Helen Barker Painting

Big emotions for little – and me


My daughter had a lot of emotions tonight. She took two hours to settle and then finally fell asleep exhausted in her cot, after her little body had thrown itself about in my arms unsure of what to do. I felt so helpless, all the time telling her she was safe and loved, talking to her about how she felt, but all the time feeling so drained, so beaten up, so annoyed, so angry with myself. Is this what other parents feel? Are these emotions ever easier to handle?  

I had planned to write out my workshop planning this evening. It’s massively overdue – I am hoping to run some art workshops next month. I needed to get the course outline written up  and the marketing sorted. Instead I’ve been holding, patting, singing to and crying with a thrashing toddler. And my anxiety is on the rise, again. 

I haven’t really spoken about my anxiety in public, but it is something I’d like to share more about because I do believe that the more mental health is discussed openly, the better chance we have of understanding it and working towards its improvement. 

My anxiety started in my early twenties, when I was away at University in London. Thats a another story for another day, but it really changed me and my life – and it’s something I’m still trying to work through. Shortly before and during my pregnancy it was pretty non-existent, and I was lulled into the falsely secure feeling that I might at last be recovered. Then I had my daughter and it hit with full force. I suffered post-natal anxiety, and no one knew. Maybe I’ll share that too one day, but for now I’m just coming to terms with the reality that anxiety is still very real for me. Working as a painter and being a Mum I have found some new ways to help myself through this. Painting, in fact, can really lift me out of any deep worry. So can playing with my daughter, or just being with her! Knowing that I am strong enough to be there for her even when I feel at my weakest, gives me great peace.

Tonight, though, as she struggled with her own big emotions, I felt despairing and sad inside. The familiar feeling of a rising anxiety attack made me question my abilities as a Mum. I was not brave, not calm, not confident. I felt powerless, selfish and lost.  Looking back now I can see that I was there for my little J. She knew I was there and she fell asleep calmly with me by her side. But all the while I was battling my own panic, my own sense of fear, and anxiety left me feeling unsure how to process what has happened. 

I don’t know how other Mums feel when their little ones struggle like this. Maybe they would say the same, maybe not. But lately – and its probably no coincidence that this has coincided with a lack of sleep – I have noticed my anxiety creeping up and I can tell you it’s a real pain! Anxiety can manifest in so many different ways, for me mostly it’s heart palpitations, nausea, rapid heart rate, breathlessness, claustrophobia, pins and needles, numbness in my arms and a jittery feeling. It’s incredibly physical whilst at the same time terrifyingly mental. I also suffer with something called SVT which is basically an extremely rapid heart rate. This can happen randomly at any time, though in the past its always been very infrequent. This year though I’ve already had two episodes (previously I had one or two a year) and they both happened when my daughter woke crying loudly at night. My guess is they were triggered by anxiety. 

I don’t want to ramble on too much about this right now. I just want to say  – this Mum thing? It’s hard! I am finding it hard sometimes. If you are too, you’re not alone. 

Anxiety is like a wave, you have to ride it out. It teaches you to hold on because some time soon it will pass over and you will still be standing there. It teaches you that feelings are like waves. That emotions, however overwhelming, big and powerful, don’t last forever.  I clung onto my little girl  and she clung onto me and we were both still standing at the end, holding each other. I hope that I can teach her how to navigate these storms and know that she is never alone. 

As for the art workshops, well, they will just have to be ever so slightly later. Hopefully they’ll be even better for it. 

One thought on “Big emotions for little – and me

  1. Sarah

    Hi Helen this came up on my FB news feed! I’ve spent so many nights like this with one son especially who is often very stressed, I used to get more and more stressed inside myself as the evening drained away thinking of all the things I was planning to do, and sometimes missing planned events. It does get easier though, he still needs cuddles but now he’s older he normally lies quietly, I use the time lying still in the dark next to him to pray and do pelvic floor exercises, not wasted! Time invested helping your daughter with the big emotions is an investment in her future mental health and well worth it, you’re doing brilliantly xx

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