So we distance

Nothing’s changed.

My husband is still working from home. My son is still doing school from home. My daughter is still practicing her writing skills from home. I’m still washing dishes and doing laundry, constantly. At home.

None of us are vaccinated. We don’t have any more protection than we had a year ago. And so we distance.

We sit and watch as case numbers go down. Oh yay, maybe we’ll consider putting our kid back in school! And then, as a result, the governor lifts more restrictions. And we continue to watch as case numbers rise again, because that’s what they are gonna do when restrictions are lifted and more contagious variants are in play. Facepalm.

Kids around here started going back to school two weeks before spring break. At first we wanted to wait and see how the school did with enforcing social distancing, etc. We also realized we wanted to wait until significantly after spring break because people would travel even though we’re all still advised not to. And so we distance.

We choose very carefully what events we’ll go to, because each outing comes with risk and a considerable amount of anxiety. I can’t control if my friends and strangers wear masks. I can’t control if other people don’t social distance when I/my family is present. I can’t guarantee that my kids will social distance in public, especially when other kids are present. I can’t control if events are scheduled in person. Or at a restaurant. Or in someone’s home. But we can make sure to wear our masks. We can protect ourselves as best we can while also respecting the health and safety of others. And, save everything else, we can choose to stay home.

Please know that for a lot of people, it’s terrifying to watch as more and more people gather in large groups, stop wearing masks, take vacations. Six feet of distance in schools shrinks to three. Restaurants open for indoor dining. In the same day, the CDC director begs people to keep distancing and my Facebook feed is full of maskless, hugging, smiling faces.

Rapidly and increasingly, we feel left behind. We’re exhausted from making constant risk assessment decisions, trying to balance perceived danger with a need for human interaction. Tired of asking/expecting/hoping people to wear masks and feeling discouraged when they don’t.

So we distance. Staying home is easier than trying to navigate a world we can’t control, a world that is desperate to get past these plague times. A world that is opening up too quickly.

Controlled Danger-Fun

You know how boundaries are on a spectrum, right. On one side it’s rigid, and way over here on the other side it’s chaotic. I was raised firmly planted on the rigid side of the spectrum, and it shows. Dinner was at 6pm, every day, never failed. The laundry was done on Saturday morning, every Saturday morning. You call your parents on Sundays. Put simply, we had clear, predictable routines, expectations, and consequences for violating those expectations. As a kid, I didn’t think anything of it. I assumed it was normal. For the most part, I liked it. I’m a person who likes to know what’s coming next, and whether that’s because of the way I was raised or happily coinciding with the way I was raised has yet to be seen. Perhaps it’s both.

Put another way, I’m a person who likes to be in control. Control, structure, predictability all feel viscerally comforting to me. I crave them like I crave my morning coffee. Feeling out of control, at the very least makes me feel cranky or irritable, and at worst makes me feel anxious and downright panicky.

I do things everyday to maintain my feelings of control over my little bubble. I make my bed. I choose what I put into and onto my body. I make lists and cross them off. I pick up clutter- constantly. I organize the fridge, the junk drawer, my kids’ toys. I plan. I think of everything that could go wrong with that plan and then plan for that, too. It’s a careful balance to make sure that I’m staying productive and healthy and not going overboard trying to make every little thing exactly how I want it. Some days are better than others.

They have a weird relationship, anxiety and control. They’re both illusions, to an extent. I don’t have control over very much in this world, and so there’s very little that is healthy and productive to feel anxiety about. Go figure. In an effort to squelch anxiety by trying to control everything, it often backfires and creates even more anxiety. Ugh.

So. What may sound counter-intuitive in my quest to try and control (or, as a healthier reframing word choice: calm) my anxiety is my charming habit to do stuff that I know makes me anxious. I still drink coffee because I likes it and I wants to. I still stay up late because I likes it and I wants to. And I still watch scary movies because my anxiety will not control my choices and I will not live in fear…all the time.

I make calculated choices and I have to decide what risks and consequences I’m willing to take. As a risk-averse person in general, I don’t like doing big, dangerous things where I don’t feel enough in control. Skydiving and bungee jumping are out, but rollercoasters are in! The perfect amount of fear/excitement and control/safety.

