Please check out my guest post on My Migraine Family about explaining to Zach about his friend being transgender.
My four-year-old daughter was whining a lot at breakfast, and just the sound of her voice grated on me. I had no patience for her or her brother. My face felt permanently set in a scowl. My husband seemed to notice the change in me right away but didn’t say anything. It’s likely I would have snapped at him no matter what he said.
My only saving grace was that I was aware that I was being unreasonably angry and impatient. I focused on breathing more slowly and deeply. When I asked my daughter to get dressed, I watched as she futzed around and noticed my urge to yell at her to hurry up. Instead I asked her to “please focus.”
When focusing on my breathing stopped helping, I noticed how my toes felt touching the carpet, or later, the inside of my shoes. I noticed what my knees felt like touching the fabric of my pants.
All of this noticing is a form of mindfulness. We can only pay attention to one thing at a time. We think we’re multitasking, but what we’re really doing is task-switching very quickly. Paying complete attention to one thing in my body helps anchor me in the present moment and briefly pause the rage going on in my head.
There’s usually some story I’m telling myself that I don’t even realize. I feel like my kids are misbehaving just to piss me off. I feel like everything is going to go wrong, and I’m powerless to change it.
I need to be somewhat calm to do this, but I try to come up with another narrative. I look at my daughter screaming at me and think, “She must be tired. She’s struggling to find words to express what she’s trying to say, and she’s frustrated.” My son is making loud noises and being hyper because he wants some attention, not attention for its own sake, but to feel connected to us. Coming up with another story gives me understanding, and that understanding helps me develop patience. I feel powerless at times, but so do they.
I used to feel so guilty for losing my temper in front of my kids, like I was failing them somehow. It took a long time, but I realize now how important it is, how valuable, for my kids to see me not only lose my cool, but then work really hard to regain my composure. I can explain coping strategies to them until I’m blue in the face, but nothing will be as compelling as modeling it for them.
Calming down requires forgiveness. I have to forgive myself for getting irrationally angry in the first place, and I have to forgive my kids and myself for not being perfect.
I’m still going to have to practice calming myself after the kids get home from school. It doesn’t help that it’s going to rain all day, but while they’re in school, I’m going to try to “fill my bucket” with positive experiences so I can start from a more fulfilled place than if I just run errands and “get stuff done” like a workhorse.
A friend is coming over to hang out while her house is being cleaned. I’m going to ask her if we can watch the latest episode of “Castle” on Hulu, which is my weekly Tuesday gift to myself. I’m going to take my dog Maggie for a walk in her new doggie raincoat. The thing that best alleviates my depression is reconnecting: with people, with my dog, and with nature.
I will yell at my kids again, if not today, then tomorrow, and/or the day after that. I will never be “cured” from my depression. It’s a constant, ongoing process. But I’m not powerless or alone in this. That’s what gets me through it every time.
How do you get through times when you’ve just had it but don’t have the luxury of getting away from your triggers?
Being silent is something that doesn’t come easily to me. I’m always talking to someone, listening to music, or reading (Facebook, a novel, or live updates to a baseball game. Go Giants!).
So, it was quite a departure for me to spend a night and a day in silence at a church retreat recently. About 30 people came to the Mercy Center in Burlingame. We met on a Friday afternoon and got our instructions for the retreat.
We would be able to talk during dinner, but after that we would be silent from 7 pm until 3:30 pm the next day. During that time we would do a series of meditations, alternating sitting, walking, and lying down. We were asked not to speak or even make eye contact. We were also asked not to read, write, or use any electronic devices, aside from an alarm clock.
We each had a private room with a simple bed, desk, sink, and closet. There were community bathrooms on each floor. Meals were included.
The thing we did most was pay attention: to our bodies, our breathing, our thoughts, and our surroundings. This was not altogether a pleasant experience. Sitting for long stretches got physically uncomfortable at times, and paying attention to your thoughts can show you just how cluttered and chaotic your mind is.
I noticed I spend a lot of time planning what I need to do next, even if it’s days, weeks or even months away. I have negative self-talk about eating junk food and being overweight. I judge people for inane things like what they’re wearing, how they move, and whether they were following the instructions.
