There’s a huge pressure in my chest, my hands are getting sweaty, and my mind is spinning.
It might sound like I’m about to face hundreds of reporters at a press conference or about to perform Hamlet for the first time in front of a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden. But, I’m not, I’m just dropping my daughter off at school and talking to her teachers, or maybe interacting with other people I call friends.
For me, this is how my social anxiety rears its ugly head.
Before I had kids, my social anxiety was worse, way worse. If we ordered delivery pizza, my husband would always have to answer the door, while I literally ran and hid in the kitchen. The concept of facing a stranger and having to talk to them is terrifying. Calling to make doctor’s appointments? Horrible. Sometimes I write out little scripts for myself on scraps of paper just to know what to say. The whole time I’m talking, I have chest pressure, sweaty hands, and a constant internal monologue, that says,
You’ll say something stupid. You’re going to annoy the person you’re talking to. You should just walk away and make it easier on the both of you.
But then I had my children and the first thing I began to realize as I sleepily held my crying newborn son in the middle of the night was, these children are going to push my comfort zones in more ways than I can even imagine. I could deal with the physical aspects of it.
I got used to the sleep deprivation, the pushing through temper tantrums and constant picking up of toys, but having to deal with my social anxiety head on was not something I thought I would have to do because I became a mom.
Firstly, kids have to go to the doctor… a lot. Making those doctor’s appointments? Had to be done. I had to quiet the voices that were telling me that I was sending the kids to the doctor too much, that the doctors were thinking I was crazy, or that they were all judging me for not taking care of my kids correctly. I still battle with these voices, but the more I’ve gotten to know my childrens’ doctors, the easier it’s gotten.
Then, life with social anxiety and kids got harder still. My kids got older and the concept of socializing them began to creep in. Look! The word socialize is right in there! The very fear that I’ve been dealing with. I have to teach my kids how to do the thing that I’m still battling.
A new word even started to appear in our lives, the word “playdate”. The word struck more fear into my heart than the word “diet”. I was going to have to interact with strangers and these strangers had kids too. What if there was judgement? What if they thought I was a horrible parent? This compounded my other “normal” negative self talk of thinking people might just not like me as a person.
At school drop off, I would see other parents talking to each other in a relaxed way and I was jealous of the fact that their children would have a great example of how simply talking to another person wasn’t terrifying.
I began to wonder, will my children be socially handicapped because their mother sometimes avoids social situations because her anxiety is out of control?
I worry all the time that my kids will have a harder time making friends or feeling confident in social situations because I struggle with social anxiety. Have they missed out on great socializing opportunities because I was having a bad anxiety day? What a great thing to hand down to your kids, right?
Other kids get paintings, family albums, and other heirlooms, and I might be handing down a crippling fear of simply talking to another human being one on one. Yay.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 15 million adults suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder. I guess it feels good to know I’m not the only person who feels awkward trying to make conversation with other parents at a soccer match or dance class.
But then, when I really think about it, my kids see me take my anti-anxiety/depression pill every morning. They know why I take it. I have never hidden why I take it. They know that I’ve been to therapy. They know without a shadow of a doubt that mom sometimes needs help. There is a high probability that one or both of my kids will inherit a predisposition towards anxiety or depression. And when/if that happens, who will they feel comfortable talking to about it? The parent that they know has gone through the same struggles and is still dealing with it? Or the parent that kept her struggles with anxiety and depression hidden so that she could appear “normal” to her kids and those around her?
The stigma attached to mental illness needs to end.
Even though I worry about my kids (and what parent doesn’t?) I don’t want them thinking that I’m broken because I take medication for the chemical imbalance in my brain and I don’t want them to feel broken if they end up taking medicine too or struggle with anxiety and depression too.
I wish I could always set an example for my kids of someone who’s always relaxed in social situations and someone who never gets nervous making phone calls. But sometimes I just can’t, on my bad days, I can’t, and that’s okay. It’s even a good thing.
The example that I show my kids is someone who is struggling but also someone who really tries to push through it. Do my kids see me struggle with my social anxiety? Yes. They live with me. There’s no way that they don’t. But they also see me make playdates, make doctors appointments, and try to work through it everyday.