These Kids Break My Heart

Today was Meet and Greet at my two older daughters’ school.  It’s always chaotic.  Of everything school related there is, nothing triggers my craziness like bringing 575 different school supplies to school and then trying to sort them into all their respective receptacles along with dozens of other kids and parents.  Oh, and I get to do this all while trying to stop the wee one from destroying things.

Fun stuff.

But as stressful as it is for me, it is very exciting for my girls, and I always try to stay cognizant of that.  I try to hide my level of overwhelm until we get into the car and I can silently shudder all the way home.

Today I got home and I had five minutes to kill before I had to turn around and take Magoo to softball.  So I spent that time looking through the photos I took and posting them to Facebook.

A little while later, I was sitting on the bleachers during practice, and I went through those pictures again.  This time, they almost took my breath away.

Because this is Goosie’s kindergarten year.  Her first year as a big kid, complete with lunch box, fancy nap mat, and more glue sticks than your typical kindergartener can count.  And I knew she was excited, and I knew Goosie excited gives a whole new meaning to the term, excitement.  But still… when I saw those pictures, I was overtaken by the sheer amount of joy in her face.

And it broke my heart.  And it brings tears to my eyes even as I type it.

And I don’t know why I feel this.  I don’t know why my proudest and happiest parenting moments are also sometimes tinged with the slightest bit of sadness.

But they are.

I think it has something to do with their excitement and their innocence.  It has to do with the joy that can only come through childhood.  It’s born of the knowledge that one day markers won’t excite them, and a brand new sharpened pencil from their teacher won’t make them giddy.

Like everything with parenting, these moments of pure joy are reminders that this time is fleeting.  It’s a snapshot.  A whiff.  A deep breath.

Things here today will be gone before we know it.  Times will change and they will change. And as much as I desperately wish I could build a shield and keep in all that is beautiful and innocent and childlike about them, I know that they are meant for the metamorphoses their lives with take them through.

So I might mourn a bit in these joyous times.  But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying them.  It just reminds me to hold on to the present.  And it reminds me that when your heart stretches beyond its known limits, it’s bound to hurt a little.  But that’s how it grows.

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Lost in a Panic Attack

I’ve read a lot about panic attacks.  The racing heart, the fast respirations, the feeling that one might be dying.

And when I do have a panic attack, I do get those first two symptoms.  In fact, I’ve been struggling with them for two days now.  I don’t think my heart rate has been anywhere near normal since yesterday morning, and I’ve been shaking since then as well.

And the physical symptoms suck.

But for me, at least, it’s the interplay of the psychological and the physical that creates this whole wonderful experience that I call panic.

I started out today in bed.  My youngest woke up and I took her downstairs and got something to eat.  But the what if questions started going through my head as I was waiting for the toaster to pop.  My brain was urging me to solve a problem that I don’t have all the information for right now.  And since I can’t solve it because I don’t know enough of the details, my brain decided that I must just think harder.  That if I think harder, something will come.

But you can’t think when you are shaking and your heart is pounding, so my anxiety convinced me that I needed to lie down.  If I lie down, then I can control my breathing and relax and then I will be able to obsess about it the issue more effectively.

So I listened as the obedient little anxiety prey that I am, and I lied down.  And I slowed my breathing for about two seconds, but then a car would drive by, or my AC would kick on, or I would actually think a thought about the current problem at hand, and then I would have difficulty breathing again.

And this continued for hours.

Finally I convinced myself to get out of bed which is not an easy task when the anxiety is screaming at me not to, and now I’m sitting in my living room doing the same thing.  Trying to calm my body so my anxiety can percolate more effectively in my brain.

My anxiety and every single (erroneous) instinct that I have tell me that this will help me.  That hidden somewhere in my brain is the answer and all I have to do is worry about it enough and I’ll find the answer.  A decade of therapy is trying to tell me that this is how anxiety perpetuates itself.  That the only real way to get over it is to actually not listen to it and its promises of peace and instead just accept that right now I cannot do anything about the issue, so I should focus on what is in front of me and what I can do and what I can control.

And here is where the battle plays out.  I would like to think my brain stands a chance against the emotional luring of anxiety.  I would like to think that I’m mentally strong enough, that I’ve learned so many hard won lessons, and that I deserve to find peace even in the midst of struggles.

