My favorite part of the day

Today’s my birthday, y’all. And you know what that means – I insist on some me time so I can wax poetic on my blog about another year gone.

Another year older, wiser, more tired. It’s also been a year a bit more hopeful than recent history. My kids are getting older and more independent (read: less dependent on mommy for every goddamn little thing), which is very much appreciated. We’re all creeping out of the baby stage, and while that makes a part of me kinda sad, it makes a larger part of me sigh with relief. We’ve got potty training on the horizon for the little one, and while that process will probably be a brisk walk through hell, I am giddy with excitement when I think about life on the other side. I simply won’t know what to do with myself.

Along those lines, in the fall my oldest will start kindergarten and my youngest will start preschool. That means I get some time to nap, clean the house, poop alone, and start the process of maybe eventually going back to work.

I think my brain just exploded.

And now I’m going to leave you with a little window into my day. It’s a story that’s been bouncing around in my head for a few weeks and I’ve been meaning to get it down in writing.

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One of my favorite parts of the day is when we read to the kids right before they go to bed.

My son has always settled down to be read to, but my daughter has only started sitting still for books in the past 6 months or so, and it’s glorious. Even so, she’s still demanding to help turn the pages, interjecting every 5 seconds with “waat hap-pen?!” but I’m not complaining.

Getting ready for bed is usually chaos. Screaming, streaking, wiggling. Diapers, pajamas, teeth brushing.

Each child gets to pick a book.

We sit perpendicular on my son’s twin bed, resting our backs against the wall. We use a body pillow for support that my husband first bought me when we were living in Boston, as a surrogate for his own body once he left to take a job in California. How time flies.

My son sits to the far left, then daddy, then my daughter, then me. Always the same.

We have a desk light on low. Daddy and I do all the voices. I specialize in Princess Sparkle, supersonic jets, and the Minosaur. Daddy’s really good at Old Bear and witches and farmers.

About halfway through the first book, without fail, the cat skulks into the room and jumps up on the bed, demanding my lap. Her furry body warms mine. My daughter reaches over to pet her back or poke her in the ear.

Snapshot: for about 10 minutes each day, or entire family is calm and snuggling and…together. All focused on the same thing for a brief moment before we say our goodnights and iloveyous, lay them in their beds, turn out the lights, and shut their doors.

Sometimes my son wordlessly reaches for my hand.

Sometimes my daughter rests her head against my torso.

Sometimes the cat purrs.

Sometimes my partner and I exchange a glance above our kids’ heads.

Always it’s my favorite time of day.

Always.

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The Other Shoe

Anxiety is so freakin weird, you guys.

For the past several weeks I’ve actually been on a really good kick. My anxiety has stolen morning sleep from me only….twice (three times?) lately, and once was because I decided it was a great idea to watch Bird Box.

As a rule, I’ll never say I’ve beaten anxiety or that I’ve banished it from my mind and body forever. I know that’s wishful thinking, but it’s just not going to happen. Anxiety, in acute, appropriate doses, is actually healthy and adaptive. It keeps us out of danger.

Anxiety has always kinda been in the background of my life, but for the past two years it’s been (almost) ever-present. Right now, I seem to be in one of those almost times when I get to have a break. To a certain degree, I can enjoy these times. But then a funny thing happens. I don’t even know what to call it. It’s this state of mind where I’m worried that I’m forgetting about something that should be causing me anxiety. (I just reread that sentence, and yes, I know exactly how crazy that sounds.) It’s because anxiety has been my BFF, glued to my side, banging around in my brain, burning a hole in my chest, hitching a ride on my back, for so frickin long now, that when she’s gone, it feels…unnerving. Weird. Not normal.

It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So even though it’s a “break,” I still find myself having to do a lot of daily (sometimes hourly) work reminding myself that I’m safe, my kids are safe, the sky is not falling.

First, I stop and ask myself if what I am feeling is, in fact, anxiety. If the answer is no, then I employ a certain flavor of self-talk and any number of mantras I’ve collected over the years that feels helpful.

