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?