Scary movies also fall into this just right category. Surprising no one, I like the psychological thrillers that burrow under my skin and keep me up at night. Sure, they make my blood pressure rise but I get to make choices from beginning to end. Which creepy show do we watch? How often? Let’s take a pee break right now. Right now! PAUSE IT! Okay, now I need to turn on the lights. I don’t know why we started with the lights off because that was a shitty idea. At this point I’m going to talk my way through this scene so I can stay in the moment and not get sucked i-WHY IS SHE NOT LEAVING THIS HOUSE?! HASN’T SHE BEEN THROUGH ENOUGH? Where is her sense of self-preservation?! RUUUUUUN! Aaaaand oh look this blanket jumped right in front of my eyes before the Bent Neck Lady scrapes down the fucking hall again; all I hear is scraping, hissing, and screaming so I’ll let my imagination take it from here and assume they’re defeating the evil spirits and getting the hell outta dodge because who in their right minds would go back to bed after seeing a floating specter turn a kitten inside out and not tell their parents?! Fucking psychopaths, THAT’S WHO!

This is my idea of controlled danger-fun, dear readers. Who needs to jump out of a plane when all you need to do is watch children be tortured by evil spirits in the comfort of your own home? I tell myself it’s instances like these, and people like me, for which Xanax was invented.


Day 13

My anxiety is finally shared

I’ve dealt with anxiety at varying levels throughout most of my life. Since having cancer, a good portion of that anxiety has been directed into health-related junk. A recurrence. Infertility. Surgery. Passing it onto my kids. Illness in general (who knew I’d have to worry about cancer at age 19 – so what ELSE do I need to be worried about?!). Not knowing when I should worry and when I shouldn’t. Death. All of the above.

The Bloggess, who is so bravely and beautifully candid about her struggles with mental health, said it best.

“Some of us even feel somehow better during this time. It makes sense though. With anxiety disorder you’re constantly afraid and feeling dread for something that isn’t real. Now with something real to focus on it can be a sort of relief. The rest of the world has joined us and the cognitive dissonance you feel for feeling so terrible when there’s no reason to feel terrible is gone.”

This hit the nail right on the head for me. About 4-5 weeks ago, the crisis was finally here, and I was scared out of my mind, but I was ready. I remember on Friday, March 13, as soon as I had both my kids home from school and safe, I felt so much better. We had toilet paper and wipes and hand sanitizer. We buy hand soap in bulk normally anyway. A friend had just dropped off groceries because the stores were being ransacked. I had just filled my car with gas a few days before, by chance. We were home, safe, and scared yes, but my fear was finally directed at something real and, the biggest part, it was shared. It wasn’t just in my head. It was on TV and splashed all over Facebook and it was on the faces of the people in Target. My fear and dread were validated, and that feels…not exactly comforting, but relief in knowing we are all in this together and that I’m not crazy.

Plus, staying home is something I’m good at. I feel safe at home. I can control my home, for the most part. I can wipe it all down and spray the shit out of it. I’m really good at following rules. You want me to stay home and stew in my anxiety? Done and done!

Unfortunately, that’s also what I worry about. I worry that this experience will change me for the worse. In a deep, dark, scary way. And the longer this goes on, the more I’m concerned. This is all starting to feel a little too normal. I wonder if I’ll feel weird leaving the house in the future. Shaking hands. Passing money. Going out to eat. Going to the movies. Getting on a plane. I wonder and worry that my mild OCD tendencies will fester and metastasize during this time, that they’ll grow into something too big to contain once it’s time to get outside and get dirty again.

I don’t feel like I have control over my anxiety. It’s always there, just changing shape and color as I move through life. Are there more panic attacks in my future? More insomnia? Will I develop agoraphobia? Worse yet, how will all this affect my parenting, my kids, my relationships? Will I go through life just waiting for the next disaster? Will everyone else?

In the beforetime, I was operating with my usual amount of social anxiety and general awkwardness. But now, forget about it. In my effort to physically distance myself and my kids, from friends and strangers alike, I no longer know how to act. Do I say hi? Run and scream? Cross the street? Wave? Smile? Hiss at my kids to GIVE PEOPLE PERSONAL SPACE BECAUSE WE DON’T WANT TO GET SICK. SOME WEATHER WE’RE HAVING! HA-HA. I wonder what it will be like hanging out with people again. What I will be like. Will I hesitate? Will I worry? Will it be like nothing ever happened? All of this feels like a very odd fever-dream, not knowing if I’ll feel like me when I wake up.

