Little Fires Everywhere

We had a grass fire scare last night.

It was 8km away, on the other side of a river, but I almost panicked. I had bags packed. I had food packed in a cooler. I had all my important documents together, my external hard drive packed, chargers all together. It was all on the floor by the front door with a note taped to the door reminding me of all the things I needed to grab if I had to leave in a hurry. Then I sat and I refreshed the local question and answer page on Facebook, checking for updates, wondering how I would be told that I needed to leave and imagining what it was going to be like having to evacuate.

Of course, it was contained within a few hours and I felt like an idiot for being so freaked out.

But this is anxiety, isn’t it. Its prepping for the worst case scenario because you’re scared you won’t be able to hold it together if the worst case scenario happens. It’s being able to envision, in pain staking detail, all the ways things can go wrong. It’s remembering what happened to people you know who were caught in a forest fire, who had to leave everything behind, and being terrified that is what is about to happen to you. It’s ignoring the fact that there is 8km and a river between you and the fire, and only hearing the wind is blowing in your direction and that it hasn’t rained in weeks. It’s accepting this as your new reality and preparing yourself for it, because you are sure that you won’t be able to hold it together for your kids when the fire hits. It’s planning where you’re going to go, where you’re going to stay, how much gas is in the car.

It’s always looking for the escape route.

Anxiety is doing this with every. fucking. thing.

My new therapist talked to me about the link between anxiety and creativity. That creative people are more prone to anxiety because they are able to create entire worlds in their heads that feel as real as the world around them. They are able to imagine, in excruciating detail, exactly how everything can go wrong. When you live your life like this, how can it NOT affect you? I’m a writer. It’s what I’ve always done, it’s how I’ve processed, how I communicate with myself and with other people. I’m not so great with the talking but I can write. So it’s not surprising that I can tell myself stories all about how things will fall apart. This is the narrative that runs through my head. And I can be convincing. I had myself running around my house at 10pm taking pictures of everything I owned for insurance purposes over a grass fire that was only vaguely in my area. Who does that to themselves?!

I don’t know how to function like this anymore. I hadn’t really even thought about all the ways my anxiety manifests in my life until I started to see a new therapist. This one is a real therapist, not just a counsellor, and she’s tough. I cried a lot. She made me have an anxiety attack – on purpose – so that I could just sit with it and experience it and realize I will be okay. It was not the most positive experience. But, I’m hopeful. Still. Three therapists later, I’m still hopeful. I think. I just want a way to live like a normal person. I don’t want to fight fires any more.

How a Children’s Show Convinced Me to Go Back to Therapy

I was reading an article today on Scary Mommy, and the author was talking about how much she loves the show “Bluey”. She had all these amazing things to say about it. Now, I’ve watched A LOT of kids shows, but I’ve never seen this one, so I thought, ‘Why not? Let’s check this shit out”.

Guys, she was right.

It was like seeing the parent I want to be – and used to be, not that long ago – play out on the screen in front of me. No life lessons shoehorned in, no weird tie-ins to “learning”, just pure unadulterated play. With both parents equally. There was so much joy, and fun, and pure imaginative play that every ECE dreams about.

So why did it also make me feel so sad? The author I read wrote about how she used it to inspire her own parenting. I want to be that parent. It made me feel like all of my shortcomings were on full display. This was everything I wanted for my kids, for myself, for my marriage, and it was all playing out in front of me and it just made me feel jealous, and disappointed in myself for not being able to provide that for my kids anymore.

I tried so hard today to be more like that. I let them have water play, and let L. sit right on top of the coffee table and feel the water on his whole body. I took G. to the park and pushed her in the swing and let them run wild in the mud.
I also yelled because G. tried to steal her brother’s chocolate by pouring it in her bowl when he wasn’t looking, and then shoved it in her mouth when I called her on it, and I didn’t stay to cuddle as long as she would like at bedtime because all I could think about was the mountain of stuff I needed to finish before I could finally sleep tonight.

