In the Doldrums of Toddler-dom

Today, I wish that I had some sage advice or interesting perspective on raising a toddler. Did you know that you can comfort these little creatures and they will still cry for what seems like an eternity?

I sad. I sad. No. I sad.

This is my morning dialogue with the two-year-old. Its set to the tune of scattered breathing, sniffles and full-on wailing.

What troubles the child?

I gave him fruit loops for breakfast. I have no idea why this is displeasing, but it seems to be the issue. He walks in front of the pantry, bangs on the door, then collapses onto the floor in a fit that rivals the appearance of exorcism.

Why does the answer have to be no? Why can’t I just go offering things up from the pantry like a bonafide waitress?

Some people say that you should always look for ways to say “Yes” to your children. You know, to say yes when you can, because these are small humans here. Their requests are usually simple and accommodate-able. Also, something about picking and choosing your battles.

Others say that children need to hear “No” frequently so they can become accustomed to it. In other words, so they don’t freak out when their parent says ‘No” in public.

Well, these are all really interesting theories of parenthood. This morning, I simply don’t feel that fruit loops should  be boycotted and I don’t want to make a different breakfast. This morning I’m a “get what you get, don’t throw a fit” sort-of parent.

I’m not always this way. Just when I feel depleted, which as of late is a thing. You see, I’m starting to feel a bit held captive here in this house with this small person. Frankly, that’s perfectly reasonable and normal for stay-at-home parents.

I’m sorry, future Rhese, that I wasn’t 100 percent all of the time. At least you learned the lesson of limitations early.

Candidly,

Ash

Humanity is Hard

Butterflies are in my stomach frequently these days. It’s a new feeling, because my mind is aware of all that is happening around me…and it’s freaking out.

This could be called anxiety, but I’ve sat with it some and realized it’s simply my brain trying to cope with new information.

It started about a week ago when we increased the dose on a medication that has been working well for me.

The first thing that happened is that I started to find the games on my phone boring, which I admitted was probably a good thing. Then, I noticed that I couldn’t nap on command, my body was too aware and awake to zone out.

This is when I realized, “Holy crap! I’ve been zoning out A LOT!”

But now that I’m not zoning out, I’m also aware of things like boredom. My brain has a tendency to think boredom is actually bore-DOOM. It knows that if I’m bored then there is space for something to happen. Emotions can happen!

So I began busying myself, even when I didn’t want to be busy, because bore-doom needed to be avoided. Unfortunately, this, like my phone and napping, no longer kept those emotions nicely suppressed.

So now, I have this medicine that is helping me feel like a human being again…and the truth is, I’m not sure I want to be human being. It’s hard! I prefer zombie mode.

But I’m sitting with it, sticking with it, not running. Gently pressing into this wealth of feeling and trying not to be overcome. I wait for the shoe to drop with the next wave of unfamiliar emotions, the nerves in my stomach tightening with the sensation of butterflies.

The butterflies will pass. The pain/fear/anger/sadness or whatever emotion will come.

Then, it will pass. The feelings will pass. I will still be here.

Yes, I can handle this. I think…

Candidly,

Ash

Raw Edges and Strong Cores

At some point in May, I had the idea for this post, but tabled it. I had other ideas to pursue and  knew I would eventually get around to writing it. Then, June happened and with it the return of all four kiddos being home each and everyday. The first week, I tried to write, but didn’t make it to the laptop until late at night. I figured I would take a break and let the summer be what it was going to be. Maybe I would even pursue that niggling idea of vlogging that was in the back of my brain.

Then, after a month, every single day felt like drudgery and stress resonated inside of me. At the end of the day, I would feel this incompleteness even though I had done many things. I knew that my writing, my voice, was too pent up, but I didn’t want to sit down to do it. I told myself that I was simply waiting for the children to return to school. This didn’t last long as an excuse, because soon it was apparent that I needed to write – something, anything. Yet, I held off, knowing that the inevitable writing also brings about the inevitable bleeding. Cathartic bleeding it is, but bleeding none the less.

So here I am, sitting, ready to bleed before you.

