The purpose of this article is not to bring you down. I am writing this to show you that no matter what happens in your life, even if it is something that others label as “tragic,” you can get through it and you will get through it. It also goes beyond survival: you will not always walk with a psychological limp; you can evolve and thrive. You do not have to carry the scars of an event or believe that you are broken for life. This is why I am sitting here writing this for you, to let you know that there is hope where there appears to be none.
Almost ten years ago I had a beautiful baby boy, our first child. Then, just less than a week after he was born, he simply didn’t wake up. To this day, no one knows why.
All we knew at the time is that we wanted another child, and as soon as possible. The pain radiated through our bodies and lives. We were on fire and numb simultaneously.
18 months later we were blessed with a little girl. She was perfectly healthy and she is the light of my life.
But something else was born on the same day: anxiety. I didn’t notice at first, but it slowly started to eat away at me from the inside out. I was always checking on my daughter’s breathing, even though she was hooked up to a breathing monitor every night. As she grew so did the feeling that something was going to go wrong: I was always looking over my shoulder. When my daughter learnt to walk, I learnt that danger was everywhere: stairs, slides, cars, roads. The anxiety continued to gnaw away and spread to my self-esteem as whispers of “bad mummy” and “not good enough” started to crawl through my mind. I was in trouble.
I didn’t know that my brain was innocently trying to help me. I had given it a clear definition of the world (dangerous!) and given it clear instructions (look after my daughter). My brain took those new beliefs and went into overdrive looking for dangers. It did a brilliant job, and like the faithful servant it is, it brought me thousands of reports back about this dangerous world. And I believed it. I had become trapped in a world of thinking that did not reflect the real, outside world. My physical body was being pounded by my physiological response to this stress – my adrenals were firing almost continuously, creating exhaustion. The external world was not attacking me (Look! Giggling baby!), rather I was innocently attacking myself and putting myself into danger with my thoughts. I had created my own nightmare world with my thinking. I needed, quite desperately, to wake up.
Slowly the “dangerous world” stopped looking quite so scary. I began to recognize what was real and what was my loud and scary thinking. I started to hear the terrifying stories I had been telling myself about being a parent and keeping a child safe. Slowly the fog of terror, anxiety and exhaustion began to lift. I could catch glimpses of how beautiful the world really was and how much fun my daughter was (and is).
This is not a simple story of recovery – to journey from a set point of normalcy, down into the ditch and back out again. This experience goes beyond that. Once I had an inkling that my thinking created my version of the world, everything was up for grabs. Every belief I ever had determines, day by day, moment by moment, how I see the world! I started to discover all the stories that I had been telling myself over the years. Stories about who I was, what was capable of, what it was to be a parent, to earn a living, to be married…everything was a story of my thinking! Holy cow!
Day to day I keep seeing where my experiences of frustration (why won’t you eat that today? You liked it yesterday!!), anger (why is there muddy water all over the floor??), and sadness (why is she growing up so fast?) come from the thoughts that I am having, not from the external world. Recognizing this lightens how I play at this game of life and this strange thing called parenting.
So many parents are trapped in fear, anxiety and pain at the mere thought of something happening to their child and family. They make a prison for themselves and their children, all constructed from their terrified thinking (which, trust me, looks incredibly solid and real). They tell themselves that they will die without their children and that they will not be able to continue. You do: the sun keeps on rising and setting, as the world is kind in that way. Why kill your life now? Why shut yourself in a prison and try to control the world and your children, to protect them? It is an exhausting and painful way to live. You can’t protect them from everything. It’s scary, I know, but it is the truth. The key to unlocking the prison door is right here. Will you take it and wake up to reality? Trust me: the view is beautiful from here.
By Tammy Furey
Tammy is a coach, writer and blogger who lives in St. Gallen, Switzerland with her husband and daughter whilst attempting (badly) to speak German and fold her paper recycling in the correct manner. Visit her at www.fureycoaching.com and www.happyparentshappychildren.com (with videos and audios for you to enjoy).
Illustration by Albina Nogueira
Albina has been a primary school teacher since 1992, and a writer and illustrator since 2006. She currently lives in Switzerland, but her homeland is Portugal. She is also the author of Letters to Grandparents and Hairdresser. To find out more, like her on Facebook or see her books on Amazon.com.