anxiety and motherhood: ways i’m learning to cope

I’m a worrier, by nature.

I have friends who seem unphased by the stresses of life. Who roll with the punches and stroll through the years, undeterred by the unknown. I, sadly, am not like those friends.

I’m the mom who sat up staring at my new baby, afraid he’d stop breathing. I’m the one who skipped church (and every imaginable social event) all winter for a few years because I was afraid my kids would get sick. And I’m the mom who starts planning how I’ll handle burying my child if they don’t respond to my text within 5 minutes.

I only wish I were kidding.

My 8th born child and I’m still often a nervous mother.

I’m pretty sure my propensity to worry surfaced quite early in my life as I worked tirelessly to hone my people-pleasing skills. Because it’s a worrisome thing to try and make everyone, everywhere like you. And certain situations from my growing-up years gave me cause to believe the world didn’t hold too much to be worry-free about. And so it began.

Motherhood only exasperated a long since established problem for me.

Things really came to a head this year. Strangely, I’ve experienced a number of years previous to this one where life events were such that I should have been way more prone to stress than this one. But in spite of how crazy it may be, here I am totally rocking the rictor scale with tremors of stress.

And for the sake of clarity and absolute transparency, let’s go ahead and call it what it really is: anxiety.

There, I said it. I suffer from anxiety. Acute, often crippling, anxiety. But because the term anxiety gets thrown around so loosely, let me expand a little on what I’ve actually been dealing with these past months.

My kids are growing up, you see. My oldest took an extra year of (homeschool) high school to play basketball and also to figure out what’s next in his life. At the time that decision was made, I was like whew! dodged that bullet. i get to keep him a whole extra year! But that year flew by and now he’s two days from finishing his course work and becoming an official graduate.Which is great and wonderful. After all, he has a cumulative GPA of 3.8 and he’s carried a 4.0 all this year (he’s registered with a Christian online academy). I should be marching proud and standing tall because, essentially, he’s a homeschool success story.

My first born; poor guy has raised me as much as I’ve raised him.

And I would be if all his success, drive and ambition weren’t hauling him off 22 hours away to Texas (we’re in VA) to attend University. My dear, sweet, quiet first-born child is flying the coop and leaving a mildly devastated mother in his proverbial dust. I’ll be fine. Really. In about a decade when I recover from this blow.

But seriously. Apparently I’m a helicopter parent who’s struggling to let go. My boy found a school that has the degree he wants, the diversity he’s looking for, and the basketball team he’s going to play for at the post-secondary level. He’s thrilled and I’m over here a (closet) basket case with a smile painted on my face and all my trite words of encouragement as I fill out yet more FAFSA paperwork and scholarship applications. What’s wrong with me?

Of course, then there’s my second born who also graduates this year. This kid struggled with dyslexia his whole life and school was no picnic for him. He hated pretty much every moment of it and my heart broke for him every time he’d look at me with tear-misted eyes admitting how dumb he’s always felt. I should be relieved to have him out of school. And I am in so many ways. But tempering my relief is the fact that he took a really good, full-time job with great pay and benefits and my boy who laced our home with wit and humor is suddenly not around much anymore.

My second born, escorting a friend for her Homecoming.

Is there no end to the anguish?

Okay, okay. I’m being dramatic. I have two healthy, happy, successful adult-age children and I’m beyond thankful to the amazing God who has gotten us here. I’m not as pitiful as I sound, I promise.

But I’m close. 😉

As I said, I’m a worrier. I worry about who they’ll make friends with and what kind of influences they’ll be subjected to. I worry they’ll get so busy they’ll forget God. I worry they’ll allow compromise to come creeping in until they no longer resemble the beautiful people I know they’re capable of being. I worry they’ll be in a car accident or in the middle of a terror attack. Guys, when I said I worry, I wasn’t kidding.

But here’s the stone cold truth: they’re human and homeschooling hasn’t absolved them of that humanity. They already allow compromise to creep in. They already are faced with temptations that they don’t always withstand as I’d hope. They already are exposed to influences that aren’t ideal (including their own mother!). They’re already at risk of being in a car accident, although fearing the whole terror attack thing is just a little over the top, even for me.

