It’s Been A Week

I had a week.

Procrastinating.  Avoiding.  Yelling.  Screaming.  Swearing.  Crying.  In the kitchen.  On the bathroom floor.

I don’t know if it’s better or worse to be so self-aware that you can head into a trigger-happy event knowing that’s what it’s going to be.  Having been through similar high-stress events and knowing their effect on you, knowing this will be the same, what outcome to expect.

A few things happened differently this time, though.  There were moments imbued with a strange peace.   It was if I was able to step back and take those five minutes of stillness for what they were because I knew it was all I was going to get.  I also may have actually written realistic to-do lists.  Usually I have crumpled lists that guiltily glare at me for months following events I’ve hosted.  This time I think there was one item I didn’t check off.  One.  That’s a freaking miracle.

I still freaked out on the crazy-all-out-clean-like-a-chicken-with-its-head-cut-off day before.  I totally turtled the day before that when the sheer enormity of what I had to accomplish overwhelmed me.  I still scrubbed the toilets the morning of.  I still showered approximately 15 minutes before go-time.  I still lost my shit because I had lost control of my universe and was unable to do it all and certainly not perfectly.

But . . . but there is that glimmer of hope for high-stress events to come.  Perhaps I am finally learning to set realistic goals for what I can accomplish in a day.  Again, miracle.  Maybe I’m finally learning that scheduling something on the calendar – even something as simple as sewing a button on a shirt – ensures I’ll do it before it sits in a bag of projects to be done someday . . . that I then feel needs to be done before someone sees it in a corner on the day of the party.  And, wonder of all wonders, maybe I’m finally allowing myself to sit in a moment, outside of what was before or to be.

I mean, it was still a week.  This is no immediate or complete transfiguration.  If you saw me sniveling on the bathroom floor Saturday, you’d not see any indication of this change at all.  But there is hope.

There is always hope.

 

 

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And now after all that talk about crying – in the kitchen, on the floor . . . I have the Peg+Cat splashing in the bathroom song in my head.

So Much Blah

For such a bland, nonspecific word, blah actually does a lot.

At the end of last month, I started a mood tracker to get a closer look at and more specific language for my moods.  I’d been using blah too much and too widely.

Now that I’ve been pinning my days and moods to – what I thought were – more specific descriptors, I realize just how evocative blah is for me.

Blah is not wanting to get off the couch – either from physical exhaustion or lack of motivation – or both.  Blah is not knowing where to start when faced with a day’s plan or duties.  Blah is not knowing how to structure a day with no plan or duties.  Blah is feeling off.  Blah is not wanting to get dressed because you haven’t had the time to shower or because nothing would feel as comfortable against your skin as pjs.  Blah is worrying about an unnamed idea.  Blah is not wanting to interface with people.  Blah is not eating because nothing seems appealing.  Blah is eating candy or snacks that will bring on more blah for sure – but perhaps will be a happy treat.  Blah answers the question, ‘How are you?’ with a shrug because blah really isn’t sure – even if things aren’t that bad.

Blah is a lot of ‘not wanting to’.  Blah must be a toddler.  Or a moody teenager.

Blah comes to visit me a lot – and not because I have all of those in my house.

I wanted to get away from using blah to describe my state of mind because I wanted something more specific.  I don’t know that I realized how many versions of blah there were.

In my mood tracker, I opted for descriptors like ‘not focused’, ‘not productive’, ‘unsettled’.  According to those little squares of color on my chart, there’s been a lot of unsettled lately.  I think I just switched blah for unsettled.  I need to unpack the feelings in that paragraph above and figure out the different shades of blah or unsettled or whatever I want to call it.

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from sillyoldsod.com

 

How Much I Learned from One Day of Mood Tracking

This past Sunday afternoon, I finally sat down with my thirteen year-old to create a mood tracker bullet-journal style.

It was an activity months in the making.  Once I expressed an interest, she would bring it up from time to time, asking me when we’d actually sit down and bu-jo together, as she says.  Eventually the questioning took on an annoyed tone as she began to wonder when and if it would actually happen.

Initially, it really was just a matter of scheduling.  When did we actually have an afternoon off to spend together with markers and blank books?  Looking back, I now realize there were other factors at play – none of which had to do with this lovely little being who wanted to spend time with me on the cusp of not wanting to spend time with me.  So I shoved those aside, or at least down enough for the day, so she wouldn’t begin to take things personally.  Those factors, however, say a lot about where I’m at right now.

