Anxiety can really be a cruel master of the mind. It can makes us feel afraid when there is no present danger, it can tell us that there is no point in feeling optimistic, that we are better off planning for the worst case scenario, it can close down roads to recovery, it can become our jailor to a very depressing prison indeed. Perhaps one of the cruelest tricks that anxiety plays is the mask of protection that it often wears, whilst all the time behind our backs it’s fanning the flames of tension, lowering our self esteem and confidence, wearing out our adrenal glands unnecessarily and leaving us exhausted!
When I first found myself pregnant over 11 years ago anxiety was the cause of my daily tears on the train to work every day. Anxious and persistent thoughts that told me I would be a disaster as a mother, my baby would surely grow to hate me, that I would be unable to financially support my family, that we were destined for destitution, and on and on as the tears flowed and the tension mounted. People congratulated me and then looked vaguely offended as I glared back at them with red raw eyes. Were they fucking stupid? This was a disaster, I was being made redundant from my job, this wasn’t planned (the redundancy or the pregnancy), I felt derailed and out of control. Worst of all I could even use my preferred coping mechanisms of booze and drugs to get through. I would have continued to imbibe you understand but it made me feel ill – more evidence of my inadequacies as a mother…..
Now, I had some very wonky beliefs back then (that I would be an awful mother and that my child would grow up to hate me were particularly unhelpful beliefs to have given my situation) and they obviously provided the scaffolding for anxiety too but if anyone had suggested that I could challenge the beliefs pained me then I would have thought them silly. They were my beliefs, the anxious thoughts were mine too, a part of me, like my arms and legs.
Years later I learnt that my beliefs weren’t like my arms and legs at all but they were part of my story and it was my story that had great meaning to me.
We are not always aware of what our beliefs are and how they affect our feelings and behaviours but we usually are aware of our story, where it started and how it has shaped our journey. The trouble is that anxiety can convince us that our story has a doomed ending. Whilst acknowledging my story has been helpful to me over the years what has been even more helpful is to be able to recognise when anxiety is running my thoughts, because those thoughts are not me, those thoughts are the anxiety. Realising that my beliefs weren’t necessarily fixed and could be changed to ones that were less scary was also a therapeutic revelation when I first discovered it to be true.
If you are experiencing anxiety at any part of your parenting journey get in touch to find out how you can put your story on a different track email@example.com