This morning I was reading Facebook on my phone when a plastic bowl sailed past me and smashed into the dining table. “Ben!” I shouted, more out of fear and startlement than anger. As soon as the word was out of my mouth, I regretted it. Ben crumpled into a sorry, sobbing heap, frightened by my outburst.
The loud noise and movement had triggered my anxiety, setting off the fight or flight response in my body. Even after Ben and I hugged it out and he was all smiles once again it took a while for my nerves to settle.
The whole incident lasted all of two minutes, but it happens often in our house. Sometimes I can go a week without an outburst. Sometimes when my anxiety is close to the surface, as it has been the past few days, they happen more frequently. Ben is often the target of the startled yell. He is an exuberant child, who moves constantly, even in his sleep.
He runs and jumps, bounces off of the furniture, walls, people. At meal times he won’t sit at the table. Instead he does headstands on the couch or planks with his hands on the table and his feet balanced on the back of his chair. His father is pretty much a walking playground which he scales and jumps on without warning.
I love Ben’s energy. I love the physicality of it and his fearlessness. At the same time I can’t stand it. Loud, sudden movements make me flinch and set me on edge. Being jumped on makes me cringe. I’m always on guard for a blow to the body. Ben doesn’t mean to hurt me. But he is energetic and clumsy at times. No matter how many times we explain that he doesn’t roughhouse with me, he will forget in his excitement.
Rather than dampen that enthusiasm, or worse, punish him for how he interacts with the world, I take great care to manage my condition. I am on medication to help with my depression that in turn lessens the intensity of my anxiety. I am in therapy as well. For the day-to-day, minute-to-minute stuff, though, I have struggled to find solutions. I’ve had to learn how to walk away and be okay with that. Telling Stephan that I have to step away has been the best coping mechanism I’ve learned.*
Finding activities I can do with my son that doesn’t involve jumping around has helped. We play with Legos, a lot. We read books. We cuddle. We sit in the hall closet and play Minecraft on the tablet. I try in as many ways as possible to let him know that I love him and he is not at fault for my current state of mind. I try each day to focus on the good times, to be patient with myself and him, to know that I am working on getting better.
With all of that, however, I still struggle with the belief that I am a bad mother, that I am scarring my kids. I am honest with them about what I am going through: that I am struggling with anxiety and depression. They know I take medication to help, that I see a doctor. They might not understand fully what it is that is going on, but they see I am doing what I can to get better. I hope that helps to counter the times when my issues get the better of me.
Only time will tell.
*Though it took time and comes with its own guilty baggage. It’s hard to admit that you need a break from your children, when they are just doing what comes naturally to them.