For two weeks, now, I’ve had a shocking revelation rise to the surface of my brain at least once a day. I mean I’ll just be going about my business when suddenly it hits and I’m like OH MY GOD THIS IS REAL. Just now, I had it again. I was wrapping Christmas gifts, getting them under the tree. When suddenly I looked over to the little rocking-vibrating baby sleeper thing that has been on permanently for two weeks and I – genuinely surprised – thought to myself:
So I guess I have three kids now.
It isn’t that I was unprepared. I knew I was soon to be a mother of three. From the minute I peed on the stick and immediately drove to tennis, where my husband (who works overnights) was sleeping in the car while the kids had their lessons; got in his car and woke him up, him surprised I drove over, and just blurted out “oh my God Nick I’m pregnant,” I knew.
For the months I did not have a lick of morning sickness, did not throw up once (take that, pregnancy!); but instead lost all appetite for anything but cream of chicken soup and cantaloupe, I knew.
On the day I went to get dressed, when it was about 95 degrees out in the heat of summer, and the only thing that fit me was a pair of sweatpants that I could barely tie, forcing me to spend the day at the mall sweating profusely as I looked desperately for maternity clothes, I knew.
And while pregnancy was relatively easy for me, it was still an ordeal. My back rarely hurt, as I said I didn’t get sick; no headaches, no pains in awkward places – for these reasons I was fortunate. But it’s pregnancy. You never know what’ll happen, so I did go a little bat shit crazy with seasoned-mom worry. At the end the acid reflux was like a constant volcano of terrible coming up my throat, and his breech position jammed his head into my left rib cage more times than I would have liked. So I knew. I knew the day was steadfastly coming that I was going to have three kids.
But it was also like I didn’t.
During the c-section, I stayed awake and calm for the entire time. Had I fully grasped what was truly happening, I would have been freaking out and panicking and going nuts – OH MY GOD I AM HAVING A THIRD CHILD THAT THIRD CHILD IS COMING OUT OF ME RIGHT NOW. THAT is who I am. Instead, as my OB shot staples into my gut, I laid there calmly as we had a nice conversation about a New York Times article we had both read about c-secion in the 14th century.
Oh. My. God. I have three kids now.
There are so many jokes about three kids pushing you over the edge. In fact, on my first visit with my OB – who has been my lady bits doctor for over a decade now, and knows virtually every facet of my life – I was laughed at, scorned, and told “three will do you in.” Because three, apparently, did him in.
Oddly enough, there was a day when I told people I didn’t want to have any kids. None. Babies were gross and spat up and depended on you and I was just such an oh-so-cool hippie that I was going to spend my days childfree in trendy clothes with a glass of whatever flavor drink of the month permanently dangling from my well-rested, hands that had never – not ever – wiped a single ass, other than her own.
Then we had kids and all of those pipe dreams changed. I’m not saying that having kids was an unplanned or unexpected or unwanted thing. Just that the plans changed and we found ourselves with kids, so my husband and I figured – you know, why stop with one, let’s have twenty five.
Or three. Same difference.
In any case, I have three kids now.
My oldest – Alexis, as many of you know, is 12, and snarky and basically a small version of me. Which is unfortunate because it means she’s well on her way to be a world class smart ass. She has had the great fortune of completely skipping over puberty, and is now a full blown, gorgeous woman with minimal awkwardness that makes me wring my hands in jealousy that my between years were not so easy. She likes to tell people that her name means “helper” (which it does), but at the same time she insists she will not be changing any baby diapers. (She has still changed several.)
My now-middle – Ava – is 8 and she’s sweet but in a sweet way like candy. It’s delicious and wonderful but also rotting out your teeth and contributing to your genetically predisposed Type 2 diabetes. There’s always a motive to that sweetness. Nevertheless, when we told her she was going to have a baby brother, she immediately started promising she was going to change diapers and hold the baby and help with everything, and – so far – she actually has. She’s even changed a blow out.
And now, there is the baby. He’s cute and a really good baby. His face is squishy and he’s definitely a holder, as in don’t stop holding me Mom. My dad says he looks like an old man. My husband seems to be disappointed that the baby’s cheeks are not skinny like his, but rather chubby like mine. And while we originally had a whole cadre of terribly atrocious names in consideration, I am certain that one day he will look at that list and be grateful that we stuck with a simpler, more traditional: Andrew.