Raw Edges

I was trying to be healthy, slicing the fruits and vegetables early in the week, prepping healthy meals and snacks.

It was drudgery.

Why didn’t The Man create vegetables pre-sliced? I mean, fruit I don’t mind slicing, because it is enticing to the palate. But vegetables? No, those are no fun. As I moved from cauliflower to carrots, I reminded myself of how awful the baby carrots are and that the real thing is so much better and tastier.

It was utter drudgery.

I watched as I peeled the damn things and tried to remember the advice about everyday tasks given by Thomas Moore. If you look deep enough, sit still enough with them, then you can peel back their mundaneness into significance by seeing the metaphor, the imagery of soulfulness.

“Mumbo-jumbo.” I thought to myself sardonically. “Be more zen.” I then chastised myself.

Okay, so what could peeling carrots stand for in the soulful life. I ruminated peel after peel.

Carrots don’t have thick skin or rinds. They are firm from the inside out. Strong, if you will. Strong and ugly. I mean, we don’t have to peel a carrot in order to eat it, but it will never stop looking (or tasting) much like dirt if we don’t. I wonder if the strong among us don’t taste like dirt until something or someone comes along that sloughs off the ugliness.

“Hmmm. Not a bad little metaphor.” I smiled to myself. “What else?”

I sat with it. I wasn’t coming up with anything else at all. Yet, as I sloughed off layer after layer of the carrots, getting rid of the dirt divets and knotty elements, I felt less drudgery. In fact, something cathartic was taking place, something similar to how I feel when I write.

Strong Cores

A shedding of the dirt of life, smoothing of rough edges – that’s what was happening.

Yes, this was very similar to writing for me. Underneath everything, I find in myself strength when writing.

And so, as I return to writing early (before the summer ends). I remember carrots and that sitting down at this page is not all bleeding, but rather exfoliation. A scrubbing, unburdening, cleansing act of the soul to reveal my strong core.

Candidly,

Ash

Accept & Adapt

I’m not much of a sports person. I’ve confessed my lack of understanding when it comes to the running fad. It’s not that I wasn’t introduced to sports when I was young or that I was completely awful at them (I wasn’t completely good at them either). I just find them lacking meaning. Or I struggle to find the meaning. One of the two.

I’m an introvert (will I ever stop writing that sentence?). I’d rather do things on my own to be quite honest. Doing things with other people is exhausting. Maybe this is why I like writing? Sure, someone can critique or edit things, but the actual act of writing? Solo mission.

Sports tend to be a team effort. Sure, there are exceptions – golf, bowling, etc. Some people argue those aren’t even sports at all. Regardless, one of the things I don’t like about sports are the variables. When I played basketball, we would practice plays every single day. Then, we would play in a game and everything would be chucked out the window, because the defense would do something that made our play ineffective. The coach (usually my dad) would call us into a huddle and come up with something completely new. And so our team would adapt.

Here is where it gets tricky for me. I’m not a good adapter. Sure, in my youth, I would go along with things and try my best to adjust. I’d run the play as it was drawn on the little white board and then, suddenly, I’d have the ball and be clueless. Truly, if I could have yelled “Ahhh!”, dropped the ball and run out the room, then I would have.

In the game of life, I have similar issues. Routine is really beneficial to me most of the time. Actually, I like to call it rhythm, because that is a more creative word for something pretty mundane. Yet, things happen. Sick people, depression, behavior problems, job impositions, etc. Maintaining a rhythm is akin to playing a flute in the midst of a heavy metal rock band. Sure, I might be playing to the beat, but nobody is hearing me and my work feels futile. Maintaining rhythm is an inglorious feat.

Just Adapt

I love the people who think rhythm is easy. It is for them. They flow with the fluctuations of life, letting go of what is not serving them. Such beautiful, fortunate people. I’m not one of them. Typically, when I talk to these people about my inability to adapt, then they will say something like “You just have to make yourself do it.” I stare at them like they have a third eye. In fact, I’m fairly certain they do have a third eye. How else can their resilience be explained? Surely, they are super humans.

I am not a super human.