Noticing these thoughts allowed me to create distance from them. Instead of just accepting them as truth or fact, I observed them objectively and let them go. After awhile, I was able to have short stretches of time where I didn’t think that much. I just felt my breath moving in and out of my nose and lungs. I felt the smoothness of a tree leaf. I smelled a rose with my full attention. I savored my food and felt grateful that I didn’t have to prepare it and that it was healthy. I felt my legs, knees, and feet as I walked super slowly and with purpose.
The Mercy Center has an outdoor labyrinth that’s surrounded by trees and flowers. At the entrance to the labyrinth I asked for help being present and eating healthier. As I walked into the labyrinth I focused on my breath and on letting go, of my anxiety, my worries, my ever-present thoughts. When I got to the center, I ran my fingertips over a tall rock and felt myself filling with peace, stillness, and lightness. As I walked out, I imagined myself carrying that lightness back into my daily life.
The calm and lightness I felt from the retreat lasted about 20 minutes after I left the Mercy Center on the last day. I immediately ate ice cream and was already checking my phone at red lights. I’ve had many false starts at writing this blog post because going to a retreat is supposed to bring some amount of enlightenment and empowerment to really change my life, right?
I did learn some new mantras at the retreat, which I’m still using.
(while inhaling) think, “Breathing in, I am breathing in.” (while exhaling) think, “Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.”
(while inhaling) think, “Breathing in, I calm my body.” (while exhaling) think, “Breathing out, I smile.”
What I think I got most out of attending the retreat is that I’m not alone on this journey to find my calmest, most empowered self, and as difficult as it is to make time for myself to slow down and just be, it’s sometimes the most important thing I can do. There’s no shortcut to epiphanies or transformation, but it’s all going to be okay if I take life one breath at a time.
Please share in the comments your experience attending a retreat, whether it was silent or not.
Tomorrow I’m going to an overnight silent retreat with my church. I did the church retreat a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. It wasn’t a silent retreat though.
One of the signs my depression is getting worse is the voice in my head runs on and on. It’s not even that I’m thinking. Sometimes it’s music playing in my head, sometimes it’s me narrating to myself something that just happened. I never really experienced a truly quiet moment until I started taking an anti-depressant.
I have tried having periods of silence though. Before we had kids, I would take a weekend day and just not say anything or talk to anyone. This would drive my husband absolutely batty. He wanted so desperately to be able to talk to me. I confess, I kind of enjoyed his frustration, it was cute.
Years ago, I used to be afraid of silence and being alone. I somehow instinctively knew that it strips you down to the bare bones of who you are, and I was afraid of what I would find. I was terrified that some horrible part of me would bubble up to the surface.
Now I understand that getting quiet and noticing the thoughts, sensations, and feelings that come up are the best way for me to let go of all distractions and to notice the peace and calm that’s present in every moment.
It seems a little contradictory to be surrounded by a big group of people, then insist on being silent. Are we still supposed to make eye contact? Do we smile at each other? I’m not sure. We’ll get to talk to each other during the orientation and dinner. Then we’ll do guided meditations and be in silence until the afternoon of the next day. We’re not supposed to read or write at all.
I’ll be honest, the thing I’m most looking forward to is sleeping. My dog Maggie has been keeping me up for about four or five nights. I let her sleep in bed with me, and she was all polite at first, but then she showed her true colors and started hogging the bed. Now I’m putting her in her crate at night, but she cries and barks for awhile before settling down. (Note: If you adopt a dog that is crate-trained, make sure you always put her in her crate when you leave the house and at nighttime. It will be better for everyone, trust me.)
Retreat is always kind of a funny word to me. It implies defeat, a “running away.” In some ways, I guess it is, running away from the hectic daily routine, the overwhelming to do list, the constant needs of my husband and children, my dog, my friends, my kids’ schools, etc.
It is also a “treat” to take care of myself. It feels almost child-like to care only for my own needs. I suppose some people might consider it selfish, but most people I think recognize self-care as something we all really need. None of us is the Energizer Bunny, try as we might to imitate it. We can’t always “keep going.” Sometimes it’s our responsibility to stop, and listen, and rest.
