The Slippery Slope of Anxiety

For pretty much my entire adult life, I remember living in fear.  And my greatest, sharpest, most all encompassing fear was of myself.  I was afraid of touching the world.  Both literally, figuratively, and any and all ways in between.

It started out that I was afraid of making a mistake.  That one was simple enough.  I could protect the world from that.  I was vigilant.  Hyper vigilant.  And I overthought and underacted and berated myself mercilessly for any perceived misstep I could find.

Then it grew.  And I became afraid of my words.  I was afraid of my words touching the world and damaging it in ways unfathomable.  I wasn’t really worried about my current words because I had silenced those in the name of protecting the innocents.  So I started worrying about past words.  I started to think of everything I had ever said to anyone that could end up causing harm.

Then, when I had cleansed my conscience of any of those errors, I decided that there must be more.  And so I started making up things that I maybe possibly could have said that could maybe possibly have hurt someone.  And then I atoned for those.

And I started feeling I was going mad.

Then it moved on to germs.  That’s where OCD gets many of us.  But I never fully fell into the germ stereotype of OCD.  I was terrified of touching people, or having anyone touch me, or having anyone touch anything of mine.  I still get a bit antsy at times when people enter my house.  But I wasn’t worried about getting contaminated.  I was worried about contaminating the world.  So while many people with OCD will sit around protecting themselves from perceived germs, I would spend hours researching symptoms in an attempt to protect anyone around me from any affliction I could have possibly contracted.

And then, never content, the OCD moved on, and I started to be afraid of my thoughts.  Intrusive thoughts suck.  It’s almost impossible to describe how terrifying it is to be terrified of your own thoughts, some of which you can control but many of which you can’t.  Afraid that my thoughts would get out there into the world and tarnish it and ruin it and destroy it.

And it’s hard to figure out where to go from there because once you are afraid of your thoughts, the OCD pretty much has you cornered.  You can get lost in it (which I did for quite some time,) or you can fight back.

I thank God every day that I was able to fight back and I was able to find adequate help in that fight.  That I had people on my side.  That I didn’t do it alone.

I would like to say that all of this is a thing of the past, but my weekly therapist bills and the prescription bottle in my cabinet will tell you that this is very much not the case.

But I am happy to say that it’s under control.  It’s manageable.  It very rarely any more consumes me.

But sometimes a worry will make its way in past my defenses.  And it will try to nestle.  And I’m slowly starting to see that once one nestles, it’s never alone.  There are always more with it.  And it’s really scary to know how quickly one little thought can open the flood gates and all of these years of anxieties and fears will come pouring out and threaten to consume me.

But I’m stronger now.  I understand my enemy better.  And I understand myself better.

Yes, in many ways I am still afraid to touch the world.  But the small little part of me that is hope holds strong.  It may be weak, but it’s defiant and persistent, and it says that I will not be silenced.

And my writing is that proof.  It’s proof to myself that I can go out into the world and I can touch the world.  I can allow myself to be seen and known and the world won’t crumble around me.

That’s what writing is most to me.  It’s proof that I can be exist.

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Insomnia in a Word Gone Mad

I have been exhausted lately. It’s easy to see why – three little girls to chase while entering the third trimester with number four.

Except I’m not sure exactly that’s why I’m exhausted. To be honest, I think it’s more a brain thing. And a fear thing. And an overstimulation thing. And a living in America in 2016 thing.

I get obsessive about things. This has its benefits and its drawbacks. But one thing is has taught me is to avoid too much tv. I can’t watch the news. CNN is my kriptonite. See television is different from other mediums – it’s too immediate. The emotions are too raw. The visions attack our senses whether we want them to or not. And I simply can’t let that into my home anymore. I haven’t in a long time.

But national news as of late has been too much to block out. The stakes are high. The players are real. Decisions have consequences.

And everything from local news to the presidential election feels historical. It feels like lines are being drawn. And I find it morally imperative to be on the right side of history.

