Light-headed, the inability to eat, and overthinking everything are only some of the debilitating signs of anxiety for me. Green Day have a song, "Wake Me Up When September Ends". I wasn't a big follower of that band, and doubt they were writing about school starting and the end of summer, but when I hear the chorus, that is what I think of. Anyone who knows me well knows I have anxiety. They also know that it rears its head most ferociously at the start of the school year. As a parent, I do everything I can to hide my anxiety from my children, for my children. When all of us are anxious together though, its palpable.
A new approach to anxiety is for people to look at the upside of it. It can protect you, it means you feel deeply, it provides you the built-in ability to be prepared, and it also means you are capable of being a very empathetic person. Most of the time, I can help myself and my kids with mindfulness tools I've learned. We practice walking through a situation mentally, before physically in preparation for an upcoming nerve wracking day. I usually find that the anticipation is far worse than the actual situation itself.
This week that wasn't the case. My children went back to school and it was a big change this year. They weren't together in the same school anymore, and my daughter started middle school. Each child had their own swarm of butterflies taking flight inside them. My daughter asked me if she was sick. She said she felt warm and couldn't eat. I explained that what she was feeling was nerves and we head off to school. My son who was so excited all morning on the way to second grade, got much quieter on the walk to school. We found some friends to walk to the middle school with and then catching me off guard, the goodbye was briefer than it had ever been in elementary. There was no walking in, and too many other kids around for a big hug and kiss. Just like that, she was off, and as soon as I saw another mother crying, my eyes spilled tears like hers.
I pulled myself back together and headed hand-in-hand with my son next door to the elementary school. I didn't let him see me cry, and I was going to handle his familiar school goodbye like a pro. We waited for the bell to ring and said hello to friends, we walked down past his first grade class and onto the second grade rooms. He found a hook for his backpack, and looked up at his new teacher. She said hello and he turned into me and began to cry. He has many friends in his class and this school isn't new to him, but the teacher, the classroom and the absence of his sister on campus are. I held him and once again cried. I kept my sunglasses on and tried to keep it together but I couldn't. He grabbed my hand and said, "Mommy, please don't leave me." More than anything in that moment, I wished I could honor his wishes, but I couldn't. This felt harder than I anticipated. He eventually went in, and likely recovered quickly, but I didn't.
Another benefit of anxiety is that it can change your perspective. It provided you with the ability to focus on what is important in your life. I felt that so clearly that first morning of school. I love my children and I love summer with them. Sending them back to school is a loss of all that time together and a loss of a sense of freedom with them. I struggle with how quickly time is passing and that middle school feels like a huge leap into independence. The change from elementary to middle is massive and for all of us it will be uncomfortable for some time.
I'm trying to feel those bright sides of anxiety and also the bright sides of this big change for all of us. I do feel that the flip side of anxiety can be excitement and that glimmers to the surface for us now and again this week. The nerves are winning out over excitement so far, but I believe that will change very soon. I am looking forward to that change. After all, breakfast was our favorite meal, so it will be nice when we can all start eating it again.