Tag Archives: self-care

My Monkey, My Circus

She is my daughter. My charge and my responsibility. I get to make the calls, decide the treatment, and set the course of action. She is my monkey. This my my circus. And there are days that I haven’t the slightest clue how to conduct the show.

There are a lot of things that they don’t tell you about being a parent.

That there is just about the most common thing you hear, ironically. So common as to be a cliché. I mean, with all of the parenting books, websites, blogs, random strangers giving you advice, friends and family imparting parenting wisdom — how could there possibly remain something that they don’t tell you?

I think I know the answer: they don’t tell you because they don’t want it to be true. The truth of the matter being that parenting comes with a big, heaping dose of shame.

Shame for different reasons, though. Maybe because you didn’t breastfeed, or because you use those awful, eco-disaster disposable diapers. Shame because you do (or don’t) ascribe to a parenting philosophy, like “the gentle parenting method” or “the Montessori approach”. People will give you stink-eye for just about anything: how you make your child’s food, where you buy your child’s food, organic versus mass-produced versus vegan, home-care versus day-care, TV versus no TV, et cetera.

The worst shame, the most taboo, is the shame of wanting a break. That is most common, most stigmatized, and most under-rug-swept dirty little secret that parents can harbor. Sometimes we are simply and completely maxed out.

Doesn’t seem that the world has a great deal of compassion for us poor bastards. There’s no chapter in any parenting book that I have ever picked up that gives you tools for how to keep on keepin’ on when you’re just about ready to throw your hands up in the air, say “fuck it!”, and let the little bastard have their third cookie if it will just shut him up.. There are no online support group for parents to talk, openly and without censorship, about how they just don’t enjoy parenting some of the time. (Except maybe this one.)

No one warns you that some days, you won’t like your child very much, and that’s all right. Nah, we judge the hell out of parents who have the temerity to admit their feelings, saying things like, “Well, you were the one who chose to have them! It’s not the kid’s fault — she’s only a baby!” and “Didn’t you realize what you were getting into? Parenting isn’t easy, after all.” “What on earth are you bitching about? Isn’t not that hard.”

But the thing is that yes, it really is that hard. Even though I knew what I was signing up for, even though I even anticipated a colicky, unmanageable child much worse than the one I eventually got, there was no way I could possibly have been prepared enough. And while I understand that M is a small child who lacks the ability to control her actions, she is sometimes a tiny, tyrannical sociopath and the truth is, it gets to me.

I can’t help it. I love my daughter absolutely and completely. I have never, would never, consider a life without her. Being a mother has been a gift unlike any I have ever known. That being said, I would like very much to be able to take a short break from motherhood, in order to reacquaint myself with, well, my self.

There are things I used to do for myself that I simply haven’t the time or money to do anymore. Parenthood has robbed me of my ability to self-care. I can’t tell my daughter that her screaming is giving me an anxiety attack. I can’t explain to her that I have been feeling very depressed and low-energy, so I need to return to bed for a day. I never expected that my feelings could be hurt so swiftly by her capriciousness, that her coy refusal to give hugs and kisses would stir my feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

I was prepared be tired. I knew there would be tantrums. But I never fully appreciated how sleeping in two days a week was integral to maintaining my sanity. I never understood how much I needed those quiet, isolated hours spent underneath the duvet in my darkened room. It didn’t occur to me that once I started caring for my daughter, seeing to her every need, that I would no longer be able to care for my own, or that my emotions could be so heavily influenced by hers.

It feels somewhat trite to muse over all the things I don’t like about being a parent. As I said, it’s an amazing gift, and one that I jealously anticipated. My husband and I are already planning Baby #2 (A second one! My god!) because we have always known we wanted to have a nuclear family. I am also acutely aware that there are many, many people unable to have the family that they dream of, which throws my words into rather harsh light. Still, it is my truth, and the unspoken truth of many: our love is boundless and unconditional, but our patience is not. The fact of the matter is that we are only human, and repeated trials by a demanding two-foot-tall bully will deplete our mental stores. It can’t be helped. Sometimes, the ringleader of the circus needs to leave the monkeys to their devices and exit the tent.

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On the other side

It’s been a rough couple of weeks, mood-wise. Again, nothing in particular to blame except for my faulty brain chemistry. This is just another reminder that all of the work I do in therapy, the medicines I take, the personal development I devote myself to, is not always going to be enough to manage this disease. I sometimes get complacent in periods of mood stability where I think, this isn’t so bad. Then, without fail, I am surprised by the fallout, as if this hasn’t happened a hundred times before. As I’m bouncing between mania and depression, it can be really hard to keep my eye on something still, which is the most disorienting side-effect of bipolar disorder.

I’m pretty familiar with these ups and downs, but the preceding events to my most recent upheaval were new to me: I was in a very demanding interpreting situation and emotions were running high — not necessary in the assignment itself, but in me, because I wanted to do well. Ultimately, I think I did: I walked out of the assignment feeling that my team and I had faithfully represented and maintained the message, and that we were as unobtrusive as possible. Typically, I might suffer from a bit of nerves before or during an assignment, but it dissipates once I’ve the assignment is over (unless, of course, I mucked everything up while I was in the hot-seat, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog). On this day, however, I walked out of that assignment as jangly as a skeleton on a string. My whole consciousness pinged like a struck piano wire. The anxiety was so great, I didn’t know what to do with myself, and ultimately, I experienced something very akin to what I’ve read about sub-drop. With no where else to go, the adrenaline in my system caused wide-spread emotional and mental shut-down. I was so wiped-out, it was all I could do to just get into bed and throw a quilt over myself.