First, I was unsure where to start.  I’ve never bullet journaled before and haven’t sketched or doodled just for the joy of it in decades.  Ain’t no mom got time for that.  And I certainly couldn’t let go enough to enjoy it.  If I was going to do this, it had to be done right and in an aesthetically pleasing manner.  And if I was going to invest time and blank page space, the information I collected had to be useful.  I wanted facts and indicators I could bring back to my practitioners to prove my case and plan of treatment.  When I finally sank into the couch with her, I realized I hadn’t started because I didn’t know which layout to use to best serve my needs.  Bless her thirteen year-old technologically saavy heart, she launched you-tube and pinterest searches in conjunction, showing me what she found.

Of course, I had to create my own hybrid version of a few I’d found.  I also think I let go of the idea of perfection for this month, figuring I won’t know what exactly works for me until I actually interface with it and can adjust as needed going forward.

After I created a grid with just over two weeks’ worth of dates running down its side, I set about choosing mood indicators to list across the top.  Five manner of emojis was not going to do it for me.  I was seeking language to differentiate blah from ennh to my physician.  I needed specific descriptors.  But choosing those descriptors was another story.  I broke out a pencil and began a list on a separate page.

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Jennifer Butler Basile

In a very short time, I realized how many more negative descriptors I had than positive ones.  Why did I have so many words appropriate for shitty ways of being than good ones?  The easy answer is that I’ve had lots of practice, apparently, with low moods.  The more difficult answer I’m still unpacking is how my mind tends to the negative.  Is my brain wired to a pessimistic program?  Or is it stuck in a rutted road of negativity since it’s been travelling in that direction for so long?  Does it need a reprogram?  Is that possible?

My final list, which I’m still not completely sold should be absolutely final, has one more negative descriptor than positive, but I forced myself to beef up the positive side so it wasn’t totally lopsided.  I also find my negative words so much more specific, evocative.  I find the positive descriptors more vague and general.  Again, I’ve been living in the land of low moods so apparently I know them better.

Writing such a raw, vulnerable list with my daughter at my elbow was unsettling to say the least.  The fact that she aided my progress both makes me proud that she’s so creative; that she’s so willing to accept me as I am.  It also makes me hopeful that perhaps an idea like tracking moods will become so commonplace to her generation that dialogue surrounding mental health will be like breathing air.  But I’m also terrified.  I’m afraid she’ll see what a broken person I am.   And not due to some ‘I’m so strong and perfect’ façade I’m trying to portray.  Just, I don’t know, that I struggle.  As in, how can I take care of her if I haven’t perfected how to care for myself?  But even as I write that, I know that’s all a part of being human and she’ll figure it out sooner or later no matter what.

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Jennifer Butler Basile

The reason I wanted a mood tracker was to turn a highly subjective entity – moods and feelings – into a quantifiable collection of data.  For some reason, I think I actually expected that by putting it into a grid would miraculously turn it from one thing to the other.  Perhaps I knew that was wishful thinking and why I postponed it for so long.  I also realized how much my procrastination is fueled by my perfectionism.  I also learned that, whatever its origin, I need to check my negativity so that it doesn’t rule my life.

So before I’ve even collected more than a day’s worth of data, my mood tracker has already proved to be an illustrative tool – in ways I may have never even imagined.

 

Keeping It Neat

I was a slob as a kid.  There, I said it.

I mean, I went to school washed and neat in appearance, but my room?  I could not keep a clean room to save my life.

I remember pulling up the lid of the old-school seat-and-writing-surface-all-connected student desk my parents refurbished for me, sweeping out the pencil shavings, stacking and organizing, placing everything just so; the pride that came from having a clean space – and then getting to the pile of stuff that still sat on the floor.  Where am I going to put that?  That won’t fit in a nice, neat pile.  That will mess everything up.  But I can’t get rid of it. I might use that Hello Kitty notepad someday.  That half-used activity book still has some good pages.  And, thus, my neat little pocket of organization burst at the seams.

My adult life is much the same.  Hellen Buttigieg of the now defunct home organization series, Neat, helped me realize my inner ‘pile-r’ (as opposed to file-r), but that doesn’t mean I’ve applied any sort of order to it.  Well, that’s not true.  I know the order of it.  But it looks atrocious and the system only works if no one touches it.  Being married with four little sets of hands roaming around does not help the system.  The dining room table is repeatedly the epicenter of all conflict surrounding this organizational system.