Except that the world and history, especially as we are making it, aren’t black and white. It’s not right and wrong or us versus them or good versus bad. As much as some would like to make it as such.

It’s all more nuanced and complicated and tarnished than that.

And so instead of sitting here knitting baby hats and decorating a nursery, I find myself fretting over details, getting lost trying to make simple what is not simple. Terrified to wake up on day and realize that I had gotten it all wrong.

And I get so mad and so jealous of people who have righteous indignation on their side. I used to feel that same indignation. It fueled me. But now it just feels naive. And one sided. And corrosive.

And so I fear I’ll spend the next few months, lying in bed, sometimes metaphorically almost clinging to the bed as I try to stay balanced in a world that seems to have tipped off its axel. Wishing for sleep. Instead opening my eyes to a dark room in a dark world praying for light.

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Parenting in a World of Fear

Early yesterday evening I was thinking about my daughters.  I was talking about how hard it is to figure out how to raise them in our current culture — a culture that doesn’t respect much of anything.  A culture that is floundering, trying to find a balance between freedom and responsibility, between the old and the new.  A culture that is trying to figure out what is as it always should have been and what really ought to always be.

I was wondering aloud how to teach them right versus wrong, how to teach them that truth isn’t relative… while also teaching them that people are all equal and that we must never allow ourselves to judge the worth of a person based on the quality of their actions.

In other words, how do I teach my daughters to grow up to live with integrity in a culture that often doesn’t even seem to recognize the word.

And then around 10:00 last night, my phone vibrated with a news update, and my heart broke.  And today it feels like it’s scattered – part with the officers brutally murdered protecting our freedom and our rights.  Part with those who have lost dearly loved ones at the hands of the very few police officers who don’t respect the life they protect.  And part still with the loved ones and all the ones broken in a nightclub in Florida, killed for the manner in which they choose to spend their freedom.

All morning, I have been flashing back to the early 90s.  I was ill, and George HW Bush was on the tv talking about the United States invading Iraq because they had invaded Kuwait.  I hadn’t heard of these countries, but I knew war was bad.  All the next day, I laid sick on my couch, and I kept watching down the side street, sure that enemy war tanks would come rolling down the street.

Slowly I learned that things like that don’t happen in America.  Things like that happen in other countries.  War is in other countries.  Distrust of authority is in other countries.  A reason to distrust authority is in other countries.  Mass violence and terrorism happen oceans away to people who live lives that look a lot different than mine.

And I created a little cocoon of peace.  A mental shelter protecting me from all the bad that is out there.

And for many years, that cocoon was more than just a mental shield.

In large part, we were protected.  We were safe.  The bad stuff did happen out there.

But now weekly it is becoming more and more obvious that the ugly realities of the world aren’t out there.  We aren’t sheltered; we aren’t immune; we aren’t different.

And ultimately, we aren’t safe.

And I sit here wondering how I possibly raise my daughters in a world that I do not understand.  That seems foreign to me.  That feels ugly and hateful and spiteful and cruel.

And part of my answer is to protect them.  To protect, to the best of my abilities, their lives, but equally so, to protect their minds and their hearts and their souls.  To let them grow up in a world that feels loving and feels safe.  Because they have to be allowed to believe in love before they can stand up to hate.  They have to know themselves before they can be expected to stand up to all the darkness that threatens to consume.

And I have to teach them to love.  To always love.  To reject fear and hatred and close mindedness.  To be astonished at the hate.  To not understand it.  To allow their hearts to break when the hearts of the world are breaking all around them.

To stay open and vulnerable and kind and hopeful.

Because as Martin Luther King Jr has been quoted all around the internet today saying, only love can stand up in the face of violence.  Only love has a chance to extinguish the hate.

And only we can be that love and teach that love.

Mother Theresa said that to change the world, we have to start in the home.

