How I Learned to Hug my Kids


Recently I was asked by an old friend who I haven’t seen since my wedding, seven years ago, if I hug my children.

Most would find this to be a strange question, but to me it was extremely on point as it was a true concern of mine before I had children. This friend is one of the few people who has seen my anxiety disorder in all its glory. From the morning throw-ups, to the fear of talking to strangers, to helping me deal with my panic attacks. We spent three summers touring Europe and not once did I feel like she was judging me, but simply there to help me when I could no longer cope. For this I will always be indebted to her.

I have lived with an anxiety disorder since high school and at some points the fears felt stronger than me.

For periods I wouldn’t leave the house except to go to school and I wouldn’t go out with friends to public places where there might be a crowd. I would spend every night thinking about all the mistakes I had made during the day and it would create so much bile in my stomach that by the morning, I would throw up my fears. These were the days I would spend begging g-d to change me, pleading with him to make me stronger. I hated who I was.

Back to the hugging question…it was at this point I stopped letting people touch me. Family and friends knew hugging was off limits.

If someone did touch me in my head I did a countdown until it was over, reminding myself to breath.

I HATED standing in lines (still do). I remember one lady being so pushy I had to leave the event and had a full blown panic attack. It took half an hour until I was able to breath normally again.  It was at this point in my life marriage and children did not look like they were in the cards for me because who would want to marry me and in order for children to occur I was pretty sure touching would be involved.

Fast forward first year McGill my fears became crippling and I felt I couldn’t go on with my life this way. My parents found me an excellent therapist who spent every week taking me out of my comfort zone. I remember her making me smile at strangers on the street instead of looking down. She made me call stores with questions about any product. Now to many calling a store seems like a normal thing, but to me it seemed insurmountable. It took me a month to make the call but in the end I did (I should let you know using the phone is still an issue for me). Every week was a new challenge and each week I felt a little stronger. She made me realize the worst that could happen and if I could handle it to try and face my fears.

Now I am married to a very understanding and patient hubby. I know it is corny to say but0605_SB my life changed when I met him and everyone around me noticed it. No one knew what the difference was but that is was there. On our fourth date I told him about my anxiety and my many “quirks” as I like to call them now. He said he was all in and we would go at my pace. From that day I felt I could breathe a little easier and stand a little taller. I could never imagine meeting someone who would be willing to deal with all my baggage and there he was telling me he had my back and would hold my hand through the good and back. To me this was a better future than any I could have imagined.

Now having children was a different story. Instead of putting me at ease my anxiety seemed to take on new levels.

I spent most of my pregnancy praying that my daughter would be nothing like me.

I wanted her to be strong and confident – more like my sister than me. To not have to spend every day pretending she is ok when on the inside she is anything but. I wanted her to be brave and comfortable in her skin. So once she was born whenever someone would say she is exactly like me I would go home and cry. That was the last thing I wanted to hear!!!

When Izzy was two months old my mother realized I was going through Postpartum Depression and separated us. I felt like such a failure. I believe it was my fears of it happening again that affected my ability to get pregnant for a second time. After many tests and treatments a friend of mine suggested that it might be psychological rather than physical. So back to therapy I went. This time I had to come to terms with the fact that having PPD doesn’t make me a terrible mother. That she probably won’t remember that period, in my mind she was going to be like Marilu Henner and remember every day of her life. I learnt to look in the mirror and see the positives rather than the negatives. At the beginning all I could see was how bad a parent I was and all my failures as opposed to my accomplishments. If one person made a negative comment about my parenting or my children I would harp on it and believe it. It made me feel really inadequate and as if I was failing my children.

I have learned to take it as their OPINION AND NOT THE TRUTH. I have learned to see how awesome, funny, kind and confident my children are and recognize that I had a part in that. I wake up every morning trying to be the best mom in their eyes.

IMG_0207I have come to realize that I will always have anxiety and some things I can manage and others are still a battle that hopefully one day I will conquer.   I know there will come a day where I will sit down with my children and explain not just about what an anxiety disorder is, but how it has affect me and how much I have worked to control it. Everyone has struggles. Some are more visible and some we work so hard to hide, but I always want them to feel comfortable talking  to me and my husband about them.

To answer the opening question, today I start and end every day with a big hug.

-Shari-Ann Penn

Shari-Ann has been married to her supportive and loving husband for 6 years.  She has two children that make her smile daily.  She has a commerce degree with majors in Marketing and the Psychology of Management.   Currently she is working with aboriginal students to help them reach their academic goals.




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