Tag Archives: anxiety

Screaming

Evelyn is screaming wearing red lipstick. There is a a comic-book style pow image in back of her.

I discovered recently that my biggest fear is that I’m a bad mother and that one of my children will die by suicide. It’s hard to write that because I don’t want advice or reassurance. I just want to tell you what’s really happening in my inner life. 

I woke up early from an anxious dream. I have anxious dreams a lot. They’re mundane. I’m trying to leave an event but I can’t find my car. There’s a hurt bird and I’m trying to call the Audubon Society but none of the numbers will go through. So I was laying in bed after a dream, calming my body, resting my head on a tension release thing. I decided to go through what I might be worried about, like flipping through a catalog. The tension release thing is like two humps of a camel that I put at the base of my skull. It helps relax tightness in my head. I started thinking of things…

Work? I hadn’t worked all of January recovering from omicron. No, it wasn’t work. Everyone in my business and our clients were incredibly understanding and for the first time I was letting myself rest and receive grace.

Money? Not working meant less money. No. I had a sense that things would work out. 

Child care? We hadn’t had reliable child care since mid-December, and things were still very much up in the air. Everything falls apart without child care. Strangely I wasn’t worried about this. Things had worked out before and somehow they would again. 

The kids? Boy Woww had been having anxiety attacks; the Fairy Pig and K-Pants were their intense selves. My head started to relax and rest into the tension release thing.

When I hit on the right thing my body tells me. It’s taken me a long time to be able to listen to my body, and still I often ignore it. 

I dove down this hole. Is it the kids themselves? No. Is it the intensity of parenting? No. Is it that I’m a bad mother? Yes. There it is. Is it that I won’t be able to help them? Yes. Is it that my badness as a mom will lead to terrible outcomes and one of my kids may die by suicide? Yes. 

Now let me be clear: I am not wishing these things into being. I am not writing them into being. I think that a fear of saying things out loud, lest they come true, keeps us silent and suffering in our inner worlds. And yet I tremble as I write the words. 

Here’s what’s happening at our house. Three beautiful, imperfect gemstones live here. They sparkle in the sun. They glow under kitchen lights. They have crevices that magnify the light. These three gemstones are my treasures. They’re my gifts from God. I want everything wonderful for them and I want to be whole and happy myself. 

And we live in the world. And the world is rough. 

Boy Woww has been having anxiety attacks to the point that they interfere with his daily life. He likes things to be calm and quiet. He’s lived through two years of pandemic so far, something I never had to do as a child. Boy Woww has a sister who is about to get a diagnosis of ADHD. Her body doesn’t allow her to be still. Personal boundaries are a roadblock that stop her from showing her love, so she casts them aside. When we want to watch a family show, she climbs the back of the couch and stalks the family as a predator cat, which drives K-Pants nuts. K-Pants is in his first year of middle school. Middle school has wild ups and downs. And when he has a bad day at school, the whole family feels it. 

These are the things of life. And we’re living them.

I explained all this and more to my therapist. A good therapist is a critical resource. The Fairy Pig learned to walk in my therapist’s office, which I am quite proud of because it meant I was getting the help I needed when I needed it. 

Here’s what my therapist said (I’m paraphrasing, of course):

You can’t control the future. But right now, in these moments, you’re paying attention. Paying attention is important. You’re finding all kinds of ways to help your kids navigate the world in their own ways. For Boy Woww, you’re working to get him the help he needs in big and little ways. For the Fairy Pig, it will be interesting to see if after she gets extra help for ADHD, she becomes more manageable for Boy Woww. They are opposite personalities who need each other and it’s very difficult. You’re doing a really excellent job noticing things and validating your kids.

After getting this wonderful reassurance, I felt comfortable to tell her about how I get overwhelmed and scream at my kids. It probably happens twice a month, where a fire-breathing monster takes over my body. 

What happens when you do that? What do the kids do? 

They tell me to stop it, to take a break. K-Pants will roll his eyes and possibly swear at me. The Fairy Pig will yell back at me, “Mom, you’re NOT HELPING!!” In those moments, I think to myself, “How do I have such disrespectful kids?”

