Turning Towards

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I’ve made a habit of turning away from life, lately. It was a means of survival, at first. Checking out from intense emotions was getting me through. Now it’s just a thing that I do mindlessly, reflexively. And I feel like I’ve been writing this post over and over for a year now. I’m tired of it. Are you tired of it yet?

Today I’m making a concious choice to turn towards life. Limited time on social media. Actually getting out of the house, out of the driveway, out of the neighbourhood. I took the kids to the woods today and although it was a grey day and the path was solid ice, we made our way through the dry brown leaf carpet along the edges. And instead of looking for the exit, as I always do, I chose instead to notice what was around me. The constant hum of distant traffic and the lonely sound of crows. Red berries clinging to a bare, thorny bush. Frozen puddles and how the ice shattered like glass under the kids’ boots. The bright green creep of moss on deeply furrowed tree bark, the texture of it. Coyote scat. My breath, in and out. How impossibly tired I am. The weight of the baby in the carrier on my back, the ache in my shoulders and neck. Noticing all of it. Turning towards. Choosing to stay.

It’s been easier, in some ways. It means less yelling, because I can see the shit before it hits the fan. It means happier kids, because I’m paying attention. And I suppose, grudgingly, I will admit that it means happier me, too. Turning away from life is no way to live life. Even if what you’re turning towards is mind-numbingly boring, or uncomfortable, or cold or whatever. At least it’s mine, right?

Running Towards Fear

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I don’t want to write today, so I’m doing it. I didn’t want to take the kids outside to play, so I did. I’ve spent a few days now running from the present moment, from my reality. Although I suppose my awareness of the fact that I’m doing that: “now I’m going to eat this whole bag of chips; now I’m going to pick up my phone again; now I’m putting the television on to distract the kids;” is something in itself. I’m not sure it counts as true awareness, true mindfulness, but it’s a start. It’s a moment of space around the unconcious acts that take me out of my self.

I’ve been thinking a lot about daily practice, as I’ve written about a few times now in the past month or two. My thought process goes like this: I’ll write a poem every day for a year. No, too hard. I’ll write a blog post every day for a year. No, too hard. I’ll just write something every day for a year. No, too hard. I’ll meditate every day for a year. No. Then the inner critic gets real loud and I tell myself the only thing I’m capable of doing every day for a year (or 5) is surviving. But there is some hopeful little part of me that whispers: you’re worth it. You matter. Your voice matters, if only to you. I am enough.

So, like I’m doing right now, like I did this morning when I suited the kids up to go out in the snow, I am going to do the hard thing I don’t want to do. It feels a bit grim, truth be told. Like running as fast as I can down a slippery dock towards a cold lake. And I’ll launch myself headlong into that lake, I’ll plunge into the icy water and be reborn as I break through the surface for air. Each moment is a chance to be reborn. I can only stay stuck for so long. And that’s what the binge eating, the screen time, really are for me. I think of them as escapes, as I’m indulging in them, if I think of them at all. But they aren’t escapes. They’re not things that move me forward. They’re things that keep me stuck and the present moment just keeps battering against me like waves against a sea wall. What if I let the water do its work? How would it reshape me? I’m drawn by the thought that instead of just surviving, just numbly stumbling through each day, I could be awake and alive to it all.

I think of mindfulness as meaning peaceful and content and calm. But I’m learning that I can be mindful of the turmoil in my brain. I can be mindful through the worst parts, I can be present through the confusion or anger or fear or sadness. And it’s uncomfortable. Being present doesn’t mean it’s going to be more pleasant. It just means I’ll be there for it, whatever it may be. I’m going to run straight at my fears and discomforts, because that’s when the growth happens. I can’t grow if I keep checking out. So I come home to my breath. Come home to the present moment, ever changing moment, ever changing me.

Image via Flickr user Tracy

Permission to Have a Bad Day

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Yesterday was one of those days where I woke up exhausted. I muddled through breakfast and my first cup of tea. I lay down in what passes for the kids’ playroom and watched them play, trying to stay awake. I had my second cup of tea, the sun still not even close to being up in the sky. I felt low, in general. My negative self-talk was a grumble in the background. You should be doing more. You should get the kids out. You should put pants on. What kind of mother are you? Get up. Get up. Get up! On top of that, I was feeling anxious about Halloween (how am I going to get through trick or treating when I’m already so tired? I don’t want to do small-talk in the street!) I was also feeling distress at the state of the world and my place within it.

I struggled with this as I drank my second cup, and then I told my chattering mind to just hush. I stopped following those anxious thoughts and just let myself rest. I gave myself permission to just have a bad day. Though that’s not quite right, either. I gave myself permission to be feeling low right then. No promises or expectations for the rest of the day. And so that’s what I did. I spent the morning watching the ebb and flow of the kids at play, reading books when asked, redirecting when things got too rough, dozing when things were calm. Charlotte went down for an early nap as the sun came up at 10 (10!), I wrote a blog post, and then P came home from work.

Lately, I’m big on doing, as Glennon Melton calls it, “the next precise thing.” And what I wanted at precisely that time was a shower. Not even to wash: just to stand in the hot spray, the close humidity of it, the absence of little hands tugging at me. And that was just enough of a reset for me to get dressed, get the kids dressed, and go for a walk along the river after we ate lunch.