As in, clear the table for dinner.  Kids throw school papers and mail off the table.  Husband does final sweep of things they’ve missed (75% of original table matter), shoving it onto the hutch, the sideboard, the overflowing desk, a pile on the floor next to the recycling basket where it will taunt me for several days while I wonder if it fell out of the recycling, never made it in, or actually needs to be kept.  In the last five minutes before bus stop departure the next morning, three of the four awake parties sift through these piles agitatedly looking for the paper that I can still see in my mind’s eye in the third layer of stationery detritus I created, but which now quite possibly could be 53rd thanks to others’ piling. 

 Again, not ideal.

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image via Pinterest

Ever the optimist, I pile things thinking I’ll get to them.  I’ll read them, process them, do something with them – other than leave them in a pile to rot.  And then the next layer comes in.  Ever the perfectionist, I leave them until I find a system that works, until I can sort through them properly, give each task the attention it deserves.  And then it’s time for dinner and another backpack full of school forms comes home.

I’m not recounting my organizational failures this morning to depress us all.  My question now is: how does this transmit to my children?  When I went to wake my eight year-old in the second wave of morning preparations today, I had to follow a booby-trapped path to her bed.  She and her sister share a room that is too small for the two of them.  They both have too much stuff.  And they both tend toward slobbishness.  BUT did they learn their organization – or lack thereof – from me?  Is inability to organize – or at least maintain – a genetic trait?  It has to be learned.  I know they must see the desk and subconsciously or not think that’s an okay way to handle printed matter.  Am I subconsciously teaching my children to be slobs?

I don’t want the habit of holding onto things and putting off dealing with them till later to become part of their life-long regimen at the ages of eight and ten.  Right now, it’s probably still about the stuff for them.  The special rocks.  The twisted bit of glittery pipe cleaner.  The free reflecting flashlights.  But at what point does it become about the psychological burden that comes with?  When they think about who gave them that, or what they were doing when they collected it, or how someone asked them to read this and get back to them.  I want to break their attachments to things before their sentimentality and expectation suffocate them.  Am I fighting a battle that isn’t mine?  Am I fighting a losing battle?  Am I projecting my own psychological hang-ups on them?

Yes.

I just know it would’ve been a whole lot easier for me if I’d started years ago.  But then, when I pulled up the lid to that old-school desk, I was already excited by the idea of perfect little piles, containing things in a neat, little box.  And I was already overwhelmed by the stuff I couldn’t fit into it.

Decluttering’s Demise

Starting this past Sunday, I embarked on a five-day quest to rid my life of clutter.  Okay, even I knew the hook was way too shiny and easy to be for real, but I actually thought the short time span would make it more manageable and therefore, my efforts, more successful.

I had seen Jen Riday’s teaser on Facebook.  (Thank you, user activity logarithms.)  I didn’t follow her, hadn’t heard of her, but if she could give me practical, doable tips, I was in.  I needed baby bites because my house had become more than I could chew.

Sunday, the first day of the challenge, I was actually disappointed.  ‘Shut off notifications on your phone’ – that’s way too easy –  and I want to slay physical clutter!  Five days later and I’m still figuring out how to shut off those pesky Facebook and Twitter notifications.  Neither in-app or phone settings are getting it done.  I hadn’t realized how mouse/cheese I was with the stupid phone.

Monday, I had to clean out my toiletries, make-up, etc. in the bathroom (and top of the dresser if you’re me).  Make-up was easy; I have little to none.  I did finally throw away the measly remains of the tube of lipstick I wore on my wedding day.  I figure if I haven’t even purchased the lip brush to dab out the dregs in the last sixteen years, it’s a safe bet I won’t.  Plus, my pale skin just doesn’t have the dewy glow that matched the shade anymore anyway.  As always, I hit that point in organization that makes things look worse before better.  I still have three piles on my dresser of things awaiting new homes.

So while Day Two isn’t completely complete, there are at least plans.  Then, came Day Three.

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from Jen Riday’s 5-Day Vibrant Happy Declutter Challenge

As soon as I read this, my heart dropped into my stomach.  Or my psyche’s shoulders slumped.  Clutter, while harbored in my bedroom, is not what’s keeping my room from being a sacred haven.  It simply cannot be a space to “collect your thoughts [that] will help you be more patient and calm with those you love.”  I cannot shut the door to the chaos whirling outside to regroup.  Even my room is not my own!

I share a room with my baby.

I know, the horror.  A first-world problem is ever there was one.  A cozy crib tucked into a recessed nook in the corner of my room.  I could have no roof over her head.  I could have all four children in my bed while my husband and I sleep on the floor.  There are worse things.

