Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Frenemy


A frenemy is someone who you think is your friend but behind the nice facade they are your enemy and they know you intimately.  I have one of those.

Things have been pretty weird lately, right?  I remember wishing that I could just have some time when we couldn't leave the house and it would be forced family time. Like a snowstorm or something.  Well, if the universe was listening and if I'm self-centered enough to believe it was, then I caused this stay at home COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic because here we are. Is this week 10 or 15?  I don't know anymore.

The first few days were nice and filled with board games, Netflix, bread making, and quarantine schedules. But after that everyone, even the dogs have found their little spot in the house that is away from anyone else.  Family dinners are made but we don't eat together anymore.  Mostly because when I'm eating lunch my teen boys are eating breakfast and when I'm eating dinner they are just getting around to having a snack. 
My husband lives here... I think? He has set up a little office (or maybe it is a panic room) in the basement. 

I have looked up on any given day and seen all of us on laptops and realized we hadn't spoken in hours or maybe even days. 

I'm just going to write what I'm feeling in my heart.   My anxiety has been through the mother f'ing roof.  I mean like a level 17 on a 10 point scale.  I thrive on routine.  I thrive on lists. In other words... not this.  

What I discovered is that I have vices.  I didn't realize that certain things were vices, but now that I have had time to sit with myself I realize I most certainly did. And these vices were what kept my anxiety from being as obvious as a scarlet letter "A "on my forehead.  
Anxiety can look different for a lot of people.  For me, it can be summed up in one word Fear, with a capital F. 

But during this time it was not fear of the pandemic or the virus that made my anxiety skyrocket, it was the fear of not doing enough. And that is when I discovered what my vice was.   My vice is keeping myself so busy that I don't have to listen to the worries in my head.  It was meeting up with friends trying to solve their issues so I didn't have to face mine.   

During this time, when my vices are not easily accessible, my issues stepped into the spotlight. There has been a particular friend who has been pointing out all of my flaws.   Calling me out when I think I'm doing okay.   Like, when I felt like I had done a really good job helping my son with his math homework, only to have my friend remind me that in fact, I'm a dumbass when it comes to math. I always have been, in college I was diagnosed with having some issue with number dyslexia so I was able to take a "math for the real world" just to complete my math requirement.  She also reminded me that in high school when I was injured and couldn't play soccer for an entire season and by the time January rolled around I was 20 lbs. heavier and that was probably going to happen again since I couldn't go to the gym. Not to mention all the carbs I have been eating. So much bread.

My frenemy knows everything about me because she is the little voice in my head that acts as a fact-checker to everything I do.  And this time alone has called her center stage as the ingenue of her own show called Anxiety- a very long drawn out musical in one act. Like the scene in the Sound of Music with Mother Superior, it is so loooong. 

My fear manifests itself in my body near my heart.  When it grows it feels really heavy. I usually start to rub that area of my chest. I didn't realize this until my son asked me why my chest was so red. When I looked in the mirror I realized that had been rubbing that area so much that it had become irritated.  I wonder how often I do that in public and people think I'm rubbing my boob?  Probably a lot. 

It's not a coincidence that I have always thought of my sons as sections of my heart personified as boys walking around town completely exposed to the elements. And everyone knows that it is not good to have a vital organ walking about in public and sunlight. It is supposed to be enclosed behind bones, and muscles and skin and walls and bricks, behind a locked door near me so I can do my job as a mother and protect them.  Cue frenemy who makes her entrance walks up to the microphone and sings the boring nun song to remind me of a few things.

"How did you think you could be a good mom?  If you can't even meet their needs when they are home, you are clearly failing when they leave the house.  That is why they don't want to watch a movie with you anymore, they don't need you.  They aren't babies. You can't protect them.  They are going to leave you and enter the world and there is nothing you can do about it."

What. A. Bitch.

Then my heart begins to ache, my head begins to ache and I begin to spiral.  
This time at home has made her voice loud and clear. 

Rather than call a friend and have her tell me her problems as a distraction, I had to face my own.  So I decided to do something I hadn't done in a long time.  I started writing.  Not typing, actual writing with a pen on paper.  It felt strange.  I used to have a journal but I stopped doing that when a boyfriend read it and used my words and thoughts against me.  I began typing because it could be password protected.  But it isn't the same. I began writing down everything my inner voice was telling me.  