I am safe now.

I will figure it out.

I have nothing to be worried about.

Everything is going to be okay.

There is nothing wrong.

I have everything I need.

I am capable.

I am healthy.

Sometimes, it feels ridiculous that I actually have to say these things to myself, and that I have to say them so often. But, as I spontaneously explained it to my husband the other day, because I’ve dealt with anxiety so intensely for so long, it’s been seared into the neural pathways in my brain. Responding to situations with panic has become automatic, and the process of interrupting and rewiring those pathways is long and hard. The good news, however, is that it’s possible. In no way am I doomed to always feel this way.

And so, I do my best to inject hope into this shitstorm that is all too often my life.

Please continue to wish me luck, and I’ll keep telling my anxiety to go to hell, where it belongs.

The 2018 Annual Attitude of Gratitude: Bloggers Flood The Internet With Happiness & Positivity!

I am doing my friend Dawn’s New Years gratitude exercise this year! Please do it with me! Go check out her blog post explaining how it’s done.

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Basically, I set a timer for 15 minutes and wrote down everything I could think of that made me happy and/or that I am grateful for. I like the list I came up with! Enjoy.

  1. My husband
  2. my children
  3. their silliness and laughter
  4. a warm bed
  5. my health
  6. anti-anxiety medication
  7. my naturopath
  8. therapy
  9. warm, sunny weather
  10. the ability to travel
  11. coffee
  12. my mom’s homemade fudge
  13. a full night’s sleep
  14. captivating, original movies
  15. books that inspire me
  16. michelle obama
  17. ellen degeneres
  18. making plants grow
  19. music that makes me want to sing and dance
  20. snow
  21. my son going to preschool
  22. babysitters
  23. grandparents
  24. my MOMS Club friends!
  25. my home
  26. a satisfying home-cooked meal
  27. feeling safe, secure, supported
  28. having events on the calendar to look forward to
  29. baking for my kids
  30. receiving artwork from my kids
  31. hearing my kids spontaneously say “I love you”
  32. seeing my kids play together
  33. knowing that my husband has my back, no matter what
  34. a well organized playroom, kitchen, closet…..okay household
  35. breakfast food
  36. being in nature
  37. writing blog posts
  38. being able to talk to friends who are far away like no time has passed
  39. social media…for mini-breaks during the day and a way to feel connected to others
  40. my new harry potter slippers
  41. my new hot/cold neck wrap
  42. the absence of migraines
  43. high-quality hand cream
  44. this chapstick that tastes and smells like vanilla
  45. fun earrings!
  46. any day I have the time and energy to do my hair/makeup/jewelry
  47. finding myself after slowly emerging from the baby stage of parenting
  48. watching my kids grow and change
  49. the time and space to exercise my creativity and be in flow
  50. looking forward to my youngest entering preschool when I’ll gain more crucial time to myself
  51. aaaaaand my 15 minutes is up!

 

I was thinking the other day, and I want to say that 2018 is the first year that’s felt better for me than the previous year since…2012. Seriously, I’ve had a very tumultuous life the last 6 years. A whole lot of excitement, change, stress, challenges, anxiety…sleep deprivation. I’m tired, but I’m hopeful. I hope 2019 is even better. If I have anything to say about it, it will be.

Happy New Year, everyone! I’m thankful for everyone who reads this.

Cheers!

Melissa

 

Suspended in Joy

For those of you who know me, you know I’m not a risk taker.

I like rules (as long as the rules aren’t dumb, but that’s for another post), I like feeling safe and warm and cozy. Preferably with hot chocolate and a good book.

But I also like doing new things and pushing my comfort zone…within limits. My MOMS Club group found a photo from another chapter where they did this spunky thing called aerial yoga. This sounded right up my alley.

We’re spunky, too. We said.

We can do that even better. With more flare. We didn’t really say.

Fuck those bitches. We’re already signed up. Now I’m just making things up.

