We went out to celebrate Bren’s 40th on Saturday night. Ten of us ventured out in the frankly blizzard-esque conditions and had a really lovely dinner. It was a subdued evening and we were all home in bed by midnight.
But I don’t trust my brain so I took a precautionary Valium at the beginning of the night. And once I was sitting at the table surrounded by some of the most beautiful people I know, I still thought it would be a good idea to forgo the celebratory glass of wine.
I really, really don’t trust my brain.
I secretly instructed Bren to order me mineral waters with lemon wedges that I hoped everyone else would assume was vodka. I don’t know why I thought I had to pretend I was drinking because no-one would have cared, but I get tired of myself and the ridiculous waltz I am constantly stuck dancing with my anxiety and I can only imagine that everyone else is tired of it, too. For once, I would like to go out and not give a thought to possible triggers, to weigh up every decision in case it breaks my mind open again.
So I returned home early and stone-cold sober and still – and still – I woke at 1:30am with a racing heart. I did everything right but my mind betrayed me anyway. I was able to stop it from escalating into a panic attack because I was completely sober and I could convince myself I was completely in control. But still, my sleep was sketchy at best.
Until I heard her cry.
Every night, there is a point when she wakes and can’t (or won’t) resettle. It’s nothing dramatic or prolonged. She simply calls my name and I am instantly awake, hurrying to her room, my feet knowing the way even in the darkness. I scoop her up into my arms and bring her back to bed with me. In the faint light of the bedside clock, I can make out the angles of her little face and as she wraps her arms around my neck possessively, I see her face, so content. She is right where she needs to be.
And in that moment, it is undeniable that I am right where I need to be, too. Being Harlow’s mother saved me from myself that night.
My anxiety is strong but my mothering heart is stronger. I imagine this is why it tends not to strike during the day. Though I may find my days tedious and sometimes soul crushing, motherhood invokes a sense of purpose that leaves no space for the very insular experience of panic. It is those quiet moments of solitude, the ones I crave so desperately, that leave me most vulnerable.
This has lead me to a frightening realisation. Leading an existence based solely around the duty of running a household and raising a family may leave me with lingering feelings of dissatisfaction and emptiness, but the idea of being Angie the person and not the mother TERRIFIES ME. I’m not sure I know how to be her anymore. I have forgotten how to exist in the world without children attached to me.
Defining myself as a mother first and foremost leaves me wondering whether I have truly maximised every opportunity in my life. But the magnitude of deciding who I am outside of this domestic cocoon feels enormous. I have lost confidence in my abilities to be an adult in the world where children don’t come first.
When Harlow woke in the early hours of Sunday morning, she was the anchor to my sanity. The sureness of her arms tight around my neck was such a comfort. But at what point does an anchor become a dead weight sitting on top of growth and potential? I don't want comfort to become a trap and fear to nail shut the only way out.
I told Brendon I thought maybe we should just cancel the wedding. I couldn’t handle a dinner with eight of our dear friends, what the fuck was I thinking having a wedding? We could say the vows in front of a celebrant and a couple of witnesses and be done with it. Why did I insist on planning an event when event planning makes me literally insane? And then incapable of enjoying the event when it happens?
You know why? Because I want to be normal. I do not want anxiety to be my normal. I certainly do not want anxiety to steal any more from me than it already has. I accept I must make concessions for it, curb some aspects of a regular life in order to avoid the very worst elements of panic. But I want to marry Brendon in front of our friends so I am going to do it. I will wear an amazing frock and dance to all my favourite songs and why is this too much to ask?
THIS IS NOT TOO MUCH TO ASK.
I have work to do between now and then. First and foremost, I need to start seeing my therapist again because clearly, my shit has gone off the rails somewhere. To think there are brides worrying about colour schemes and bonbonniere. I just want to celebrate my marriage, maybe even with a glass of champagne, and not pay for it by spiralling into a vortex of panic at 3am the following morning.
Anxiety has the terrible habit of making me feel I am not strong. But though I am a shitty, shitty mother on more occasions than I care to admit, this job has made me strong. If anything in this world can make me gather up my courage and fight, it's my kids. So for now, I will concentrate on the things right in front of me and try not to worry too much about what comes next. I am a mum and I can write and I’m going to marry the greatest guy in October. Those things make me feel strong and capable and deeply, deeply fortunate. I don’t know if I will do anything truly great with my life but my life IS truly great.
I’m okay. I am okay.