High anxiety parenting

The therapist leaned in, looked me in the eyes and asked:

“Who can you trust completely?”

“Myself,” I answered without thinking.

“And what can you trust yourself to do?”

“Anything,” I said. “Anything I have to.”

“So relax, Danna,” she said, leaning back into her chair. “Relax into life.”

As if it’s just that easy.

While never clinically diagnosed with anxiety, I feel it humming through my veins. As a kid I was in and out of doctors offices complaining of constant tummy aches, and I terrified my parents by refusing to eat. Who can eat when there’s so much to worry about?

Come to think of it, maybe I’m not anxious. Maybe I’m just a melodramatic worrier with an overactive imagination.

I developed little tricks that seemed to help. There were mantras I’d repeat to myself nightly before falling asleep: “Everything is going to be OK tomorrow; you are not going to die,” I’d whisper into my pillow. I had a bear that slept with me every night. His name was Bear and he had a red bowtie. I don’t know why I speak of him in past tense, because he is currently in my room.

There was a cherry tree in the front yard and when I climbed it the tummy aches would go away. It quickly became known as the Magic Tree, and a place of escape when nothing else worked.

In my 20s there were a few trips to the ER for what felt like heart attacks. A couple of Ativan later, and I was able to get through planning a wedding.

Now I’m a grown up, and a worst-case scenario parent who can no longer just run outside and climb a tree. In need of more mature solutions, I sought out professional advice.

So I go to therapy. I also exercise a lot. I’ve tried to meditate, but I usually just end up making a grocery list in my head.

For me, anxiety is like a toxic security blanket. It’s killing me, but also makes me feel normal, comfortable, and super productive. When I’m not anxious, I get anxious, as if there’s something lurking around the corner that I haven’t wised up to yet. I’ll wander the house, randomly feeling my children’s foreheads for fever, checking the calendar to make sure I’m not missing a dentist appointment. I’ll call my parents and ask after their health.

But anxiety, I’ve learned, is about perfection and control. If I’m in control of a situation, then I don’t have to worry about it. And if I can see it coming (or imagine it in advance) then I can prepare for it, making me a worst-case scenario parent.

Anxiety is helping me get ready so that I can be really GREAT when disaster strikes.

However, according to my therapist, we can control about five to 10 per cent of the events that take place in our lives. As much as we’d like to, we can’t control other people, or the choices they make. I can’t even control the temperature in my office at work. And worry isn’t magical — if I can think of a terrible situation and speak it out loud, that doesn’t prevent it from happening. Jinxing, as it turns out, isn’t a weapon against chaos.

“Who can you trust?”

It was such a simple question, with such a profound internal response.

I can trust myself. And that’s enough. That’s pretty great, actually.

I’ve watched people I love handed their own worst-case-scenarios; death or diagnosis dropped into their laps out of nowhere. They didn’t see it coming, and if they had, would it have made bearing the weight of it any easier?

It was terrible. But they handled it. They are still handling it. And while they’ll never be the same, they will be OK.

Life has shit in it, and despite how active my imagination, I won’t see it coming. There’s no bracing for it.

But when it does hit — and it will — I’ll handle it, because that’s what I do.

When we have children, our worries shift from internal to external and there seems no end to them. What if something happens to my kids? What if they’re hurt, or worse? What if they become ill, or worse? What if they’re struggling and I don’t notice?

There’s no number of miles I can run, no tree high enough to climb my way out of these anxiety-producing thoughts that keep me awake, steal my life, and make me look fucking old.

And so I’m working my way to trusting myself — trusting that when the worst of the garbage arrives to stink up my sweet life, I’ll handle it. It will suck, but I’ll be OK.

And I’ll finally be able to relax into life.

A social life, curated

Social media is such a lie, and I am such a liar.

It has been nine months since I posted to my blog, and it’s not because I ran out of things to say.

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that I have two super powers, and one is never running out of things to say, ever. In fact, I can carry on both sides of every conversation without even pausing for breath.

I talk everywhere, and to anyone. Trying to get some work done? Big deal! I had a hilarious thought! Just about to make an important phone call? Yeah, but wait until you hear this!

I’ve always had a lot to say, but what I say, and what I share (especially on social media) has always been carefully curated. The moments in which I’m absent or silent are the moments that I don’t have the capacity for curating. If I had posted to my blog three or four months ago I would have shared thoughts and feelings that I would have immediately regretted.

I would have risked opening myself up to sympathy, pity, and criticism at a time when judgement was the last thing I needed, and pity would have driven me insane.

And I’m not that brave.

So I stopped writing because I didn’t want to run the risk I’d write something I’d regret — something I couldn’t delete.

But then I looked back over the past several months of my social media posts, only to realize I had been talking. I had been talking quite often, but the conversations I shared were so carefully manufactured that they were almost outright lies.

“Look at my life,” those posts cried out, “it’s full of sunny days, big smiles, fitness, family, friends, vacations, and very merry Christmases.”

Truthfully? That’s garbage. This fortieth year has been the most difficult of my life.

Brick by brick, I’m putting myself back together. But the trauma this year has brought has forever changed the way I am, the way I see myself, the world, and probably the way I write.

The lies we tell on social media aren’t intentional, or malicious. We’re all just constructing the stories we want to read. The stories aren’t always true, but we want them to be, we can imagine they are, and there’s comfort in that.

Here’s to 2019. A year of great stories, and greater honesty, openness and bravery. And to greater recognition that behind every perfect and hilarious social media post there is someone with an untold story who is working very hard to build herself back up again, brick by heavy brick.