I never considered myself a very anxious person until I started being put into situations I wasn’t in complete control of. As a teen who chose the road less travelled, I spent the years leading up to motherhood flinging myself from friend group to friend group to boyfriend to home and as soon as a situation became uncomfortable or difficult, I would part ways. I was never around someone I didn’t want to be around for very long.
As my life switched from selfishness to selflessness and I became a mum to my eldest daughter, I became much more introverted. I was even more picky about who I would spend my time with and I assumed that was because my maternal instincts had settled in and I was protective of my new baby. Little did I know, there was another reason for my sudden withdrawal from social life – social anxiety.
In the past, I’d found myself 100% in control of the situations I’d be in and the people I’d spend my time with. That changed as my daughter grew older and began daycare, kinder and finally primary school. I found myself taking her to birthday parties and play dates with friends and it would take every ounce of will lower in my body to get myself up and out the door. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do these things because I wanted nothing more than to be the fun, sociable, school mum who helps out with excursions and has coffee 3 times a week with other parents. As much as I would try to convince myself I was being silly and I had nothing to worry about, my head would fill with things like “what are you going to talk about?”, “don’t mention your past!”, “be honest about your past, honesty is the best policy…”, “you have nothing to talk about, they’ll think your just a kid!”… and just like that, the butterflies in my tummy would become a swarm and I’d find myself avoiding play dates, shoving my face into my phone at birthday parties or as my current situation, have my mum do school drop off and pick up for me. I always push myself to attend the parties and school events but I do it because I want my daughter to know I tried my best.
I suffer from social anxiety. Social anxiety can be someone having a fear of crowds to a person having a fear of certain social settings or very commonly, all social settings to some extent. It can be a debilitating and isolating condition which is difficult to understand for those who have never been effected by it. Social anxiety is common with depression, general anxiety and other mental health conditions as well as many psychiatric conditions.
As a mum, I have found the excessive guilt that comes along with not aligning with societies stereotypes of “the perfect mother” has been the most difficult part of being socially anxious. I become extremely depressed in when I find myself stuck in the pattern of thinking about what I want our lives to look like and not being as good as the other school mums and losing time with my kids. All I want is to be happy and be the mum they deserve.
There is a stigma attached to mental health and mothers that needs to be addressed. All parents should feel supported enough to be able to ask for help and be open about what they are struggling with. There needs to be support available and accessible to parents to help them be the best parents they can be. Information and eliminating the stigma so mothers feel comfortable being open about their struggles would open doors and allow access to opportunities for children who’s mothers need that extra bit of support.
I have two very understanding little girls, who are very patient with me. I believe in honesty from a perspective on their level, I explain things in ways they can comprehend with examples that they can relate to. I want them to know that if they ever struggle with their mental health or anything else, that they can feel comfortable in being open and honest and asking for help. The harm is done when you hide things.