The Beast stalks you like a stranger at night. Waiting around each corner. Crouching in the shadows.
But nobody else sees it.
It whispers soft threats. Like rumbling thunder. A storm churning.
But nobody else hears it.
It sets the walls on fire. Engulfs your mind in flames. And sears through your chest.
But nobody else feels it.
It creeps in, tearing you apart from the inside. And no matter how poised you try to keep yourself, you can’t help but submit to the crippling grasp of its hold.
Anxiety is an invisible beast. A dangerous beast.
Most dangerous because it has the power to make your soul scream while smothering your cries for help.
I haven’t met a lot of people who’ve traveled through life without experiencing anxiety at one time or another.
It’s a suffering many of us endure, but we very rarely share.
I used to believe anxiety was best left in the dark. Tucked away. I knew my feelings were irrational. I knew they were unfounded. And I believed if I kept them buried, they could never hurt anyone other than myself.
I used to believe this . . . until I had an anxious child.
You see, my anxiety didn’t present itself until I was nearing adulthood. I was met with a situation that threw my world off-kilter and thrust my mind into an unsure place of darkness and fear. This led me to believe that anxiety was situationally driven. That it must take a traumatic life event to bring it on.
I think that’s why I was so slow to recognize it in my own child.
My son was given all the love in the world. He was shown so much attention. He was always safe. He was well fed. Hugged endlessly. Read to nightly. And told he was loved at every chance. But . . .
Suddenly my sweet boy began acting out.
And when I say acting out, I don’t mean small fits. I mean full-out temper tantrums that left me in tears.
So much so, that I became afraid to take him in public.
From age five to six, my little one had turned from a carefree child to a tiny terror intent on destroying every family outing. It took nothing more than a reprimand to incite a fit that closely resembled Jack-Jack from The Incredibles. If we upset him, he’d suddenly turn to flames and spit fire at anyone in his path.
I thought, I’m the parent. He’s the child. I have to put him in his place.
I thought yelling would help.
I thought timeouts would help.
I thought if I cried, showed him that his actions hurt, he’d feel sorry and stop.
Not. At. All.
When I got upset, he only got more frustrated.
I thought I was a bad mom.
I thought I was raising a bad kid.
I felt like a complete failure.
After much internal debate, wondering why I couldn’t set this thing straight myself, I finally sought counseling.
And while I thought I was dealing with an angry child, I soon learned I was dealing with an anxious child.
A child so disturbed by his inner turmoil, that the only way he knew to release it was through anger.
Suddenly, it all made sense.
I can’t imagine how hard it must be to face anxiety as a child. Sensing that stranger stalking them. Hearing those claps of thunder. Feeling that wildfire inside them. Trying to stay calm as an invisible monster rips chunks out of their confidence.
I’d dealt with it as an adult. And even with all the logic, all the rationale, I was still at its mercy.
Our counselor told me my boy was low on the anxiety spectrum. A complete shock to me because his anxiety felt so deeply intense. I was encouraged to speak to him about my own anxiety. To pull it out of the dark. To give it a name.
I wondered at this for a while, worried about exposing my weakness. But I complied, realizing the nature of this Beast.
Anxiety thrives in the shadows. It festers on insecurity. On fear. On silence. On the secrets that we keep about its existence.
I learned that exposure is its greatest destroyer.
The more light we shed, the more we weaken the defense of its dark lair.
Once I helped my child recognize anxiety for what it was, he was able to put it at bay simply by calling it out.
For example, one of my son’s biggest triggers was being thrust into a crowd. So when we’d enter any social gathering, I learned to ask him, “Does this make you feel anxious?”
And I’d respond, “Sometimes I get anxious about going into big groups of people too. ” I’d then offer tools that I use to ease in, like finding one thing, one person to focus on. I’d show him all the ways I overcame my own anxiety.
This display of vulnerability made him feel less alone. Showed him I wasn’t deaf, blind, or numb to the feelings he was experiencing.
The best thing I did was speak to his beast. To make it well aware I knew it was there. And once it wasn’t allowed to hide in the shadows, its power was tempered.
I look at my boy today. A well-poised, near-teenager, who is becoming more sure of himself by the day. I can’t help but be thankful for the struggles we endured to get him, to get us, to this point.
I’m thankful we took the time to speak to his anxiety.
Now, he doesn’t walk through life with a blind eye to mental struggle. He meets it head-on. He’ll be the first to tell you when his confidence waivers.
He’s not living a life free of anxiety. He’s living a life aware of it.
While it still creeps up, he does his best to work through it. And even when he’s unsuccessful in overcoming, he’s less distressed by the fear of an unseen threat and more empowered by his awareness of it.
We all have inner demons.
They can be frightening.
But as with most things in life, having a companion, a supporter, dissolves the helplessness.
As a parent, I’ve learned that speaking about our own vulnerability, gives us the greatest strength to help our little ones overcome theirs.
Originally published on the author’s blog