Kirsty Cummins is one of our National Breastfeeding Helpline Link workers, who has written this post about her own experience of anxiety and how she is beginning to overcome it in her role as a breastfeeding supporter.
Fear. It’s a funny thing isn’t it. Most of us live in fear of something. Chest squeezing, breath taking fear tucked away inside our breast, kept on a low burn as much as possible it can rear up and get you when you least expect it. Taking the wind out of your sail and putting you firmly in your place.
I have lived in fear nearly all my life. From small person wobbles such as the squirmy, unknown feel of the sea bed under my feet when my Mum forced me to paddle, to the terror I felt when I happened upon “Jaws” being viewed in a neighbour’s living room in all its terrifying splendour at the age of 5. (I haven’t been able to watch it since.)
As I grew older I developed an anxiety disorder. I didn’t know that’s what it was. I just thought I was mad and panicked all the time that I couldn’t control life. Would someone die if I didn’t turn the light on and off a certain number of times, would something terrible happen to a loved one if I didn’t wash my hands in a certain way? What I didn’t realise at the time was that in trying to control life and death, stuff that I actually couldn’t control, I was unable to deal with the things that were my responsibility, such as study and relationships and other such teen angst. I would never socialise and talking on a phone has always been difficult because of the fear of the unknown and the need to keep myself tiny and unnoticed.
I have had treatment. I sought help when I couldn’t look after myself any more. And that was and is a long term project but also a wonderful thing. Through years of up and downs, undiagnosed post natal depression and other such low jinx I wished of a way to take control.
This insight into a life of worry and nervousness has made me wonder often about our fears. What fears we have as parents and how our modern life affects those to a lesser or greater degree, with instant access to answers or opinions that we used to have to seek in other ways. The need for us all to go back to trusting our instincts, hidden under a huge pile of ‘other’. The voices that live inside us, and the knowledge passed down from Grandmothers and from inside the cells in our bodies, carried through the generations, is still there but no longer encouraged in quite the same way.
Recently I have been pondering the fears we carry as volunteers supporting other parents through times of worry or uncertainty. What makes some people fearless and certain they can make a difference, whilst others hide their knowledge and instincts, terrified they might get it wrong?
My reluctance to be a helpline volunteer has always been based around fear. The fear that I am not good enough to support another person. That if I get it wrong something terrible might happen. In a bid to avoid manic light switching or some such antic aimed at being the high master of control, I avoid. Avoid. Avoid. In talking to people who wish me to support I feel unable to be honest, with them or myself and have always talked vaguely about my true feelings out of embarrassment.
A plethora of excuses may come up that loosely express my fear, but not enough to convey just how terrified I am. Our greatest defence in the fight against fear is, more often than not, knowledge. If we know more we may fear less. When the terrified abseiler is gently guided through moving themselves down the rock face passing the rope through their hands, they are guided by the words of the instructor. That knowledge from another gets them down and the feelings of elation when reaching the bottom make it all worthwhile.
When I look down into the pit of worry and feelings that I am not good enough, I don’t believe in my knowledge, or intuition or listening skills. They don’t feel good enough to guide me.
Someone very brilliant recently talked to me about voicing those helpline fears out loud. As I said how I felt it made total sense. “It sounds so silly but it isn’t silly” I said as I expressed my fear that it felt like a baby’s life was in my hands if I took a call. The ugly face of not good enough was there again, taking control and making me feel useless. But actually as I said it I realised that I do have the tools to support and with that added bonus of modern tech allowing us to signpost instantly, we have so much to give.
Fear, my old nemesis, can be thwarted if I use my greatest weapon. Honesty. Being truthful to myself about my fears and using the support I know I have available could actually get me past this block.
The warm hand of support from a helpline volunteer can and does make all the difference to new families. And that is possible over the phone. Your love, warmth and ingrained desire to be part of the supportive community – the grandmother full of wisdom just for ten minutes in someone’s life – is what you have control of and what changes lives. Yours and theirs.