I was a child during the cold war between the United States and Russia. I remember being terrified of a nucular holocaust because the news was filled with stories of the power struggle between the two nations. I would lay awake at night and cry because I couldn’t get the thoughts of melting faces and death and destruction out of my mind. Of course my parents had no idea any of this was happening. They were good parents and I was an emotional child.
I realized as I got older that I enjoyed worrying. It could be cathartic, like when I would work myself up into a fountain of tears because I was worried both of my parents might die and I didn’t know who would take care of myself and my siblings. It could be empowering, like when I would imagine how I would survive the zombie apocalypse. But it could also be debilitating. I would struggle to make simple decisions because I would obsess over every single option in my mind.
Eventually the good feelings I would get while worrying were outweighed by the bad. I was having trouble sleeping, going out in public, flying on airplanes, and was having daily panic attacks. I decided enough was enough and I went to go see a therapist who helped me get over my chronic worries. I remember talking about how distressed I was about aliens taking over the country. Seriously. Obviously I had a bit of psychotic break brought on by an inability to control my thoughts.
After a few weeks of being on a mild antidepressant and talk therapy, I began to feel better. I remember asking my therapist, “did I talk to you about aliens?”. Excessive worry had caused me to break through the wall from normal to crazy! Needless to say, I was embarrassed by my inability to keep it together, but I was also thrilled I was getting help and feeling better.
When I had my first child, I knew from my history of mental impairment that I was a candidate for postpartum depression. Sure enough, right after my son was born I started again with the worries. Now I know every mother, especially a first time mom, has concerns. But this went beyond the norm. I was constantly worried that my son would die. I remember sitting on the toilet and yelling for my husband because I had taken the baby to the bathroom with me and I was afraid to put him down, and couldn’t figure out how to both hold the baby and pull up my pants. The thought of gently laying him down on the floor never crossed my mind.
The good news is, I recognized my symptoms very early. I made the decision to stop breastfeeding and get back on my antidepressants, and let me tell you, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Though breastfeeding is important, having a sane mommy is even more important, something I think often gets lost in the cacophony of parenting advice.
So why am I telling you this? Why would I expose myself to ridicule and derision? It is for two reasons. The first is because I am no longer ashamed of the fact I have chronic anxiety. I am on medicine that I will probably take for the rest of my life. But the way I see it- I am kind of like a diabetic. Just as a diabetic doesn’t make enough insulin, I believe I don’t make enough serotonin. I wouldn’t be ashamed to be a diabetic, so why should I be ashamed for having depression? The second reason I am writing this post, is to discuss the glorification of worry amongst women, especially mothers, in today’s society.
I know it is really easy to think, “but what if….”.
“I can’t let Sarah ride her bike around the neighborhood, what if she falls down and gets hurt?”
“I can’t let Michael sleep over at his friend’s house, what if something happened?”
“I can’t hire a babysitter for the evening, what if my children need me?”
We are living in the safest time in recorded history. Crime is down, and people are living longer than ever! So why are we all so worried? Part of the reason is due to the pervasive media. I stopped watching the news on TV years ago. I prefer to get my updates via Google or Daily Mail (don’t judge, I love to read the gossip). I might not know everything going on, but I do know I am not being bombarded by every horrible thing that has happened that day. I also think the gloom and doom of the economy has made everyone walk on eggshells for the past eight years. And finally, I think there seems to be an attitude that worry equals love when it comes to our kids; like the mom who is most protective, most compulsive, and worries the most, wins the mommy award. But like the adage says, “worrying is like praying for what you don’t want to happen”. When we get consumed by our worries we start making choices our of fear, not out of our values. And don’t we want to be living our beliefs? I know I do.