That girl was right in grade school, you really are super weird. 
You may fool your boss but you don't know what you are doing. 
You are not good enough.
How could you bring children into a world like this?

Each bit of information I was reading or watching on the news was like a twig feeding the anxiety fire that was billowing out of control inside me and there was no way to put it out. My friends on social media were battling it out on whether or not they need to wear a mask in public.  Humans treating humans poorly or killing them because of deep seating racism was adding to my anxiety. The collective anxiety this is causing is palpable. 

Imagine if that was my son who died? Or more accurately, imagine it was my son who was the police officer who killed him. Imagine that was my son who called 911 on a Harvard educated bird watcher who pissed him off just because he felt entitled to do so, and  because he was black.  Are we doing enough as parents to educate our boys?  Oh my God, what if we are not?  What about the police officers that just stood there and did nothing? Are my sons brave enough to stand up for what is right? 
I frantically wrote all that out too. 

My frenemy became silent. We can't close our eyes when we are faced with things we don't want to see. That is when we have to open them and see the bigger picture.

I revisited my journal before I went to bed and responded to all those fear-based lies in a way I would talk to a friend.  Mostly with sarcasm and humor or sometimes with "Shuuut up," or if you suck at your job how could you have had it for 13 years and counting?  Just the facts ma'am.  Maybe I am weird, but I'm also creative AF. 

If this time in isolation has taught me anything it is that I'm kind of intense.   I love my sons so hard that it hurts. And I mean that it hurts me, and if I'm not careful, sometimes it can hurt them too.  Like not letting them grow up.  
All of this fear and fire and exposed hearts walking down the street has never actually happened, only in my head (obviously). 

I said I was going to write what was on my heart and I have but I hesitated to share this publicly. My frenemy was telling me it would be too revealing and people will not only think but now have proof that I am super weird. And they would be right.  But the truth is, my real friends and people in my life already know all this and still love me, even if they can't hug me right now.  I miss those hugs so much.

If you have felt like this you can know you are not alone.  When they say we are in this together, we really are.  I believe fear is at the root of a lot of anxiety.
If we can face those fears, expose them for what they really are, they look naked. Like someone who forgot to wear clothes to the store and is telling you how to dress. 
My point is, they don't have power...or pants.  


It is all the way you look at it, do the best you can and love yourself and others. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Surrender


When the boys were little they loved the show Yo Gabba Gabba. Like most parents of young kids I watched or heard the show just as much as they did. I went on a mission to find all the plastic characters and once I got a complete set I would proudly give to my sons as a gift.  I love complete sets of anything. It drives me crazy when I have half of something.  For example, I have the complete set of Smurf glasses and it wasn't until I got the final Smurfette glass that I could exhale in relief. 

This pandemic we are experiencing has forced me to surrender to things that make me uncomfortable.  Other than my actual birth, my entire life, has been scheduled. I don't know how to relax.  I have to be moving, going somewhere, planning something.  I'm extremely productive and not until I have everything done do I allow myself to sit on the couch.   I'm an extrovert, I'm always talking to someone. At work, the gym, the store, getting drinks with friends, book clubs (yes more than one). All while having multiple texting conversations and responding to emails. I. Am. Always. Moving. 

Until now.

This lack of social interaction has forced me to be still.  At first, it wasn't. I cleaned closets, organized, set up a home gym, made bread.  But when all that is done, the stillness was awaiting for me. Why am I so resistant to this stillness? I have tried meditating and it's a joke. How can I calm my body when my mind is running laps?  I haven't been able to sleep.  Previously, sleeping was my jam. I was so good at it.

Until now.

Yesterday I decided to force myself to be still.  I went for a run alone, came back, took a bath, still trying to accept the stillness and failing.  Probably because all of those things require movement. And motion is not stationary,  it was a nice try though. 

Drastic measures were needed. I put myself in a stillness timeout and I wasn't going to leave the until I could figure out why exactly, it was so difficult. So this morning, after checking all my work emails, I went for a walk.  I have been going on very long solo walks.  Sometimes two hours.  This morning  I didn't listen to music. I had my phone, (in case I was abducted or fell suddenly ill and needed help, of course) but I zipped it away in my pocket.  I found myself on a platform on the edge of the river and I sat down and  sit in the stillness.  It burned. My body hated this. I wanted to get up and pretend this idea had never happened.  I looked to my left and on the side of a dock a little painted word said "Ready?"  No, I thought.  In the stillness you get the answers you are looking for.  I wasn't ready for those answers.  But I forced myself to stay there. I decided to stand up just in case I needed to flee. I took several deep breaths.

