Anxiety is the most common mental health concern in Australia, with approximately 1 in 4 people experiencing anxiety at some point in their life. Many people believe Anxiety only affects adults, but that is not true. As a someone who has worked with children in various contexts for over 10 years, I have met children in all walks of life who have experienced Anxiety. As parents, we need to be able to support them, including finding tools to help them work through their anxiety. I absolutely adore the product created by my next guest on the Mumma Morrison blog. Linda is an entrepreneur with her loveable little wuppy®, previously a Primary School teacher, and an anxiety sufferer. Through her own struggles and her work with children, she recognised the prevelance of anxiety with young children and the support they need to work through it, hence the creation of her little wuppy®. If you want to gain a real clear insight into what anxiety is really like, as well as how you as a parent or professional could support children suffering from anxiety, this is the article for you.
Hi Linda! Thank you so much for joining us this week for the Real Mums series and sharing your story with us. I always like to start with a bit of an introduction, so could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your family?
Hi Everyone, I’m Linda – a 35 year old sausage dog obsessed nerd who lives with her husband (and best friend) Rob. I am a former primary school teacher and current anxiety sufferer. My ‘happy’ is expressed through colour, kindness and talking way too much.
I am a little bit quirky and eccentric. I am honest and wear my heart on my sleeve. And I feel my best when I am helping others.
What does an average week look like in your household?
Each week in our home is pretty consistent – I am a creature of habit and love having everything planned. At the start of the week, I know what we’ll be eating for dinner each night and what our weekend will look like (control freak nature of an anxiety sufferer).
On two nights of the weeks, Rob and I go to our parents’ house for family dinner. I love that we get to see our families at least once a week… plus, no cooking for two or three nights (because Italian families = leftovers for the next 3 weeks 😉).
I work in retail on a casual basis, so about 3 to 4 days of the week, I am surrounded by gorgeous linen and lovey customers at our Adairs Kids store! On the other days, I work on my little wuppy® biz; taking products shots, responding to emails, managing my social media accounts and networking with like-minded people.
At the end of the day, I really enjoying sitting down and watching all the TV shows Rob and I have pre-recorded! I’m a sucker for reality TV and drama series.
I also get quite addicted to reading good books!! And if I don’t have a book on the go, you may find Rob and I sitting on the couch on a Saturday night with our pencils at the ready doing the puzzle books we love. Is that as sad as it sounds??? 😉
You’ve been open about your experience with anxiety. Can you tell us a bit about how it? How did you recognise initially that what you were experiencing was anxiety?
Absolutely. I love being open about my experience with anxiety because I don’t think it is being spoken about enough! Mental illness STILL carries an ugly stigma, and it shouldn’t. Why is it okay to chat so openly about heart disease or diabetes, but when it comes to an illness based on the imbalance of brain chemicals, it’s taboo??
For me, anxiety is something I have lived with since childhood, but I never truly understood it to be anxiety until about 6 years ago.
I have always been a ‘worry wart’ and a ‘stress head’. I hate change. I love consistency and routine. I was (still am) a perfectionist. I put a lot of pressure on myself to always perform at my best, and when I don’t, I feel like I have failed myself, and others.
This has been my ‘norm’ for as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t until my world started to unravel in front of me that I realised maybe it was more than just my personality type.
In 2009 on a warm summer’s morning, I was attending an outside assembly with my class. I had been struggling in warmer weather for a few months and started feeling a bit light headed (we were all standing up for assembly). My legs started to shake and nearly turned to jelly. My heart started to race, my breathing quickened, and a million thoughts flooded my mind… What if I pass out in front of my students? What if all the parents see me? Should I go and stand under the tree? Should I ask for help? What do I do???
I decided to quickly walk a few metres to the admin office and splash my face with some water. (There were other teachers standing near my class, so I knew they were being supervised). What I saw when I looked up at the bathroom mirror was not me – I saw such fear in my eyes. Colour had completely drained from my face. I was shaking. And I knew I wasn’t right.
That moment changed my world as I knew it.
I was always light headed; like I was in a fog.
I hated being in the heat.
I would stand in the shade during yard duty.
I would panic in small, warm rooms.
I developed an unhealthy fear of warm weather and standing for long periods at a time.
I also started having severe panic attacks.
At the end of 2009, I had gotten a job at a high school and was to start in late January in 2010. Unfortunately, my anxiety had become so severe over the summer holidays that I resigned from the job before I had even begun, and ended up resigning from teaching all together.
