The one about fear.
I love me a horror movie. Like, really very seriously it's my favourite genre. I also enjoy crime fiction and true crime podcasts - my husband and I listened to them at bedtime before the baby arrived, but now we're never in bed at the same time. What I'm trying to say is, I'm completely obsessed with manufacturing fear from the comfort of my bed.
When I was young and beautiful and childless, I worked on the twenty-fifth floor of a big, glass monolith. I used like pressing my wee hayfever-addled face against the glass to peer right down the side all the way to the little ant people on the footpath below. A therapist I was seeing at the time called this ‘psychological self harm’ - where you simulate an unpleasant feeling mentally in order to get an adrenaline kick, a bit like the response self harmers try to illicit. I would get a thrill from the rising fear that would bubble up from the pit of my stomach - it made me suddenly energised enough to make a cup of Blend 43 and get back to work.
I’m lucky that in my almost thirty-one years on this planet I’ve been in almost no situations that generated real fear in me. There have been near misses - walking back to my car at night in an empty car park, turbulence on a Rex flight into Port Macquarie, that sort of thing. So this artificial fear brought on my scary movies or high buildings is as closed as I’ve come to proper, all encompassing fear.
My mother’s cancer diagnosis almost a decade ago scared me in a way I hadn’t been scared before - the way, I assume, all children fear their parents mortality. But my parents did their best to shield us from most of the insidious despair of cancer and she’s now been in remission nine years. I don’t take for granted how beyond lucky we were.
All of this is to say that fear is not an emotion that my brain has allocated much time to. That is until I became a mother and suddenly not only did I fear her untimely demise, I began to consider my own. Lying awake at night listening for her breathing in the baby monitor has become my favourite past time - I live on the knife’s edge of needing her to make enough sound to assure me she’s still alive, but wanting her to remain asleep. But that’s really more parental anxiety than full blow fear.
A few weeks ago, a screwy routine blood test result sent me spiraling beyond parental anxiety into unchartered territory. Suddenly I was terrified - I was terrified that I would be ill again so soon after the illness of my pregnancy; terrified that I would be sick enough that I would have to go back to hospital and endure more cannulas, catheters and other sterile jabbings; I was terrified that my husband would have to shoulder sole parenting and that my baby girl would forget all about me. But most of all, I was terrified that I would die.
It was a visceral fear that sent my core temperature plummeting and left me gulping for air in front of the capsicums at Coles. Suddenly I was THAT person crying hysterically while trying to bag up Brussel Sprouts. It took me a minute to actually work out what I was feeling - I’ve had a couple of panic attacks in my time, and this was not one. It felt similar enough that I was initially fooled. But no, it wasn’t panic - I wasn’t worried about what was going to happen to me, per se. It was sheer terror that my baby would grow up without me. That she would never know me, understand me, love me, like me or have me to rely on. I literally could not live without my mum - and I had assumed that I’d be able to give my daughter the same (as long as I didn’t psychologically scar her too badly along the way). The thought that I wouldn’t be able to be there for her first word, day of school, hair cut, heartbreak, love story, failed test, career triumph broke me in two. I cracked open in the middle of the fresh fruit section of Coles, left my trolley and ran back to my car.
I was lucky, this time, that follow up tests proved there was nothing wrong with me beyond post-natal depletion. Barring some act of God, I’ll be around for my baby for a few years yet. But that first experience of soul sapping fear has changed my make up a little bit - I have an end game to consider beyond just getting through the day, the week, the year. I have to survive and thrive long enough to enjoy my baby. And for her to KNOW me, to have memories of me and to be able to come home from the local RSL one Christmas Eve to tell me, over cask wine, that she slapped her ex-boyfriend square across the face. Because that will be a moment I’ll cherish forever.