I was excited to go. I figured it’d be fun and that I’d probably do okay because I’ve been doing yoga on the regular for a solid 15 years now. Am I the most athletic person? No way. Do I have any upper body strength to speak of? A big fat nooooope. Is my core strength completely shot from surgery and having two kids? You bet.

But hey, let’s give this a shot. We had a private class all set up, so this was a safe space in which to potentially make a fool of myself.

Ohmigosh, you guys. Once we got into those hammocks and I was enveloped by the silky fabric (meaning: no one could see my face), I was grinning like a giddy kid on Christmas morning. The teacher ran the class pretty much like a typical yoga class, so there was time when we were doing normal yoga stretches and breathing, only suspended in pure joy.

It felt awkward, for sure. But it also felt so liberating! Something about swinging and hammocks awakened this inner child in me and I just felt so free. You know that part in Eat, Pray, Love when the wise man in Bali says to smile with your mind, your heart, and even in your liver? My liver was smiling lobe to lobe.

There was something about the hammocks that felt very cocoon-like, womb-like, and very primal. (I have several different metaphors churning around in my head so bear with me.) During shavasana at the end of class, I could peek out and see everyone else’s silhouettes. We all looked kinda like a family of bats hanging upside down in peaceful, creepy sleep, or like corpses caught and wrapped in colorful spiderwebs, spinning slowly and silently, also creepily. I wiggled and squirmed around, completely enveloped and feeling safe and relaxed, and it was warm and sweaty, and at the end I emerged – was born from the hammock – feeling new and different, albeit sweaty and sore. (So I guess my two emerging themes are both about change and transformation: one about sleep, death, corpses…and one about cocoons, wombs, rebirth and metamorphosis. Joking aside, the symbolic implications of this experience were extremely palpable for me. My high school English teachers would be pretty proud.)

I pushed my body to do things I wasn’t sure I could do. The teacher demonstrated an acrobatic move at the end and I wanted to give it a try even though it kinda wigged me out. I needed help getting positioned on the damn hammock, which cut into my side fat like that string you use to tie up a turducken (I don’t cook, clearly), and my movements were far from graceful, but I DID IT! I was inverted and pulling myself up and sliding through and hanging by one leg and I’m just proud of myself. And it was all safe, in this controlled environment. Pretty perfect for me.

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Even before the night was over, I could tell that my body would be screaming in protest at all this…exertion. I wasn’t wrong. My triceps are shot and my side fat (ok, fine, love handles) is bruised and I learned that I have these things called “lats,” and guess what – they hurt too. And don’t even give me crap about toxins leaving my body – the pain is still here and I think it’s camping out for a few days.

But. This kind of soreness – the kind where I’m not injured, just hurting – is the best kind. It’s proof that I did something awesome with my body. I actually used it and pushed it to do cool stuff I didn’t even know I could do. Total empowerment, not even kidding.

So I’m writing this to capture the feeling I felt last night and continue to feel today. Maybe I need to go back. Maybe I need one of those things installed in my house. Not creepy in the least.

I didn’t even know aerial yoga was on my bucket list until I crossed it off.

Learning How to Sail My Ship

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One of my good friends sent me this card a while ago. It was shortly after my second kid was born and I had posted something about how hard the adjustment was. The card was unexpected, and I remember sitting in my car after opening the envelope and having a little cathartic cry.

As you can see, the card lives right behind my bathroom sink. I’ve been staring at it at least twice a day for about a year and a half. It’s probably pretty gross by now, with toothpaste and makeup and germs.

The quote on the card says, “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” I didn’t believe it for a very long time. I couldn’t say it in the first person, where “I” was in my voice. There are some days when I don’t feel the fear, when I feel rested and calm and confident. But heck, there are plllllenty of days when the fear is there and I’m worried that I won’t ever be able to shake it.

Tangent: I took this picture last July, when I was experiencing a great break from anxiety. And that’s what it was, looking back – a break – and not some triumphant ending to a horrible story. I keep expecting to reach some kind of finish line with this junk. I really want future me to pop in and let me know just how long this phase of semi-anxiety-ridden life is going to last…or will it never leave?! The not knowing sucks, and I’m still trying to make peace with that and take things day by day. Ugh.

