Dear Son, On Anxiety…
It’s been two months since I last wrote in here. I started to think a lot about why that was, and I realized that what I’m about to tell you has a lot to do with how I live my life. There have been a lot of studies done on many different types of anxiety disorders and parenthood. I’ve never been diagnosed, nor gone to see a doctor for it due to several reasons, but I’ll get to that. One of the biggest and scariest ones that I read was that it can be passed genetically. My anxiety may become your anxiety. I’m writing you this as you sit in your swing happily smiling at the stuffed birds swinging around above your head. You smile easily and often. I write you this because I don’t ever want for you to go through what I feel going on inside my own mind. I don’t want you to ever lose what you have right now, the ability to smile easily and often. That is the greatest gift given to you by God, and will be an amazing gift to the world for you to share in life. Maybe I’m just biased because I’m your Dad, but when you smile it makes the whole world better.
To preface this, I’m not talking about normal run of the mill fear. There are many different types and many different levels. There is the scared excitement fear, like the kind when you are on a roller coaster or a scary movie. You know nothing is going to hurt you and that you are in no real danger, but your body tells you something different. Let’s call that the baseline. The anxiety fear that I’m talking about is more akin to an irrational abiding ever present “I’m going to die” feeling. Sort of like that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach at the top of a roller coaster right before it plunges over the edge, but the problem is it never does. You feel stuck there on the precipice of something happening, that may never happen or has been completely fabricated by your imagination. It is very hard to explain to those who don’t experience it because it is irrational. The rational part of your brain will tell you that there is no reason for you to be feeling this way, and everything will be fine, but deep in your gut you still feel that fear. It’s like “what if” became rabid and no amount of fact could face it or calm it down.
There have been many things that can trigger this in 2016 many public fears, and many private fears as well. One of the biggest for me in recent months has been tied in with gender roles and with my career choice. Now that is just the basic core of this big anxiety that I have, one of many. But wrapped around that are other fears: “What if what happened before happens again?” I don’t think I can put you and your mom through that again. “What if I’m not good at anything else?” “How will I provide?””Where will we stay?””What if I care too much about my job, and not enough about my family?” “Where is the line in all of that?” “How do I balance my life correctly?” “What if I were to die tomorrow?” “Should I get life insurance?” “Do I make enough to afford that?” “Is it silly for me to be worrying about all of this?” “Am I delusional in thinking I can make a difference?” “What if you hate me because I gave too much to something that was just a pipe dream?” … This is just one example and some of the thoughts in one of the big ball of wound up anxiety within me. Of course, there are more and some of those same threads of thought run through a few different tangles of worry, but this is just an example.
I don’t tell you this to make you pity me. I tell you this not because I want you to feel it too. I tell you this because I want you to understand that you can’t let it cripple you. You can’t let these fears be the reason you lose something or anything. I have let those fears control me more often than I’d like to admit. I’ve done some stupid and crazy things all in the name of some imaginary thing I feared would happen. I pray that you never ever ever have to face this. I pray I did not pass this anxiety to you and that is just a letter about why your dad is the way he is. But in case it’s not, as I have told you before, it is okay to ask for help.
I have determined that I’m going to work on that within myself. I’m going to do something in the next few months/ years to make sure that I can ask for help. Like I said earlier I’ve never gone to see a doctor for this, and I think it’s time that I do. I’m doing it because I want to be a man you can be proud of. It’s kind of funny and ironic that the reasons keeping me away have been pride and self-image. My perspective has shifted though. If I’m going to tell you to not be afraid to ask for help, I need to show you that I’m not afraid to ask for help.
Son, I pray that this letter is just something I wrote. That in the future when you read this you will see that I was starting on the path to become a better man, husband, father, and person. Someone who became a good example for you. I pray that you never lose your smile. That when you read this you will smile and see that everything worked out just fine. I know that it will, it’s just so hard to see it in the beginning. Anxiety makes it worse, I pray you don’t have my anxiety. I love you.