Survival strategy: 5 minutes at a time

So many thoughts whisking in and out of focus tonight, it’s hard to settle on just one. Phrases and images streaking through my head like comets, darting from the shadows into the centre of my awareness and away again. They’re reminders of things I haven’t gotten done yet and need to do, snippets of conversation, fragments of plans for upcoming projects now on my list, shards of dialogue and story concepts, a bombardment of words in restless movement. Overwhelming. 

I started my scarf again tonight, using needle markers to keep my counts accurate. I probably did a little too much, because my fingertips on the right hand are a little numb. But knitting made me content for a few hours, being a relatively simple task that I could problem-solve with a small degree of hassle. I can see it taking shape again, the time and effort paying off in each row of yarn. Wanted to do some reading and editing, but that kind of focus isn’t possible when one child is needing help with homework while the other has to be guided into bed. And once that’s over, the energy is gone. All that’s left is the bombardment, beating down inside my skull.

I think I’m struggling again. Tough time of year. Hell, it always seems like it’s a tough time of year for me. So many triggers, and so little relief. So tired, all of the time, it feels like. I do better when I have deadlines and creative projects, solid goals to achieve to make other peoples’ lives better, outside of my house. It’s within these four walls, staring at the mess that we can never seem to get the better of for more than a day, that I falter. Sometimes I daydream about living in my classroom, where there’s a microwave and couches and books and a washroom down the hall, because in a way, it’s simpler there. The responsibilities are different, more clear. At home, my worlds are colliding now that my son is in high school, because now his homework is of the type that I assign. The separation between professional and parent has thinned to nearly non-existent. I’m using my teacher-voice after-hours. 

My battle with mental illness began when I was around 10 or 11. I remember thinking about throwing myself out the window so I wouldn’t have to be alive anymore, dealing with the mean kids at school and the emotions that just seemed too much to handle. I was curious about death, as well. But I knew it was a fantasy, and I feared getting reincarnated in a place that was unhealthy or dangerous; I didn’t want to have to live through all the tough parts of being a little kid again, and I recognized how lucky I was to have a stable family. But the fantasizing never quite went away. 

Right now, I’m not in a deep pit. Been taking my medication and trying to do the things that make me happy, focusing on the positives, trying to get enough rest and eat healthy foods, identifying my triggers head-on so they don’t drag me down. But I’m starting to get that feeling lately that I’m moving through thicker air, as though there are weights on my arms and legs and shoulders. Urges to cry. Despair that I’ll ever accomplish the myriad little things that a parent and homemaker need to do to keep a family healthy, as well as keeping up with my professional responsibilities. My son wants to help, but I see him beginning to struggle with his own anxieties and feeling overwhelmed, and I don’t want him to spiral, either. I tell him, just focus on doing one little thing at a time, for five minutes at a time. That’s all we need to do. And when we watched Meet the Robinsons together today, which we hadn’t seen in years, we both got teary at the end, between Lewis finding his resolution and the song, “Little Wonders”, reminding us both to try to let go of the big stuff weighing us down. If only it were as easy to do in reality as it is in fiction.

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Late winter / early spring skiing: animal tracks and animated moods

The snow was sticky today.

It was a balmy -1C when my son and I finally got back out to the ski hill, with a wind chill of -5. Perfect blue sky with the half-moon faintly hanging above. Glorious. There were only four other kids skiing and snowboarding, so we essentially had the slopes to ourselves. I think I would have enjoyed myself more with colder temperatures, though, as crazy as that sounds after our long and bitter winter.

You see, sticky snow is a hazard. It catches up the skis, snagging them in unexpected places and tripping me up when I least expected it. I nearly wiped out (peed myself a little in the process, too) a couple of times, just managing to save myself from what would have been violent tumbles. I’ve never yet broken an arm or a leg but I’m pretty certain that today would have been the day — glad to have dodged that bullet! Although I should have remembered to wear the bladder protection padding . . .

But it was still gorgeous up on that hill, perfect views all around and the added delight of more animal tracks! I saw squirrel, rabbit, and I later learned, fox and lynx.

Jack had a great time also, taking enormous pleasure in following me directly down three or four runs and irritating the heck out of me. I told him, “It’s not that I don’t trust YOU, it’s that if I get caught up and fall you’ll end up running me over and maybe getting hurt yourself!” Silly boy.

Jack had a great time also, taking enormous pleasure in following me directly down three or four runs and irritating the heck out of me. I told him, “It’s not that I don’t trust YOU, it’s that if I get caught up and fall you’ll end up running me over and maybe getting hurt yourself!” Silly boy.

And of course, shortly after getting home, I had a lovely nap. Bridget went to a birthday party later on, her dad taking her so I could sleep, and had some fun bowling, and then Jack went out again to the local Twoonie Skate so he could practice his hard-stops, cross-overs, and spins.

