Sick and Burning

Nighttime is easier.

The kids are in bed and the sun is down.

I pull the blinds closed, so I can’t see the smoke or the creepy orange sepia glow.

Now I can fool myself into thinking things are normal.

I stand in the shower and zone out while the water pours over me, in an attempt to wash off my grief. The dread. It’s so much that it clogs the drain.

I turn the TV on and eat sugar and numb out. Forget the outside world. Forget the trauma. I get to yell at characters who aren’t real. Consequences that don’t exist. I judge their choices because I know better. People I’ll never see. Places I’ll never be.

Why not stretch it out? It’s easier when the world is dark. One more show.

I go through the routine of getting ready for bed. Like nothing’s wrong. Next I huddle under the covers and read. Old favorites or new worlds. Vampires that sparkle or dystopian kids doomed to die. I judge their choices because I know better.

Eventually, sleep. Far too late into the night, but it’s comforting.

Anything to put off waking up to a world that is sick and burning. Glowing orange and choking on its own smoke.

We’re all doing the very best that we can

This is getting hard. It’s taking a toll on me, and what’s worse is that it’s taking a toll on my kids.

We’re currently toeing the line of social interaction, and my kids desperately want to be normal, and I desperately want to let them. I really, really do.

They beg me and I explain, one more time, that we can’t get too close and we can’t share toys and it’s all because of this nasty, tricky virus. They blame me, and say I’m mean and that’s okay. I don’t expect them to understand because how in the world could they? And who can blame them when they see other kids playing together, other kids sharing toys? I just keep telling them that it’s my job to keep them safe and I am doing the very best that I can. And then I die a little inside. Am I making the right choice? Maybe we should just stay home. Would that be easier or harder?

Today, once we got home my older kid was off playing by himself so I took a moment to thank him for handling the situation so well, because he really did. It’s not easy hearing your mom say no again and again. I hate doing it. But he didn’t yell, he didn’t throw a fit. He disagreed with me and expressed his feelings like someone years older, and then went to sit in the car. I’m so proud of him, and I told him so, and yet, my heart breaks for him. This is not how it’s supposed to be. This is not normal and this is going to get harder before it gets better and I’m so sorry.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.

We’re all doing the very best that we can.

I’m Not Okay

I am not okay.

I am all over the place, you guys.

My mood changes daily, but often by the hour.

I am so scattered and internally, my mind is going in a million different directions at once. I start so many things that I struggle to go back and finish. Articles. Text messages. Podcasts.

I’m taking in so much information and I’m getting interrupted way more than normal because my kids are home and all over me. I can’t remember what I read where.

I’m moody. Way moodier than normal. I read too much news, I get anxious. I chat with friends, I’m uplifted. I see beauty in the human spirit online and I’m inspired to paint or write. I do yoga and I’m energized. I think about extended family, people’s inability to lead or plan ahead or follow directions, and all that I can’t control, and I fall into despair.

I microwaved some lunch, and when it beeped, I opened the fridge.

Since September, my autonomy from my kids had really begun to increase, take shape, make me feel like I was getting back to myself again. My kids were going to school. I was going to the gym. Heck, I was exercising more regularly that I have ever done in my entire life. I was going to the gym and yoga and pilates and sole sisters (walk/jogging) every week. I was doing Whole30. I was feeling pretty great.

And then extremely quickly, I lost it all. All of it. And while I’m a tried-and-true introvert, this is giving me ptsd from when I was stuck at home with newborns. I’d be okay if the time at home was my own. If I could do what I wanted.

I was unemployed when I was pregnant with my first and I did okay. I read a lot. I watched tv and movies. I ate whenever I wanted. I napped whenever I felt like it. I took walks. I did chores. It wasn’t the best, but I’m good at entertaining myself. I like my own company.

But now…I am constantly breaking up fights. I can’t hear myself think. I can’t read when I want. I can’t watch tv with adult themes. I can’t exercise. Fuck napping. Basically in order to do what I want, I need separation from my kids. Bottom line. On top of all that, I’m supposed to teach them shit, too. All while being scared out of my mind.

And so I try and do whatever I have to do to get by. One day at a time.

I’ve taken to locking myself in other rooms of the house. Oh yeah, because not only is my time gone, but also is my space. My kids rule the entire first floor, and my bedroom is now a home office where my husband works. I’ve taken to locking myself in my son’s room so I can nap or do yoga or chat with friends. It’s what needs to be done so I can continue to get through these days.

I don’t know how long it’s going to take until we find a new normal, or if we’ll ever find one. Because this is NOT. NORMAL.

And so. I’ll get by. One day at a time.

