We will all have experienced anxiety to some extent or another during our lives; it is very often a normal and expected reaction to a situation where the outcome is uncertain. Anxiety is a physiological, emotional and cognitive experience. It is evolutionary and has helped us as a species to survive – if we didn’t feel anxiety, we wouldn’t be aware of our surroundings and therefore wouldn’t respond to potential threats. Yet, whilst our brains are wonderful things, they have developed in ways that can cause us problems: we have evolved with the capacity to imagine, to remember back into the past and also to wonder about the future – and this means that we can ruminate, worry and predict, which can cause and perpetuate feelings of anxiety.
As a result, sometimes anxiety can become an unwelcome guest in our everyday lives. It can stop us from doing the things we want to, impact negatively on our wellbeing, relationships and overall quality of life. For some or us, it can start to feel as though it is a part of who we are. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way…..
Dawn Stone (@dawni3 on Instagram) works as a patient support officer at a blood cancer charity, having previously worked in the NHS as a maternity support worker and then as a midwife. Dawn decided to write this letter to talk more openly about anxiety, and hopefully help others to know there is nothing shameful about it or needing help to manage it. Dawn says:
I see you sat in the other chair and I feel your pain. I know how much it took for you to come here today and how difficult it was to get to the point of asking for help. This therapy is not for your professional development; it does not form part of your training. This moment feels like make or break. But the thing that could break is you.
I wonder if there was a time that you had thought about trying to find a private therapist. Someone away from the day job, where it could remain a secret. But then everything became too much and you knew you needed more. A whole team. The safety net of many heads to think about you and your needs.
Whilst you have always said that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’ when it comes to mental health, maybe you always hoped that you were strong enough to survive most things. You have the knowledge and the skills. You know the theory and the practice. So why would you need the help when you really should be able to help yourself?
Yet life doesn’t work this way.
Sitting in the waiting room was probably confusing. Being the one sat patiently awaiting the psychologist, knowing, whilst also not knowing, what to expect. The fear that someone there might ask who you are waiting to see, or even worse, who you are. Because in that moment, do you even know?
Dear Orla, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment I first wrote those two words, almost exactly twenty four hours after you were born. I woke at home and my eyes immediately fixed on the empty crib beside our bed. Empty. Empty crib, empty arms, empty belly. It’s a feeling that you can only truly know if you had been though loss. For a while, I wondered if this was just how it was when you had given birth; to go from feeling stretched and fit to burst, to utterly empty to the core. Empty within your bones. But I can confirm that it is not. Loss carves out something from within you that is more than the physical. It scoops away a part of your soul that you didn’t even know existed, let alone would miss so deeply.
Dear Orla. Two words that were written every single day from there on until your first birthday. The letters that followed were varied; some long and heartfelt, others brief but no less meaningful. They were words that I found grounding at a time when I felt as though my place within the real world had been compromised. Severed. Words that connected your dad and I to each other and to you, and created a story of your existence in the space that belonged to you, and you alone, even in your absence.
I’ve never really spoken about breastfeeding, because it can be such an emotive topic. However, I now also realise that this may be because of my own complicated emotions towards it.
I breastfed exclusively for about 7 months before shifting to mixed feeding after E started weaning, stopping completely at 10 months. I said I loved breastfeeding at the time, but I’m not sure that this was in fact my whole truth. I think I loved the idea of it, the theory and the meaning of it. And yes, I was proud that I was able to do it for so long, particularly after I rocky start: tongue tie, lactation consultant support, high supply and fast let down and flow, always having to use shields – it wasn’t easy, but I persisted. And we were incredibly lucky that we could buy in the support we needed early on, which I know places me in a very privileged position. But it was a complicated journey.
Of course, the closeness it provides, the bond that it can allow you to build and the knowledge that you are physically providing something that is nurturing is wonderful. Living somewhere where you are surrounded by other breastfeeding mums and having access to support groups and lactation professionals meant that there was also solidarity – but maybe also a sense of pressure. Everyone else looked as though they had it nailed. Everyone else seemed to be loving it and didn’t feel the need to cover up. But I just could never really relax into it.
Significant dates have a way of making you stop and reflect. To think about what has been and what may be to come. Setting intentions and hopes and remembering what you are grateful for, as well as acknowledging what causes pain and suffering.
It was unfortunate that the flow of reflection that May brings from me was well and truly intercepted by my first real experience of what I have come to know as trolling. For it to happen on that date of Orla’s death, on a post that described my feelings about that, was not ideal to say the least. At first it didn’t bother me, but as the interactions continued and became more personal, I felt that I had no option but to block and delete. I was never going to be able to have a fair and balanced conversations with someone who saw fit to minimise and criticise my grief and my parenting.
Yet some of the messages underpinning the actual words were important and I feel they are unspoken within social media communities. I sometimes wonder if I am protected from receiving more criticism because my baby died; because people are potentially more likely to jump to my defence and say that it is unfair to say things to a bereaved mother that could potentially cause pain. But does this leave me in a particularly dangerous position? One where I think I can get away with saying and posting what I want without fear of being called out?