I'm in one of those periods where things seem bigger than they are. Harder. And while these phases are usually short-lived, it sure doesn't feel that way when I'm in the midst of it.
Kiddo is tough right now. An amalgam of hormones and growing pains and the process of finding his own identity has left us all more than a little out of sorts. There's the sorting through my own feelings of heartbreak when it comes to the idea of stepping back and letting him live his own life. There's the struggle to find a middle ground with Husband, whereby we same-page parent; two vastly different personalities raising a single child can be difficult to navigate. There's the fear that he will never remember his assignments or approach his teachers when he has a question and will therefore always lag a bit behind. There's the fear that he will never realize his true potential.
Then there is the worry of adding a job to the mix. Who will oversee his homework and bring him his track shoes when he forgets them and how will we schedule monthly orthodontic adjustments without affecting his school and my work, and, and, and. Also, when do people who work all day go to the dentist or doctor or get their cat groomed? How will I manage any sense of normalcy working 12-hour days?
And that's where the questions end and the maybes begin. Maybe I should put off grad school until Kiddo is out of school. Maybe I should put off working until Kiddo is more self-reliant. Maybe I'm meant to do something else with my life. Maybe I won't end up getting what I want. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. The maybes and what-ifs could bury a person alive, you know?
Thankfully, I've done some work on myself over the years. When things get to be too much, I know right away. That telltale fluttering in my chest and jumpiness in my belly that signal I've had my fill. I can pause and take stock. I've become proficient when it comes to identifying the root cause(s) of my anxiety. I know what works and what doesn't when things begin to spiral. I know when to dig in my heels and when to walk away for the sake of perspective. I'm also able to admit when I can't manage it on my own. This may or may not be one of those times.
This is me lamenting about the difficulties of life for a moment. Yet I'm keenly aware of how the world works: Stress is inevitable. Motherhood is an emotional minefield. Living your life alongside another person, no matter how deep your love and affection, is complicated. Understanding where you end and another person begins is not always so easy.
If there is one thing these periods in life teach me, it's how good I have it. I have a husband that has my back, even if we are mid-row and I'm being very ox-like in my stubbornness. He takes over parenting duties, no questions asked, so I can take a breather. He combs Airbnb for a little seaside retreat so I can get away, and never once mentions that he is getting the short end of the stick. He gives much more than he takes and loves me even when I'm unlovable.
I have a child who is healthy, smart and compassionate. When, in the midst of trying to reason with him, a tear falls from frustration, he is the first to come over and hug me. He tells me he loves me every time we hang up the phone, even if he's surrounded by his listening peers. He is my arch nemesis and my very best friend wrapped into one rapidly growing body. He's the best thing I will ever accomplish in this life.
I am fortunate to have attained a good chunk of what I want out of life. I also realize it wouldn't have been possible without those two knuckleheads. You see, Husband supports even my wildest dreams and never, not ever, thinks they are out of reach. He teaches me patience and kindness every day. Kiddo makes me want to be the best version of myself; to lead by only the best example. They are my Wizard of Oz: I always had brains, heart and courage, but I didn't know it until they showed me.
While a bit of introspection is always good in these cases, it alone doesn't carry the power to whisk my anxiety away. It takes a combination of things to manage my nerves:
- Starting today, coffee is off the table. I've been experimenting with matcha powder to give me that boost I need without the jitters. (Recipe recommendations?) Tea is where it's at, and only in moderation (unless it's herbal).
- Exercise is in. My 10k steps/day goal is back on the table. I'm always amazed how much my body craves physical exertion during times of stress while my brain works so hard to prevent it.
- An apple (or two) a day... The first thing to fall apart when things get hairy is my diet. I start craving salty, sugary, refined carbohydrates and nothing else will do. Which leads to heartburn, restless sleep, and brain fog. Which makes me feel worse. Lather, rinse, repeat. The best way I've found to break the viscous cycle is to plan my meals in advance. The benefits of meal planning are twofold: it does wonders for eliminating a crappy diet caused by eating on the fly, and it helps me find comfort in organization rather than my tendency to flounder.
- Be open to Western Medicine. I like to handle things sans pharmaceuticals, but I am open to getting a second opinion. I've made an appointment to get acquainted with a new provider and will see what she has to say. True story: after a year of taking an antidepressant for anxiety in my mid-twenties, I went to a new GP and complained that not only was the medicine not helping, it was making me feel worse. To which she replied, "Then stop taking it! Seek counseling, exercise, and start actively trying to manage it." I was chagrined by her bluntness, but she was right. I'd been standing idly by waiting for things to fix themselves. Within a month I was enrolled in school full time, seeing a therapist regularly, and practicing yoga three times a week. Finding the power to control my own anxiety was pretty darn life changing. But I never dismiss the possibility that a day may come when I won't be able to manage it so effectively. (Note: Obviously this isn't the answer for everyone. I didn't have any additional health issues and acted only under a professional's advisement.)
- Hit the books. This one's a biggie. When I'm overwhelmed and freaked out, I gravitate toward hours of mindless television. Which serves to make my anxiety worse. Last night I was casually watching the Seinfeld episode where Elaine and Jerry are at a bakery getting a chocolate babka for a dinner party (Black and white cookie! Jerry's non-vomit streak!). Meanwhile, Kramer and George are at a liquor store trying to get wine and yada yada yada a comedy of errors ensues. I've watched this episode at least a half dozen times, and can associate nearly every folly with a Seinfeld episode. Yet I felt my heart puttering and stomach clenching. It wasn't funny, it was stressful. So why was I sitting there, mindlessly watching TV, ignoring the fact that I was feeling terrible? Same goes for Words With Friends, Instagram, and every other form of media that serves as a proxy for my ruminating thoughts. I turned off the tube, picked up a book, and started catching up on my reading goals. The relief was immediate.
- Express yourself. Whether it be blogging or photography or any other hobby, self expression is essential to feeling normal. It's important for me to keep it in check, though, as I could easily heap a million projects on my plate and create a whole new facet to my anxiety. When I choose just one or two things I enjoy doing, and do them without obligation, I start to feel so much better.