I’m not okay.

And right now, that’s okay.

 

Whole30: I miss cookies

Here’s how conversations go now that I’m doing Whole30 (inner monologue is in brackets, because I’m normal and have a constant inner monologue like every human rightfully should. Also, like Joe from You because he’s witty and not at all creepy):

Mom acquaintance at school pickup: Hey, how’s it going?

[I’m on Whole30. It’s day 5. I miss cookies.]

Me: Pretty good! How are you? [I’m normal! Act normal.]

Mom: Doing good, feeling tired. What’s new with you?

Me: Oh, nothing. I’m doing Whole30. [smile!]

Mom: Oh, cool! How’s it going?

[Help me. Do you have any chocolate? I won’t tell.]

Me: Surprisingly well, actually. I feel good, just starting to get cravings at night after the kids go to bed. [It’s like a sugar booty call and I can’t get to the phone.]

Mom: Ah. Well, good luck with everything!

[I’m gonna need more than luck, but ok.]

Me: Thanks! [run away.]


Also, it’s interesting how food and diets and programs like this shine a light on one’s personality. What I mean is that I’ve always been a rule follower. I like rules; they make me feel safe and alive. I tend to follow them to the letter. And well, I’ve found out that my Whole30 food guru leader, M, is a little more lax than I thought. Observe our text conversations that may or may not have been embellished for my pleasure.

Me: Soooo, you can’t have hummus, right? They’re legumes?

M: Oh. Technically that’s right, but they’re my cheat thing.

Me: Oooh, got it.

(later on)

M: Lookit this pic of this super tasty Whole30 meat bowl explosion at Chipotle!

[includes pic of a super tasty-looking bowl of food- but wait!]

Me: Looks yummy! But uhh…is that corn? Corn isn’t compliant.

M: Corn is a vegetable!

Me, unable to tell if she’s joking: Corn is a grain. It’s against the rules.

M: It’s ok. Everything is ok. Breathe.

Me: But, but…how many cheat things do you have? You’re supposed to guide me on this journey. This is such a violation of my expectations! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW?!

M: Eat what you want, lady. Your goals on this are different than mine. Breathe.

Me: [hyperventilating]

 

Meat, Vests, and Keanu Reeves

The past two days, my fellow hero in anxiety, The Bloggess, has encouraged her readers to first post things they hate that everyone else loves, and then the inverse – things they love that others don’t get.

This exercise was her way of reminding us that us, each of us, either who we are or what we write/produce/put out into the world (or all of the above) is not for everyone. Not everyone is going to like us or understand us, and that’s okay. Nay, it’s normal and expected.

As for me, I despise:

  • whiskey (I involuntarily shudder each time it touches my tongue. That’s what she said.)
  • David Sedaris (Okay, so despise is way too strong of a word for Mr. Sedaris. I just don’t get him, really. I’ve read several of his books and I keep really trying to find him funny, and I only find him mildly amusing some of the time.)
  • licorice (bitter and gross)
  • vests (your arms are still cold)
  • pot roast (dry and tough and I don’t want my meat tasting like carrots and my carrots tasting like meat)
  • potatoes that aren’t highly processed…like the kind in pot roast
  • turkey (like, the Thanksgiving kind. It’s dry and tasteless. I eat at Thanksgiving for the sides. And the pie. Mmmmm, pie.)
  • sausages (I’m a horrible mostly-German person)
  • I guess I just don’t prefer most meat, really…except bacon
  • IPAs (I don’t like drinking Pine Sol)
  • The Smashing Pumpkins (whiny voices)
  • Keanu Reeves (never cared for his acting)
  • Oregon.

And I love:

  • therapy!
  • the smell of gasoline
  • writing resumes
  • Hanson
  • Almond Joys (sometimes you feel like a nut)
  • really depressing and/or traumatic reading material

People who know me – was there anything I missed? I’m sure it’s easier for my friends to remember just how much of a weirdo I am. Much thanks.

Now you! You go; it’s your turn. What things do you love/hate that most others don’t?


nanopoblano2019

Did you know that boys can wear pink if they want to?

We were having dinner the other day as a family. My kids were talking about what they were gonna do when they grew up.

My son said, “When I’m a daddy, I’m going to go to work!”

My daughter chimed in, “YEAH! When I’m a daddy TOO, I’m gonna work!”

My son corrected, “NO! You can only be a mommy, cuz you’re a GIRL! And mommies stay home, they don’t go to work!”

My stomach gave a lurch.

I interrupted them – both my husband and I did – and we together explained that some daddies stay home and some mommies go to work. And that me, this Mommy, used to work, and that someday soon, I will again. And that we know mommies who work!

