Tuesday, March 12

i am scared

Scrambled eggs and coloring. Scary messy.

One morning last week, I lost it.

I'd been battling allergies and insomnia, as well as coping as best I could, in my 6-months pregnant state, with some family drama, and although I slept much, much better the previous night, still on that morning I felt like a wreck. My emotional and sensory circuits were overloaded. As I was shakily making coffee, Silas was busy nearby watching PBS videos on my phone, and he asked me for something, I have no idea what, and the breaker blew. I snapped, yelled as loud as I could for him to shut up already.

He cried. I cried. I went over to him to console him and tell him that mama was sorry. He went right on watching Super Why. It was over for him.

But not for me. As I carried on pouring the water over the grounds, heating and frothing the milk, I erupted in big gasping sobs. So much so that every few minutes Silas would toddle over and offer me a hug. My sweet little brown bear. 

It's okay, I said. Mama is sad. It's okay to be sad.

Along with the taste of tears, in the back of my throat rose something else. The taste of fear.

This was all too familiar. While I've been much, much more even keeled recently, even through some trying circumstances, I spent the better part of Silas' first two years in this state of near-constant overwhelm, the breaker about to blow at any second.  And blew it did. I broke stuff. I hurled myself at the wall. I screamed myself hoarse. I knew enough, especially if I was alone with him and felt the wave of overwhelm rising, to put Silas in his crib and walk away, to take many many breaths until I calmed down. Even though I never came close, even though my husband assured me he wasn't scared, I lived in fear of being a ticking time bomb so near my sweet, defenseless baby. I was terrified of what could happen.

I had no name, no explanation for what was happening to me. I'd wanted to be a mother all my life, had deeply desired this sweet child. I had a wonderfully supportive husband, family and friends, and a solid mindfulness practice that I kept up as best I could under the constraints of new motherhood. None of that losing it and freaking out should be happening, I reasoned. Something must have been wrong with me. I didn't know what.

I have a name for all of that now. It's called HSP, or being a highly-sensitive person or parent. It means that my nervous system is more finely tuned than most, and that stimuli like noise, lights, scents, visual disorder, and touch I feel much more vividly, and it has the potential to overwhelm me, a state with which it is very difficult for me to cope. My circuits overload, and the breaker blows.

You know what's very challenging to the nervous system? Life with a newborn. They are a freaking onslaught to the senses. Toddlers are too, for that matter, but blessedly with toddlerhood came full nights of sleep for us all, which helps a whole lot. So I'm generally coping much, much better with overwhelm these days. My fuse is a little longer, I know better when to walk away, put myself in a time out, take deep breaths. I don't freak out nearly so often as I did, and when I do, I have a name for what's happening, instead of just thinking I'm a terrible person, a bad mother.

I came upon this illuminating, sanity-saving article last summer. It's helped me so much to understand myself. It freed me from thinking or fearing the worst about myself. I'd always wanted more than one child, but it was such a tough road with baby Silas, I was afraid I couldn't handle more than one. As it happens, right when I started to feel that maybe it would be okay to have another one, I became pregnant. And, mostly, I've been optimistic about my ability to cope with life as a mama of two with a relative measure of ease. 

But, occasionally, fear rears its head. Like when I'm feeling poorly and I haven't slept well. Like when there is too much going on, inside and out. Like on that morning last week. And then I think, what if there was also a colicky, screaming baby in a bassinette in the next room? How in the hell would I be able to handle that?

In moments like those, under the tears, is the strained whisper: I am scared.

I'm scared of going back to that place again.

I'm scared of scaring myself, and my children.

I'm scared of not being able to handle it.

I'm scared it will be too much.

I'm scared my children will grow up walking on eggshells, afraid of when mama's going to explode.

I know these anxious thoughts about the future don't serve me very well. I know that life, birth, motherhood are best when encountered breath by breath, for each breath brings us fresh energy to handle what's in front of us, and a fresh opportunity to let go of what we no longer need. But honesty, especially with ourselves, is so very important. So I am trying to hold my fear lightly, to create space around it, to breathe into it. To trust myself to ever be growing in self-knowledge and self-care, to trust my children to know that my love for them is greater than any outburst. To believe in the healing power of forgiveness for all of us.

It's okay. Mama is scared. It's okay to be scared.


  1. Oh Fanny, I have been there, in the fuse blowing and the little by little self-understanding and the fear too. Breath by breath, is truly the only way to mother.

    The gracie I read here is that even in your most "lost it" moments, beneath the anger and the noise and the overwhelm there was a deeper voice, protecting you and Silas, giving you the wherewithal to walk away and take those breaths.

    Thank you so much for posting this. I think that the worst part of those fuses blown is feeling like you're the only one who's blown them. You aren't.

    Blessings to you.

  2. Fanny, I applaud your sharing your experiences and insights. So often I hide my fears and struggles so others will not think of badly about me as I do of myself. (When I first wrote that sentence, I used the pronoun "we", but realized that I need to own MY struggles--not try to put them in a bag with everyone else's. I have the responsibility for my choices.

    When I first began with the health problems last fall, besides being terrified of the unknown and resentful that my retirement was not going the way I wanted it to, I wanted to feel like I had some degree of control. Well, there ARE things in life we have choices about and control over. There are things, like brain aneurysms, that we do not.

    I am trying to remember that, and to remember to give myself the grace and forgiveness that I more easily give to my family and friends. That is something I CAN have more control over.

  3. It's all in that last paragraph. As other posters have said, I too applaud your courage to share. Lots of love to you, Katie

  4. I am a fellow HSP and I have been through the range of emotions too. When I feel like yelling, I picture the look on my daughter's face the one time I yelled at her. She was pure fear. I hated that and it shocked me into silence from now on. When I am angry, I clench my teeth so hard and sit on my hands and take deep breaths. The feeling passes and I tell her what I feel and I hope I'm being a good example of how to manage emotions.


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