Sleep was hard to come by when my boys were little. Not always because their little motors wouldn’t idle, often because mine would cease to rest. My fears, bite size during the day, became larger than life when dusk turned to night. Resting my head on my pillow signaled instant panic, my eyes stretching open to grasp any ray of light, my heart pounding. My nightly safety rounds, looking in on each little body, laying a hand on their chest to be sure their quiet breath was still rising and falling, did little to abate my anxiety. I took to laying on the floor next to their beds, traveling under the darkness from room to room. Laying in wait for the danger in my mind to explode into my life, hurt my boys and destroy me.
My anxiety was particularly difficult after Aiden was born – I struggled with post partum depression featuring anxiety and panic attacks. My lack of sleep fed my demons, the more tired I became the larger the dangers would loom. As day broke, I could find my fears settle, creeping back into the corners of my mind, rational thought and rays of sun pulling me back into a functional state of motherhood, gave me back control. I never understood why it was more significant with Aiden – whether it was because now I had three little bodies to care for under the age of five, or because they didn’t sleep through the night until well into their first decade? Hormones from being pregnant and/or nursing for that same first decade? Either way – I was drowning in worry, drowning in fear, sinking in anxiety and panic.
It took several years, lots of talking, a trial run of medication and being a mother for me to begin to see the toll the anxiety, lack of sleep, worry and fear was taking on me, Eric and my boys. I worked hard to not borrow trouble. I worked hard to not allow my fears settle in their hearts. Repeating daily “Do not allow your fear to make them afraid.” I forced myself into panic striking situations – I went para sailing in Mexico (and loved every minute of it!), surfed in Costa Rica (top ten best day of my life), jumped in a cold pool of water in the Dominican Republic jungle, swam in the Baths in the BVI and watched the boys jump from the top cliff or Rick’s Cafe in Negril. I survived, they survived, and I learned to keep the mound of anxiety I felt down – dismissing the devil on my shoulder whispering “What ifs” in my ear.
All that time, I was pushing my fear down for the boys, for Eric. Wanting nothing more than to not allow the yolk of worry on my neck be placed on theirs, not wanting them to learn to fear the world as I do – from me. I did a fair job, they still knew I worried, they still knew I struggled, I just didn’t allow any outward display. I watched my mom, and Eric’s – two women I love, respect and admire – struggle with the same worry. I watched them be unable to enjoy watching their grand kids ride on a boat in the ocean with wind in their hair and smiles on their faces without worry of drowning. I watched them be unable to enjoy bike rides with the family – so worrisome was traffic and safety. I didn’t want my kids to see that from me. I didn’t want them to hide things from me, for fear of worrying me too much.
And I thought I did a fair job.
Earlier this summer Aiden came into the kitchen while I was doing laundry and the dishes at the same time and announced he was going for a bike ride. He’d be back in a half an hour. Ok I said, be careful I mentioned. About twenty minutes later I began to panic. Why had I not talked to him more clearly about where to take a bike ride? Why had I not reminded him where not to ride his bike? His little 12 year old mind wandered, he loved to see the world, what if he wandered into a car? What if someone was texting and hit him? I checked my Find My iPhone app – he was on Howe Road. Howe Road where a woman on her bike was killed last year. I started to feel sick. Panicked, my heart raced, my eyes bulging. Eric, knowing me so well, reminded me he was fine. He’d be back in a minute and no I didn’t need to go check on him.
When I drove up to him, safely riding his bike on the shoulder, my heart rested. He was fine. He was safe. He was doing good! And then his eyes caught mine. You didn’t trust me, he said. His voice was small, sad. Not angry, not irritated … sad.
All the surfing, para sailing, cliff diving in the world couldn’t fix what I had just done. I gave into my anxiety. I let him think I didn’t trust him, when really, it’s the world I don’t trust. A general sadness took over, I had no words to fix what I had done. I had no way to prove that yes I do trust you, As! When I tucked him into bed that night, I apologized. I tried to explain that my heart just couldn’t handle anything to happen to him, that I reacted instead of acting and that I should have trusted that he knew what to do. I didn’t explain that my fear was that bad things happen! They do. They happen to good people all the time, people I know, people I love, they happen to aquaintances and strangers. Any given Tuesday can ruin your world. I didn’t say any of those things. I just said, I’m sorry, baby boy.
Over the past few months I have thought about why I let my anxiety take over that day- and there are a million theories and a few that even make sense. But just like I will never understand why my anxiety and panic was worse after As was born – I will not understand why I allowed it to happen on a June afternoon. What I do understand now is that while I thought I wanted to learn to control my fears and worries to shelter my boys – what I really need to do is learn to control them for me. They are fine! Bike ride? Sure! Cliff diving? Sure! Back flips off a pier? Sure! There is no fear in them (which isn’t always a good thing – but that’s a story for another day). There is fear in me, and in seeing fear in me it will change how they see me. Me. Not the world.
When they look at me I want them to see someone who they respect and love, who is joyful and fun, who is loyal and wise, who is humble and patient, who is honest and kind. I want them to see someone who is grateful for her life, grateful for the job of being their momma and their daddy’s wife. I want them to see someone who may be afraid – but doesn’t allow the fear and worry to control her.
I have pondered this for the past few months – trying to learn better ways to work through my anxiety instead of hide it. This past weekend we were at our friend’s cottage, enjoying the water, wake boarding, swimming, jumping, diving, surfing, pontooning, fishing. Somewhere after the first margarita (hey, a girl needs a little help sometimes!) I asked for a turn to surf behind the boat. I had tried it several years and more pounds ago and I wasn’t sure I could do it – but the look on my boys’ faces when I jumped up to go gave me the courage (ok and a little of it was the tequila) to try.
When I climbed back into the boat and sat down in the sun next to Cooper, smiling and catching my breath he said hey momma, I took a picture of you! You were smiling and laughing and yelling all at once. I asked him to send it to me, and when I looked at it that night before I fell asleep I saw the woman I want my boys to see. A grateful woman. A happy woman. A woman who isn’t afraid of life. A momma, a wife, a friend, a person. I have a ways to go, I have more worrisome nights to endure, but I can look in my own eyes and see me how I want to be. Even if it was for a few brief minutes. I can see she is there. I can see me.