The other day, one of my colleagues commented to me, approvingly and with some surprise, how active I’ve become with my kids. I said, I’ve been trying, for sure. It’s not only good for them (and I do feel like I’ve been playing a bit of catch-up to compensate for the years where we didn’t do much of anything — that refrain “The years before five last the rest of their lives” repeating through my head), but it’s good for me, too. I’m still twenty pounds over the limit of my dress pants’ waistband, and we’re not active every day, but it’s been on a steady increase. And I think we’re seeing benefits in both my son’s and my mental health as well — he’s experienced far less incidents of anxiety, or been better able to cope. I still take my pills, of course (mental note: replenish stock this week), but it’s absolutely true that getting out into the fresh air and sunshine fires bullets at my depression when it rises.

So why was it that I kept yawning on the way up the ski lift?

Post-NaNo, Pre-Christmas/Yule, with Injury to Boot

So. I feel great that I met my writing goal for November, and now have a second completed book — to which I must now devote time in editing and revisions. Meanwhile, I have three weeks of marking to catch up on (that’s actually kind of normal for this time of year, for me).

My daughter’s birthday is this week, and her party approaches on the coming weekend. I haven’t done any present shopping as yet.

Nor have I decorated for Christmas/Yule. The house is still in its disorganized, jumbled, frightening state that it was in October.

I have held off my seasonal affective disorder for 30-odd days, but since I sprained my ankle badly over a week ago, it’s looming in the background like a great shadowy cloud. Not being able to move is definitely contributing. I recognize that there are many people who sustain worse injuries and anticipate being off their feet for much longer. What concerns me is how mine might potentially impact my mental health.

It’s not for lack of trying. I obediently took to crutches for four days after the incident, and then attempted to move without them for a day. It was a mistake. I had a number of colleagues tell me with great delight (haven’t heard so many “I Told You So’s” in a long time) that it was too soon to try walking solo. Returned to crutches. Took a day off work. And then had someone tell me, “You’re still on crutches?”

Yes. Yes, I am. Although I have much more mobility and much less pain, I’ve been told and have read all about how sprains — especially bad ones — take a long time to heal, and if you’re not patient, are never really the way they were. So instead of cleaning the mess of my home, shopping for Christmas cards and Christmas lights, going with my children and our dog for some lovely walks in the fresh snow, I’ve been sitting. And sitting.

And sitting.

I’ve attempted some writing. After 30 days of daily writing, I’ve taken about a week’s break, and now I think I am ready to get back.

But what I really want is a clean house, decorated for Yule, with room for yoga and wrapping presents.

Santa, can you hear me?

Also, some help on how to make my children pick up the slack — that would be nice.

I do have to say, though, that my adoring husband has been doing what he’s able, on top of his 12-hour work days driving taxi, to stay ahead of the dishes and laundry.

What this experience has brought home to me (um, yet again) is that I need to turn a deaf ear to whines of not wanting to do things and engage my children in helping with the upkeep of our home. That will require training, patience, and consequences.

And motivation on my part. Motivation is something I lack in the darkest part of the year.

Santa, I repeat — can you hear me?

Childfree vs Parenting: the endless debate

What do you do when someone makes you feel vulnerable, judged, and that you have made the wrong choices in life?

If you’re like me and are prone to anxiety and depression, you take it pretty damn personally.

It’s all you can think about for days.

I am working on this, learning to stand up for myself in a more articulate way and consider other people’s comments from a logical standpoint rather than purely emotionally.

As my dear friend Tara has told me, “You made your decisions in life, and you bear the consequences, good and bad…Don’t feel bad or make apologies or even feel you have to. You have nothing to apologize for. Everyone has days the burden gets heavy, and they need to vent. That doesn’t mean they want the burden to disappear, or that they are sorry they assumed it in the first place. It just means they have stress and need to release some.”

What has brought all of this on?

I had an interesting conversation — more a friendly debate, in a way — on the merits of having children earlier in life or later. One of my colleagues is enjoying her childfree life, unattached and able to travel as she pleases. I had my children during my 20s, and I am quite glad that I did, for various reasons.

I have my moments, though, where I need to vent — when the burden gets heavy.

It was a struggle to have our children when we were broke students, instead of waiting.
It wasn’t just the lack of money; I also had terrible postpartum, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I totally understand and support women like her who are choosing to put off having children, or not have any at all. In another lifetime, maybe I would not have children either, for various reasons. But I would not choose this life without my children, not at all. They are my heart. I admire my colleague and various friends for having the guts to go against conventional expectations, to live their own lives as they wish, and sure, I’m a little jealous of the freedom to travel and go by a schedule unencumbered by the needs of small people.

But what I do not understand is how someone who is child-free looks at me and judges me because I chose a more traditional life path. Not completely conventional, mind you — I have done things in reverse order to most professional women today — but I deliberately (and with some innocence and ignorance combined) picked the harder road to travel. It has brought me both gifts and challenges.