Back to the card. I never had any issue identifying with the second part. Absolutely, I am learning. I’m always learning. I like learning. Yup. But that first part…somehow I felt like my goal should be about abolishing my fear, getting rid of my anxiety, and so every time it’s come back over the last year and a half, I’ve felt…disappointed, sad, scared, and full of shame.

I am reminded about a conversation I had with a friend about that one TV show Running Wild with Bear Grylls. She commented about how scared one of the female guests had been on the show, with the implication that her fear was something undesirable or weak. My response to her was that yeah, she had been scared out of her mind, but she still did it, and she was badass. And that’s the definition of courage, anyway right? It’s not about the absence of fear, it’s about feeling fear and doing it anyway. Honestly, a large portion of my life has been that way.

And so. I feel like I need to change the card a little bit. Maybe something like, “I am afraid of storms sometimes [or most of the time. lots. like, maybe almost all the time], but I’m learning how to sail my ship…right through them.”

PS – I’ve used the terms fear and anxiety interchangeably in the post because of the wording of the card, but in my reality they mean very different things.

PPS – Please excuse the product placement. Or maybe don’t. Perhaps Aveeno would be willing to sponsor this post. Call me! Pay for my anxiety meds!

Replace it with love

This has been a tough week.

I mean, the day to day stuff has been pretty normal. But the news. The Kavanaugh confirmation. It’s been a huge blow, to say the least.

I’m finding it hard not to remain cynical and bitter and very, very angry. Rageful. This is the world we live in now?! Women aren’t believed. Too many men care about nothing other than keeping the power and privilege that were handed to them at birth. Women live in fear – a fear so ingrained that many of us hardly notice the daily steps we take to prevent becoming victims of violence again. Lies are ignored. Justice is buried. The truth is twisted.

I can’t accept that.

I worry deeply about the damage this corrupt presidential administration has done and will do to international relations, the environment, the economy, our democracy, my husband’s job stability, my daughter’s human rights, the example set for my son.

I feel so powerless. I’m busy, I’m tired, I’m overwhelmed. I vote, but even that didn’t matter. I share things on social media…to my friends…who usually feel similarly anyway.

As a country, we seem to have crossed a line where decency doesn’t matter, human rights don’t matter, democracy doesn’t matter. I worry that there’s no coming back from this. I worry that some sort of pandora’s box filled with the darkest timeline of human evils has been opened and can’t ever be fully closed.

I know there are decent, good, loving, rational, respectful citizens out there. The majority, actually. But that doesn’t matter if evil keeps being handed more power.

I’m not even sure what I am trying to say here. I’m trying to find hope, moving forward. I’m trying to focus my rage – but on what? I plan to vote in November. And to march in January (Third annual Women’s March is 1/19/19). Is that enough? It sure doesn’t feel like it.

And one more thing.

Today, I played hide and seek with my kids. Well, it was kindof a mish-mash of hide and seek and tag with added screaming. It was really fun, and my kids were delighted. We laughed and hugged and chased and tickled. I stopped when they said stop. I reminded them about personal space boundaries. Because, you see, my kids are already learning about consent, respecting others, personal boundaries, honesty, and love.

I hope they grow up to vote. And march, if needed. But most of all, they are going to grow up and be kind. Respectful. Decent. Loving.

Together, let’s burn the fucking patriarchy to the ground.

And replace it with love.

 


Tell me: how do you plan to fight back??

Wake me up when September ends

Fall has hit me like a pile of bricks.

I was worried that it would feel like this, and I found myself bracing for it as our Hawaiian vacation came to an end last week.

In more ways than one (and especially in hindsight), our vacation became this paradise compared to the slog of everyday life here in Oregon.

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We had been in gorgeous weather. Delicious warmth, invigorating ocean breeze, and humidity that I actually welcomed. We stepped off the plane in Portland and it was frigid and drizzly. Ugh, welcome home.

