I decided I was going to write about this topic before I read Jean’s blog earlier this week. But when I saw it, it just sealed the deal that this was the time to address this subject. Fear is something that all Moms deal with from time to time. Jean’s blog on Monday dealt with little fears that we all have, such as fitting in, finding your parenting niche, etc. And I share the same fears my best friend does....and then some!
Now I always have been somewhat of a fearful person. But I never really knew true “fear” until I had my children. It’s amazing how the second my children entered my life I knew fear like I had never known before. The things I thought I was afraid of before did not hold a candle to my new set of fears. Can I do this? Can I be a good Mom? How do you take care of a baby? What if something happens to my kids? What if they get hurt? When you become a Mom all of the sudden you go from being just another person in the world to being someone’s world. And, to quote my daughter, that “is just plain scary”.
So I’ve always had the standard fears that come along with Mommyhood. I anticipated those fears from watching other Moms, so those standard fears honestly don’t bother me or affect my life to a great degree. Sure I’m probably a little more paranoid than most parents, and would probably bubble wrap my kids if I could, but I certainly don’t let those fears rule my life.
I’m learning, however, that its not the expected fears you have to worry about…it’s the ones that come out of nowhere that cause the true problems.
A few months after I had my third child, L, out of the blue I started to get panic attacks when I would drive alone with my children at night (interstate driving, not simple around the town). I was always the kind of person that would stay at a place really late because I knew the kids would fall asleep for the night in the car, and wouldn’t get that power nap all parents fear. So like most parents, I knew my “windows” of time to leave and so it was normal course for me to travel very late with my kids.
And being alone with the kids? This was something I am very used to. See, I am a “single parent” most of the time. My husband works nights (6:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.) 4+ days a week. And this is how it has been since I have had my kids. I’m used to it …this is how we live. And ask anyone who knows me or sees my Facebook and they will tell you I am always on the go with my kids. So for this anxiety to creep into my life was a very unexpected and a very un-welcomed visitor.
I got my first panic attack driving home from a birthday party on Interstate 80, a road I had driven on countless times. Even though it was a pleasant summer night, the ride was uneventful and the kids were wonderful, I got a panic attack. There while the kids were peacefully asleep and I was driving on a dark interstate I started to shake, breathe heavy, feel sick to my stomach, and get a feeling that I can only describe as someone having their hands around my throat. I was not sure if I would faint, and because this was Iowa I had passed all civilization about 30 miles prior. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. And what made it terrifying is I had no clue it was a panic attack.
But the attack subsided the moment I saw the lights of the Quad Cities, and so I blew it off…maybe I was sick? Maybe it was yet another complication from my c-section? And so I tried again one night after hanging out with my parents. Surely the ride between my parents house and my house was one I knew so well there was no way I would get a panic attack. But I did. This time I didn’t endure it, I turned around and headed back to my parents and waited for my husband to come pick us up.
I had no obvious triggers to these attacks. I had never been in a major car accident, never had a near miss with my kids, never had any stressful situations involving the kids and my car. And all three of my kids are awesome travelers. They are so used to traveling that they never give me any trouble.
So after my second panic attack, I made an appointment with my doctor to get to the bottom of all of this. It had to stop…my lifestyle I had enjoyed for the past 4 years depended on it. My doctor told me that what I was describing sounded to her like a panic attack. I instantly said back to her “Panic? But I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t anxious”. Like I said driving in a car at night alone with my kids was commonplace for me. So why now?
I didn’t think that such a small and limited fear required medication, so instead I asked to be referred to a psychologist to see if perhaps he could help me find the cause of these attacks and of course stop them. Well, needless to say I only visited the psychologist 3 times. My formal diagnosis? Post-traumatic stress disorder from the birth of L. Makes no sense right? I didn’t think so either. I mean what does the birth of my son have to do with driving? Sure L’s birth was stressful in many respects, from a doctor screwing up my spinal to unexpected drops in my blood pressure, and most importantly because when L was born he had to go to the NICU because he swallowed a lot of fluid. But L’s life was never in danger, he was taken there as a precaution plain and simple. And as all us Mommies know the moment we lay eyes on our beautiful babies all the drama and pain it took to get to that point long passes away. So fear of driving at night stemming from the birth of my glorious son? Yeah I didn’t buy this one. Especially in light of the fact that the attacks started months after he was born.
So I got a second opinion and informally asked another psychologist I knew. He told me that it probably had to do with a fear of helplessness, not PTSD. At night in the car, with the miles and miles of cornfields and darkness, it is only normal for a Mom to feel somewhat out of control of the situation. To him, the fear was only temporary and would stop when the kids got a little older. I mean it seemed normal to him to feel helpless on a dark road with a 4 year old, 3 year old, and 7 month old. He explained to me it was simply my motherly instincts kicking in…and perhaps kicking in a little too much.
So as is the normal cause what followed after the “diagnosis” was the countless recommendations from everyone from my doctors to my friends. My favorite was meditation. I mean please, as any working Mom knows if we do actually get a moment of silence…we are going to go to sleep, not meditate.
I stopped seeing the psychologist and realized that I needed to work on this fear myself. I found things that help me drive at night. For example, I chew on Altoids while I drive. Something about the peppermint calms my stomach and the strong mint flavor hides any dry mouth feeling that I get at the start of a panic attack. Without the dry mouth feeling, I don’t notice the initial symptoms…and as anyone knows who has ever had a panic attack the fear that a panic attack may come on can actually cause more to occur.
I’ve made a lot of headway in dealing with this fear. But I haven’t cured it…I simply live with it. I still don’t drive alone at night with my kids. I improvise a lot. I stay the night when I go somewhere. I have someone ride with me if I have to drive alone. I do little things to bide my time until perhaps my fear will subside. Maybe my friend is right and I'll outgrow it?
So, if you are struggling with fear in some form, let me save you the hundreds of dollars on expensive psychologists. The way I see it, fear can sideline you in many ways, it can take you by surprise, it can affect your life, but I think the secret is to not let it rule your life. Work with it. Live with it, no matter how hard that can be at times. And if that doesn’t work…try Altoids!
I think I best sum up with one of my favorite quotes:
"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear". ~Ambrose Redmoon