So there it is: three kids. All with the same initials. All with chubby cheeks and big, blue eyes. All with me for a mother. Snarky, independent, misanthropic me.
Heaven help us all.
Over the years, I have learned one thing that I hope I remember when I am older and my kids are older and have kids of their own: to keep my mouth shut. Don’t foist my opinion on them about how or what they are doing as a parent. Don’t make comments under my breath in regards to their mom’ing or dad’ing decisions.
Just. Keep. It. Shut.
Even if I don’t agree with something they are doing, or feel it’s hurt me or attacked my own decisions when I was a parent…the reason why is because their choices as parents are theirs to reap and sow. And as a mother-turned-grandmother (God, I shudder at the thought) I am not on the inside of all the aspects of parenting THEIR kids during THEIR time (times change, Mom).
Now it’s one thing if they come to me and ask for an opinion or advice. But if they don’t, unsolicited advice or comments or, as they most often come across, criticisms, should be considered better left unsaid.
My father, who lives with us, is the worst with the under-the-breath comments. I am constantly having to tell him to stop, which he doesn’t. It’s insensitive and hurtful, but never a direct confrontation. So I’ll give him that.
It usually goes something like this:
Me: “Ava, today your chores say put away the dishes.”
Dad: “I’ll help you baby…I’ll be right there, you just put away the silverware.”
Me: “Dad please don’t help her, you’re just making it more difficult for me to get her to do her chores.”
Dad: “I’ll help her if I want.”
Me: “Dad, please let me be the mother.”
Dad: [Slams something down on the counter and starts walking away] “Yeah, a real great mother.”
The thing about *my* dad, though, is that I have enough years and not-give-a-shit enough with him to be able to just let that roll off my back. I mean it stings at first, and I’m sure a psychiatrist is somewhere out there just rubbing his hands together, waiting for me to crack and spend years in his office at $300 a pop, but for now we’ll stick with…I get over it.
But this highlights an issue I’ve noticed more in public, among other parent-friends, and with my husband’s family, to a greater degree than with my dad:
Many of you read my social media shit show saga just yesterday. If you missed it, you surely missed out. In any event, as a follow up my husband called his mother yesterday morning, much to his dismay because she had no interest in 1) letting him talk 2) actually listening to what he had to say 3) doing anything other than screaming over and over again that she is a victim and 4)…
To. Shame. Us. As. Parents.
The backstory is as follows: a couple weeks ago, we secured a new home. A better home. A bigger home. A home with a yard.
We had previously been living in and caring for a family-owned condo, and we knew that there was a high probability that said family would be upset we were moving out. Not only because they wouldn’t have us taking care of the lemon of a place anymore, but because then they’d have to find someone else to get in there to pay the mortgage. Now we could have been wrong, but there’s always that risk with them…so we had to play it safe for our own mental health and decision-making ability.
We wanted to be able to make our decision about the new home without the the opinions of others. Yes, sometimes asking for advice is the best thing to do; but on this one, we wanted to do it ourselves. It’s hard to make the right choices for your family enough as is without the opinions of every Tom, Dick, and Susie squawking in your ear like pigeons.
So we didn’t say anything at first to them, until we had made our own choices.
What complicated the issue was that someone saw online that we had been looking at places, and my husband’s mom heard about it (because what kind of a family doesn’t gossip and talk shit about every. fucking. thing they come across?) and she flat out asked us if we were moving out of state. This is a sensitive issue for her because her other son, my husband’s brother, along with his wife and toddler just moved … out of state.
“No of course we aren’t moving out of state” was our resounding response. Because we weren’t. My husband works in film, that’s actually a stupid question to begin with. Unless he were to move on to work at Girls Gone Wild in New Orleans (um, he actually did apply there years back – they pay well I guess)…we are LA area for life. It’s just the way it is.
But we didn’t continue the conversation beyond that. We changed the subject, because we weren’t ready to talk about it. We hadn’t made our final-final decision on anything yet. And, honestly, the way she responds to any kind of change in other people’s lives is not usually the most positive.
Even just us making a decision for ourselves like “I’m having surgery that day, would you mind giving me one day to recover before coming to visit” turns into a hurtful barrage of comments and attitude, and …opinions and shaming.
As a side note: the kids were there when this whole moving-out-of-state-freak-out happened, and we had talked to them and told them we didn’t want them to lie to Grandma, but it’s really important that they let Dad talk to Grandpa about it privately once we’ve made our decision for sure. Because of the sensitivity of it.
