Saturday, July 30, 2011

Give It a Rest!

Nearly fifteen years ago, before I had children, when I was working at a job I truly loved but wasn't sure I was smart enough to have, I had a bout of anxiety. I didn't recognize it for what it was, maybe because of its benign beginnings.

I had an hour commute to work that I didn't really mind. I had recently purchased my blue-collar dream car - a cherry red Ford Ranger pickup truck with a king cab and a manual transmission. I felt invincible in that thing as I sat high above all of the compact cars and listened to NPR's Morning Edition on my way into the city. About two-thirds of the way to work I had the sinking feeling that I had left the iron on as I went out the door. I knew, despite the long round trip home, that I had to go back and check. We didn't have any neighbors I could ask to pop in and have a look and Bubba was on a business trip. I got to work, explained the situation to my boss, and took off for home. The iron was off.

A week later, I had the same moment of panic about the toaster oven that I had used to make my breakfast. Luckily, Bubba was in town and only fifteen minutes' drive from home so this time he could go check it out. The oven was off.

Nearly a week later again, I had the same anxious feeling as I climbed into the truck to back out of the garage. This time it caused me to stop and wonder what was going on. I was struck with the notion that I was becoming OCD. And then I realized that what I really wanted was an excuse to just stay home. Despite loving my job, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I was "faking it" to get by and even when my co-workers and my boss praised my efforts and abilities, I felt as though I was fooling them all. I was also lonely. Bubba had begun traveling a lot for his job and I didn't have many close friends. What I really wanted was to stay home with my cats and work in the garden and feel safe in my own space.

Since that revelation, I have had many more opportunities to understand that the things I am often afraid of are also the things I am most fervently wishing for. Not really, of course. I was relieved each and every time that the iron or the oven were off and I didn't truly want the house to burn down, but if it had, it would have been an accident and people would have rallied around me in support.

When Bubba was sick for so many years, a horrible fantasy used to creep into my mind before I could slam the door against it that he would die on one of his business trips and not come home. I hated that thought. I hated that I was capable of thinking it and that my mind could go there. It wasn't superstition - that if I thought it it might come true. It was the knowledge that, if he died, my fears would be validated and everyone would come to see that I hadn't been crying, "Wolf!" when there was none there. I would have a reason to feel anxious and upset that nobody could dispute.

While I still shun those dark thoughts as quickly as they pop into my brain, I have also come to realize that they serve a vital purpose for me. Whenever I conjure up some terrible scenario of doom and gloom in secret, it is a cry for help. It is the way that my psyche lets me know that I'm feeling unsure of myself and frightened and alone. During one such time when my anxiety overwhelmed me to the point that I crawled beneath the covers and sobbed, Bubba asked me what I wanted. What I needed. The answer that came to my lips before it reached my brain was this, "I want someone to take care of me." Nobody was more shocked than I was to discover the truth of that statement. I wanted to be cared for. I didn't want to have to run the house, parent the children, make any important decisions. I just wanted to be. And I wanted to know that someone else was making sure things were okay in my absence. I didn't want to have to justify it with a major illness (I fantasized about contracting horrible diseases from time to time) or a family member's death or some other excuse for incapacitation. I just wanted to take a break from being "in charge" and "responsible" and "strong." But I didn't think I could.

It is still difficult for me to admit that these thoughts crop up in my brain. I'm beginning to work on allowing myself to feel overwhelmed and anxious without needing to justify it to anyone. And it's not as though anyone has asked. Or accused me of histrionics. I think that as I become more realistic about my limits and how hard I really do work, I can prevent the need for these periodic alarm bells in my brain. It's okay to take a day or two off. And I am not faking it. I am the real McCoy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

That New Car Smell

Most people I know avoid change. Those people who thrive on it, seek it, relish it, are usually known as nuts or thrill-seekers or drama queens. The rest of us like our comfy chairs, revel in our routines and predictable scenarios of day-to-day life, right?

Until it comes to buying something new. That new car? We love it when a friend gets one - we want to ride in it, sit in it, push all the buttons and listen to the engine. When someone gets a new house we all crowd around for the tour and bring housewarming gifts. Even better when it's us who gets something new, isn't it? Even though it's primarily functional and meant for some concrete purpose, we still feel that grin creeping across our faces when we walk out to the parking lot and spot that sexy new car sitting there or open the closet and see those gorgeous new boots.

We get compliments on changes like new jobs and new relationships and can't wait to share the news, so why do other changes freak us out so much? Is it only those changes we didn't choose that are scary?

Losing your job is scary. Moving is scary, whether you choose it or not. Being in a situation where you can't predict or control the variables puts most of us in a state of panic. The loss of something important to us is also stressful - for a child it can be moving on from their favorite teacher or having a friend leave town. Changes are usually complicated, but so often bring as many new opportunities as they do questions, and, honestly, the majority of changes in our lives are gradual.

