Parenting itself is a tough task and if you have some anxiety disorders then dealing with children can be really tough. That is exactly what Lucy Nichol was experiencing.
The 40-year-old mom has been a stepmom to Sam, 20, for 12 years. She suffered from anxiety since she was young and she got her first panic attack when she was 15.
She told: In terms of how it affects me, I believe there are three distinct types of anxiety that I experience.
‘Firstly, day to day anxiety – which is what most people experience at some point in their life.
‘However, I probably experience this more often than most and in situations where others might not.
‘Examples might involve panicking that my step-son has drowned in the bath and having to call for him every ten minutes when he’s in there (bearing in mind he’s almost 20 it’s a bit ridiculous but its one of my “things” and luckily he laughs about it.)
‘Or panicking that my husband has been involved in a crash when he’s been travelling from work or that I’ve accidentally locked one of my cats in the dishwasher.
‘This is the day to day anxiety that I experience. I don’t consider myself unwell at these times as this has just become a part of my life – although I’d obviously rather be without it!’
She still gets ‘second kind of anxiety’ when she falls sick. She explained: ‘This might involve panic attacks or feeling in a constant state of anxiety for no reason whatsoever.
‘I can become obsessed about having a terminal illness, wake up in the middle of the night having a random panic attack or just generally feel constantly on edge.
‘Symptoms vary and can include poor sleep, waking and getting up in the early hours of the morning, upset stomach, night sweats, palpitations, tingling in my arms and a constantly catastrophising state of mind.
‘I also tend to experience a tightness in my throat which I become preoccupied with.’
Lucy’s other type of anxiety is when she ‘experiences an extreme reaction to life events’.
She said: ‘My GP has described this as acute stress reaction. There’s a reason behind it, but it manifests in quite an extreme way with most of the above symptoms present and therefore makes me unwell.
‘So out of all of these types of anxiety, it’s the second one, the illness that occurs seemingly for no apparent reason that is harder to manage. However, I don’t experience this very often these days thankfully.’
She has been treated with different therapies over the years for her anxiety, including CBT. She is on medication from last three years. She believes that anxiety can make it tough to be a parent at times.
She said: ‘I think people assume anxiety is all about worry and panic. However, when I have become ill I also struggle with anger.
‘It feels as though the whole world is against me and this can sometimes result in angry outbursts in the home. It’s something I’ve had to watch carefully because with a child, you can end up behaving less like a parent and more like a child yourself.
‘Shouting, heart racing, crying, arguing like a teenager! When you’re in the moment and angry over the most ridiculous thing it’s hard to take a step back, but it’s important to remember you are an adult dealing with a child.
‘I’ve found that my medication really helps me with this, as it allows me to take a step back before the amygdala kicks in and I transform into a raging banshee! The banshee, thankfully, is mainly confined to history these days!’
She says that anxiety can affect her parenting in other ways too.
She said: ‘I have to be really careful not to panic if Sam becomes unwell or cuts himself as my health anxiety tends to kick in with other people.
‘As Sam also has problems with anxiety, as well as depression, I sometimes have to put on a bit of a calm act to ensure that he stays relaxed if he is worried about his health in any way.
‘I am always grateful when my husband can step in and have the health conversations in case I give away any sense of worry which will only fuel everyone’s anxiety.
‘Of course, none of these worries about Sam’s health have ever come true – but I do recall taking him to the GP when he was about 9 years old and running through a big long list of worries that I had about his health – he was, of course, absolutely fine.’
She worries about other stuff now, as Sam is an adult now. For example, when he’s come home after a night out she likes to check in on him every hour or so to check he’s still breathing.
And if he stays at his friend’s house and forgets to tell her, she ends up social media stalking him to see when he was last online and therefore alive and well!.
When asked whether there were any aspects of parenting that were restricted due to her anxiety, Lucy said: ‘I know there have been times when Chris has taken Sam to the doctors and neither of them have told me they were going because they knew that I would get wound up and worry too much, which wouldn’t help Sam.
‘One thing that does occur with my anxiety, that could be seen as a positive, is the need to fight intense feelings of potential injustice.
‘When Sam was having a tough time at school I was so driven to go all out and get him into the school of his choice by speaking with councillors and governors and head teachers directly and fighting for that place.
‘It’s something that drives my work as a mental health campaigner and writer as well – the tenacity and the passion to see justice being done.
‘So in some ways, it can be helpful in my role as a parent – although I imagine there are a few teachers who used to wish I’d leave them alone with my constant emails, phone calls and meeting requests!’
Lucy often feels she has ‘imposter syndrome’ when it comes to parenting.
‘Like I’m not cut out to do it like other parents and that I have messed things up by being so angsty and short tempered,’ she said.
Lucy added: ‘If I could change anything it would have been to accept medication sooner so that the family home was a more relaxing place for Sam to be.
‘However, I am sure all parents have regrets of some sort. I am happy with where I have got to today – it’s been a steep learning curve, I’ve certainly not been perfect, but I think just knowing that I get better at it with every day helps me.’