How My Son’s Nickname for My Anxiety Changed Me

Melissa Drake
two people sitting on porch and talking. one is wearing a blue baseball cap

I’m a writer. Words are my lifeline. I spend tremendous amounts of time ensuring specific words are strung together to deliver and convey a message.

At the same time, my 23-year-old son consistently tells me, “Use your words!” How can this be?

He and I talk… a lot. Before my son could speak, we had full-on conversations. We’ve always been able to talk about everything. We have hard conversations, interesting “out there” conversations, laughable conversations and silent conversations.

Sometimes, we have the same conversation repeatedly.

My son likes to call these repeated conversations, “the Mama 500.” He likens the way my brain works at times to the Indy 500 — taking place over Memorial Day weekend in late May — where cars run an oblong length of track for 500 miles. Frankly, it drives him nuts. It also produces significant amounts of anxiety for me.

Does anyone really need to have the same conversation 500 times? No.

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Yet, we do — and often. We may not actually voice the same words 500 times, but we repeatedly run the same conversation track (if only in our minds) over and over again. We dig grooves in our brain as the same content is recited, restated and replicated. We often recycle the conversation for hours, days, years, decades and sometimes for a lifetime. It’s both intrusive and non-productive while claiming vital mental energy at the same time.

You know the conversations I’m talking about. These are the situations and talks that didn’t go as planned. Often, they are ones where you felt misunderstood, slighted, bullied… or worse, you misunderstood, slighted or bullied another.

Particularly for those of us who are highly sensitive, prone to anxiety, depression, have a perfectionistic streak, and/or have a hard time expressing ourselves, the Mama 500 can be debilitating.

Thanks to my son pointing out my tendency to resort to the Mama 500, I’ve been doing some reflection on this pattern of mine.

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What I found is revealing.

For me, the Mama 500 most frequently plays out in situations where I did not speak my truth, hold firm to my value and/or provide clear communication on where I stand, especially when where I stand is contrary to what others expect. More appropriately stated, the Mama 500 is a reminder from the real me that I’m being inauthentic.

I like to fancy myself as one of the most authentic people out there. I have loads of integrity and tell the truth when it’s inconvenient, especially in business. However, when it comes to me and my personal desires, that’s where it’s much harder for me to tell the whole truth.

You know why?

Because it’s terrifying to be vulnerable and risk being “found out” as someone who has their own needs, particularly when those needs are not congruent with the needs of the crowd. Especially as mothers, we are prone to people pleasing.

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In fact, for many (including me) the fear is even deeper as described by clinical psychologist Abdul H. Saad of Vital Mind Psychology: “The need to please keeps actually perpetuating this underlying core fear… if I’m not pleasing, if I’m not giving, if I’m not helping, if I’m not reaching out of the world, well what gives me worth? What makes me lovable? What is it that makes me a person of consequence and of substance in the world?”

When presented with challenges that put us in a position where it looks like we may not be helping (or, God forbid, we’re helping ourselves instead), we have a hard time balancing our needs over the needs of other people. This results in holding back from using our words, speaking our (whole) truth, and being clear on where we stand.

The Mama 500 is the aftermath. For those who are highly sensitive or an empath who experiences the emotions of others, the impact is profound. Saad continues, “So the empath (or highly sensitive person) goes on this sort of almost like a treadmill or a hamster wheel of: well unless I’m continuously and perpetually giving, then I’m not worthy… And what the empath has to understand… is that I give because I have worth. My giving is a manifestation of my innate inherent worth as a human being, rather than I gain worth through giving. It’s a very important distinction that we need to make.”

Yeah. That.

Not only are we worthy human beings, but our thoughts, needs, desires, position and stance also deserve to be voiced. Voicing unpopular opinions can be terrifying. However, I’ve come to understand the Mama 500 and resulting mental energy it expends is far scarier than telling the whole truth in a clear and direct way. One of the things my son recognized about the Mama 500 is that I tend to explain myself on the Mama 500. When we share our truth and communicate it clearly and from a place of ownership, rather than one that’s inauthentic, there’s no need to explain.

When invited to a party you don’t want to attend, you have two choices.

Option 1: Thank the host for inviting you and politely decline. “No” is a complete sentence — no further explanation, excuse or reasoning is necessary. This is clear, direct and helpful for both parties.

If that doesn’t work for you, you can choose Option 2: Worry about how you’ll respond to the host, get anxious about responding, avoid the host, complain to friends and family about not wanting to go to the party and refuse to answer calls from said host.

I’ve done both. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that option one is more freeing (once I mustered the courage to do it). It enables you to process emotion and events without any lingering effects while keeping your mental energy clear. Not only is option two draining (for you and the host), it puts you on the Mama 500, which ties up significant resources in terms of mental energy. As moms and people who have work to do, this mental energy is far better spent dedicated to our daily priorities.

The stakes are higher when it comes to being clear about your employment, friendship choices and love interests. In fact, I would contend that the Mama 500 is more prevalent when it comes to bigger choices than whether or not to attend a party because these choices directly impact our daily life. However, the results are then magnified.

With greater risk comes greater reward.

When we communicate our needs and reflect our whole, imperfect and human truth, we open up space to create a new reality. It’s the reality we choose instead of the one we inherit, go along with, or tolerate. It’s a reality that reflects who we are and invites connection to our truth and our inherent worth. That’s a completely different (and elevated) point to relate.

There will be fallout in terms of individuals and opportunities that no longer match the reality of who you are and what you choose to communicate. That’s OK. With every loss comes new alternatives — often ones that couldn’t have been possible without the loss in the first place.

As I close this article, the universe ushers in lyrics from Ben Rector as confirmation:

“Like a river connects to the ocean
This pavement touches wherever we go, and
White lines flying by
who knows what we’ll find
You and me tonight
Drive
Let’s drive.”

If we’re driving, let’s go on adventures and see what we can find and who we can connect with on new levels. It’s far more fun than making the same laps of the Mama 500. It’s time to put our truth in the driver’s seat. Let’s drive!

Follow this journey on the author’s website.

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