Did you know that fears surrounding travel are a very real issue? Most people seem to think those thoughts center around a fear of flights or claustrophobia, but for many parents, the issues are much larger.
For me (Angie), my travel woes surround leaving my children. It’s a separation anxiety of sorts. I don’t have day-to-day problems being apart from my kids, but as soon as you put flights, trains and extreme distance between us, the anxiety sets in.
Separation anxiety disorder (SAD), is an anxiety disorder in which an individual experiences excessive anxiety regarding separation from home or from people to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment (e.g., a parent, caregiver, significant other or siblings) – wikipedia
At first, I didn’t recognize the games my mind played on my mood. I just figured that, deep down, I didn’t want to travel apart from my little guys. But, the more I attempted trips alone (without my family) the more I realized there was a pattern to my feelings.
There are emotional symptoms of separation anxiety:
- Frequently checking up on the whereabouts of children
- Refusing to leave home
- Missing work
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Refusing to sleep without or when away from children
- Avoiding travel
- Ritualistic or repetitive behaviors
- Cyclical thinking
I check off SEVEN of the above symptoms. There are a lot of other physical symptoms too (like vomiting, stomach aches etc but I don’t experience anything physical) For a long time, I didn’t share these feelings with anyone because I figured I could manage it all. But, the more I slowly shared my story with other moms, the more I realized that it’s quite common in those with very young children and/or only children. In fact, a lot of parents I spoke with are actually worse off than I am (some won’t venture far from home at all). Have you experienced anything like this before?
For me, when I book travel without my kids, for work or pleasure, I end up losing sleep prior to the trip. I lay awake in bed thinking about shortening the trip, what I would do if I needed to get back to them in a hurry and so on. My mind starts to play deep emotional games on me: I start to think that my kids will be crying all night, that they’ll think I abandoned them, that they won’t get proper nutrition while I’m away and so on. I start to question the care-givers ability (which is usually my husband or mom) and I worry that all is not going to be well. For some reason, I feel as though I’m the glue that holds the whole household together and that, without my physical presence, a disaster will unfold. Thoughts start swirling around the dangers lurking in our backyard pool, I picture my toddler falling off a playground…honestly, I drive myself (silently) crazy.
These thoughts cause my heart to speed up and for my brain to buzz. I can feel the fears propelling my brain to wake up and be on high alert. I honestly get maybe two to five hours of sleep per night before I head off on a trip. Basically, the moment the excursion is booked, I alter the course of my own behaviour (lose sleep, feel weepy etc).
I’ve somehow taught myself, as a new mom, that as long as I am present when disaster strikes I can fix things. For example, if I see how my child fell off a play structure I can get him the helps he needs. I watch my kids like a hawk while my husband tends to me more lenient (he will talk to another parent, absentmindedly, at a park, while our boys play on the climber. I, on the other hand, keep a hand under our toddler’s bum when he goes up big ladders and I wait for him at the bottom of slides, and so on). I trust my own reaction to my children, but I don’t necessarily trust others. As parents, we all have our kids best interests at heart, but I’m convinced that only I care about my kids as much as I do (which is likely true but is not a healthy thought).
I’m not on a quest to try and figure out how to remedy the separation anxiety without medication. So far, I’ve come across breathing techniques and other websites that seemed to offer a hocus pocus type approach. Trust me, I’ve tried taking deep breaths and/or meditating, but when your brain is buzzing with dark thoughts, it’s hard to feel “centered” as they say…
I’m leaving for nearly a week on Tuesday, which is the longest I will ever be apart from my two sons. I’m also going quite far away (to a small town in southern France) which requires a car, train and plane to access. You can imagine what I’m going through right now.
I will keep you all posted (because I know it’s a popular topic) and fingers crossed I don’t cancel my trip or come home early.
And, while I know this post might make me sound a little nutso, I’m hoping that other parents going through the same feelings can learn to work through them for the benefit of their entire family.