You’re walking down the street and you see an obese child waddling on by. The poor kid. He’s bullied by all his classmates, he can’t physically do the same things as his friends, and all this is probably engrained in his mind making him hate himself. You don’t say, “Hey kid! What’s wrong with you?! This is all your fault!” Of course not, because, as a child, he has very limited control over his own life. It might be partially genetic, but we all know where the fault lies: in the parents.
When I was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I thought it was my fault. There was something wrong with me, a chemical imbalance. Too much serotonin? Not enough neuron receptors? All of that medical mumbojumbo. When I would have a panic attack, those who had the misfortune of being near me at the time would crowd around and say “stop freaking out for no reason, you’re acting like a baby.” Of course I was so blinded by my own problems that I couldn’t see that I was not alone. Like most everything in life, we are a product of our environment. My younger self didn’t understand why certain events would throw me into a panic or why people being late made me so uneasy. It could be that while my daily dose of Paxil cleared away most of my anxieties, it also gave me a clearer outlook on how I got to be that way.
One of my greatest fears, the one that kept me up at night, was that something terrible would happen to my mom. If she was late coming home or didn’t pick up her phone, it would throw me into a tizzy. Everyone loves their mom, but how come it was only me that freaked out like this? It was until recently, through being home all the time, that I realized I got this from my dad. I’ll be sitting at home typing away on my computer, perfectly calm, when my dad will come in asking “Have you heard from Mom?”
“No, I haven’t talked to her since I got home.”
I’ll go back to my work. Sure I want her to come home, because then we can eat, but I know the commute is a bitch and you can’t rush it. However five minutes later, he’ll be back asking, “Has Mom called yet?”
“She could at least call and let us know she left work.”
“Must’ve slipped her mind.”
“She’s usually home by now.”
“If you’re so worried about her, why don’t you just call her?”
“No.” Probably because then she would see he was acting like his antsy daughter did when she was twelve. And ten minutes later, when she comes home, he will pretend that he was out in the yard, putsing around the garden, with her as an afterthought.
Although I’ve only noticed it now, I’m sure it has been going on since before I even had my first panic attack. This behavior became the norm for me, up to the point where my young, impressionable mind assumed that a grade-A, crying, pacing freakout was the appropriate reaction in those circumstances. I’ve even noticed similar patterns in my grandparents, up to the point where what they said to redirect their own anxiety only egged me on. The people who most often told me that I was being unreasonable were the very people who fueled my fears.
I won’t lie. I resent them a bit for this. I can only imagine what a childhood would be like that didn’t involve going to afterschool therapy sessions, or without making nightly pleas to God to keep my family safe. I would certainly would have less promises to uphold with the Big Man. Even if I can’t get that back, I can now live the rest of my life in a calmer, clearer state. And most importantly, I know won’t screw up my own kids’ lives. At least not that way.