I had a lightbulb moment the other day.
I’ve always been an anxious person; a worry wart. But the moment you have kids, and I mean from the second you see that all important positive on the pregnancy test, you’re worrying for more than one person.
Over the years I’ve taken steps to try and manage my levels of worry. I think it stems back from being a child; my parents had a fiery and turbulent marriage (how the hell they’re still married I’ll never know – can’t live with each other, can’t live without each other I guess) but they fought a lot and I remember constantly being worried about hearing their rows. Since then I’ve kind of always been a worrier.
Anyway, back to my light bulb moment. Since having Holly I’ve noticed that my levels of worry have increased again. Those of you that know me and have followed me for a while will know I’ve suffered with anxiety quite badly in the past so I’ve made a few changes to how I deal with things, particularly since being pregnant with Hols, to combat my worries; taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture and just being a bit more logical. And that mindset worked – I was much more relaxed in my pregnancy with Holly and in the early newborn days.
But about a month ago, I felt that anxiety creeping back in. I was talking it through with the husband the other day and I mentioned about how massively anxious I felt when Josh was ill a while back. I remember being in an absolute headspin, convinced he had Norovirus (he didn’t, it was an ear infection), and that I’d get it, Holly would get it, she’d end up dehydrated and we’d all end up in hospital. Reading that back now my over reaction is borderline laughable, but in my head it was a genuine realistic fear for me. And whilst discussing it with Sam I suddenly realised (“light bulb”) why these things give me such huge fear.
Because I can’t control them.
Sounds simple huh. How hadn’t this dawned on me before. For example, we went away this weekend to friends and stayed over. I already felt nerves simmering about how Josh would be at the zoo, when would he nap, would he behave, and would he sleep in the travel cot. And whilst attempting to relax in the garden with a glass of wine, friends around us, the kids playing, I could feel myself on edge. I don’t think it was apparent to my friends but Sam could tell. And it was nothing major – but I needed Josh to watched at all times. Because what if he fell over, what if he got stung, what if he didn’t have enough water, what if he whacked his little friend round the head with a book. What if, What if, What if. Watching him the whole time, closely, seemed to be the only element of control I could have over my tornado of a toddler. I felt envious of Sam; he was the one who was with Josh playing about the garden but at the same time he was having a conversation with our friend and kicking the football about. How could he not just be entirely focused on exactly what Josh was doing at every second.
I knew deep down, my mindset wasn’t healthy. If Josh got stung, he got stung – he’d cry, I’d hug him, Sam would give him chocolate buttons and that’d be it. If he fell over, same thing! If he was thirsty he’d come and get his drink. If he whacked his friend, we’d tell him off. I realised that afternoon I couldn’t live in that What If mindset.
I’m his and Hollys Mum and like all Mums, I’ll do anything I can to protect my babies, to stop them falling and bumping their knees, to make sure they never feel hungry or thirsty. But my unrealised obsession with control, I’ve come to see, isn’t healthy. There is absolutely nothing I can to do to prevent Josh from not getting ill, other than keeping him housebound for all eternity which obviously isn’t going to happen! And I can’t preempt the outcome of every single outing we go on; yes sometimes we’ll go out and he’ll be a chuffing nightmare, where only the iPad, a bottle of milk and a muslin to chomp on is going to get us out of a major public meltdown. But there will also be times when he will be as good as gold, listen to me and Sam and not have a paddy when it’s home time.
I can’t control that. And I can’t let these worries continue as they are, because they’re escalating.
As I spoke to Sam during said light bulb conversation we both agreed, I’m tired. Holly has recently become a super fan of the “sleep is for the weak” mentality and is waking every couple of hours each night. And Josh, being the beautiful but demanding way he is, needs constant attention and entertaining. By the time I get them both to bed at night and eat dinner, I just want to go to sleep. I’m not getting that all important me time. I used to love to read, to listen to music, to watch box sets and most importantly, write. Those were my go to relax activities along with a good old bubble bath (the one thing I do try to make time for). I am not allowing myself that time and I truly think that by not giving myself time to switch off, relax and recoup, it’s almost escalating my mind into this constant abyss of worry and panic.
I hadn’t even realised my obsession with having an element of control, until Sam and I had this chat. And I do wonder if it has got that bit worse because of my little boy, my bear, and the difficulties he’s facing. When we first suspected something was wrong, I instinctively blamed myself. But autism, as we suspect he will eventually be diagnosed with, albeit we hope mildly, is not something to be blamed on anyone. It’s not something I’ve given him, it’s not because he refuses to eat carrots and it’s not because I’ve not done enough as a parent. It’s something completely out of my control. It’s just who my boy is. His brain is a bit more complicated than others and right now the only control we do have is managing it; helping him deal with his frustrations and pushing for all the help and support we can get for him.
It’s a scary thing but as parents we cannot control every element of our kids lives; I can’t control how much they’ll sleep tonight, I can’t control if Josh will eat his dinner this evening, I can’t control whether he might fall over when he plays in the sunshine this afternoon, I can’t control if he’ll pick up the chicken pox doing the rounds. I know I can’t control these things. So to stop me from making myself sick with worry and to allow myself to look forward to things such as our upcoming family holiday, the control I can take is with myself.
I need to remind myself sometimes, what good is worrying. When it becomes over the top and not rational, it just causes me stress, which Josh and Holly pick up on, it kills my excitement for things such as visiting friends and going away. It’s not healthy and I do wonder if that’s contributed to how unmotivated and unfocused I’ve felt recently. There is really no point in worrying about things that haven’t and probably won’t even happen. So from now on I vow to be in the moment, looking at the cup half full and not worrying that every little thing is going to be a disaster.