Maybe that’s the answer.  Maybe growing a generation that is more kind and open and loving is the only hope any of us have.  Maybe only our future can save us from ourselves.  And maybe we are the only ones who can nurture that love in the hearts of those who will come after.

God bless.  Go out and be the love this world needs.  You don’t need to do it big.  Just do it.

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Sometimes I Get Sick of Myself

Sometimes I get sick of myself.

I get sick of my failings and my weaknesses.  I get sick of my selfishness and my self-centeredness.  I get sick of letting my fears and my insecurities and my anxieties drive my words.

I get sick of not being good enough.  Of not being kind enough and giving enough and open enough.  Of not being wise enough and gentle enough and forgiving enough.

I get sick of looking out for myself.  Of minding my own wounds.  Of seeking grace in others instead of being that grace for others.

I try to remember that to be human is to fail, it’s to own weakness.  It inherently implies a failing and a brokenness and an inability to reach perfection.

I try so hard to remember that.  To stay balanced.

But to stare deep inside, to accept all that is faulty and ugly, is a hard thing to do.  It’s hard to bounce back from.  It’s hard to live with.

And so I pray for strength and healing and mending.

But still, every day, almost without exception, I find myself seeking understanding before seeking to understand.

And I’m sick of that.

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Internal Struggles

I want to feel peace.

I am a happy person.  I struggle with things as we all do; I’m not immune from that.  But I have been very blessed, and I wrap those blessings around me, and I look at my life, and I am very happy.

But happiness doesn’t always equate to peace.  That’s what is elusive to me.

Some days I am very excited.  I get good news, and I am over the moon.  I sometimes find it hard to relax because I am so very excited.  Those are the days that give life its spice.

Nevertheless, they are exhausting.

And then there are many days that I struggle.

I look around at all I’m responsible for, at all I have to do, at all I want to do in order to consider myself successful at life, and I feel like I’m not sufficient for the challenge.

I see mountains, and I feel exhaustion.  I see challenges, and I feel trepidation.  I see goals, and I feel self doubt.

Once, those feelings overwhelmed me.  They stole all peace and they stole all contentment and purpose and esteem.  They stole everything internally that could be taken from a person.

That’s not me anymore.

But that doesn’t mean it comes easy.

It takes a lot for me to overcome the demons.  It takes a lot for me to rise above.  What to some seems like standard competency, for me sometimes takes enormous focus.  Not because I’m not capable.  But rather because my mind tells me I’m incapable.

I see a pile of laundry.  It might take me five minutes to put it away.  And usually it will get done.  Someone will look around, and they will see tidiness.

What they don’t see is what it sometimes takes to get there.  The hour of doubt.  The hour of words going through my brain telling me that I can’t, and I’m not good enough, and I’m a failure.  They don’t see the hundreds of other tasks that flood my brain when I put my mind to completing one.

They don’t see that when you struggle with depression and anxiety and self doubt that laundry is never just laundry.

And that’s good.  I’m glad those thoughts are internal and no longer bleed out.  I’m glad my struggle is more silent.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not there, and it doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge, and it doesn’t mean that sometimes I just don’t need to open it up and let it out and say, “this is me.”

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Loud Feelings

Sometimes I hear people talking about feeling things deeply.  In fact, I was just watching a television show where they were just talking about this very issue.

It sounds romantic.  It sounds soulful.  It sounds like something to aspire to.

But honestly, there are many times when I wish I felt things less deeply.

There are times I wish I could just turn down the volume.

Because for me, life feels like one, big, very loud emotion screaming in my ear day in and day out.  And it’s not all just one, and they aren’t all just happy or sad.  They are diverse, and they aren’t always sticky.  But they always grab my attention.

I woke up this morning feeling guilty.  Guilty for actions others judged me for in a dream – actions I have never actually taken.  And then later I felt sad. I felt sad for chapters in my life that are closing.  And then I felt happiness and anticipation at the new doors that are opening.  I felt worried – worried about saying the right things and doing the right things.  And then I felt overwhelmed — overwhelmed by this constant onslaught of unadulterated feeling.