Did you end up with a ‘diagnosis’? How did that come about?
After the horror that was the 2009/10 summer holidays, I wanted an answer as to why I was feeling the way I was. Initially, it was believed my blood pressure was the cause of my constant lightheadedness. I can’t tell you how many tests I had to try to confirm this, but all the tests came back clear.
My GP referred me to a psychologist and a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me as having anxiety. It was recommended that I start taking anti-anxiety medication but the thought of taking medication and dealing with the side effects, caused me even more anxiety.
I decided to seek the advice of a naturopath and dietician, and continued my psychologist appointments. But I still didn’t feel like ‘me’.
What was your process for working through your anxiety? What support did you receive as you were dealing with it all?
During the worst of my anxiety, I was house-bound to close to a year. I would do the same thing every day – will myself to get out of bed, eat, sit on the couch, watch TV, go to bed, and repeat again the next day. I stopped going to functions. I struggled to go out. I had lost all purpose. I had hit rock bottom and needed (and wanted) to feel like ‘me’ again.
I have always been a creative person. I love drawing and designing and making things with my hands. When my niece was born, I made some personalised letter art for her nursery. It was so well received that I decided to explore the idea of making more to sell. As I had resigned from teaching, and was in no state or frame of mind to search for work outside of the home, I set up my own online business and started creating custom artwork from home.
I credit my Letter It business for giving me purpose again. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning. It filled my hours with activity. I was chatting and connecting to other business women and was interacting with amazing customers. Letter It filled my brain, (and time), with new ideas and ignited my imagination. Slowly, slowly, I was having better days, and the not-so-great days were fewer and further between.
My family was so supportive of me during this time. My husband Rob, my parents, my sister, Rob’s family; they all just wanted to see my happy. They could see the changes in me and were thrilled that ‘Linda’, as they knew her, was coming back to them.
You used to work as a teacher but took a step back from it due to your anxiety. What was your decision-making process at this time?
The decision to resign from teaching was a decision made with a heavy heart, but it was a necessary one.
I knew, in the state that I was in, I would not have been able to teach to my full potential, and that wasn’t fair for the students nor myself. Having such high self-expectations, I knew I would be setting us all up to fail. I didn’t know if I could stand and teach. I didn’t know if I could do yard duty. I didn’t know what would happen if I had a panic attack in the middle of a lesson. There were too many unknowns and ‘what ifs’ and that didn’t sit comfortably with me. I am an all or nothing type of person. I do things at 110% so I knew it wasn’t fair to any school to commit half-heartedly.
And, at the time, the thought of teaching was causing me more anxiety and it wasn’t healthy. I needed a clean break to rebuild my mind and body.
What I found the hardest thing to do was tell my parents. Not because I thought they wouldn’t understand, but because I felt like I was would be letting them down. True to form, my parents were nothing but supportive!!! They knew I hadn’t made the decision lightly, and all they wanted was for me to be happy.
Rob was also amazingly supportive; like my parents, he only wanted me to be happy and he hated seeing me suffer.
As a result of your anxiety, you started up a gorgeous small biz called “Little Wuppy®”. Can you talk us through what Little Wuppy is and the idea behind it?
During the five years that I was Letter It, I met some wonderful people; particularly customers. I was always, and still am, quite an open and honest person, so my social media followers knew that anxiety was a big part of my life. And knowing how open I was, customers would message and email me wanting to offer support, and also needing support.
It was two particular conversations I had with worried parents, that lead me to designing little wuppy®.
These parents had children who were experiencing worry on a daily basis and were experiencing lots of the psychical symptoms associated with anxiety. These children were carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, and worrying about things kids shouldn’t even think twice about.
Knowing full well how much anxiety sucks, and how much it can consume one’s life, I wanted to do anything I could to help not only these kids, but their parents, too.
The little wuppy®, as you see it now, is the 3rd and final prototype. The little wuppy® is a sausage dog worry puppy, designed as an aid to help ease children’s worries, and help comfort them.
Its special feature is its heart. Children are encouraged to send their worries to the little wuppy® by placing its heart against their own.
The back of the little wuppy® is a soft minky fabric which is a perfect for cuddling, but also a great tactile tool for children who use textured surfaces to calm and soothe them.
