Anxiety, the nature of the mind, and how powerful and potentially paralyzing it can be...
This post began as more of a journal entry for me to work out some of my thoughts, but I quickly realized that others may benefit if they happen to be sharing in the same experience.. (basically why I post all of the topics that I do, no matter how uncomfortable or awkward they may be).
First a little history (ok, a lot) about me: When I was 9 years old I started having panic attacks. Randomly at night I would have them while lying in bed trying to falls asleep, but instead of sleeping my mind went to over-thinking and allowing my 9 year old imagination to run off with its best (aka worst) ideas. Oddly, at such a young age, it was often the fear that I was dying that sent me into a panic. This went on for many years and I actually never told anyone for fear that they would either think I was crazy or take me to a doctor who would actually prove that I was crazy, or worse, actually dying. (Quite a lot to take on for a little gal!) Those who knew me never would have guessed... I was a free spirited little girl who talked too much in school and often laughed such hearty laughs that I could barely catch my breath! At night, however, when all was quiet and dark... my anxiety would rear her ugly head. Then when I was 15 years old it all came out. Teenage hormones played a huge part, and my sister (with whom I was very close) leaving the nest for college (ie. a huge life changing event) sent me over the edge. I started having panic attacks all the time, day and night...at school, in public, everywhere. I became agoraphobic which made going to school everyday a HUGE stressor. My attendance began to suffer... I literally couldn't bring myself to step foot inside. The only place where I felt safe was in my home so everywhere else quickly got crossed off the "willing to go there" list. This didn't last very long (obviously it couldn't or I would have flunked out of school) as my parents noticed right away and I finally opened up to them about what I'd been dealing with for the last 6 years. My mother was shocked and saddened that I hadn't told her sooner. After unloading on her, I realized that the last thing she thought was that I was crazy! In fact, in telling her everything I learned that she too had struggled with anxiety her whole life as had my grandmother. What an "aha moment"! I felt like 100 lbs had been lifted from my chest that day which immediately changed my relationship with my parents. (I quickly went to the other extreme, realizing that if I talked about everything on my mind then I didn't have to bottle up my anxiety... hence why I'm quite the "open" person today!) My parents took me to see a doctor, which of course I disagreed with in fear that he would want to send me to a psychiatric ward. Much to my surprise, however, he didn't seem to think that I was crazy either. I actually learned that anxiety disorder was incredibly common. He sent me home with a prescription for Prozac (I'll touch on the meds in a moment) which at the time saved me. In no time I wasn't panicking any longer, I was back in school like a normal teenager, and I was excelling in most areas. In the years that followed I was able to find my voice (literally) and went on to earn a degree in Vocal Performance followed by performing professionally for many years as well. Not to pat myself on the back, but going from not being able to walk into school to being in the spotlight on stage (and actually liking it) was a pretty big leap if I do say so myself!
Now about the meds: During college I had an "on again/off again" relationship with the ol' Prozac. I didn't want to be medicated anymore and often felt emotionally numb while on medication yet also felt uneasy if I wasn't. Finally, after years of relying on meds, I decided it wasn't for me and wanted to take a more holistic approach. I wanted to overcome my fears without relying on medication and wanted to develop a deeper understanding of the nature of the mind so that I could use my mind to my benefit rather than putting a band-aide over my 'problems'. And so the journey of self discovery began. Now obviously this route wasn't the easy way, but it meant so much more to me to really tap into my fears, my ego, and to learn about that little voice that so often likes to get the best of us. I wanted to better understand all of it so that I could allow it to be just that: my mind and not my boss. Along the way, I have to say that I've grown so much as a person due to this... more compassionate, understanding, empathetic, and openminded to all walks of life because of this "disorder" (not really a huge fan of that word). Don't get me wrong, I'm not perfect.. not even close... just much more aware.
