A handful of minutes before my son was born there was a moment of panic. Mostly mine, but judging by the nurse spinning around and running to the phone after ‘checking’ me, I gathered there was some haste on the part of the health professionals as well. I was screaming all kinds of things to anyone who would listen, feeling completely out of control as people poured in like rain in response to what must have been an 'all-hands-on-deck' call. After 17 hours of contractions, I was somehow surprised about what was about to happen. Like it had caught me off guard. And this was my second child so I really can’t say the experience was completely new.
A kind and gentle, soft-spoken nurse came over to me, held my hand while we waited for the doctor to arrive and said: ‘You are panicking’. ‘No shit’, I said.
‘This you can control’, she whispered.
I had a baby falling out of me and I was terrified. The pain was unbearable. And here was this woman telling me I still had some blooming control in my repertoire. Someone has got to be kidding me!
At the time I thought she meant that I could control whether I had the baby or not. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable choice to have. But then I looked into her serene face and felt her tiny hand holding mine. She meant that I didn’t need to panic. And somehow, I calmed down. I looked into her eyes, breathed as she asked me to, and calmed down.
I recently heard about people who get themselves in a frantic pickle and their neurons keep firing rapidly long after the stimuli have been removed. These are likely the ones that make mountains out of molehills. The ones who make your heart race and your blood pressure go up when you only imagine them entering the room.
Would it help me to know that I am one of those people? That for the longest time I had my panic button permanently switched to the ‘on’ position? I look around me and see what others view as a serene and gentle life of bucolic lovelihood. Yup, I see it too. But all of it had perhaps been viewed through the panic lens. Was I hanging on to the ‘holy shit’ handle even when there was no longer a risk of an accident?
Being with my first child was a peaceful experience for me. Even after we tore off our bathroom in late November the year she was born and decided to build a thousand square foot addition ‘before winter’. I bathed with my little one in a room that barely snuck above freezing that winter and somehow I managed to keep my sanity. Returned to work I did after a year and I recall expressing gratitude for the great balance I had in my life. A job in the city where I could use my brain and visit with adults. A life in the country where I could sow my wild seeds. A family to make noise around me in the evenings. A long, quiet drive to collect my thoughts each day.
Then I got pregnant again. There was more snow that year than ever before on the last month before my maternity leave. And I commuted 75km each way with a 2 year old through snowstorms night after night after night after night. I had morning sickness the entire pregnancy, all day long, and would have to pull over repeatedly to humour the nausea. I was in hell. And terrified that I would not survive and that I wasn’t properly able to care for the one child I already had. But survive I did. I ramped up my resources and gave it all I had.
I never blamed that little guy who came into the world two years after my first. I loved him with every bit of the heart that I had. How could I not? But I was never the same again. I stayed that woman driving in the snowstorm, white-knuckled, in blackness, hormonal and exhausted with a two-year old asking questions from the backseat. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it.
It has taken over a year to undo the perma-panic that settled in that year and stayed alive and well for the first three years of my son’s life. I was that person that people would often say ‘calm down’ to. (Why, oh why, do people say that? Don’t they know it is a sure way to freak a person out?)
But there were those assuring eyes of the nurse, Lee, on the night my son was born. She was my grandmother. My aunt. My mother. My Goddess. She was every woman grabbing me by the reigns and effortlessly leading the wild one inside of me back to the barn. I let her take me there because she put the power in my own tiny little hands in that moment.
This you can control.
I went for a run yesterday against every bit of my will. I didn’t feel like going. I felt heavy and lazy and I didn’t care in the least about any dumb goals I had set. The sun was shining, the dogs were antsy but I didn’t care. I wanted to forget the whole thing. But a kinder, gentler side led me to my running shoes and sent me out the door anyway.
There is so much racket going on in the brain. The entire run I watched the sewage of my mind loll about like a ship through stormy waters as it attempted to make my feet stop moving. The ship still sails. The weather still turns. And despite the racket, I can still choose to be the calm observer – all the while still getting my exercise.
I can’t change the weather. But deciding to override the drama - this I can control. The more I practice this, the more I believe it. And that’s a switch I’d like to make stuck for a while.