A few months ago, my anxiety progressed to a new level and I began experiencing a racing, irregular heart beat. It was awful and it was also scary. I ended up in the ER and I had all the tests run. They found nothing to indicate a heart concern but one off-handed question from a nurse while I sat on a gurney in the hallway gave me cause for pause: do you have a history of anxiety?, she asked.

who me? nah, i don’t have that! i mean, nobody has ever diagnosed me with it, so of course that can’t be what’s going on here. better check again for signs of a heart attack. i’m sure that’s more likely.

Pphhhhhhtttttttt. Talk about denial. And that denial continued for weeks.

Being a little stressed is socially acceptable, you know. But having honest-to-goodness, full-blown anxiety makes a person feel mental. I wasn’t about that at all!

But a few episodes of random panic attacks hitting me out of nowhere, and for no particular reason, were enough to make me face reality. Anxiety is real and I suffer from it. But does that I mean I just have to accept it?

The answer to that question is indisputably, unequivocally NO. And the answer is also GOD.

I began praying for Him to open my eyes to who I really am and the way I’m denying my own faith by allowing these feelings to overwhelm me. I asked Him to show me more clearly how to deal with the rapid changes occurring in my family dynamic and to help me applaud, encourage and assist my children in stepping into the natural next phase of their lives. I asked Him to show me all the good that I’ve accomplished in my children, by His grace and with His constant help, so that I could stand on the promise of scripture that says Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. I asked Him to forgive my shortcomings, bad decisions, indecisiveness, wavering and poor influence on my children over the years and to restore the years the locusts had eaten.

And I asked Him to grow my faith so that I could believe He loves my children better, more fully and with more depth than I ever could.

He isn’t afraid to see them go off to college. And He isn’t afraid to see them take a responsible job and learn to provide. He’s led them to these places and put desires within their hearts that will grow them into the experiences He has planned for them. He aims to use them, not forsake and forget them. He intends to stay at their sides, strengthening and pursuing them. He knows they’ll encounter obstacles and that satan will do his mightiest to win them, but He isn’t afraid. He knows them deeply and intimately and His Spirit will continue the work that I simply can no longer do. The work He’s been doing all along.

That alone is helping me embrace this phase without tears and paralyzing fear. But there are some other measures I’m taking for my physical wellness.

I’m dealing with my inhibitions and my constant, painful concern for what everybody and their brother thinks of me. I’m allowing myself to learn that it’s okay if people don’t understand the pain of launching (especially those first) children into a cruel, unforgiving world. I’m allowing myself to not be concerned if people don’t understand my experience period, since mine is different from theirs. I’m daring myself to embrace who I am, today, in spite of how far I have yet to go, and allow the process to be exactly that…a process.

I’m learning that I don’t have to be a certain weight or a certain height or have certain clothes or a certain car or a certain job. I don’t have to have the wittiest humor or the biggest smile or the best personality. I simply have to be moving forward in the grace of the One who knit me together and who is continuing to put rows of stitches in until the project of me is one day complete.

I’m learning to slow down when I feel my heart racing and my chest tightening. Earlier this week I had a full-on panic attack. It was so bad I was afraid I’d pass out. Rather than trying to pretend it was what it wasn’t, or being ashamed or berating myself for my weakness, I went into my room, rolled on some stress-away oil, laid on my bed and took slow, deep breaths while I handed it all over to God. It took awhile, but I was undeterred and I refused to give in to the devil’s lies that my anxiety was a sign of faithlessness. My determination not to give into it, and my pursuit of the One who loves me in the midst of it, was an anchor to my weary soul.

And God met me in the midst of that stormy sea.

I have no idea how long I’ll deal with acute anxiety in this way. Maybe forever or maybe not. All that matters is how I deal with it. Slow, intentional, full breaths, lavender on my person or in my diffuser (because the scent helps to ground me) and a constant connection with the God who loves me, broken as I am, are a prescription that’s working for me.

I’m a mother for life, for better or worse. But my children are first His before they are ever mine. And that knowledge is enough to keep me trusting and fighting.

Do you deal with anxiety? Is it something you’ve struggled with your whole life or is it more circumstancial? What do you do to deal with and combat it? 
Be sure to check out these other related posts:

How I’ve lost 30+ pounds (without obsessing or gimmicks)

Anxiety, Mindless Eating, and my Battle Back to Health

Intermittent Fast as a Tool for both Brain and Body


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