Disclaimer: I tend to be an open book about a lot of things. Mental health is one of them. Not everyone has someone they feel safe talking to, which is why breaking the stigma of mental health disorders is so important. For more information on how you can help, visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-273-8255.
I try to express to my children the difference between “wants” and “needs.”
“You want to eat Smarties for breakfast, but you need something a little more healthy. How about scrambled eggs?” and things like that.
When it comes to mental health, it’s the same. My middle daughter and I both deal with anxiety issues. She’s 6 and it took a solid three years for me to figure out why my “threenager” was still having complete meltdowns, randomly it seemed, about things like the pants she was wearing and being in semi-crowded areas that she had been to a hundred times before. It took another bout of postpartum depression and attempting to manage my own anxiety and depression to see clearly she was actually being triggered.
Here’s an example: She didn’t pick out her clothes the night before and I tried putting on a pair of pants that are the right size for her body but not the right size for how they *feel* on her body. Good morning, Meltdown Central and screaming fight with Mom.
It happens when she’s tired (it’s not normal cranky, it’s rage because her body can’t handle more of anything and she doesn’t always know how to say what’s bothering her), or overwhelmed (first grade math homework ring a bell?), and when she’s gotten too busy playing to realize she’s hungry (hangry, anyone?) so then everything is wrong and the world is on fire. Those are just a few minor instances, and I know way too many people who would say things about how we were handled in those situations when we were kids and puff out their chests. You can’t spank anxiety (or any other number of things children these days are trying to cope with) out of a child. Believe it or not, this isn’t 1984 anymore.
I have a kid who wants to do all the things and be the best friend to everyone, and she physically can’t handle it sometimes. Just like me. Social anxiety is the worst when you are typically an outgoing introvert (right? Makes no sense to me either) and then you’re triggered by something or someone and your brain goes from “hey, we’re okay today” to “should have eaten a handful of meds this morning, eh?” because you can’t regulate your breathing and everything is suddenly terrifying, and even though they aren’t saying it you just know everyone is looking at you and they hate you just for taking those unregulated breaths. You should have seen me trying to get through customs and airport security in Antigua last weekend. On the outside, I probably looked like I was top notch and had done it a million times. I kind of was until my 7-year-old and my husband were “randomly” selected to be scanned … then I was doing things with my hands, trying to shove Kindles back into backpacks, couldn’t breathe, and was on the verge of tears. I can’t even pinpoint what set it off, which is scary.
For my daughter, I first noticed it when she was almost preschool aged. It started with the clothes (leggings were her fav and then the thrashing started and the screaming and … it seems like a million years ago when I sat on her bedroom floor begging her to please just put them on so I could take her to Pre-K) and then it was underwear and socks and anything long sleeved or snug with the exception of a bathing suit. She spent a good portion of Pre-K going commando. She went most of a winter kicking me as I insisted she wear socks to school because we live in New York where it snows eight months out of the year if it’s a crap year. I found socks she would wear. But then those bothered her, too, so then we turned them inside out because it was the seams bothering her. Now, she puts them on before bed … because she’s calm.
Wants and needs.
I want her to wear clothes that fit. She needs pants that are damn near falling off her or else they’re “too tight.”
Similarly, I want to manage my depression well enough to help her cope with her anxiety. I need sleep in order to manage, or my own anxiety comes out as rage. To say the least, mentally, it’s been a tough couple of days back home since our tropical beachy vacation came to an end.
How does all of this fit into my writing? Last night I planned to park myself in my office and work until at least 11 p.m. (maybe later if I got into a good groove) after a day of errands, fighting with the 2-year-old to take a nap, and then swim lessons until 6:30 p.m. We get home close to 7:15 and there’s homework still and dinner, and I’m forever grateful to the person who created slow cookers. Then we fight to get them all to bed at a still decent time so I can write or we can have 10 whole minutes together.
I *want* to stay up and work until 11, or 12, or even 1 a.m. like I used to. I have so many things in my head that *need* to come out – I’m writing a novella, I have an idea for another story for two of my secondary characters who have been neglected through the last two books and that idea ties into an idea for my newsletter – and I wanted so badly to give a little bit of myself to myself.
Just an ounce.
A tiny morsel.
But, instead, I made a comment to my husband about putting his phone down while grabbing things to put lunches together. His body language spoke before any words left his mouth.
And I gave up because it’s not worth exhausting myself more. My depression had been in check for quite a while, but has been creeping back in a little bit at a time, (just enough for me to notice, stop the chaos, and feel better) and last night it hit really hard. Suddenly, writing about Emily and Brian slowly getting drunk on one another didn’t matter. Rather than writing about them falling permanently into each other’s lives, I went to bed and isolated myself from everything that was important to me.
I needed the sleep, but today is no better. When my anxiety hits, I tend to scroll – Facebook, Twitter, more Facebook – but don’t interact. I’ve been scrolling for hours and social media is so antisocial most of the time that I don’t even know why I still go to it when it only adds to the anxiety.
I suppose the big question is: Did my mental health come first or last Wednesday night? I have no idea. But what I do know is, it’s lonely in isolation.