I was going to write a blog this week about the return from a family holiday. Perhaps I still will. But today I’m tired, I’m hormonal, I’m sad and I don’t bloody feel like it. And I don’t feel like it mostly because I’m scared.
I’m scared some nutter with a gun is going to walk into a library and start shooting. An MP. Walking out of a surgery. Someone actually trying to make stuff better for people. Fighting poverty. Fighting injustice.
I’m scared some dickhead is going to walk into an office building to shoot cartoonists, a rock concert to shoot leather-clad rockers, or a club to shoot a bunch of people having a bit of a bop. A school, to shoot children. That next time it’ll be me, or mine. Any one of us.
I’m scared Donald Trump will get in and send the world to hell on a handcart.
I’m scared of Brexit, the small mindedness of the world, the push to the right.
I’m scared Boris Bloody Johnson or Michael Merkin Gove will be the next Prime Minister.
I’m scared of war. Of broken people. Of fanaticism. Of the desperation and deprivation that drives people and families to do desperate things.
I’m scared that I’ll turn over the baby washed up on beach and see my daughter’s face.
I’m scared an alligator is going to grab my paddling toddler, and I’m obsessed with thinking about her baby legs, her pudgy arms, trapped in jaws, pulled apart by teeth. The screams, the horror, the struggle, the hopelessness. The last view of her, looking to me to make it better. Her pain.
I’m scared I’ll look away for one minute and my big kid will have fallen into a gorilla enclosure. I live it. I can see it. I can feel it. That moment she’s just gone. The plummeting, the slow motion, the panic.
I’m scared my kid is going to drown on holiday. That I’ll take my eye off the ball and she’ll slip quietly into the pool and it will be too late.
I’m scared someone is going to shoot my plane out of the sky.
I’m scared someone will steal them from the villa in the middle of the night. The heart stopping horror of finding them gone. The torture of imaging where they are, what they’re going through.
I’m scared the holiday apartment will have dodgy generators, and they won’t wake up one morning. And the howl is already in my chest.
I’m scared the cot mattress won’t fit properly, and she’s going to get her face stuck down the edge and stop breathing. And I can’t sleep from the panic.
I’m scared we’re going to crash the car on the motorway on the way somewhere. The terror, the roll, the fear, the blackout, the children. God, are the children okay?
I’m scared of bringing home a foreign spider or insect in the suitcase and having it bite or sting one the children.
I’m scared the baby is going to find one of her sister’s fucking barbie shoes and choke on it, and that I’m not going to know what to do. That I’m going to watch her die. That I won’t be able to help her.
I’m scared of the big kid going on school trips. What if that’s the one time something happens. The coach crashes, the harness isn’t done up right, the bridge fails.
I’m scared one of them is going to get ill. Seriously ill. That every recurring cough is a sign of underlying immunity issues.
I’m scared I’m not doing enough with them, for them. That I’m not enough. That I can’t cope. That I’m fucking them up. That I can’t keep them safe.
I’m scared of the world and it’s horrors big and small, real and imaginary, and how the hell I’m going to get them through it. Get me through it.
I’m scared of failing.
I’m scared of succeeding.
I’m scared at how much there is to be scared of.
I’m scared of how scared I am.
I’m scared of how visceral that fear has become. How debilitating. The weight on my chest.
I’m scared that I really am on the edge.
Because I now know enough about my mental health to know that the apocalyptic thoughts, the sense of doom, the personalisation of news items and tragedy, the detail, the inability to distance those thoughts and feelings – to stop thinking or feeling them – is all a sign. It’s a sign I need to stop. Take stock. And take care.
I know there are other people out there who feel the fear. Who are gripped by it. Frozen. Paralysed. Who let the bad thoughts creep in and take over.
So this is a blog to say the one thing you don’t have to be scared of is being alone. Because you’re not.
I never had the fear before I had children. Maybe having them triggered it. Certainly it changed me. Maybe I just never had as much to lose.
There is a fine line between caution and obsession, empathy and infatuation. And recognising the fear when it comes – spotting the pattern in time – is the key to stopping it.
When the fear comes, when the hypothetical becomes hyperreal, when you are crippled by crisis not yet come to pass; breathe.
The mistake people make in taking a deep breath is to breathe IN. The trick is to breathe OUT, and keep your lungs empty for as long as possible. The next breath in then really matters. Let it pull your diaphragm down and push your stomach out. Don’t let your shoulders rise.
I’ve learnt to speak my fears, because they’re always worse in my head. I can then recognise their ridiculousness. Like alligators in Sheffield. Yet trying to suppress or dismiss the emotions doesn’t work. Let them out. Feel them. Acknowledge them. It’s only then you’ll be able to rid yourself of them – put them away in a box and seal the lid.
Accept where you are stupid, where you are impotent, and where you have the power to manage, mitigate or change things. And then change them.
Because if you’re too scared to try and change the world, starting with you and your head, it will never get better for your kids to grow up in. And they will never see or learn how it’s done.
And that’s something that should frighten every one us.
Is this you? If you recognise these thought patterns, please breathe, take stock and take care, too. And if that doesn’t work, please ask someone for help. Try your GP, or MIND.