"I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go."
When I was 15 I would sit in the recliner at night, doing my homework, and I'd start to experience shortness of breath. After many nights of hyper-ventilation, my mom took me to the doctor, who performed a series of tests and determined that nothing was wrong with my body.
My mind was another story. I didn't have asthma or cancer or any other illness that had entered my mind during those few weeks. The doctor told me and my mom that I was likely experiencing anxiety each evening. He explained that it happens to many people during quiet moments in their day, and this is what he suggested was happening to me. When I was relaxed and idle at home, my mind would wander. When tasks weren't directly in front of me, distracting me, my brain would find a way to go to a dark place and get stuck there. This dark place of worry would, well, worry me, and the shortness of breath was a result of freaking out about anything and everything that I hadn't had time to worry about earlier in the day.
The good news was that I didn't have cancer and wouldn't have to worry, each night, about having cancer. The bad news was that I had some anxiety issues to deal with and would continue to have these issues into adulthood. I still worry all of the time about everything. I wish someone would have told me that having kids makes this worry thing a whole lot worse. I worry about the girls' health, what they eat, how much TV they watch. I worry about them making friends and doing well academically. I worry that they don't get enough sleep. I worry about their car seats and Caro riding the bus and driving them around in the winter. I worry about how well they are brushing their teeth and their general safety, well-being, and happiness. Yeah. (And I haven't even started on all the silly things I worry about not relating to the kids!)
Today, we went to the lake, and several parents helped me monitor our group of children as they splshed and frolicked in the water. All was well until I couldn't see head #2 playing beside head #1, #3, and #4. I darted to the water, ready to Baywatch dive into the lake looking for her. I could feel my heart in my throat. Then, another parent told me she was on the blanket, eating a snack. I felt like puking. All of a sudden my head was full of my facebook feed this week: every parent posting how drowning is the silent killer.
Last year we drove to the top of Whiteface Mountain and climbed around some rocks around the obervation tower. There were no rails and just thin air between my childrens' jumping bodies and the cold, hard abyss thousands of feet below. The sun was shining. The breeze gently caressed our skin. My kids smiled. They were so happy. Andy was chill. I was a mess. I scampered after them, tugging their arms and urging them to stay away from the edge of the rocks. The more I urged, the more they jumped around and the less anxious Andy seemed about the whole thing. I was pretty sure I was near fainting by the time we packed the kids in the car and made our way back down the mountain. I kept my glasses on during the ride, to hide the tears streaming down my face.
Thanks to loving my kids and being a anxious person, I spend a lot of evenings on my couch hyper-ventilating. I cry at least once a week on the way to work. The days are busy, so busy that I practically need to set a timer to remind myself to go to the bathroom. I don't have much space in my day to worry when I'm in meetings, running errands, rushing home, helping with homework, doing laundry, cleaning up cat puke, and watching YouTube videos of cute kittens. Yet, anxiety manages to sneak attack me in those small moments of quiet. Just when I think I am enjoying the lack of interference in my day, the rain gets it, and floods my mind with worry. I go from 0 to 60, from smiling about something nice to crying because I'm going to die some day. My heart races and I start to sweat and I feel trapped in my own fear.
After many years of fighting these moments, I have learned simple techniques to escape the rain. I have focus words and calming breaths. I rationalize. I think happy thoughts. I sing a song. I make a to-list of all the boring, mundane things I have to accommplish that day. Thanks to life requiring me to be level-headed and on-the-ball, I find that my anxiety doesn't often get the best of me; unless I sense that the children are in immediate danger, you know, like drowning, or climbing on huge rocks thousands of feet in the sky.I have found ways to manage my stress without it taking charge of me.
We all have fears to face, big and small, each and every day. While I can manage my anxiety, I'll never stop worrying. In the end, I'm glad that I have two amazing children to worry about.