Isn’t it funny that after you kill a spider you instinctively look for another one?
Suddenly, you are aware of the eight-legged danger that might once again invade your home. The room you found the spider in is not the same for a while because every time you turn the light on, you dread finding another dark spot.
That’s what fear is like—it’s looking for something even though it might not be there; it’s allowing something to reign in your mind that haunts you. There are times you think you’ve squashed it, yet you are always left wondering if there’s more. The room I found fear in? Motherhood. And, for a while, that fear changed me.
It’s funny that in 2011 my husband described me as “free-spirited”. Looking back at the pictures of the curly-haired girl with a bright smile, I agree. She was. She’d jump in the river, get lost in the woods, and move to new places just to have adventure. So, how did that carefree girl become the 32-year-old woman staring down at the whites of her knuckles, cringing against troublesome thoughts, trying to catch her breath?
Well, for one, she became a mother.
Cue the spider.
A few months after having my second child, I knew something wasn’t right. The joy I knew I should feel was as far out of reach as a kite tangled around a power line. I would look at my son’s fresh face, and I would wonder if he could breathe OK. At the slightest pink in his skin, I would wonder if he was getting a rash. I would listen to his chest, and I would count his breaths while squeezing crib rails and praying over him and over him and over him.
I would Google things and scare myself, I would make everyone who came over wash their hands, and I would stare at them the entire time they held him and cringe at the thought of them dropping him. I would check his temperature even if there were no signs of sickness. I would routinely do these things as if in doing them, I was keeping my son safe. My heart would fall, my breath would catch, and I would feel such a hollow heaviness in my chest. Sometimes I would even pray until I felt lightheaded and sick.
To combat the vivid blackness of fear, I shut down.
I didn’t want to go anywhere and I didn’t want anyone to come over. I wanted my little family to be isolated so we could be safe. In my mind, at the time, it was the only way to protect my son. It wasn’t until I went to the doctor in the belief that I had pneumonia (the pain in my chest was that intense and it was that difficult to breathe), that they listened to me and knew what really troubled me—postpartum anxiety/OCD. I talked, they listened, and I cried.
When the fear tumbled out of my mouth, it sounded absurd. I felt like I had been keeping a mouse in a lion’s cage, and when I released it, I realized it didn’t have the power I thought it did. For months it took my happiness and left me staring at the same walls, repeating the same what-if scenarios, and it distanced me from those I love—even my own husband.
The fear wrapped up in my postpartum anxiety wanted to be my undoing, but when I finally saw it for what it was and knew its name, I decided I knew a name more powerful: Jesus.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” -1 John 4:18
Leading up to my diagnosis, I allowed myself to live in torment. My fears picked at my brain, and I wasn’t surrendering them to God as I should have. I wasn’t allowing Him to perfect me but I was clinging to what was ripping my very identity apart. When I came to my senses and spoke openly about my fear, I realized the ugliest thing about me was the fear I constantly wore. Fear made me act ugly because it made me untrusting; as a result, it made those around me misunderstand and maybe even resent me because they didn’t know why I kept pushing them away. And, let’s face it, fear is unattractive; people are not drawn to fearful individuals because fear is certainly not an admirable trait.
“…my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” -2 Corinthians 12:9
My weaknesses are fear, anxiety, worry, doubt, and the “what if” mentality. I need to do ONE thing when I am confronted with fear—TRUST. Why is it that I am sometimes more persuaded by what I read on Facebook or what I see on the news than I am by God’s truths? I need to be like Paul and “know whom I have believed” and I need to know “that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him…” (2 Timothy 1:12). I need to rest in God’s keeping. I need to know that even though I sometimes don’t deserve to be kept in His hand, I can still feel the warmth of it.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” -2 Timothy 1:7
The first five months of my baby’s life are a blur, and this saddens me. I allowed the devil to steal the joy God meant me to have in motherhood.
There is a difference between healthy worrying and obsessively worrying. It’s always been said that you can’t live in fear—and, you can’t—there is no life there. Fear reduces you down to merely existing until the next bad thing you fear “might” occur. There is no growing or thriving in fear: It is an overwatered plant with rotten roots. I decided to stop watering my fear, to stop looking for it; instead, I went to scripture and found verses to recite as a way to heal.
One of the worst aspects of OCD is having to obsessively repeat something for fear of losing control of a situation. When I was at my lowest, I decided that instead of having to recheck all the things that “might” pose danger to my family, I mostly need to check my heart. I need to learn to return compulsively, obsessively to Jesus. In doing so, I’ve learned to relinquish, repent, renounce, and reclaim. These verbs have one thing in common—they must be repeated. In doing them again and again, I can find relief and return myself to Jesus and allow him to give me the “sound mind” I so desperately crave.
Now when I find myself overwhelmed and the tightness in my chest gathers over my ribs like a dark cloud, I must first relinquish control.
Fear says I am in charge; trust says God is. When I allow myself to be persuaded more by worry than by faith, I must repent of my doubts and acknowledge the places I am weak and allow God to be strong. I have to decide to vacate fear and renounce the devil’s hold on my life, for that’s not the life God intends to give me.
Finally, ultimately, I must reclaim the life God meant me to have. My children deserve a happy mother whose eyes are not staring blankly while envisioning terror but one whose eyes are fixed on their precious faces, and, more importantly, on the Giver of Life.
What the devil meant for my undoing, God meant for my redoing.
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