You see, I believe that it’s really important to, yes, teach my kids honesty; but at the same time to teach them that there is a time and a place for everything. And, more importantly, that it’s important to set their own boundaries on what they do and do not share with people; and even more importantly than that to set boundaries on the influence others have on their own happiness.
THOSE are the life lessons that I think are important, especially in light of our daughter already being worried that Grandma and Grandpa would be mad we were moving out of the family-owned home. She didn’t want to move into the new house at first because of that. To me, as a parent, I have failed if my kids believe they should make their life’s decisions based on other people’s bullshit.
Flash forward to yesterday, my husband had this conversation with his mom about the social media shit show, and her main focus was to actually talk about how that conversation about not moving out of state (just being clear: we aren’t, we are moving 2 miles down the road) was an example of how she doesn’t agree with our parenting. She doesn’t think we should be teaching the kids to lie to her and keep secrets. That she should be able to extract whatever information she wants from them, and that by teaching them to have boundaries on how much they share and how much they let others have say in their lives and happiness is bad parenting. Bad parents raising liars and sneaky, sly people that do things behind people’s backs.
What was my initial reaction? To feel shame.
But then I felt the opposite of shame: pride. I felt pride because in her negative reaction, I realized that our decision in this with the kids was actually the right one. That she validated our decisions as parents with her behavior; and more importantly that we actually sometimes make good choices for our kids. I’m not teaching them to be liars. In fact, we are very emphatic with our kids about honesty. Rather, we are teaching them about healthy boundaries – something so few people have, and everyone needs.
Now before all of you are like “oh damn, I can’t believe she’s putting all this on blast on the Internet,” I just have to say: very few people in my husband’s life – from the beginning of it to the end – give a shit enough about me and what I have to say to read my blog. Let’s say none of them do. And, remember from yesterday, I lost (deleted and blocked) 31 friends on social media.
But really… I shouldn’t have to hide what’s right. If you don’t like people finding out about your bullshit, you should probably not pull the bullshit.
And, I’m a writer. The old adage is you shouldn’t ever say or do anything around a writer that you don’t want out in the open. I’m fairly certain that the only reason my husband actually loves me is because I call out all the shit he is too afraid to call out.
Moreover, there is absolutely nothing wrong with talking about what is going on in your life that is categorically, without a doubt wrong. It ain’t up for debate. What kind of people have we become that feel we have to hide everything about our lives and not speak up about what is right and wrong?
People that are ashamed, that’s what kind of people.
In the end: isn’t that where this whole parent shaming thing got going anyway? We aren’t only just shamed for doing whatever we do, we’re shamed for talking about it too. We’re shamed for talking about our decisions, we’re shamed for talking about how we came to our ideas as parents, and we’re shamed for feeling ashamed.
Lord help us.
Category: Big Kids, Blogging and Writing, California Lifestyle, Marriage, Mom Life, UncategorizedTags: comedy, humor, life, life problems, lifestyle, mental health, mom shaming, parent shaming, parental health, parenting, parents, psychology, raising healthy kids, raising kids, satire, shame, shaming, social commentary
By “lost” I mean that I gave them the boot. They were all family. My husband’s family, to be specific.
I have an anxiety disorder. It’s mostly hormonal at this point, but the more I deal with it the more I realize it’s also situational. Situational in the sense that I feel a huge conflict between who I am and what I feel I’m allowed to be.
What I feel my husband’s family allows me to be.
To the point, though: right now, I’m in a bad place anxiety-wise. Depression too. It’s OK for me to say that. It’s OK for me to talk about it. And it’s OK for me to set limits and boundaries with all of that in light.
That I feel I have to say any of that is absurd.
So we have been thinking about moving out of our neighborhood basically since we moved in about two years ago. There’s a lot of crime in the community, which is crazy because it’s a beautiful neighborhood with a lot of wonderful people. But moreover, the situation with living in a family-owned home was stressful. And…it just wasn’t enough room for our family.
Finally, several weeks back we found a couple rentals within our price range. Rentals that were bigger. Rentals that didn’t make us feel we were responsible for maintenance because of the family nature of it. Rentals that were a real step up for our family. We started looking at them, applying for them…and within a day or two of even looking, we got the best of all of them.
So we’re moving out of the family-owned townhouse in the crime-ridden community with AMAZING neighbors (that part is in no way sarcastic…except for the ones from that whole pee gate episode a while back, I have never met nicer people)…and the family owned townhouse is up for rent.