Usually, when something throws me off my game, then I internally have a meltdown. My inner persona is screaming “What is happening here?!?!” while clutching her head and turning in circles. On the exterior? Smile. Smile. Smile. No one knows you are freaking out. Smile. Smile. Smile.

But First, Acceptance.

I am slowly discovering that problem probably isn’t so much about adaptation. The problem is my inability to accept change. Calling it a problem feels icky. Let’s find a new word.  Juxtaposition? Challenge? Opportunity.

My opportunity is trying to accept change. Remember inner persona girl screaming and clutching her head. She needs a moment. She also needs a steady hand, a comforter. Because I’m smiling on the outside, my inner persona gets ignored almost all the time. I’m the only one who can see her. I’m her only hero.

I’ve got options. I can tell someone what she’s doing, letting them know that the smile is just a mask. I’m getting better at this. The number of creepy conversations my husband has had with smiley, crazy girl should earn him a medal. Other options include listening to her, metaphorically stroking her back with deep breathing, encouraging her, reminding her of her strengths. Also, holding up a giant sign in front of her that says…

Everything’s not lost.

Once she has accepted what is happening, she’s actually quite resourceful. More resourceful than I anticipated she could be. Her adaptability is stellar. She just needs to accept things first. I wonder why that is so hard for her? Oh, that’s right!

I’ve been ignoring her for decades.

Well, I’m guessing it will take some time to help her learn the path of acceptance.

Here’s to the journey!

Candidly,

Ash

My Brain Off Drugs

I have an alarm set on my phone in two different apps to remind me to take my medication. I have routines to try and keep on track. Yet, my system failed me yesterday. Today, at 2:00 PM I discovered yesterdays pills in  my skirt pocket.

We were running all over the place for Evan. He had a neurology appointment and a pre-op appointment for his dental surgery. My regular schedule was scratched. Systems fail. Safeguards go off duty. It happens.

I use a journal to track trends in my mood, behavior and thoughts. It helps me to refer back to other times when I’ve missed medication. I’m able to prepare for what is coming or at least able to tell myself it will pass in approximately 72 Hours.

The Last Time I Missed My Meds…

One of my particular medications is quite dose-dependent. I’m not sure that is an official  way of describing it or anything. I just mean that when I miss even one dose, then everything goes to shit.

Late Afternoon on Day Missed – I start having enormous, incapacitating anxiety. I literally have to distract myself from reality in order to cope. Usually, I immerse myself in a book, while also playing games on my phone. I do the two things at once. The multi-tasking helps to keep my brain from catastrophizing everything in existence.

Day After Missed Medication – I’m hypomanic. Everything is wonderful. I accomplish all of the things. I consider starting a new career, business or non-profit (I’ve learned NOT to do this the hard way). I call people just because I want to talk to them. I decide to clean the house top to bottom at 11:30 that night. I go full steam until 4:00 AM, when suddenly I feel like I’m completely alone in the world, everything is awful. Suicidal thoughts come to mind so frequently that now I HAVE to sleep in order to not harm myself.

Two Days After Missed Medication – I am now completely catatonic. I awake to thoughts of self-harm. I don’t want to eat. I go back to sleep. I sleep 14 hours that day, because I cannot cope with the vicious thoughts bursting through my mind.

Three Days After Missed Medication – I only missed one day so things start to even out here. The last two days I took my medication on time so I’m stabilizing. I still can’t do much of anything. And this is why….

Thinking of Hurting Yourself…..Hurts

Maybe it is just me. Maybe I respond to thoughts of hurting myself more dramatically than others. Actually, I’m willing to strike maybe from those sentences. I’m super sensitive to my internal state. I’ve read that this is part of my personality (INFP). I’m willing to venture a therapist would have some recommendations on how to cope better. Right now, I’m still sans therapist (though I have an appointment in two weeks).

For me, thinking of harming myself, contemplating suicide – these are just thoughts. I don’t have to believe them. I don’t. I know they are lying to me or at the very least false notions. When these thoughts come a couple of times a day, I’m able to use this strategy/idea to calm my emotional reaction to the thoughts.

