Becoming a mom was one of the greatest adventures I’ve ever embarked upon. It was a challenge in every single way, but here was this little tiny human who depended on me for literally everything. It was very much an eye opener for me, and in many ways my son changed, shaped, and even saved my life. A lot of pressure to put on a baby, but let’s be honest, he was a little blob of poop, drool, and milk – so he never knew how much he shifted my entire world. One day I’ll tell him, and maybe he’ll get it, or maybe he’ll just think his mom is weird, roll his eyes and walk away, and at that moment I’ll probably just say something sarcastic and then cry like a little bitch once he’s out of the room.
Now, you might be wondering how this little ball of bodily functions changed things so drastically for me? Well, I’ve had a tendency to suffer mild to severe agoraphobia, especially in times of high stress and anxiety. What on earth could be more stressful than motherhood you ask? Nothing. The answer is nothing. Whatever fears you had before are only compounded tenfold when you have to deal with those fears with a little baby in tow. Now, if you’re not a parent yet and suffering from an anxiety disorder then don’t be scared off – because even though it’s the most stressful experience I’ve ever been party to… it’s also the single most rewarding one. In terms of anxiety, absolutely nothing I had tried in the 27 years leading up to becoming a mom helped kick my ass into gear and forced me to overcome, deal with, and learn to cope with my anxiety better than caring for my son. I guess in that way parenting is kind of like nature’s pharmaceutical. The anxiety doesn’t go away… you just learn how to kick it to the curb more efficiently, because nothing will force you to keep working at it, and trying harder to get better and be better than the love you have for your kid. They are motivation enough to keep at it every single day.
So back to the Agoraphobia – getting out of the house is a challenge when you’re anxious and agoraphobic. As a parent, however, it becomes a question of what the lesser of two evils is – sitting at home with a toddler who is driving you up the wall, or leaving the house when you’re anxious and all you want to do is curl up into a ball and distract yourself by watching the entire Harry Potter movie series (yeah that’s how I cope, judge me all you want, you haven’t even seen my Harry Potter tattoo I’m like level 100 nerd status). Today, the answer to this question is almost always LEAVE THE HOUSE. Now that largely depends on how high my anxiety level is that day, but if I can manage to take my kid somewhere and make the time pass in a fun way (aka faster) then that’s what I’m doing. It keeps him distracted, and it gets me out of my own head and out of a state of cyclical anxious thought.
This reasoning goes back to when I first started my maternity leave. Here in Canada we get a year off (recently changed to 18 months), and in that year off the pressures to fill your child’s every waking moment productively is stifling. This pressure, however, is what warred with my ability to leave or go far from the house. It’s hard getting out when you worry about being able to care for yourself, let alone the little helpless human you’ve got. So, at first, I spent a lot of time at my mother’s place, who predominantly works from home (I know I’m insanely lucky), so even though she was busy working, at least I knew she had my back and was nearby if I had an attack. This arrangement worked fabulously while my child was colicky – I wasn’t going to take him anywhere when he was screaming 24/7 and I was sleep deprived. But then my baby became more responsive to me and his surroundings, the colic stopped and his sleeping and eating patterns became less erratic, and I started to feel a combination of insane guilt for not exposing him to the million and one play groups, music, and baby gymnastics classes that everyone else was attending.
What kind of mother was a shut in and was keeping her baby shut in too (can you say Mom Guilt ten times fast)? There was also a sense of restlessness. I don’t think I had postpartum depression but I definitely felt like I was losing my mind sitting at home all day… which was NOT usual for me since… well, see above, my on and off struggles with agoraphobia. I think it largely had to do with the fact that sitting at home with a baby made the time just drag on and on and on. So, I finally braved the outside world, attending a mommy and baby fitness in the park class.