I don’t expect the retreat to be life-transforming, but I hope to experience some healing: physically, emotionally, mentally. I hope to connect with the people from my church and to whatever it is in the universe that binds us together. Some people call it God. I just know that when I get really quiet and still sometimes I do sense Something that is beyond my thoughts, worries, and fears. I know way deep down that I’m okay, we’re okay, and in the end, we’re all going to be okay.
Do you carve out time to sit in silence? What do you get out of the experience?
Just two days after we adopted Maggie, my seven-year-old son Zach melted down for an hour, making me late for my exercise class, then taking up my attention for the rest of the class so I didn’t get to work out at all. My four-year-old daughter Kaylee was making him more upset, and after I’d finally calmed down, she pooped so I had to change her pull-up.
Normally, I would have lost it, yelling, feeling bitter and resentful, and laying guilt trips on my kids. Instead I showed more patience and kindness than I knew I had. I came up with idea after idea to try to comfort Zach and help him regain his composure. It helped that I knew that he was tired because it was only the second day of school, and it was the first full day.
Even though I know I am loved by my friends and family, there really is something special about a dog’s love. It is so innocent and complete. Maggie has bonded the most with me, probably because I feed her and spend the most time with her, but it does feel special to be someone’s absolutely favorite person in the whole world.
I’m hopeful that Maggie will bond more with the kids. Last night she did lean against Zach’s leg while we were reading books.
It’s been especially helpful for Kaylee not to be “the baby” anymore. Zach is so easy-going, he gives Kaylee her way a lot because it’s not worth the bother, but Maggie’s walks and feeding take precedence over Kaylee demanding attention every minute. I think Kaylee also feels more grown up because she doesn’t need as much help as Maggie in some ways.
Taking care of Maggie has of course triggered my perfectionism, but it’s also given me an opportunity to practice letting go of trying to do everything “right.” Some dog owners highly recommend feeding your dog in a “Kong” or other feeding toy that makes your dog work to get their food out. It keeps them busy and mentally stimulates them.
I tried repeatedly to feed Maggie from a Kong, then felt like a failure when she showed little to no interest. Then I took her to the vet and found out that she’s missing a bunch of teeth. I remembered that when she was found, she’d been covered in foxtails, including having some in her mouth.
I imagine there are dog owners who train their dogs to be super well-behaved and to eat their environmentally-friendly organic food out of feeding toys instead of dog bowls. Maybe there are, but I don’t have to be one of them. We’ve created a home and a family with Maggie, and if there’s anything I want to celebrate, it’s that we are all great, interesting, and extraordinary, each as our imperfect selves.
How does having a pet help you cope with stress?
Then we met Maggie. When I first saw her, I thought, “I should really ignore that dog. She’s probably not right for us.” Then a volunteer offered to let my kids pet her. So I pet her. The volunteer started spewing off Maggie’s qualities: she’s 4-5 years old, she’s a Bishon Frise Maltese mix, she doesn’t shed, she’s hypoallergenic (so even people who are usually allergic to dogs could be okay around her), and she’s crate-trained.
Her hair is incredibly soft and thankfully short. When she was rescued, she was covered in foxtails, even having some in her mouth, and seemed like she hadn’t been fed properly for awhile. Doggie Protective Services cleaned her up, shaved her hair, vaccinated her, spayed her, and put her in loving foster homes until she could be adopted.
We were not planning to adopt a dog, not yet. Many people say though, “you don’t adopt a dog, they adopt you.” That’s really true in our case.
I’m beginning to think Maggie had some help from other four-legged friends. My sister-in-law has a small dog, a Silky terrier, and I got to walk him quite a few times in May. Then another couple we know got my daughter not to be scared of their Shih tzu Vinnie. My son Zach loves Vinne so much, he asks to have play dates with him.
I follow quite a few animal lovers on Twitter. Many of them are also big advocates of pet rescue, Anne Wheaton and Ricky Gervais in particular. Anne Wheaton does a charity calendar each year, with proceeds going to the Pasadena Humane Society.
