My husband is not answering his phone.
I know he’s probably in a meeting, but I’m desperate to talk to him. More desperate to talk to my kids, even. To hear their voices, which always sound so much smaller and innocent over the phone. I feel ashamed that daddy took them to work today so mommy could get a break. Grateful, and ashamed.
Last night I had an anxiety attack, a bad one. This one must have been stalking me for a while because it came up behind me when I wasn’t looking and grabbed me around the neck and shook me violently. It took me a good 30 minutes of heaving sobbing before I could even stop enough to form words to explain to my husband what was wrong.
My life is a contradiction. I am a mother. I have anxiety over motherhood.
When I was born my mother placed me for adoption. Perhaps I’ve told you this before, I don’t know. She was 20, in college, and wasn’t interested in having kids which, believe me, I get. I was with another family for several months before I was returned back to her and my father, who ended up getting married on the same day I was baptized. My memory of my life as a small person was that she wasn’t at all happy being a mom. Being my mom. Now that I know the background of her own childhood, which is not my story to tell, I understand why. Still, it stings my soul in an unending way that I can’t describe.
I am very happy being a mom. My kids are—shit, now the tears are streaming down my face again. My kids. They are beauty. They are the swelling of my heart and the joy of my life. They are the manifestation of God for me, with my eyes and their dad’s sense of humor. There is no greater accomplishment in my life than bringing those two people into the world. No awards, or Top 50 this, or Fierce that. Nothing.
When I say I’m overwhelmed by motherhood I suppose that’s a mischaracterization. I am overwhelmed by my childhood. I am overwhelmed by desperately not wanting to have the same relationship with my children that I had with my mom. By wanting them to know and see and viscerally feel how much they are loved and cherished. I’m grateful that I’ve done well in that department. They know. I am solid in my belief that they know.
As someone with anxiety, and an introvert, I do well having many hours of the day on my own. I sit in a quiet house, with only the damn neighbor’s yapping jerk hounds to disturb me here and there, and I write. I answer email. I chat with people on Twitter. It is a comfort for me to have that peace for so long. Then, at 3pm, I eagerly drive off to the bus stop to see the world’s most fantastic faces and spend the rest of the day fortified as I carry out my motherly duties. I generally do not have anxiety attacks.
Only now, it’s summer. They’ve been home for two weeks, and for about 50% of that time my husband has also been traveling. It’s all me, all the time. I have no solitude in which to build myself up. Yesterday, I became overwhelmed. It was nothing they did, I promise you. Ask anyone who knows my children; they are quite something. Smart, well-behaved. Hilarious. Not at all perfect, of course, but pretty damn awesome. My husband and I have had a small hand to play in that, but I also believe it’s just who they are. I lucked out.
This is all on me. 100%.
I look at the moms who celebrate summer. Who have all sorts of plans and activities. Who home school. Who do crafts. They’re like mom rock stars. And I feel ashamed. So ashamed and defective that I’m not them. Why is it so easy for them? Why do all of these things come so naturally? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ME?!
And then I have an anxiety attack, and my husband shoos the children off to the playroom and he sits with me and holds my hand and assures me that I’m the most amazing mother and he’s so glad that he married me and we had our two beautiful children together. He explains to me that I’m looking at motherhood as math — doing x + y = z — when it’s not math. It’s music. There’s no correct equation for doing it right. There are infinite combinations of notes that will lead to an artful outcome. Eventually I calm down. I know he’s right. Not only that, but he’s just offered one of the most lovely explanations of motherhood I’ve ever heard.
Now it’s the day after. My eyes are practically swollen shut and I still feel the remnants of the migraine that was caused by all of this. I woke up at 10am, still exhausted. I’m embarrassed. And ashamed. I know, I know. No one knows better than me that this is not my fault. It’s an illness. There’s no shame. Yet if you’ve ever had one of these, you know what I mean. It feels so ridiculous afterwards. So much energy expended for what feels like stupid reasons.
There’s only one difference between this moment and the time, nine years ago, when I went through postpartum anxiety.
Before, back then, I believed the real me was the person full of anxiety. The person who was and would always be ill. The person who was not and would never be fierce. I was never going to be loved by my children and would never be a good mom. I believed those things.
Now, I’m awaiting the moment when I go back to feeling like the real me. It might be later today. If not, it will most certainly be tomorrow. I’ll go back to feeling strong and fierce and as though the ground I’m standing on is not buckling. This, right now, is not me. This thing is the thing that tries to deter me. I will allow it a few minutes to do that, but then I will go back to me.
I am a good mother. I am making beautiful music.