When I’m off my meds? There is no time. Literally, thoughts, images of cutting myself and other awfulness are so frequent that I can’t focus on anything else. Sleep is my only reprieve. I’ve learned HOW to go to sleep by deep breathing and repeating one phrase over and over.

{Breathe in.} All I have to do is sleep. {Breathe out.} All I have to do is sleep.

So I sleep.

When I wake if the thoughts are still galloping like a warhorse, then I put myself back to sleep. Eventually, I wake up and the thoughts are slow and I’m able to say to myself, “These are just thoughts. I don’t have to believe them.” Then, I go and reward myself for staying alive by drinking mountain dew or eating a donut. Honestly, its the only thing that can motivate me to get out of bed.

This is my brain off drugs.

I wonder if other people experience this too.

Candidly,

Ash

 

Mental Illness is not Contagious

It was my second day in the mental hospital. I had anticipated being exhausted, isolated, scared. Instead, I woke up refreshed at 6:00 AM, even without an alarm. It was mostly because they had given me a sleeping pill the night before. I had agreed largely because I was slightly panicked about having a roommate in the mental hospital. I mean, what if they were really off their rocker and strangled me in my sleep? Additionally, the doors didn’t lock. 

(The irony of fearing death via murder was not lost on me. How was it that I was cool offing myself, but if someone else tried? Well, hell no!)

I took a shower that morning. Breakfast wasn’t for another two hours. Again, no lock on the bathroom door was sort of a turn off. Showering at 6:00 AM before anyone else was awake seemed like the ideal situation. I didn’t want any weirdos walking in on me naked!

 I walked down the hallway afterwards and smiled at the nurses sitting around a single computer. They looked up at me and stared. I tried to think of something to say. I turned to my mom status for a rescue comment.

“I’m used to waking up early and getting the kids ready for school.” I said, shrugging. 

In retrospect, it must have seemed super odd to them that I woke up so early, showered, got dressed. Aren’t depressed people sluggish and struggling to handle the day-to-day of life? Sometimes. Trust me, I have been sluggish and I have not showered for at least 10 days, multiple times in a row. 

Later that day, I sat with a psychiatrist. He quizzed me about symptoms and thoughts. I replied with one word answers. Then, he said I had atypical depression. I think I sniggered. Of course, my mental illness would be “atypical”. Figures. I added this to the growing list of things that made me odd or a black sheep. 

After that I went to a group session in which they compared mental illness to diabetes. If you had diabetes, then would you just stop taking your medicine when you felt good? No, you would check your blood sugar and keep track of yourself. This was how we should treat mental illness – as a health condition. 

At the time, this really helped me to accept what was happening to me, as well as take my treatment seriously. 

I made friends while I was there. For the most part, I stopped worrying about being murdered in my sleep or raped in the bathroom. They were good people, experiencing things like me. I could see the ways in which they were unhealthy, just as they could see the way that I was unhealthy. We even talked about first impressions of each other. People said they thought I worked there for the first 24 hours, because I had regular clothes on. I said I had a really good husband who brought me clothes and books. 

On my third day, the mood on the floor shifted drastically. It was visitor’s day, which only happened once a week. Many of my new friends had been there for almost a week or more than a week. Basically, every one was super high strung and anxious – myself included. I would be so happy to see my husband, but I would also be seeing my parents. You know, because they love me and wouldn’t miss an opportunity to see me – hospital or no hospital. 

Except seeing my parents…in the mental hospital….it made things real. I had a problem. I had a condition. I would be handled with care. 

The truth is, sometimes, the people who love us the most can’t help us. If they could, then they would have done it long ago. Both parties hurt, because both parties know. 

“This isn’t something I can fix. I don’t know what to do.” We all say to ourselves. 

Leaving the hospital, I was determined to treat my mental illness as a health problem. I quit caffeine, forced myself to exercise, shower and do the things that “helped” depression. For the next week, I was a task master driving myself through slavery. Then, my therapist drew my attention to something. 

