As parents, the changes we go through with our kids can be at the top of the list of things that produce anxiety. Moving through change in stages and answering anxiety’s “knock” at the door proved tremendously helpful as I went through one of the biggest life changes with my kid. It made the transition much smoother for both me and my partner.
How do I deal with change?
So, of course, the universe throws me a doozy of a change. Not only does my 21-year-old kid leave the nest, they do so in the middle of the COVID-19 shutdown. To make things even more stressful, the opportunity opens up for me to dismantle the nest altogether and travel to a different city, leaving my just-learned-how-to-fly baby bird truly on their own. What kind of mom leaves their kid in the middle of a global pandemic?
It just so happened that, because of the virus, I took my private practice online and my partner began working remote as well. In addition, we had sold our house the previous summer and had no lease. There was nothing keeping me in Denver except for one thing – my child. They (preferred pronoun) had just moved into their own apartment.
The thought of leaving them was scary to me. The thought of leaving them during a global pandemic was absolutely terrifying. I was beside myself. I had never experienced anxiety quite like this – chest pain, constantly fidgeting hands, and an almost complete inability to focus. I was dropping dishes, nearly got into a car accident, and found myself sleeping in the middle of the day in order to deal. At one point, I thought I would break down entirely. I actually cleared my schedule in anticipation of a full on emotional meltdown.
On top of that, I had promised my partner that when the time was right, we would leave Denver and go live in France or Uruguay and build our dream of having space, land, goats, and chickens.
I had no more excuses and my partner was getting ticked. My 21-year-old now had a good job that was not impacted by the COVID virus shutdown, the place they were living was so affordable that they could easily meet their basic costs even with a minimum wage job. Healthwise, they have always had a very strong immune system, they were taking the virus seriously and using all the necessary precautions including handwashing, isolating, and only going to the store once a week.
So why was I experiencing so much anxiety?
Becca Armstrong, Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist, and Functional and Integrative Coach, says anxiety is like “a solicitor knocking at the door and has a message that needs to be delivered.”
She explains in her interview with Amy Breeze Cooper in Episode 24 of Soul Path Parenting that when it comes to anxiety, “It will keep ringing your doorbell until you answer the door and you have that conversation because it’s coming with a message. It’s coming with the resource. When you actually learn how to recognize what is actually going on, what is connected at that causal level, what’s the resource that this is trying to bring forward to me and into my life – then you actually bring it in and integrate it and the anxiety goes away. It stops coming up.”
I decided to try this out. “Okay, anxiety,” I said to myself, “I am answering the door…what are you trying to tell me? What are you really afraid of? Why are you here?”
When I opened myself up to this question, the answer was not what I expected. “You are afraid of losing your only real connection,” said the anxiety at the door.
I realized that the way I had set up my life, my child had become my closest connection. I feel truly seen by my kid. In fact, my child “gets” me in ways that even my partner does not. Many of the friends that I had formerly felt this kind of connection with I had let go by the wayside and I chose instead to focus my time solely on my kid. I have created a situation in which the greatest, most consistent place I experienced unconditional love and full self-expression was with my kid.
This really wasn’t about my 21-year-old and anxiety over whether they would be okay. This was about me. I was the one who was scared that I was not going to be okay. What is my life going to be like without that connection? What if I go into some sort of dark depression (Click here for what Becca Armstrong has to say about depression)? What if I feel alone and joyless and unseen?
I shared this with my kid. Their response was, “Well, mom, you gotta rip the Band-Aid off sometime.”
They were right.
I started by ripping the Band-Aid off part way. I decided to deal with this change in stages because I didn’t feel I had the emotional capacity yet to make the big change all at once. I left Denver, but I only went as far as one day’s driving distance – just in case. Truthfully, I don’t know why I felt I had to be in one day’s driving distance, it didn’t actually make rational sense. Even if my kid contracted the virus, I wouldn’t be able to physically take care of them anyway – they would have to remain in quarantine and I would not be able to make contact.
Then I started to catastrophize – what if they need a ride to the hospital? What if Uber won’t take people to the hospital? Rationally, my kid is smart enough to simply call 911 and get an ambulance. But, as I explained to my partner, none of my fears right now are rational. I made a specific request of my partner. “My worries around leaving my kid are not entirely rational,” I said, “and what I need from you is to not judge me or make me wrong for what might seem crazy to you.” I’m not sure if this qualifies entirely as the kind of specific request that Micah Salaberrios talks about in Episode 25 of Soul Path Parenting, but I knew it was close and what matters is that it was effective. My partner gave me hugs instead of lectures.
I also did what Becca Armstrong suggests in her Soul Path Parenting interview, which is, if you are catastrophizing ask yourself, “Okay, so if that happened and that was going on right now, what would I do? What would I think?” She then says to “make a plan…give yourself the ability to identify actions that make something better or create a solution because we might not be able to get all the way to better. So with that, the mind starts to say, ‘Okay, there’s something.’ And when you imagine it on a subconscious level, you’re experiencing it. The mind doesn’t know the difference between imagined and reality happening around us. So in that process, you’re bringing forward solutions, results…things that are helping move forward…a resource. And the mind stops spinning…and then we make it through the mind. Our mind says ‘okay, good, done, and check. I’ve survived that, right.’ And then the mind lets it go.”
I began to plan. If things really did get bad with the economy and my kid lost their job, they can always go stay with my retired parents in Oregon. No problem. If I really felt I needed to take care of my kid if they got the virus, I could fly back from wherever I am. Even if I was exposing myself to the virus by being on a plane, I could live with that risk. If airports shut down, my parents or my kid’s dad could reach them by car.
After several weeks in Phoenix, I began to calm down. I felt settled enough that I could rip the rest of the Band-Aid off and become open to making the big move overseas when the borders open up.
Identifying why I was really experiencing anxiety and making the move in stages was enormously helpful – l was able to let go of a good portion of my stress and this, in turn, created less tension in my relationship with my partner.
It all culminated when my kid had lunch delivered to me in Phoenix via DoorDash on my birthday and when I thanked them, the text read, “Welcome!! Luv u.”
It was just so….grown up. My heart welled up and I knew I had made the right decision. I feel like as soon as I left Denver, my kid had the space they needed to become more of an adult. Or, maybe more accurately, I needed the distance to be able to see that they were already there.