You’ve likely read an article or two on this, but joy-foreboding is practicing for a tragedy that you’re sure is about to happen. I was really good at that. I’d been practicing for most of my life.
So when my son was born, I worried. Every morning I’d rush to his bedside if he hadn’t started fussing for me to nurse him, worried that he’d suffocated during the night.
Yes, I worried about that. Everyone’s heard of SIDS. I have a friend whose child died of SIDS. One friend. One child. Out of the dozens and dozens and dozens of friends and children I know. Yet I worried.
Was he sleeping OK? Was he eating enough? He was jaundiced at birth, was he OK now? I was a new mother, many miles from home and I had no internet to look up all my worries. So they continued to multiply.
I’d wake from a deep sleep and jump from my bed to run to the crib and make sure I hadn’t missed his cry for help. Even my husband said that I didn’t need to go to the worst case scenario when I thought there was a problem.
One day I was invited by a friend to attend a young mother’s meeting at her church. Desperate for outside conversation, I jumped at the chance. I lived nearly an hour away from my friend, but the drive was more than worth the opportunity to have conversation with other mothers.
One of the talks was on my very worst fear. A mother had lost her child to SIDS. I wanted to weep. My heart jumped, stopped, then thudded frantically. I began to breathe faster, I could feel the panic rising in my chest. My friend noticed my anxiety and asked, “What’s wrong?”
I told her that I worried every night that my son would be dead by morning. Tears streamed down my face. I was grieving . . . For something that had not happened.
She became very stern with me. “You can’t live like that! If it happens, it happens. But you’re wasting every single wonderful second you have with your newborn son worrying about something you can neither control nor prevent.”
I felt as if she slapped me. How could she have so little sympathy for my fears.
But it turns out she was right. I was practicing “joy-foreboding” or dress-rehearsing tragedy. I refused to allow myself to feel joy as a new mother because I was afraid it would be taken away from me.
It took some time, but I gradually overcame the worst of my tendency to worry and not allow myself to feel joy. It still comes, when I least expect, just when my joy over something is at its zenith, that shadow threatens to cover me.
I have to notice it, recognize it for what it is, and say, “Thank you, but I’m fine now. I don’t need to be worried right now. I prefer to feel the joy in this moment.”
My friend was right, I had risked missing out on every joyful moment of my young son’s life. Fortunately, he was just two months old when I attended her meeting. As a result, I became much more joyful about my life than worried about it.