VM Voices guest post by Brie Aho of Happy Go Mama
I recently left for the day with my son in the stroller without his shoes. Another time I forgot to restock wipes in the diaper bag. As a mom with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, things that are commonplace when raising young kids can paralyze me with shame. Even immediately after my first son’s birth, I anguished that I would fail him. I worried I was too fragile to teach him resiliency. Would I pass my anxiety onto him? Or would I fail to teach him empathy? I knew my thoughts were not realistic, but I couldn’t stop them.
Medication, Mindfulness, and Mantras
I was tired of suffering with my anxieties. I decided to try medication. Still, I worried: would the medication be safe for a future pregnancy and breastfeeding? Would side effects like drowsiness effect safely caring for my kids? Luckily, the team at BC Women’s Reproductive Mental Health Clinic had specific knowledge on medications that are safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. They reminded me that self care and motherhood are not mutually exclusive, and they supported me through pregnancy and postpartum.
Medication lowers my anxiety, but it doesn’t work alone. Mindfulness is another skill I employ. When I have a fight-flight-or-freeze response, I slow my breathing and tune into the moment – my fingers tying shoes, the smell of peanut butter as I make sandwiches, singing during diaper changes.
During tantrums, I recite my favorite mantra from Joss Whedon’s Firefly: “I am a leaf on the wind”. When trying to reason with a defiant preschooler, I remind myself to “Find the funny”, which sometimes means I’m laughing too hard to discourage behaviours. Treatment with medication, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, and mindfulness has taken me from suffering to surviving.
No Room for Perfection
My anxiety is chronic; even with proper management, the most I can hope for is more good days. I will always have bad days. On those days, you’ll find me cuddled in a blanket doing a crossword puzzle while the kids watch TV. What looks like a relaxing moment is actually the evasion of a panic attack. A panic attack is the emotional side of the brain on steroids, and puzzles counteract that by employing logical thinking. Sometimes I just have to wait for the panic attack to pass, and the kids watch TV longer than is ideal. There is no room for perfection in parenting with mental illness.
I miss deadlines, forget to pack a snack, or give in and let my kids have two popsicles instead of one. But the emotional awareness and reality acceptance skills I’ve learned in therapy have taught me there’s always somewhere to buy a snack, most deadlines are not life-or-death, and a few extra popsicles never hurt anyone.
Excessive worry, perfectionism, and shame cause suffering that many assume is a normal part of motherhood. It doesn’t have to be. Treating my anxiety and being a good mother are not an either/or situation. In the end, by modeling mental health management, I’m teaching my kids the resilience and empathy that I was so worried they would miss.
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