When I facilitate in person workshops I always start by telling a little bit about myself. I talk about how long I’ve worked with children/families, what ages I’ve taught and why I decided to leave the classroom to work with teachers. I also share that I am an introvert with a generalized anxiety disorder.
It has taken me a really long time to share this with anyone outside my family. I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. As a young child while other children played I was busy worrying that something bad was going to happen to my family. I had daily headaches and stomachaches which no one understood. My family called me their little worry wart. It was a different time and anxiety was not discussed nor was it something that would ever be a problem for a child.
These childhood worries continued into adulthood but I became better at hiding them from everyone around me. As an educator I wanted to be seen as someone who was competent and capable of handling anything that comes my way. I didn’t want the families of the children I cared for seeing me as someone who couldn’t handle stressful situations especially when they pop up often in the classroom setting.
When we moved to North Carolina a few years ago my anxiety was at an all time high. We were leaving all of our extended family behind to move to another state in order to make a better life for ourselves. We were leaving everything that was safe and familiar. Moving is stressful for everyone but for someone with anxiety the unknown is a nightmare.
The first few months I was really struggling to hold it all together. My only salvation was spending my days with curious kindergartners. These magical little people and their families are the ones that allowed me to really be myself. When a parent shared their worries about their anxious child or their own struggles I felt like I was finally free to share my story. I came to the realization that I am not the person I am in spite of my anxiety. I am the person I am because anxiety is my superpower.
You may think that it seems strange to look at my struggle as a superpower. My husband is a bit of a comic book nerd so I’ve learned a thing or two about superheroes over the years. The things that make a superhero so different from everyone else also give them great power.
My anxiety makes me different from many people around me but those differences are what make me a pretty awesome teacher and parent. Instead of looking at my anxiety as weaknesses I now look at it as my strength. My anxiety superpower gives me the ability to be really organized, a keen observer, a great listener, empathetic, compassionate, thoughtful, an advocate and a problem solver.
Although I now look differently at my anxiety, I want to be honest in saying that some days/weeks are still really hard. I still have days when I wake up feeling anxiety deep in my bones. Days where I feel like I should be worried but I don’t know what I am supposed to be worried about. Here’s what’s different about those days/weeks I am no longer embarrassed by them. I have tools to help me deal with those feelings. I talk to my husband, go on a walk with my dog, sweat it out at the gym or go see my doctor.
It is really easy to get sucked into this world where we are expected to be the perfect teacher and parent. Instead of spending time in this imaginary world wouldn’t it be easier just to be ourselves? What if we lived in a world where we could share our struggles and those struggles were met with grace (instead of judgement).
When you work with children and their families it is really important to be true to yourself. I wish I had a teacher in my life who shared with me that they also worried. Having someone share their struggles and their strategies would have made a huge difference in the way I saw myself.
Sharing worries with children is a fantastic way to show empathy and understanding when they seem worried. Be mindful when sharing as you don’t want to cause more anxious thoughts for the child (or yourself). You can also model coping strategies to give them tools for their self-care toolbox.
I’m not saying you have to share every personal detail of your life or shout the news from the rooftop (unless that’s your thing). What I am saying is that you need to be honest with yourself. Look at your struggles through the superpower lens and use this vision to change the world!