100: The Stay-at-Home Mom

100: The Stay-at-Home Mom

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

The Stay-at-Home Mom

Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.

~Japanese Proverb

I often drive long distances to visit my family members who are spread out all across the country. “You are so brave,” a friend said. “I could never drive that far by myself.” If only she knew.

Back when I was a young mother, I gathered my son and daughters, strapped the baby in the stroller, and hiked the long trek to the supermarket. As we carefully walked along the shoulder of the road, I held tight to my daughter’s hand. Soccer moms whizzed by in their new minivans, while I sulked in self-pity. I resented my husband’s demanding job, and his long commutes. He could never get home early enough to take us shopping. Today there was no milk left and the baby was out of diapers, so we had to get to the supermarket.

At one time, I owned a car. I was driving on the highway, and my car started shuddering. It stalled out, right in the middle of a busy intersection. The car behind us screeched to a halt, almost hitting us. My heart was hammering, as I tried to start the car again. Horns were honking around me as I prayed.

I kept cranking the ignition, concerned for the safety of my children in the back seat. Just as I melted down into tears, the car started up again. After that, I became convinced that if I drove that car, our lives would be in danger.

I started avoiding car trips. A simple drive around the corner would send me plummeting into extreme anxiety. My heart would race. I’d get lightheaded and panic. Soon I was terrified to drive at all. We sold the car.

Our decision to sell it hindered our lives in a major way. As anyone who has lived in suburbia knows, it is impossible to function without an automobile. Friends volunteered to drive my son to tee-ball practices. They drove the girls to friends’ birthday parties. My husband ran most of our errands after working ten-hour days. I felt isolated at home, staring at the walls all day.

“I would get you a car, but you would never drive it,” my husband said. The words made a deep impression on me. How could I admit that I had a huge problem? If I kept giving in to fear, soon I would be afraid to leave the house at all.

I went for a medical checkup. There was nothing physically wrong with me, but there was a name for what I had: panic disorder. I suffered from attacks while driving. The intense feelings of doom, perspiration, lightheadedness, trembling, and sheer terror were all symptoms.

If I stayed on this path, I would miss so many wonderful things that life had to offer. My four children would too.

As time went on, our lives got busier, and my friends could only help so much. One beautiful summer day, my six-year-old stood outside watching her friends get in their parents’ cars with their beach towels and sandpails.

“How come we never go to the beach, Mom?” “We don’t need the beach,” I said. “We have a pool in the back yard.”

The pool was actually an inflatable baby pool, and deep down inside I knew that the older kids were too big for it. How long could I keep making excuses for my problem? It was hurting everyone around me.

We bought a used minivan. It was in good condition and it was the only vehicle I felt safe driving the children in. Going around the corner was a major ordeal at first. I kept a paper bag in the car in case I started hyperventilating. I soon learned that if I chewed gum, it would keep me from breathing too fast. Sipping water helped too. When symptoms started coming on, I talked myself through them by saying positive affirmations until I calmed down.

Gradually, I increased the distance I traveled in small increments. But despite my progress, I refused to drive on highways. Just the thought of driving on a highway again terrified me. The beach was still a distant dream.

Then fortune intervened. A friend had driven us to The Sound of Music auditions at a college. Her daughter and my children, Bill and Michelle, were offered parts in it. We were the only people from our area in the play, and practices were three times a week in the early evenings. My friend couldn’t always drive us to rehearsals. My husband had to work. It was up to me. If I didn’t drive on the highway, our children couldn’t perform in the play. I couldn’t let them down.

The first time I drove on the highway to rehearsal, I was frantic. Every time a truck whizzed by, I gripped the steering wheel in panic, clutching it so hard my hands grew numb. I stayed in the right lane, knowing that if my anxiety became too bad, I could pull over. I was afraid I would faint.

My children tried to calm me down by talking to me. Michelle and her friend practiced their songs, distracting me from the fear. I prayed and chewed gum. My desire to see my children succeed was more powerful than this overwhelming, paralyzing fear that had wreaked havoc upon my life.

Fortunately for all of us, the children kept getting cast in productions all over New Jersey. Soon I was traveling everywhere for dance classes, play rehearsals, band and vocal concerts, as well as Cub Scouts, Brownies and soccer games.

It was amazing. The more I drove, the more comfortable I became with it. My panic attacks happened less frequently, until one day I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I had had one.

A year later, on a brilliant July day, I braved the highway and drove us all to the beach. As I watched my children running along the shoreline, laughing and splashing each other and building magnificent sand castles, I realized this beautiful family moment would have never happened if I hadn’t faced my fear.

Now I drive all over the place. Some people think I’m a brave person. If only they knew that at one time I couldn’t even drive around the corner to the grocery store.

~L.A. Strucke

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