I get that we are born to feel and to lack feeling would be a great weakness.  And I get that feeling things deeply is a gift.  I get that it opens me up to things in the world that I would be otherwise closed off to.  And I get that it opens me up to people and helps me relate to others.  And it helps me write because it helps me find the universal.

But sometimes it is just exhausting.  Sometimes I wish I could sit down with a book and a cup of hot tea and just relax.

But relaxing wasn’t made for me.  I was made to churn and chew and percolate.

And I will go to bed thankful to have been made this way.  And then I will toss and turn in my bed and realize just how much more sleep I would get if sometimes my heart came with a volume button.

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My Face in the Crowd

Yesterday was Magoo’s First Holy Communion.  She has been so excited about it for so long.  As we got to the church, however, she got really quiet.  I think she was nervous and perhaps a bit overstimulated.

Time eventually counted down, and the next thing I knew, she was proceeding down the aisle with her class, then kneeling to receive her first Communion, ad then we were all singing the processional song.

The next twenty or so minutes were chaotic as the kids had to stay with their class to take pictures.  But eventually, they were set free.

I saw her veiled head bouncing through the crowd, and then I saw her look up.  The second she caught my eye, her whole expression changed.

She was elated.

Even though she is almost eight and doesn’t hold my hand all that much anymore, we held hands for the next twenty minutes.  Off and on she would squeeze it and she would look at me and squeal.  Her little body unable to contain all the excitement that it held.  Her grin saying what her words couldn’t make audible.

And each and every time, a shock of elation would shoot through me.

Yes, she was excited.

Yes, I was proud of her and happy for her.

But what my mama heart felt most through all of this was the special time she was sharing with just me.  The excited abandon that was reserved for just my ears and my eyes.  The moments that we were quietly sharing in the middle of the throngs of people.

Halfway through the Mass, when she was walking back from receiving, she looked up and our eyes met.

She was looking for me.  And she found me in the crowd.

And this brought me back to my own wedding day when I was standing on the alter, just finished saying my vows, and I looked out into the pews and I saw my parents.  And I caught their eye.

There are so very many gifts motherhood gives to us.  But for me, one of the most priceless are the moments that are saved just for us.  The real truths our children show us.  The ones they are too shy or reserved to share with the world.

Those moments are our currency.  They are our proof that all of those hours rocking an infant and bandaging up knees and tell stories have created something real.  Something even more real and more solid than the chair I am sitting on right now.

They have created the bond of mother and child.  One that cannot be severed.  One that cannot be broken.  And one that makes even the most real of moments that much more alive.

So to my three beautiful little girls, thank you for giving me these moments.  Thank you for trusting your hearts completely with me and for loving me with all the love you can hold.  Thank you for seeing all you see in me.

And thank you for making me mom.

And to my own mom, thank you for being my face in the crowd all these many years.  I still get excited when I see you grinning back.

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A Child’s Holy

Just over a month ago, I took Magoo out shopping for her First Holy Communion dress.  I had a big day planned.  We were going to get her ears pierced, go dress and veil shopping, and then go out to dinner together.

The day went as beautifully as I had hoped.  She found a perfect dress, and we had fun chatting and planning the whole day.

After a day of all things girlie, we were heading back home, and I asked her what she was most excited about for her Communion day.  A big part of me expected to hear her say the dress or the party.  After all, those are big things to a seven year old.

Instead, she looked at me as if I were crazy, and said, “Obviously it’s receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus.”

And those pesky tears threatened my eyes again as I wondered how this could possibly be my child.

My child… as in coming forth from my genes and my influence.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I was afraid to walk into a Church.  Honestly, when I did, my mind would race, my hands would shake, and my whole body would go into panic mode.

