They May Follow in Your Footsteps. Got the Guilts?

Major Depressive Disorder

I love my two children, as well as my sweetie of a granddaughter. Hmmm, so much that I’ve wondered over the years if – when – they’ll follow in my psych footsteps. Actually, used to feel downright guilty about it. Can you relate?

So what does that really mean for my children and grandchildren? Well, that’s a good question. In spite of my history of some pretty nasty panic and anxiety, they aren’t necessarily fated likewise.

Okay, summertime and the livin’s easy, right? ‘Ole Bill’s been spending some time with the aforementioned loved ones. And that means post-writing moments have been at a premium.

Sooo, I’ve turned to the Chipur archives and tidied-up a piece from five years ago. You’ll see my blogging was panic/anxiety exclusive in those days; however, be it a mood or anxiety situation, the point remains the same.

What say we get busy…

Yes, over the years I’ve pondered if my psych shtuff would present in my children – and grandchildren. Will they struggle as I did? And, yes, I’ve felt guilty about the potentialities. Curious (telling), don’t you think? I mean, why would I feel any measure of guilt, given I had nothing to do with my genetic composition and early-on environment?

Are you with me?

Is Genetics a Factor?

As we work toward unraveling, let’s first determine if genetics is even a factor here. Research indicates panic disorder occurs five times more often in monozygotic (“identical”) twins of panic sufferers than dizygotic. Relatives of panic disorder sufferers have a 10% increased risk for the disorder. And a panic disorder sufferer has a 78% probability of having a family history of panic disorder.

All of this translates into an estimated heritability as high as 40%. And let’s not forget that women are twice as likely to suffer from panic disorder. (Yes, I have a daughter and granddaughter. So it appears as though genetics is a legitimate factor.)

So what does that really mean for my children and grandchildren? Well, that’s a good question. In spite of my history of some pretty nasty panic and anxiety, they aren’t necessarily fated likewise. I mean, who knows how the genetic cards were dealt. And let’s not forget my children weren’t raised within my familial environment. That’s a huge consideration.

On the other hand, maybe they will follow in Dad’s anxious footsteps. I suppose if I had tons of money to blow I could call upon genetic science to truly tell the tale, but I’m very content in accepting and dealing with what may come.

The Power of Insight, Discretion, and Action

See, I believe in the power of insight, discretion, and well-considered action in dealing with such potentialities. In terms of insight, I’m suggesting we make sure we understand, embrace, and manage our own panic and anxiety situation before endeavoring to help our children.

What aid could we possibly offer if our own baggage isn’t checked? And should an anxiety issue befall our children the issue of insight must be impressed upon them. They need to come to know their own pathology, and who better to provide the introduction than us?

When I talk about discretion I’m emphasizing objectivity as we observe signs of atypical anxiety in our children. Given our desire to protect them from the hell we endured, our observations may be subject to misinterpretation, overreaction, and catastrophe. Remember, we do those well. We simply have to make sure we’re receiving and perceiving things as they truly are.

Finally, in mentioning well-considered action, which requires a good bit of discretion, I’m advocating really thinking through how we’ll approach our children with their genetic potential for pathological anxiety. Now, do I recommend providing advance notice? Not necessarily. That said, it’s something I gave my children with regard to my alcoholism and our familial prevalence of the disease. I felt it very much need-to-know information as they approached their teen years.

As it applies to panic and anxiety, I’m recommending “the talk” not take place until we’re darned sure legitimate signs of atypical anxiety are presenting. And well-considered action is an absolute must as we approach intervention strategy.

Now, a word of caution here. Given our experience with panic and anxiety, we may consider ourselves the best possible counselor for our children. Not so. Please seek the assistance of a licensed professional and allow him/her to lead the charge. By the way, when we begin to implement our intervention strategy, what better time to have our children come to know their disorder? And how cool would it be to have them manage their treatment planning? Come on, turn over the reins!

We’ll Close Now

Oops! So what about the issue of guilt with which I opened? The truth of the matter is guilt won’t do our children and grandchildren, or us, an ounce of good. It’s really a very selfish and counterproductive phenomenon. And, anyway, it’s our problem, not theirs.

Instead, it’s time to reach beyond ourselves and replace this self-defeating demon with the power of open-mindedness and positive action. Only then can we realistically expect something better for our offspring, void of our personal experience and identity…

Once again, those Chipur archives. Plenty of titles.

