Since the moment I found out I was pregnant for the first time, I have been terrified of stairs. My anxiety about falling down a flight of stairs peaked after my first daughter was born, and looking back, I see now that it was just one symptom of the post-partum anxiety I didn’t realize I was suffering at the time.
In the mental health world we refer to them as “intrusive thoughts”–those upsetting or disturbing images that seem to come out of nowhere. They’re a hallmark of depression and anxiety, and in the weeks and months after each of my daughters were born, they came on fast and furious. Most of the intrusive images involved one of my girls dying; I wrote them off as yet another symptom of becoming a neurotic Jewish mother. But I just couldn’t escape my fear of the wooden staircase inside our house. I was terrified of falling down it while holding one of the girls; I obsessively donned a pair of thick cotton socks with rubber grips on the soles each time I had to walk downstairs, even in the heat of summer in a house without air-conditioning. I would walk slowly and carefully, taking each stair as if it was covered in ice.
It’s been four years since my second daughter was born, and the anxiety has dwindled down to average Jewish mother levels, on the high end of neurotic. But I’m still scared of the stairs. I still walk slowly down them, and I can’t stop myself from reminding the girls to slow down, look ahead, and pay attention each time they step off the top step. I always feel ridiculous for doing it, of course, and I try to tell myself to calm down and stop nagging, but I just can’t seem to keep my mouth shut. Read the rest of this entry →