Today, my father in law just showed up at the townhouse, though, insisting he be allowed to come in and inspect the place to see what kind of work he would need to do.
To start, we have put so much work into the place simply because my husband and I felt it was our responsibility. Nay, it was said it was always his and his brother’s responsibility. So to be so freaked out and worked up about how much work it may or may not need before it goes up for rent again was a little…suspicious… Moreover, we paid through the 31st. If we need until then to move out, we sure as hell can. And if you really have to get all freaked out and come over – is it so hard to make a phone call and ask when a good time would be? REALLY?
In any event, my husband walked outside and asked politely that he come another time. Today was not a good time. My anxiety level was already through the roof. I have spent every day since Saturday (today is Wednesday) crying, most of the time for reasons I’m not sure. I’ve used more Xanax this week than in the last several weeks. In short: I’m a mess.
The move, however, has been going PERFECTLY. We have just a couple more days in the townhouse and the new place is basically all set up already. And my husband knew that I needed to know that THAT aspect was under control, since everything else seems to be falling apart. Not to have the added pressure of any complaints about the townhouse on my shoulders.
Also, my home is – right now – my only safe place.
His dad pushed his way past him, and barged into the house.
Terrified of my personal space being violated like that, I went up to our bedroom and shut the door. I stayed in there trying to stay calm until he left. It isn’t that I can’t be around other people, it’s just that my home is my only safe space and I need to feel that way. And who knows, anyway? I could have been in the shower. The kids could have been running around in underpants… Who thinks they can just show up and barge into another person’s house like that? ESPECIALLY someone you know has an anxiety disorder?
Once he left, I felt completely panicked and violated. My safe zone was taken control of. I’ve been working so hard to have safe zones – things that help me stay calm, help me keep my anxiety under control… now I have lost that one. Sure, we are moving out in just a couple more days…but a couple days with a panic disorder is an eternity.
So, naturally, I took to social media to vent my frustrations. I did it as vaguely and anonymously as I could. There was NO WAY anyone would know who or what I was talking about. NONE!
I had no intention of even going into specifics as to what happened. I wasn’t planning on blogging about it, like I just did. I. Planned. Nothing. But. To. Post. A. Vague. Vent. And. Reminder. (And note: my husband’s dad is not on Facebook, so would never even see this.)
Here was the pertinent part (the rest was me talking about how much I truly hope to keep the friendships I have with my former community)…
Within minutes, though, the family brigade came out in full force. First, my husband’s mother, who is never online and was at work at the time, suddenly became active enough on Facebook to see my post and decided to reveal in the comments who the offender was. Suddenly aunts were telling me I am ungrateful and should delete my post. That I should be thankful for everything they’ve done for me (to be clear: the only person that has done anything for us has been MY dad, and my husband will be the first to admit that). Shame on me for being such a terrible person!
Shame. On. Me. For. Having. An. Anxiety. Disorder. That. Necessitates. I. Need. A. Safe. Space. That. Being. My. Home.
I tried not to respond to their shit, but finally I did and just defended myself. Which I know I shouldn’t do. I’ve been going to therapy for this anxiety, and the therapist even tells me if I don’t stop defending myself to these people nothing will ever change.
But it just kept going. Suddenly uncles were revealing gossip that had clearly been spreading through the family about us moving out (the idea that we gave no notice that we were moving out). MY near and dear and long time friends were coming to my aid, and family were telling – Internet screaming – at them to butt the fuck out of family affairs. Family members were making public calls for other family to join in and back them up about not tolerating MY TOTALLY AND UTTERLY EGREGIOUS BEHAVIOR ANY FURTHER (it sounded a little drunk-Facebooking at that point). My husband, at work, started getting phone calls from people not even affiliated with me online to get me under control.
To all of this bullshit, I have a few things to say:
Here’s the thing about it all that I have come to realize and think about over the last several months – not just today. Our kids are witnessing all of this. They hear about it or see it or feel the effects of it at a family party. Is this really the lesson I want to teach my kids? That people can bully and shame others for sharing about their mental health? My oldest daughter has generalized anxiety disorder – should I teach her that she should hide it and not set boundaries with others to keep that under control?
At this point, this isn’t even about me anymore. It’s about my kids. They deserve extended family that is accepting and loving and compassionate and doesn’t act like a bunch of psychotic drunks calling publicly for a revolt against someone that says something they don’t like. If someone doesn’t gel with those values I want to raise my kids with, they’ll be deleted and blocked from online and real life. Tonight, it happened to be 31 of them.
