, that means soccer practice two times each week for two of the kids, play practice, drum lessons, saxophone lessons, voice lessons, gymnastics, freestyle gymnastics, running club…. Even with all of this, I am still wracked with guilt over the idea that I am not doing enough to expose my children to what they need to be successful in life.

On top of all of this, my husband and I have our lives, and we are still living them. We both have demanding careers. I sit on the board of the local Zonta Club, I serve on the steering committee (and a few other committees)  of a leadership giving circle for the local United Way, my husband is a semi-active member of the local guitar scene, and we are working on forming a family band.

As if that is not enough, I am back in school myself.

So the idea of balance is a funny word in this context. We, like a large number of families especially at this time of year are too busy to worry about balance. We just keep moving forward, on to the next activity, coordinating on the fly. This is not the ideal way to live, but there is not a single ball we are willing to drop. In fact, we keep looking for more.

But the lesson is to look for those opportunities where you have a choice. Do I really need to work late tonight? Does my son really need to participate in that activity? Be intentional about how you spend those moments, and then learn a lesson from me – let go of the guilt. Guilt is not a productive emotion, and should be relegated to the trash heap. Cherish every moment, both at work and at home, and cultivate an attitude of gratefulness. This is how you attain “balance.”

And keep it positive and smile!

Happy Friday!