This article was originally published on Healthline.
I was officially diagnosed with anxiety disorder when I was 24. But the truth is, I think I’ve had it from birth. Adults called me a “sensitive child” because I was always afraid that something bad was going to happen. I hated change, loud noises, new people and anything remotely upsetting. One time, watching a vampire cartoon made me want to sleep with a thick scarf around my neck for an entire month. (It was summer.)
As an adult, anxiety has affected me in different, more aggressive ways. I’ve suffered with palpitations, shortness of breath, blushing and shaking. Negative thoughts have circulated constantly through my head.
“You’re a loser.”
“Nobody likes you.”
“Everybody thinks you’re stupid.”
My way of dealing with it? Denial, and the stubborn determination to keep going.
When I moved to London, I met my now husband within the first month. We’d been together one year when I had my nervous breakdown. Years of pushing my body and brain to the brink finally caught up with me.
I began to have panic attacks daily and lived off three hours of sleep a night. I was in pieces. It must’ve been a lot for my husband to deal with, but he stood by me. He didn’t always understand what I was going through, but he listened.
The doctor signed me off from work and prescribed me SSRI medication. Recovery was a long road, but with hard work and perseverance, I got to a good place.
The possibility of motherhood
Five years later, I’m now married and reaching a stage in my life in which I’m thinking about starting a family. This is an exciting new chapter, but I can’t help but wonder…
“Will I pass it on to my children?”
The thought has been troubling me for a while. I can bear anxiety and all the stuff that comes with it myself, but I’m not sure I could watch a loved one go through it. How would I cope with the guilt that I’d burdened them with this disorder?
So, I decided to take a look at the science. And, as usual, nothing is 100 percent conclusive. That being said, there’s at least some evidence that anxiety can be an inherited disorder.
I’ve also read expert assessments on how the child’s mind works — how a child will mimic how their parents respond to stressful situations, because they use their parents’ behavior as a way of navigating the unknown.
Copied behavior makes more sense to me, personally. We learn language from our parents and take social cues. Much of a child’s early years are spent mimicking the behavior of others.
Taking a realistic approach
Knowing that it was possible that my anxiety could be inherited, or could at least have an effect on my children, I started questioning my own abilities. Would my anxiety interfere with being a good mother? Will I have to come off my medication? Could I function without it? So many questions!
The truth is, I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to answer them. But I can prepare. Rather than being a slave to fear, I started looking into what I could do to make sure I’m as equipped as possible when the time comes.
1. I will keep taking my medication
I spoke to my doctor and the short answer is: Yes, I can stay on my medication while pregnant, as the dosage is 50 mg. This gave me peace of mind. It’s also something my doctor can keep an eye on throughout pregnancy.
Knowing that it was possible that my anxiety could be inherited, or could at least have an effect on my children, I started questioning my own abilities.
2. I will research
There’s a lot of information available online about copied behavior and how to avoid passing anxiety on to your children. I’ll read everything and put as much as I can into practice.
3. I will take care of myself
For example, stress management and taking time to recharge are important. Anxiety is worsened when a person burns themselves out, doesn’t eat well, or get enough sleep (not easy when you’re a mom)!
Therefore, I’ll make my own well-being a priority along with my child’s. If I’m fully recharged and happy, then I can give more to my child.
4. I will listen to other parents
Motherhood is really hard! I think that most women would agree to that. I’m fortunate enough to have friends who are already moms and happy to share tips and tricks. So, I intend to soak up as much knowledge as I can.
For example, my friend’s 6-year-old son recently asked her about terrorism. It’s not the kind of conversation you want to have with a kid, but I suppose it’s unavoidable in this day and age.
My friend said, “I can’t protect him from everything, but I also don’t want him being afraid. So, I sat him down and explained that although most people are good, there are some bad people in the world, and they sometimes do evil things.” I like this approach — it’s honest but not traumatizing. (My dad preferred the traumatizing approach!)
5. I will ask for help
My experience with mental illness is that you don’t have to deal with it on your own. After finally learning my lesson, I know that I can ask for help from family and friends if I need it.
Being human is allowed. At the end of the day, I have to accept that life will be what it will be. I’m not perfect (not all the time, anyway). And I’ll probably make mistakes along the way.
If my child does develop an anxious condition, then they’ll be lucky enough to have a mother who knows it inside out, and will be able to help.