Boy. Where do I even begin? Lately I’ve been ever so aware of the anxiety that is part of my 8 year old multiple food allergic son’s life. Don’t get me wrong. He’s an incredibly healthy and happy child. Most people never even know his history. Not until they get to know him/us better. Yet the anxiety is there. Scared of the dark. Scared of falling asleep alone. Scared to try new foods. And for crying out loud, scared to try new activities! Once he gets out there, he is fine but trust me. It takes this momma being a bit pushy to get him to just try. He fights it. Sometimes angrily. Sometimes with full on tears. But I trudge on and gently push those boundaries as far as I think he can go. And my gawd. It’s worth every wince and hidden tear that I shed just to see that smile on his face and laughter as he pushes past his fears and comes out on top. But anxiety is persistent and pervasive for the food allergy family, and I bet you think this post is about the anxiety that the food allergic person experiences but I’m sorry to say, it isn’t. It’s short but it’s my own. The mother of an amazing little man with a decent size list of foods to avoid. A mother with anxiety.
In the beginning of our journey, I wasn’t even sure what anxiety really was. I have an aunt who has it and for her, the affects are physical. Think pain so bad that it’s as if she is having a heart attack. I’ve heard others speak of it that way, too, so I assumed that it was severe or on par with a panic attack. I’ve never had either. I don’t panic. I don’t even get too stuck in worrying. I just roll up my sleeves, jump in, and get stuff done. If I’m feeling mentally overwhelmed, I take a nap. Sometimes a REALLY LONG nap but hey. I give myself the chance to recharge. Then I’m fine again. The idea that I might experience anxiety was the last thing in my mind.
Over the 7 years since my son’s anaphylaxis response to a lick of his daddy’s peanut butter and chocolate frozen yogurt, we’ve been through quite a bit. My son had more reactions to new foods. We watched the list grow. We added another child to the mix. Though mild, she has her own set of challenges to work with. And all throughout that time my own health declined. I was diagnosed with a few conditions of my own, including EoE. For my health, we added a couple of other foods to the list of things to avoid. I relearned cooking and baking. I reveled in the challenges and I kept pushing. (Today, experimenting in the kitchen is one of my favorite things to do and I happily dance around when I’m in there.) I realized that the Blue Bear Store was actually draining my energy rather than recharging it, so I made some changes to be able to spend more time with my family. Over the past year, my health has improved and I’m able to be more focused at work and with my children. While I never imagined that our lives were suddenly all perfect and that I had everything under control, I genuinely feel that our lives are happy and blessed. And yet… when I go to sleep at night, the last thing on my mind is ‘But what if I died?‘.
Don’t get me wrong, my husband is an incredible father. My parents are the literally the best people I know in this whole world. As long as they are alive, I know that they would move mountains to help with the children. My in-laws are equally as fantastic and I know that they would be there as well. I don’t doubt any of that that one bit. I’m also not so full of myself to think that I am the only person on this planet who could care for my children and raise them well. Logically, I know all of that. Yet somewhere in the back of my mind, I feel otherwise and it leaves me terrified.
Last year, while my husband was out of town and I was alone with my children, I had an anxiety attack. As I lay there with my children I was flooded with thoughts of would the children know what to do if I died tonight? Would they know who to call? Would they be okay until their father came home? So many thoughts racing through my head that I couldn’t sleep a wink. I didn’t want to fall asleep because I didn’t want to tempt fate and put those fears to the test. I had many nights like that last year and then it finally hit me. I realized that THIS is my form of anxiety. It isn’t brought on by watching my son at public places or even being around his allergens. It isn’t brought on by thoughts of him forgetting his Auvi-Q devices. It probably won’t even be about the challenges that I still have to face when he starts going out with his friends or (gulp) dating. Nope. Somehow, in my attempts to take care of everything, I created my own anxiety trigger. I have twisted things into some idea that I am responsible for everything in keeping my children safe and with that, this ridiculous fear that if I died, all of the things that I did would be lost and the family would have to relearn everything all over again.
This year, my personal goal is to unpack all of that and figure out what I can do, if anything, to ensure that I’ve left information for the family (Big Red Binder?) and that I’m more focused on teaching and guiding rather than always doing. I’m sure that I can and will figure out ways to deal with it and tackle my anxiety but I see some of my fellow food allergy moms – hell, moms in general – taking on so much. It may not manifest as anxiety for them but I’m sure it isn’t healthy. Can we help each other? Let’s at least try. What have you found helps you deal with the stress? Have you found any helpful ways to lighten the load on your shoulders?