  • Cathy | Treatment Talk July 18, 2014, 6:05 pm

    Thanks for the info. Bill. I think you are right on as far as waiting for symptoms before talking about it, as it seems that it could trigger anxiety that may not naturally be there. Open-mindedness and positive action make sense. Certainly with genetic diseases, using discretion and understanding about your personal situation makes the most sense, as there is no perfect recipe for every family.

    • Chipur July 19, 2014, 3:37 pm

      Thank you for your visit and comment, Cathy. This is a very real issue for most Chipur readers. And one that causes a lot of distress. For sure, how to handle needs to be a personal – family – decision. I just hope it does, in fact, get handled – and handled effectively. Still, there’s the matter of parental (“grandparental”) guilt. Please tell me readers can come to realize it simply isn’t warranted – or fair. Come back and see us, okay?


  • Candace Plattor July 21, 2014, 1:22 am

    HI Bill – I really agree with you on a number of issues you address here. If our children aren’t exhibiting signs of anxiety or depression, I also think that it’s best to wait to have what you aptly call ‘the talk.’

    It seems to me that anxiety and depression are combinations of situations and brain chemistry, at least to some extent. Because of the continued – and so unfortunate – stigma of mental health issues, too many people just don’t discuss what’s happening for themselves, for fear of being judged. Personally, I don’t understand it – when I think of my Crohn’s and your anxiety, for example, I see them as both being conditions of the human body, just affecting different parts of us. (And, trust me, Crohn’s has its own societal shame built into it – then it’s our choice about whether we buy into that or not.) I think any chronic condition affects people quite holistically, in all kinds of different ways.

    So I think the answer is to change the things we can – such as our level of self-care, and our willingness to work through our shame and guilt so others (like our children) don’t have to wear them, while also accepting what we can’t change. It’s ok to not buy into what society tells us – that we’re somehow not ever good enough in whatever ways, and to be proud of our limitations, seeing ourselves as quite courageously living with them.


    • Chipur July 21, 2014, 9:27 am

      Hey, Candace! Thank you for comin’-by and contributing. Super in-depth comment.

      You raise an excellent point re stigma/discrimination keeping folks from discussing what ails them in the emotional/mental neck of the woods. And that certainly includes children and teens. How unfortunate fear of negative judgment has to stand in the way of wellness. No doubt, your Crohn’s and my anxiety are conditions of the human body and merit the same consideration as any other – taken seriously – health situation. Yes, changing things we can, as we accept that which we have no control over is key (though certainly not easy to pull-off).

      No reason for the guilts here! So let’s support – nurture – our children, and bring them relief and healing…


  • Patricia Miller July 21, 2014, 3:17 pm

    This is so powerful and touching at so many places because it resonates for me up and down the familial timeline. I was terrified I would replicate elements of my family of origin destructive patterning; I continually waited for “Patricia the Destroyer of All that was Good and Right” to suddenly appear from within me because surely it must be lurking within. I knew this was the case because of all the gloom and doom prophecy and research I read about in college. Of course “the apple does not fall far from the tree” and I knew I was totally screwed when it came to both “nature and nurture” because I’d totally lost the prize in either category. HOWEVER, it never happened because the evil of that generation died with that generation and the generation before. Yes, I had to tend to the damage done by those individuals, and yes there certainly are some genetic tendencies that do continue to impact me but I am learning how to cope. I would not say I am at a place of accepting myself well yet, but I know it will come.

    Now as to the conversations with my children, I totally told them about the familial history of alcoholism because I truly believed that was critical information for them to have. I also shared with my daughter the negative reactions I had with certain medications that initiated some depression and anxiety episodes along the way because we share the same blood type and I knew that it could be highly likely she would respond similarly to those medications. I never tried to make either of them afraid they were genetically doomed. I can tell you that when my daughter did experience high anxiety and depression, she felt extremely comfortable coming to me to ask for direction as to what her next steps should be (doctor appointment and counseling, oh lovely one). As to your excellent point, “What aid could we possibly offer if our own baggage isn’t checked?” I can tell you that one of the best compliments ever came from both of our adult children on a visit when they said I was an excellent role model for being an overcomer and not “settling. So maybe that can be the legacy we give out children and grandchildren, the legacy of health because we opted to change and not stay in the same pit of pain.

    • Chipur July 21, 2014, 4:28 pm

      Wow, Patricia! What a wonderful contribution your comment is. Thank you so much for stopping-by and sharing. What else could I possibly add? Okay, I’ll add just this. How emotional and sweet for you when your adult children complimented you. I’d say they have the goods for a mother.

      Please continue to visit, k? Your participation is important…