I tried to hold my tears back as I stared into my daughter’s oceanic blue eyes. I could feel them welling up, feel the moisture increasing.
Not here, not now, not in public, Stephanie.
But, to be cliché, the dam was about to break. A tear or two escaped. My daughter was concerned and relayed this to her father on the phone. She handed my cellphone back to me and my husband proceeded to ask, “Are you okay?” No, no I wasn’t okay, but do I tell him that? The silence was broken as he asked again. I told him the truth because even if I lied and told him I was okay, he knew I wasn’t.
“I am about to cry,” I uttered quietly so the other patrons could not hear me. My daughter and I were waiting for our dinner order to be ready at our favorite sandwich shop in town. It was last Friday evening, the start of the weekend, and my husband’s Friday to geek out and play Magic. He wanted to stay home with me. I told him no, I didn’t want him to blame me for not being able to play (even though he wouldn’t, it was all in my head). I told him this knowing full well that I wanted his support but feeling I didn’t deserve it.
Our food order was ready and we went home passing my husband’s car on the way. When we pulled into the garage, my tears flowed like a high pressure hose. My daughter wanted to know what was wrong although she could somewhat guess as she has been a witness to me, her mother, for the last eleven years.
“It’s my fault, it’s all my fault.” My lamentation increasing as these words escaped my mouth.
“What is your fault, Mommy?”
“That you are the way you are. It is my fault.”
My daughter has been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder since she was 6 and has struggled off and on with it over the last 5 years. This year has been extremely hard on her and because of it, hard on me. She has been in therapy since the fall and because of some reactions she has had during her anxiety attacks the past month, it has recently been suggested that she get evaluated by a psychiatrist.
When the recommendation was first made to me by her therapist, I have to say I was a bit shocked. I guess I never thought that her Anxiety warranted a psychiatric evaluation. After a few hours, I have to admit the stigma against Mental Illness set in; her seeing a psychiatrist would really mark her as someone who is mentally ill. I hurt for her. My husband and I discussed the evaluation with her. She has learned about the stigma, has learned to stand up to it (from her Mom of course). But even this, having the word “psychiatrist” associated with her name, caused her to want to hide. She instantly thought she would be medicated. Eventually, she became okay with the evaluation that is set to be done in another week and a half.
All this got to me. It pulled at my heart, tore holes, ate away at it. The biggest fear I had when becoming a parent is that I would pass on my Depression and Anxiety to her and I have. Her being in therapy never bothered me. I am a firm believer that most people would benefit from therapy regardless of a Mental Illness diagnosis. It was the mention of “psychiatrist”. To me, like my daughter, I associate “psychiatrist” with “medication”. Throw in the word “evaluation” and I was losing it. I held back my emotions for the sake of my daughter, but I knew eventually they would become very visible.
I spoke with my therapist about it. He told me it wasn’t my fault. I said, “How? How is it not my fault?! She suffers the way I do. I never wanted her to and now she is. It’s only going to get worse.” He logically said that this is something I did not give her on purpose. There was no way of knowing whether she would be Mentally Ill or not.
“But I gave it to her. It is my genetics that did this. She is becoming me.”
No matter how many people tell me it is not my fault (heck, even my intelligent daughter tells me), I still cannot stop blaming myself. I can’t kick this feeling. She is already experiencing more than I ever did at her age. I mean, I wasn’t even diagnosed until 14 and here she is at 11 with 5 years of Anxiety under belt. Maybe I am transferring myself onto her to an extent, already predicting more suffering in her future getting worse and worse as she ages like it has for me. No parent wants to see their child endure pain and illness. In this case, I didn’t want her to endure the thoughts that I have felt, the fear I have felt, the hopelessness that I have felt. I didn’t want her holding a case cutter to her wrist. I didn’t want her desiring to stick something in her brain to end the constant negative thinking.
And yet it is beginning. The fear is already inside of her. And it was all my fault. How could I, someone who has battled Depression and Anxiety for over 24 years, not feel blame? More importantly, how can I stop feeling blame?