When I began my foray into Listen To Your Mother, I had no idea the stories that I would be privy to at auditions. Storytelling is a tradition as old as the human race. In our connected world, we lose sight of being present and really listening to stories. As a mom of two little girls, they can talk my ear off. I am a distracted listener and an habitual multi-tasker. This trait made me seem unkind and not caring. I also had horrible recall of stories and conversations. I simply was not present.
LTYM changed my life. The whole audition process made me a more compassionate listener. We see ordinary people tell extraordinary stories. It made me realize that I can never truly know a person’s story until I hear it from them. Everyone wants to be truly seen and heard. Each story touches my heart, and I leave auditions feeling grateful for this opportunity to hear these sacred stories. Stories are how we make sense of our world, and it is a blessing to listen to them, distraction free. It has made me a better listener to my little ladies. I ask them now to stop telling me a story if my attention is not focused entirely on them. I crave those moments of their day that they decide to share with me.
My sweet Skeeter,
My heart broke the first time I heard you ask where your baby photo album was. I felt like such a failure. Why couldn’t I have managed to put together a photo album for you? The truth is that I was barely able to function until you were nearly a year old. I was unable to make decisions; picking out clothes to wear or what to eat for dinner paralyzed me. The thought of uploading photos and printing them out seemed terrifying.
Flash forward three years later. The weather is frigid, so your dad declares it a day to remove the clutter from our house and get organized. I finally decide to pull out the mounds of photos and start to organize them. This task would have sent me running for the hills back when I was truly struggling. It is daunting, but I am reveling in this experience. I finally found the album that I had bought especially for my sweet Skeeter. We were able to put the first two photos in there. We need to figure out where the other ones are before we can put the rest of them. Your smile warmed my heart. You matter, and you were so wanted, sweet girl. Never forget how much your mama loves you. What pained me most by looking at some of those photos is how dead my eyes looked in those pictures. If you could see behind the mask of the happy mama, you would see anxiety, rage and sorrow. I also realized how few pictures I took of myself. I have a bunch of pictures of you and Munch. I could barely fake the smile required for the camera, so instead I delighted in the joy of my sweet, growing girls. I promise to take more pictures with me in the frame. I love the life that I live, and I want you to have pictures of me when I am gone.
After six weeks of no running, I finally ran this afternoon. It was a brisk 21 degrees Fahrenheit. I ran just under a mile and three quarters. The first mile is always the toughest, especially in cold weather. I regretted not putting on warmer mittens and not using my face mask.
Other than the wind I felt fantastic. I had forgotten how much of a meditation running is for me. It clears my mind. I do not run with music because I had to run in the street. I need to be able to hear. I use the cadence and rhythm of my feet to keep me going. Plus I spent the night before at a rock concert so my ears needed a break.
Winter running is not for the faint of spirit. The cold and wind took my breath away at first. Once I got through the first half mile, I was warmed up. No excuses for not getting out there unless the windchill is dangerously low. Running centers me. I need that in my life to ground me.
If you speak to any of my college roommates or my work colleagues from my pre child years, they will tell you that I am NOT a morning person. Motherhood reluctantly pushed me into becoming a morning person. My darling daughters are also decidedly not morning people. Skeeter in particular shouts at us to “turn off the alarm!”. I have written previously about my struggles with the morning routine here and here.
A major factor that has relieved some of the morning stress is that I only have one place to drop off both Munch and Skeeter. When school started this year, I heard the angels singing. The logistics of coordinating multiple drop offs and picks ups wore both my husband and I out last year.
I started off the year with high hopes of getting us out the door. I tried games and contests like my husband does. My girls do not like to be hurried, and my perfectionist nature manifests itself in calls to hurry up. Mindfulness does not come easy for me at all. I want to be more deliberate in my parenting.
I realized that I had an opportunity during breakfast with my girls. I could talk to them about the day, about current events, and about what I am writing. If I leave them unsupervised during breakfast, they end up teasing each other and neglecting to actually eat. I took charge and started steering our conversations. We have discussed everything from racism to body image to our #oneword for the year. My word is believe. Munch’s word is namaste. Skeeter’s word is color.
For me, depression does not manifest itself in sadness. My postpartum depression manifested itself as postpartum rage. I felt the weight of the depression like lead that threatened to suffocate me with a lack of energy. Any energy that I had was exerted in fits of rage. I felt like a monster who could not control her emotions at all.
