I was at the pediatrician’s office today. Again. It was one of the-late-in-the-day appointments where they had to make room for my kid because he had to be seen immediately. At the end of the appointment, I was scrambling to gather my things while keeping the baby from tearing up all the paper on the exam table and simultaneously helping the patient off the table. I was straining to hear above all the noise and carefully imprint on my brain any last minute, pertinent information the doctor wanted to share.
You see, when you have anxiety like I do, especially when it relates to health and your children, you rely on every word your pediatrician says to get you through those moments when you are sure you need to call an ambulance, even when your child is just coughing. I usually like to get the bottom line before I leave. What do I need to watch for? How do I know if I need to bring him back in? Would this ever be considered an emergency? And so on and so forth. The pediatrician gave me the specifics and then concluded with, “You know, just trust your Mother’s Intuition.”
I stared at him blankly. Then it dawned on me: “Oh, he is new to the practice. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know that I work hard at ignoring those gut feelings that some label ‘Mother’s intuition’”. He doesn’t know that I am not one of those people who can say, “Oh, I just had a really bad feeling about it,” because I have those bad feelings on a regular basis. He doesn’t know that if I listened to those feelings, that so-called “Mother’s Intuition,” I would be at his office 3 times a week until my kids are in college.
Because here’s the thing about anxiety: it lies. It tells you half-truths. It makes your vision foggy. You see everything through “anxiety colored glasses” (as opposed to those rose colored ones I have always dreamed of owning). It tells me that that splinter will be stuck in their finger forever. It will get infected. Will give them gangrene or something terrible and will be the end of life as we know it. That fever? It’s going spike like that one time 3 years and 7 months ago. (That’s one of the best parts of anxiety- it remembers that one time when things went terribly wrong, and despite the 99 times it was just fine, it holds onto the bad. Insists it is going to be that bad (or worse!) again. There’s no talking to it. No reasoning with it (for me anyway- don’t freak out, those of you who utilize talk therapy; it works great for some!)
So what do I do? I acknowledge it. I start to recognize the pattern. I see that every time one of the kids gets sick, I get anxious and begin to obsess over their every symptom and worry endlessly about how serious things are. But, believe it or not, seeing the pattern (sick kid/my anxiety about their illness/kid improves without maim or dismemberment/sick kid/my anxiety/kid improves/sick kid/my anxiety/kid improves) actually helps me to diminish the anxiety. After the amount of times my 3 boys have been ill (and believe me, it is A LOT), I can eventually change the pattern from sick kid/my anxiety/kid improves to simply sick kid/kid improves. I have experienced this pattern so many times I can’t help but acknowledge it. It has become predictable. They get sick and they get better. Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t like they always get better with no complications, tests, medications or doctor’s visits, but my point is, it is never as serious/terrible/awful as my mind tells me it is going to be. Because, remember, anxiety is a damn good liar.
The other thing I do to beat the lies when I am telling myself that “something is seriously wrong”? I get a second opinion. I have a few trusted confidants to whom I can say, “This is how I am seeing this situation. Am I wearing my anxiety glasses or I am justified in having these concerns?” I personally have to be very careful with this strategy because it can turn into reassurance seeking. So, instead of objectively stating the facts and saying, “This is what is happening, this is how I see it, is that an accurate assessment?” (like should I call an ambulance for a spot on my kid’s arm or whatever the anxiety-provoking issue might be), I might call up my friend who is a nurse in a panic, telling her my kids’ symptoms and basically asking her to tell me he is going to be okay and calm my fears. The second scenario is reassurance seeking, and it is also subconsciously telling myself that I am not capable of figuring this out on my own and calming myself down.
But you know what one of my favorite strategies is when I am convinced that the end is near? Humor. Sometimes I can laugh at the crazy thoughts and images replaying in my mind. “Really, I think my kid will get gangrene from a splinter? Me? Like I would ever let it get to that point without getting medical attention? Like I don’t have the routes memorized to 4 different hospitals within a 30 mile radius if there were an emergency?”
So, that’s what I did when faced with the doctor’s statement about relying on my “Mother’s Intuition.” I laughed. I said, “Oh, I have health anxiety. I don’t trust those feelings in my gut. That’s why I always ask for the bottom line.” He nodded and smiled back at me, seeming to appreciate my honesty.
But we did both agree that while I have anxiety and I have to utilize several strategies to help me sort through the thoughts that come with sick kids, I am still a mother, first and foremost. And being a mother wires me differently. It makes me stronger. It gives me the strength, when push comes to shove, to ignore the lies and dig deep down (and sometimes it is way deep down) to truly hear to my Mother’s Intuition. And that’s what I hold onto. That I am going to know. I am wise enough and strong enough that if it gets to that point where things are as dire as I always predict they will be, I will know. It will be clear. My Mother’s Intuition will come out full force and kick anxiety and its lies to the curb. Because you see, it’s always motherhood for the win.
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