That’s a really good sign, actually. 

What? How are any of these things a good sign?

They’re not afraid of you. When you’re at your worst and you’re screaming, they’re not afraid. Even though it’s awful and no one likes it. 

I was hoping the screaming would go away, and it was for a time, but in pandemic, I’ve had plenty of times where I see myself ramping up, the embers getting fueled with air, and yet I can’t walk away. But still, there are many more times that I do walk away now. Does that make sense? I’m screaming like a cornered squirrel with its tail on fire at the same rate or more as before, but I’m also walking away and taking a break more. So I guess that’s a win?

You are parenting three intense children. Whenever you walk away that’s a win. That’s your whole goal at this point: walk away. 

____

Hearing this was a sensation of whole-body relief. I hold myself to impossibly high standards. I don’t consciously do it. But deep in my psyche there is a quarterback playbook filled with sure-fire runs and passes that I imagine other people using. Plays that get you out of tricky situations, that allow you to stay calm and also teach your children about problem solving and gentle parenting. Plays that I don’t know how to call for. 

So here I am on Scream Into the Void Tuesday. The void screams are so necessary and freeing. The screaming at my children happens. I do walk away more, and that’s a win. I’m noticing things. I’m talking about it. And that’s good enough for now. 

And We All Fall Down

 

I checked in with K-Pants recently, about the love thing. You might remember that last year he was feeling like there wasn’t enough love for him.

We’ve had a lot of discussions about what kinds of things feel like love, and how I can make sure to show him love in a way that soaks in. I like to be intentional and specific with K-Pants, because what seems like a few hungry hours without food to me, is scurvy to him.

With K-Pants I think, Maybe if I fill an underground well full of love, then when storms rip branches from the trees above, we’ll still have that cool, protected reservoir for our relationship to drink from.

So…

I volunteer in his classroom. I walk him to school. Sometimes I meet him for lunch. I take him on adventures—to ride horses and climb K-Pants-sized mountains—because that’s where I shine, and that’s where he shines.

And a few weeks ago I checked in with him. I said, “K-Pants. Remember the love problem? Where you weren’t feeling enough love. How is that now?” “Good,” he said. “What about me getting mad?” I asked. “You don’t get mad anymore,” he said.

That’s not true.

I get mad on a regular basis. Some days I yell. But thinking about it, I yell less frequently and less like a wild banshee.

But then right after this, I ruined it. I’m not sure exactly what made me crack. I think it was weeks of afternoon exhaustion. Parenting K-Pants after school is a tension-filled dance.

  • Me: How was school? Did you do any Pokémon trades on the bus?
  • K-Pants: (aggravated) Why are you asking me that?
  • Boy Woww: Did you get a new Aloha Pokémon?
  • K-Pants: I’m not telling you, and you can’t see it.
  • Me: I think you’re hungry. There are a bunch of snacks in the bag back there.
  • K-Pants: I’m not hungry. And I don’t like these snacks.
  • Boy Woww: I made an artwork at school.
  • K-Pants: That’s so weird. It’s so totally weird.
  • Me: Let’s ignore K-Pants. He’s grumpy.
  • Boy Woww: [crying]

Even if you’re patient, watching one member of the family try to destroy the rest by sucking out the joy and the kindness leaves you ragged and overwhelmed. And you start to think maybe this kid is malicious.

I know he doesn’t want to be, but his habits are powerful, and his habits are destroying us. Really our habits—our collective interactions—are destroying us.

Later that night I screamed at him. And he said, “I HATE YOU!” And I said, “I DON’T CARE IF YOU HATE ME. I CARE IF YOU ARE RESPECTFUL AND KIND.” And he went downstairs. And then he yelled up, “I’M HUNGRY!” And I yelled, “THEN MAKE SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF!” And then I made him help me unpack the groceries (because after school I had taken Boy Woww to speech therapy, then K-Pants to baseball, then did the grocery shopping during practice, then arrived back to cheer him on during the scrimmage, then had K-Pants ask me for a fancy baseball backpack like the other kids have [answer: no]).