But it’s hard to hear the whisper of hope in a stadium of jeering fears.

And as I sit here now, desperately trying to win the battle of peace, I’m reminded that life isn’t perfect.  The promise was never a smooth ride.  And challenges will always peer around every corner.

The trick isn’t to live a life without a thing to worry about.  That will leave us anxious and failing.  No, the trick is to find the peace amidst the suffering and the trials.  It’s to count what is right rather than what is wrong.  It’s to take challenges and find ways to overcome them rather than let them bury us.

And my anxiety never promised me a smooth ride.  No one ever said it would go away.  No one ever said it would come easy.  No one ever said the battle wouldn’t be a long one.

But I’ve also spent decades of my life trying to search for perfect circumstances so that I could experience the slightest modicum of peace.  And I turned up empty handed enough times to know that I deserve peace even in the middle of the chaos and commotion and hard times.

And then again this all feels like some kind of joke because just as I was talking myself down, I let my guard down, and within an instant I was back to trying to figure out eventualities and panicking at worst case scenarios.

But I’m not going to give up and I’m not going to give in to this anxiety.

And I have a house full of little girls.  And maybe one nice thing about having children is that even if I can’t give myself peace of mind, maybe I can make their little lives safe and warm and peaceful.

It sounds a lot more reasonable than making my own life that way at this moment.

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Today I Broke

And today I broke.

I just walked in my backdoor, closed the bathroom door, got in the shower, and started crying – that big, ugly, guttural cry that is so very unattractive and yet so very necessary at times.

There was nothing wrong.  Not really.  Nothing Earth shattering or life altering.

I’m just tired.

One of the aspects of parenting that gives it some of its beauty is the constancy of it.  There are no breaks.  There are no time outs.  There’s no punching out at the end of the day or taking a vacation.

And I love that.  I love the sacrifice it requires.  What better to take us out of ourselves and our own messes than the life and health and love of someone we helped to create?

And yet at times, I can feel like I’m drowning.

I don’t like saying it out loud.  It makes me feel like I’m whining or complaining, making my life out to be harder than most.

But deep down, that’s not what I feel like I am doing.  I feel like I am acknowledging and giving voice to the sometimes draining nature of it.

I’ve been thinking about self-donation a lot lately.  About how the love we have as a parent or a spouse is called to be sacrificial.  We are meant to give ourselves away as a gift.  We gain our fulness when we pass on pieces of ourselves to others.

And this is a beautiful thing.  I believe it’s the only way to really find true joy.

And yet sometimes, the giving can feel less like a donation and more like a seeping or a pillaging or a leeching.  We can stop feeling like we are consciously giving ourselves away and instead feel like something is being taken from us.

And I don’t believe this happens because of selfishness, or at least not fully because of selfishness.  I think, for many of us, this happens because we don’t fill ourselves up.  After all, we cannot give away that which we don’t have.  And lately, I haven’t had a lot to give.

I’ve been getting so angry with myself lately.  I’ve been cranky and irritable.  I lack patience.  I’m failing at what it is that I most want to do well.

And when I try to find patience or I try to pray for patience, the idea that keeps coming back to me is that I simply cannot give that which I don’t have.

And honestly, I don’t know how to fill myself up when there is almost no time to do such.

I’ve been so overwhelmed lately with responsibilities.  I can’t even take care of myself much less help others stay above water.  I’ve had to cancel the only dental appointment I’ve been able to make in years because they wouldn’t let my children come with.  We’ve been out of groceries, shopping only for days and moments at a time, because I can’t find the strength and patience to go to the grocery store for an hour with three little people who all run in different directions as soon as we get anywhere.  And I haven’t been out on a date with my husband in twenty months.  I’m ashamed of that last one.

I need a break.  I need a breather.  I need to be able to get my head above water if only for two breaths so that I can go back down beneath and pull others up with me.

I want to keep us all afloat.  I want to keep us safe and happy and peaceful.  But I find it so hard when I’m down there desperately kicking about trying to catch just one breath.

And I get that this is life.  This is what I happily signed up for, and this is what I wouldn’t hesitate one single moment to jump into again.  It’s my life, and it’s beautiful.  I just feel like sometimes we have to acknowledge the struggles if we want to be able to release some of the tension.

And that’s all I’m trying to do.  Again, I’m not trying to complain or moan about my very blessed life.  It’s just not real if we only share the good parts.  And some times I think it’s the struggles that unite us more than the joys.

