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When You Can't Tell the Difference Between Anxiety and 'Intuition'

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Oprah ruined my life.

Well to be fair, a guest of hers did. The guest had written a book on following your intuition; that a violent tragedy could potentially be avoided if you listen to your gut. This premise is probably wise advice for an average person, but this thought planted a seed in the back of brain to listen to my inner self because she held all the answers.

Too bad this inner self was drowning in postpartum hormones. This person that my inner self had become was the bully in my brain. She was like the taunting bitch in middle school.

After my son was born, I was a worry wart. I worried about the things all mothers do, like germs, socket safety and nuclear war. When my son was about 3 weeks old, I had this overwhelming feeling my whole family and I needed to leave our apartment building at once. After talking it over with my husband, we felt that the rational thing to do would be to stay put in our 10th story apartment in the middle of winter at 8:00 in the evening. I sat there terrified waiting for the worst to happen. Nothing did. The good news was that my family was safe. The bad news was that my gut was wrong.

This heightened state of anxiety was what I expected with the birth of my second little one, and hindsight told me that it wasn’t normal and that I should have sought out help with my first. This time my husband and I created a code word in case the darkness started to win in the battle over my brain. The word was toboggan. One night as I nursed my new baby girl, I texted my husband sitting in the living room: toboggan, toboggan, toboggan.

That night on the news there was a story about a house fire. Before going to bed I read the directions on the fire extinguisher. I wondered if the fire alarms were working in the house. How do you check to see if they are working? If a fire starts in the living room, I would wake my husband up, take my baby in my arms and send my husband to my son’s room. I ponder each of my valuable items considering the likelihood of being able to gather them. Should I put on my shoes or will there be time? What if my son wakes and gets lost in the smoke and we can’t find him? We would probably get out faster if I had my son in my room with me, maybe I should go get him out of bed and bring him in here. He will wake up if I pick him up, then he will wake up his sister…

I go through the same scenario with a fire starting in the kitchen and the bathroom.

I am so, so tired. All I want is to sleep.

When I get to the part where I consider losing each member of my family in an avoidable fire, tears wet the side of my baby girl as she nurses. The part that makes this hard to ignore, hard to push away, is the consideration that maybe, just maybe, this is my gut talking. That this is my intuition, and not my postpartum anxiety commanding my attention. I can’t trust myself to make this call. I get out of bed to check to see if the light bulb I left on in my kitchen is getting too hot.

Even with help this time around, there is no quick fix. It is a battle. The bitch in my brain steals moments that should be enjoyable. Taking my son to the park turns into an exhausting movie in my brain of the worst case scenario with every single piece of playground equipment. Let me tell you, this lady is creative, and she could create a horrible outcome from the rocking airplane no one would see coming.

She forcibly suggests the mess my life would be without each of the key members; my mom, my husband, my beautiful children. This, I know, isn’t my intuition, it is postpartum anxiety. Meanwhile, I keep waiting, listening and expecting the real me to remerge. When I try find solace in friends and family, giving them a bit of a peek into my world, well meaning loved ones offer suggestions in dealing with this anxiety: Don’t let yourself think that!

Oh, thank you, I hadn’t considered that. You are so wise, thank you for fixing me.

Or, they say, you could just: exercise, meditate, journal, think logically, get some fresh air, use essential oils, pray… I can’t help but think that if they knew, if they really knew, they would be scared of the darkness and see me as sick instead of the the mom that takes such intentional care of my beautiful babies. Who works so hard to help them reach their potential.

A few weeks later, approaching a stoplight, a familiar nervousness sneaks in. What is it? I felt overcome by the feeling something bad is going to happen. I took a deep breath and became attuned with my surroundings. I looked for danger in the intersection, looked at the cars near me to see if they were driving erratically, said a prayer for safety. In the next moment my car puttered to a stop and I realize I have just ran out of gas. I call AAA and 9-1-1. The cop that parks behind me while I wait for my husband to bring me gas, takes a step back from my car when he sees my snot covered face as I can hardly speak through the sobs. Embarrassed, scared and angry with myself for letting this happen, I realize this time my intuition was right. As alarming as it was, I knew that deep down the real me is in there fighting to get out and that she is going to beat this bitch, no thanks to Oprah.

This piece was originally featured on “Listen to Your Mother.” You can watch Brianna reading it below: 

Originally published: September 13, 2016
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