I ‘m trying to keep perspective. I’ve been telling myself “Baby steps”. I can’t change everything all at once, I can’t fix what’s wrong in my brain with 12 episodes of Bluey and a trip to the park. But I’m trying, at least. I’m not letting myself drown in these thoughts of “you’re not good enough. You’re going to give your children issues because you have so many issues. you’re a horrible mother because you yell. you make G. feel like shit and she’s going to resent you so much growing up and she’s going to have self-esteem issues and anxiety because she can never predict which version of me is going to come out of my mouth”.
This is the first time I’ve ever verbalized this. It’s been in my head for a long time, but this is the first time I’ve ever written it, and acknowledged it flat out. I’m scared of how my illness is affecting her, what damage I’m doing to her. I don’t want to be that mother, the unpredictable one, where you have to walk on eggshells because you never know how they’re going to react. I want to discipline with love, be firm but fair, but I’m struggling with that line.

So maybe that’s why I’m watching Bluey. I’m going to try to be more like that. Let them interrupt the dishes. The worst that’s going to happen is that I’ll forget about them and they’ll pile up and then I’ll have to spend time doing two loads instead of one and then I’ll stress about how the kitchen looks and how the house smells and then I’ll just turn turtle and ignore it all until it’s just a crushing weight on my anxiety. That’s not so bad, is it.

Or I could just spend five less minutes scrolling the Netflix screen trying to find something to watch after they go to bed and do it then, when the exhaustion hits from trying to parent and work and yoga and school and it feels like it’s impossible to move my body even just one more inch. It’s doable.

I know, mentally, that these aren’t real reasons not to do things. My life won’t all fall apart if I decide I’d rather make a fort than fold laundry, or if I play pretend with the kids instead of forcing them to clean their room. I know this. Things always get done, eventually. However, knowing it doesn’t make it feel less real, or make me feel less overwhelmed at how much there always is to do.

The only thing I took out of my sessions with my first therapist was “You can do anything for 5 minutes. Even if you don’t get it done, at least its started and you can give yourself permission to rest because you’ve made that start. And usually, once you start, you’re more motivated to finish. So whenever something feels overwhelming, just do it for 5 minutes.” It’s been my life saver. I’ve discovered just how much I can actually get done in 5 minutes – and honestly, she was right, I’m usually invested enough after 5 minutes that I just finish it. Maybe that’s the answer then. Play for 5 minutes, no distractions, just play. Or clean for 5 minutes, right after they go to bed. Find 5 minutes, and just do one thing that needs attention.

I think I’m going to stop putting it off and find a new therapist, if a children’s show brings up all this.

Breathe.

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

The biggest thing I struggle with is guilt. I think that’s pretty common among most mothers. However, mine is debilitating. I can’t breathe under the weight of the guilt. Over everything. What I feed them. What I don’t feed them. How they play. How they don’t play. Am I providing enough experiences for them? Should I even provide experiences? Should I just let them be? Am I being too hard on them? Am I keeping them safe enough? Am I keeping them too safe? Are they getting too much screen time? Am I giving them enough face time? Enough one on one time? Am I yelling too much? Am I too permissive? Did they even eat vegetables today?

It goes on and on and on.

It’s not fun in my head.

So, I started something last month. I joined some girlfriends on Facebook, and we decided we would do a free 30 day yoga challenge. Every night, I had 20-30 minutes where I turned off the lights, lit some candles, and did yoga. Even when I had online classes, even when Hubby was home from camp, I still escaped into my office and did some yoga. Fuck me, it was hard. I lost so much muscle tone in the last year, I could barely hold my body up. But, I wasn’t going to chicken out this time. I fucking did it. I finished all 30 days.

And then something weird happened that I didn’t expect.

Monday was supposed to be a new work out program. A new fresh start. I did Day 1. Hated it. Tuesday, I did Day 2, hated every minute of it even though it was yoga/pilates inspired workout. Today is Wednesday, and I did Day 1 and 2 of a new monthly calendar of yoga and it felt so good.

Turns out, even though I didn’t notice it happening, I was addicted to yoga. It was a safe space, away from everything going on. I missed it. And lets be real, it gave me some space away from everyone else’s needs. Hubby had to step up and be the default parent while I was in my space, and it felt so nice to not be “It” for a while. This never happens – Hubby works camp, and so I had to step up when he’s gone, and it’s a routine that never changes even when he’s home – which leaves me feeling pissed off and overwhelmed. I didn’t think 20-30 minutes a night would be so life changing (not to be melodramatic or anything).

I still have guilt. No doubt. Crippling guilt. Just, for once, none about knowing I need self-care and all that stuff mom blogs post about, and then failing at taking care of myself in the most basic way.

Weird.