Category: Big Kids, California Lifestyle, Marriage, Mom Life, Suburbia, UncategorizedTags: anxiety, anxiety disorder, drama, enmeshed family, Facebook, Facebook drama, family, family drama, family dysfunction, kids, mental health, parenting, problems, setting a good example, social commentary, technology, unfriending
For some reason, I open myself to a lot of criticism from the people in my life.
I’m not entirely sure how it got to that point. Maybe I overshare, as in I tell people way more information than they need. Or possibly I have let people believe that I’ll take it. (I think it’s a little of both.)
It’s always about the weirdest things too. Like who criticizes someone for bringing chips and salsa to a party? I’ve been criticized for that one twice (“Heather it is rude to bring something unless you are explicitly asked.”)
Every time I feel criticized or judged, I just stop doing the thing to try and make them happy. That doesn’t make me happy, but then neither does being criticized all the time. It’s lose-lose.
The ironic part about it though (and ironic is putting it extremely nicely), is that those people then turn around and do the exact, same thing.
The person who criticized me for bringing chips and salsa to a dinner brought a tray of dried fruit to a party we threw several years ago. She had not been explicitly asked. Unlike her, though, I didn’t give a shit.
I stopped talking about how much crime has gone up in my community, even though it factually has, because someone told me our town is great and I should be grateful and shut my mouth. Several people chimed in.
That person now – apparently – wants to move out of my town because of …wait for it… how much crime has gone up.
I stopped sending out handmade or paper birthday invitations for my kids’ things well in advance, and I just started texting everyone a week or so beforehand. Because I was told it’s a little much to expect people to remember things more than a week out. And because it makes people feel bad about themselves when I send out old fashioned paper, or homemade invites. Things I did of no consequence to others made them feel inferior.
In the last week we have received three handmade or paper invitations in the mail, all 8-10 weeks out, none of them for special occasion type things like weddings, all within this town. Two from people that used to criticize me for doing it.
It’s so not like me to do this, and yet for YEARS NOW it’s exactly what I’ve done. I started caring too much about what other people thought. And rather than blow it off and be me, I changed everything.
Only recently, I realized that the real crux of it all was when someone judged me up and down – publicly and without relief – for being a stay at home mom. And others chimed in then too. For the years that she and others openly went off on me about how stay at home moms are lazy and have it so good; after she in particular berated me for at least 15 minutes about how she could never do that and find meaning in her life (a sentiment many of the people I know, unfortunately, share), I started looking for a way to mediate that one too.
When the truth is, all these people are totally and utterly full of shit.
But this stay at home mom thing really hit me hard, and it’s taken close to six years for me to really and truly stop caring so much about all the comments and the bullshit.
I don’t know if it’s just here, in California, where everyone’s opening line at a party is “so what do you do?” Or if it’s an American culture thing. But every time someone asks me that dreaded question, and I respond that I’m “just a mom,” I get a look. A look and then a pause and then a “well…that’s OK…” and a swift change of subject.
The whole concept that someone who is just a mom is worthless and contributing nothing seems very foreign to me. Raising the future generation seems to be the single most important job on the planet. Without it, all the other jobs don’t happen quite as well. And sure, there are a lot of moms that do other things and are also moms, and they are great too.
But really now.
When I left graduate school in 2010, it’s true that I was planning to soul search and meditate and do all that hippy shit 20-somethings do when they find themselves and redefine their lives. But no matter how much I tried my hand at other things, the only thing that really seemed even remotely fulfilling to me was raising my kids.
Now, six years and a lot of criticism from the outside world later, I’m OK with that.
I have spent time and money and effort and stress and worry and a lot of heartache trying to do other things besides being a mom, though, all as a reaction to this idea that being “just a mom” is not enough. And at one point, I even tried to mom so hard just to prove that “just a mom” was OK because look at all this other shit I’m doing!
Really. Why do we have to keep justifying our existence and place in life?
I go without all the time so I can be “just a mom.” I have never been on an exotic vacation; in fact, since I decided to be just a mom we haven’t been on a vacation other than to visit family. I don’t get my nails and eyelashes and hair done as regularly as most women. I wear Gap Outlet-brand yoga pants most days of the week and carry a purse sold in the clearance section at Target.
My list of financial, emotional, and personal sacrifices is huge, much larger than the above paragraph. But do I or anyone else really have to list these things off to make things right and explain ourselves when people start criticizing?