It’s not like anything bad ever happened to me in a church.  It’s not that I had any negative experiences with church.  In fact, my memories of church and Catholicism were happy memories of growing up and making my sacraments and feeling at home.

But I think we all go through ups and downs in our faith journeys, and most of my downs came from interactions with other people… people who believed they held the keys to Catholicism.  People that held the door open so narrowly that it was hard to fit through.  People who didn’t understand the idea of meeting people where they were.

And in a very short amount of time, I went from someone who felt inspired by faith to someone who felt shamed by it.  I no longer believed I belonged.  I no longer believed I was  wanted.

Slowly and through multiple twists and turns, I found my way back.

But it’s still through that lens that I view the faith of my children.

I think of all it has taken me to get where I am.  To get to where I am starting to trust.  To get to where I’m starting to find peace.

And they have it so simply and so honestly and so earnestly.

Earlier this week, my daughter wrote a thank you note to her teacher for Teacher’s Appreciation Week.  After the usual pleasantries, she told her teacher that she reminded her of Jesus because Jesus explained important truths in simple ways.

A few weeks earlier, I had been under the weather.  She wrote me a get well letter.  On it, she drew a picture of Jesus on the cross, and she told me that if I feel bad now, I should just think about how Jesus felt then.

And it’s all these little things that touch me.

They don’t touch me because of any hidden profundity or wisdom.  They touch me because of their simplicity.  They touch me because they show me that she has a faith that is deeply integrated into her understanding of the world.

I’ve told her many times that she is a better person than me.  She always laughs, not really understanding what I mean by that.

But it’s true.  Her faith and her trust are something to be cherished.  And as her mother, it’s my duty to make sure they are protected.

But as I’m doing that, I’m remembering that our children teach us more than we could ever teach them, and they show us parts of humanity that are too well hidden by those of us taller than a countertop.

They are our reminders that innocence exists.  And they also remind us of the innocence that still exists somewhere hidden deep within ourselves.

This world will batter them and shake them.  It will make them question things.  It will break things they hold sacred.

But that doesn’t need to worry me as much as it does.  Because my job isn’t to keep them from all harm.  It’s to help lead them home at the end of their journeys.  And when I see where they start, I’m reminded that where they are headed isn’t far from where they are at this very moment.

 

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Brain Purge

I guess let me start off by saying that I have nothing of real value to say here.  I’m writing solely to purge my brain, and the odds that any of that is interesting to a single other soul in this world is… negligible to say the least.

The problem is that I’ve been tired.  Not the crushing, overwhelming fatigue that happens in the first trimester, but still tired nevertheless.

And I’ve been overwhelmed.  See,  I’ve been having these dreams.  Almost every night.  The dreams are slightly different every night, but the theme is usually the same.  Someone is angry with me.  I don’t know what they are angry with me for, and I’m not really sure that’s relevant.  The dreams are basically just about someone else (a different someone I know every night) thinking I’m a bad person for something I did.

And the dreams go round and round like that, just a big cesspool of judgment.

So then I wake up after having spent who knows how many cognitive hours in this pool of judgment, and I just feel wretched.  I can’t get out of bed.  I can’t summon joy.  I can’t even summon the drive to want a cup of coffee.

And sometimes that mood breaks, and sometimes it doesn’t break so easily.  And some days I’m still wading in those feelings twelve hours later.

 

And so I don’t really know how to stop those dreams.  And I have a really hard time purging the feelings associated with them.

But I can write things out.

For me, writing isn’t really something I do for fun, although I do enjoy it.  Writing isn’t something I do for others, although nothing gives anything more meaning than when our struggles can help another.

Me, I write solely because it’s the only way I know how to get by in this world.  It’s the only way I know of to take the billions of words and thoughts and emotions that swirl around in my twisted brain every day and make any sense out of them.  It’s a way to free those thoughts and emotions.  Before I write them out, they are tethered to me.  I can’t break free.  But once they are out and on paper, then I can choose to either remain with them or let them float away.