 I frequently said, “It does no good to dwell on things. You just have to keep going.” I stared at him, clueless. Then, he said, “Generally, when people wake up with thoughts of harming themselves, then their day doesn’t proceed as normal.”

Huh? Umm….things still have to get done. I wasn’t sure what he meant

It took a really. really long time for me to realize that I could cut myself some slack. First, I had to actually open up to people and tell them what was behind my smile. Then, I had to sit with what I told them, because I had acknowledged it existed. Suddenly, I wasn’t the girl waking up at 6:00 AM, getting a shower and going on with the day. I was the girl lying in bed, crying and feeling so many, many things. 

About nine months later, I quit everything I had been doing for the last two years – every obligation, every responsibility. I left it all behind (except for being a wife and a mom). We even moved to a different city. Everything started over.

 This is when I finally started to feel free. I was still depressed. I was even more anxious. Yet, I felt free.

 You see, I had a lot of loved ones and friends. People, good people, cared about my family and I. Loving, kind, generous people. We all sat in a room awkwardly with each other, just like the night my parents visited me in the mental hospital. Except, this time it wasn’t just a room – it was our lives. My mental illness wasn’t something they could fix. They didn’t know what to do.

And I didn’t know what to do either.

Sadly, people largely don’t know how to respond to mental illness. I wish they wouldn’t call it mental illness. I wish I wasn’t referred to as the mentally ill.

I’m just Ash.

If people could just respond to me as Ash, then this wouldn’t be so hard.

 There is so much stigma around mental illness, that I’ve come to hate the word stigma itself. People have said to me, “Thanks for being vulnerable. Thanks for ending the stigma!” and even “I don’t know how you are so honest.” I can tell you how I have done it. I’ve come to know my truth.

I cannot live any other way.

I must be honest. I must be vulnerable or I will break again. Their is elasticity in vulnerability. It allows me to come back from the falls.

The Vulnerable, Mentally Ill Person Wants to Say This…

Ending the stigma of mental illness shouldn’t be the burden of the mentally ill. Social justice and responsibility mean speaking up for the speechless. Unfortunately, this has never once been the way the of the world. I learned it first with autism and the church. Evan was almost four before anyone addressed his autism at church. The church that addressed it was one of the best ones, but we had sought them. We had come to their church because he had autism.

I learned then that I would always be the one advocating for our family as a special needs family. No one else would do it for me. Now, I know this to be true for mental illness. No one else will advocate for me and my dear friends. They will pretend not to see me so I must make myself visible, even at times a spectacle.

I am willing.

It isn’t fair. It will never be fair. Do I fear that one day I may take my life and make all of these words null? Yes, yes, I do. Do I fear how my words will reflect and affect my children? Yes, yes, I do.

But I fear far more what saying nothing will do to the world and what it will do to me.

For this reason, I cannot keep silent.

I am an abolitionist of stigma. And I wish to find a new name for the mentally ill.

Candidly,

Ash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadness Moves On

I’m not overly enthused about writing here today. I’d much prefer to sit at some fiction and dream. I also know that this type of writing – the kind that causes me to delve deeper, it is probably the most important writing I do. I grow from it. Sometimes things which make us grow are not fun or exciting, but rather fairly difficult.

In our house, the theme of late is that sadness moves on. From the toddler to the nearing-forty daddy, everyone in our little house has been dealing with sadness. And so, as we talk to each other, we remind one another that feelings pass and shift and move. The eclipsing pain is not going to stay for every moment of the rest of our lives. It is temporary.

For the toddler, this looks like us singing a Daniel Tiger song (Thank you, Mr. Rodgers!). “It’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Little by little you’ll feel better.” For a little while, he would get upset about anything and just haul off and hit one of us. First, we would move away from him and say no, but this didn’t seem to be working after several months. Instead, I got closer to him and patted his back while using words to describe that he was sad and why he was sad. This started working immediately and we’ve had much less hitting. Of course, then he might cry and cry and cry and cry. So we added the Daniel Tiger song in. I think he’s mostly distracted by us singing and that’s what helps, but I’m hoping someday that he’ll actually get the full message.