And…if I – “just a mom” – or someone else – “a [fill in the career] AND mom” – wanted to spend to have any of those things, can we not just fucking do what we want without comment?
For years now, I have met that “just a mom” look and pause with my own self-criticism of what a mom should be. Every time someone questioned it, I responded with doing more to justify my existence. I baked more. I cooked more. One Christmas Eve, at my husband’s family’s annual Christmas party, I must have brought 10 desserts. Not one. Not two. Ten. (Okay probably five.) I handmade Christmas gifts that year too. Every. Single. Gift. Have any of you heard that joke: why buy it for $7 when you can make it for $92 in craft supplies? That year our Christmas budget was blown ten times over.
But I got criticized for it too. No one wanted my desserts. Other people wanted to bring desserts too and here I brought some and now theirs may go in the trash. Everyone thought I had done too much. It wasn’t said in a sweet, saccharin way either. It was seriously and tersely instructed: “Heather stop doing this.”
So I did. But now you guys get the conflict: if you are “just a mom,” you aren’t doing enough. If you are doing a ton of stuff, you are wrong and doing too much.
That’s when I started looking for things to volunteer in. So that when people said “what are you doing this weekend” I had a laundry list of busy activity, besides just taking my kids to tennis or making dinners and cleaning the house. And yet every time I was at one of those volunteer things, or sitting in a meeting for my volunteer work at the local art center or the neighborhood watch group, I could not stop thinking about the remorse I felt over missing one of my kids’ things. I didn’t want to miss their things or them to do this other crap. I still don’t. Yes, I want to do things for myself. Be in a book club. Get my nails done when they’ve just gone too far…
But otherwise, I really and truly want to just be a mom.
I also want to be who I am. When people ask what do I do, I want to say I’m “just a mom” and then talk about things that make me who I am other than that. And those other things are OK too…a philosophy graduate who still years after grad school reads voraciously and thinks about esoteric ideas while standing in line at the grocery store; someone worried about the crime fluctuations where I live; someone who makes birthday invitations by hand for her kids; someone who always brings a bag of chips and a bucket of salsa because a) it’s polite to bring something, and b) who doesn’t love chips and salsa? What I do does not define me necessarily, anyway. Being a mom and being unemployed by choice does not mean I lack substance.
It’s so hard to be a mom, whether you work or stay at home; and I think all the other stuff comes as an extension of that. You are held up to so much judgment and varying opinions, and suddenly everyone on the planet thinks they have the right to foist their comments and criticisms on you. Even people that aren’t moms, themselves.
Anything you can do, I can do better. Especially if I previously thought that what you were doing was wrong.
Here’s the thing: people like to judge and criticize, until they are in that position themselves. It’s like the old joke about how great of a parent you were before you had kids. In the last couple of years I have changed so much about who I am in response to people’s criticisms, and that was the wrong thing to do. Now the scores of criticizers doing those very things themselves makes that all the more clear to me.
Just the other day, I learned the most striking of news, that was like the ultimate moment of clarity which turned all of this on its tail: the person that used to criticize and judge and vehemently lambast me for being a stay at home mom …wait for it again… is becoming a stay at home mom, herself.
That was about the only wake up call I needed.
I had a blow out panic attack in my doctor’s office today. He knew I had anxiety, but I don’t think to the extent that it is there. Likely because I’ve done an extremely good job of concealing it for a long time.
Or maybe he did know and was just taking it one step at a time. I don’t know, I’m not the doctor but I think it’s probably that because he walked in the office after the nurse had made me lie down, and the first thing out of his mouth was “HEATHER…WHY are you worrying so much right now?”
The thing is that very few people in my life know about just how bad my panic disorder is. In fact, very few people even know that I have one. My husband does, but even he didn’t grasp the full effect it has on me until today, when in the doctor’s office I was made to lie down on my left side until my blood pressure and heart rate went down, because both were THROUGH. THE. ROOF. as I sat in there hyperventilating, completely unaware of what was going on.
The first panic attack I can remember ever having was when I was 11 years old, visiting my grandparents at their new home near Yosemite. We were in the grocery store and suddenly I just had a terrifying feeling like I was in a dream and my heart was pounding. I had no idea what an anxiety attack or a panic disorder was at the time. And I just dealt with those types of situations over and over again, as the years went on, until I finally researched what was happening to me just 6 years ago.