Then we went home, where I yelled at him like a crazy banshee. It had been building up for weeks, cracking the seams of the pressure cooker.

Then Boy Woww, the middle child, came upstairs and said, “Mom, what can I do to help?” It made me feel even worse, because he’s living into his role as the quiet peacemaker. And K-Pants is living into his role as the difficult one. And together we’re in this entangled Groundhog’s Day mess.

All this to say that this is how, on a beautiful Mother’s Day afternoon, when blue sky seemed to be momentarily winning the battle with the rain clouds, I found myself sitting in the car outside our parent coach’s house as K-Pants met with her. He loves her. We’ve just started this process.

Soon she’s going to be coming to our house to observe. Before that my husband and I will talk with her via Skype a few times, and do the homework she assigns, and try out new strategies (or try to be consistent with strategies we’ve tried in the past).

I really like the fact that we’re working on this problem as a whole family, because it’s not just a K-Pants problem. Our whole family seizes and constricts in predictable and not always productive ways when K-Pants melts down.

We’re all exhausted from it, and we’re looking for a change. Wish us luck.

Panic Attacks and the Opposite of Despair

She flew straight into that tree. MomsicleBlog

I had a panic attack a few weeks ago.

That kind of feels like the end of the post.

I had a panic attack, and I thought I should let you know.

I want you to hear loud and clear that things are not perfect and that’s okay.

Some writers make you think you can survive parenting through crafts and cute photos, some through sarcasm and wine, and I probably make you feel like home-cooked meals, humor, and cool local businesses will keep you afloat.

Not true.

Parenting, illness, anxiety, infertility—whatever you are fighting head-on with a sword in your hand, don’t feel alone. Some people have shinier web veneers, but the struggles are still the same.

No one thing—or cadre of adorable things—is keeping us afloat.

It’s a wild and constantly moving fishing net of support that enwraps us and tries to pull us out of the sea.

For me that net is woven of God, family, neighbors, close friends, professional counseling, babysitters, date nights, exercise, writing, being outside, and watching sports and trashy TV.

And sometimes, in spite of all of those things, I feel captured and have a panic attack.

I was driving my kids and my grandma—she was living with us very briefly—and I was in charge of too many things. I’d dropped off the kids, gone to the DEQ, the DMV, picked up the kids, gotten dinner…. So on the freeway, in traffic, with my little band of pirates, I had to roll down the windows, start breathing deeply, pull off at the next exit, and head home on the streets, tuning out everything in the car and focusing on just one thing: getting home.

You might not get panic attacks. I wasn’t a panic attack person. But even if you’ve never had one, you probably feel sometimes like you’re in a fog, like there are too many responsibilities, like you’ve bitten off too much, like the rules changed and no one told you.

Sometimes we feel like we need to be unfailingly positive, and constantly in search of perfection, or at least success. We should be always moving toward the light, getting better at what we do.

That sets up a lot of anxiety. And along the way we experience a lot of failure, and change course, or change our expectations.

I heard the most wonderful quote the other day. It was from Katherine Ann Power, an American ex-convict and fugitive who lived under an assumed identity in the Willamette Valley until 1993 when she turned herself in (A fascinating story you may know, but if you don’t, listen to this interview on NPR—but do me a favor and don’t read the comments. I don’t believe in hell, but then I read Internet comments).

Katherine said of her time in prison, “The opposite of despair is not hope. The opposite of despair is getting out of bed every day.”

I find this liberating. I don’t know if I am a good parent. I can’t promise that I won’t lay on my horn in the car, swear too close to the preschool, or yell at my kids. I don’t know if I’m going to live up to my expectations today.

But I can get out of bed. And I’m on my way.

***

This post is dedicated to some dear friends who are going through devastating infertility struggles, the death of a beloved parent, acute job issues, and other overwhelming valleys in their lives.

A rose from my garden. MomsicleBlog