Trust your gut.
It’s sort of the default mantra for raising kids. Your “gut” becomes your mother’s intuition. If you are unsure how to proceed, unsure of what to do next, nervous about the future, or feeling like anything is amiss, you should simply trust your gut. Your mother’s intuition.
I get it. I support this. As parents, we do intimately know our children, better than anyone, and we are on the front lines with them. Any issues that arise, we are the first to see those red flags. The things our kids keep bottled up elsewhere, are the emotions and feelings they release at home. Where they feel safe, secure, and loved. We typically know when we should be concerned, and when we need to take a “wait and see” approach, and even when we are totally overreacting and need to just let it go.
That is, unless you’re a mom with an anxiety disorder. A mom like me.
If you’re like me, if you suffer from anxiety, especially if your anxiety manifests itself similar to mine, then you know that “trust your gut” can be a very loaded statement.
Because my “gut” is constantly telling me that something is wrong—often terribly wrong, catastrophic even. I’m constantly on edge, constantly worried. I always feel raw and exposed, especially when it comes to my kids. Because, naturally, they are the most important, most valuable part of me, so this is where my anxiety often centers.
Some days are better than others, but I do know this: If I consistently relied on trusting my gut, I’d live at the damn emergency room. I’d be on the nurse’s line every single day. I would never allow my husband, dad, grandma or other trusted family/friend to enjoy time with my kids. I would basically assume everyone I loved was knocking on death’s door, was awaiting their impending doom. That my number was up and tragedy was about to strike.
I will see a headline for a viral story about a very very rare brain-eating amoeba, and I will be up all night thinking my child with the common cold may be the next victim. The symptoms I’m chalking up to a common, run-of-the-mill virus, are actually signs of something far more dangerous. I won’t sleep. I will check on them obsessively or bring them into my bed. I am not religious, but I will pray incessantly into the universe for their safety and wellbeing.
I know this can leave many people shaking their heads in confusion. It doesn’t make sense. I know that. Believe me, I know. Unfortunately, knowing that doesn’t cure my anxiety. Vicious cycle.
I see an important message of awareness, like the risks of allowing our small children to eat popcorn, and I will be a frazzled mess because earlier that day I let my toddler mow down a bowl while watching his favorite movie. I will contemplate all of the most unlikely possibilities as if they are inevitable. As if, without a damn doubt, he will be in emergency surgery getting aspirated popcorn kernels pulled from his insides.
It will drive me to tears. My chest will feel heavy. I won’t be able to concentrate on any other task. I will feel light-headed or nauseous.
And the list goes on…
I hate them being in a car without me. Not that I can personally prevent tragedy, but at least I can be assured that I personally wouldn’t be speeding, texting, and they are properly installed in their carseats. I might see something sooner, be able to react faster, or drive more defensively.
I (with shame) admit that I even do this to my husband. I have no logical reason to doubt him, but anxiety is NOT logical. I worry that he may become distracted or won’t properly adjust the carseat straps. Even though I know he will, even though I know he cares for and loves these kids just as well as me. I think he’s the best dad in the world, and I still can’t fully “let go” when they aren’t by my side. This can be frustrating for him too, even though he understands too that I have a mental health diagnosis that literally makes me this way. It’s exhausting to have to constantly reassure your wife that you won’t do xyz while you’re out with your own kids.
I need constant reassurance to ease my mind though. To allow me to breathe just a little.
It’s a constant battle of worst case scenarios running through my mind. It’s fucking brutal. It’s awful. It’s so damn exhausting. If I had any way to control this, to escape these thoughts, this nearly constant state of nervousness and anxiousness, I would. If I could win the lottery and it would take ALL of my winnings to find the magical cure that would erase this, I would do that. Just to sleep comfortably, to exist in my skin without feeling on edge. I want to know what that’s like. Anxiety sucks that bad. It’s all encompassing.
It’s not that I’m not pro-active about my mental health. I’ve been living this life for a long time now, and I know that professional medical care (meds, therapy, etc.) as well as individual coping mechanisms (exercise, time outdoors, reading, writing, meditating, self-care, etc.) will lessen the severity of my symptoms. I utilize all of these tools. They do help. They do ease the daily burden. But they don’t cure me. They don’t magically make everything okay in my brain.
So, I battle daily to function like someone who doesn’t have anxiety—well, as close to that ideal as I can get. I want to be the person who doesn’t let a common virus drive her to the brink of a nervous breakdown, who doesn’t feel like an elephant is on my chest when my husband takes our kids to the dentist. That doesn’t feel like If I do something ‘wrong’ I’m somehow jinxing myself for later, like the universe is keeping a tally of my mostly harmless mistakes and will punish me soon.
I desperately want to be the mom who can “trust my gut.” I mean, I appear to do this to people who are on the outside looking in. I stay proactive in my kids’ lives, educations, additional evaluations and support services, pediatrician visits, etc. and I seek these things out in a way that makes me appear typical.
I allow my children to have adventures and experiences and a fun childhood. It’s just that inside I’m constantly fighting a battle with my own brain to achieve that healthy balance. You can’t see it, but it’s there. And, I know I’m not alone, but this world can damn sure feel lonely.