So it started when I was 11, and I am now 34 and have only known what has been going on for 6 years now. I mean that I knew what was going on (that I was having a multitude of symptoms I could not explain), but I didn’t know why it was going on (that I have a panic disorder).
And since knowing why, I have done literally nothing legitimate to take care of it.
Why? Because when I started trying to figure out what to do, I was told by closer family and society in general that this should be kept “private” or that I should be ashamed of it. That. I. Should. Be. Ashamed. Of. A. Mental. Health. Issue. Completely. Beyond. My. Control.
And that I should just calm down.
Also, in a situation with family that gossip about each other’s personal and health issues TO NO END – where you can’t sneeze without everyone hearing and speculating about it – the need to keep things utterly secret so as to avoid all that unnecessary speculation was paramount. I don’t like it when people speculate about my personal life.
Incidentally, I started writing my blog roughly 6 years ago too. Coincidence? I mean come on now. 6 years ago was when I also developed the coping mechanism of making fun of everything and joking my way through my unrelenting anxiety, which was getting worse and worse by the day.
But the jokes can only go so far, and of course people that think you should be ashamed of your uncontrollable panic disorder also like to shame you for just being yourself to try and cope with it. Suddenly the speculation turned to being that about my blog and I started to wish I could *just* write for bloggers and strangers, because whenever close family or friends read it I would get text messages and emails in response, as well as “unfriended” by many online.
Then only recently, I realized that to cope with the social spectrum of my panic disorder, I had made it a habit to just drink wine. I don’t mean – like – alcoholic status drank wine, but anyone that has ever known someone with an addiction knows, it often starts as a way to cope. Which is exactly what I was doing.
And I’m not going to lie – I love my wine. But if I were to be completely honest, as delicious as wine tastes, it gives me a headache and makes me feel like crap. And yet I still drank it as a social lubricant. Often.
Until I realized what I was doing, that is.
Now, it has been months since I drank wine. I don’t tell as many jokes anymore, because I never know who is going to read them or how they are going to respond; so basically I’ve stopped being *myself* in as many venues as I needed to to feel comfortable.
And I worry endlessly about everything.
I worry about money, as I talked about in my blog post yesterday.
I worry about the health and safety of my kids, and how one little thing will set off a chain reaction of other problems, many of which amount to more money worries. This is mostly because of a couple things that have happened in the last few years that should have been as simple as a bruised knee or a minor cold, but that got blown into huge, costly, and long-term problems.
I worry about what people think of me as I write blogs/homeschool my kids/parent in front of others/basically just live my life.
And I worry about my own health.
This is a new one for me, and it’s gotten out of control. Of course it doesn’t help that everyone around me acts as though I’m suddenly some fucking invalid because I have some allergy problems and had an asthma attack a couple months ago. Regularly, I go to the doctor and come back with a clean bill of health, and yet even just this last weekend my mother, as well as several other of my and my husband’s family members, made comments like “well you aren’t in very good health you know.” Um, OK…I’m not sure where you got that one, but…I guess I’ll go ahead and let your negativity work me up (which is exactly what I do).
I could go on…in a nutshell, I spend all my waking hours worrying.
So today, as I was lying in the doctor’s office, my heart pounding, trying to catch my breath, my blood pressure up to dangerous levels (I actually have low blood pressure, normally), a few very shocking things were presented to me. They shouldn’t have been shocking, but for someone who has been coping with a debilitating panic disorder for 23 years by basically pretending nothing is wrong, they were.
Yesterday I wrote a blog about people swimming in debt but being OK as long as they just pretend everything is fine. I think this is a lot like that, in fact maybe that’s really what I was trying to write about. I am literally swimming in this mire, or more like drowning but you guys get the point.
Now I can go on and pretend that everything is fine. Or I can deal with it head-on.
The only question, though, is how? That is where I am like a fish out of water – I have no idea truly where to begin. I do know that I want to feel like myself again. To start, I think it has to be found in my #2 realization today: I cannot hide my panic disorder forever. Perhaps the best way to start dealing with it is to stop concealing it.
I have known so many people with that philosophy. They don’t have very good lives in the end – they foreclose on their homes, lose their cars, die of heart attacks at 40… but in the moment that they live it, where they swim in debt while pretending everything is fine, they really are happy.
And how couldn’t you be? Exotic vacations you can’t afford. Boats. RVs. Long weekends. Hair and nail appointments every week. All the while completely oblivious to the fact that sometime, at some point, you will actually – yes, this is real – have to pay all that shit off.