Anything would set me off – dishes not being done, someone driving too slow, my baby wanting to play instead of nap, my three year old for needing me to lay down with her until she fell asleep. The rage ate at my spirit, threatening to destroy all my relationships in its wake. My husband took the brunt of my wrath. It is my single biggest regret from those months that I struggled. He is the love of my life, and he is my best friend. When I think of the burden he had to endure in silence, my heart aches. I am so grateful for the unwavering support and unconditional love he showed me. Even as I despaired that he would run for the hills once I started treatment and got a diagnosis, he reminded me that we took vows “in sickness and in health”.
Today on this #DayOfLight, I am sending out a message of hope to anyone who is struggling. You will get better. You are not alone. Never give up hope.
So this week started out with me giving myself a first degree burn on my dominant hand by spilling coffee all over it on Monday morning. I scared the crap out of my girls and my husband who was home sick that day. I stayed home Thursday after toughing out all day meetings on Wednesday. I had to take a sick day because I knew I had a sinus infection. Today we shorted the circuit in our kitchen and fried the toaster. I was not watching the girls make the toast; otherwise I would have warned them that a fork and a toaster that is currently toasting is not a good mix. I am blaming my momnesia on an antibiotic fog and chronic sleep deprivation.
At work and online, I felt this sense of everyone trying to come together to find solutions and work together. This type of work brutal. It is such tough work to change our habits and try new things. It requires lots of soul-searching and figuring out where I can improve. Sometimes it goes really well. Other times, I fall flat on my face. I dust myself off, and I get back up. I keep reading and learning and working to understand.
Three things warmed my heart today – the love of a community for some of its tireless advocates, the love of an online community sending so much positive energy to a mama who’s struggling with scarce local resources, and my two sweet girls. I talk to them often about my struggle with mental illness. I tell them in terms that they understand. They know I take medication daily; I call them my “patience pills”. They know that I see a doctor, and that Mommy likes to talk about her feelings, their feelings and even Daddy’s feelings. My Skeeter finally got it that I had a hard time after she was born. She seemed so sad for a few minutes. I held her, and I told her what I did to get better. Then my sweet Munch piped up that “lots of mommies have a hard time”. Skeeter said, “It doesn’t matter the color of their skin. They all need help”. I hugged these two amazing souls that I have the privilege to parent and reiterated my promise that Mommy would be there for them when they have their babies. I told them that they can tell Mommy anything. I will understand, and I will help them get the help they need.
***Trigger warning: If you are feeling fragile or struggling, this post might be triggering. I talk about intrusive thoughts.***
It was a lazy weekend afternoon. My daughters decided to build forts. They were crawling around with blankets over their head. The girls laughed and yelled all around me. It was a picture perfect moment of innocent childhood play until my anxiety started to suffocate me. All of a sudden, I felt that overwhelming sense of panic and dread. I made them stop, and I called my husband in for reinforcements. I could hardly articulate to my girls why I needed them to stop right away.
How do you tell your sweet girls that putting things over their heads is a major trigger for you? I whispered to my husband how triggering this was for me. I got out that all I could picture was my sweet babies with bags, pillows or blankets over their heads. I had strangled them with my own hands. Those thoughts came racing to the forefront of my mind again. The siren call of anxiety sounded again. I looked at my sweet girls who were laughing and dancing around me. I reiterated my mantra to myself. You are okay. Your husband is okay. Your girls are okay. Everyone is home and safe.
I used all my coping techniques. I breathed deeply. I kept repeating to myself that this was just my intrusive thoughts. I held my books and my phone to ground myself in what was tangible and real. The physical symptoms of a panic attack continued their assault on me. I ended up laying down and continuing to do deep breathing. Panic attacks exhaust me physically and mentally. I literally feel like I have run and escaped from a bogeyman who is chasing me. It takes me at least fifteen to twenty minutes for the physical symptoms to abate. I also used my anxiety medication to help dull that rising tide of panic. I finally was able to relax and enjoy the rest of my lazy weekend day. I know that I am not my thoughts, and that is a mantra that I use when I am triggered by a resurgence of my intrusive thoughts. It is rare that those intrusive thoughts appear anymore. I continue to make my health a priority by getting enough sleep, eating well, and practicing other forms of self-care like yoga, singing, dancing and journaling.