Archive for the ‘stress’ Tag

The bus, the girl, and me

I caught myself feeling a sharp pang of jealousy yesterday – at a young woman getting off of a bus.

She was alone. Intent on her errand, her destination. Independently. No children to bring along to the store with her, none to drop off at daycare before work, no enormous shopping cart filled with diapers and milk to maneuver through the snow to her car, and especially, especially, no whining, crying, or interruptions. She had earphones in her ears, a small fashionable purse on her shoulder, and a purpose in her stride as she stepped off the bus, head up. She wasn’t looking for and counting heads, holding mittened hands, or speaking a constant stream of instructions, reminders and chastisement. She was quiet. Calm. Happy. She was on her way to somewhere, or someone. Alone.

I told myself that she might be off to do a dull and underpaid shift at a dead-end job, with an empty apartment the only thing waiting at the end of it, wishing for all the world for the lovely family and home and life that I have.

It didn’t help. I was overwhelmingly, shockingly, endlessly jealous. Oh, to have a day to myself! To be able to pop in to a store, to meander, to browse! Oh, to not have a baby on my back, or a diaper bag on my shoulder, or a pattering of questions and lecturing on nuclear bombs and jetpacks to tune out! Oh, to read world politics, and think about them, and then discuss them! Oh, to feel like I have any expertise, or just plain interests, of my own!

Oh, to not have to cook dinner again.

Oh, to not be constantly aware of the clock, measuring the next naptime, the next load of laundry, the defrosting chicken, the school day.

Oh, to miss my family. To have a break, and to be happy to come back to them.

Oh, to not be jealous of a random stranger getting off a bus at the local Walmart.

And then, my daughter does something irresistibly cute. Babbling, making friends of strangers at the coffee shop, crawling to my outstretched arms. And I feel so guilty for wanting to miss even a single moment of this fleeting time.

And yet, then we’re taking beloved stuffed animals away from my son in a bid to improve increasingly disruptive behavior at school, and Dearest and I spend a daily hour tearing our hair out wondering what is wrong with our son, with us, with the school system. Wondering if there’s anything at all we can do to help our impulsive, inattentive, expressive, bright little boy who seems to only be getting harder with time. Never knowing what, or when, the next battle will be.

Oh, to not have to come home to crying, or to have crying come home to me.

To just get on a bus. And off again, somewhere else. Nowhere special. Alone. For an afternoon. With dinner warm and waiting, unmade by me, happy children, an unstressed spouse, a clean house without a single laundry basket in the livingroom. Oh, to just look out the window. And dream.

I pushed the stroller on, past the bus, through the snow, towards home. I stroked my daughter’s darling, sleeping head, shrugged my shoulders and stretched my legs, and decided on chicken parmesean for dinner.

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Cottage Weekend Trio

Mind: be still.
Be quiet, and listen.
It is the waves’ turn to speak.
The raindrops are doing a tapdance, in time with the treetops.
Heart: slow.
Let the wind set your beat tonight.
The licorice-checkered tablecloth begs for a crossword puzzle.

The tightly wound ball of yarn that I am
is starting to slowly unravel.
There are still knots in the line,
but the string is straightening,
loosening.
I see the kite tail that I could be,
flying high above the trees,
fierce,
strong,
a purposeful weight.
A night’s sleep and a day’s restfulness
is all it took.
If tonight’s sleep could be longer,
less interrupted by nightmares,
and tomorrow’s day even lazier,
I’d get closer,
and closer,
to still.
To strength.
To unknotting.

What a blessing it is to have quiet.
A prolonged period of time listening only to my own breath,
trees swaying,
birds greeting the morning.
What a gift it is to know that there is nothing I must do with my time.
To have a day that does not need to be filled.
It can just be.
It can just whisper to me.

