What is it like being mum to a child with severe anxiety?
It is helping her downstairs every morning despite the fact she can do it herself. It is reassuring her, yet again, that she won’t fall just because once, several years ago, she heard mum fell down the stairs and hurt herself.
It is encouraging her to dress herself when she is afraid she may fall over because that happened once before and she never forgets.
It is reassuring her that her clothes have been washed and that she has worn them lots before and said they were ‘OK’. It is showing her, as always, that the labels have been removed so they won’t hurt her, the trousers are soft enough and the socks have no sharp bits. It is telling her she is beautiful so often in the hope she will one day believe me.
It is letting her see the breakfast cereal in the box otherwise she will refuse to eat it in case you have somehow bought another brand by mistake. It is pouring out just the right amount in case some accidentally spills over the bowl because she lives in fear she may somehow get in trouble even though she never has.
It is brushing her teeth religiously because the dentist said she should do it twice a day and she worries what will happen if she doesn’t.
It is walking to school making sure we avoid uneven ground because she may just fall and hurt herself and that would be a disaster.
It is going over and over all that the day at school holds because she is worried you may have forgotten her PE kid (we checked three times before we left the house) or she may have done something not quite perfect in her homework the night before. It is the heartbreak of watching her become mute as she walks through that school gate holding your hand like you are sending her into the lions den.
It is watching her walk (never run as you may be pulled up for that!) to her line, avoiding eye contact or body contact with any other child in the playground in case they say something that upsets her or they accidentally touch her. It is looking at her standing facing the front, arms straight by her side like a soldier as she lines up, terrified she may lose points for her class because she is not forming a straight enough line.
That was just the first hour of our day.
My daughter will bite her lips, chew her tongue, barely eat or speak but conform to everything school expects of her. She will inwardly break her heart if she spells one word wrong in a speaking test (and break down about it that night at home), she will freeze during gym lessons when they ask her to stand on a bench for fear of falling. She will take a school dinner as she doesn’t want to be seen as different yet she will hardly touch it. She would never ask for someone to help her cut it up as she is too anxious she may get in trouble for doing so. She would even eat something she was allergic too if she felt it would make a teacher happy.
Living with that level of anxiety is not healthy yet so many children experience anxiety on that level daily.
I can reassure her. I can encourage her and prepare her for change, but I can not take her anxiety away.
Watching her refuse to eat because she had a wobbly tooth was awful. Hearing her cry because she can not read a word in her new reading book breaks my heart.
Sometimes you may see me climb on soft play with my seven year old and think I am crazy. Sometimes you may hear me say I laid beside my child until she fell asleep and you may feel I need to let her grow up. You may see me lift her on and off escalators and think I am keeping her a baby. If you knew I held her in my lap and cradled her and wiped her tears last night would you perhaps think I was over protective?
I am not an overly anxious person and it is so hard to parent a child who fears every moving animal is out to bite her, every child is out to hurt her, every adult is wanting to get her into trouble and every broken toy is her fault.
Her anxiety is huge. Her worries are real.
Today I will do my best to help her as I do every day. Tomorrow she will be just as anxious and I will try yet again to help her. We get through one day at a time.
I acknowledge her anxieties but I also help her overcome them.
That is the role of a mum to a child with severe anxiety.
That is what it is like being mum to an anxious child.