My kids are four and seven years old. I’d like to think that I’m not just trying to fill some void left behind of not having a baby or really little kid anymore. I suppose it doesn’t really matter what my intentions were, just that I stay committed to taking care of Maggie for the rest of her life.
I’ll admit, I’ve worried a tiny bit that I’m a flake, I’ll get buyer’s remorse and decide I can’t take care of her. The funny thing about suffering from anxiety is it makes you anxious about having anxiety.
Thankfully, Maggie has been so easy to take care of, and we’re all adapting so quickly, I haven’t had any concerns about not being able to take care of her. I’m a little nervous about when it starts raining a whole bunch, but since we live in California and we’re having a drought, it seems like I can punt on this for quite awhile.
I’ve never owned a dog before, and my husband hasn’t owned one for about 30 years. I feel somewhat irresponsible adopting a dog without prior or recent experience, but my friends and neighbors who own dogs, DPS Rescue, and the salespeople at the pet store have been really helpful.
Maggie’s going to take awhile to get adjusted to her forever home, but one day I hope to train her as a therapy dog. It’s supposed to be good for her and for the people she visits. I already feel more stable and relaxed having her, and it’s only been two days.
Ever rescued a pet? Share your story in the comments below.
I got the idea to write a Back-to-school letter to my son Zach last year from The Four Wendys. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to get back into the schedule of getting up early, packing snacks and lunches, and buying school supplies, but it’s really nice to take a moment to reflect on the year ahead and how far we’ve come as a family.
To my sweet, beautiful boy,
First of all, I’m sorry your recent haircut was a bit traumatic. I respect your right to grow your hair out, and I appreciate that you agreed to get it trimmed at the start of the school year. I know you’ve said you don’t want to be “handsome,” but you’re kind of out of luck there. You are one good-looking kid. Girls may come up to you again and announce that you’re their boyfriend. That’s okay. You can say, “Okay,” or you can say, “Well, let’s just be friends.”
I’m sorry that a couple of your friends have moved away to other schools. I know you will feel their loss, and I’m always here for a hug when you need it. I know you have a big heart, and you are a fiercely loyal friend. I will help you keep in touch with your friends, even if it means driving an hour each way to see them.
I’m excited to see what new friendships you will develop this year. I hope that you will play with kids where you tell me later, “we” did this and that together, not just that “so-and-so” told you what to do and how the world works. Real friends give and take, and you know quite a bit about how the world works too. You’re so easy-going you follow other kids’ leads well, but being easy-going can also make you a good leader too.
You’re already well along in your training to be a future Mythbuster. You already love math and science. Your reading has improved so much you’re devouring Pokémon and Ninjago graphic novels. Even though I can’t always keep up when you try to educate me about them, I’m really happy that you’re so passionate about the things you love.
I know handwriting is not your favorite thing, but I’m really glad you’ve been practicing over the summer. You think that it’s useless because eventually you’ll just type everything, but you never know when you’ll need to send another ninja a message, and he’ll need to be able to eat it to avoid having it fall into enemy hands. It could totally happen.
It may be stressful at the beginning of the school year. You’ll have a new teacher, a new set of classmates, and long days of having to pay attention. I promise you though that we’ll still have lots of fun. We’ll spend time with your friends who go to other schools, I’ll still take you to fun places, and I’ll help out in the classroom as much as I can.
Whatever happens, I want you to know that Daddy and I love you very much. Your sister loves you too, she just shows it differently. We are all very proud of you. You are sweet, funny, smart, creative, friendly, and generous. You are also extremely patient and forgiving when I’m grumpy and rushing you all the time.
Thank you for being my favorite son, my sweet, beautiful boy. I am grateful that I get to be your mom.
I have thought about committing suicide many, many times over the last 20 years. As a child, before I even knew what suicide was, I had wanted to disappear. I had wanted the fear, the pain, the loneliness, and the anger to go away, forever.
I’ve been extremely lucky to create a network of supportive, loving friends, and family. I didn’t always have that though.