What are you afraid of? I kept asking myself over and over. Then my mind was flooded with answers. Like the ticker at the bottom of any news broadcast.  But the one in bold was  "you're afraid of losing him." I understood.  

My oldest son turned 17 yesterday.  We had a party for him. But even before we were all required to stay home he had been pulling away. I had my heartstrings tightly wrapped around him pulling him back creating a painful tug of war.  We had an argument a couple of weeks ago that left me shaking. It had seemed to come out of nowhere and I was confused.  He walked out to blow off some steam.  I crumbled.   When he returned he hugged me, apologized but I was shaken.  He explained that I treat him like a baby, that he wants some freedom.  My response was words of understanding, but my thoughts were yes I do treat him like a baby because he is my baby. Freedom, yeah like that is ever going to happen.  

Things went back to normal, or so I thought.  Until he didn't want to eat with the family and have dinner with his girlfriend.  At the table, there was an empty chair. We were not a complete set. To him, my heartstrings felt more like a noose.  

These thoughts raced through my head as I stood on this platform.   I had to move and head home. With each step, I discovered that it wasn't productivity that keeps me busy. It is my anxiety.  

I talk to people and I'm a good listener so I can hear their problems so I don't have to face mine.  I stay busy so that I don't have to sit and deal with nagging insecurity I have about everything.  My anxiety needs me to be in control at all times.  I'm impossible to argue with because I can't let it go.  I keep repeating how much something hurt me until the other person takes ownership of that.  And I go over it again and again and again. I need details of everything. If I don't get every detail I feel like I'm missing a clue, I can't solve anything, without a complete set of clues.   

So when my son couldn't explain why he was angry after I listed every single thing I do or have done for him out of love, I wanted to keep reminding him of those things until he understood.  Those are times when my anxiety is at a boiling point and it spills over and burns anyone in the way. I have lost friendships over that, but I blamed them.   I was not going to do this to my own son.  I reminded myself of something I just learned.

The call of motherhood is to be a model, not a martyr.

I can do better than this. I returned home and took a long shower. When I got out I asked him to come downstairs so we could talk.   Of course, he dreads this because our talks are usually more like monologues and less like dialogues.

He came into my room to see me in a robe and a towel on my head still wet from the shower.  I couldn't wait to dry off or get dressed because at the moment, I had my anxiety preoccupied with worrying about the coronavirus.  I felt like I could point my heart in his direction and I was ready to listen to whatever he had to say. I asked him point-blank. "Do you love your family?" he looked up at me with his big brown eyes as if to say "Duh."  But he answered, "yes, of course."  It was like I was hearing that for the first time.  

Anxiety had told me that the reason he didn't want to spend time with us was that he didn't love us.  I explained that the reason I asked was because I like complete sets, and only when I have a complete set do I feel whole.  When he isn't around, I don't feel whole, and I fill that teen boy size hole with worry, doubt, and fear.  "No, I just want to spend time with my friends sometimes," he explained.  "Okay," I said.  And I explained that I will do my best to remember that.  He went back upstairs and I sat on my bed trying to take a mental snapshot of this conversation so the next time my anxiety told me otherwise I could open my camera and see the truth.  

The answer is right there. Show him love by giving him space, and that doesn't mean our set is incomplete, it means we need some space so we have room to grow. I surrendered and I didn't die.  

I haven't been sleeping well for the last couple of weeks.  I can't seem to quiet my mind from all the things I can't control. Before the pandemic, I would go to sleep by sending good thoughts to everyone I love and I would imagine where they are in the world and point them in that direction, hoping that they would receive them.  All those good thoughts have been muted by the bad ones.  Tonight I'm going to send those good thoughts to people but I'm also going to leave room for one more, me.  

Sometimes the thing that feels the hardest, is the thing you need to do most.  And if you look around, the world has been forced to do just that.  We are all surrendering, not knowing the outcome. And we are doing this, not just for ourselves, but for others. 

We are creating space between ourselves, our friends, our work and stopping our lives, so we can care for not only the ones we love but the ones someone else loves.  

It burns and at times feels painful.

And I'm holding on to the hope that with this, we will see compassion in ourselves and in others and we are creating enough space for us to grow.