I totally understand that kids his age are very concrete, very black/white, right/wrong, what have you. They need to categorize in order to understand the world, and all those shades of gray can be confusing. Girls do this, boys do that! Easy-peasy. Plus, my kids have never seen me work. Why would they think any differently? To them, whatever our family does is familiar, natural, expected, normal.

I’m just very quick to point out that gender stereotypes don’t have to be followed if we don’t want to. I don’t want my kids feeling like they have to be put in a box, act a certain way, be a certain way, in order to be liked, accepted…whole.

One time, I took my son to get some rain boots. I was going to pick them out myself, but I figured I’d let him choose because then he’d be more likely to actually wear them. I was going to pick out some dark-colored ones from the “boy” section, but when I led him to the kid rain boot aisle, I made sure to motion to ALL the rain boots, the “boy” ones and “girl” ones. He looked at some pink ones, put them down and then mumbled that oh, those are girl ones.

How do you know that? I asked

Because they’re pink. He replied

Did you know that boys can wear pink if they want to?

(Pause.)

And you can choose whatever color you’d like.

Okay.

He still chose some “boy” ones, and that’s fine (they were freaking awesome, actually. they were green alligators with fucking sunglasses on, that’s how cool they were). I just want him to know that 1) there actually are boys who choose pink and mommies who choose to work, that there are many shades of gray and they are all okay, 2) he has the choice, for real, it’s not just lip service, and lastly, 3) he has my support whatever his choice.

I just hope that, if I say it enough, my kids will hear and understand. But it’s so hard when they’re mostly seeing family and friends and a world that strongly encourages and rewards adherence to gender norms. Because if they can’t see it, they can’t be it.

Hopefully I can help them see it.


nanopoblano2019

Dramatic. Irrational. Crazy.

My last blog post turned out to be really cathartic to write. I expected that it would be, just not to the extent that it was.

I woke up the next morning and temporarily forgot about the post. Then I picked up my phone and saw the dozen or so alerts about it and went oh yeah.

As I laid there in bed before getting up for the day, I started to read the comments- some public, some private – and tears started streaming down my face. They were good tears. I cried several more times that day, and it was all good. It was like I had been carrying a weight around with me for months and I finally set it down, only I didn’t start to feel lighter until the morning after.

The weight isn’t completely gone, and I’m not sure it ever will be, because I’m human. But it sure feels better. I’ve had conversations and little how are yous and coffee dates with friends that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t written that post. It broke the ice that was floating on top of my ocean of anxiety that wouldn’t have been broken otherwise.

I’m very glad I wrote it. And since it worked so well, I’m going to keep doing it. What did one of my friends say? (I went and found it.) She said, “Putting it out there seems to somehow take away a little of the power.” She’s right, it does. I’m taking the power back.

So, onto another aspect of my anxiety: health and mortality.

As many of you know, I had ovarian cancer at age 19. Initially, I was incorrectly diagnosed with IBS, because who thinks a 19-year-old with bloating and constipation has cancer? No one. I was in college and living on my own, cooking for myself for the first time (if you could call what I was doing “cooking”) and so it made sense. I was eating crap and full of stress! Not to worry.

But what happens when the worst diagnosis possible actually comes true? To be fair, it wasn’t the worst possible because my life was never threatened. However, the c-word is fucking scary, shocking, and not at all what was expected.

What resulted after surgery was several things: 1) depression because my life had been put on hold- I had had to take the semester off from college and move away from friends and back in with my parents, and 2) anxiety because I was given a recurrence rate of 30% (THIRTY. PERCENT.) where the only available treatment was more surgery.

Time passed. I had cancer checkups every three months with normal results. I volunteered, got a summer job, went back to school, moved out. My life resumed and I moved forward.

But.

The anxiety never really went away. For ten years, in the back of my mind I wondered, worried if I was going to be able to have kids. But I also worried every time I got sick.

Was it the flu? OR WAS IT PNEUMONIA?!

Was I just constipated? OR HAS MY CANCER COME BACK?!

Do I need glasses? OR DO I HAVE GLAUCOMA?!

Am I just anxious and hopped-up on coffee? OR DO I HAVE DANGEROUSLY HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?

Am I having a panic attack? OR AM I DYING FROM A HEART ATTACK?!

All this may look super dramatic, but it’s my truth. (And anxiety is just that- DRAMATIC. Irrational. Crazy.) Of course you try not to expect the worst, and most times, it’s not the worst, but it happened to me. That one time, the worst actually happened and it has fucked me up ever since. If it happened once, who’s to say it won’t happen again?

