One night last week, Terry and I decided to take Max for a walk down to the playpark at the bottom of our street, and, on the way home, Terry made a comment about how much busier the street will feel once the ongoing building work is finally done.
(Oh yeah: we literally live on a building site right now, in that the land next to us was bought by a developer, who’s currently in the process of putting houses on it. It’s actually less annoying than you might think…)
Almost instantly, my stomach lurched with fear, and I found myself spiralling down into a pit of anxiety.
More houses equals more cars. More cars equals more danger. More danger equals…
“What if when Max is older, he’s walking down to the park, and he gets run over by a car?” I said, knowing even as I said it that I was being completely and utterly ridiculous.
Terry gave me what I think would be best described as a withering look, and walked on. (I love the way we don’t even have to say I’m talking nonsense again, seriously…) I, meanwhile, spent the rest of the night feeling vaguely sick and anxious, and like something terrible was about to happen, and I had no idea how to stop it.
This isn’t an unusual feeling for me: and nor is it a remotely surprising one, really. I mean, I’ve suffered from anxiety my entire life: it makes sense that I’d have anxiety about the most precious thing in my world, doesn’t it?
This isn’t an unusual feeling for me: and nor is it a remotely surprising one, really.
It does: but, surprisingly, on a day to day basis, I actually think I cope pretty well, all things considered. Contrary to what this post will probably make you think, I don’t spend all of my time worrying about what might happen. I’m happy to let Max do all of the things that other kids his age do, and I don’t think my behaviour is outwardly any different from other, less anxious parents. I certainly don’t avoid doing things that I know are actually safe, just because my anxiety is doing its best to tell me otherwise, and I’m also careful to hide my fears from Max himself: anxiety can be catching, I find, and I don’t want him to grow up feeling like he’s in perpetual danger or anything. (Even though he so obviously is…) I don’t even sit and obsessively watch the video monitor when he’s asleep any more: which is definitely progress for me, because, for the first few weeks of Max’s life, I was almost too scared to go to sleep at night, just in case something happened to him.
Every so often, though, the anxiety rises up and hits me smack in the face.
It could be anything, really. A story on the news. A crashed car by the side of the road. A couple of weeks ago, it was as simple as a walk through a nearby mall, which has an aerial zipline course in the roof: as we passed underneath it, there was a little girl swinging precariously high above our heads, and all of a sudden it occurred to me that one day Max will want to do that, or something like it, and what if the line breaks, or isn’t properly secured? What if he falls? I spent the rest of the day feeling weirdly sad and anxious – knowing I was being silly, but not knowing how to stop myself.
Before Max arrived, these things would have upset me, sure. (Well, other than the zipline, obviously: I probably wouldn’t have given that one a second thought…) Now, though, they have the power to totally ruin my day: to the extent that I’ve actually had to ask my nearest and dearest not to repeat any of the sad stories they hear on the news (Especially ones relating to children), because, a couple of weeks after Max was born, a baby died in a car crash somewhere in South America, and I STILL think about it to this day. It tortures me: that, and all of the other sad stories people insist on sharing on Facebook, or otherwise bringing to my attention.
Before Max arrived, these things would’ve upset me, sure. Now, though, they have the power to totally ruin my day…
To be fair, I’ve always been a bit like this. I remember a few years ago, there was a horrific accident in Glasgow, in which a truck mowed down a group of pedestrians, and it upset me so much that I actually thought I was going to have to go and speak to my doctor about counselling, because I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. To this day, I can’t walk through George Square, where the accident happened, without this crushing feeling of horror sweeping over me. And, yes, I totally realise how crazy that sounds.
So these feelings aren’t new to me, as I said. Since Max arrived, though, they have become more frequent and more upsetting: and they all revolve around him. Holidays, for instance, are a source of both excitement and fear to me now. It’s mostly fear, though, because every time we book another trip, I get maybe five minutes of looking forward to it, before the anxiety kicks in, and I start to think about all of the things that could go wrong. Plane crashes. Car accidents. When we visited the U.S. this summer, I spent a huge amount of time worrying about the possibility of being caught up in a mass shooting. In London last year, I was terrified there would be a terrorist attack, and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t shake that feeling of doom.
The worst thing is, while the rational part of my brain (Er, there IS a rational part to my brain, I promise. At least, I THINK there is…) knows that these things are unlikely, the fact that no one can tell me they’re impossible plays on my mind, and validates my fear. Exactly one week after our trip to London, for instance, someone deliberately drove a car onto a pavement we’d walked down just a few days earlier, with the intention of running people over. And there may be only a tiny possibility of being caught up in a terror incident, or an accident or some sort, but yet some people are. And sometimes I have been one of those people.
There is something like a 1 in 100 chance of a woman having an ectopic pregnancy, for instance, and I was that one.
The condition Terry had, which resulted in him needing a kidney transplant, is so rare that Terry ended up buying medical journals in order to try to fill in the gaps in his doctor’s knowledge. The chances of him getting this condition were tiny – and yet he still did.
Is it any wonder that I’m a bit of a pessimist, then? Or that I no longer go through life feeling like the Very Bad Things that happen are all things that happen to other people? I know they’re not: I know they happen to US, and the knowledge of that fact is what keeps me awake at night, more times than I’d like to admit.
I don’t often talk about this: in fact, I hesitated even to write this post, because I’m scared of both internet diagnosis, and the knee-jerk reaction of, “There’s no point worrying: worry won’t change anything!” Which is true, of course. The problem with that, though, is that I don’t worry because I think it will help: I worry because I don’t know how NOT to worry. That’s why, when Terry started a conversation a few days ago about the bid to land a spacecraft on Mars, my first reaction wasn’t, ”How interesting!” but, “OMG, what if Max wants to go to Mars when he grows up?”
Yeah, I hate myself too, don’t worry.
(WHAT IF HE DOES, THOUGH?)
Back when I was pregnant with Max, I remember the midwife telling me my anxiety probably wasn’t something I’d be able to get rid of, exactly, (Or not in the space of 9 months, anyway…), but rather something I’d learn to live with. I actually found that quite helpful: I find that people who’ve never experienced anxiety can struggle to empathise with it, and will generally want to either change or dismiss the person suffering from it, when sometimes is you want is for someone to say, “You know what? That sucks.” Or, better yet: “I get it. Because I feel that way, too.”