As parents we often joke that our mistakes will lead to forking over a ton of money for our children’s future therapy. We all collectively chuckle and then silently think to ourselves, that won’t be my kid. And then it is. And I couldn’t be prouder.
At five years old I lived in Upstate New York with my five older siblings and parents. Two years earlier we had made the move across the pond from England where I had been born. We lived in an idyllic setting. I spent my days playing in the woods that surrounded our house, finding as many stray animals as possible to bring home. HEAVEN to any five year old. And then one night I overheard my parents discussing that we would soon be moving to a place called Colorado. They might as well have said we would be moving to the moon. I immediately imagined a place with strange looking people, all talking in a language I didn’t understand. My stomach felt fluttery and my heart began pounding faster. I was scared and confused and immediately hid behind an armchair in our living room.
I wouldn’t have words to explain that fluttering feeling in my stomach until years later but anxiety would become my constant companion throughout the next few decades. As a teen my idea of mental illness (which anxiety disorders are considered a part of) came from movies showing zombie like individuals in straight jackets locked away on a psychiatric ward. Not the most positive (or realistic) image and surely not something a teenager experiencing anxiety could relate or identify with. I never discussed my anxiety with my parents, not because we weren’t close, but rather I didn’t have the language to even begin a conversation.
As a freshman in high school I discovered the antidote to the fluttering I felt in my stomach, beer. Drink a couple of those magic elixirs and suddenly all the fluttering would disappear. VOILA, I was cured. No need to explore any further or dig any deeper. This cure served me well, until it didn’t. It wasn’t until I eliminated alcohol from the equation that I could begin understanding anxiety and learn tools to handle it.
Considering that I experienced anxiety for the majority of my life, I anticipated, and was not surprised, by the fact that some of my own children would also experience it to varying degrees. I recognize, and am grateful, that as a family we are privileged to have access to mental health care. I can’t wait to celebrate the day that not only will mental heath care be available to all, but that visiting a therapist will be as common as scheduling a wellness appointment with your child’s pediatrician.
We are a culture obsessed with presenting ourselves in the best light possible. This is why we love social media. It allows us to carefully craft posts highlighting our best moments. I’m guilty of the social media posts showcasing how beautiful, talented and intellectually superior I believe my children are. I couldn’t post their accomplishments fast enough. Scholarship to college, Clara in the Nutcracker, STATE BASEBALL CHAMPION; HELL TO THE YESSSS!!!! Each like garnished on a post was equivalent to receiving a gold star on my parenting chart (as well as a nice dose of dopamine). What I failed to post, however, are the moments of struggle. Because what would that say about my parenting, or me. But struggle is inevitable. If we’re unwilling to share them as equally as our moments of success how are we ever suppose to move past the stigma that often accompanies the struggle.
So let’s stop joking about our kids future therapy bills. Instead lets start collaborating with our teachers and health care professionals so that the next generation will be able to voice their fears instead of hiding behind armchairs.