The icing on the cake is that now that I’m a mom, this anxiety extends to my kids. I worry when they get sick. I have a hard time deciding when to freak out and when to be cool because my freak out meter is extremely warped.

Take this one step further and I worry about dying and leaving my kids. This isn’t always a conscious worry, but it’s more a general mortality fear that’s always at the back of my brain. This fear is normal. But what isn’t normal is when my anxiety takes it and runs a marathon with it.

Because I analyze everything to the point of exhaustion, I quickly realized that what led to my recent panic attack was a perfect storm of mortality triggers. Observe:

  1. Several weeks prior, a family member my age had a serious and shocking heart attack.
  2. I was reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book about her husband’s sudden, untimely death and how she was left to cope raising two young kids by herself (one of my worst nightmares).
  3. A few hours prior, I found out an old friend’s brother unexpectedly died.
  4. A few minutes prior, I was experiencing heartburn which my anxiety mistook as chest pains.

don’t panic!

Right then and there, I thought some of my worst fears were coming true, and it took me a minute to convince myself otherwise and calm the fuck down.

Writing this, unpacking it, and breaking it down really helps me. I need to understand this beast so I can kill it. (Or at least trap it and tame it?) This issue is next on the growing list of things I plan to tackle in therapy, but since therapy is only once a week, I figured I’d get a jump start.

Does anyone else out there feel this way about health/illness/motherhood/mortality?

Is anyone else out there fighting to keep their anxiety in check?

I see you [anxiety]. I see you and I’m onto you.

 

Boats Full of Gravy

I am not dead.

Thank you, Le Clown, for confirming this fact earlier today through email.  Next time, please keep pictures of your painted white butt cheeks to yourself.

—-

The other day, I had a conversation with a coworker about weddings.

She’s pretty freaking liberal, even more so than I am, and we were having a lot of fun trading opinions.

Me (complaining about all the work it takes to plan a wedding): I just want my life back!

Her: You should just go to the courthouse.

Me: …Is that what you did?

Her: Hell yes!

Me: Did you get any complaining from family members?

Her: Actually, my family doesn’t know I’m married.  It’s none of their business, really, and I’m an adult.

—–

Holy frick, what a different take on things.  I have to admit, there is a part of me that really wishes Brian and I had just gone to the courthouse.  I actually turned to Brian the other day and said, “I hope this day (our wedding day) turns out to be worth it.”  And in all honesty, I think we’re both unsure of the answer.

And then she (my coworker) said: Please tell me you haven’t registered for one of those huge gravy boats you’ll never use.

I totally got the question.  What she meant was, I hope you aren’t blindly following a tradition *just* because it’s a tradition.  Because we’re both therapists and are doomed to over analyze everything, this led to a conversation unpacking traditions and customs around modern day weddings.  I’m the kinda person who needs to know why we do things the way we do.  Rarely do I just take things for granted as “the way things are.”

So I am very glad that my coworker reminded me that I am also an adult (at least I pass for one on legal documents), and that at the end of the day, I get to make my own decisions.  I don’t have to register for a gravy boat just because the salesperson at Bed Bath and Beyond tells me to.

YOU KNOW WHAT, LADY?!  IF YOU LOVE GRAVY SO MUCH, GO BATHE IN IT.  HERE – USE THIS BOAT!

It’s easy to notice when our preferences land outside the norm, and for that reason I am pretty good at weighing how important something is to me versus the backlash I may get for not conforming in that way.  But the other question is, what happens when what I want actually coincides with the norm and the dominant culture’s expectations?  Because I do want the white dress, I do want a medium-sized party with nice things.  I enjoy flowers!  But do I enjoy these things just because it’s the dominant culture, or is my enjoyment genuinely personal?  I’m not sure anyone can ever separate out these two things, nor should we be able to, but the answers are still important to me.  So, I’ve also reminded myself that it’s okay to like things because they are “normal.”  Hell, there’s a reason why they became “normal” in the first place and that reason is not always oppressive or malicious, regardless of what I might have been taught in my college sociology class.

I am reminded of a quote from a book written by one of my favorite musicians, Jewel Kilcher: It’s okay to want.

It’s okay to want what everyone else wants – for the very reason that everyone else wants it.  This is big for me.

You know what else I am learning?  With the help of reading things like The Waiting, this process is really forcing me to let go.  It’s okay to want…and it’s okay to go without.  I am increasingly able to let things roll off my back when they aren’t going perfectly, because if I cared about every aspect of wedding planning like I care about making good poop jokes, then I would go stark raving mad.

More so than I already am.