Anxiety Aweigh (Please?)


It’s been a warm, cozy week in the company of family and friends – in spite of this year’s tragically dimmer holiday glow (see Finding Happy in (This Year’s) Holidays.) As the festivities and time off come to a close, I’m feeling grateful. A little extra mindful of my priorities. And ridiculously anxious about getting back to the normal that doesn’t really exist anymore: namely, sending my kids off to school again.

Anxiety and me are no strangers, and we definitely aren’t friends. We’re engaged in a long-standing power struggle: it trying to convince me that I must be constantly aware of any Bad Thing that could happen at any given moment (from a variety of illnesses to accidents – to acts of God, or jerk faces) and me trying to live a healthy, balanced, preferably sane life, without driving everyone around me crazy.

It started shortly after my father died when I was four years old. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, pull the door open wide enough to get out, tiptoe out of my room, step lightly on the creaky spots and find my way through the dark to my mother’s bedroom. I’d stand there and listen for a minute for the sound of her breathing. And if I wasn’t completely sure that she was, I’d lean in a tiny bit closer.

“What’s wrong?” she’d ask.

“Nothing,” I’d say, and go back to bed.

I alternate between surrendering myself to the craziness and learning to manage it. From panic attacks at 33,000 feet in the air over random concerns, my germ phobia (see Motherhood: My Work-in-Progress) and to-do lists left undone to the crippling post-September-11th fears that sneak up on me in crowded places, familiar or not. Especially now that I’m a mom.

We can’t live in panic mode, I know. And what am I really capable of controlling or changing? I guess I could homeschool my kids. It would grant me the illusion of safety, I suppose, but would it outweigh what they would miss socially, academically, individually? Probably not. And what about when we leave the house? Whether we’re off to the grocery store, the mall, the movie theater, or a plane to Disney World, what is safe and untouchable anymore?

I know the only option is to keep moving. To keep living our lives as fully as we can, with increased awareness that we’ll hope and pray is enough, and in a way that lets my little girls know I love them so much I can barely see straight. I won’t pretend to have any advice or magical words of wisdom; I’ll probably always struggle this way. There will always be SOMEthing (or 100 things) to worry about. The main thing that inspires me to keep it together is not wanting to teach my daughters to live in fear, too – with a small aside: the fact that all this worrying and thinking is overextending my brain. It turns me into a person I’m not really sure I like. It’s not the life I want for me, either, anymore than for them.

So, on January 2nd, I will put on a brave face and mirror H and S’s enthusiasm as I walk them to their classroom. After hugs and kisses and one last glance at their beautiful smiles as they give themselves away to the day’s excitement, I’ll walk away, and remind myself to breathe.


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