Recipe for a Sunday Afternoon

Turn the radio on to CBC French Classical, Radio Canada.
Turn the oven on to 375 degrees Farenheit.
In a food processor, blend together 1/2 cup butter, 2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, pinch salt, 1/2 cup sugar.
Tape an orange monster with a bellyful of Buzz Lightyear stickers to the front door.
Kick 3 toys to the side of the hallway on your way to the freezer to get the pecans. Make sure you use an appropriately satisfying amount of force.
Add 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, 1 egg, a generous helping of pecans, and somewhere between 1/4 and a 1/2 cup of milk to the batter.
Pulse.
Add a child-sized number of chocolate chips.
Fill the kettle and set to boil.
Pick up 4 squashed pieces of popcorn and throw into the garbage.
Drop the batter by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets.
Bake for 10 minutes.
Take out an overly large mug and 1 teabag of chai tea, add too much honey and a weighty splash of milk, and top up with steaming water.
Stand in the middle of the kitchen and breathe in the smells.
Thank your husband for taking your child to the movies with a quiet prayer.
Remove the cookies from the oven and turn it off.
Pick up three burning hot cookies with your fingertips and place them onto a clean plate.
Sit down.
Click on the Mahjong icon.
Next time, add more butter, less flour, exactly the same amount of sunshine.
Go back for seconds.

October 10 = World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day.

Here’s some facts:
– Mental health can be described as an inner state of psychological bliss and well-being; mental illness is an absence of that state, not an absence of a specific diagnosed mental disorder or disease
– the estimated rate of mental illness in Canada is 1 in 5; the World Health Organization thinks the world rate may be closer to 1 in 3
– mental illness costs jobs, it costs taxpayers, it costs lives
– mental illness doesn’t discriminate – it hits rich, poor, young, old, every culture, every education level, every body and brain type
– we do discriminate against the mentally ill
– the stigma experienced by people with a mental illness adds to the suffering, and for some, can be more destructive than the illness itself

And here’s some flavour:
– unrelenting loneliness, doubt, fear, and worry
– body aching, heart aching
– slow drip of hope, swirling away down the drain
– every day just one more to get through
“don’t talk to me, don’t look at me, don’t bother me, don’t touch me, for God’s sake don’t bump into me, leave me alone, just please go away…”
– muting of colour, amplification of sound
– sinking quietly into the deep

In the end, we all struggle, some more, some less.
But we all struggle, and we all flounder.
In my experience with mental health, and mental illness, I’ve found that no matter what, where, how, and how often we struggle –
it’s better to flounder together.

Mental illness can be treated.
All mental illnesses.
Effectively.
But not if we don’t talk about it.
Happy World Mental Health Day.

The Power of Words

I went to a booksigning today, with bitterly protesting son in tow, specifically so that I could meet the author and have a chance to speak to her. She’d written a poem that had been read at my cousin’s funeral a couple of months ago. The poem broke a dam of tears for me that dark day – capturing so perfectly my cousin’s spirit, and finding the words that until that moment I’d lost. I’d been so torn about my inability to write – I’d wanted to offer my family something for the funeral service, a token, some words to show in my own small way just how large my cousin’s presence had been. But I had no words, none. I was bereft.
That day, sitting so lonely amidst so many other sad, solitary people, all of us sharing the same hard benches, the same hard truth that my cousin was really gone – this poem was a gift, a garden, a balm of words.
This was one woman, writer, soul, that I just had to meet. And thank.
Today, she, in turn, thanked me.
My cousin had touched her too, of course, being the remarkable person that she’d been. But the author, JC Sulzenko, hadn’t known how my cousin, so many years ago, had inspired her to poetry that would eventually spear into me so deeply.

This is what words do.

My Dad scattered my Grandpapa’s ashes this week. He’d asked me, before leaving, if he could read the piece I’d written for Grandpapa’s funeral when it came time to open the urn. He thought it’d be fitting.
My Dad and I have been bridging, for years, a chasm between us. The fact that he asked, that he cared enough not just to read my words, but to ask me if it was alright with me – it didn’t just buttress that bridge; it shifted the ground.

This is what words do.