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Messy Feelings

I’ve been sad lately.  Quite sad.  A lot of things, honestly, have been making me feel this way, but I haven’t had pretty words to dress the ideas up in, and so I’ve let them slide past.

Unfortunately, ideas and feelings never seem to slide past me too well.  If I don’t take them out and dig around in them a bit and get a tiny bit lost in them, they tend to fester.  I can use all of my wonderful coping strategies to get around them and live a normal life.  But then at night, in my dreams, they’ll come out.

Like most dreams, they don’t come out in the ways that I experience them when I’m awake.  Dreams seem to get the facts wrong but the themes right.  And so if I’m afraid of secrets, I’ll have secrets in my dreams.  If I’m afraid of loss, I’ll experience loss in my dream.  And if I’m afraid of hurting people I love, I will hurt them all, in all the ways, in all my dreams.

And while the details and characters in my dreams don’t reflect the details and characters in my daily life, the guilt lingers around for awhile after I wake up.  I might be dreaming that I’m a pregnant chain smoker in my dream, and I’ll wake up in a cold sweat and I’ll lie in bed, writhing in guilt for what seems like an eternity until I realize that it didn’t happen.  I didn’t, in fact, spend the evening sitting on top of a red barn in some field chain smoking Marlboros while talking to other farmers with my big old pregnant belly in the way.

In other words, I didn’t do what I dreamt that I did.  I can let the guilt go.  But by then, my adrenaline and cortisol are pumping, and the hill is an uphill one for the day.

And this is all incredibly draining.

And it’s incredibly absurd.  The things I dream could make top ten humorous lists if they didn’t make the fears I have of hurting those I love the most so acute and so painful.

But it’s not just the dreams that are making me sad.  After all, it’s not the dreams affecting the world; it’s the world affecting my dreams.

Every day I wake up and try as I may to stay away from the media, it seeps in.  And I see people dying.  And I see people protesting.  And I see many, many people using race and the police to make money through sensationalized stories and political influence.  And if this wasn’t enough to cause nightmares, I also feel personal indictment.

Where do I stand on these issues?  Are my opinions well informed or are they the product of insulated communities and privileges that I am barely even aware that I have?

Right and wrong is right and wrong, but sometimes situations and and systems have triggers and effects that are more complicated than pat answers.

And so I lie in bed and I think these things through, and the more I try to make sense of it all, the more lost I feel, and the more lost I feel, the more guilty I feel

And then I hear about politics.  And how do I possibly choose between one candidate who I believe has some of the most horrific positions in modern history on a handful of extremely important issues and another one who might say the right thing on those issues but who espouses such hatred and bigotry and close mindedness and ugliness that to vote for him seems to vote for a perpetuation and an exacerbation of all the evil that has been brought into the world since the very beginning of it all?

And then I look at my girls.  And they are so beautiful and kind and smart.  And I love every moment that I get to snuggle them and protect them and fill their hearts with warmth and love.  But parenting is a bittersweet journey, and for all the longing I feel to shelter and protect them, their hearts were born with a desire for this world created for them.  And they want to run out and explore it and make it their own.  And it’s their right and their privilege and their responsibility to do so.  And it’s my right and my privilege and my responsibility to watch them soar.  Even when all I want to do is pull them close and lock the doors and keep all the bad out and keep them in.

And then for every moment that I spend cherishing my kids and mourning the loss of their infancies, I’m reminded that these losses I feel are normal and healthy and God-given and God blessed.  And then I remember that the losses other mothers feel aren’t bittersweet.  They aren’t normal or healthy.  For some mothers, the losses are brutal and bitter and forever.

And I can’t reconcile those two things – my feelings of joy over my children that I hold close and the empty arms of mothers who can no longer do the same.

And I don’t know how to live in that world – a world that can hold so much pain and so much love, so much beauty and so much brutality all at the same time.

It’s enough to crush.

And so I use my coping strategies, and I become productive, and I get on with my days.

And then at the end of the day, I close my eyes and I dream and I’m back to the miasma my mind creates of light filled with darkness and love filled with hate, and I wake up in the morning breathless from the journey this life gives us.

So yes, I’ve been tired.  And I’ve been sad.  And I have no pretty words or easy lessons for it.

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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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