On vacation, my husband was right there with me, making decisions and plans, helping to clean up messes and deal with meltdowns. We went to bed at the same time and we got up at the same time and we had quality family time and we had fun. When we got home, we went straight into the Fall routine. By the time I got up in the morning, my husband had already left for work. I was alone to draaaaag the kids out of bed, convince my older one to get dressed, and beg them both to PLEASE EAT BREAKFAST. I was yelling and pleading before we even left the house for school. On top of it all, I was exhausted and frankly mourning the loss of summer and dreading the coming winter months.

Another piece to this is that I terminated therapy this past week. (That’s the clinical term – termination. I don’t like it; it feels extremely violent for just describing a goodbye and an end to treatment.) This was a planned termination, and it was good, albeit bittersweet. I could sense that we were at a stopping point for some time now, as I had started to come to session and just tell stories about my week. Holy cow, somehow over a year in therapy had passed and I had actually accomplished what I had set out to do. My anxiety has been reduced, not eliminated but reduced. The unexpected work became more about accepting that anxiety is normal and not to let its presence completely derail my daily life. I’m proud of the work that I did, and I am happy to have met and worked with my awesome therapist. The bitter part is twofold: now I find myself mourning the relationship and the placeholder that sessions had been for me. They were an oasis of calm in my week, and they provided a guaranteed break from my kids and partner. Second, now that therapy is done, my safety net is gone. My anxiety might (no, will) come flaring back at some point and then what am I supposed to do?! It’s scary and sad.

So. Let’s just say that coming home from a magical vacation and thrust back into a chilly reality has not been fun. I’m trying to keep perspective. I’m trying to look forward to Halloween. (Anyone have any costume ideas for a family of four?!?!)

Please send me comforting Fall vibes. Maybe I just need an effing PSL already.

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

I originally wrote this piece for my local MOMS Club newsletter, of which I am the editor. Since I rarely write things these days, I want this one to count for double, so I’m posting it here. Enjoy!

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Hey, y’alls.

 

It’s Melissa, the Newsletter person. Don’t worry, [the president of the club] gave me permission to write here, because it’s summer and we’re all sweaty and tired. Hopefully she doesn’t regret that decision in about a minute and a half. In my defense, I restrained myself from simply posting a giant poop emoji to fill this space.

 

Ah, summer. Since becoming an adult, summers have gotten hard. I’ve had to work in an office indoors, suffering through Women’s Winter (youtube it, seriously), when all I wanted to do was sit around the pool and read traumatic memoirs. Since becoming a mom, summers have gotten even harder. Suddenly, I’ve been demoted to Activities Director, and if I don’t have a plan for the day, ready to report to my son immediately upon waking, my kids flip the switch from silly-cute to screaming cray-cray.

 

All plans have to be strategic. Based on the weather, where can we go that is kid-friendly? Will it have ample shade? Is there an attractive cabana boy ready to bring me free drinks?

 

Of course, none of this will matter, because my kids will whine and complain and be hungry or not hungry. And I will yell at them to GO PLAY and feel bad and count the minutes til nap time.

 

Then there’s the Seasonal Mom Worries (you know, the worries apart from the everyday ones) – sunburns and skin cancer and water safety. Forgetting to pack something for vacation (because it’s up to me to remember basically everything), screaming kids on planes, shark attacks.

 

I also never know what day it is during the summer because our schedule is all over the place. Basically, I feel disoriented, tired, and sweaty without the hassle of actual exercise.

 

Somehow, at the same time summer is frickin’ fun. Splashing and sand castles and ice cream for dinner. I try my hardest to drink it all in, preferably with a tiny umbrella.

 

I’ve long since realized that the great comes with the horrible, otherwise the great wouldn’t feel as such. I’m just trying to be present for it all.

 

Here’s to surviving the rest of the summer, fellow Activities Directors. Watch out for sharks.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Quick anxiety update: it’s flare-up time. (Relapse time? Outbreak time? Really unsure what terms to use here, and I’m the mental health expert. Better get on that.)

