Raw Ramblings of an Anxious Mom (who happens to be a psychologist, empowerment coach, and healer): Just a mamma like you!
Warning: You won’t find fancy research or jargon or quotes in this blog. There are no editors involved, and I haven’t even used spell check. Just pure sharing of emotion from one parent to another.
I wrote a post yesterday about how I talked to my kids about the horrific tragedy in Las Vegas. I received a flurry of calls yesterday from clients and friends and also read so many articles about how to talk to your kids about tragedy and how to deal with anxiety In children. Of course, this is all important. But all I could think of as I read all of this was What about my own anxiety? How can I calm my kids when I’m freaking out inside? What am I supposed to do with all of these feelings?
Upon waking yesterday morning and hearing the news of the tragedy in Las Vegas I was immediately reminded of the fear that I experienced when I attended a country music festival several months ago with my husband. It was supposed to be a special milestone birthday present for both of us and we excitedly counted the days until the big weekend approached. Four days and three nights of country music, fun memories made with friends, and no kids!! What could be more perfect? Well, unfortunately, due to the times in which we live, no public celebration comes without implicit and sometimes explicit warnings and fears.
A few days before the music festival I mentioned my fears to both my husband and my mother. “There will be thousands of people in a wide-open space! The potential for a tragedy is huge!” My husband, the realist, responded with “Well that may be true Kristy but we can’t live our lives in fear.” My mother, the perpetual catholic closet alarmist responds with “Oh stop don’t even say it, God forbid (while making the sign of the cross) and then whispers to my husband just loud enough for me to hear–OMG you better not go. Just tell her something came up and you can’t go. I got a real good feeling something bad’s about to happen” I don’t think that’s how Miranda Lambert intended those Lyrics to be sung.
On that hot June day as we approached the gates at the festival, I remember wondering what went through the minds of the security guards as they checked bags and pockets as we walked into the festival on the first day. Were these people Mothers and Fathers? Were they afraid? Did they care about their jobs? Were they really being vigilant? Could they be trusted? I always thank security guards after they pat me down and rummage through my bags. Some people get annoyed. I welcome it.
Walking in I remember scanning the crowd and making sure that everyone and everything looked “legit” whatever that means. Silently I said a prayer asking Universe to deliver us a fun-filled but safe night that would deliver me back home to my boys on the third night. The roars of Jason Aldean’s band (along with a few sips of some Bourbon) helped the fears to dissipate. We had a fabulous time.
Four months later women like me and men like my husband made their way into a country music festival hoping to have a fantastic time. Some of them likely shared my pre-show jitters. Maybe some of them prayed like I did. Unfortunately, the ending was different.
Upon hearing the news yesterday morning I was shocked, numb, devastated, angry, sad, and immediately cried as I felt the pain of those poor people. I recalled how scared I was and how hypervigilant I had been. All of my fears played out during the exact same show with the exact same performer just four short months later.
How could this happen? How could someone do such horrific acts of violence? How did nobody notice all of those guns being carried into that hotel? Why this concert and these people? Why had it not been my concert and me? How can I live in this toxic world? Questions swirled in my head as I tried to go through the morning routine without burning the eggs and spilling the milk.
As a mother, I already experience tremendous fear on a daily basis. Is my child developing appropriately, is my child healthy, will my child be successful, will my child have friends, will my child be safe walking to school or one day living in a college dorm? Will they say no to drugs, will they make good food choices, will they recover from heartbreaks? The list of worries is never-ending.
Since becoming a mother almost a decade ago, and in light of all of the senseless and incomprehensible tragedies that we have experienced within the last decade, a daily ritual has organically developed for me. And it looks like this: When I wake up in the morning, I enter my sons’ room, and as I watch them stir and wake I begin to whisper a little prayer that they may be protected, that they may know they’re loved, that they may have the strength and courage to work hard and fight for what they believe in; that they may be safe and free from harm that day. When I drop them off at school I linger in the parking lot. After scanning the parking lot for “suspicious people,” I say a little prayer asking the Universe to keep them safe and return them to me at the end of the day. At pickup, I hold my breath until I see their smiling jovial little faces appear in the doorway of the school and then watch them running toward me, and I breathe a gigantic sigh of relief as they leap into my arms. I say a little prayer of thanks. At the dinner table, as they excitedly share the events of their day or as they share their pains or joys, I silently pray that these conversations will never end and I pray that I will never forget the sound of their little voices talking to me. I often even record their conversations, without them knowing of course 😉 When I tuck them in at night, after reading their favorite books, and talking about any final worries or concerns, I kiss and hug them so tightly and again I pray —out loud and silently—that they have a restful sleep, that they have pleasant dreams, that they may be filled with gratitude for this life, that they may be healthy and brave. And when I finally retire to my bedroom, before I lay my head on the pillow, I pray for myself that I will be granted the strength, courage, faith, and patience to be the kind of mother they need me to be. And I pray for my own safety and health, so my kids never have to experience losing me prematurely.
The next morning, it starts all over again.
I just pray. And keep praying some more. That’s all we can really do. Parents ask me every day for answers. My degrees create the perception that I am the expert—the knower of all things kid-related. As one of my dear friends said, “People feel like they’re coming to see The Wizard of Oz.” I am no wizard. And this definitely isn’t Oz.
Yes, I may be a psychologist with over two decades of experience in child development. Yet I have no magic solution. No one answer to make this all go away. I feel on a daily basis that I don’t know how to exist in such a horrible world. I feel that I don’t belong and I don’t fit in. I don’t know where to go or what to do. I’m just a mom who worries like you.
I’m just a regular person who has learned some things along the way.
