It’s a typical Saturday afternoon. My 3-year-old has, at last, fallen asleep for her nap. After a quick round of laundry, I settle back to spend my remaining free hour watching something on Netflix. I only have an hour, so it’s really, really important that I pick something exceptionally good to watch.
When my daughter wakes up an hour later, I’m still scrolling through show and movie options. I can’t decide, even in this most mundane of situations. I used to think this was normal, and happened to everyone, until I realized it happened to me every single time. This fear of decision-making, feeling like I will choose the wrong thing, is a symptom of my anxiety.
I’ve been dealing with anxiety my entire life, but the area of my life where it seems to manifest the most is in my role as a mother to my toddler. Anxiety disorders impact over 40 million people in the U.S. alone, but only about 36 percent seek treatment. Despite its prevalence, many people are unfamiliar with how anxiety actually affects people. The stereotype is that a person with anxiety will have panic attacks, have to breathe into a bag or won’t leave the house because they hate crowds. The truth is that someone (like me) will struggle their whole life with anxiety and nobody else will ever know how real the struggle is.
The decision-making struggle presents itself often while caring for my daughter. The fear of making a wrong decision will often cause me to make no decisions at all. For example, this summer there were several opportunities for my daughter to take lessons, go to story times or visit special toddler-specific events. However, it was so much easier to just … not decide and do the exact same thing every day—go to the pool, hit the library, then head home for a nap and watch "Moana" after supper. My daughter is missing out on opportunities because I can’t make a decision for fear of making the wrong one.
My daughter is missing out on opportunities because I can’t make a decision for fear of making the wrong one.
Anxiety of this kind also leads to perfectionism. Obviously, not only do I not want to make a wrong decision, I want to do everything just right as a mom. That means poring through articles, books and websites to make sure I’m raising her according to the most recent research. Exactly how much screen time is acceptable? How many servings of vegetables should she eat? How many minutes of exercise does she need? If I can’t do all of it just right, it eats away at me. And, as any mother can tell you, raising a kid doesn’t always go according to plan. So, when she goes out for ice cream with her dad, on the surface I know that it’s OK for her to have a treat, but deep within me is an undertow of worry about the amount of sugar she’s ingesting.
The endless to-do list is most definitely the hardest part of my anxiety. I have a mental plate on which I balance everything in my life: housework, my job, my daughter, home repairs, shopping list, etc. I am constantly aware of everything I have accomplished, and what all I still need to do. If there are dirty dishes in the sink, I can’t concentrate on anything else until they are clean. I will miss out on playdate opportunities because I know that I need to go to the hardware store for something. Supreme happiness is having a cleared to-do list, an empty plate. Except my plate is never empty. Ever. Because that’s not how life works. At least not for me.
I don’t blame the people in my life for not realizing how much anxiety I am dealing with. I honestly didn’t know myself, until I went to a counselor for something else. She helped me realize the state of low-grade, constant fear I live with. As a result, I have decided to try a low dose of Zoloft and work on mindfulness and meditation.
I know anxiety will be my constant companion for years to come, but with these tools, I hope that I can function in a way that allows me to put my daughter first before being perfect or checking things off of my to-do list. I’m not perfect. I’m a work in progress.