When I was 22, and I first really started to think about committing suicide, I had almost no friends and I was estranged from most of my family. I had an unfulfilling, low-paying job. Luckily I did have a bike and a car. I numbed myself by riding my bike 42 miles every Saturday. When I felt the suicidal thoughts bouncing off the walls of my apartment, I drove up and down PCH (the Pacific Coast Highway). I sought out whatever beauty I could find: in the ocean, the trees, the sunlight.
I basically procrastinated, and doing so saved my life. Even after doing over a year of DBT (dialectical behavior therapy), taking an antidepressant, and creating a life worth living, I still feel the pull of my depression. I still sometimes think:
- I am worthless
- I don’t deserve my husband or my kids
- I’ll never amount to anything
- I’m tired of fighting myself all the time
- I can’t do this anymore
- I just want the pain to go away forever
I honestly feel like I’m living on borrowed time. My father committed suicide two years ago, his brother committed suicide twenty years before that. Who knows when I won’t be able to fight anymore?
Then I remember that we’re all living on borrowed time. Every minute we have is a gift. Every moment, we have the choice to say, “Not yet. Not today. Just wait.”
There are nights when I lay in bed beside my daughter, and I’m just exhausted by my guilt at not being a good enough mother, wife, friend, writer, human being. I think about how much I wish I could definitively end all of the pain with one fell swoop. It’s not enough to think about what it would do to my friends and family. It doesn’t help to think about how damaged my children would be.
Sometimes all I have the strength left for is to say, “Just wait.” Blues Traveler wrote a song called “Just Wait”:
In time you just might take to feeling better
Time’s the beauty of the road bein’ long
I don’t know what’s going to happen next. That’s the thing, I have to wait and see. I need to be here to find out what more I’m capable of, what more I can contribute, how much more love I can experience and share. I do think about needing to be here to guide my children through their depression some day, should they experience it.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to fight, but I know that I’m not alone. I will fight alongside Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess), Wil Wheaton, Stephen Fry, Andrew Solomon, and my many friends and family who struggle with depression.
As the Barenakedladies wrote:
Nothing worth having comes without a fight
Gotta kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight
I am deeply saddened by Robin Williams’ death. The love, joy, and inspiration he shared will live on through his work, his loved ones, and his fans.
If you or someone you know is deeply depressed, please get help. Call a suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You cannot be replaced. You matter. You are needed.
Even if you can’t imagine a moment beyond the pain, just wait. It can get better. Wait, reach out, wait some more. It can, and it will get better.
I was elated that dropping my daughter off at her first day of Pre-K went smoothly. She’d been “acting out” so much for the past few weeks. I guess I was distracted by my relief.
I went to a Starbucks to write, and when the woman in front of my held up her phone to the cashier and asked, “How do I get the bar code to show up?” I blurted out, “You can just shake it.” She didn’t look at me, but she said, “I don’t LIKE to shake it. That’s why I’m asking!” I stood in stunned silence then mumbled, “sorry.” She said, “it’s okay,” but still didn’t look at me.
Twenty minutes later I still feel stunned, but most of all I feel ashamed. I imagine other people can brush off these things, but immediately I feel my self-hatred flare up and start shouting in my head, “Who the hell do you think you are, you obtrusive fuck? No one asked you! No one gives a damn what you think!”
The thing is, it seems like most people want it both ways. I see on Facebook all the time people complaining they don’t get enough support and simultaneously how dare people stick their noses in their business!
I do worry about butting in where I’m not wanted, but I’m more afraid of being apathetic. I, not surprisingly, have serious baggage about feeling abandoned by my parents and also guilty for not being able to stop my father from engaging in illegal activities or to cure his depression and anxiety, which ultimately resulted in his suicide. The next time you’re irritated when someone offers to help, consider that they might share my “rescuing complex” or “compulsive need to help.” It doesn’t excuse it, but it might shed some light.
Blurting out an answer to a question directed to someone else, I can see I came off as meddling, and maybe the woman thought I was judging her for not knowing how to get the bar code to come up. Maybe she was already having a crappy morning, and I just made it a little worse.
