On Monday, I engaged in nature therapy down at the creek near our house. Nature therapy is a very sophisticated form of self care, involving mud and sunshine.
One of the benefits of being married to a neuroscientist has been a clearer understanding – and, subsequently, acceptance – of the anxiety that has accompanied me from a young age. I better understand anxiety to be a physiological activity of my body (some people say brain, but you know our brains are part of our bodies, right?). The activity is a result of my genetic make-up and its response to circumstances. It is something I experience. I used to think it meant something about who I was, but, while my sense of self and anxiety have some interplay, they are not the same.
In the past couple of years, I have begun talking more candidly about anxiety, which has helped take some of its sting away. I have told friends that I had to change plans because I was feeling anxious and needed to give my self a time out, in the same way I might have said, “I’ve broken my leg and can’t make our hiking trip.”
On Monday, I was feeling anxious. I put one foot in front of the other as we traipsed through the woods down to the creek. I breathed in and out. I paid attention to how the ground felt bumpy beneath my feet and to the temperature of the air on my skin.
For years, when I’ve talked with close friends and my husband and my therapist about depression and anxiety, I’ve said that I’ve dealt with them since I was 13. On Monday, I realized that I’ve actually dealt with anxiety since I was 9.
This thought crystallized in my mind as I sat on a rock, using a long stick to stir the creek water soup that my toddler and I were making together.
In addition to my toddler, I have Emma, an eight year old who turns nine in April. I wonder what nine will be like for her.
Maggie and I stomped around in the mud to feel it squish up between our toes. We knelt and built mud castles. Being Mama means to be making constantly. Making dinner, making doctor appointments, making children’s hearts and my own heart.
It is not in isolation that I walk with anxiety, that I breathe through it, that I learn how to recognize when it is rising and step away from control. Let it flow away. Like the creek over our feet.
I am doing it while holding the hands of my baby girls, which makes it easier and harder, but – for me – it is also the only way. In cupping their hearts with gentle hands, I hold my own. I put broken pieces back together, the crevices filled in with mud and spit and love. In other words, with grace.