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Anxiety Transference and Guilt

The other day my son said: “Daddy doesn’t worry about anything. Mummy worries about me getting sick. And nits.”


As funny as the last part sounds, the first part cut like a knife.


I know many parents worry to some extent about screwing up their kids, but for me this is a biggie, and the main reason for that is anxiety.


I’ve experienced anxiety throughout my life to varying degrees, but never has it hit so hard as when my son was chronically unwell throughout his early years.


Although it was (so, so thankfully) never life-or-death, we were in hospital regularly, often in the middle of the night with awful coughing and breathing difficulties.


Sometimes we would be discharged after a few hours, sometimes after a few days.


The uncertainty was hard. The lack of sleep harder.


But somehow, each time it happened I was able to find reserves of strength I didn’t know I had. I kept it together, got on with it. And came out the other side. (As mothers, that’s just what we do, right?)


The cost of that forced fortitude only became apparent later.


Over time, I started to have pre-emptive anxiety. Every sniffle had the potential to turn into another episode. I became hyper vigilant, hyper focused on hygiene and avoiding any risk of illness.


Play groups, playgrounds, soft plays and play dates posed serious sources of contamination and therefore worry.


One day, in the early stages of being pregnant with my daughter, things came to a head.


I woke up struggling for breath. I had a major panic attack, despite not having any conscious awareness of feeling anxious.


Fortunately, my husband was with me and able to help me count my breaths and get my breathing back under control.


But the episode spooked me so much that I called my GP and was duly referred for a short course of cognitive behavioural talking therapy on the NHS.


A few years down the line, my son’s health and my anxiety have improved considerably.


But the legacy lives on.


I still feel the familiar panic rising inside whenever my son starts to look a bit peaky, and often I verbalise my worry before I have had a chance to rationalise it and acknowledge it as unhelpful.


But, as soon as it’s ‘out there,’ I feel a stab of guilt because I am terrified of passing my anxiety onto my children.


So now, when the anxiety does arise, I’m trying harder than ever to challenge it, to rationalise it, to put it back in its box and understand that whilst it is trying to protect me, it needn’t.


Because we’ve weathered that particular storm.


And whatever else may lie ahead, for now, in this moment, we are okay.

breathe sign


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