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The Reality of Parenting With Anxiety

Photograph by Twenty20

My kids sleep through the night, but I don’t.

I spend most of the night trying to shut off my brain. I’m desperate to stop mulling over the never-ending torrent of worry. For me anxiety isn’t just feeling worried, it’s a nebulous and overwhelming sense of dread. Of course, lack of sleep makes it all so much worse.

I’ve dealt with insomnia and anxiety since I was a child. I did a lot of work to find my way out of it as a young adult. In fact, I thought that it was a thing of the past by the time I decided to start a family. Of course that was naive, and when my son was born, I struggled with postpartum anxiety. My worries were so strong and irrational it was difficult to enjoy motherhood—the one job I had always wanted.

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It is nearly impossible to be the mother and wife my family deserves when I feel this way. I want my kids to be happy and carefree and I'm unable to model that behavior. I do my very best to feign joy and an easygoing attitude, but my heart is most certainly not in it.

The faking and summoning of patience that sometimes just won’t come is exhausting, but also adds to the worries that haunt the early morning hours. I feel like I’m failing on all fronts. It's as if the voice in my head that whispers self-doubt has been turned up to eleven. I fear that I’m simply not cut out for this.

It feels almost impossible to do the things that should help me feel more like myself.

When I feel extremely anxious not only is it difficult to model a positive attitude and keep my cool, it’s hard to meet the most basic of motherly duties. My anxiety causes physical pain: headaches, stomach aches, and soreness. I feel as though I’ve been doing battle, but it’s all in my head. I'm plagued by a nervous and definitively unproductive energy that leaves me frazzled and forgetful. Suddenly doing laundry and remembering school pick-up require serious effort. I wonder how my less anxious self ever managed so much and I resent her for saying yes to so many extra responsibilities.

Self-care is helpful as a preventive measure, but it’s a poor remedy for severe anxiety. It feels almost impossible to do the things that should help me feel more like myself. Loss of appetite, followed by comfort food cravings makes nutritious eating a chore. I am far too tired to exercise. And meditation is pretty much off the table.

Talking helps, but it requires serious vulnerability. I have so much shame and guilt around these feelings. I am ridiculously blessed. I have two healthy children, a loving husband, and a supportive family. I have a roof over my head and food in my belly. Worrying when there is nothing to worry about feels like the definition of a white person problem.

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I worry that I’ll never feel like myself again, even though I know in my heart that isn’t true. In fact, having been through this before, I know that what I really need is the bravery to ask for help and the passing of time.

If you suffer anxiety, I hope you will read this article and realize that you are not alone. My hope is that it will give you the strength to break through the loneliness and unwarranted shame to a place where you can get help.

Reach out to a friend, be honest with your family, and talk to a professional if possible. Be kind to yourself. Motherhood is hard under the most ideal of circumstances and you—yes, you—are doing an amazing job.

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