All in all, it wasn’t a stellar day, though our friends did pop over for tricks and treats, so that when Colm fell asleep at 5 and actual trick or treating didn’t happen, nobody was sad about it. I went to bed early, too. The thought crossed my mind more than once that maybe I need to get antidepressants. But today dawned differently. Even though it started at 4:30 for me and Colm, I don’t feel nearly as exhausted as I did yesterday; I’m already dressed, we made muffins, we walked to the store and back.

Part of my recovery from PPD, and from a lifetime of bouts of depression, has been learning that just because I have one bad day, or two bad days, doesn’t mean I’m doomed. It doesn’t mean I’m failing, it doesn’t mean I’m going back “down” again. Sometimes, we just have a shitty day. We’re tired, our energy is low. It’s winter and sunrise is 10 a.m. Giving myself permission to feel that way yesterday was an act of self-love and self-care. Staying present with whatever feelings arise, without making sweeping statements about what they might mean for tomorrow or even five minutes from now, is what’s getting me through each day.

Today, I hope you’ll give yourself permission to feel your feelings, whether they’re high or low or just neutral, without making any judgements. Love yourself as you’d love your best friend.

Image via Flickr user Asja Boros

Reset

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Powerless. That’s the word that I held in my mind as today started. Powerless as Aedan revs up, pulling the cushions off the couch before I’d gotten halfway through my first cup of tea. Powerless, as he dumps the box of Duplo on the floor and runs away laughing. Powerless, as he throws pillows across the room. Powerless.

It’s not a very positive mantra, and I let it do its work on me.

“Don’t throw your toys in the house,” and a block sails past my head.

“Stop bugging your brother,” and he tackles him on the couch.

“Leave your sister alone,” and he grabs her face and kisses her as she cries.

Can you see where this is going? I’d like to say I was Calm, Cool, Collected Mama. But when your mantra is “powerless,” you start to really believe it. To really feel it in your bones. I was still holding on to a thread of self-control. He wouldn’t stop. It’s like he wants to hurt people. That’s a a script I need to rewrite, though. He couldn’t stop, because his brain is still developing, because the connections haven’t been made between his lizard brain (dragon brain might be more appropriate for this kid) and his centers of impulse control. He doesn’t want to hurt people. It’s just all he knows right now. He’s fumbling in the dark, and I need to guide him.

So I sit down with him, hold him facing away from me, hold his hands so he can’t hit me, and I tell him we would sit there until he felt calm and ready to treat other bodies with respect.

“Idiot! You’re an idiot, Mom!” I feel that last thread slipping out of my grasp. He swings his head back, hard, and butts me in the chest. I know he feels trapped. I let him go, step away, but not before he turns and kicks me in the face, knocking my glasses askew.

I think he can’t handle all the big feelings in his head, the stress he must be feeling over the move, the winter outhouse, the faraway family. I think when he’s hurting, he tries to make everyone else hurt, too. I know it, because it’s what I did next. That little thread of self-control slipped through my fingers and I lost it.

I push him away from me. He picks up a book and hurls it at me. I grab his shoulders, yelling. Propel him into the kitchen, plunk him on a chair, tell him to stay there until he could be more respectful. I half expect him to grab the bowl off the table and throw that at me, too. I’ve never understood how kids can be put in a time out and just stay there. But he does.

“Idiot!” he throws at me. I throw it right back.

Crying now, he screams: “I want you to go away and never come back!”

“I’d love to!” I respond. “I’d love to just get in the truck alone and drive and keep driving until I’m far away from you!” Now we’re both crying. The fog of anger is lifting, replaced by deep shame. I’m supposed to be the adult. My sweet middle child, Colm, wanders over and informs us that we are having a fight. Yes, we are, baby. Thank you.

The oven timer beeps (did I mention we somehow managed to get muffins made before shit hit the fan?) Aedan sniffles, asks if he can have a muffin. I tell him they need to cool down. I tell him we all need to cool down. Charlotte is toddling over with a book. “Read? Read?” I sit down with her, but I can’t read because I’m crying. Aedan is crying. Colm is confused because I’m crying. I put the book down, I put the baby down. I go to Aedan, and ask him if I can give him a hug. He nods and collapses into my lap.

We hug each other tight, and I tell him I’m sorry. That I lost my temper. Why? he wants to know. I think, because I told myself I was powerless. And I hate feeling powerless.  Instead, I tell him that he hurt me, so I tried to hurt him back. I remind him that he does that sometimes, too. I tell him I will do better; we both need to do better. We hug a few minutes more, and then we all eat warm chocolate banana muffins.

If not daily, then at least a few times a week, I feel certain that I have fucked this up beyond repair. I feel certain that I should not be in charge of these children. Surely, there is someone more qualified than me. But this is it. They’re dependent on me. Aedan is me, basically. Maybe that’s why I feel so powerless against him. Because it reminds me of how powerless I sometimes am to my own faults.

I need to let go of this desire to control everything. But what the hell am I supposed to do on the days where they just won’t listen? I try to change things up, get us outside or otherwise distract them from destruction, but sometimes it’s just not possible. Sometimes I’m too tired, things move too quickly, they refuse to be distracted. Sometimes it feels inevitable that I’m going to snap.  That’s the same as telling myself I’m powerless though, right? And we’ve seen how that turns out. Maybe it’s not inevitable. I keep writing about staying present, being mindful. That’s my key, I think. It’s just really fucking hard, in practice.

I’ll reset my mantra for today, I’ll pick a new word. Connect. With myself. With my kids. With the present moment.

 

Image via Flickr user Dino Giordano