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.

Easter Magic

Motherhood is hard. We can all agree on that. However. Some days it’s hard in different ways. Sometimes it’s not just hard in a “I need to get away, I can’t handle the pressure anymore, if anyone else cries or screams, or stop listening, I’m going to lose my cool”. Sometimes it’s hard in a “I just want to sit on the couch and eat nachos and watch tv, but instead I have to create some fuckin’ Easter Magic up in here.”

But you always do it. You always create that fucking magic. You get your ass off the couch and you write that note from the bunny and you bite that carrot so it looks like the bunny ate it, and if you’re really brave you make powder footprints around your house (spoiler alert: I’m not that brave. Or that masochistic. Who do you think is gonna clean that mess?! The bunny’s not gonna clean shit.) And then you deal with sugar loaded toddlers who are so overstimulated and then you deal with the inevitable sugar crash, and you smile and you play and wonder at the magic of it all.

Except sometimes it doesn’t feel like magic. It feels overwhelming and overstimulating and you know you have to keep your cool because you want them to feel that magic, you don’t want them to remember holidays with a tarnish on it. So you hide in the back and you take timeouts in the bathroom to breathe because if you have to wipe one more chocolate handprint off your couch or calm one more crying toddler who’s been told he’s had enough chocolate or if you hear Mom come play with me! Mom, can you get this? Mom, do that! Mom! Mom! Mom! you are going to lose your ever-loving shit and then no one is happy and that makes you feel even worse. So you smile. And you drink coffee. You put on Easter cartoons and you ignore the chocolate handprints (might as well just clean the fucking couch once instead of over and over). You think back to your own childhood and wonder if your mother ever felt like this. And then you make plans to discuss all of this in therapy in two days 🤣

Holidays are when I miss myself the most. When I feel the loss the hardest. I know others who are grieving their loved ones, and I’m sympathetic. I’m grieving myself. I’m not sure which one is harder. The one where you know you won’t even see them again, or the one where you are scared of that exact outcome. These are the days that I force myself to confront my deepest fear – what if this is it? what if this is how I am now? What if I never go back to being patient, or having fun, or able to play? How am I going to be the parent that I want to be if this is all there is? What do I do then?

Seriously. What do I do then?

That bunny owes me some chocolate.

Different Actions, Same Intentions

My challenge from therapy this week was to put myself out there more. Challenge my negative thoughts more. Be more open to possibilities. Here’s how it went:

  1. Try to initiate more sex with hubby – or at least be more vocal and up front about when you want it and encourage the actions you want to have more of.
    Result? My period started the morning after he came home. It’s the first one since I got preggo with L., so it’s not really an area I want any contact with at the moment. Nothing is going there that isn’t absorbent. Nuh uh. Nope. Not unless you want to get shredded by the cheese grater currently attacking my uterus.
  2. When you get negative thoughts about your body image, counteract them with something positive. So, I asked a friend to come to a yoga class with me. It was a low-intensity class, as per Covid regulations, and I figured it would be a good way to ease back into yoga in a group setting where other people could see me. It was my closest girlfriend, so there’s no worry there about judgement, but I also invited a new friend, one who does spin class and has no babies and has that tight little body that I have never, EVER had so I was intimidated. What is she going to think about my flabby arms and my gut that hangs over my tights when I bend.
    Result: the class was actually…easy. I took the harder option every pose, and I could get pretty deep into the stretches. I was so proud of myself. I could feel that muscle memory from all the nights of yoga I’ve been doing. So yeah. I might not be losing any weight, but my flexibility has grown, and my muscles are slowly getting stronger. That’s my mantra. The weight will come with time. I just have to be patient, like I said I would be back in January but am struggling to keep now.
  3. Get more into the zones of regulation with G. and start to find strategies that help her (and I) get back to regulated
    Result: We ended up watching Inside Out, as per the recommendation of my counsellor. And we talked a little bit about how Anger is the red zone, when you feel like you’re going to blow your top any minute. Fear is yellow, when you’re twitchy and worried and you can’t seem to calm yourself. Joy is green, when it’s all happy and bubbly. And Sadness is blue. She seemed to kind of get it, but also to not care that much. But the idea is there. We also talked about how all the emotions are good, but we can’t let one dominate over the other. We have to feel all of our feelings but not let them take over. We’ll see how that plays out once Daddy goes to camp and Mama’s home alone with the kids for four days straight.