I’m tempted to stop offering to help altogether. It would save me the pain of these confrontations. If people needed help, they’d just ask for it, right? Who DO I think I am anyway?
I am a mother, a friend, and a neighbor. I couldn’t survive without all of the people in my life who help me get through parenthood, and honestly, who help me just make it to the end of the day. Isn’t it still a good idea to “pay it forward” once in awhile?
I realize that a lot of it has to do with timing and approach. Things go better when I pause to assess whether this is an appropriate situation to offer help. I’m a Sagittarius though, so thinking before speaking is not my strong suit.
When I see someone juggling a bunch of stuff and usually a couple of kids, I ask, “Can I give you a hand?” or “Would you like some help?” Sometimes they say, “yes, please!” with gratitude mixed with relief. Sometimes they say, “That’s okay, I got it.” Either way, I’m grateful to be in community with that person for just a brief moment.
I have this Margaret Mead quote on my About page, and I really do believe it: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
So even if I get a metaphorical door slammed in my face once in a while, I’m still going to offer a helping hand now and then, even if it’s just looking a person in the eyes, smiling, and expressing, “I see you. You matter. You are not alone.”
How do you balance offering help without butting in?
Here are a few important messages I took away.
We are all BlogHer
I used to think of BlogHer as just the media company: its co-founders, its editors, its administrative staff. BlogHer ’14 showed me that all of us who read, write, and share blog posts are part of something so much bigger.
I was struck by how egalitarian it felt. A few of the speakers were high-profile people like Arianna Huffington and Kerry Washington, but most of them were bloggers just like me. The Voices of the Year writers, the 10×10 speakers, even Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess, were once quiet, still-in-the-shadows attendees like me.
It made me realize that I have just as much chance as anyone else of being on that stage one day, and I have so much more to contribute.
We are capable of more than we think
Alexandra Rosas of Good Day, Regular People spoke about how much she has achieved over the last decade, first by getting published for syndication on BlogHer, then by proposing and sitting on a panel at a BlogHer conference, to speaking at BlogHer ’14 as part of the 10×10 series. She was really inspiring. She encouraged us to “surprise yourself with what you can do,” and remember that “just because you can’t do something now doesn’t mean you can’t learn.”
The blogger behind Busy Dad Blog described the influence we can have. Whereas celebrities can create exposure or raise awareness, “Bloggers have the ability better than anyone to change the conversation.”
A closing keynote speaker urged, “People are waiting for you to make a difference.”
We need to take care of ourselves first in order to thrive
At the same time we support our families and our communities and be the force for change, we also need to care of ourselves first. A few speakers used the analogy from airplanes of “put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.”
Arianna Huffington talked about her book “Thrive,” which calls on us to “redefine success and create a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder.” She recommends making more time for sleeping, detoxing from digital devices, and learning from other people’s “wake-up calls.” She pointed out that we pay more attention to the state of our digital devices than of our bodies.
Kerry Washington juggles multiple projects, including being a new mother, starring on “Scandal,” and working with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. She explains that she budgets 80% of her time on where she can make the most impact and 20% doing whatever brings her joy.
We’re all in this together
Even though there are a multitude of topics bloggers write about, whether it’s food, parenting, politics, elder care, or dog training, there are issues that affect us all.
Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress said, “You don’t need to be an expert to change someone’s life, you just need to give a crap.”
Feminista Jones said, “You don’t have to be black, gay, or poor to know when something is wrong.”
A person asked how to help when you don’t belong to a group that’s being treated badly. Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan said, “The first step is listen. The second step is listen. The third step is listen.” She said after that you need to “amplify” the group’s message, by sharing and retweeting their messages.
We are unique
Many speakers talked about focusing on what we love, the thing inside us that “glows or sparkles” and makes us shine. Elisa Bauer of Simply Recipes said, “Blog about what you love because life is too short to blog about anything else.”
Regardless of whether other people blog about the same topic, each of us has our unique point of view. We need to be who we are without apology. Courageously being ourselves, we can work together and achieve great things.
Please share your BlogHer ’14 stories in the comments below.