I’ve learned to appreciate that each moment of every day is a gift to be treasured. I’ve learned to accept that nothing is permanent and nothing is guaranteed in this life, as hard as that little nugget is to swallow. And I’ve learned to trust in the infinite wisdom of the Universe to carry out its plan so I can carry out my mission.
I’ve learned to honor my feelings. Whatever the feelings are, I create space for them to be. As a healer I feel very deeply—I feel feelings that belong to me, and I feel the feelings of others. When tragedy strikes, even if we weren’t directly affected, the world experiences collective distress. We are all interconnected, so energetically we all feel each other’s pain. Allow it. Tragedy also reawakens all of the other fears, concerns, and insecurities that we have. It makes us feel more vulnerable. How can we protect our kids when we feel so scared ourselves? Allow and accept these feelings. The world is scary. Don’t avoid. Don’t shove it under the carpet.
I’ve learned to turn off the news. I try to resist the urge to watch every news channels coverage or read every tweet or Facebook post about the event. With each viewing, you can become retraumatized. Research shows that when you continuously watch and listen to the event being replayed, your brain believes that it’s actually happening again and that it’s actually happening to you. So I turn off the screen and go for a walk, call a friend, read a book, or put on some music.
I’ve learned to stick to a routine. Keeping routine sends a message to your brain that you are safe, so your flight or fight switch can turn off. I find when tragedy happens that I tend to fall into a “nothing matters anymore” trap in which I believe that life as I know it is over and so why bother living. So I forego my self-care because “life ends anyway so why bother.” I see this with clients all the time, too. I try to remind myself that in this moment I am safe. I remind myself that I am valuable and that I can be the change I wish to see in the world. I remind myself that to truly care for those around me, I must care for myself first. I attend to the four pillars of self-care: sleep, exercise, leisure, and food/nutrition.
I’ve learned to be truly present for my kids. I try to turn off all distractions and make my children a priority. I try to be aware of what’s happening in their lives. Not in a paranoid hovering or intrusive way; rather in a way that lets them know that they are loved unconditionally, that they are seen and heard, and that they matter to our family and to this world. I remind them every day that they are here for a reason. That the world would not be complete without them in it.
I’ve learned that getting involved really does help. Research has consistently proven that altruistic acts increase one’s sense of physical and psychological well-being, decreases depression and anxiety, and contributes to an overall sense of happiness. My favorite saying is Be the change you wish to see in the world. It is often quite unsettling when tragedy strikes because we feel helpless. And although we can’t change what has happened, and we may never understand why something happened, we can be a part of a movement to influence the world for the better. Although I am involved with a variety of organizations and charities, I know that small acts of kindness have a huge impact. Whenever I can, I am a helper. I help someone carry packages out of the grocery store, hold the door for someone, say hello to a stranger. I show respect and kindness for everyone. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. And I try to be super transparent and overt about this in front of my kids. Children learn from what we show them much more than what we tell them. Kindness is always the antidote for hate. Always. The more hatred that floods the world, the kinder and more loving I try to become.
I’ve learned to move my body. Feelings are really just sensations that originate in our bodies. When tragedy strikes, whether it directly affects us or not, the effects are felt deeply and the trauma is stored within our cells. Our brains become re-wired in an attempt to protect us from harm. Trauma creates changes in the brain and the body. Periods of hypervigilance alternating with periods of numbing can really disrupt one’s inner sense of safety and balance. Remaining in an emergency state has harmful consequences for us physically and psychologically. It’s important to process what we feel, release what’s holding us back or no longer serving us, and help our systems restore a sense of balance. When I move my body with such practices as yoga or dance, I give myself permission to experience freedom, to process and release big emotions, to turn off the alarm in my brain, so that I can experience inner peace no matter what is happening around me. I can feel my inner power anchoring me even in times of great distress. I try to model this for my kids.
I’ve learned to adjust my lenses. In times of tragedy, it’s easy to see the world through dark binocular lenses that magnify the bad and minimize all of the good. I remind myself to look for the good. There is always good. Look for the positive people, the changemakers, the kind souls who are eager to make a difference, the small miracles. They are always there. I remind myself that no matter what is happening in the world, there is always something to be grateful for.
I’ve learned to seek out support. As a helper and healer, I am great at giving to others. But it has taken me a long time to learn how to ask for and accept my own help. I have now learned when to call upon my tribe. If you don’t have a tribe, start building one immediately. None of us are meant to go through this life alone. We are all in this together. There is always someone who will understand or who can relate or someone who is willing to listen. Someone who will say “I am human. I have feelings. I grieve. I suffer. I cry. I hurt. I am like you.”
I’ve learned to let my kids see me cry. I used to try to hide my feelings and pretend to smile all the time. Then I realized that I was robbing my children of the opportunity to see the real authentic me—the one with feelings—the one who like them, feels a lot and sometimes needs to let it out. I realized that if I gave myself permission to feel, then I was giving them permission to feel, too. So I removed the mask, and now they see it all. I tell them when I am hurting. I remind them that it’s ok to feel. And necessary to feel. And that I am strong because I allow myself to feel the feelings. I don’t have to hold it all in or keep it all together in front of them. And then I tell them that I am ok. I don’t want them to be burdened by my feelings, but they need to know that I have them.
I’ve learned to just love. As much as I can, and with everyone that I can. The only love you have is the love you give away. No further explanation is needed for this one.
I hope my words will bring some sense of peace to someone out there who is trying to keep it all together for their kids. Know that this is hard. Really hard. Living in this world is painful. But you don’t have to suffer. And you don’t have to have it all together. None of us do. We are all just doing the best we can. And know you’re not alone. Please. I’m a mom. Just like you. And I worry too.