I’m afraid of dogs. I’m also afraid of telling people I’m afraid of dogs. Many people really don’t understand. They can be indignant- Why don’t you like dogs? Dogs are awesome! They can also be defensive. Their dog is obviously the best dog ever, and there is no reason whatsoever to be afraid. But I am. That is me. And I don’t really tell people because I’m embarrassed. I’m well aware that I’m ‘supposed’ to like dogs. I don’t want people making a fuss- putting the dogs away in another room and mentioning it the whole time I’m there. But I also don’t want dogs to come near me either, so if my body language doesn’t give me away, I usually have to confess.
For the most part, my fear of dogs is irrational. Most dogs really won’t attack me and in case you’re wondering- no, I’ve never been bitten by a dog.
And so this is why post natal anxiety sometimes needs to be put on a leash.
My anxiety is like a dog. Always there, somewhere. Thankfully in another room, away from me most of the time. But every now and then, I’m in a park. And I’m surrounded by dogs with careless or thoughtless owners. Dogs that are sniffing by my ankles and jumping up at my legs. Some dogs are even barking.
I don’t know when it began, my fear of dogs. It’s always been there, and I try to hide it (especially from the kids, who miraculously love dogs) because I don’t want it to rule my life. And the anxiety is similar. It’s embarrassing. Who wants to admit they’ve been up since 3am with a pounding chest, dry mouth, shaking hands and no real reason for it? Not me. I don’t want to admit that the reason why I cancel so much on people is due to the fact that the journey to get there is more terrifying than you could ever imagine. I don’t want to admit that driving to new places by myself is like torture when the dogs are at my heels. I don’t want to admit that just a certain smell can take me back to places that are darker than dark.
I hate anxiety. I hate how it makes me feel. How it forces me to withdraw, to loosen my grip on things that are important to me. How it wraps its hands around my neck and squeezes until it can find no more resolve. How it reduces me to that woman on the operating table- powerless, lifeless, dreamless.
And I hate that getting help is so difficult when the dogs are at my heels. More so when they are leaping at my chest. Impossible when they have me pinned down, at their mercy.
My anxiety convinced me that leaving the house during pregnancy would result in disaster. The panic of being unable to locate the bathroom wherever I was. The fear of throwing up over myself, over someone else. The shame of people telling me how ill I looked.
My anxiety convinced me that my baby would not make it in to this world once IUGR had been confirmed. The panic of not knowing exactly what was wrong, and what I could do to help. The fear of a still belly. The shame of being unable to carry my baby properly.
My anxiety convinced me that there was no other way I would ever give birth. The panic of knowing they would put knife to skin again. The fear of what they would find when they opened me up. The shame of being open, exposed, under the lights once more.
And this anxiety lives on. Grows stronger, gets weaker, grows stronger again. But it lives. It is part of me, just as the fear of dogs is part of me too. But you know what? Sometimes a dog will come near me, and I won’t freeze in fear. I won’t run in panic. I won’t fight the urge to scream. And one day, I will bend my knees, I will get down to the floor and I might even reach out to touch it. Maybe.