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Sometimes you have to do things that really, truly scare the hell out of you to grow as a person. They make you fearful, anxious, and oh so vulnerable. But you do them anyway.
I’ve done a lot of those things in the past year. As I began recovering from Postpartum Anxiety (PPA), I decided it was time to push through my lingering anxiety by diving into the things that made me most anxious.
The Result? A Lot of Big, Scary Changes!
I quit a job I loved to write a book.
I started Undefining Motherhood to build a platform of readers for that book.
What was originally “just a blog” turned into a huge, mission-based outlet that’s impacting so many lives that I receive emails and social media messages from readers daily. I’m now turning Undefining Motherhood into a full-fledged business. While still writing the book. And being a mom, wife, friend, daughter, independent human . . . and trying not to lose my mind.
But the scariest, most anxiety-producing thing I did?
I said yes to something I didn’t totally believe I could accomplish.
I’ve wanted to write books since I was 7, and I wrote a freakin’ doctoral dissertation. I can write a book.
I can turn Undefining Motherhood into a business. You, my readers, have proven that.
But I felt like I was completely setting myself up for failure when I said yes to taking part in a major fundraising campaign/competition.
My two biggest fears in life are failure and rejection, so when you combine fundraising with competition, I essentially signed up to do the 2 things that give me the most anxiety in the world.
Let me tell you about it.
I Competed to Become the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Atlanta’s Woman of the Year
It’s a 10-week campaign that kicked off on March 28, 2019. But really, it lasts much longer. I’d been laying the groundwork since October. Planning, organizing, building a team of fundraisers to campaign alongside me, securing corporate sponsorships, and securing auction items for gala.
All things I never imagined myself doing.
Here’s why this is such an anxiety-producing decision. Asking people for money, quite frankly, scares the ever-living hell out of me.
As it turns out, I’d rather curl up into a ball and just hang there for a while, thank you very much.
And So, I Ran Straight Toward This Fear
Because that’s how we face our fears. That’s how we stand up to the anxious thoughts spinning in our brains, making our hearts race. That’s how we stomp our feet and say, “No more, anxiety! Enough is enough.”
No more, anxiety! You may live with me; I accept that you will always be here. BUT YOU WILL NOT CONTROL ME! You will not prevent me from doing things that make my life fuller and the world a better place. Not anymore.
So Here I Was, Doing Something that Nearly Paralyzed Me
Back in October of 2019, I was having dinner with my friends, Molly and Sarah. As all good friends do during dinner, I was checking my email. [Read sarcasm.]
How could I stop myself? An email had just come through from my high school boyfriend, Patrick, who I mostly kept up with through Facebook.
“Did I want to meet soon for coffee?” he asked.
*Important side note: Most people cringe when I say “high school boyfriend,” assuming I’m referring to some toxic relationship that I’m ashamed to even remember. I promise that’s not the case, so just follow me here.
Patrick was one of LLS’s Man of the Year candidates last year. He’s now on the leadership committee and had, apparently, nominated me. And LLS had decided they wanted me—all without my knowing.
When he first reached out, I forwarded his email directly to Husband. “Should I do this?” I asked.
In typical Husband manner, he pretty much shrugged and said, “You do whatever will make you happy.” Have I mentioned that Husband is the best?
But what would make me happy? I’m a borderline introvert/extrovert with high levels of anxiety. I am so afraid of rejection that I wouldn’t order my own meals as a child for fear that the restaurant would (gasp!) be out of what I wanted.
Could Being Involved In a Fundraising Competition Possibly Make Me Happy?
And yet, I said, “Let’s have coffee; I want to know more.”
Why? Because I was on a mission to run toward my fears. I wanted to prove to anxiety that it cannot control me. I have power over my own life and choices, and I can choose to make the world a better place.
Anxiety will ALWAYS scream at me.
No! Wait! Stop!
Do you know all that could go wrong?
Do you know that you could fail?
Do you know that you could lose?
Do you know that you’ll be constantly rejected?
Do you know that people you love will break your heart by saying they won’t help you?
I stopped, listened, breathed deeply to ward off a panic attack. Then, as calmly as I could, I replied.
Yes. I know all of these things. And I am terrified by each of them.
But did you know that some things will go right?
That some people will say yes?
That some people will step up in ways I never imagined?
That there is no such thing as failing when you’re working to help cure cancer?
Did you know that you can terrify me, fear and anxiety, but you don’t get to make my decisions anymore?
And so we had coffee, I learned more about LLS, and I said yes.
Let me tell you why I said yes, despite all the fear begging me to say no.
First, it was the person who asked.
Patrick is, and always has been, an amazing human being, the kind of person the world needs more of.
I vividly remember our breakup some 17ish years ago. I cried on my friend Amanda’s futon for days. My friends said what all teenage girls say during a breakup: “He’s an ass. He’s not worth it.”
Even then, I could only get mad, and say, “But he ISN’T an ass. And you know it. This would be so much easier if he were.” And the truth is, they did know.
