On Turning Molehills Into Mountains

This morning I stuck my foot in my mouth a bit. I was on a walk with a friend and we ran into an acquaintance. Turns out all three of us have lived in Brooklyn and we got to talking about it. The acquaintance moved up here last year and she lived around the corner from our last apartment in the fine Borough of Kings and I replied, “Oh the apartment we owned was at the south east corner of Prospect Park!”. As soon as the words left my mouth I knew it sounded like I was bragging about owning an apartment in Brooklyn. And it is not what I meant to do. Z and I lived in three apartments together during our near decade in Brooklyn. And in my mind they are the apartment we were priced out of, the apartment in Bed Stuy, and the apartment we owned. I forgot the name of the street it was on (Winthrop! Why couldn’t I remember Winthrop!), so I described it in the way I think of it. In the scheme of things this was a little mistake. I sounded like an asshole. But I guess we all sound like assholes every once in a while.

If I didn’t have an anxiety disorder this wouldn’t even be a story worth telling, hell it’s not terribly interesting even with the disorder. But I’ve had that swollen burn-y feeling in the back of my throat all day. The one that means I’m fighting off tears. The minute the sentence was out of my mouth I wanted to apologize. But I thought I’d sound even more stupid if I made a thing about it. After we left the acquaintance I wanted to explain what happened to my friend, but the further away we got from the conversation the weirder it would have been to bring it up.

So here I am six hours later worrying that two women I like think I’m a bragging gross person. They probably found my remark very off putting, but I doubt I have crossed their minds since the morning. And here is where the chronic insecurity turns to narcissism. Because it is narcissistic to think that I constantly occupy the thoughts of people in my life even when I’m sure those thoughts are all negative.

Really and truly it has been a great fall mental health wise. But my insecurity has experienced a marked increase. I am constantly worried that I have offended my friends. I replay moments over again and again, filled with shame over things I have said. If there is a touchy subject in someone’s life I am sure to bring it up accidentally. I am convinced people only put up with me because they are friends with Zeke, I think friends are avoiding me even if I can’t figure out what I’ve done to offend. I feel unlikeable, unloveable, an embarrassment, someone only to be tolerated. Even when I try to do something nice I screw it up and become simply an annoyance. I think if I met myself I wouldn’t want to be friends.

This fall I have been making a tremendous effort not to give in to my agoraphobic tendencies. Not only have we been leaving the house, we’ve done some entertaining at home. When Z wants to do something I try my damnedest to make it happen. My anxiety is largely situational and putting myself out there guarantees it will increase. I am trying not to give in to the voice in my head that tells me I am pathetic and no one wants me around. So the progress is being social despite my insecurities and being able to understand it is ridiculous to think people spend all that much time and energy hating or feeling sorry for me. I’m glad about the progress, but I’m also pissed off. I’m tired of feeling like a piece of shit, I’m tired of taking chill pills, I want to be fucking normal. I hope the anger will keep me going, I want it to keep me from giving in. I’m cool with being angry if it will get the damn voice in my head to shut up.

Time for a little levity. The awesome Ellie Leonardsmith did a little photo shoot while she was here for Thanksgiving. This was a test shot, she told us we didn’t have to smile. Oh my lord, I adore it so much.  

  Another test shot. Z is doing a fantastic job miming baby-holding.

      And look at these absolutely adorable gals. They started a blog with some friends recently. It’s about their efforts to start a family and their friends impending nuptials. Check it out
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Giving Thanks

Is there someone in your life that you totally idolize? Who you have wanted to be friends with for years and years? One who could never actually live up to your expectations in real life? When I was a freshman in college there was a first year grad student who I basically wanted to be when I grew up. If I couldn’t be her, then I wanted to be her little sister. People thought we looked alike (which was very flattering to me) and she very kindly played along with the little sister thing. We didn’t see each other for years and years, but thanks to the wonders of Facebook we’ve gotten back in touch. Over the last few years we’ve actually become friends. And the magic thing is she is even more amazing than I imagined her to be. She’s done the impossible and managed to live up to my ridiculous expectations. So when she says something it holds a lot of importance to me.

