I write a lot about anxiety on this blog, specifically the generalized and separation anxiety that my son suffers from. What I have not really touched on is how this anxiety has affected the other members of our family and our family as a whole.
As heart breaking as it is to watch my son struggle with the constant bullying from his anxiety he is certainly not the only one in our home affected by it. The ripple effect of his worries impacts each person in our family differently as well as our family as a unit.
One thing I have learned over the course of dealing with anxiety and its associates (depression & OCD) is that they are extremely tricky and do whatever they can to sneak in and take over not only the sufferer's life but also the lives of those around them.
As the parent of a child with anxiety I will often catch myself accommodating anxiety. It’s so easy to do and it often starts out as just a little thing here or there. Next thing you know you find yourself doing some ridiculous accommodation in an attempt to keep anxiety at bay, when the truth is, that is the exact thing that makes it stronger.
There were periods of time in the beginning when our family could not travel because of the impact it would have on my son. Anxiety had our family living in fear and it was running the show. I thought that we were trapped and that we would not be able to overcome the hold that anxiety had on our lives. I felt powerless and was afraid to fight back, that I would make things worse for my son.
In fact the opposite is true. For both my son and myself, awareness and education have been huge. Just the simple action of calling out anxiety or an anxious behaviour gives it less power. But the biggest thing for me as a mom was learning that pushing back at anxiety by allowing my son into a triggering situation, when done gradually and in cooperation with him, is actually the best way to fight back and beat anxiety. These two things have been huge in allowing my son to get back to being a kid and for our family to enjoy doing things together both at home and away.
It’s a daily effort and as with most things there are many ups and downs. Sometimes we are better at fighting against anxiety and sometimes anxiety starts to get the upper hand. My son truly is my hero. Each day he works so very hard to keep anxiety from creeping into his life so he can be who he is meant to be. I do what I can to try to support those efforts but anxiety in the everyday moments is often a battle he has to fight alone.
Perhaps the one person most impacted by my son’s anxiety is his younger sister. She has been witness to all the worries and questions and fear and appointments and therapies.
Day in and day out she is being exposed to fears and worries that she would never have come up with on her own. I was truly naive to think that she could be immune to such a strong environmental influence. When she started exhibiting signs and symptoms of the same anxieties my son has I right away assumed it was a learned behaviour, quickly dismissed her worries and pushed her to move on.
When things proceeded to get worse I started to think both my children were going to struggle with severe anxiety. Then of course comes the guilt and self blame.
But what I have since realized is that it actually doesn’t matter whether the behaviour is learned or whether there is a chemical imbalance causing the behaviour because the resulting anxiety is the same and so is how you should treat it.
I started with the same processes I went through with my son, although this time I was a little more well equipped. I started calling out her anxious behaviours because, again whether learned or not, the anxious feelings and symptoms she was experiencing were very real. We worked through anxiety help books like 'What to do when you worry too much' by Dawn Huebner (a great book by the way!). And finally I just continued to encourage her to push back against the worries as well as gently pushing her away from where her worries wanted her to go. I would say that she turned the corner about three months ago. My daughter is slowly returning to her adventurous, outgoing, and risk-taking self.
I won't deny that she still has some of her brothers anxieties whispering in her ear, and those have and will effect who she is as a person and how she moves about her world. But I think by facing it rather that trying to dismiss it my daughter and our family are learning to show anxiety who's boss.
In closing I just want to add that as difficult as illnesses like anxiety are for those who struggle with them they can and do have an enormous impact on those closest to them and on families as a whole. Each person living with someone with a mental illness is dealing with it too on some level and those feelings are real and valid.
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Until next time …