Almost 15 years ago I welcomed my first child into the world and bid farewell to my beloved equine companion, Commissioner. While my heart swelled with a fierce love for my son, I was also letting go of a part of my life that had kept me grounded.
As life moved forward and another son and a daughter completed our family, I began living vicariously through a friend who had managed to balance her life with her love for horses (#envy). Her sweet mare even won the Freestyle Reining competition at the renowned Quarter Horse Congress in 2016; it’s pretty much the Super Bowl of horse shows.
In the mean time as our children grew older, I spent time in another barn with our kids and their 4-H swine and dairy feeder projects. A barn of any kind is my Happy Place. Spending time in a barn sharing interests and learning with my kids is my REALLY Happy Place. Albeit there are moments when listening to the kids argue over whose turn it is to clean the pen wears me down and requires some “disciplining.” (Yes, that is me you hear yelling in the barn.)
On another note, I am one of the unfortunate people afflicted with GAD: generalized anxiety disorder. Why do you think I titled my blog page “Mama Loca?” Anxiety, has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember – even in childhood (“Hello Darkness my old friend…”). GAD causes me to overthink everything. Every. Thing. I worry incessantly and obsess over things that probably won’t happen…but they could.
What does any of this have to do with being in a barn? When the GAD monster is “in control” I can’t eat, sleep or focus. I talk too much and too fast and then worry about what I might have said to someone (talk about being socially awkward). I wear an “everything is fine” mask and try to be my jovial self, all the while worrying that someone can see right through me.
What I didn’t realize growing up was that I was managing my GAD in the horse barn. I was focused on what needed to be done, on caring for my horse, and preparing for competition. I surprisingly wasn’t worrying about what might happen. My horse became my Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Perhaps, Cognitive “Barn” Therapy is more accurate.
The greatest gift my parents gave me was not only a horse, but the responsibility of caring for him 100 percent on my own (with a few exceptions when my mom stepped in.) If I wasn’t in the barn I could be found at work earning money to pay for horse shoes and feed. I was busy, and so were my friends who also were doing the same for their horses, but weren’t worrying about: “what if that scratch from the rusty wire in the barn causes tetanus? Do I need a shot? Will I die?”
But the fear of falling head first off of my horse – which did happen – never fazed me (but also might explain a few things like: “Why did I just walk into this room? Insert head scratch.) Makes total sense, right?
I realize many people “don’t get it” – the horse/barn thing or the anxiety. And that’s okay. All I can tell you is that it is for real, and for me it likes to rear its ugly head often. So, for the last decade and a half I have tried to “manage my GAD” on my own. (Ha. Hahahahah!)
I’ll admit, I have needed help and sought it out successfully. If I had a heart condition, would I not seek help? If I had diabetes would I not take insulin? If I suffer with uncontrollable fears and thoughts, why would I not seek support?
Some of that support has come in the form of medication, some has come in the form of therapy and CBT, and some of it has come from my daughter and her sudden love and interest in horses. I had no idea how much I missed that part of myself until she expressed an interest in taking horseback riding lessons.
So, I am back in the horse barn. I’m watching my daughter’s passion for horses grow and my love for them be rekindled and fueled by future possibilities, not worries. Am I concerned she might fall? Of course, but I’m more worried that she won’t get back on. Anxiety will knock you down, but you have to get back up again, just like you have to get back in the saddle.
Will I ever feel perfectly normal? No. I know this. But I can feel better and I will take that. I am also thrilled to have uncovered the part of myself that I gave up so long ago. It feels amazing and let’s be honest, I’m not getting any younger or stronger, so it’s now or never. Will my daughter and I “find ourselves a unicorn?” Maybe. In the mean time, I’m happy with having found that part of myself that had been neglected for so long.