Personally, then opportunity to have some level of predictability and control over any change gives me a much better chance of adapting to it positively. Maybe the trick is to remember that 'control' is an illusion except when it comes to my own actions and that change is inevitable. Nah, that's too big a lesson for today. Maybe if scary changes came complete with that "new car smell" we might be a little less averse to them. Although, all things considered, I prefer the scent of dark chocolate...just sayin'.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Summertime with SPD

That is, Sensory Processing Disorder. (Don't get me started on the name. That's another rant/post.)

Suffice it to say that Lola deals with SPD - much of the time graciously and with a large measure of acceptance, other times not so much. And much of her life is structured so that she doesn't have to head butt the enormous invisible beast that taunts her. She has teachers who "get it" and encourage her to work in the way that suits her best. She has pared her wardrobe down to several choice items that, while they don't allow for much variety, enable her to move through the world without feeling constantly stimulated and irritated. She has plenty of opportunities for physical activity - playing sports and riding bikes and wrestling with Bubba. Her routine, during the school year, is predictable and, when it isn't, we are sure to accommodate with extra down time and soothing routines.

And then summer hits. And the first few days are bliss. It's like a long weekend and so long as I make sure she eats every couple of hours to keep her blood sugar up, she is enthusiastic and cheerful.

Go beyond a few days without structure, add in a week-long trip to the mountains, follow that up with a morning sports camp and a sister with an entirely different agenda than her and we've got a perfect storm of SPD triggers. She starts to assert that she ISN'T HUNGRY and asks to stay up late reading and slowly begins to disintegrate into someone who turns to mush for no reason at all. The last few days have brought more tears and hysterical outbursts and agitation than we've had in the last nine months put together.

And there is a twin crumbling going on inside my head. The small but hopeful, insulated, pretty-in-pink place where I had harbored a hope I was afraid to admit to myself. The hope that she had "outgrown" SPD or that we had been hasty in diagnosing it. The hope that she had come to manage it so well that she had folded those "quirks" inside of her personality the way a tree grows around a wire over time. That SPD had just become part of who she is and she could either wall it off as a separate but alien piece of herself or make friends with it and entirely disarm it.

Instead, summer is here, stripping away my denial. And so the next few days will require me to steel my resolve and re-engineer some boundaries that have fallen away with the end of the school year. Lola admitted to me last night that she is raw, over-reactive, edgy. She is apologetic and contrite in moments of calm, but utterly inconsolable and manic when agitated. I know that it is impossible for me to predict and systematically eradicate everything that could possibly set her off, and I'm not even sure it is wise to try. I do want to allow her to let her true personality shine through, though. This Lola, who is so funny and compassionate and possesses such wisdom about herself and others deserves to shine.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Let Them Have The Pill!

Thank goodness for email! Two days ago I saw an email in my inbox from Planned Parenthood asking me to participate in their blog carnival. They have teamed up with the National Women's Law Center to increase momentum for passage of a healthcare bill that would allow American women free birth control as part of a comprehensive package of preventative healthcare. Count me in.

The link to the list of bloggers participating is here in case you want to see what others are saying. Read on for my two cents.

Pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing are all things that, like it or not, disproportionately affect women around the world. I'm not denying that there are some very stand-up guys who choose to be intimately involved in these activities, but ultimately the life-altering issue of unplanned or unwanted pregnancies falls to women to deal with. Culturally speaking, this amounts to some degree of gender discrimination, given the time, effort and expense necessary to deal with such pregnancies.

If we are to offer women equal opportunities to participate in society, we need to afford them the opportunity to plan their pregnancies. Birth control methods in this country are effective, safe, and inexpensive and to exclude them from insurance coverage ends up costing us all more in the long run. Many of the children born to women who weren't planning for pregnancies end up taxing families financially, potentially putting them in a position to utilize social services they wouldn't otherwise need. Others are born to single mothers who don't possess the resources to care for them.

There are a great deal of women for whom regular access to birth control is not an option. For many of them, continuing a pregnancy is financially unthinkable as well. Women who cannot afford preventative health care such as birth control are even less likely to be able to secure low-cost obstetrical care during a pregnancy. Many of these women choose abortion as the best way to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. It is my sincere belief that providing free birth control would eliminate the need for scores of abortions annually.

Women who choose to continue unplanned pregnancies find their lives forever altered. Pregnancy is hard on a woman's body and, even if they ultimately choose to give the child up for adoption, the physical toll pregnancy and childbirth take on a woman can be significant. In the meantime, they may find themselves unable to perform tasks that their job requires, paying for healthcare they cannot afford, and dealing with difficult emotions about giving up their child. Those who decide to keep the child face decades of hard work, not to mention the expense of raising a child.