Right now, I’m okay. I’m just watching my anxiety, wondering what it’ll do. What is it planning? I don’t know. While this blog post may make it sound like I’m spinning out – I’m not actually, not now. Not yet. This is just how my anxious brain works. If I’m not currently worried about something, then I’m worried that I am forgetting what I should be worried about. Sounds nuts, but it’s true.

I’m just concerned and curious. And worried.

Period. Full Stop.

I’m here to tell everyone – all parents really – that you have permission to set boundaries for yourself and your kids in reaction to everyone, anyone, for any reason and at any time. Period. Full stop.

And unless you’re being abusive to your kids, then nobody gets to tell you that your boundaries aren’t valid. Like, ever. I mean, they can try, but they will fail.

Because guess what?

BEING THE PARENT MEANS YOU GET TO DECIDE WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR KID.

Not a stranger on the street. Not a neighbor or a friend. Not your cousin or sibling or parent or the babysitter. None of them are the parent or legal guardian, so it simply ain’t their job.

This is such a simple concept that it blows my mind when people don’t understand it.

And then, because I’m a therapist, I take a step back and try really, really hard to understand why someone may not understand such a simple boundary of how the world works. From my experience, people who either don’t understand boundaries or perceive them as unkind are people who did not grow up with firm boundaries and/or were not taught how to set healthy ones.

To be specific, boundaries are some form of communication or action that communicate a limit or expectation for how that person wants to be treated. Boundaries have two parts: the first part described above, and then the second part is the consequence – what the boundary-setter plans to do if that expectation is not met.

(I just wrote the above off the cuff, but I’d like to add the Wikipedia definition I just looked up because it’s much more succinct: “Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.“)

Imagine someone grew up without these. Imagine that person could do whatever they wanted growing up and had no consequences. For a kid, that sounds like a pretty scary, lonely, and unsafe place to be. Not being taught how to act with respect and integrity must land a person in some confusing and frustrating situations growing up. A common reaction is to blame everyone else for these problems, because the alternative is often too painful to entertain.

Now imagine that that same person has grown up and is being told how to act or what to do by another person, and is being given consequences to boot. Especially if this new boundary-setter is not perceived to be an authority figure, the reaction probably wouldn’t be positive.

There’s often backlash, or an attempt at manipulation, or accusations that the boundary-setter is being mean and controlling, or simply ignoring the boundaries and blowing right through them.

[Side note: my above growing-up-without-boundaries scenario was the kindest, most benefit-of-the-doubt explanation I could think of. Worst case scenario when a person blows through your boundaries is that they are being abusive. The simplest red flag for abuse is when the perpetrator does not hear you say ‘no.’ When a person ignores your ‘no,’ it means they are trying to control you or the situation. And gaining power and control over another person is what abuse is all about.]

Even though I get it on a conceptual level, these people are so fucking hard to deal with.

How do you explain to someone that boundaries aren’t mean?

And yup, they are about control, because I have control over myself and my life and my kids – AND YOU DON’T.

It’s one thing having to set a boundary one time with someone who is a reasonable human being: “Oh crap, you don’t like when I do that? I’m so sorry, I won’t do it again.” Best case scenario, right? Because it’s quite another thing to have to set the same boundary with someone who is boundaryless again and again and fucking over again.

Setting boundaries, like raising children, is exhausting. It’s having to stay firm and respectful and consistent in following through with consequences. Again and again and again until forever. It’s teaching little people how to behave in the world and it’s teaching big people how you, as an adult, wish to be treated (or how you wish your children be treated).

And when I’m setting boundaries on behalf of my kids – that’s where the stakes are high. My bitch mama bear comes out and I take no prisoners. No, dude on the street, my kid does not have to smile for you. No, lady at the park, you cannot touch my baby without asking me first.

My kids are depending on me to protect them until they can protect themselves. And they are learning from my example. They learn bodily autonomy and the value of consent when I say, Do you want to give _____ a hug? Because you don’t have to if you don’t want to. And if someone gets mad about not getting a hug, then that is their problem (and also a huge red flag!). Not mine, and sure as hell not my kid’s.

I’m setting the boundaries for them now so that they can do the same for themselves (and their kids) in the future. Because I don’t want my kids to grow up without boundaries. It’s dangerous and scary!

And for those adults who might recognize that they have negative reactions to boundaries being set – instead of writing off the boundary-setter as mean, you might want to take a look at exactly what is being asked of you. Is it truly unkind, or are you just not used to hearing “no”?