Then, there is the 8 year old. She likes to do this sort of the rage-screaming thing when something upsets her. Again, I’ve been using the tactic of drawing close and comforting, acknowledging the feeling. It’s amazing how much closer we are becoming, because of this.

Evan’s been having a hard time at school. He’s having hours long behavioral episodes in which he bites himself, hits his head and attacks others. He does NOT do this at home. So I’ve been coaching his teachers on acknowledging his emotions and comforting him. Frankly, I don’t think they believe me that this works! We are going to schedule a day where I could come in and demonstrate. Although, I’m fairly certain that he’ll be so happy I am there that I may not get the opportunity!

I just want to acknowledge that his teachers are awesome and caring, loving people. As a teacher, it is so hard to watch out for the interests of ALL children in your classroom. Additionally, an authoritative voice is recommended to them in training. **Side note: Authoritarian is the volatile, commanding voice. Authoritative is the respectful, no-nonsense voice.**

Evan doesn’t respond well to either Authoritarian or Authoritative communication. He is at a three year old developmental level. Three year olds need soothing, calming presences in their lives. People often describe the terrible twos and threes. What is really happening in those situations (in my opinion) is that these children aren’t able to communicate the things they think and feel. We must teach them to do this in a caring way by acknowledging their thoughts and feelings verbally. Often this requires removing our agenda and even calming our own emotions. For instance, with Rhese we sing “It’s okay to feel sad….” Whereas, the alternate model would be to say, “You are okay. Go pick up the blocks now.” Or even more horribly…”What is your problem? Go pick up those blocks NOW!”

I can’t tell you how much changing our approach to the feelings of small people has helped!

Alright, back to our family. I was on a tangent…

The oldest is doing a stellar job at the sadness thing. She can identify that she is sad and communicate it. Our new thing is teaching her to communicate what she needs and wants in those moments. She will say, “Mom, I feel sad about not having my old friends nearby.” Then, I will respond, “Okay, what can I do to help?” or “What do you need?” Just this weekend she walked up to me and said, “Mom, I’m sad. Can I have a hug?” Really, she’s magnificent. I’m not sure I’m even able to do that most of the time. (more on that in a bit)

Hubby is dealing with a job that is atrociously stressful and does not compensate for overtime or education and experience. In other words, his job stresses him out and lack of money stress him out. Not to mention, this has been par for the course going on ten years. There is an ongoing drudgery in his day-to-day.

I’ve been wanting to rescue him. Take a job and fix this financial situation. I’ve offered. We’ve even bought and then returned interview clothes for me. Yet, my truth is that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing – writing, teaching the kids how to deal with sadness and dealing with my own sadness. Its about all I can handle. I wouldn’t return to work for anything – except to alleviate my husband’s pain. It is so tempting to give up what I need to help others. I’ve done it in the past so, so, so many times.

The truth? It is his responsibility to create a life he doesn’t want to hide from. Just as it is my responsibility to create a life I don’t want to hide from. We have to do that individually before we can achieve a collective relationship or family we don’t want to hide from.

Life is hard. It’s hard to get what we need. It’s painful to not have what we need. It’s discouraging to not get what we want. Its difficult to communicate to others our sadness and pain. It’s even difficult to acknowledge sadness and pain to ourselves, let alone others.

I came here to write with not much to say. I thought I would describe how, lately, our family lesson is “Sadness moves on.” I didn’t want to write here. I didn’t want to say much about me. What is my sadness? Yes, I want to help my husband, but I can’t. That is sad, but its not the low-grade fever that is consuming me.

My low-grade fever pain is not being able to heal Evan, not being able to fix things for him. Though I will NEVER give up on Evan, sometimes it feels like I’m so close to it. This song speaks to my heart so deeply. I’m so in over my head with this little boy. Sometimes, I just wish God would just give him one sentence to tell us something, anything. My son is lost to me in ways that were never meant to be. I just wish he and I could…I wish we weren’t broken. I truly love him the way he is, just as he loves me the way I am. Yet for us, because of autism, something is missing.

And this life feels hollow.

Candidly,

Ash