Mirror, Mirror

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Here I am again, to talk about mental health again. Specifically, mine, but if you ever want me to write about your mental health, let me know. I would actually love to learn and write about other people’s experiences, whether they be good, bad, or totally indifferent to mental health at all. It’s kind of funny how sometimes I’ll be talking to someone in person, and they will ask questions about my health and preface them with things like “I hope this isn’t too personal”. No, friends, it’s not too personal. Just like it’s not too personal for me to ask how your broken foot or injured arm is healing. Why such a miasma of secrecy around our mental health? I suspect it has something to do with the language used around mental health and to describe those who are mentally ill. But that’s another blog post for another day. Maybe in a couple of months when I get around to writing again.

Today I want to talk about mental health and parenting. And I’m going to tell a story that really bums me out and makes me feel a lot of shame. According to my close and personal friend Brene Brown (not really, but she’s a genius and I want to put her in my pocket), when you speak shame it loses its power and allows you to take control of the narrative. So that’s what I’m doing.

Monday morning as I was in my room getting dressed, I heard really loud, slow, sarcastic-sounding clapping coming from the kitchen. Then I heard Alex, my oldest, speak to Morgan, my middlest, in a terrible, hateful, condescending, shaming tone that sent Morgan storming to her room in tears. Upon walking to the kitchen and assessing the situation, I learned the source of the outburst was spilled water. Alex was angrily wiping up the water that Morgan had, apparently, spilled. We discussed if her reaction and the way she spoke to her sister was appropriate and kind, and I suggested an apology might be in order. A genuine apology, I stressed. Apologies were given and Morgan dried up her tears, mostly. She initially responded to Alex’s apology with an insincere “It’s ok.” When I asked her if it really was ok, she changed her response to “I forgive you”, and I suggested she might want to apologize for knocking over Alex’s water bottle, even though it was an accident. At some point during this interaction, Alex and I discussed that you just can’t talk to people that way. Ever.

Which makes me the biggest hypocrite in the world. I can’t remember the words she said to her sister, but I can hear the tone like a recording in my head. I recognize it. And I know exactly where she learned it. It’s an exact replica of the one I’ve heard myself use, toward my children – mostly toward my eldest – more times than I will ever care to admit. Times when I’ve lost my temper over something stupid. Something as minor as spilled water. Times when all the stresses of the day, week, month, have piled up and that was the last thing before I broke. But stresses never stop piling up. And when you’re struggling merely to hold yourself together, you feel broken all the time. And you hear yourself speaking to your children in a tone you would never, ever use with another person. A tone that makes you ashamed even as the words flow angrily and unstoppable through your mouth.

I felt like I was hit in the head with a brick. When you’re so mired in your own pain, it’s hard to see the pain you cause in others. Maybe one day your vision clears a little, and you find it’s mirrored back at you, plain as day. Yes, I know parenting is hard, and we all have moments where we’re not the parent we want to be. I think that’s ok, sometimes. That sort of thing is part of learning how to be a parent. I find myself telling my kids, especially Alex, that I don’t really know what I’m doing, but that I’m learning, and she’s my guinea pig. She likes that almost as much as when I talk about boobs and periods and pooping. But when you make the same mistake over and over again, enough that you have taught it to your children – that’s not a good thing.

And then came the second brick. While I know that my mental health probably spent a good year, let’s be honest, spiraling downhill, it didn’t start there. While for the years before that I was able to keep everything “under control” using natural means –  yoga, breathing, etc., that I still believe to be highly effective – my illness was still there, lurking. It emerged more in times of stress: in the way I spoke to my children, in my lack of patience, in the days when nothing was ok and I was sad and mad all day and couldn’t really find a reason for it. It emerged on the days when I cleaned the entire house and did an-hour-and-a-half of yoga and cooked dinner and cleaned and put the kids to bed. It was there. I had just decided it was my normal.