“What story is this song telling us, Mommy?” Bonhomme asked on the drive home tonight.
It was a beautiful opera piece in Latin, the voice piercing and true.
“I’m not sure, Love, but I think it might be a prayer.”
“A prayer? What’s a prayer?”
“It’s when somebody prays, Hon, I think she’s sad and she’s talking to God.”
“But what is praying, Mom?”
Um.
“It’s, well, it’s… it’s like your heart having a conversation with the universe.”
Silence.
“But, how do you pray? How do you do that talking?”
“Well, some people get down on their knees beside their bed and do it, some people every day. Some people kneel on a special rug and do it several times a day, they even carry their special rug with them so that they can do it anywhere, since it’s so important to them. Some people put their hands together in front of their heart, some people do it at a church, some people go for walks, sometimes I feel like I’m praying when I do yoga.”
“You do? You can do praying, Mom?”
“Yup, anyone can do it.”
“But, why? When? How do you know you need to?”
“Well, um, some people pray when they’re sad, or lonely. Some people pray when they’re angry, and they don’t know what to do with their anger. Some people pray when they’re confused, or worried, or scared. Some people pray when they’re happy too, when they feel so much happiness at once that they feel they have to just share it with the whole world!”
“So praying is sharing?”
“Some people think so. I think so – I think that’s a really neat way to think about it.”
More silence. I’m congratulating myself on a successful navigation of the topic when –
“Momma, I think praying is like aiming.”
“Aiming?”
“Yah, like when you’re aiming a gun.”
My turn to be silent.
“Like when you’re aiming to shoot, say at a fox, or a balloon, or like in a videogame, or with my Lego! That’s like praying.”
“That’s not what I think praying’s like at all. Shooting a gun’s not at all like praying.”
“I think that’s what it is for me.” Bonhome says in a small, hurt voice.
Who am I to know?
“Well, Love, I have a hard time with that idea, because I don’t like shooting, and praying is something very special to me, special to lots of people, so it’s hard for me to think about praying being like shooting. But, everyone does it differently, and has to find their own way. I’m still finding my way.”
“I’m not – I know it already! And it’s not shooting, it’s aiming.” He’s proud, and definite.
I bite my tongue. It might not be my definition – but that doesn’t matter. In fact, it matters very much that it not be my definition – it’s his.

This is what words do.

“You know, Grace, I’m an artist too.” My littlest Goddaughter. She’s not comparing herself to me, knowing that I paint, but to her older sister, who I’ve taken to calling an artist as a nickname, since she’s taken arts and crafts on by storm in the past year.
“I know you are Darling. I mean, just look at all this art!” We’re surrounded by crayoned and markered masterpieces taped to every kitchen cupboard. She proceeds to walk me through the intricacies of each one.
“You know, Sweetheart, that I call your sister Artist sometimes.”
“Yah.”
“Did you also know, that the day you were born, I had a very special name for you?”
“You did?” Her face, dejected a moment ago, glows.
“Yes, I held you when you weren’t even an hour old yet. And you waved your hands in the air, in the most graceful way I’d ever seen hands wave, and I called you my Dancer. You were dancing, and I told you then that you were just going to dance through life, and I asked you if you would be my little Dancer. And what do you think you answered?”
“I dunno.”
“Hmm, well, what if I asked you again, now? Will you be my Dancer?”
“Yes, I will!” And she demonstrates her dancey magic.

This is what words do.

I’ve been doubting myself a lot lately. It’s been a tough month, just now beginning the slow heavy slog of recovery from years of too much. Too much stress, too much strain, too much everything. And when I doubt myself, I have too many words, all of them wrong; or I have none. Last night, I spent the evening talking, and listening, to some dear friends who see more clearly than most. And I spoke of my doubt, of my worry, of my wondering whether I was doing anything worthwhile at all with my life, or if I still could. We all did. They each face difficulties much greater than mine, lives fuller and bodies frailer, and I doubted even bringing up my own sorrows and sweats. As I doubt writing what I write, so self-indulgent as it sometimes seems – doubting most when the words don’t come at all. But I did speak, and we came to the conclusion that it’s not about hitting the mark, whatever that might be, but about showing up. Speaking up. Fumbling through the hard conversations, dragging yourself out of bed. It’s about what you do with the days when you aren’t at your best. Talking about, writing, sharing, demonstrating the hard stuff – connecting.

This is what words do.