The shape of the little wuppy® was designed so children could hold it easily in one hand. It is lightweight so is easy to carry, and is small enough to fit inside a pocket, a school bag, lunch box, or even snuggle under a pillow at night time.
And, of course, it’s the shape of a sausage dog!! I adore sausage dogs and feel so happy when I see them. Plus, their long ears are great for listening, their short legs mean they are always close by, and they are very loyal – exactly what you’d want a special friend to be!
Do you have a favourite success story from Little Wuppy you’d like to share with us tonight?
I simply adore receiving feedback from parents telling me how much little wuppy® has helped their child. One parent shared that her daughter told her that her little wuppy® ‘makes her heart happy’. Another mum told me she charges her son’s little wuppy® with ‘mummy love’ before school so he knows her love is always there, and it makes it easier for her to leave and go to work. And more recently, I’ve had a happy grandmother tell me her granddaughter brings her little wuppy® to school, and ‘when he sees that I’m scared, his heart gets bigger and I feel his power run through me…’.
But the most humbling and heartwarming words I hear are, “You’re changing lives”. I can’t begin to express how overwhelming, and precious, these words are to me. As cliché as that may sound, I try not to take anything for granted, so reassurance from happy parents means the world to me. It helps to reaffirm that my why is so important. Helping ease children’s worries is my way of giving back. It’s what I miss most about teaching – helping others.
Anxiety is something that will always stick with you (or us!). How do you deal with it now after the initial diagnosis?
Anxiety will be a part of my life forever. It will never go away. It may go into hibernation and it may take a holiday every now and then, but I know where it lives and I know what will trigger its appearance (on most occasions).
Over time, I have learnt to read the signs and symptoms of an oncoming panic attack or the onset of my anxiety. What I find most helpful is acknowledging these signs, and trying to understand why they are here. I stop, I breathe deeply, and I try to process why I am feeling the way I do. Sometimes, that works. Other times I just need to ride out the panic attack and move on.
I find that avoiding my triggers helps to avoid a panic attack. But I also know that if I continue to avoid my triggers, they will ALWAYS be my triggers. It’s a catch twenty-two! Some days, I’m brave and strong and I work through my anxiety. Other days, it’s just easier to avoid my triggers completely. Warm weather/heating, driving on highways/freeways, elevators, going somewhere new. These are my triggers. And thankfully, as time goes by, the intensity of my anxiety I associate with these triggers has lessened. The more I am exposed to them, the less they become a threat to me. However, in the true nature of my anxiety, once I have overcome one trigger, my brain tends to develop another. Fun!
In addition to recognising and acknowledging my anxiety, I have found keeping myself busy has been an effective way of managing my anxiety. If I’m not working at Adairs Kids, I’m working on little wuppy®. If I’m not working on little wuppy®, I’m doing something creative (sewing, weaving). If I’m not doing something creative, I’m reading a book or playing with my niece and nephew. But I also know that it’s important to wind down and stop. My brain is constantly thinking, so I find that sitting down at the end of the day to watch mind-numbing TV helps to ease my tension and forces me to stop.
If you could share one piece of advice or support for a new mum (or any woman!) experiencing anxiety, what would it be?
From experience, the best piece of advice I can give is talk about it. Even if you don’t know what ‘it’ is, if you’re not feeling yourself, talk about it. Talk to whoever will listen. And if they don’t listen, find someone who will. A problem shared is a problem halved. Don’t think of yourself as a burden to others, think of yourself as asking for support. There is NO shame is asking for help. There is NO shame is needing help.
I was so surprised to find that SO many people I knew, were feeling similar things to me, yet we’d never spoken about it. Once you start though, it’s like a weight has been lifted.
I find that being as open and honest as I can be about my anxiety and panic attacks, helps me cope better when I’m around others. If they know I have anxiety, if they know certain things will trigger an attack, if they can read the signs of my anxiety, then I know I will be safe and feel comfortable. It’s hard work trying to hide anxiety from others; it increases the intensity of it and you feel more and more trapped.
Never apologise for feeling the way you do. Your feelings are real. Anxiety is real. More people than you think have anxiety. You are NEVER alone.
Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your story Linda! If you have a child who could benefit from a little wuppy®, please visit the little wuppy® website HERE, Facebook HERE or Instagram HERE.
If you have concerns about anxiety for yourself or someone you know, please visit the Beyond Blue website for more information or phone them on 1300 22 4636.