But, psychologically, sharing physical space with the lovely little parasite who feeds off me all day, all through the night, is demoralizing.  Even in the quiet, supposedly restful hours of sweet, dark night, I am not alone.  I do not get to recharge.  Hell, I don’t even get to sleep alone.  Every night, she wakes and senses our presence and will only sleep once we’ve nestled her in with us.

So a few minutes of shuttered peace in the middle of day to regroup in my bedroom oasis, ha!  “A list so you can work methodically through it in days to come”, ha!  It’s going to take major construction and socialization to make that happen.

At the baby’s 18-month appointment, the doctor asked about her sleeping habits and arrangements.  ‘Does that work for you?’ she asked.  No, doc, what would work for me would be snapping my fingers and making the uber-expensive and logistical-nightmare of a house addition appear so I could get said baby in her own encased block of darkness each night, but yes, that’s what our reality is right now.

I wish I could say that our babe is still in our room due to my deep-seated philosophical belief in supporting her best self.  But the fact that I can’t read anymore in the dim light of my bedside table kills me.  I can’t journal my swirling thoughts into a sleepy stupor.  I can’t even roll over in bed without worrying about a squeak waking her.  Hell, if it weren’t for the laundry baskets I haven’t yet put away littering the rest of the house, I wouldn’t be able to get dressed early in the morning.

Jen Riday’s Day Three Challenge totally took the wind out of my sails.  Not because she asked unreasonable things.  Because I’m not in a space where I can have them right now.

I did clean out some clothes I don’t wear anymore.  I have plans for a smart little tray to hold less items on my dresser than the big dust-collecting basket.  It crossed my mind that this should be the impetus to find an architect or follow up on that builder I’ve been meaning to call.

But it just seems so daunting.  After all, the sign on my door says it all:

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Jennifer Butler Basile

 

 

New Year’s Anxiety

I don’t like New Year’s. There I said it.  Bah humbug on me.

I can’t quite put my finger on it.  There are many reasons, actually; perhaps that’s why I can’t choose just one.

It could be because, for years, it signaled the end of vacation.  One day left to recover from a whole week’s worth of revelry, never mind one night of staying up late.  But also, the start of a new cycle of anxiety.  First, back to school as a student after no routine, no work, no peer pressure.  Then, back to school as a teacher after no lessons to plan, papers to correct, or kids to sass me and throw my class off course.

I never even knew exactly what I dreaded.  And I guess that was precisely the point.  The unknown.  I was out of my groove and didn’t know what to expect upon jumping back into it.  That was what terrified me.

And then I had kids.  Little babies at home who depended on me and only me when Daddy went back to work after the holidays.  Where I’d been easy breezy and in control with him home, the thought of doing the same things without him under the same roof made my muscles clench.  Not because I couldn’t or hadn’t before or wouldn’t now, but because of the unknown.  What if something happened I couldn’t handle?

On December 31st, I shovel enough calories to counteract the headache-inducing powers of the bubbly I’m sipping and learn just how out-of-touch I am and how sad the state of popular music is by the broadcast performances.  I eat and sip and flip channels to force myself awake till the magic hour when all I’d like to do is curl up and go to sleep.  And for all that build-up, all that empty effort, all that’s left after a sweet kiss with my hubby – is a void.

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Outside my house, barely lit by the moon.  Lack of light fits the theme. Taken December 30.

The absence of a year past, the new one not yet started.  The hole where merry holidays once were.  A cold, dark, silent winter stretching before me.  Exhaustion.  Let-down.  The unknown.

 

 To say I ponder the absolute unknow-ability of an entire upcoming year in one night would be false.  At least not consciously.  But perhaps that’s part of why I hate New Years.  Each year, with December 31st, I’ve closed an expected chapter in that point of my life.  I’ve made it through the holidays, with all the tradition and routine that comes with.  I’ve made it to the end of the calendar year.  Even if I’ve not completed all the to-dos, I can rip that page out of my proverbial planner because that time has passed.

To what? Is the question.

To a person with anxiety, a new beginning, a new chapter is not a fresh start.  It is a worrisome reworking of the same fears and uncertainties that plague her at the outset of any unfamiliar venture.

When these same feelings return at the end of each holiday break, I wonder if I’ve ever grown up or grown past the fears I had as younger versions of myself.  I haven’t taught for ten years – why should I still fear returning to work!?  Well, I do and I don’t.  A nightmare classroom doesn’t await me.  But as one of the highest stress times of my life, that scenario is my psyche’s go-to when it fantasizes fear.  And in that all too familiar low after the holidays, it’s easy to build the set for the familiar script.

