It hits me out of nowhere. A wall of panic crashes into me like a wave, and I am pulled under the water before I even know what is happening.
Thankfully, these days, this is a rarity. My anxiety has transformed from a ferocious beast to a neighborly neurosis that takes up residence in my brain. I nod to it from time to time, acknowledging its presence, honoring our truce of sorts. When it acts up, I’m able to observe it from afar. I have enough perspective to know that the thumps and bumps coming from that tiny little corner are just temporary distractions. That the fear in the pit of my stomach is short-lived and fleeting, even when it whispers forever.
I’ve gotten to the point where anxiety is just a part of my life instead of the defining feature. I’ve accepted its existence, a thing that may very well take up residence in me forever. But, because of the tools and the work and the choices I’ve made, I’m usually free from its clutches more often than not.
Except for moments like this.
It’s nothing really. It never is. Anxiety lives in the realm of emotion and doesn’t operate under pragmaticism. It cannot be explained, especially to those who do not understand.
The trigger is my son and those godforsaken developmental milestones. Is he meeting them? When and how often and to what degree?
Logically, I accept that all is well (because thankfully, all really is well). But emotionally, I have been hijacked. My anxiety tells me something is wrong. Fear whispers that it’s a delay, indicative of something bigger, something bad, something dangerous. Cynicism tells me I was a fool to let myself believe it could be this easy, stay this good. Depression tells me I don’t deserve to be this happy, and did I really think it could last forever?
Motherhood is many things: ecstasy, joy, sadness, fear. But above all, it is intense vulnerability. When you love something with your whole heart, you worry that you will lose it. Learning to navigate that worry, to silence that particularly lethal version of fear without also killing the blissfulness of love, is the challenge of parenthood.
The thing about my anxiety is that it always brings me straight to God. I am not one to speak of religion or tout a certain spiritual practice, but nothing brings me to my knees faster than my fear. Because the only thing that makes me feel better, the only thing that provides even an iota of relief, is faith.
We can’t control anything in life. Sometimes, I let myself think about everything that is out of my control. And it is so much and so vast that it’s actually laughable. I am a girl with a pebble in her hand standing in front of the Grand Canyon. I am a girl with water cupped in her palm standing beside the ocean. I am trying to light a match while wildfires blaze behind me.
We cannot control a damn thing in this life, and the sooner we learn that, the sooner we accept that truth into our bones, the sooner we can feel free. I am not in charge, thank God for that. And I mean that in all sincerity, thank God, thank God, THANK GOD, for that.
I used to think anxiety was a curse, but now I think it’s a blessing. What’s that Mary Oliver quote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”?
Anybody who is not anxious in this life is not paying attention. Anyone who has never felt that bone splintering fear when looking at someone they love has never known true connection. Being bowled over by fear is part of parenthood. It is part of life. It’s coming face to face with your own humanity, with acknowledging your limitations.
It is, once again, your greatest roadmap back to God.
Marianne Williamson writes in A Return to Love: “Marianne, next time you’re down on your knees, why don’t you just stay there?”
Maybe that’s the gift, the lesson, the point of motherhood. The point of everything.
Simply and finally learning to stay.