I have a daughter. She is bright, and funny and caring. She is athletically gifted, and can sing like an angel. She is very switched on, confident, and a natural leader.
I have a daughter. She worries, she is very self critical and unsure. She is terrified of shouting, and doesn’t cope well with arguments. She is over bearing at times and can be very controlling.
I know all these things about her, and I love her fiercely. I can see her brain furiously trying to work out situations and I let her get things wrong sometimes. I see all her potential, all her brilliance, and her flaws.
Yesterday, she came home and she told me she had looked up a word in the dictionary as part of a school task. The definition had said “another word for X” and so she had looked up that word.
“Mummy, I read the definition and I think, well, it describes how I feel when I worry lots”
Ok, I said. So what is your question?
“Mummy, am I anxious?”
I have a daughter. She is confident, outgoing and quick witted.
I have a daughter. She is intelligent, artistic and creative.
I have a daughter. Who is anxious.
You see, on the surface, she is someone who appears for want of a better word, very normal. She loves school. She loves her friends. And she has discovered the selfie so she’s maturing age appropriately.
But she’s also had some bumps in her road. She scores quite high on the ACE’s checklist. ACE’s are ‘adverse childhood experiences’ and they can impact or not impact on children in a variety of different ways. Each child is different but we know those with ACE’s can struggle a little bit more.
My daughter doesn’t cope well with certain situations, and for us we know what they are, and we are leaning – very slowly – how to manage her when her anxious brain takes over.
Things are very different to when I grew up, and sometimes I wonder if the bombardment of information on our young people is necessary. They know a lot of words. They see a lot of information. And sometimes I wonder if it’s all needed.
But for my daughter, yesterday for her was almost like a revelation.
She talked about how she had read the definition of anxious, and then anxiety and she suddenly felt like she wasn’t broken. We tell her all the time that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with her, but it’s almost like seeing on paper that feeling jumpy, with a sore tummy and a pounding headache was actually a thing, gave her some relief.
My daughter is anxious but she doesn’t have an anxiety disorder and yesterday we talked about that in depth. She knows there are certain situations she finds difficult to manage and we are piece by piece putting strategies together to help her manage that. It’s really hard, and we don’t always get it right. Sometimes it feels like we’re failing and sometimes if something triggers her in the morning we have to just write off the whole day with her because she’s gone to a safe place mentally. And sometimes her safe place isn’t safe for us, and I worry a lot about fracturing our relationship.
But what was interesting is that she went on to ask me if she was depressed. Because that was a word linked in the dictionary. And it opened up a big chat about that and how actually there is a very big difference not only between being anxious, and having anxiety but then between anxiety and depression.
My daughter is 11. But for her, to hear that actually sometimes the way she behaves isn’t her, it’s the anxiety, has almost changed her immediately. It was like a lightbulb went off in her head when she made the connection between the things on her worry line and her behaviours when they happen.
Mental health is a scary topic, for anyone. And yesterday when she asked me I almost said no. I thought very briefly that maybe telling her not to be silly was the best way.
But it’s not. Because she’s not being silly. She’s made a very intelligent connection between how she feels and what that means, literally.
Our young people are not stupid. They do not protected from things, especially things that actually impact them. This is becoming more and more apparent, and when we have 16 year olds standing up commanding attention on world issues then we can absolutely sit down and have honest conversations with our children about their mental health.
I have a daughter. She is perfectly imperfect in every single way. She came home today and told me she had made the long jump squad at school.
I told her I loved her, and was proud of her. I told her I wouldn’t have cared if she hadn’t made the team, because my pride doesn’t come from her achievements.
It comes from having the honour of being her Mum.