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Lessons From My Mother: On Anxiety, Love, and Self Care

November 8, 2017

Lessons From My Mother: On Anxiety, Love, and Self Care

I am wildly fortunate to have one of those moms other people wish was their mom. She’s warm and easy to be around, bitingly funny, and full of a sweet, sage wisdom. Two days ago she celebrated her 35th wedding anniversary with my dad, and today is her 54th birthday. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from my mom, but there are three lessons that stand out from the rest that I want to share in honor of her birthday:

Anxiety: My mom knows a thing or two about anxiety. I think she is by nature a relatively cautious and nervous person, and being a mother certainly amplifies those traits. That being said, she manages it relatively well, and most people see her as a very calm person. My sister and I both struggle with anxiety as well, and her guidance and patience has been critical for us learning to navigate our own nagging worries and inner panic. While in the midst of a particularly bad anxiety attack in my early twenties, in which I found myself nearly unable to speak, and definitely not able to function, my boyfriend at the time alerted my mom, not sure of how else to handle the crumbling mess of human I had rapidly become.

She scooped me up as soon as she was able, my teenage sister in the car, asking “What’s wrong with Jillian?” “She’s having anxiety” my mother calmly replied. I didn’t even know that’s what was happening to me at the time, I was just uncontrollably hysterical, and as far as I knew, for no reason. She brought me up to the guest bedroom she kept mostly for me, as I bounced in and out of her house between disastrous relationships, and she talked to me quietly, but I honestly have no memory of what she said at that point.

Eventually I unwound enough to start to articulate all the fears and worries and problems that had been stacking themselves up, leaning too hard against my ability to keep it together, and it all tumbled out through frantic sobbing. “You don’t have to handle all that by yourself.” she responded. “We all need help.” I know it didn’t seem profound to her at the time, but I had been holding everything inside, trying to figure out how to make my job, my aspirations, my relationships, and my health all work, and it felt very much like being adult meant figuring it all out myself, or collapse trying.

My mom taught me that day that asking for help is in fact one of the most grown up things you can do. I manage my anxiety much better these days, in large part because that day I learned the power of just saying out loud the cause of my anxiety to someone I trust; even if that person doesn’t have a solution, just having my worries heard and outside my head takes a great deal of their power away.

Love: Most people gasp when I tell them my parents have been friends since they were 13, and together since they were 15. Like a real-life Freaks & Geeks, my mom was the gifted but alienated girl to my dad’s artsy rebellious goofball. What they have achieved together is astounding to me, despite the fact that neither of them attended college until my mom got her Associates when I was 12. In large part because of this. they have had an uphill battle financially for most of their time together, especially through the recession of the early 90s when we first moved to Vermont, which certainly brought a great deal of stress and obstacles that they had to overcome, but they have always kept moving forward together.

Today my parents are as in love and adorable as they were as teens; always trying new things together, and always making time for their relationship. The best advice about love my mom ever gave me, I only wish she had given it earlier. “Whatever brought you together initially, will stay a theme in your relationship forever.”She told me as we sat together at her dining table, as I asked her about my new boyfriend, who she had just met over dinner the previous weekend, who would eventually become my husband.

As I thought back over all my previous, and ultimately doomed relationships, I saw she was right. The guy I had started hanging out with at bars, mostly to complain about the world together, had resulted in a relationship with far too much alcohol and bitterness, even as we tried to build a life together. Relationships that had begun with coyness and games never became straightforward, and that was ultimately their downfall. Relationships that started with an uneven power dynamic never quite evened out. My mom has watched many relationships come and go; between her parents, her siblings, her friends, her coworkers, and she has not seen this truth about love and relationships falter.

For my parents, their initial bond was two-fold; their deep love for the world Tolkien had created in his Lord of the Rings series has always brought an undercurrent of fantasy and an epic story to their relationship. The second was their desire for family and stability; both of their families had broken up in divorce in their early teens, and my parents became each other’s family very early in life. These themes of fantasy and family have carried through their whole lives together.

In the case of my husband and I, we initially came together over impassioned talks about politics and history, and the bond our mutual enthusiasm for in-depth discussions of current events, media we love, or personal growth and exploration keeps us close even as the sleep deprivation and constant demands of parenting a toddler can leave us ragged.

Self-Care: When I got old enough that I didn’t nap anymore, my mom instituted the “book rest” during which I took time to myself, quietly, with a book. As long as I have been old enough to notice, my mom has always prioritized quiet downtime for every member of our family. Now that my sister and I are adults, and my parents have become grandparents, I see this same priority shine through as my parents take on the bulk of our babysitting. If they have travel coming up, or visitors coming soon, or haven’t had a date night to themselves for a bit, they will always look for another time they could help out, making sure they take care of themselves and only take on what they can comfortably handle.

By the same token, if my husband and I go too long without asking for a babysitter, my mom always offers nights that would be good for them, knowing that it’s important for us to prioritize our own needs too. It’s my mom who has encouraged me to relax with my toddler with a movie if we’re having a particularly difficult day together, or reminds me how much better I might feel if we got out for a walk. Sometimes as a mom it’s so hard to remember to take care of yourself, and I am grateful to have a mother who both sets a good example and actively encourages me to take those much-needed breaks.

So, happy birthday to my mom. I hope you get as much out of her motherly wisdom as I do.

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