What I Wish My Parents Knew about My Anxiety
I struggled with the silent dread of anxiety for years. I never told my parents how much I suffered. It makes me sad to remember running around as a little girl and teenager, trying to please everyone, and staying quiet about the hurt I experienced. If I could go back to that time, here’s what I would say to my parents:
The first time I can remember having an anxiety attack, I was about six or seven years old. I remember going upstairs into my parent’s room, and if my mom wasn’t there, I started panicking. Even if she was downstairs in her office, the kitchen or the backyard, just the act of looking for her and not finding her right away brought up the worst thoughts. “I can’t find mom. What if something terrible happened to her?”
I often wonder how a kid so young could experience so much anxiety – it’s as if I was wired to worry since birth.
I’ve also struggled with being a people-pleaser. After talking to other women, I now know that needing constant reassurance often goes hand-in-hand with anxiety. Another trait related to anxiety is empathy—something that runs strong within my heart. The ability to feel what others feel with stunning clarity is second nature to me. It’s hard to put up walls, find where I end and another person begins. I believe this contributes to anxiety and worry. When someone I love is going through hardship, I immediately put myself in their shoes. I think of how they must feel and how I could help them. My parents and 10 siblings are some of the first people I connected with, and their pain became my pain at a young age.
I struggled with the silent dread of anxiety for years. I never told my parents how much I suffered. I might have told myself, “They have their own stuff they’re dealing with. I don’t want to burden them or add anything to their load.” It makes me sad to remember running around as a little girl and teenager, trying to please everyone, and staying quiet about the hurt I experienced.
I wish I would have spoken up sooner and reached out for help. I did not begin therapy until I was 20, and even then I contemplated it for about three years before I looked into it.
If I could go back to that time, here’s what I would say to my parents:
Dear Mom and Dad, I am struggling with anxiety and panic attacks.
Right now, I could really use some support. This can mean something as simple as checking in with a, “How are you doing, Katherine?”
The thing about anxiety is that it’s incredibly isolating. It makes you feel like you are alone, and no one understands you. It is a silent battle. Only you can really feel it. You camouflage your pain with a big smile, always knowing just what to say to seem okay—people pleasers like me are masters at this.
When I am smiling and laughing along, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m okay. It’s just me trying to deflect hard things going on in our family along with my own struggles, while trying not to add to the load. Please don’t misunderstand this as me being fine and not needing anyone, because the truth is, I really need you right now.
What I really need is a safe place to talk.
Counseling will help tremendously, but talking with you would also be a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. When I share my problems with you, at first, I don’t want solutions. I don’t want a response like, “look on the bright side” or “some people have it way worse than you do” speeches. While these are meant to be helpful, they actually hurt me. They make me feel invalidated, like I’m being dramatic or a burden. Fear of feeling like a dramatic burden to you is actually what keeps me silent, even though I am struggling.
Please reach out to me more. Please ask me how I am, even if I don’t know what to say and I answer it in a short and guarded tone. Just the act of you asking is comforting. When I do finally start to open up, what I need most is to feel validated in my feelings. Saying something like: “I can understand why you feel that way. I’m sure I would too if I were in your shoes,” or “I am so proud of you for opening up. It takes so much courage,” would be so helpful to hear.
I know it hurts your hearts deeply to see your daughter hurting. I know it may be shocking to learn that underneath the happy, bubbly Katherine you know is a girl who is confused, anxious, afraid, and overwhelmed. Secretly I feel like I’m falling apart inside, even though I look like I have it all together. Just because I am not acting out with drugs or partying like some girls do, does not mean I am not in a lot of pain. I cover up my pain and insecurities with perfectionism and people-pleasing. In my mind, if I can be the perfect girl, I will be safe, and I can protect others from pain.
You don’t have to fix me or have all the answers.
I know it’s scary and you want to make it better immediately, but the truth is, healing takes time. Just the act of being present and reaching out will mean the world to me. You are both doing a great job, but if you could show support in these small ways, it would really help me out.
About Katherine Cimorelli and her sisters: The six sisters of Cimorelli, originally from Sacramento, CA, have grown their enthusiastic international fanbase to levels that won them a Teen Choice Award, a featured performance on Good Morning America, and tours all over the US, Europe, South America, and Asia. Known for their tight harmonies, inspirational speeches, and good clean fun, Christina, Katherine, Lisa, Amy, Lauren, and Dani Cimorelli have released three albums and six EPs of original music, seven albums of covers, and numerous singles. Their mission is to inspire young people everywhere to discover, express, and rejoice in their own unique God-given talents and gifts.
In their new book, Believe in You: Big Sister Stories and Advice on Living Your Best Life (October 15, 2019, Thomas Nelson), they share their six unique, very different personalities and experiences. Growing up may be difficult, confusing, awkward, and scary, but it’s a lot better when you have someone to go to for advice and some positive, encouraging words.
Photo Credit: Getty Images