People that experience anxiety and/or depression, get how good it feels to have a sense of control over their surroundings, situation, and self. I had no idea how much the unresolved, need for control, would implode in my face when I had my own child. My daughter, Josie, has her own personality, her own needs, her own idea of schedules, when she wants to nap, play, and eat. She is her own person.
My symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety and OCD were finally lessoning. I felt like I was getting back to my old self, maybe I was doing a good job balancing it all. But being a therapist means, having both insight and awareness of some things. Like the difference between fear and anxiety. Anxiety is about a future event, maybe even ruminating about the past, but fear is about the here and now.
To me, my old friend anxiety looks like trying to map out every situation, day, making list after list, constantly being in my head, thinking things through, what happened yesterday, what is coming up tomorrow, trying really hard to be present in the moments, especially with my daughter, but the hamster in the wheel goes ‘round and ‘round my head. It feels like a lot of headaches, tight shoulders and jaws, sometimes insomnia. It looks like to others being irritable, sometimes not being as flexible with changes when they go against plan in my head, and a strong desire to have some alone time.
Whereas fear is about the here and now, a threat that is imminent, and needs to be addressed now. I don’t often have those feelings, but I have been in those situations in the past, mostly at my first jobs out of grad school with a Masters in Social Work. But, this time, it was completely different.
I took my daughter out for a walk, to a greenway I love going. Back when I was a lot younger, I trained for races out on the pathways. It brings me back to nature, gives me a chance to get fresh air and a sense of peace in your mind. This time of year, is my favorite!!! The leaves are changing, it is getting cool outside, and you can begin to feel the holiday season in the air. It is also the time of the year that my favorite plant blooms, I don’t even know their name, but I know them by their smell, so lemony and fresh. The smell brings me back to my days when I went to College of Charleston for my undergrad and this was all over the campus. I loved the school, loved leaving near the beach, I loved being independent and strong, figuring out who I wanted to be.
I brought my daughter with me so that I could share this with her. We got out to the greenway and we went down a huge hill. I was already thinking, how in the hell am I going to get her back up this, the stroller, and all our crap. But it was a perfect day, and we would get back up someway and off we went for our walk. I was focusing on showing Josie this tree, pulling a bud off so she could smell it. Of course, she will try to put it in her mouth, everything goes in there, she is 8 months…
Then I noticed to my left, a guy walking down another path that joins in front of me. He was by himself, with a small dog, and smoking a cigarette. Overall this picture isn’t unfamiliar or odd. I watched what he was doing while trying to actively distract myself by noticing the trees, smells and leaves falling around me. Josie loves to see the leaves fall, she will flap her arms and legs around. But I couldn’t stop staring at him, and my heart started racing, the thoughts starting flooding.
Who is he, what is he doing, and most importantly are you someone that could hurt my baby? I think I could put up a good fight if it was just me, but it’s not just me. It is God’s gift Josie too. How could I keep her safe? If someone kills me, which they would have to first before they would get to her, I couldn’t keep her safe. This is when the fear blew up in my mind and body. Even now typing it, my chest is tight. For the first time as a mom, I was afraid.
I started thinking that there is nowhere you are really safe, there is not an image of what a scary bad guy looks like, that cues me that I need to react to and run like hell. Every day, and I mean every day, there is a news report of violence, grief, and pure evil in the world. You can be killed at church, at Walmart, at a school, walking on a side walk, at a park, at work, at a concert, just about anywhere. It doesn’t end and I was mad, mad that I am vulnerable. Mad that I don’t even know how I can protect my daughter from this for a lifetime. I didn’t have long to let those thoughts rush over me. My gut was telling me to move. Just get to somewhere, where there are other people, literally other witnesses, but hell that might not even matter.
Let me be clear, I have no idea if there was anything wrong with this man. He could just be out with the dog, a smoke, and giving his wife at home a break. But, the fear was there. It was real and I felt sick to my very core. I began walking as fast and I could and came upon a mom that was also out with her stroller and I thought, “good, I will walk near her”, but she went the other direction. I sped up to not make it obvious, and then did a U turn so that I could catch up with her and get away from him.
As I passed by him, I could barely breathe, I just wanted to get Josie far away from him and near others. I made eye contact, I guess to identify him, and to feel like I was doing something. I said a quick hello, and booked it. There were more walkers on the other path.
It took a good 15 minutes to calm down, and I couldn’t shake it. I felt fearful on a path that is one of my most favorite places to be, my most favorite time of the year, and most favorite blooms of lemon in the air. I don’t think I felt even better when I got home, or when I told my husband, or not even really right now.
I had no idea motherhood had this emotion, involved at such a cellular level of my body. But protecting her from evil, is my greatest responsibility. Sometimes even saying that frustrates me. It should also be helping her to be a kind, caring, smart, responsible, loving, joyful little girl. Of course, I’m putting everything into that too. One upside of chronic anxiety is that you are an overachiever, go big or go out!!! So, I am nurturing all parts of her precious soul. I guess I wish the world was just a little bit safer for her.
I will never know if my gut was saying run, or if my ongoing anxiety turned this into a situation that was never happening, or if the fear of being a new mom in a sometimes bad world, gave me that feeling that coursed through my body, but it was the first time I felt it as a mother.
I’m sure life is continuing to remind me that life, is so full of uncertainties, full of things I cannot control. I’m working on that, seems like that is the lesson in life that continues to plague me. But I’m a work in progress, spent too much time beating myself up, and I finally get that Josie is my biggest mirror of myself. So, I will teach her to be strong, be brave, just like her Mama.