In a country that espouses freedom, justice and liberty to pursue happiness, it seems like a no-brainer to provide birth control at no cost. Beyond the obvious benefits of reducing the number of unwanted/unplanned pregnancies and saving on healthcare costs for the entire country, it offers American women the same opportunity to pursue their livelihoods that American men have. The birth control pill is not used for frivolous reasons. It is not as though American women are asking for insurance companies to pay for botox injections. This is a safe, inexpensive way to ensure that more women and their partners are able to plan their families reliably in order to fit their own needs.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Excavation and Forgiveness

Big doin's around here. At least in my head. I'm back to working on forgiveness. And this time it is a little closer to home. This person is someone who is still in my life and is likely to be for a good, long time. And, while I knew somewhere deep in my ugly innards that I hadn't forgiven her, I didn't honestly think about it much, or acknowledge that this might be a problem. But I've bumped up against it hard lately and it is causing a swirling ball of heartburn in my gut.

**Same issue of Tricycle Magazine. The article is The Seventh Zen Precept: Not Elevating Oneself and Blaming Others, written by Nancy Baker

Friday, July 15, 2011

Is There a Better Way to Talk This Out?

"Use your words."
"Can't we discuss this?"
"How does that make you feel?"

If I had a nickel for every time I have used one of these phrases...

And of course, those phrases are pulled out of my bag when there is conflict in the house. When things are threatening to explode or have begun exploding already. But I am convinced that, as human beings, we are afraid of differing opinions and potential conflict so much that by the time we get to this point, discussion is like trying to cut a frozen cake with a plastic knife. Merely surface.

Color me guilty.

For a while now, something has been bugging me. Something about Bubba. I'll talk to my girlfriends about it. I'll mention it in some slight, round-the-bend, cloaked in humor or false nonchalance to him, hoping he gets the hint and suddenly decides to change his behavior. What I haven't chosen to do is say it outright.

And all the while, I wonder. I create dialogue in my head, imagining what he would say if I said "X." I feel like I know him pretty well after twenty-some years, so I can fill in the blanks, right? And the thing is, I am a native Idealist from the land of Idealism, which means that I want him to change because it is the Right Thing to Do, not to appease me. I want him to feel it in his heart. But I'm afraid. Afraid that he won't care as much as I do or that he'll somehow mock me or that he will think the entire conversation is a waste of his time, and so I keep the dialogue in my head. And the more I pretend I'm talking to him about it, the more scared I get to actually have the conversation. Because by now, I have done a lot of assuming.

So by the time I found an opportunity to have the conversation with him, I couldn't look at him. We had gone to bed with our books, him lying on his stomach and me sitting up against the headboard, pillows propping my head and shoulders up. I looked straight forward and dove in. And I didn't meet his eyes the entire time we talked. Even when he gave me a perfectly Bubba, absolutely authentic, thoughtful reason for behaving the way he had that caused every cell in my body to soften and round itself in recognition that this was the man I love. This compassionate, loving person who had been missing in my imaginary discussions was, in fact, here next to me, offering a scenario I couldn't have predicted. And while he wouldn't have prompted the conversation, he was more than willing to engage in it.

Nearly an hour later, I was left with the solid reminder that these discussions always go better in real life than they do in my head. In real life, Bubba doesn't belittle me or mock me or refuse to deal with difficult situations. It is my fear and anticipation that creates those stumbling blocks for me.

I wonder if there is a simpler way to learn to talk about difficult issues. Talking it out is something I encourage my kids to do all the time, but I am not sure I have properly taught them how to do that. Perhaps that ought to be the next item on my to-do list.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Some Alchemy I Could Get Behind

"Fear is excitement without breath." Robert Heller

When I first heard the quote, I had to chew on it for a while. I wanted it to be true because it seems such a magical way to flip something awful into something much more desirable. If I'm fearful, all I have to do is breathe. Or remember that, with breath, this situation would be merely exciting. And exciting is good, right?

It has been several days now and I can say honestly that I see glimpses of it. Like lucid flashes of last night's dream, I have moments where I feel like I can grasp the wisdom of Heller's words, but as soon as I pursue the thought it vanishes.

After some frustration, I decided maybe it would help to come at it from a different angle. I love words and wordplay and I kicked butt on the portion of the SAT where you have to compare groups of words (bird is to nest as dog is to __________). I love analogies. So maybe if fear + breath = excitement, then anger + breath =
equals...sarcasm? Wry humor? Generally if I'm given time to take a breath when I'm royally pissed off I can come up with some witty remark that makes my point without screaming. Although, I'm not certain that sarcasm is all that much better than anger.

