Originally published on Motherly.
By Brooke Bohinc
For me, anxiety started off slowly.
It didn’t show up in my life until some of the newness of my first pregnancy wore off. Up until that point, I’d never really come to terms with how powerless I actually was. I tried to keep my vitamins down, follow my midwives’ recommendations and prayed that somehow that would be enough to keep my little one safe.
Because that had become my deepest want — keeping my child safe.
My anxious heart didn’t have much of a reprieve when it felt like my healthy newborn came with another list of worries and concerns. Snotty noses and small coughs had never before held such power and disproportionate fear.
I was anxious about vaccines and sleep and appropriate development and all the other millions of things that flood one’s mind at 3 a.m.
Because keeping my child safe became the thing I thought about most — it became my mind’s biggest fixation.
I was trying so hard to do my best — to stay present and appreciate each day — all with minimal sleep and parenting experience. It wouldn’t take much for all the things that I worked so hard to not focus on about the world — the pain, the heartache and my inability to stop either — to come creeping back in.
Because most of the time, the thought of keeping my child safe seemed impossible — and I didn’t know how to handle that.
“Because most of the time, the thought of keeping my child safe seemed impossible — and I didn’t know how to handle that.”
That season of life, pregnancy and my daughter’s first year, were laced with trial and error as I tried to figure out how the heck I could stop anxiety from wrecking me.
That’s what I felt like it was doing. It crept in, sometimes under the guise of “natural maternal worry,” and threatened to wreck every area of my life.
I spent so much mental energy (and who has a lot of that with a baby or toddler to take care of?) creating the foulest possible outcome in my mind, as if that would save me from having to experience it or prevent it from hurting me so badly if something terrible actually did happen. But I had to work on that.
Because while I sat there with a look of horror on my face and a thundering heart in my body as I pictured these worst-case scenarios — my life was happening all around me.
I have been coming to terms with understanding the fact that we can’t stop a lot of the bad things that happen from happening. Yes, of course we make choices that impact what life looks like, but so many things are outside our scope of control and understanding.
So we are then tasked with choosing whether the worry and anxiety are where we set up camp or whether we will acknowledge the ick of the world but still choose to live in the moment and enjoy our lives as much as we can in each season.
Because we can only control so much — and that lack of control shouldn’t steal our present joy.
Now with a toddler and another babe on the way, the door to my anxiety still shudders with the force of my fears, threatening to break open. But I am learning that my anxiety can be dealt with — by deep breathing, through setting intentions, by incorporating mantras (spiritual and practical, for me) into my life. These are all anchors for me on this journey.
Because I’ve realized that my anxiety can be managed — and it doesn’t have to define me as a mother or a person.
And I am learning to have grace with myself on the days that I feel like I’m failing.
I’ve come to see that my goal isn’t to become anxiety-free but to know how to engage my fears — to acknowledge them and tune in to the vulnerability they’re trying to hide — because doing so gives me a way to stop the mental spiral and a chance to get myself back on track.
Because I don’t really doubt that anxiety will affect me in one way or another most of my life — but I’m learning to tap into the tools available to me to make it manageable and not succumb to the overwhelming feelings that it often brings.
I really don’t have it all figured out yet, to be honest. But as with many things in life, motherhood allows us space and numerous opportunities to learn and try again — and thank goodness for that.
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