The Elephant in the Room

Most of my twenties, primarily the latter half, have been all about mental fortitude. What emotions do I want to tame and what do I want to feed? What do I need to be more quiet, what can I give power to, to be more loud? They’re simple to pinpoint. The work put into HOW to tame, feed, quiet, give a voice to them, that part is incredibly difficult.

I’m not very private about the fact that I go to therapy – as needed. Therapy is such a wonderful thing. What we talk about in detail, that’s mine to keep. But my therapist, she’s incredible. She has perspectives I’ve never thought of, advice that actually works, and offers a lot of help with tools on how to tame certain things. How to feed and quiet. How to give the strong pieces more of a voice. 

Being a Mom comes with a worry that is so present, so intense, it’s palpable. Like if you were to reach down your throat and pull that feeling out of your stomach, it would be a little ball staring back at you, full of knots and twists and painful strings coming from and going to places you couldn’t find the ends to if you tried. 

A literal ball of worry.

Before I knew I was pregnant with Porter, the morning I took a pregnancy test, I woke up holding my stomach with both hands. Before she was even a known piece of my life, I worried about protecting her, or moreso not being able to protect her. That knotted ball was there beginning to grow at the same time she was. As she grew, it did, too.

This week, her heart is developing – add a string of worry; what if something is wrong on the ultrasound? 

This week, they’ll check her body to make sure she’s big now – another string; what if she isn’t growing right? 

This week she’s due – string; what if something goes wrong during her birth? 

What if, what if, what if, with every stage, every moving part of being a Mom. 

The string that’s added when your baby has RSV and you’re checking their breathing all hours of the night to see if you need to rush to the hospital yet.

The string that’s added when your toddler needs a brain scan.

The string that’s added when you watch your child be wheeled back for surgery.

The little strings for the little stuff, too.

My GOSH the worry, anxiety, fear; whatever you want to call it; it’s truly nearly tangible. 

Some days it’s shy and some days it screams in my face. 

My therapist taught me tools to calm this that were working well, and the day I dropped Porter off at school for the first time, I basically had to start over. 

That day didn’t give me a new string to swallow, it gave me a whole new anxiety ball. Every single day I drop my child off, I swallow that ball again. It feels familiar, but still painfully new. 

She’ll sing her ABC’s… A for active shooter drills.

She’ll talk about her colors… and hear about Code Red.

She’ll have recess… where she and her friends have to play hide and seek in the cubbies.

The string that was added the day she came home and told me she practiced hiding from bad guys.

You know the worst part? There’s no correct answer that I can help with. Is it guns? Is it mental health? Is our system as corrupt as these people, or vice versa? 

Okay, I have my answer. Now what? 

Cross my fingers that it doesn’t happen again? What do you do with a ball this big before it consumes you, when it’s out of your control? 

Learn to tame it. Look it dead in the eye and sit in it until it’s quieted down. I’ve learned that if I don’t stop and sit in it, I’ll pace with it for an unhealthy amount of time.

Breathe. Breathe between the one huge breath that you hold all day long when they’re not with you. After the breath that was taken away when school called. Or anyone called.

Every day I do it, every time I feel the worry get louder. In for 4, hold for 4, out for 6. When I’ve had no warning that it’s growing and it just shows up, sometimes I have to skip straight to: breathe deep for 5 seconds. 5, 5, 5. 

My kid will never see the deep breaths that I take to calm my stomach when we’re in the car in the mornings and Disney music is playing.

She’ll never know the deeper meaning behind every evening squeeze-hug where I tell her, “I’m so happy to have you home.” 

It comforts me and deeply hurts me to know how many other people are feeling these things every day. 

The teachers. The parents. The students.

Should teachers just quit their jobs? Should we homeschool? But then – should we also avoid church, grocery stores, music festivals, the mall, parks – where does it end? Where does it start? The politics. The anxiety. The questions. The tangled strings. The what ifs. Where do they start? Where do they end? 

It has screamed in my face several times today. 

I’ve cried for strangers. I’ve used my tools and breath-work and had my sigh of relief when I picked my daughter up from school today, then held another cry down thinking about the people today who couldn’t.

Statistically, I don’t know how many Americans have guns, but I do know we all have something mentally that we struggle with that no one, or very few, know. Maybe the brave few people shout from the rooftops what theirs is so that it can help other people. A  lot of ours are hidden. Tamed. Quiet. At least outside of our minds they are; inside they’re pretty dang loud. 

We all struggle with something mentally. Emotional regulation, OCD, autism, adhd, bipolar disorder, sensory processing disorder, multiple personality disorder, depression.

Abandonment, deep rooted trauma, fear of *fill in the blank* because of *fill in another blank.*

All of us. 

Your neighbor. Your spouse. Your siblings. Your parents, teachers, coworkers. The people you pass on the street. All people. Even an active shooter. I’ll admit I have selective empathy when I think about that.

There is something, or some things, that scream in all of our faces. 

Stigmas are real, though. Announcing how your brain works is also agreeing that some people are going to hyphenate that to your name.

Sometimes you don’t want to have a hyphen.

Sometimes it’s nice just to have a name. 

I don’t have the answers for much of what’s happening in the world and that terrifies me, but here’s what I do know:

Controlling thoughts is more than half the battle with worry, and that’s something that’s very possible. It’s not easy, it’s actually an insane amount of work, but it is possible.

Faith is a really big part of that for me.

Therapy is wonderful. It sounds big and scary and very stigma filled at first. You may even use the cliche box of tissues sitting on the couch. I have. 

Having someone who can find those beginning pieces of all the knotted up strings that you didn’t think were discoverable, is powerful. They unknot one and hang it up with you and say, “Let’s figure this out together. How did this get here? How do we make one less kink in your stomach? What should you do every time you think about the string? Which one do we pull out next?”

I guess what I’m saying is… I’m scared. So that I don’t pace with it, I’ve had to sit in it today. Sitting in fear isn’t fun. I wish I could stuff my kids back in my belly and put my hands over them just like when it all started, just so I’d know they’re safe. I can’t. I can’t keep them locked up at home forever or keep them safe, even. I can’t have someone guarantee to me that they’ll always be okay when they unbuckle their seatbelts and open the door. They may not always be okay. They’re human, they WON’T always be okay. I just really hope that when they’re not okay – they’re not okay when they’re still here with me.

These are thoughts every parent probably has driving their kids to school these days.

I know I’m addressing the elephant in the room. But am I? Because next week it’ll go back to normal.

Like it was never there. 

An elephant is too big to ignore. 

And an elephant with a gun is way too freaking big to tame with breath-work.

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