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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Perfect Mess

I was running behind schedule this morning.  I did my usual workout at 5 and was back home by 6:15. But somehow between 6:15 and 7 a.m. I had the nerve to sit down and have my breakfast, rather than taking bites of it as I scrambled past the kitchen island.  Oscar saw me and was so confused by this that he asked me if it was Saturday.  "No, it's Wednesday" I explained and I have lost all motivation to move.
I managed to make my way into the shower and I just stood there in a strange time warp actually enjoying the hot water run down my back. I even decided to wash my hair today.  Seriously, who in the hell did I think I was, a lady of leisure?  Just as I was about to apply conditioner, Oscar burst into the bathroom and asked if he could have my thumb.  He needed it to unlock my phone.  I stuck my thumb out of the shower and he dried it off and pushed the phone against it.

"Why?" I asked.  He said he had made the perfect mess and wanted to take a picture of it.  I tried not to freak out, and my shower euphoria came to an abrupt end.

I'm not a messy person, on the outside.  But on the inside, dear Lord help me. Let me share a little insight.  A couple of weeks ago my foundation was compromised. What I mean is, on the outside, my structure looked normal, but on the inside, I was crumbling.  Anxiety was eroding any solid beams that were keeping me standing.

For me, anxiety is like a closet that you stuff everything into before you have company come over. Remember, I don't like a mess.  If someone is sad, I want to cheer them up, if someone is mourning, I want to shower them with love, if someone is angry, I'll take the hit.  If someone is lost, I want to help them find their way, (totally metaphorically, I have a horrific sense of direction).   I want to take those painful things away from others and lock them away.  At least for a little while, because for me, there is such beauty in a clean space, it's when I can finally breathe.

Then, one day something happened that forced the door to the closet to open and everything spilled out.   I panicked as I tried to stuff it all back in, but I couldn't as much as I tried.  Things spilled out in plain sight. Every anxiety I had hidden away, all my insecurities about every aspect of my life, my marriage, my friendships, my work, my school. Everything.  I had been here before and I knew I needed help, so I called a therapist.

I have had one fantastic therapist in my life,  and I became friends with him, so now he isn't my therapist, and that is really cool, but also sad because every other therapist I have had is, well, nuts.

So I went to a new therapist and sat with him for two hours, TWO hours answering his question as to why I feel overwhelmed with anxiety.  He told me he has never met a woman with more on her plate, and I agreed with him.  And then he told me he knew why I was having such anxiety. I was so thrilled to finally have someone offer a solution.  He told me it was Satan.

(See above comment about my luck with therapists.)

I had allowed Satan into my life and he was causing the anxiety.  Yep.

Our session ended abruptly after that. How ridiculous right? Satan?  But then, I started thinking about it. Maybe he was right? Maybe I had... I mean I was pretty crazy at one point in my life, maybe he saw a vulnerable window open and crawled on in?  Oh my God maybe I AM possessed?

I pulled over and messaged my pastor. Actually, my former pastor, but he is still on my crisis contact list.  Surely he would know.   He responded almost instantly and apologized for the therapist who offered such a suggestion and said that indeed, he did not believe Satan was the cause of my anxiety.

I texted/called 4 of my closest friends and asked them if they thought I had been acting weird(er) and if it was possible that Satan had entered my body.  They all responded and said no.  I didn't text my mom because she would have had an exorcism arranged by the time I got off work.

When I did get home, I poured a glass of wine (i.e. if blessed, the blood of Christ) and called my brother.  I told him what the therapist had told me.  He had a good point.  He explained that if the worst thing that Satan is capable of doing is causing a busy mom who (has four growing boys, a full-time job, a part-time job, a theatrical show, is going to grad school, who helps take care of her parents, and her husband) to have anxiety, then I must be one strong mo-fo.  OR, the guy was full of shit.

I can always count on him to make me see things clearly.

When I think of evil, I think of death, destruction, manipulation, politics, but anxiety isn't at the top of the list, or even on the bottom.

 I discovered a few things. In addition to finding a new therapist, I realized that most of my anxiety is caused by trying to conceal things that make us perfect.  What Oscar saw in his "perfect mess" was that it was the shape of a flower.

What causes me anxiety is all the things that are messy. I worry I'm f'ing up my boy's lives. I worry that Don thinks I'm not doing a good job as a wife or mother. I worry that I'm not smart. I worry that I'm not doing enough for others, on certain days I worry if I'm chubby/ugly.. ( I know it sounds petty, but these things are a concern.) My biggest and most frequent worry is that I just can't do it all.

But as my brother pointed out, I kind of am.

On a difficult day, I need to focus on the times when I saw this. Like, when Fin was at a rehearsal for his play and was the happiest I had ever seen him. When I broke the garage door (again) and Don didn't blame me, just fixed it.  When I got an A on a paper that I did at the very last minute because I was too busy helping Parker with his homework. When a co-worker tells me I look nice when I didn't even shower that day.