My early marriage and decision to have babies in my twenties has made me a stronger person.

I’m not good with confrontation, preferring to avoid conflict whenever possible. When I felt like I was being told that my choices (to get married young and have babies before I became a professional) were the wrong ones, I couldn’t let it go. It bothers me too much.

My first blog on this, yesterday, showed just how vulnerable I feel about this topic. I get incredibly defensive, when I’m trying to be logical. So I’ve edited my earlier post, hoping to find my way through the murk of this debate.

The risks of waiting to have children later in adult life are equal to but different from the risks of having children early.

Having a baby in your twenties or early thirties, before you have proper job security (or what passes for job security today), means for many parents a constant concern about money. So more and more couples are choosing to put off having children until they have that security (which, in all honesty, may never happen).

Having a baby in your late thirties, forties, or even into your fifties means a greater risk to your body, higher risk of problems for the infant, and perhaps less concern about money if the family has a decent income / job security.

Attempting to conceive when you’re younger means there’s more time to get help if you have trouble with fertility. But a woman’s body tends to bounce back from the demands of pregnancy and labour much more quickly when she is younger and/or highly fit.

We all know the metaphor of the biological clock ticking for older mothers. New medical procedures added to the freezing of ovum, like uterine transplants and surrogacy, help to extend that fertile period — wonderful!

Finally, there’s that question of when to enjoy the child-free years the most: while you’re young and energetic, so you can have your own toys and enjoy them, or while you’re matured and wrinkly, after your children have grown and started their own lives.

Let’s face it: our society puts a premium on people enjoying their own lives while they are young, hot, single, independent, and able to travel. We know that the older population gets less respect because aging makes the skin sag (among other body parts), so many of the toys and experiences our consumer society wants us to enjoy are marketed to the 20- and 30-something set.

Thus, my husband and I might have chosen to put off having our kids until after we had gone on adventures, bought the material possessions we wanted, and found the perfect home. I might have been able to wear that hot Princess Leia bikini while on vacation in Vegas, or backpacked around Europe with him, with just our backpacks.

We made a trade, choosing the less popular / more traditional option of waiting until our mature years to enjoy the travel and the toys.

I probably won’t get into the bikini unless I have a tummy-tuck (which my husband reassures me is not necessary), and he has no desire to backpack around Europe anyway.

What I would like to do is take our children with us on a tour of the world. Spend a year on a working vacation, watching the expressions on our son and daughter’s faces as they view Stonehenge, the Sistine Chapel, the Louvre, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China… We’ve been waiting until they were both school-aged, though I know of some fantastic parents who have been able to do such an awakening journey with babies in tow.

I wanted to wait so that they would be able to remember.

Whether we’ll have the money (and the passports) in the next few years is the question. It’s been a while since I picked up this particular dream and dusted it off. It requires my husband to have a secure job, like mine, to be able to save at the same time as doing all of the other things we need in life (like fix our ailing home). It would also be nice if he could qualify to do some work on an international level, like teaching or cooking. (Again, working on it.) And our specific plan probably needs to be more specific, like helping to build a school in Kenya or going on a research tour in Asia.

But whatever I do in the next few years, I could not dream of doing without my children and my husband beside me. They are my cheering squad, and I am theirs. We enjoyed five child-free years before the first came along, and occasionally we miss the easy intimacy of that time. It’s coming back, though, slowly. We look forward to our older years as being a time to return to ourselves as a couple, particularly considering my husband’s health is not going to last much longer than 10 years from now.

Also, I am happier having the baby-making stage of my life over with. I no longer have to worry from month to month about whether I’m sharing my body with another being. My body is my own, to share with my spouse as I want to. Nourishing a human both within the womb and through nursing, let alone daily mothering of an infant, is exhausting no matter what. ) Not having to worry about getting pregnant is, in itself, incredibly liberating. Even on the pill, there is always that slim chance that it won’t work, but I don’t have that stress anymore. I don’t have to dread it or look forward to it — it’s done. We have our children, and we are done.

Having our children younger has also been a blessing for my parents. My mother has been able to enjoy being a grandmother through her fifties, whereas some of her friends and in-laws have not had the pleasure until they hit their early or mid-sixties, with a corresponding shift in energy for different activities. My parents were concerned, of course, with our timing, but at the same time, we had our youth going for us. They had their children under similar circumstances. The apple probably doesn’t fall that far from the tree. And since I had my children at approximately the same ages that my mother had myself and my brother, I now understand her even more than I did before. I remember times when my mother was grumpy, or short, or not really listening, and being that age myself now, I understand the reasons behind it.

I’m not a perfect parent, and I put way too much pressure on myself to live up to an impossible vision. Maybe that’s why I take my colleague’s comments so personally, when really I don’t need to.