Summer 2012: Running from Fear
The thing about calling a warm line is that, by its nature, it’s something you do when you need help, or someone you care about needs help. And leaving a message is a leap of faith; you need to believe that someone will call you back. If you’re me, the minutes that pass until the phone rings are dissected, analyzed, and agonized over; how long will it be? Can I make it that long? What if someone doesn’t call me back? Should I call again?
When anxiety had me in its grasp, I was completely immersed; submerged almost. The weight of a panic attack, especially one that is sustained over a long period of time, makes every moment more vivid, but also laced with an acidic urge to simply run out the door in what you’ll know is a pitiful attempt to outrun the fear. Putting my trust in a voicemail message system was such a monumental act at that time, I almost can’t believe I did it. But I left that message. And another. And another.
I don’t remember how many messages to the Moms Supporting Moms warm line I ended up leaving for volunteers that summer. It became an addiction for me; I had to call, had to do the one thing that I ended up counting on. But before I got to that point, there was Andrea.
The Light of Understanding
It’s no small thing to say that without her words and open conversation, I don’t know how I would have managed those early days. I would replay our initial conversation over and over again in my mind as proof that someone other than me had felt this way. Had known the loss of control that comes with postpartum anxiety that we liberally mix with a heavy dose of Type A-like actions. For me, the more I tried to keep things in order, the worse they got and the more I realized how bad things really were.
Andrea understood this. It was like someone put her on that phone just for me. It didn’t even occur to me that other moms were calling the warm line that same week, and month, and year. That’s the thing about depression and anxiety. It forces us to tunnel down so far that unless we really try, we may forget that we aren’t the only ones in this particular boat. Andrea provided that perspective and even though I didn’t know her other than our initial call, I knew her, and she knew me.
For all that was to come, and the gratefulness for which I have always had in my heart for what she did for me, it was only fitting that we would meet for the first time two years later, at a national conference for Postpartum Support International.
By that time, I was volunteering for Moms Supporting Moms and responding to calls on the warm line. The bigger scope of maternal mental health issues and how few resources existed was just starting to hit home. I felt at times like a little child must when faced with the ocean for the first time: The immense wonder of an incredibly beautiful and majestic sight, but also completely unknown and without end. I could only hope to help someone as much as Andrea had helped me.
By 2014, I was fully immersed in my graduate program, teaching three days a week, and continuing to get stronger every day. But seeing her, and realizing who she was, brought me back to a place I hadn’t forgotten. I could easily access the panic and pain of a few summers before. She didn’t know who I was, but I changed that with one sentence: You don’t know me, but two years ago you saved me.