Now, both consciously and subconsciously, I get to ponder what I want from this portion of my life.  I get to question my worth as a mother, why naptime may be the favorite part of my day, why I don’t get down on the floor and play blocks anymore.  Why I swear, why I say things I judge fictional mothers for saying, things that make me sure I’m killing their spirit but utter anyway.  I get to think about how much I want to write, and what, and how I don’t have time for that.  I get to choose how to mete out my volunteer time and what I feel I have to do, not what makes my soul sing because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I get to think about how the days fly but are often filled with crap.

This has been a New Year’s tradition for so long, it’s hard to separate out what is holiday ennui and true anxiety.  I’m beginning to think the anxiety is the one sure thing that isn’t going to change from year to year.

Light and Dark

As the joy of the holidays subsided, the dark days of winter took hold.  Truly, the last few days of 2016 brought death to a close and disconcerting distance.  It stepped in and stayed until as recently as last week.  And still, it lingers.

I’d pulled my black leather pumps from their shelf high in the closet.  I’d arched my inner soles into their uncomfortable embrace.  I’d released my tired, swollen toes from their pinch at the end of the day.  But I’d yet to return them to their box; death would not let me store them away for the next black dress event.

There was another, and another.

A year of new life was marred by the loss of three precious ones.

Death is always waiting in the wings – but I’m comforted by the thought that their spirits fly in the wind that catches our breath and reminds us we’re alive.

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At the Intersection of Love and Passion

If a human being closes her eyes hard enough and for long enough, she can remember pretty well everything that has made her happy.  The fragrance of her mother’s skin at the age of five and how they fled giggling into a porch to get out of a sudden downpour.  The cold tip of her father’s nose against her cheek.  The consolation of the rough part of a soft toy that she has refused to let them wash.  The sound of waves stealing in over rocks during their last seaside holiday.  Applause in a theater.  Her sister’s hair, afterwards, carelessly waving in the breeze as they’re walking down the street.

And apart from that?  When has she been happy?  A few moments.  The jangling of keys in the door.  The beating of Kent’s heart against the palms of her hands while he lay sleeping.  Children’s laughter.  The feel of the wind on her balcony.  Fragrant tulips.  True love.

The first kiss.

A few moments.  A human being, any human being at all, has so perishingly few chances to stay right there, to let go of time and fall into the moment.  And to love someone without measure.  Explode with passion.

A few times when we are children, maybe, for those of us who are allowed to be.  But after that, how many breaths are we allowed to take beyond the confines of ourselves?  How many pure emotions make us cheer out loud, without a sense of shame?  How many chances do we get to be blessed by amnesia?

All passion is childish.  It’s banal and naive.  It’s nothing we learn; it’s instinctive, and so it overwhelms us.  Overturns us.  It bears us away in a flood.  All other emotions belong to the earth, but passions inhabits the universe.

That is the reason why passion is worth something, not for what it gives us but for what it demands that we risk.  Our dignity.  The puzzlement of others and their condescending, shaking heads.

 

from Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Silver Insomniac

There’s a pool of light in the backyard
It spills over the tree tops
but appears to be carved out of the grass
an oval grotto of white,
silver amongst the shadows

If it weren’t for insomnia
I wouldn’t have seen it,
Wouldn’t have seen the cool, clear light
bright amidst the dark

Being awake at this hour seems unnatural,
is unnatural
in terms of the real world

But in the magic of these moonbeams
I am wide open

No Time like the Present for an Epiphany

I’m sitting here reading about New Years’ resolutions in August.  No time like the present, right?

Seeing as how most New Years’ resolutions don’t make it out of January, maybe it’s not so bad that I’m considering fresh starts now, but the irony does not escape me.  

I’ve always loved the word ‘epiphany’.  My friends and family used to poke fun at my exuberant use of it and my claims that I’d just had one.  But they came fewer and farther between as I got older.  When I fought and focused for one or was unexpectedly blessed with one, I remembered the joy and wonder and how much I benefitted from their presence in my life.  Yet life always seemed to ramp up again and they fell away – or at least my vision did.

Now as I read about all the meanings of the word – including the feast celebrating the arrival of the Magi twelve days after Christmas – I’m reminded again of how worthy a quest this is.  

In her article discussing epiphany, Effie Caldarola has this advice for fresh starts:

How about just resolving to keep our eyes open for the next epiphany God sends?  Do you think those storied Magi were expecting to find a poor baby at the end of their journey?  What an epiphany for them, the meaning of which they probably spent the rest of their lives trying to figure out.  Don’t ‘expect,’ just pay attention.

How simply profound.  And it means I have the rest of my life to keep looking.

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