I'm A Mom With Anxiety And Some Days Are Just Rough
I can’t control the thoughts that pop into my head — but I can decide what I do next. Or at least I can try.
My newborn was five days old, and I was walking down the stairs with her in my arms. My parents had taken my three older kids for the day to give me and my husband a little pocket of time to rest after many sleepless nights. He was waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs, ready to usher us into the living room for a few hours of Netflix and relaxation.
It was a cold November morning, and I was wearing an oversized sweatsuit and a fuzzy pair of socks — the ultimate cozy relaxation attire. My fresh and snuggly little bundle was nestled in the crook of my elbow, happily sleeping in a soft, heart-patterned blanket. I was about halfway down the staircase when it happened. My right foot slipped and thrust forward, throwing me off balance and dropping me right on my butt, where I tumbled in the sitting position for the last few steps. By the time I had reached the bottom, my husband had sprung forward, attempting to catch the baby and me. We looked at each other and then looked down at our baby, and I burst into tears.
She was fine. I was fine. Crisis averted! But it hardly felt that way. Because for someone with a lifelong anxiety issue and a general all-the-time worry that I am going to lose my kids, this felt a little too scary. So I had a very long cry as all of the what-ifs raced through my brain. My husband provided support, urged me to get some sleep, and did a wonderful job distracting me from my unhealthy thought patterns for the remainder of the day. What could have triggered my brain into a total anxiety meltdown didn’t. But something else happened.
Rather than a significant breakdown at the time, this event triggered many small anxious moments for a longer time. My daughter is now a little over two, and there has not been one day since that I have not pictured myself falling down those stairs. So often, I am walking the same route, and it hits me, just for a second, and a holy crap, what if thought pops into my head, and I have to actively pause and direct my brain to something else. It doesn’t become big enough to derail my day or elicit a panic attack, but it exists.
Because being a mom with anxiety means constantly talking yourself out of the worst-case and what-if scenarios. It means little scary moments that have happened to you and others will be seared into your brain forever and will surface constantly.
I used to think that every mom’s brain functioned this way — simply a product of raising precious little humans and the responsibility of keeping them safe. But after talking to some of my less anxious friends, I have realized that is not the case. They do not think about school emergencies every morning at drop-off, and they don’t cut their toddlers' food into seven thousand minuscule pieces. They don’t envision car crashes and they don’t obsess over button battery digestion in the late hours of the night. Some moms are able to be logical about risk probability and can walk away from a close-call experience feeling grateful rather than traumatized.
But after a lifetime of anxiety, nine years of motherhood, and many therapy sessions, I have realized that I can’t control the thoughts that pop into my head. What I can control, though, is my response to those thoughts. I can choose to feed their toxicity — to give them attention and validity and keep them around. Or I can choose to acknowledge them as anxious thoughts and move on to something else. For now, I am still a work in progress. But I am trying, every day, to quiet those voices.
So next time I walk down the stairs and hit that fifth step, I will not imagine all the terrible scenarios that could have been. I will also not spend time feeling grateful for what was avoided. Instead, I will remind myself that this is my anxiety talking, and I will choose to think about something else. Afternoon plans, the weather, whatever! And maybe after a few more years of practice, the thoughts will lessen. Here’s hoping.
Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.