Anxiety can be crippling. Even after years of handling and managing it, the smallest thing can make it rear its ugly head. On top of regular life occurrences, anxiety can make an ordinarily stressful situation even more difficult to face.
My son recently attended Vacation Bible School (VBS) at our local church. It’s the same church he’ll be attending for Pre-Kindergarten in the fall, and the hope was VBS would serve as a trial run, allowing him to meet other children who may be in his class, and would introduce him to the concept of having something scheduled and coordinated daily.
As we prepared for his first day, I noticed I was beginning to get the jitters. I found myself not necessarily worrying about how he would do, but oddly enough, worrying about how I would do. I didn’t doubt my ability to drop him off and run. I’ve had experience of doing that with him. Instead, I began doubting my ability to connect with other parents, and the worry began to consume my thoughts.
You see, I am an introvert. Like most introverts, I thrive off peace, quiet, and solitude. Both of my children appear to be extroverts, and while I keep up with them, it takes all of my energy to maintain a social life they enjoy. Often, by the end of the day, I am left feeling like Goldie Hahn’s character in “Overboard,” sitting in a La-Z-Boy, staring into space in a near-catatonic state, uttering “B-b-b-b-b-b-b.”
As we approached the first day of VBS, I worried I would struggle to engage in the drop off/pick up small talk, and my struggle would directly impact my son, and his ability to enjoy himself. I worried he would pick up on, and take cues from, the anxiety slowly simmering beneath my surface.
The first morning of VBS, I made sure I was awake an extra hour and a half early, not because I needed the kids up that early, but because I needed to get my head and heart mentally and emotionally prepared for the drop off. I must have changed my mind on what to wear four different times, not because of the weather, but because I wanted to make a good first impression. I made a big breakfast, not because of the nutrition involved, but to keep me busy, and to keep my worries at bay.
Before leaving the house, I kissed the inside of my son’s hand, reminding him as he wiped it off defiantly, “If you need me, all you have to do is put your hand on your cheek and know I am giving you a kiss.” I did this partly for his sake, but in the spirit of honesty, mostly for mine. We processed through his nerves, reminding him if he needed help, he could talk to the teacher or another adult. I watched him quietly watch the passing trees on the drive to the church, as I quietly worried– for both of us.
And, you know what?
My son left me at the door. He dropped my hand like a hot potato, and in his confident, outgoing manner, sauntered into his classroom without a backward glance. I realized he was ready to seek out, and conquer, his newest adventure.
And, it felt good.
I also recognized the little successes I had made that morning as a mom.
First, I recognized the worries and fears for what they were– the worries and fears stemmed from my anxiety trying to control the situation. From there, I developed a plan to keep myself moving, preoccupied with what I could control, from the time I woke up, to the clothes I wore, to the food we ate. I recognized and helped my son process tangible steps he could take if he encountered difficulty. I reminded him of my love for him.
I channeled my anxiety to work for me, instead of allowing it to work against me.
Most importantly, I let him go on his own terms. I let him drop my hand and walk away.
Alternately, what I did not do that morning deserves its own recognition.
I did not allow my own anxiety to rub off on my son and his readiness to head off independently of me. I spent the time before he woke up processing through those emotions and feelings.
I did not give in to my own doubts and worries, and I did not decide he wasn’t ready because I wasn’t.
I did not allow my anxiety to win.
Which makes me more confident as I prepare to send him off for school in the fall.
Confident in him…
…and, more importantly, confident in myself.
Because I will not allow myself to be crippled by my anxiety.
**Post-Script: This piece was written after years of addressing my own anxiety– both through education and my own talk-therapy journey, with extensive self-work on the underlying issues for my anxiety. Furthermore, some people require medication in order to avoid some of the crippling effects of anxiety. Do not be afraid to reach out to a trusted friend, a counselor, or a medical doctor, if you suffer from anxiety.**