When your child is ill it’s really hard to stop worrying about them. It’s what you’re programmed to do. You look for ways to fix them, to make it better, and when you can’t, you worry. That’s how it is.
To be honest, it’s really hard to stop worrying about them even when they’re not ill.
I can see how worry is good in some situations. I mean, if you didn’t worry you might not remember to do things like take your child to the doctor, or make it wear a coat, or pick it up from school. Worry can be very motivating.
On the other hand, it isn’t very helpful to wake up at 3.00 a.m. in a cold sweat because you’ve been having dreams about getting them to an appointment that isn’t for another five days. It isn’t very helpful to worry about them all the time, even when you’re in a situation where you’ve done the best you can, and there really isn’t anything else left to do, but you’re still running three thousand unlikely scenarios at midnight so you can’t even get to sleep to have that worry dream about them to wake you up at 3.00 a.m.
When Tilly was born, I worried all the time. I mean, all the time. I remember a friend coming to visit. She said: ‘Well, at least your maternal instinct has kicked in. I’d be hopeless with kids.’ I looked at her like she was insane. I had no maternal instinct. I was operating on blind panic and mild delirium from lack of sleep. I spent most of my time staggering around with my boobs out, weeping. I had no clue. None at all. Every day we ended up still alive I would be wildly relieved and mystified as to how that had happened. We got through it. Things became a bit easier. I learned how flexible I could be when pushed to my limits.
In the last few months I have felt like this again at times. Some days I have been consumed with worry. I have fretted myself to flinders. I have felt bewildered and overwhelmed and frantic. I have worried about what happened for us to get here. I have worried about what will happen now. I have worried about what will happen in the future. I have panicked.
And that’s terrifying, and exhausting and boring. And also, largely pointless. Because if there’s one thing that raising children has taught me it’s that the things you worry about are rarely things that happen, and if you waste all your energy panicking about things that aren’t going to happen, you won’t have the energy to do the needful when the things you never dreamed would be a problem start to loom. And even if something you do worry about happens, worrying about it won’t make it easier to deal with when it does.
The other thing that worry stops you doing, is enjoying what you can. Life’s been pretty brutal in recent months, but it’s not been all bad. In fact, there have been some wonderful times amidst the grimness. If I gave in to my worry, I’d miss those, and that would be a real shame. All we ever have is now. It helps if we can make it the best now we can, under the circumstances.
I’m not naturally full of joie de vivre. I’m a worrier by nature. It’s not always easy to stop those thoughts and fears, but experience has taught me that it’s generally better when I do, so I practice.
Sometimes that involves shouting at my inner voice to ‘shut the fuck up.’ Sometimes it involves a large glass of Malbec. Sometimes it involves binge watching telly, or laughing at internet memes. Sometimes I do vigorous dancing to terrible Eighties pop music. Sometimes I manage a chapter of my book. It just depends.
Sometimes I allow myself to have half an hour of concentrated worrying and then I bin it off. Sometimes someone I love lets me talk at them. These talks involve a lot of the words ‘what if this happens?’ and a fair amount of weeping and nose blowing. Then they’re allowed to say ‘what if it doesn’t?’ But only if they offer me a cuppa and are far enough away for me not to hit them for being annoying.
Sometimes I console myself with the fact that very, very many times in my life I have been wrong. I have been wrong about some of the most important things in my life, and always to my benefit. Sometimes it’s really reassuring to be wrong.