Monday, September 22, 2014

New Beginnings and the Anxiety Monster

There is a children’s poetry book we read often called Jitomates RisueƱos (Laughing Tomatoes) that ends with the simple lines “No existen finales, solo nuevos principios.” “There are no endings, just new beginnings.” It is written in a circular form around a child’s smiling face, an apt and accurate statement on many levels.

The week before school started I was a ball of anxiety. Any comment, look or request sent me off the deep edge screaming lunacy into the oblivion. My husband made a little side comment that I seemed a bit impatient recently and I lurched into vampire form just about biting his head off. All this stress was due to one singular and silly reason: I was dreading the new routine, the having to wake up in the morning, getting everyone ready, hair braiding, lice avoiding, listening to the school friend drama, new teacher rules, making breakfasts, packing lunches, and the never-ending everything a new school year entails. The globe was spinning too fast, my big girl was going into 3rd grade and my baby was entering a preschool program for the first time; it was all  moving forward, without thought to my angst, I had no control over anything whatsoever, especially not the ball of panic threatening to burst from inside me.

There is a Spanish expression “ahogarse en un vaso de agua” literally “to drown in a glass of water” or “make mountains out of molehills.”  This is me. I don’t deal well without a plan, without a clear to do list, without knowing absolutely everything in advance. I like to think of myself as a flexible person, adaptable to anything life throws her way; this is obviously light years from the truth. I need routine and a crystal ball as much as a child needs a reliable caretaker.  A magic wand would be nice too.

By the time afternoon of the first day arrived, I was better, as soon as I picked the girls up and saw how ecstatic they were, how happy they were to tell me all about their day, I peacefully noticed that my ball of panic had dissipated. We made it to Friday, the last day of the first school week, everyone intact, with less than five meltdowns, and just 1 or 2 minor threats. Not bad, considering we had 2 different drop off and pick up times, 2 ballet classes, 1 cello practice, a ton of homework and papers to fill out, and more supplies to buy, not bad at all. The worries and anxiety were actually bigger in my head.

Anxiety is no joke. It’s like when you’re a kid and you clearly see the most terrifying monster ever, with a hunched back, a huge head, and snarling teeth right under your bed. You turn on the lights and the monster disappears, perhaps it was never there after all? You turn off the lights and now the monster is in the closet, laughing, ready to eat you alive. When you grow up, you laugh at your child self, impressed at your vivid imagination. Well, that great imagination of yours is now conjuring up all kinds of internal angst; those monsters are now endless to do lists, misunderstandings, missing important school events, and crushing little spirits. Anxiety is at its worst when it feels like an unknown and impending disaster is about to happen. That’s when the mind really starts playing tricks on you and the monster under the bed turns out to be not so bad in comparison.  

Day by day, moment by moment. My spiritually evolved friends tell me this; live in the now, and you will get through this; we will all get through this, like we always do. I am trying to live in the now, that’s my new goal but it’s a work in progress.  


  1. One of my sisters calls it “BTSAD!” (Translation: Back-to-School Anxiety Disorder). And I am not talking about the kiddos! Many, if not most (I’d say all parents) experience some level of anxiety. I know I surely will; I possess the personality that will fall right into this syndrome. When my daughter started preschool, it was ME who had major separation anxiety. When she began transitional kindie last month, she was fine. I was a little teary and anxiety-filled. Come next Fall, when she starts kindergarten, I will be an utter mess.

    One thing for sure, though, I am a firm believer of: Improvise, adapt and overcome. You will be fine. I will be fine. All other parents will be fine.

    I would love to learn more about your experience and coping strategies, especially in preparation for kindergarten! Thank you very much for writing this piece, Patricia.

  2. I am glad to hear there is an official name for this madness (and that I am not alone!) I am slowly working on the improvise and adapting part of it all. Maybe I will write a piece on coping strategies, I feel like it should be a comedy though. :-)