My daughter is a 7th grader. Ah, the memories of 7th grade, the cliquishness, the insecurity, the puberty. Not a pretty time. She is very different from me in some ways and just like me in others. The differences, she has innate confidence and athletic ability, she does not procrastinate, she is not dreamy, she is a realist and pragmatist. The similarities, she is very socially aware, she is organized and plans out her week, she gets anxious about what to wear and managing friendships and doing well in school. Unfortunately, her anxiety triggers mine and we get into some pretty unpleasant screaming matches and power struggles.
Last week she was preparing to go to a National Squash tournament at Yale University with her dad as chaperone. Huge difference from my childhood. First of all, as a 13 year-old, I was unaware of the existence of Squash, a semi-elitist sport. Secondly, I would have sucked, not been able to hit the ball, let alone be 1st on the team. Thirdly, my father would not have taken me.
I was thrilled that my husband was taking her. He plays squash and he manages her anxiety much better than I. She was not thrilled. She would be the only girl whose dad was her chaperone. The other girls would go shopping with their moms and she would be on her own, no parent to buck up or be her anchor. Making it even worse in her mind, her dad planned for them to have dinner with friends in New Haven on the first night instead of going to dinner with the team. And thus began the anxiety tornado. She started with, “they are all gonna bond, and I won’t be there. I’ll be left out. This weekend is not just about squash it’s about bonding as a team and I won’t be there on the first night!”
On the one hand, she had a great point. On the other, they would be eating three meals a day together for the next two days. She would have plenty of time to bond over mediocre food at chain restaurants. It got worse from there. “I have nothing to wear, my clothes aren’t cute enough.” Umm, not too much we can do about that at 8 pm the night before you leave. Of course, it was all my fault. I should be going to Yale with her, not dad. I should have gotten her cuter clothes, even though she refuses to go shopping with me for fear of being seen in public shopping with her mother. I remained calm as she ratcheted up the drama level. But, the winds of anxiety would not be slowed. They quickly whipped up to gale force at which point I got caught in the eye of the storm. I screamed and yelled and said things I regretted as they were coming out of my mouth. The dog hid behind a chair, my son retreated to his room and finally, my husband came upstairs and tried to calm us both. Eventually, we came to tears and re-conciliatory hugs, a packed bag and bedtime.
The next morning, after meditating I wrote her a note that I put in her bag. The note was my hard-won advice for dealing with anxiety, minus the anti-depressants. Here it is:
I love you so much. I am so sorry that when you get nervous and anxious it makes me anxious and I am often more harmful than helpful. I have some tips to help you through anxious times.
1. Know that anxiety is about fear of the future. When you feel it coming on ask yourself what you are scared of. Sometimes naming your fear can help calm you.
2. Once you know why you are feeling anxious, you can try to take yourself out of the emotional tailspin by being really rational. For example, the Fear: What to Wear. The rational thought:
1) As long as I am not naked I will be alright.
2) No one that matters will notice or care what I am wearing.
3) I always look OK if my smile and attitude are in place.
More tips later – love you, Mom
I am not sure if my note helped her. I showed her where I put it and told her to read it on the train to Yale. She did not mention it. It is fine if she read it and scoffed. The note helped me. The heartfelt apology soothed my guilt. The advice came from the heart and from the lessons I’ve learned and from the yoga I practice. I needed to write that note, to remember to take my own advice.