It all started with a hoodie and my son’s unyielding refusal to remove it from his head. The day, which began like so many others, quickly evolved into a battle of wills. With our son we have learned that attitudes and physical discomfort go hand-in-hand, but, at least in this case, there was no external sign of illness.
We made his final preparations for preschool and silently offered a prayer for his teachers.
As soon as I pulled into our garage after school that day, my son dashed to the backyard, grabbed the largest stick he could hold, and began hitting a nearby tree with all of the force his svelte body could muster. His hoodie may have been the color of ashes, but there was clearly a fire burning within my child.
And, seemingly, as quickly as it began, the flames were extinguished. The wood had splintered, the hood was off, and the little boy I loved had returned.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we adults could work through our struggles in such a cathartic way?
As it turns out, the solution offered too often for adults is not nature but medication. As a scholar, I discovered this in my public health studies. As a teacher, I witness this daily among my young adult students. And as a mother, I recently encountered the kind of intense drug-pushing that makes one feel more robot than human.
Last week I visited my OBGYN to learn more about postpartum hormone fluctuations and my elevated anxiety. It was as if I brought a fist to a pistol war. Before I could grasp a clear thought, my doctor informed me that I have two choices:
(1) Continue to live in an anxious state.
(2) Begin taking anti-anxiety medication.
Perhaps most disturbing is that a prescription was immediately called into my pharmacy without my consent and there was no discussion of side effects. In fact, I was never even told the name of the drug I had been prescribed. I left my appointment in a cloud of disbelief as this was the doctor that I had trusted to care for my unborn children.
To take the drugs or not to take the drugs? I knew the decision was mine to make.
When you are a parent, you get to see the raw, yet beautiful ways that little, unjaded beings cope with their emotions. Sometimes there are fits, sometimes objects are thrown, and sometimes tears roll with no end in sight. We accept that our children are learning and love them in those hard places with selfless forgiveness.
I think anxiety originates from that same place, but too often we do not, consciously or unconsciously, pick up the stick and hit the tree. The hood remains on. The tension grows. A pill offers the way.
True catharsis, however, can only come from within, and the longer we hold onto strong emotions the harder they will be to release in a healthy way. My advice? Watch your children and remember that there is wisdom in the natural world around us. And if, in the backyard of our own hearts, we listen closely enough, we can experience the freedom in surrender as we fall like autumn leaves back to Earth.