I don't know if this is specific to my own type of anxiety, if it's common amongst those who suffer in general, or if it's just standard in even the most calm natured of mothers, but every day I have to process my daughter's death.
Of course, not in reality, both my girls are strong and healthy and most certainly not dead. But in my head they die every day. Every day for at least a moment I process that pain and it rips through me.
Yesterday my oldest girl went for a sleepover at her nanny's house. As ever, before she left, I knew those could be the last words I spoke to her. I told her I love her and I will miss her. I told her I would see her tomorrow, though a part of me doubted it. I watched her get into the car and pictured someone crashing into them, or my mother missing a turn and hitting a tree. I visualised hearing sirens and not knowing that it was people going to my dying daughter's side. I knew if she died that day I would not be with her, in a moment she would need her mother the most.
Every night when I leave her in her bedroom, part of me fears she will die alone in her sleep. If we have a rough bedtime and I shout and she cries, I have true icy cold terror running through me that she would die thinking I am angry with her. That she will die not knowing how desperately I love her because my last words to her are ones of anger. She doesn't know that every night, at least once sometimes more, I creep into her room, kiss her, tell her I love her, and make sure she's breathing.
Every time I am not with her I am trusting someone else to keep her alive, to keep her safe and unhurt, and the truth is I don't trust anyone. I don't even trust myself. When she is in my care I picture myself not noticing her do something; not seeing her climbing the stairs then tumbling down and breaking her neck, not seeing her find a not quite closed bottle of bleach and drinking it to see what it is and destroying her insides in agony.
Every damn day my daughter dies.
I think about how I'll process it. How I'll break it to my partner, whether I'll hate the person who was with her, whether I'll ever be able to survive the grief. I think about where I'll go, whether I could cope being in the home she lives in and loves or whether I'll need to go to my parent's and be with my own mother, and survive my father's unique brand of "sympathy". I fear I'll never love my baby girl properly because her life will be tainted by her sister's death.
I wonder what I'll say at her funeral. Whether I'll ever be able to get the words out about how much I love her. How much she means to me. How much the world is darkened by her not being in it. How much I will never feel whole again because such a huge part of me has been ripped away.
Sometimes it's just for a second, or sometimes, like today, the feeling lingers and grows and consumes me.
And I'm going through it again with my baby. Not so intensely yet as she's rarely separated from me, and if she is I'm in the same house just having a shower or changing the beds. But the fear is there and it creeps and grows, claws its way up my spine.
I force myself to let her go, both for her and for myself. I can't let my anxiety stop her living and I can't allow myself to get swamped down by this fear that I never truly escape. It's like a plague that eats at my flesh until I can know for sure she is well. A fog that threatens to overwhelm me. Sometimes it manages.
Last week I couldn't let my girl go. As she was leaving to go to nanny's for the afternoon I broke apart. I cried my eyes out and shook with fear. I couldn't let her go. A crushing brain eating pain tore through me and I couldn't cope. She spent the afternoon with me.
I am so lucky that this is just an anxiety induced nightmare that haunts me into the light. I am so lucky that I am not a parent who really is going through this grief that they never get a reprieve from. That they can't force themselves to shake off, hold their child in their arms, feeling their breathing, and know everything is alright.
Oh those parents. I ache for them. I send them so much love because my anxiety and fear is survivable because I can logic my way out of it. To never escape it? To never be free? To know it's not just your brain tricking you and hurting you but it's reality? Those parents are the strongest people alive. Those people are the toughest people in the world. They have my respect more than any world leader, any performer, and writer. They are survivors of greater agony than anyone.
Sometimes I hate my brain for doing this to me. I struggle every damn day with it. Every time I walk away from her school, every time I watch her disappear in my mother's car, every time she is at a sleepover at grandma's. I have to give myself credit for fighting it because it is a powerful force to keep at bay, and it takes determination on my part not to let this fear override everything else in my life.
I wish I was strong enough not to need to face this fear. But I'm not. So I face it each day. And most days I win.
But it's exhausting. It's a battle that completely drains me of energy even before everything else in my life drains what's left at the end of it.
I love my girls so much. I would fight this battle and worse just to feel their hearts beating, watch their chests moving. I would fight this battle and worse just to know I've told them that I love them that day.
If you struggle too, if anxiety makes an already difficult job even harder, I'm with you.
Fight on. We must always fight on.
You can check out all my contact info and links on www.jjbarnes.co.uk, I'm on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so you can get in touch on there, as well as find links to all my work. There's also www.sirenstories.co.uk where you'll find other work from Siren Stories and extra information. My first novel, Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit, is out now and available on Amazon.