This led me to wonder just how much breath we're talking about. Because I can see that (staying with the analogy) say, 15 minutes of slow, meditative breathing when I'm angry could lead to a much better assessment of the situation. In this case, anyway, it seems that more breath is better. So maybe it's the same with fear.

I still wasn't getting there. Not all the way, anyway.

My third try involved coming up with a scenario. So I conjured up something to be afraid of. And, because this was only an exercise and I tend to do things in a big way in my imagination, I went for one of the biggies. I hearkened back to the days when Bubba was sick with some mysterious illness that nearly killed him more than once. The days (three and a half years of which) before we had a diagnosis and I was never sure when he left on a business trip if he was going to be coming home again or not. That was pure, naked fear, that was. And even if I take out my mental measuring cup and add six cups of breath, I don't see how that gets me to excitement. Granted, the dictionary definition of "excite" is "to arouse or stir up the emotions of," but I generally think of excitement as a positive thing. By this definition, my emotions were certainly excited, but not in a good way - in a bleeding-ulcer-causing way.

After all of the logical labyrinths of the last week, I still can't find my way around the sense of this quote. And it's too damn bad because I really would have liked a simple recipe for turning fear to excitement.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Finding a Wider Audience

In a (rare) quiet moment last weekend, while the girls were otherwise occupied throwing rocks into the lake, I admitted to Bubba that I'm feeling a bit scattered, writing-wise. Following the Writer's Boot Camp I took with Lisa Romeo in January, I was energized to work on my travel memoir. And then life crept in, slowly at the edges, and then more rapidly as water does when it finds a void, rushing to fill up every available space with carpools, after-school activities, and random, small writing projects.

Since then, I have submitted a few small pieces here and there for consideration, renewed my efforts to sell my original manuscript and all but abandoned the travel memoir to attract dust and yellow in the corner. A few rejections later, and I found myself questioning my path. Am I working on a larger project like the travel memoir or content to write blog posts and submit essays to magazines and writing contests? Can I do both?


Again, I asked myself to just be in this moment. Bask in the feeling that my writing is being acknowledged on a new level and appreciated. Be grateful that my words will reach new and different audiences and create dialogue that ripples out farther than this blog.

If you haven't checked out either of these sites, please do. They are rich in content and driven by women who believe in the power of the written word and harnessing the positive energy of women to make change and create awareness.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Of Storms and Love

The most hateful hate I have ever known erupts like lava from the volcano that is Eve. Accelerated by the steam of fear and frustration inside this eleven-year-old body it destroys all in its path indiscriminately. It is not about chores or homework or curfew, although that is the story. As her mother, I want to know what lies at the core, what is driving this fear and sadness.

“I hate you!”

“You don’t get it! Nobody understands me!”

The sneer of derision. She looks down on me for my ignorance, but beneath that is the stark terror that I might not "get it." That it may be that nobody will ever understand how she feels.

I am nearly jealous. At her age, such a volatile, emotional display was acceptable only within the walls of my head. Never to be uttered aloud.

I can remember wishing for confrontation to appear in my daily life. Any situation where I would be clearly justified in getting angry – an explosion that everyone would condone and agree with. I worked through scripts in my head, Dad or Mom or random strangers in the store doing me Wrong and eliciting rage like they never anticipated. I would stop them in their tracks with cold, calculating comebacks, catching their breath in their throats as sudden illumination flooded their brains – they were Wrong. I was Right.

As a teenager, I was quick to anger in the driver’s seat, honking, flashing lights, raising my middle finger. I was courageous within the steel frame of my Datsun 310, stomping on the gas as I passed little old ladies holding up traffic on Highway 101.

On sick days I would lounge on the couch watching “Days of Our Lives.” Inhabiting the diva, wishing for a chance to become indignant and furious, clever barbs and speeches designed to wound sitting lightly on my tongue.

I never imagined being the recipient of such anger. And I’m sure she feels justified, or if she doesn’t, she would never let on. And now I know that her bravado is surely false, its roots deep in fear and uncertainty and an overwhelming rush of emotion that is too much to contain. When I ask her to sit with this anger and fear and frustration, her body sheds kinetic energy – her feet stamp the ground like a wild stallion and she twists in her chair as if being wrung out to dry. Her teeth grind and she begs to be let go. This emotion is too much to bear. "Please let me go!" she screams.

It is all I can do to deflect the energy instead of letting it penetrate. This lovely, perfect creature, flesh arisen from mine, whose heart beats with a measure of my blood, is in such pain and to take it on would only destroy us both. My gift to her lies in attempting to shed this incredible energy and replace the void with love and light.

I wish it were easier.

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