Eight months, yep, that’s eight months – into treatment, I’m starting to think there might be a different kind of normal. But how do I explain to my thirteen-year-old that it’s not ok for her to talk to people like that, but it was ok for me to for all that time because I was struggling with an untreated mental illness and residual unprocessed trauma? How do I get past the worry that that is my voice in her head? That that is how she talks to herself? I don’t think I do.

So this is what I will do. I think I will remember that it’s never too late. I will talk to her. I will tell her that I recognize that she has heard me speak like that many times in the past, and it was wrong of me. I tell her that it’s not how we speak to anybody, especially ourselves. I will remind her that I am working on doing better at a lot of things, and I will suggest we work on this, together. We stop and think, or count, or breathe before we burst out. I will try and make a commitment to speak in a kinder, softer voice, so that one day, hopefully, as I’m in my room getting dressed, that is what I will hear coming from the kitchen.

It’s never too late.

Posted in Children, Philosophisizing, Therapy and Mental Health, Yoga, You are Enough | 1 Comment

Eggs in a Basket

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I’ve been told lately that I have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies. This isn’t really surprising to me. I’ve also been told that I make things harder on myself than they have to be, due to this. In fact, my therapy homework last week was to stop trying to wash, fold, and put away all my laundry in one day. I’m supposed to try and do a load every day or so. Oh, and I’m supposed to let people help me fold the laundry. Even though they don’t do it right and it makes me anxious. So that’s what I’ve been working on. Being less insane about laundry.

In addition to my laundry homework, things were just totally insane over the last week. I let myself be too busy, and my husband’s work was absolute crazytown, and then his car broke down on Friday, exactly one week before we planned to replace it, and then I had to call and yell at the people at ekidsrooms.com again because they still hadn’t refunded me the money from the order I had cancelled two weeks ago, and it was all too much and I had another panic attack and I hadn’t taken my anxiety medication even thought I promised the shrink I would take it like he prescribed but I never do because I don’t like it because it makes me sleepy and dumb. So I got hit with another panic attack and had to double up on my anxiety medication and felt extra sleepy and dumb for the rest of the day.

Every time I start to think I’m doing a little better, I start to wean myself off my anxiety meds and every time I have some kind of incident that reinforces the current need for some outside help. My doctor is begging me, “Please, just take the meds like I prescribed! We will get you off of them as soon as possible.” Apparently two more panic attacks in just over a week is not making “possible” any sooner.

Now I’m taking two medications to help with my “mood disorder” and one to help with my anxiety/panic attacks. I hate this. I’ve been on the doctor/drug merry-go-round before. They just keep prescribing drugs and more drugs to try and hit on something that might work, and I don’t think they really know all that much what they’re doing. At the height of my ride on the merry-go-round, I was taking about 13 prescriptions to manage symptoms from the Fibromyalgia I knew I had, but couldn’t find anybody to diagnose or treat me. Recognizing that I was talking a shitload of meds and continuing to feel worse, I quit. Everything. Cold turkey. When my current month’s prescription ran out, I just didn’t get it refilled. I started yoga and powerful nutritional supplements and never looked back.

Fast-forward to ten years later. I feel like I’m literally losing my mind. I’ve known for months that I “probably, sort of, kind of, needed to go ‘talk to’ somebody.” I can’t do anything without crying. Or screaming in rage. It’s like there is so much pain built up in my body that it’s bursting out every chance it gets. I can’t hold it in anymore, maybe because I didn’t realize it was still there. But it showed up. It showed up in my rage because I had to stop at one more goddam red light. It showed up when I sat curled on the couch, wrapped in blankets, shaking and sobbing for no reason that I could figure out. I was crippled by my anxiety and the knowledge that I probably couldn’t go more than a couple of hours without needing to cry again.

I was so desperate that during my first visit with my therapist, when he asked if I would like to see the psychiatrist as well, my answer was an emphatic “Yes! Whatever it takes,” I said, “I have to get better!” So here I am, five months later. For a while it was one step forward, two steps back. I like to think that maybe now I’ve reduced my back-stepping from two to one. I’m so uncomfortable with taking medication to affect my mood. What if I start relying on the medication to help manage my emotions and my anxiety? What if I forget what it feels like to have a normal mood? What if I get numb and stop experiencing life? What if I forget all I’ve learned about the mental health benefits of yoga and meditation? I know it works. What if I just keep being prescribed more and more drugs? Ok, well I know the answer to that one – I just won’t take them. I’m giving them long enough to work, and if they don’t help, forget it.