We were visiting her back in January and she told me that she had a feeling this was going to be a huge year for me, that really good things were going to happen. So all year I’ve been waiting. For fame, fortune, the whole nine yards. Because I look up to her so very much I’ve been sure that something wonderful and life changing would happen. And now we are a couple of days away from December. Things are starting to look bleak in the fame and fortune departement. 
She and her mother spent Thanksgiving with us this year. And while we were talking yesterday, I brought up her prophecy from the beginning of the year. She was kind enough to say that I am thriving as a mom. After more discussion we decided that might be it. Having my sweet Charlie made this a huge year, my family fills every day with good things. Maybe it is time for me to adjust my expectation of what wonderful means. Fame and fortune don’t seem to be in the cards for me. If the 16 year old me saw what the 34 year old me turned into she would have been deeply ashamed. She’d see me as a huge failure. But truth be told, she was a self absorbed idiot. 
Yes, a tiny bit more money would make our life feel more secure. But the stuff that matters, that makes a full life wasn’t even on the radar of that idiot teenager. What I want for myself has shifted and the reality is I have a husband who is a partner in every way, two sons that I will do everything in my power to raise into kind men, a beautiful house in which we feel truly at home, Z has a job that fulfills him, and I am fortunate enough to make the choice to stay at home with the kids for now. This has been a huge year. It has been big. I need to adjust my dreams to fit the life I have, not some crazy glamorous life that not only isn’t going to happen, but might not be as great for me as the one I’ve got going. How many women are lucky enough to feel not only adored, but actually liked by their husbands? How many get to live in their dream home? How many are afforded the choice to be at home with their kids? We might be broke all the time, but the trade off is more than worth it to me.
So here’s to a big year! Here’s to growing up a bit! Here’s to family! Here’s to dear friends! Here’s to a beautiful table made by my husband’s hands, filled with delicious food and surrounded by people we love! Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

 Boy, does this guy clean up good or what? Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.

Our happy baby. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith

T dancing along with the T-Day Parade. Photo by Jenn Mattern.

Gingerbread Latte

This Fall has been going really well. Well enough that sometimes I forget that I’m the crazy. I’ve been leaving the house like a champ. I’ve been brimming with love for my little family. We have a bit of a schedule going on and it is making the days fly by. My grasp on good mental health does feel more tenuous at night. I’ve always dreaded nighttime, it makes me feel lonely even when my life is full of good things. That is when I worry about the agoraphobic symptoms rearing their ugly heads, it’s when I think I will fuck my boys up terribly as a mom because I struggle with mental illness. But since our New Guy showed up I’ve woken up feeling hopeful more often than not.

Over the last week a number of little things have happened and rather than brush them off I haven’t been able to let them go. They have festered in my mind and their constant presence has convinced me that I’m worthless, that no one likes me, that I’m the object of pity, that I should just give up. Because I’ve been in such a good place emotionally I’ve been able to try and fight back a bit. I do not want the fear to take over, I want to stay positive for my boys, and I’m realizing I want to do it for myself as well. But I am scared that the anxiety will come roaring back, that this week is the beginning of the end of my carefree Fall.

Sometimes I feel so close to normal, but then I’ll be jolted by a reminder of the anxiety. And normal people don’t take controlled substances on a regular basis. Because I’m nursing I need to be very careful with my chill pills. They probably won’t hurt C, but there is very little research. If I need one I must take it directly after nursing so most of it can be metabolized the next time C eats. And on top of that they are highly addictive. My therapist is also my prescriber, so the situation is closely monitored. I’ve found myself feeling so self conscious and guilty about taking the pills that I report the exact number I’ve taken during ever session. I’m averaging about two a week. And I know I need them. I know if I let the anxiety spiral out of control and do nothing that I’ll be creating a bigger problem. But I recently explained to my shrink that I am so pissed about relying on them. There are tons of mothers out there who get through the tough shit in their days and don’t have to turn to psychotropic drugs just to keep going. Why am I so weak? Why can’t I just pull myself up by my bootstraps? There is no one in the world luckier than me, I’ve been given a great education, we have a huge safety net because of my parents. What right do I have to struggle with anxiety when there are real problems in this world? Why am I so pathetic?

I get that these aren’t helpful questions. I get that it doesn’t help to compare myself to other moms out there. But I can’t help it.

………………..

Every fall I look forward to the return of the Gingerbread Latte at Starbucks. I know, I know, it’s an overpriced gimmick and the chemically syrup added totally obscures the taste of the coffee. Whatever. I can’t help it, I love them. I wanted one on Wednesday. It isn’t like I didn’t get out of the house that day. There was an early morning trip to the grocery store and a walk with a friend. But as the day progressed so did a creepy-crawly feeling of dread that covered my skin. The anxiety was actually making me itch. The house felt like it was closing in on me, like I needed to escape even for just a few minutes. Believe me, that was a bizarre sensation for someone that struggles with agoraphobic tendencies. T napped until almost 5pm. I got it together to make the pizza dough for our dinner, albeit later than I wanted. And I felt like I would be an abject failure if I did not get out of the house and get a latte. That stupid expensive drink became a measure of good mental health in my mind, a sure sign that I wasn’t doing well in that department.

