First thing in the morning I never know who I am going to meet. When I approach in the hallway, am going to see a smile, a giggle, a contorted face, or tortured eyes? I brace myself for another day caring for my anxious child. I was prepared for almost everything when I conceived her. Diapers to the ceiling, car seats for each car, and board books arranged in alphabetical order. The tumultuous toddler and school age years were no exception. In adolescence, I knew to expect the unexpected. The dance of dating, the crashes of friendship, the pangs of sibling rivalry. I anticipated everything that would come from the outside, but the struggle within caught me by surprise.
Where did this unspoken animal that claws at my child daily come from? He hides underneath the surface twisting and turning her thoughts, poking and prodding at her sense of safety, pounding against her heart like a bass drum. A tightly wound clock that second hand keeps spinning out of control. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 31.9% of adolescents struggle with anxiety. All my friends reassured me that anxiety is common, but I argued that my daughter isn’t. She is one of the most precious gifts that has shown up in my life.
There are really good days and really bad days. The bad days cannot be quantified. I can see the animal creep up her spine, take hold of her body, and possess her mind. When she is spinning, panicking, and weeping, the animal shreds everything in its path. It sucks the energy out of the house, the laughter out of the room, and the smile on everyone’s faces. It may be a missing backpack, a clogged toilet, or a broken earring that destroys everything in its wake. It grabs our entire household and refuses to let go.
I often grapple with how can I help her. We’ve done the therapy. We’ve done prayer. We done the meditation, exercise, vitamins and everything else recommended, but anxiety still won’t leave. The only part of my daughter that I don’t enjoy seems to have taken up residence. This is the only part of mothering that I find exhausting. Anxiety is the hardest battle we’ve ever fought, and at this point it is winning. It’s hard for me to acknowledge that — I can’t fix this.
Anxiety seems to have control, but I have now realized I have the power. The idea of acceptance seemed radical, but I encouraged my daughter to embrace the concept. Many therapists had highlighted acceptance as a practice for my daughter, but never for me. It wasn’t until I found myself screaming back at the unseen animal that I realized that I was fighting physically what I needed to battle mentally. I am now practicing every day to accept what I cannot change. I can feed her belly when she is hungry, but as her mother I cannot stop the hunger pains. I am learning to be grateful for the power to make a difference.
If I could cure my daughter’s anxiety, maybe it would change her. She provides a texture in our home that makes it more beautiful. She is sensitive, thoughtful, and caring. All traits that in a frenzied state can mimic anxiety. The same personality traits that lift my heart, until they don’t, and then elevates it all over again. I cannot stop her angst and all the other ails caused by her anxiety, but I can love her through it. I can see her and not just her anxiety. I can love all parts of her and accept her anxiety after all. If it is a part of her, then it is a part of me, and we will ride this wave together.