When things like this happen - national tragedies, that is - I never know how to respond. Does it matter if I tweet or update my Facebook status about how upset/shocked/terrified I am? Maybe. Maybe not. Often times I don't say anything but still pour over the news coverage, obsessively refresh my twitter feed for more updates and spend countless hours worrying. And fear. There is always fear.
I never used to be like this. I never used to be so afraid. I had an easy childhood - grew up in the middle of the country with loving parents and a spunky little sister. The worst thing that happened to me, gratefully, was another childish spat with my sister or some high school boy drama. I had little to worry about, besides your average teenage angst. For that I am forever grateful.
September 11th was the first time I felt real fear. I was in college, two hours north of NYC. I didn't know anyone in the towers, or in the planes, or in Washington DC. But I knew that day would change us all, in some way or another. The next few years were lived without fear, in NYC, and again - for that I am grateful.
My first twinges of anxiety and fear happened when I was in London. Every now and again I would get slightly claustrophobic about being on the tube. If you've ever been on it you know that it's quite a but smaller than the NYC subway (though there are, it seams, less rats). I kept having terrible thoughts about someone trying to blow up the tube. Or even worse - when I was riding the bus. I was always nervous while riding the bus (which was at least 2x/day). But the real fear came with flying. I know. ME. The Traveling Cupcake. Afraid of flying. It progressed rapidly over one year when finally I had to get help. I knew that I had to conquer this fear before I had children (and we weren't even thinking about having kids at this point) because I didn't want them to see me, and be afraid. I wanted to be strong for them. The fear of flying seems to run in my family as, I would venture to say, anxiety in general does. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it hit me, but the big question was why? Why now?
Maybe because I had something to care about other than myself. I was married now to the love of my life and increasingly more convinced that something bad was going to happen. Maybe it was because I flew so dang much that I became acutely aware of all the little noises, creaks and groans a plane makes during flight. Maybe I just decided to hop on the crazy train. Your guess is as good as mine.
And now. Now I have the most amazing blessing a person could ever ask for. My first born child. And while my fear of flying is a thing of the past (err...for the most part) I have a whole bunch of new fears to focus on.
I'm afraid of bombs.
I'm afraid of madmen shooting up random, innocent places.
I'm afraid of hurricanes and floods and tornados.
I'm afraid of car accidents.
I'm afraid of something horrible happening to my husband or I.
Or even worse, something happening to my baby.
Maybe it was naive of me to not realize that not only would I feel unconditional love for my child but also (what seems like) unconditional fear. It seems like everything is a possible threat these days. And then, of course, it spirals out from there. I realize that I don't ever want her to feel pain. I don't want anyone to ever hurt her - physically, emotionally or in any other way. I fear for her safety, her well being. I don't even want something so terrible to happen to her that she won't be able to get over it or that it changes her forever.
Don't worry - most of this is in my head. I don't keep us locked at home, "protected" from possible dangers of the outside world. We lead a very normal life. Most days I don't even think about the fear, and when it pops up I quickly dismiss it using some of the tricks I learned in therapy. But it's still there.
What if something horrible happens to her.
What if something horrible happens to me.
And I know its only going to get harder. Blessedly, Kaitlin has no idea about the horrible tragedies that have happened during her first year of life. Aurora, Colorado. Newtown. Boston marathon. And too many others to list. Even "everyday tragedies" like missing children and accidents at home. I don't yet have to deal with having to talk to her about these horrific things that take place in our society. I don't have to find the words to explain why evil people decide to prey on innocent folks. I don't yet have to look into her eyes and show her that I am not afraid of these bad people (even though I am. I really, really am) and that I am strong and that I will protect her. I'm hoping it's one of those things that you just do, because you have to, and in that moment you know exactly how to do it.
So, I want to know from you, my friends. How do you handle the fear? We all have to be functioning members of society so we can't live in fear all the time, even if we want to. How do you handle it? How do you send your kids off to school each day without breaking down nervous that today might be the day something terrible happens at their school? How do you be strong for your kids when you yourself are afraid? I ask this in earnest as I really don't know how it's done. Who taught you...and can you teach me?
I'll bring cookies, I promise.