The weaning of medication was very freeing for me. It led me to a much healthier lifestyle... one where I now hate taking medication and tend to avoid it at all costs unless absolutely necessary. I tend to lean more towards vitamins, natural remedies, and prevention over quick fixes and 'band-aides'. Perhaps this is why I landed in the field of natural childbirth and holistic healing. I do believe that the body is very powerful as is the mind and all too often we reach for "a little something" to make life easier. At the same time I'm incredibly grateful that we have medicine for when we truly need it. At 15 I desperately needed medication in order to function as I wasn't emotionally ready to take on the work of understanding a life of anxiety without it.
Now why on earth am I writing about this on a blog about pregnancy and childbirth? Because much to my surprise, Lil' Miss Anxiety has reared her ugly head during this special time for me! The one time of my life that I have SO looked forward to is trying to bring up all my sh*t! While I never expected it initially, I'm truly not that surprised as this journey has unfolded. Hormones; this being a major life changing event; the unknowns of how labor, delivery, and parenthood will unfold; the desire for control; feeling the changes in my body and health; and on and on... all play a huge part! I won't go into the specifics of every little fear that I've conjured in my mind. From hearing tragic birth stories to feeling random twinges and knowing what they could mean, my mind seems to want to choose worry as it's 'go-to' these days. I guess the part that has struck me as odd is that this is what I do for a living... I normalize the process of birth for my clients each and every day, and yet here I am fearing the worst for myself! Many often say "oh you'll have such a great birth because you already know so much about it!"... yes, this could be true, but that tiny voice in my mind often chimes in, "you also know more than the average joe about what could go wrong so maybe ignorance really is bliss?". I often work really well with moms who struggle with anxiety because I've always been able to put myself in their shoes and know what I would need in order to stay calm if it were me, yet here I am now needing a taste of my own holistic medicine!
I will say that anxiety, thus far, has taken on a new form from what it was years ago. The over-thinking and worry are still there, and the what-if's are there... so from time to time I find myself just needing to stop and take some nice cleansing breaths. Thankfully, however, I'm not in full blown panic-attack-mode at all. For the most part I'm able to recognize my pattern as that little seed of doubt or worry is planted and I am able notice as the weeds begin to grow into over-thinking and anxiety. So what to do? I go in and pull those weeds one by one rather than letting them build up. I stop myself and breathe first and foremost, and then I ask myself what I'm so afraid of. I isolate the fear of the moment and then I make a choice. I can run off with that fear and let it build or I can choose a state of calm. I ask myself "what is your story right now? Are you okay RIGHT NOW?" Rather than drifting off into a place where I imagine my fears play out, I bring myself back to the present as assess whether I am currently okay. And if I must imagine the 'what-if's' playing out, I try to choose peace. Even in those worst case scenarios (ie. death of myself or my baby) I can choose to imagine myself either panicking from it or being calm in those moments. I would like to think, as much as I don't like to think about death, that I could somehow be at peace when the time does come. And I would like to think that no matter what is thrown our way as an outcome of this birth, that I can find peace with it as long as I am surrounded by The Love/God. It doesn't mean that I won't have pain, suffering, or grief in my life (though of course I'd like to be blessed with a path of least suffering!), but that in those times I'll feel surrounded by the Love and feel a sense of calm.
I find that fear just robs us of a beautiful experience. Taking the time to worry or think up every possible scenario (which I have often done) doesn't change the outcome but rather makes the present much less enjoyable. We do have a choice and if all we focus on are our doubts or fears then we miss the ride. And don't even get me started on the adrenaline response to anxiety that our babies feel! I try to remind myself of this every time that little wheel starts to turn in my mind. My baby deserves a peaceful environment and while anxiety may be hereditary, I don't have to bathe my baby in it constantly! "Babies born into calm tend to be calm". Deep breaths, meditation, prayer, and positive thinking are my chosen anxiety busters... oh, and talking it out :)
Childbirth and motherhood are a ride that I've wanted to take for as long as I can remember, and as my own delivery date approaches I'm doing my best to choose peace... the same peace in which I've always trusted with each and every mom that I've helped along the way. I have no idea how my own birth will unfold, but I do know that I can be at peace with however it happens, trusting in God's plan for myself and my baby, just one cleansing breath at a time. For now I choose to listen to only one 'what-if' amongst the many that race through my mind: What if it all goes beautifully?