A few minutes after 5 I hustled the boys into the car. The pizza dough didn’t have to be punched down until 6ish, which was when Z was due home. I remembered that a Starbucks a few towns over had a drive through and that’s where we headed. The drive was only 10 or 15 minutes in the little rush hour traffic we get in Syracuse. But the closer we got the tenser I was. Did it really have a drive through, or did I imagine that? Should I have fed C before we left? Were we going to get home before Z? Was I going to get dinner on the table before 7? Was I going to spend the whole winter stuck in the house yet be unable to clean, do laundry, and provide meals for my guys? Were we going to have enough money in savings to get us through until I find a job sometime in the next few years? Was I ever going to find a job that paid enough to cover child care? Um, I was a mess when we got to Starbucks, and of course I imagined the drive through. But I got the boys out of the car and into the store. I got my latte.

The funny thing is it didn’t even taste good. And the chill pill I took several hours later barely took the edge off.

 Our sweet sweet boy. Photo by Jenn Mattern.

He smiles all the time now, and I think we are pretty close to laughing. Photo by Jenn Mattern

Crazy hair in the tub. And this is the face he makes when you ask him to smile for a photo. Photo by  (you guessed it!) the amazing Jenn Mattern.

Gross. Motor. Skills.

The other night at dinner T said, “Gross. Motor. Skills.” out of the blue. Z and I looked at each other and tried to stifle our laughter. T verbal skills are incredible. Yesterday after preschool one of the student teachers told me that he corrected the pronunciation of another little boy. She said she was getting ready to correct the boy herself, and T just beat her to it. I’m totally bragging, but it’s true. He’s a talker. Like toddlers everywhere he’s a sponge. He is also taking everything that happens around him in and he is regurgitating it, no matter if he understands it or not.

After the urge to laugh passed at dinner I started to feel pretty worried. I know where he heard “gross motor skills”, it was from me. And the only time I say those words is when I’m explaining that his aren’t that great. Now, I am usually also saying his fine motor skills and verbal skills are off the hook. And they are. He loves to watch videos of himself we’ve uploaded to facebook and recently we were watching one from when he was 18 months old. Over the last 9 months his skills have gotten better and better. He speaks in sentences a lot of the time, he can start to drive a nail into wood without any help, I can talk all day about the wonderful stuff he does.

But the gross motor skills have been slower in coming. He only just started hopping, and frankly he it’s hard for him not to trip over his own sweet little feet. He is constantly covered in bumps and bruises. He had one hell of a lump on his forehead a few weeks ago and I started calling him my little unicorn. And all that stuff is perfectly ok. It is extraordinary that he is so ahead of the curve in two areas of development, and really he’s at the point where he should be enjoying life and I shouldn’t be thinking about where he is compared to other kids. He doesn’t need that kind of pressure. I don’t need it either.

That stuff isn’t the point of this post, though. I’m worried about him hearing me being critical of him to others, and I’m pretty ashamed of how often it happens. I’m casually unkind too frequently, and not just about him. It starts with my overwhelming insecurity, my compulsion to call out everything wrong with myself before others can notice it to quell the feeling I have that everyone in the world is pitying me behind my back. I know I’ve written about this before, and I understand it developed in my mind when I was extremely unwell. It just might be my least favorite part of my crazy. I’ve been able to realize it’s bullshit, largely because people aren’t spending scads of time contemplating me to begin with (hello self-absorption!).

I fall back on criticizing everything connected to me when I’m uncomfortable, so unfortunately social situations are when this behavior happens the most. I get hot, my tongue swells up and fills my whole mouth, and I just start pointing out my faults, T’s faults, Z’s faults because I think that they are all the person I’m talking to is seeing. And I desperately don’t want to be the fool. I don’t do this because I hate my kid or my husband, I do it because I struggle with hating myself. Of course, being unkind about my husband and kid makes me hate myself even more, I’m guaranteeing that my self hatred is justified.

For years Z has asked me to work on this when it comes to him. He is never unkind about me to others, he always has my back. One of the refrains from my breakdown was him saying, “I’m on your side.” He still says it and it is still true. But when I start to get uncomfortable my self control goes out the window. I didn’t give a shit when I was being mean to myself. When I started to understand I was being mean about Z there was progress. Yes, I was oblivious to my own assholicness until Z pointed it out to me.  With T I’m realizing it simply needs to stop. It isn’t the example I want to set for him, it isn’t the baggage I want to thrust upon him that will need to be unpacked in therapy in a few decades, it isn’t who I want to be anymore. When people hear me criticize those I love I’m not showing them I know what is wrong in my life, I’m showing them I am a bitch. That realization was a real slap in the face. I don’t want to be an unkind person. I need to be better than that for T and for his brother. They deserve it.

Sweet C nursing.  

Our friend Sue gave the boys these super tough skull outfits.  

T helping Daddy chisel during the install of a new/old door.
T is very into markers right now.