I subscribe to this newsletter called Daily Good. I make a point of reading one article from it in the morning most days, but on really bad days I end up reading up to 10 articles. I know when it’s a bad day when I actually trawl through Positive News as well.
I use these online forums and news as part of my avoidance mechanism – avoiding my anxiety attacks. Bad days are usually preceded by bad nights when I didn’t sleep because I thought of a million ways how the world would end and a thousand ways that my family could get hurt.
It wasn’t like this all the time. I was once a carefree, intrepid, almost stupidly invincible person. I was so “brave” that I travelled to countries by myself. Drove up and down the east coast of Australia by myself (I only really appreciated how silly or brave this was when I saw Wolf Creek). I was able to take risks without over-thinking everything. I thought that the future was great and bright.
Then children happened. I remember the exact moment my anxiety attacks started. I just put my then 3-year-old daughter to bed for the night. Sat myself on the couch with my laptop, ready for my nightly ritual of reading Facebook and news while also having the TV on ABC24. In a single sitting I was bombarded with disasters all over the world – hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and a rare tornado thrown in.
I curled up in bed that night; while I watched my daughter asleep and really believed – for the first time ever – that the world would end. This realisation would have been ok if not for the beautiful thing I was looking at. I was so scared for her and cried thinking that I’d be helpless saving her if ever a disaster struck. Debra Ginsberg described this feeling best:
“The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.”
It wasn’t even gradual when the attacks started. The insomnia and uncontrollable crying followed immediately after. I Googled phrases like: “What do parents do when they are really scared for their children and they do not want to get out of the house ever?” or “Support groups for parents who think the world is ending now”. It became paralysing that I saw a psychologist and she said something about “flight or fight” mode. I stopped seeing her after two sessions because she insisted that the world wasn’t going to end – soon.
That was 4 years ago. After 5 books on anxiety and fears, countless meditation techniques, sleeping aides, a Masters degree (if you can’t sleep then study), and a few swimming lessons (for when flooding might happen) later I can now say that I’m not as scared as I was that night. I still have bad days, which might be triggered by some news or an image of a child being hurt, but it is more manageable now.
Recently, I was driving on a sunny day and thought that I haven’t had them in a while! It’s like having a toothache for a few days then one day feel that it has stopped. But why? What made them (almost) stop? It took me a couple of weeks to come up with an answer.
I believe that the answer is this: I started helping and focusing on others besides myself. I started connecting and sharing. I’ve tried my best to be present. The being and doing and connecting. It has done wonders for my fight or flight mode!
I know I’m not the only parent who worries and becomes debilitated by fear for their children. I know this is not a new thing. But I do hope that more parents out there support each other and offer their survival or avoidance mechanisms to get through the tough heart wrenching times of protecting our children. It would be good to see real Google search results to “Support groups for parents who think the world is ending now”.