Inner Space

As I’m getting back into yoga, downshifting, self-injecting some quiet back in, I see how much I’ve been avoiding myself.
Case in point: Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, faced with the perfect opportunity to put pen to page, all my hands want to do is flip through a magazine that my head has absolutely no interest in. All my legs want to do is find a bathroom that my bladder has zero interest in. All my eyes want to do is stroke the buttery texture of the leather coat hanging next to my polyester blend. All my voice wants to do is call my daycare provider to warn her that I may be late (when I know full well that I won’t be).
Yoga is all about noticing. Paying attention to the breath, floating above the thoughts, settling into the stretch. Yoga doesn’t judge. It acknowledges pain, effort, but it implores you to accept it, and move on. Move beyond. Yoga is very patient.
I am not.
I keep looking for my feet. In yoga, when walking, when thinking. (I’m always thinking.) They’re still attached, but I keep stumbling. I’ve lost the knack of stepping boldly, knowing they’ll be there to land on. I’ve had more good days than bad recently, but the bad ones are a force to be reckoned with. My highs are higher, but my lows are also lower. Not good for someone seeking balance, resilience. However, for someone engaged in strength-training, recognizing the need to rebuild from the ground up, maybe not so bad. It could be that it isn’t my feet that are stumbling, but the ground that is shifting. In that case, looking for my feet would be a rather good strategy. Stubbed toes are good teachers, after all.
Follow my limping toes up, a puzzle piece at a time, and you find my head, and my heart. Upside down, juxtaposed, and falling apart. Until the weight of gravity pulls them back down, rights them, and my whole overstretched elastic soul bounces back from outer space and reverberates into place.
And so I bend, breathe, listen to my heart beat.
I try to settle into the corners of my feet.
I let time and my self meet.

The ravelled sleeve of care

Head pulsing, ribs sighing.
Hip aching.
We are durable creatures, but tender.
And I am more bruised than usual.
My body bears the weight of my psychological strain, complaining.
Knee creaking, wrists burning.
Chest heaving.
It’s really not much to take note of, considering.
But the body has a way of amplifying discomfort until it is heard.
And so, ibuprofen, bath, book, bed.
And wait –
to see what tomorrow brings.
Sleep veils many things.

An explanation, perhaps.

I have a new job.
It’s a brand new world.
I’m walking home (I walk home now) with a smile on my face, listening to the birds calling my name.
I chat with my colleagues, I go for coffee.
I leave on time (mostly).
I’m still having nightmares – but less often.
I’m still struggling for breath – but not as much.

I’m learning that there’s going to be some long term damage from my old job though.
Panic is a learned behaviour. I’m walking too fast, typing too hard, speaking too quickly. I’m in a constant state of hyper-alertness – and my naturally analytical approach to life amplifies it.
The job change has helped enormously, it being the cause of my troubles.
But it’s not going to be a simple fix. There’s just been too much damage.

At the end, someone was finally able to identify that it wasn’t just a bad fit, it wasn’t just my own depression and anxiety tendencies, it wasn’t just bad management, and it wasn’t just too intense a pace and too high a workload.
It was vicarious trauma. My experience got compared to that of war veterans just back from theatre. That got my attention.
Me? My little civilian job? My bureaucratic, paper-pushing, deadline-meeting, esoteric deskjob?
But when the list of symptoms started, and I mmhmmmed to each and every one, it was harder to shrug off.
I’d been chalking it all up to my usual scuffles with depression, and assuming that I was having such a hard time with my job because I wasn’t suited to it.
(Because I wasn’t good enough at it) a tiny voice whispered, endlessly.
“Too empathic,” said Dearest.
“No work-life balance,” said my mother.

It was never what I accepted the position for in the first place, but that’s what happens sometimes in government. In comes an unexpected file, there’s a body at a reasonably appropriate level with a good range of skills, and voila. Nevermind the unknowns – everything’s got unintended consequences, and whatever it is needs to be done, now. Have a stab at it.

Now that I’m in my new position and new department, I’m starting to develop some new perspective on it all.
For one, I’m telling that tiny voice to shut up already. I was damn good at my job. I have only to look around at my new colleagues and see what little’s asked of them in comparison, and the timidity and lackadaisical pace with which they bat around problems, to know that.
And for another, I’m going to start seeing a trauma counsellor, who specializes in the topics I’ve just left (but not left behind).

Dearest is enraged at it all. Infuriated with my previous management. Terrified about my health. Frustrated as all get-out with my doctor who didn’t pick up on any of it, other than telling me that I should look for a new job (after I’d already started looking anyway), and essentially reinforcing the theory that it all led back to my own genetic predisposition for depression.
I, on the other hand, am almost surreally philosophical about it all. Detached. Amused by everything in my new job and work environment because it is in such shocking contrast to the old.

So, tomorrow, I’ll try walking a little slower. Learn to take my time.
It’s a brand new world, after all. I shouldn’t ignore the view.