I’m going to keep working with what I have right now. I’m going to keep pushing back the darkness that I still wake up with every morning that asks, “How are we going to do this again today?” Maybe, just maybe, it’s taking a little less work to push it back than it did a few months ago. I’m gonna keep working, using all the tools I have, (and trying not to be scared of them), to put all my stuff back in my basket.

If I’ve learned anything from all this (well, actually, I’m sure I’ve learned several things), it’s that it doesn’t take any time at all for the basket to slip out of your hands, but it can take quite some time to gather it all back up again. And, like a little kid picking up Easter eggs, every time you bend over to pick another one up, something else will fall out. But little kids are really good at asking for help when they need it. Sometimes after pitching a hellacious fit, but they usually get there eventually. And all the eggs get placed safely in the basket where they belong. So I’m taking notes from little kids Easter egg hunting. Pick up your eggs. Be careful when you bend down to pick up more eggs. If they keep falling out, ask a grownup for help. Don’t be scared to pitch a hissy fit first. Sometimes it’s therapeutic.

Posted in Philosophisizing, Therapy and Mental Health, You are Enough | Leave a comment

Bah Humbug

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“I’m not sure I even like Christmas anymore,” I tell Patrick as we’re driving to get our Christmas tree. “I’m having a hard time finding anything to be excited about.” We get to Home Depot and pick out our tree. The kids are very excited. I’m reserved. I have Christmas tree…issues.

Every year, I say I’m not going to do it. Every year, I say I’m just going to wrap the lights around, like twinkly garland. Then I look at the tree. All the branches smooshed together from the ride home. And I grab my string of lights and start at the bottom. I wrap every branch, from trunk to end and back again. I think maybe somebody can help me, this year. I carefully show the oldest how to to it, taking each individual branch and covering it with lights. I give her a little while and check on her progress. It looks like she has just grabbed a whole bunch of branches and tied them together with a strand of lights. “No, No NO! Is that, in any way, what I told you to do? Is that what I’m doing?” I ask, my voice going up an octave with every word. “Just stop. I’ll do it all myself.”

None of the kids are enjoying this. They aren’t allowed to touch the tree until I get all the lights on it. They’re behaving like kids do, if you put something super-fun in front of them that they’ve been all excited about and tell the not to touch it. This is not good.

I’m not enjoying this. I feel like a crazy person. I’m acting like a crazy person, but I can’t stop. Every branch must be covered, and it must be perfect. I’m cranky, and I would love a glass of wine. The wine I’ve stopped drinking. Six hours later, I run out of lights. With the entire top quarter of the tree unlit. I all but fling the final short string at the top of the tree and run to my room. I break down. I curl into a little ball, crying, sobbing. I worked so hard. I didn’t want to fucking do it in the first place, but I couldn’t stop. And now I can’t even finish what I started. And I’m having a total breakdown – over the fucking Christmas tree.

This isn’t right. This isn’t how this is supposed to be. I’m not supposed to be driven crazy by the tree. I’m not supposed to dread the Christmas holidays when my kids are out of school because they are so excited and crazy that they will drive me out of my mind. They will escalate and continue to do so until something happens and they crash and burn, and then it’s them curled into a little ball, crying. I’m not supposed to be so stressed about money and spend way more than I should because I’m so scared that they might be disappointed on Christmas morning. I shouldn’t be so stressed about trying to choose and buy gifts for everyone.

Christmas is supposed to be a fun, festive time, right? When did it turn into this? Am I the only mom out there who has reached this point? How do we come back from it without totally giving up?

Disclaimer: I am aware that I am not quite myself right now, and that my reactions to things are not typical, even for me. But this has been brewing for several years now. It just seems to have peaked this year, like everything else.

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