I’m A Horrible Mum Because Anxiety Makes Me Angry
This week was not great. In fact, many days aren’t that great. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but when I’ve had a really challenging experience – my baby has, well, cried and I’ve lost the plot – I can’t help but write the day off as a fail. This is what anxiety does to you. You enjoy cautiously, expect the worst and feel the world’s worst mum when the crap hits the fan.
I’ve always been what you’d call a ‘worrier’ but when I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) following the birth of my son, the normal kind of anxiousness that everyone gets went bad. When this extreme anxiety first manifested I cried a lot. That was my first response to dealing with a mountain of worry and intense feelings of fear in one hit; I’d panic and cry. But as my postnatal anxiety developed, despite going for fortnightly (now weekly) therapy sessions at the hospital, it seemed to worsen. In fact I found myself reacting to these difficult situations with a new emotion: anger.
When I thought reacting with tears was the pinnacle, my burning rage was something else. It comes without warning, exploding in my head like a burning fireball and stings like a serpent’s tongue. I swear, I drop f-bombs, I say words that cut like a blunt knife. And I hate myself for it. When I’m angry I’m a truly horrible person and knowing I can’t control the temper in front of my one year old makes me feel worthy of the lethal injection because this literally is my death sentence.
When anxiety is spoken about, no-one seems to tell of the darkest side. Why, because anger is scary and it’s always attributed with abusers and bullies. While everyone’s mental illness isn’t the same experience, and rage isn’t always a factor of anxiety, it’s a really tough cookie to swallow when it is. Anger in anxiety is just another natural reaction of our primal fight or flight instinct. When I’m battling through and crying, that’s me fighting. When I’m losing my temper, I’m fighting. Whichever way I’m responding, my body is snapping into action without giving my brain chance to decide what actually is the best response.
Last week I took Reuben up to settle down for his nap, which is not his usual routine. He’ll typically fall asleep on either me (Mum) or Dad downstairs on the sofa, but this time Dad was busy putting the tv up on the wall. I figured, what’s the big deal? I’m just hanging out in the bedroom with my son, having a cuddle on the bed and feeding a bottle of milk until he drifts off to sleep. But of course the reality wasn’t as perfect. Reuben couldn’t settle knowing Dad was downstairs and he got upset. He cried and when he’s over tired and fighting sleep, he gets really upset. I tried to cuddle him. I rocked him rhythmically and sang soft nursery rhymes. Reuben stretched and strained and writhed his taut angry body out from my grip. And I got mad.
Then this. On Friday our little family of three went off out for a few errands and a bit of shopping. Dad needed to get some tools, and me feeling all positive thought of a great idea: Reuben and I could pop off to TK Maxx for a nosey while Dad went to do the boring stuff. Wonderful! But of course it wasn’t. Not long after getting inside the shop Reuben wanted out of his pushchair, so I carried him. But he’s too heavy and I had to keep putting him down, so he’d toddle off, only to then toddle faster when I tried to grab him before disappearing down the home aisle and potentially destroying a display of photo frames. Then I was aware I felt the need for the loo. And when I say loo, I mean number two. I did not need this. Now I regretted suggesting going our own ways for what would just be less than half an hour and I wanted Dad back so I tried phoning his mobile at least five times to get him to come urgently back. I was gradually getting so stressed out that here two of my most unforgiving conditions – anxiety and IBS – were clashing spectacularly. I was desperate for the loo, TK Maxx has no loo, my child wouldn’t get in his pushchair, he was doing that really annoying stretching and arching of the back while whinging thing, and I couldn’t carry him long enough because he’s a frigging heavy one year old and damn it, did I say I really, really needed the loo?!
Worries and stresses bubble away within me until – whoosh! All of a sudden I’m in a whirlwind of panic, I’m sort of crying, my heart’s racing and my silly primitive brain thinks a kid who just wants to be carried is something that’s threatening my very life. Granted, I did need the loo which could end quite catastrophically. But crying doesn’t help, getting angry certainly doesn’t help, so why does anxiety make you do these things? Why does anxiety insist on making me a horrible mum?
Now I could easily end this on a low. Anxiety is an exhausting mental illness that saps you of the little enjoyment you have in life. But beneath the weighty pile of worry and shame, I do think this: having anxiety makes me so acutely aware of what I am, how I perceive myself, what my son’s exposed to and what kind of immediate world we live in that I know it gives me an advantage. I am not deluded in thinking I am a perfect mum, in fact I strive so hard to be a good mum that I’m convinced this must make a positive impact on Reuben’s upbringing. Anxiety and its overcoat of emotion – even my horrible rage – can tear down my walls and strip me bare but I will always stand true to myself. In the heat of the fire, it may make me feel like I’m the biggest failure and the worst mum but my heart will always be in the right place, and everything is because I love my son.