by Mel cross posted from her blog When Cows and Kids Collide
My life was riddled with anxiety from age 4-19.
My younger brother died suddenly and unexpectedly from an undetected birth defect that greatly weakened his immune system. David was a week away from his first birthday.
From that point on, I suffered from severe anxiety. I suspect I had a genetic predisposition to anxiety to start with – but David’s death was like gasoline on a fire. I was terrified that my parents or youngest brother were going to die. I had panic attacks at school at the beginning of the year because I was sure my parents were going to die. After all, that’s roughly what happened with David from my point of view: my baby brother was fine when I went to bed one night and dead in the morning.
As I got older, the panic attacks about being away from my family lessened although never went away. Instead, I became a classic overachiever. I studied all the time and was crushed by grades lower than a “B” – and a “B” was a sign I needed to work harder on my next assignment or test. I trained, conditioned and cross-trained on my own outside of sports practices. I pushed so hard that no one caught the fact that I had exercise-induced asthma until I was 16. When I switched my attention to music and theater, I trained as extensively there.
The problem was that I was frantically trying to get the anxiety and resulting depression to stop by doing one more thing. Ironically, the perfectionism I developed was making the anxiety much worse rather than better.
When I started college, I had a major episode of depression which required hospitalization. While I was in the hospital, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. The drug Klonopin saved my sanity; it tamped down the anxiety long enough for me to learn coping skills and gave me a chance to use those coping skills. Thankfully, my anxiety responds well to SSRIs and I’ve seen a great therapist for the intervening 16 years who has taught me more coping skills while exploring the causes of my anxiety.
I share my story because my history has given me a finely tuned radar for anxiety in others. When I read a story written by someone with untreated anxiety, my anxiety starts resonating. This snippet from “Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit” by Teri Maxwell screams of untreated anxiety.
When my youngest child was a baby, she went through a stage when she wasn’t nursing well at her breakfast time feeding. We decided that I should quit waking her up at 5:30 a.m. to nurse her so she would be hungrier at 8:30 a.m. As we began doing this, I found I became very nervous from 6:45 until 7:45 because I would not be available if she happened to wake up and be hungry. I was out of the house, walking, and someone at home would have to pacify her if she awakened. That time became miserable for me because of my anxiety over the baby. I asked Steve, and he agreed that we could go back to waking up the baby early in the morning. Do you know what happened? Rather than dreading having to get up at 5:30 every morning to nurse the baby I loved it. I was so happy to again have a peaceful heart during that hour I was out walking that I didn’t mind, in the least, the early morning nursing time. (pgs. 33-34)
For readers who haven’t had a young infant, the feeding time is always being adjusted by parents and the infant. Babies eat larger amounts at less frequent feeds as they get older – but sometimes a baby is eating more heavily before a growth spurt or wants smaller amounts more frequently as a comfort during teething. As a parent, I prefer that my son is hungry enough that he eats during a feed rather than eating for 2 minutes, playing for 5 minutes, eating for two minutes, telling me a story for 5 minutes which is his preferred feeding style some days.
In other words, dropping an early morning feed is pretty routine.
Reading between the lines, dropping the early morning feed worked fine. The baby never woke up hungry and screaming. No one – not Steve or any of the older kids – had to pacify the baby until Mrs. Maxwell returned home. Plus, with the scheduled exercise time, Mrs. Maxwell was in the house for a hour after the skipped feeding time and 45 minutes before the 8:30 feed. If her littlest one was going to freak out over a missed feeding, Mrs. Maxwell would be in the house and ready to nurse.
No, the problem in this situation is the disabling anxiety that Mrs. Maxwell feels. My heart goes out to her; anxiety that can hang on through sixty minutes of exercise is severe. I feel a great deal of compassion because no one deserves to be enslaved to anxiety and there are many medical and behavioral treatments for anxiety.
Heartbreakingly, the process of relieving anxiety by rearranging her schedule makes the anxiety worse over the long run because she never faces what she is afraid of. One technique I’ve learned is discussing what I think is the worst-case scenario to determine that 1) that’s pretty damn unlikely to happen and 2) the outcome isn’t that horrible.
Here’s an example using an imaginary CP/QF patient (P) and a therapist (T):P: “I can’t keep exercising without an early morning feed for my baby.”
T: “What are you afraid will happen while you exercise?”
P: “Well, the baby will wake up, be hungry and cry inconsolably until I get home.”
T: “Has the baby woken up so far?”
P: “No, not yet. But she could.”
T: “What would happen if she did wake up and start crying?”
P: “My husband would have to take care of her.”
T: “Ok. So the baby would be taken care of.”
P: “But my husband shouldn’t have to take care of the baby. That’s my job because I’m a good mother and wife.”
T: “Tell me more about what being a good wife and mother means to you.”
I don’t know what Mrs. Maxwell’s anxiety around feeding her daughter stemmed from but I’m willing to bet a trained therapist would find that she had concerns or expectations for herself that were unrealistic.
I believe that most CP/QF adherents are attracted to the lifestyle in part due to untreated mental issues since it offers a simplified world view that promises safety and fulfillment in response to following some “Biblical” ideas. My hope is that CP/QF believers think long and hard about getting a mental health screening from their doctors; the results can be life-changing.
Mel resides in Michigan with her husband and child on farm. With her years of teaching experience, keen mind and observational skills she always brings a deeper look at the issues of homeschooling, teaching issues, and explains the science behind behind quiverfull beliefs. Mother, wife, teacher and caregiver of a child with health challenges she always brings a measured and reasoned voice to NLQ.
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