Not My Ideal Lazy Sunday Afternoon

Lately Bonhomme’s been role-playing more – doing the voices for his stuffed animals, having his little construction action figues have ennui. Playing out loud what goes on inside.
It’s adorable, it’s hilarious, it’s heartwrenching.
“Mumma, so, this guy? This guy has to go lie down because he has a bad cough.”
“Mumma, I had a great day today with you. But Penguinny’s not feeling so good. He has a headache.”
“Let’s do pretend-nap! That will make you feel better, Mommy!”

It’s killing me. On the one hand, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that children learn that their parents aren’t, in fact, invincible; that other people’s batteries do indeed occasionally run out. On the other hand though – this isn’t the Mom I want to be. The one who can’t chase my son around the house playing Megamind vs. Metroman with lightsabres and drills. The one who says it’s OK to play videogames for an hour, two, despite knowing how nuts it will make him later, because I desperately need to stay sitting down for that long. The one who is scanning the phone list to see who I could call to come over and play with him because the very thought of eight hours hours straight of one-on-one is exhausting. The one who says yes to bad food choice after bad food choice all afternoon because real cooking is way outside my energy envelope, and handling the inevitable arguing/whining/negotiating/pleading routine would be even worse.

None of this will kill him, I know. I did teach him to play Yahtzee today; a game I have my own fond childhood memories of. I’m not sure which of us was channelling my super-competitive-Yahtzee-crazy mother more. He could use a few more quiet-time activities in his arsenal. When Economicus told me today that both his girls will do puzzles on their own for four hours non-stop at daycare, I almost cried. Videogames are the only thing we’ve found that I consider even quasi-qualifies as play that will give us any breathers with Bonhomme – and even so, I usually have to field a running commentary (if I’m lucky), or a unending list of instructions (if I’m not).

“Mummy, why did you have a bad cough yesterday? Why are your lungs sore? Will you feel better after a good night’s sleep?”
These days, I can’t make many promises. But I can kiss Penguinny’s bumped chin, and somehow, to my son, that little bit of pretend makes love real.

Watching and Waiting

I’m sitting in a waiting room, waiting.

Across the room, also waiting, is a woman who it utterly fabulous. Her hair, clearly grey as a base colour, is artfully highlighted just enough to glow. If it wasn’t hair, I’d swear it was 14K white gold. It stands up in a 3 inch, 3 dimensional halo. She is confident, playful, serious and curious – all at once. She screams competence.
She is here with an older, smaller, paler, more timid version of her who looks decidedly nervous.

Beside me is a tall, cool, bright-eyed woman, quietly leafing through her Daytimer, writing herself reminders on a pad of sticky notes. She’s wearing tailored slacks, a chunky silver bracelet, a many-pocketed leather purse, and the same blue plastic booties as the rest of us.
She’s here with her husband, who has disappeared into the examination maze. She whispered to him, as he got up to follow the beckoning nurse, that their next appointment was in an hour. She’s got it all together – he doesn’t.

The room is a potent mixture of anxiety and boredom. Everyone arrives tense, intense. In a rush. After the initial flurry of filling out forms, digging for health cards and turning off cell phones, they just sit. Studiously avoiding staring. And they stew, impatiently transforming into patients.

When my name is called, I stash my illicit coffee away. I pass a sign marked “Nuclear Medicine Patients”. I’m just here for an X-ray, but still, can’t quite suppress a shiver.
The nurse called two of us at once, and asks the other patient to wait, while she instructs me how to don the paper gown and plastic-garbage-bag belt. I’m given the luxury of a private closet to change, but I’ll have to pass the other patient on my way, sporting my medical haute couture. I feel badly for hoping he’ll be too preoccupied to notice.
After being prodded into various positions, holding my breath, holding still, and prodded again, I’m told that we’re all done, and asked could I wait just a minute while my X-rays are looked over? I deconstruct the motivational poster, while waiting for the nurse to decide whether she needs to call a doctor.
I’m led back to the change closet, deemed not to be of any immediate concern. I take the time to pick apart the knot I made in my single-use garbage-bag belt.

On my way back to the waiting room and blue-bootie freedom, I see a computer screen blinking “In / Out / Transfer”.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I passed.

As I upgrade my feet from bootied to booted, I see the waiting room differently. It isn’t categorized into patients and supporting family members. It’s divided by those that are comfortable with the concept of their bodies falling apart on them, and those that aren’t.
The clock ticks for all of us. The idea isn’t to keep track of time, but rather, to sway to the beat.