I, personally, can’t live like that. I am excessively frugal, to a point of absurdity. I think I learned it from my grandmother, who was most known for going to buy Diet Coke when it was on sale in her red pick up truck. She would pull up in her driveway, and open the back of the truck for us to see an entire truck bed lined with 2 liter bottles of Diet Coke that she had bought on sale. We’d all have to help her load it into the garage, and she would be set until the next time it went on sale.
So now, taking after my grandmother, when our groceries are delivered, and we get 75 boxes of Macaroni and Cheese, or 200 cups of applesauce, my husband always thinks I’m insane.
I also find myself envious of local family and friends, who get Botox while my crow’s feet under my eyes grow deeper and deeper. Or who get their eyelashes and nails done every two weeks, while my toe nails typically look something along the lines of what you would find on an elderly gargoyle. I wear make up maybe once a week, because there’s no need to waste the money on it if I’m not going anywhere; and my hair…well…let’s not go there.
Typically, we don’t take exotic vacations either. We don’t do trips to Cozumel or Europe; and sure, we have our family weekend trips out of the area, or occasional vacations to places like the Grand Canyon or to use our Disneyland passes. But it’s always carried with a sense of frugality, including always finding places we can stay where I can cook our meals to save money on eating out.
My kids and husband get haircuts by yours truly, and absolutely every single one of my purses was purchased at Target.
I think you all are getting the point: we live on a tight budget, and we don’t go for all the extra unnecessary things. This is all done so that I can stay home with the kids, and so that my husband can work in his industry of choice (film, a volatile and sometimes poorly paid industry to work).
You can imagine, then, my frustration when we start getting socked with bills, and they just keep coming and coming and coming, and in spite of all the cuts and the tightening of the belts they just get worse. It seems wholly unfair. As if I have not sacrificed enough, suddenly our insurance doesn’t cover something they always used to cover and we have a $410 bill with a due date 10 days from now (and a hospital absolutely refusing to negotiate). I get a bladder infection, and the urgent care – who is legally required to notify us if they are sending out the “sample” does not – and they send it to a lab out of our network, and we get socked with another medical bill that is beyond reasonable, with everyone saying “tough shit, that’s life.”
Then our water softener alarm starts going off, and we find out the filters need to be changed even though we literally had no idea there were filters in the thing. Then one of our kids gets sick and – big surprise – the medicine she needs isn’t covered, and beyond that I have to spend a whole tank of gas driving all over the place looking for a pharmacy that has it. Then a short in our garage refrigerator triggers a chain reaction of all the things in the garage going out of power, which we don’t catch for over 48 hours and literally thousands of dollars of food being stored out there (between the fridge and the deep freezer – see previous notes about buying things on bulk when they are cheap) ARE RUINED.
It just never stops. You think everything is fine, you are in a good place and everything is working out and then a domino effect begins of one costly thing happening after another, until you finally get to a point where you just want to do what everyone else does and pretend like everything is fine.
Sure, we just lost thousands of dollars in food and I have no idea what we are going to do to replace it…but I’m going to go get my nails and hair did anyway.
I mean yeah, tons of medical bills are piling up and we have probably $1500 in unpaid bills that suddenly found their way to our doorstep this week, alone…but I need a vacation, so let’s go on a little weekend getaway.
My current purse just ripped a huge hole in it, one that could arguably allow money to fall out…so rather than worry about the food and the medical bills and the electricity issue in the garage…I think I’mma just go get me a Coach purse because – honestly – every time I see someone carry one, I tuck my Target variety bag under my arm in shame.
Because this is California and your handbag is about as important as your position in life will ever get [sarcastic eye roll].
No matter how much I joke, though, the reasonable me just can’t do it. Instead, I sit here hours on end worrying about where the fuck all this money is going to come from, as my husband gets sent home from work earlier and earlier every night because it’s the slow season for movie trailers (and he is hourly, so an early night means…you got it, less pay). I contemplate going back to work every three or four days, but then spend an entire day working out the expenses that would be involved in doing that (daycare for the kids, extra commuting cost for me, and so on), and THAT doesn’t make any sense, so then I go back to worrying and trying to find any fucking sale price ground beef and ham steaks I can buy in bulk and freeze just to make myself feel like our finances are getting back on track, once and for all.
This is where I’m at right now. Swimming in debt is NOT cool, but I wish it were.