Of course, living in Hawaii makes this version of self-care a little sweaty.
Of course, living in Hawaii makes this version of self-care a little sweaty.

Since that day, my mood and my energy level has been rather variable. I know it will get better, but I have to carefully tiptoe around that mental trap: “happiness is on the other side of this despair.” Because it really isn’t. Happiness is a thing you experience intermittently in the best of situations, and if you’re lucky, even in the midst of a depression. Happiness comes and goes just like everything else — it is not a destination, and no one has the right to 100% happiness one-hundred percent of the time.

So rather than try to convince myself that my happiness is waiting for me, if only I can push through and endure these difficult days, I am going to alter my narrative and focus on appreciating these days for what they are: a natural ebb and flow of positivity, unfortunately made more burdensome by my illness, and nothing more. If that means that I need to decompress by listening to Metallica at prohibitively high volumes after demanding assignments in order to burn up excess adrenaline before coming home to collapse into a cocoon of blankets, so be it. I empower you to do the same, and to be gentle with yourself — you are doing the best you can.

Jingle all the … GTFO.

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I am resolutely and completely unprepared for the holiday season. It was mid-October when I saw the first banners go up around the shopping plaza, and at that time, it just pissed me off. Rampant consumerism gone mad! Adding an extra six week weeks to the shopping season, and jumping the gun ahead of my favorite holiday. Halloween hadn’t even come and gone yet. Cool your fucking jets!

tumblr_ndciaq6Z6j1sfcogqo1_1280 tumblr_ndciaq6Z6j1sfcogqo2_1280 tumblr_ndciaq6Z6j1sfcogqo3_1280tumblr_ndciaq6Z6j1sfcogqo4_1280Thanksgiving, it would seem, is never going to get its just desserts.

As we lapsed into November, each subsequent display of green and red further wore down my resolve. This is it, I said to myself, there’s no help for you now. The holiday season has come. At that point, I gave up the fight, but still, I could not for the life of me muster any semblance of the holiday spirit. Every ringing Salvation Army bell was an assault on my senses, the familiar sounds of carols on the supermarket PA system was a dirge amid the cacophony of early Christmas shoppers. As friends and coworkers began to discuss plans for holiday parties, I felt myself withdraw further, immediately exhausted by the mere suggestion of any such gathering.

However, that the space within my mind was still no refuge. The halls within were likewise decked – not so much dancing with pictures of sugar plums, but lined with lists of holiday shopping to be done, Christmas and Hanukkah cards that would need to be mailed, of phone calls home that would need to be dialed. Will I be able to host a Yuletide ritual this year (we are a multi-faith family, in case you couldn’t tell)? Where is the money coming from to finance our gift-giving this year, sparse though it may be? And there, lingering in the dark was the Ghost of Christmas’ Past, waiting for her due consideration.

My hanai-mom uses the phrase “raised by wolves” to describe my (and hers, and several others whom she knows) traumatic upbringing. If you are also part of this Wolf Tribe, then you already know – shit goes down at Christmas time. It is a long known and veritable fact. The fat man in red comes out to play, and your ears perk up like a hunted animal, the fight or flight instinct activated. Sirens going off. It’s all hands on deck. You are battle ready. Despite the fact that Christmas was, by all rights, a HUGE holiday in our house – huge, like, decorations to rival the North Pole’s greatest and finest – the holiday season was fraught. How could it not be? You take a home already stressed to its limit with individuals suffering from various mental illnesses and addictions, add some crippling debt and social compulsions, cook over the boiling mass of the November-December months, and whattaya get? It’s not good, let me tell you.

Merry Christmas, kids!
Merry Christmas, kids!

Still, I look back on those Christmases and I wish I could bring some of the fervor back. Christ, did my mom have fervor. She did the Christmas thing like it was her job. I actually would have liked to carry on that portion of the family tradition, but have been stymied, in part because all of her decorations were misplaced or destroyed over the years, and in part because, well, bah-hum-bug! I seem to have inherited and, over time, nursed my old man’s Ebenezer Scrooge attitude. Every year, I find myself bah-hum-bugging earlier and more often. It’s ironic, in a way, for how often I railed against my dad’s anti-holiday-cheer campaign when I was little. Looking back I think it was, on his part, very good-natured, though it really bothered me at the time. I loved the holiday season so completely – I loved being on break from school so I could spend time with my parents, I loved the cookie baking, the present wrapping, the tree-trimming – all the best parts that didn’t involve yelling, slamming doors, and sirens.

I suppose that’s why I find each year’s initial encounter with the Ghost of Christmas’ Past so exhausting. Each year I am reminded of what I would like to bring back for my daughter – the good stuff – and what I must strive, every day, to avoid. Perhaps this, too, is why folks with depression and other mood disorders find the holidays especially taxing. Though I have come to learn in the past few years that the oft-quoted statistic of increased suicides during the winter months is inaccurate, it seems to me that (at least anecdotally) the population does tend to struggle a little more during this time.

Self-care is important all year-round, of course, so don’t forget that there are resources available to you if you feel like you’re slipping through the cracks. Perhaps this year would be a good time to discuss openly and candidly that while suicide doesn’t necessarily increase in incidence over the holidays, the Holiday Blues are not to be trifled with — we all struggle, and I suspect that we all have feelings of loss associated with this time of year. If you also find this to be true, please take care; should the clock strike one on a cold winter’s night and you come face to face with the spectre of your own Christmas’ Past, do not fear. Greet her, and let her show you what you may have missed, what you may want to carry back.