I write because it’s the only way I know how to survive in a world that sometimes feels scary and intimidating and that even at its best and most joyful can sometimes feel utterly overwhelming.

And so even though I’m tired and overwhelmed and have nothing of really any value to say, I’m going to have to continue writing.

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About Me and Envy

I like words.  A lot.  I like the way some roll of the tongue and bounce around in your ears awhile before lying down and resting somewhere comfortable in your brain.

I like their meanings.  I like contemplating ideas – big ideas and small ideas.  I like concepts and philosophies and ideas that remind me of our purpose and all that we share together.  I remember my AP English teacher in high school talking about the collective subconscious.  I loved this idea.  It still brings me comfort.

I like my house.  I don’t have a big or fancy house, and a decorator sure would have a lot of advice to give to me, but it’s home.  It feels secure.  There are soft lights and there is lace and there are a lot of pillows and blankets.  Magoo recently threw her arms out and said, we have such a comfortable home.  I love that my children feel nurtured and inspired within these walls.

I like music.  The music I like probably isn’t the music you like.  I say this because about the only people in this world who really share musical taste with me are my children, and that’s just because they have only been exposed to my favorites.  (This is a cool little thing moms of littles can do.)

The music I like inspires me.  It reminds me of all that is good in the world.  It reminds me of where our passions lie and the fire that fuels those passions.  I used to write down song lyrics and hang them up all over the place.  Now I just mull them over in my head and occasionally use them as a signature in my email.

I don’t need to hang up song lyrics as much because all my walls are filled with plaques and paintings of quotes and words.  Who needs to see a beautiful sunset when you can stare at beautiful words?

I have four children, three in my home and one in my belly.  My three already born children all represent to me the perfect embodiment of some trait.  Magoo’s compassion and holiness inspire me; they are untarnished, unsullied, and beautiful.  Goose’s passion is a wonder to behold.  Whether she is building with Legos or running to the car, what she does, she does with purpose.  She has a big personality, and it’s getting more and more focused the older she gets.  And my little Mae… she has so much empathy in such a little body.  She is sweet and cuddly, and centers her life around a pursuit of the snuggly.

And TJ… no one in this entire universe can get on my nerves like he can.  And that is the greatest compliment I could give anyone because despite his sometimes frustrating idiocyncracies, there is no one else on the planet I would rather go through life with.  He is home and he is comfort and he is peace and together we create home.  And beautiful children.

And there are a hundred other things I could tell you about myself.  And I say that with a slight tinge of self-congratulations because there was a time not all too many years ago that I wouldn’t have been able to make a list like this, when I wouldn’t have been able to tell you about myself because what I knew was hidden.  I hid it from anxiety, always filling my mind with the world so as to never have to fill it with myself.

But self-congratulatory as I might be right now, that’s not the reason I am sharing all of this.  The reason I am writing it is because today, like many days, I am reminded that the only way to find peace is to really look within.

After all, how much of our time is spent looking out?

Looking to see another’s judgment.

Looking to compare ourselves to another’s standards?

Looking at all the blessings of others while failing to count our own.

Envy is something that comes fairly easily to me, as I’m sure it does to most people.  It’s insidious.  It steals so much from us.  It blinds us to all we have and leaves us feeling less than when compared to others.

I struggled for many years with this with no idea of how to break free.  And then I read the words, “Envy is the art of counting other people’s blessings rather than your own,” and it all started to make sense to me.

The trick to beating envy is to look within and count all that we have.  It lies in the ability to see all that is beautiful and whole and complete in our lives and in ourselves.

The secret to beating envy is gratitude.

And so on this Monday morning when I have a basket full of laundry to put away and no idea what we are going to eat for dinner, I am happy to be able to take a moment and remember who I am and what I have, and now I will just take a moment to be grateful.

After all, what greater prayer is there than simple gratitude?

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