My thoughts when I’m out and about while anxious – which I was on my first outing alone with baby – tend to cycle around finding a fast and easy escape… on this outing I learned that there are no fast and easy escapes with a newborn. They come with A LOT of stuff – I mean, it’s going to take a minute to pack up the picnic blanket, three swaddles, the content of your diaper bag and a stroller if you freak and need to bolt. It gets even more complicated when 5 other babies are now lying down on the picnic blanket you brought, and all you can think about the entire class is how insanely rude and psychotic it would be to fling 4 random babies off of said picnic blanket in the event that you need to make a run for it. All of this, of course, has been thought out before you have even had a reason to be nervous, and you were starting to feel fine before you started thinking about potential exit strategies (cyclical thinking, what ifs, and just a generalized doomsday mentality, all part of the disorder package). Needless to say, it was a stressful first outing, I did virtually none of the fitness aspect (which was literally in the title of the activity) but I made it through until the end of the hour and even managed to socialize while we all very publicly breastfed in the park (free the nipple!).
My next foray into leaving home was to attend a mom and baby yoga class (so many of the activities for mothers on maternity leave are fitness related – to my utter dismay). Now in terms of anxiety, yoga is meant to help center you and relax you, I’d done restorative yoga before and loved it… this was definitely and decidedly not restorative yoga. It was yoga for the mommy that wanted to lose her pregnancy pounds. I’m not a physically active person, I don’t go to the gym because every time I have gone I’ve gotten light headed nauseous or faint and that triggers right into my anxiety, so I have a very *fuck it* mentality when it comes to the gym. Please note, this is NOT a healthy mentality, especially since physical activity is one of the first things a doctor will tell you helps with fighting anxiety. Add that to my long list of failures if you can find some room on the page. Needless to say, this yoga class, with a newborn, and a head full of anxious thoughts and a body that was already sleep deprived, may not have been the smartest idea… it was hard. Like really hard. I had about a million and one escape contingency plans… and yet I didn’t need to use a single one of them, and what’s more? I freaking loved it.
I forced myself to go back. Every. Single. Week. And almost every single week was a battle with myself… but I did it. I grew bolder and started attending other mommy and baby activities – movies for mommies was one of my favourites (no physical activity hazaa!), and thanks to the cinema gods, my baby even slept through the entirety of Bridget Jones’s Baby. I slowly got the hang of the morning battle with myself and found that by the end of the day I was glowing with sheer pride, because I felt I had accomplished something with my day, something big… overcoming something I feared. Even if it meant I was scared again the next morning, by the end of the day I would feel proud. This helped immensely – my days would go by faster I would feel accomplished and I would know my baby had been out and about doing the stuff all the other babies were doing.
Now there’s the other end to this coin toss… because the anxiety never really goes away, the fight is constant, so on the days that I couldn’t pull myself together and would rather convince myself that I deserved ‘a day off’ (which was the code, that no one knew was a code, to tell my family that I was too chicken to venture out), these days would be filled with guilt and imagining how hard tomorrow would be because I chickened out today. You see – being a mom with anxiety is not just about the struggles of parenting, it’s about struggling with how much your anxiety gets in the way of you parenting. That part sucks because you’re not doing it on purpose. You would do anything for it not to be the case, but it is… so you struggle and do your best. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a pity party, this is just a revelation for those of you that don’t know yet – my struggle makes me strong. I’m practiced at this shit. It means I’ll probably worry my head off at anything you throw my way, but it also means that eventually ill kick its ass (sometimes even in heels, but not often because who am I kidding my feet hurt from carrying my kid around).
Today, with a toddler, my struggles with leaving the house are far from over. I’m better at taking him places on my own, but making plans with people I know is still hard. I always worry I’ll make plans and then have to come up with excuses to cancel them because I can’t bring myself to leave home. Activities with friends are harder than activities with strangers – with a complete stranger I can just get up and leave in the middle of reading circle, with a friend along I’ll have to make my apologies, excuses, explanations. It’s something I’m working on, however illogical it is. I mean, I know that my Mom Squad will totally get it, and never ever judge me, but that’s the thing about anxiety – it tends to throw logic out the window of a moving car. I’m still a work in progress, I probably always will be – but I’m so much better. So much better because of all the things I want to, and need to, be for my son. So, here’s to motherhood – and how it saved me.