I’d say that reply, and they’d just look at me sadly and nod, as if to say, “Of course I know that. But I have no other resources to help you here.”
Why is this story relevant?
Because I need you to understand that we’re talking about an intelligent, compassionate human whom I’ve always known to make careful and conscious good choices. I knew this organization must be something special, or he wouldn’t have chosen it, and it wouldn’t have chosen him.
Second, I was on a mission to run toward fear.
And what could possibly make me more anxious than giving up tremendous time while building a business and being a wife and mom to fundraise?
Not gonna lie, saying “yes” was–in many ways–a dumb decision. But one I would never, ever take back. I’m so thankful for this bold choice I made.
Finally, it felt like a calling.
My aunt and uncle lost their son, my cousin
It wasn’t about me.
Suddenly, when I was asked to undertake this campaign, I saw a window of opportunity to honor the cousin I never
I could raise money for an organization that, upon further research, I decided was hands down the best in terms of blood cancer research and advocacy.
I could make myself terribly uncomfortable to help fund research to save lives and honor my family at the same time.
Although I Said Yes, There Were SO Many Reasons to Say No.
And they all have to do with anxiety.
Historically, my anxiety has centered around experiences I
This was a BAD cycle, and it took years of therapy and medication to break.
“Have you ever been in a bad car accident?” My therapist asked.
“Do you know anyone who has?”
“Absolutely,” I replied. “And I’ve recently heard stories of even worse ones. But those weren’t my experiences.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I learned.
Apparently, once you internalize a story, your subconscious doesn’t care if it was your own personal experience. It just runs with it. Hello anxiety spiral.
More recently, the same thing happened with fire after a series of people I care about tragically lost their homes all within a short radius of time. I spent much of my pregnancy with Jack sleeping with a fire extinguisher on my bedside table.
Of course the anxiety spiral returned with pregnancy. After losing 4 pregnancies without a single successful one, my brain was hardwired to expect the worst.
I worried constantly during my pregnancy with Jack. (Read about that experience, and my tips for overcoming that anxiety, in “5 Tips for Coping with Pregnancy After Loss).
When Jack was born, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. My innate feeling was that, at any given moment, something must go wrong.
Enter postpartum anxiety and depression.
So Let’s Put This All In Context
It’s October 2019. Jack is 16 months old. I am trying to get over postpartum anxiety, and I’m doing pretty well, but I’m still having small-scale daily panic attacks. And at exactly this moment, I am asked to fundraise for an organization that deals with EXACTLY one of the tragedies I’ve heard about and internalized my entire life.
In so many ways, saying yes seems like a TERRIBLE idea. But I did it anyway.
I talk about that decision in this video.
But here’s the amazing thing, which also came up in the video. Sure, participating in this campaign caused anxiety and constantly reminded me that Jack could be diagnosed with a horrible disease—that anyone could. But it also helped me understand one essential thing:
When you have anxiety, you take action where you can, and you work on learning to leave the rest behind.
Here, I was controlling what I could. Not for my own sake, but for the sake of everyone who receives a cancer diagnosis, and for everyone who loves those people.
A Different Way of Mothering
This whole undertaking was about a different way of mothering—mothering by fighting for those who need an army, whether they’re our own children or not.
It was about educating, about blood cancer research, yes. And also about fear and anxiety and pushing through them.
More than anything, it was about being vulnerable. It was about doing something that scared the hell out of me, admitting that it scared that hell out of me, and showing my flaws.
Because sometimes, we need to relate to other people’s stories to learn about ourselves, to find our communities, to grow.
And who here can’t relate to doing something that makes you terrified, weak, unspeakably vulnerable? Human?
Okay, so I don’t actually believe in the idea of “defeating” anxiety. I will take up arms to battle anxiety everyday of my life. And far more often than not, I will win.
Thanks to good mental healthcare and a drive to constantly improve–and, let’s be honest, sometimes a lot of medication, I will win.
And that’s exactly what I did in this case.
Like, what the ever-loving hell???
This girl, who hates fundraising and was consistently terrified during every step of this process, is the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Atlanta’s 2019 Woman of the Year.
My team and I raised a whopping total of $258,330! I repeat–WHAT THE EVER-LOVING HELL?
Here’s the thing. I won for, I believe, 3 reasons.
- I believed in the cause, and I refused to get in my own way. We so often stop ourselves from achieving our goals, and this time, I simply said NO. What would happen if you stopped getting in your own way?
- It takes a village. We all need a village of good, supporting, loving people to push us toward and help us achieve our goals. And thanks to an amazing support network who also pushed themselves outside their own comfort zones, we did amazing things.
- I refused to let anxiety win. Anxiety told me to say no from the very beginning. If Patrick had asked at any other time, I’d probably have listened to anxiety’s voice and said no. But that’s how timing works. He caught me when I needed to be caught, and I learned, grew, and prospered because of it.
By doing things that make us anxious, we teach our minds that those things aren’t so scary. Over time, they get less scary.
Over time, we become better people. Stronger people.
This is what can happen when you tackle anxiety by doing things that scare you.
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.