By Kate Kole
Without ever labeling it, I began struggling with anxiety in college. It was the first time in my life that I was overcome with a desire, which felt more like a need, to be perfect. I hit the gym at 6 am for the perfect body, and I studied like crazy for perfect grades. It became an almost addictive pattern. The more control I felt I had, the more control I craved.
And so, it didn’t stop with graduation. It only intensified. I had all the classic symptoms that came with it: excessive worry, trouble sleeping, stomach issues, and a lot of inexplicable sweaty panic. But I justified my anxiety as a good thing. Because as much as it destroyed me, I’d convinced myself that it simultaneously drove me to be my best. Until it didn’t.
Last spring, I hit my breaking point. My anxiety reached an all-time high, and the constant, intense level of nervousness and self-consciousness within me felt unbearable. For the first time in my adult life, I wanted to be well more than I wanted to be perfect.
I called my doctor and went in for an appointment. When she asked what was going on, it felt like my emotional floodgates spilled open. Knowing she wasn’t a therapist, I treated the appointment like a counseling session anyway. I told her everything. And by the end of my time in the office, she’d written a prescription for me to start taking.
I’m still not convinced as to whether it was the medication, or the fact that I no longer felt like I was living in secrecy and shame surrounding my anxiety, or a combination of the two, but within a month I started feeling like myself again. I obsessed less. I enjoyed life more.
A few months later, my husband and I decided we were ready (read: as ready as you can be) to start trying to get pregnant. I reached out to my doctor, and she suggested that I taper my prescription. Shortly after the medicine was out of my system, we were expecting.
Naturally, I had all the feels. The happy, excited, overjoyed ones, and the fearful, worried, overwhelmed ones. I joked that it wasn’t the time you wanted to stop taking anti-anxiety meds. Except, really, I wasn’t joking at all. I was scared with what might come for me emotionally and hormonally, and whether or not I’d be able to handle it.
I knew that I needed something to help me deal with the surplus of emotions and perceived pressures I was experiencing, and because it couldn’t come in the form of medicine, it came in the form of a mantra: There is no right way – and – there are a lot of good ways.
That mindset has been my saving grace over my in-recovery perfectionist tendencies. In the first trimester, as I worried about keeping a healthy diet while dealing with morning sickness, wanting to be active without wanting to harm the pregnancy, and getting enough rest while still staying on top of work and responsibilities, I reminded myself, again and again, there is no right way – and – there are a lot of good ways.
In the second trimester, as I started thinking about time off from work, what our birth plan might be, and how I felt about things like being induced, epidurals, natural deliveries, C-sections, and breastfeeding, I’ve repeated that line: there is no right way – and – there are a lot of good ways.
I’m about to head into my third trimester now, and every time I begin to feel the pressure mounting in response to being asked about what I’ll do once our son is born and how we’ll handle childcare, whether or not my husband and I are ready and if we’re appreciating our precious sleep and alone time, I recite my mantra in my mind: there is no right way – and – there are a lot of good ways.
Because the truth is, there isn’t a perfect path to motherhood, the same way there isn’t a perfect path to life. And I know that, because I spent my entire 20s searching with no avail and with a lot of pent up anxiety, instead.
There’s so much conflicting instruction in existence in the form of “you need to do this, and dear God, unless you’re trying to ruin your child’s life, don’t do that.” And, I imagine that much of it is well-intentioned. But what I need right now, more than a list of dos and don’ts, is grace and reassurance. Less competition, more encouragement. Less comparison, more support. Less expert advice, more real-life wisdom. Less shame, more “same, girl, same.”. I want to hear that there isn’t one magical way to master motherhood, and to know that I, and all the other first-time moms like me, will find our way – far from perfect and good enough.
featured image via pexels