I’m on my second week of dealing with early morning anxiety…..again. It goes like this: something will wake me up early in the morning. Take your pick – husband, cat, bladder. Neighbors. Traffic. Kids, but very rarely. Go figure. And then something sparks this burning fire in my chest that I can’t extinguish in order to get back to sleep. So I toss and turn in anguish and waste 1-2 hours when I desperately need sleep, but can’t get it. Lastly, my kids wake up, and then it’s all over. The anxiety slowly fades and is replaced by exhaustion as the day goes on. Makes me fantasize about going full Walden.

I’m hopeful to report that I think I’m getting better at squashing this more quickly. The past few mornings I’ve actually been able to get back to sleep and wake up for the day not feeling like such a zombie. It’s this magical combination of self-talk, physical relaxation techniques, and distracting myself by thinking about something – anything – not about me, my body, sleep, or the present moment.

(Update: I started this post yesterday, and this morning I actually slept all the way through the morning and woke up naturally and feeling rested. So there’s hope!)

Now I’m going to outline things that help me – specifically, things whose helpfulness I tend to forget – to fight this anxiety monster that creeps into my bed (or tries to) each morning. This is not meant to be preachy or self-helpy, but it’s rather to help…me. Because, just like depression, anxiety lies. It lies to me and it makes me forget what normal and healthy feels like. It makes me forget what coping skills actually work and it lies to me about there being joy in the world, and that it’s within my reach.

  1. Sleep

The biggest one by far. If I don’t get enough sleep I have very little motivation to face the day. The sleep that anxiety steals from me in the mornings sets up my entire day to be complete rubbish and it’s really hard to get back on track. That makes naps vital on some days (when I can get them), and I’ve been working very hard to get to bed at a time that ensures I’ve allowed for at least 8 hours of sleep. Even though I don’t always get it, I have to carve out room for it. Have to.

2. Exercise

I’m not a person who really enjoys exercising, per se, but this week I’ve been feeling the urge to move my body. I tend to get that feeling when I’m super angry, or when I’m jumping-out-of-my-skin-anxious. I’ve realized that when I exercise, I don’t have room for the jitters. I actually get real-time relief. That’s why I made sure I got out there and ran from zombies, even in this smokey heat wave we’re having. It felt so. good.

3. Music

I’ve written about this before, but the act of singing, like really singing, is so stress relieving and this is one that I forget about all the time. So if you see me running (from zombies) and I suddenly stop to belt out a well-timed lyric and bust a move, then you know what’s going on.

4. Laughter

This usually means social contact, but sometimes a really, really good show or standup routine will fit the bill here. I recently watched Iliza Schlesinger: Elder Millennial on Netflix, and man it was exactly what I needed. I might just watch it again. Also, The Bloggess is the reason I started blogging in the first place, and I realized that I was no longer getting her updates for some reason. That has been remedied.

5. Taking time to get out of my head and space out

Having kids all day everyday, this often takes the form of me being on my phone. This usually comes with a lot of guilt, but I’m trying to tell it to fuck off. As long as the kids are safe and cared for, I am taking lots and lots of tiny micro breaks throughout the day just so I can slip the phone back into my pocket and be present for 20 more minutes when I previously thought I couldn’t. I kinda felt like I needed permission to do this, and only realized that after my therapist had given it to me unsolicited.

6. Having something to look forward to

It has been a godsend to join my local chapter of MOMS Club and automatically have events lined up for me on my calendar each month. It sounds so mundane, but it keeps me going. I’m constantly looking forward to the next thing, and being able to feel excited anticipation is a powerful enemy of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

There you have it. These are the main coping skills that I often forget are available to me.

Side note: while writing this over the course of two days, I have been interrupted a total of eleventy billion times. Another antidote to anxiety is being able to get into a flow state, and in order to do that you need to cultivate calm and stillness. Yeeeeeah. This is one reason why it’s SO HARD for me to put myself to bed at a reasonable time, because stillness only happens WHEN PEOPLE ARE UNCONSCIOUS. My point: I reeeeeally miss flow states. Please tell them to come back and visit.