As I sit down to try and write about the last two months of our life, I feel anxious, as I don’t know how I will put it into words. All I know is that I believe that sharing our stories creates connection and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable gives others permission to be vulnerable as well. It seems only weeks ago that I surrendered to my anxiety and a deep need to convince everyone (including myself) that I could, “Do it all.”
It was late Sunday night at the beginning of January and Marty was going back to the mainland for work and he asked me if I was going to be okay. My pride in the past kept a strong face but that night I had nothing left. My response to my husband Marty was, “No… I am not going to be okay” as I broke down in tears. As Marty drove away, I wondered how I would get up in the morning to get our kids to school and also how I would make it through another six days of trying to raise our twins, both who were struggling so much themselves. How could I help them? I couldn’t even help myself! I felt like I had nothing left. I felt so alone, so afraid and I just wanted it to all go away.
It is hard to believe that we can get to these dark places in our lives, but I am sure that many of you reading this right now can somehow relate to the pain I was feeling either personally or through someone dear to your heart. Marty and I moved to Vancouver Island one and a half years ago and many people asked if I would be able to be on my own so much with the kids. I wanted to prove everyone wrong as I have always been the ‘Strong Shannon.’ I have been through a lot in my lifetime: abuse as a child; breast cancer; raising a son with autism, and now trying to support his twin sister’s need of living with a brother with autism. What I now know is that we can’t be strong unless we are putting our needs first. My belief was that my kids’ needs were supposed to come first. An old belief that somehow became ingrained in my mind. But if their needs come first… what happens to us (the parents)? In the end… I fell apart and I couldn’t help myself, or, my kids. I don’t need to explain to any parents out there about how much work it is to raise a family, cook healthy meals, get to activities, work, volunteer, do house chores, and also find time for self-care. We all know it is no easy feast. But, what I do know is that we are not meant to raise our children on our own and we need to schedule in family time, self-care time and parent-bonding time.
It has been said that there needs to be a breakdown before there is a breakthrough. We often continue on our path doing the same things over and over again that are not serving us well. It was hard to admit that I was not functioning well. I was drinking wine every night (not lots but enough), I was drinking coffee in the morning (to help wake me up), I was not sleeping well, I had become very reactive to my children and was starting to have anxiety attacks almost every day… something had to give.
Marty came home to support me for six weeks while I slowly recovered and we worked together on finding support for our family. Many blessings have come our way since the beginning of January that has changed our lives and connected Marty and I like we have never been connected before. With Marty being home we were able to join a parenting course for kids with anxiety to connect with other families going through similar life situations which helped us feel less alone. Abigail was able to join a ten week kid’s anxiety class which has given her tools to help deal with bullies at school and living with her autistic brother. Marty and I also met an amazing counsellor in Courtenay that was able to help both of us express our deep fears and frustrations in a safe and compassionate way to each other. We have found a babysitter to help us get out of the house weekly. I took six days and went to the Haven on Gabriola Island to do some deep heart work and shed many much needed tears. I now schedule in exercise 5 days a week like a doctor appointment and make time to go out with girlfriends. We have found an amazing man to work with Nolan for 4 hours every Wednesday teaching him about mindfulness, breathing exercises, environmental education and using the forest as a teacher.
Nolan’s anxiety has decreased substantially. What I find interesting is that for some time I have been quick to blame my anxiety and frustration on my son Nolan (who is autistic) and also on my husband Marty for being away so often. What I have learned is that we are in control of our own happiness and under all my anger and frustration was the anxiety and under the anxiety was deep sadness. I just needed to allow myself to be vulnerable and look within. Everything I needed was always right there.
The quote below from Melody Beattie says it all.
“Our strength will continue if we allow ourselves the courage to feel scared, weak, and vulnerable.”
Books to read:
When things fall apart: Pema Chodron
True love: Thich Nhat Hanh
The book of awakening: Mark Nepo
Comox Valley Resources:
Group: Creating Calm: A group for kids dealing with Anxiety
Location: Comox Valley Family Services Association
Group: Parenting Through Anxiety
Location: Comox Valley Family Services Association