At the risk of rage-filled rambling on forever, I will wrap this up. While this may read as a tutorial for an audience, it’s actually directed at myself. It’s my way of reminding myself that I’m doing right by myself and my kids; no amount of negative and manipulative reactions to my boundaries will steer me off course because they [the reactions] aren’t mine to carry, deal with, or worry about. Period. Full stop.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Do any of you out there have trouble setting boundaries with boundaryless people?

What are your coping strategies?

 

 

 

 

 

Things Motherhood Has Brought to My Attention

  1. My patience (though it runs short at times), overall, runs deeper than I ever could have imagined.
    • Sure, I lose it and blow up at my kids. Just this morning I stomped on the floor and yelled when my son spat out cereal onto the floor. But, for that one time of losing it, I experience at least 50 more times when I’ve stuck with it, dug deep, and kept my cool beyond what I thought was possible of myself in that moment. And I have no idea how that happens. That’s a lie; yes I do.
  2. Being a mom has brought my and my family’s mortality into sharp focus, causing me to make decisions based on whether or not I’d have regrets on my deathbed.
    • This may sound horribly morbid, and while it is morbid, I don’t think it’s horrible. Watching my kids grow up like weeds before my eyes reminds me how short and precious life really is, and this just shoves all the important stuff front and center.
  3. I don’t have control over anything. Like, at all.
    • While this is easy to type and easy for my intellectual brain to grasp, my emotional core is still working on accepting it. I have a feeling I’ll always come back to rage-cleaning the kitchen when I feel like my life is more out of control than normal.
  4. Working with a partner to try and raise two healthy, happy, fed, (mostly) clothed, well-adjusted kids is the hardest thing ever.
    • What threw me on this one is that I thought the hardest thing ever would be staying at home, by myself, with these kids all day everyday. And yes, when Daddy is home I get the physical help with the child-wrangling. But, when he’s not here there’s no discussion about what there is to be done (unless you count the one constantly running through my head) – I just do it. There’s no need to communicate, “Ok, you do this and I’ll do that” I just do it all. There’s no need to scream at the other person, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! WE’RE LATE!” because, during the day, it’s just me. Often, the effort it takes to try and work together and delegate and communicate (read: scream to each other over the din of also-screaming children), is so exhausting that it feels easier to just bare down and do it all. (Does anyone else feel this way? I feel like I did a shit job of explaining what I mean, because I am in NO WAY ungrateful for the job my husband does raising our kids and keeping the household together. There’s no way I could do this job alone and stay sane.)
  5. I can do more on little sleep than I ever thought possible.
    • I don’t function well on little sleep. I turn into a rabid zombie chainsaw killer. While I still suffered (still suffer-ing, actually) with each kid, there’s just something amazingly tender and potent about your chillins that make you want to do the opposite of kill them, even on scary few hours of sleep.
  6. (Going along with the previous point) Never underestimate the power of naps.
    • Naps come from heaven. Naps are good for all involved. Covet them. Create time for them. Force them if you have to.
  7. I need free time to feel like myself.
    • This wasn’t obvious to me when I had a whole shit-ton of free time, but it sure is now.
  8. I have a feeling that raising these kids is going to be my life’s most important work (with therapy a close second).
    • My kids will be kind, thoughtful, compassionate, productive human beings if it’s the only thing I do.
  9. I am really good at this mom gig. Like, I kick ass at it.
    • Seriously. As hard as it is, even though I constantly make mistakes and lose my cool. I learn from those mistakes, I model how to say sorry and repair the damage. I remember doctor’s appointments. I know where 90% of the toys are in my house at any given time. I keep my house more than bearably clean. I can get two kids diaper changed, dressed, fed, potty, shoes, socks, jackets, car seats, out the door in 45 minutes. You heard me! I get fairly good sleep. I make my bed everyday. I help keep our cat alive (wait, we have a cat too?!). I pack for vacations and camping trips and beach trips and walks to the park…and I remember 99% of all the things we could ever need in case of the zombie apocalypse. I do the laundry AND FOLD IT. AND PUT IT AWAY! Sometimes that only takes a week to complete. I remember to buy toilet paper. I remember birthdays and parties and shopping for gifts for said parties. And wrapping the damn present for said said parties. Not to mention remembering to BRING said wrapped present to said parties. I kiss boo-boos and give hugs and make lunches and clean up. I clean up all fucking day.

…and then, after all that, I get up and do it again the next day, and the next, and the next.


NaBloPoMo Day 7