It’s been a good week, all in all. Shane is helping more around the house because our dishwasher broke and my eczema is too bad on my hands to do dishes. G. has been playing more with Daddy because she lost tv time due to some misbehaviour at bed time. L. is miserable because he’s teething but what else is new, it just means he wants to snuggle more. I’ve been coasting, it almost feels like. I feel like I’ve stepped back and just let Shane take over most of the parenting duties, sort of. Or not parenting duties, but house duties. He’s been doing the majority of the cleaning, he plays with the kids. I do bedtime, I do the morning routine, I pick up the kids from school and take them to all of their appointments and cook their meals, remember who needs a bath and who needs their hair washed and what we need from the grocery story. It’s getting more and more even, which makes it feel like I’m slacking because I’ve been doing all of everything for so long. It’s hard to let go, or at least to let myself let it go. Mama is the only identity I’ve been holding on to for so long that I’m finding it hard to step back and trust that it’s okay to let my husband do some of the cleaning and some of the parenting. I can’t do it all. It’s okay to take time away in my office and write, or go to the basement and go for a run on the treadmill, or go out for a drink after a yoga class with girlfriends. I’m not a bad mom or neglecting them. I’m not dumping them on my husband to get away. It’s okay to take that time, because for so long I haven’t allowed myself. I’ve always been too scared of what would happen when he leaves again, and I have to start taking it all on again. I want to say that I”m storing up some me time for when I don’t have any, but there’s that little inner voice that says I’m doing it for the wrong reasons, that I’m just finding a different way to escape them. Rather than hide behind my phone, I’m hiding in my office. Different actions, same intentions.

So how true is it? Am I finding a way to give up some control, take back a bit of myself again, or am I just disengaging in new ways? Something to bring up at tomorrow’s session, I guess.

Til then, cheers bitches.

I Did It

I finally made the call.

I officially start the intake process tomorrow to start seeing a new therapist, and I am fucking terrified.

The last time I went to therapy, it wasn’t great. I cried a lot, she taught me some breathing techniques, and that was about it. Then covid hit, and we went to phone appointments, and that was such a waste of my time that I faked getting better and stopped making appointments. It wasn’t a full fake, I really was making progress. G. and I were starting to bond again, I was making a point to focus fully on her and make her feel important, not like she was an afterthought behind her brother. The sun was shining again, and I was starting to feel more myself, in a way. I wasn’t raging like I had been, I was better able to calm myself. I was able to find some fun again. I actually laughed for real. My sex drive was coming back. However, I still wasn’t sleeping, I still was overeating. The further we went into the fall, I could feel myself crumbling under the weight of a challenging new classroom, the lack of sleep from insomnia and working full time with two kids, neither of whom would sleep through the night, and just general weariness. I could feel myself shutting down again, avoiding life again. I stopped contacting people – one girl at work told me she thought I really didn’t like her because I had such a hard time responding to her trying to start conversations. I just couldn’t fake it long enough to make it through basic niceties.

I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be the one that no one wants to talk to because they can’t hold a conversation, or they have nothing to add. I don’t want to bring everyone down with me.

So, after talking to my husband, and after we decided to start trying for another baby, I just felt like I needed support. I don’t want to be like this any more. I’ve been noticing G. starting to act out, starting to show anxiety when she would get into trouble at school, lying about petty things, and not wanting to play, just to watch tv. All day long. This was my biggest fear come true. My depression and anxiety were starting to wreak havoc on her and that was my biggest trigger. That how I’m broken was breaking her, and that was the last thing I EVER wanted to happen. She wasn’t my happy, playful, silly little girl anymore. She was sullen, she was withdrawn, she either was over the top crazy or completely shut down. I don’t want that. I can’t have that. I miss my girl. I’m so scared that a new pregnancy – if we’re lucky enough to get another – will drag me right back into the mire. I need help keeping my head on straight so that I don’t mess up both my kids in the process.

So. Tomorrow I start therapy again. I’ve been warned by a friend that this new group of doctors I’m trying is intense, it’ll be hard work. I’m okay with that. I need hard work. I need something to show that I’m progressing. Teaching me how to breathe is great, but I need more. I want more. I’m scared of intensity but in a good way. It’ll be good for me.

Right?

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.