If I look closely enough, I too can see that true perfection is messy, ugly, hard and brutal and most importantly real. And most significant is the people who love me for it. Did I mention that not one single person I asked about  my Satan-induced-anxiety hesitated to help me? Or to talk me through it? Not one of them told me I was to blame.

Compassion for others (and in oneself) is being able to see the flower in the mess.  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Scarlet letter F

I have not tried to hide the fact that I was a bit of a troublemaker as a kid.  Well, I have hidden it from my own kids, but not everyone else.   I like to act shocked when they get caught doing something they shouldn't be doing.

In fourth grade, I tried to use my sister's bug collection and pass it off as my own. She and my dad spent weeks making a wooden case with a plexiglass window.  Inside were all the insects she had collected day and night all summer. All of them intact with a long needle right through the middle.  Each was labeled with labels she lined up in the type writer to get just perfect.

We went to a small private school, but nonetheless, I thought I could pass it off as my own. I may mention that she is nine-years older than me, and the insects looked a little... crusty.  Despite my sisters research on what looked to be expert insect taxidermy, my teacher could clearly see that these insects had been dead for almost a decade.  They had legs falling off, some even had cobwebs.  But, on the day it was due, I marched it in and presented it to my teacher.

This box was not light. It was cumbersome so my Dad had to help me carry it in. He didn't say a word.  I sat it on the table next to all the other bug collections and although I felt a tinge of guilt, I was happy I spent my summer swimming and not killing bugs.  At the end of the day, the teacher gave me a note and a grade.  The note said I needed to take it home, and that I got an F,  and that my parents had to sign it.   This time I had to carry the stupid bug collection out to my Mom's car by myself. She didn't say a word.

They knew very well what I was doing and neither one of them stopped me.  They let me get caught, and they let me carry the guilt and consequences (literally). The teacher didn't give me a chance to make it up either.  I had to carry that F as a scarlet letter for the rest of trimester and work my butt off to get a C. Which I did.

My parents didn't seem to think my actions were a reflection on them, but more on me.

I realize now that my parents were bad asses.  At the time I blamed them for all of my problems, like most kids, but I'm glad they let me walk out of the house and into a trap that I had set for myself and that they were going to let me get caught in.

Did I try and cheat again? Yes.  A few years later,  I waiting until the last minute to do a leaf collection. Rather than collecting leaves all Fall, I waiting until they were dead and covered in snow the night before it was due.  I attempted to color, and cut the leaves into various leaf shapes, then laminate and label them.  Although an Oak leaf may not look like a Maple leaf, with a little help from some craft scissors it can.  It is no surprise, I got caught... again. And once again wore the F of shame.

I would like to say that was the last time, but it wasn't.  In high school, I missed a history quiz so I was taking it in the library and I used my text book to find all the answers.  But as I was turning it in to Mr. Rethlake, I burst into tears and told him what I had done.   Once again, I got an F, but rather than making me tell my parents, he made me read him the chapters  that I should have read, out loud, and then asked me the same questions that were on the quiz until I got them right. Because of this, I was late to soccer practice. Because I was late to soccer practice.  I  had to tell my coach, why I was late , he made me run laps around the field for an hour and a half.

In unrelated news, that day my boyfriend broke up with me. #worstdayever

It was around that time I decided that it wasn't worth it.  I was destined to get caught, and not only that, I wasn't going to get off easy.

As much as I don't want my boys to experience pain or humiliation, a little discomfort goes a long way.   Of course, they are perfect in every way, yet they have each done some seriously stupid things,  and I have let them.  As long as it wasn't going to result in physical trauma, I stepped aside.

What I didn't realize is that it is not easy to do that for parents. Not at all.  It hurts ten times worse.   I find myself wanting to correct their wrongs, but if I constantly do that,  how will they learn what is the rights are?

Recently one of the boys plagiarized a book report.  I was a little suspicious because all summer I had not seen him open the book once.  But, I'm not a helicopter mom so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  On the day he presented his report to the class he was feeling sick to his stomach.  By the time he did, he was in full on guilt mode.  He admitted it to his teachers.  He didn't eat his lunch, he barely touched his dinner and afterward, he called Don into the bedroom.

On the bed, he had every item of value to him. His laptop, his iPod, his gaming system.  He (in dramatic fashion) said he needed to confess something. But, before he did, he was grounding himself from screens.  Don watched as he dry heaved confessing something he thought we didn't know. He made it right. It's like we are raising self-cleaning ovens!   They are regulating themselves.

By the time he told me, I too (in dramatic fashion) acting shocked and dismayed.  I'm not at the level of badassery as my parents were to let him know I knew. I'll get there, I'm sure.

Being a kid is hard sometimes,  but if I make it easy for him how will he ever be able to cope with the fact that being an adult is even harder?

As an adult, I can't blame my mistakes on not knowing better.  Chances are I do, but still make the dumb choices. Or the easy choice.  Like saying yes to that third glass of wine or saying yes, I want to watch the next episode of Orange is the New Black even though I have to wake up in 5 hours. I digress.

When you know better, you do better....most of the time.