Flight of Ideas

butterfly

All day, for days now, ideas are constantly flitting around my head.  I notice one, a white butterfly contrasting the lush green grass. I watch her for a while, appreciating her beauty, the way she moves with a random grace.  I wonder where she’ll go next.  And then I’m distracted by something, a child usually, needing a part of me I don’t want to give.  When I’m done pouring myself into the crevices that need filling, I look back.  But she’s gone.  While I was busy emptying myself into squabbles over toys and unmet expectations, the idea left, just like that.

Is that was the collective conscious is like? Ideas flit about this large field of conscious thought looking for a place to land, but if you look away, if you turn your attention to the physical, to a place where you’re already empty, that idea moves on to find another field, another flower to drink from, another leaf to lay her eggs under where the chance of those eggs hatching and growing and flying on their own is really possible.

Lately I’ve been dragging words through thick mud trying to get them on the page.  Tonight, I sat down to pour out something, anything, to help me get unstuck.  I caught the faintest breeze off that butterfly’s wings, enough for me to remember she was there earlier, but not enough for me to get a true sense of her beauty.  Perhaps the idea will come back, the thing I felt moved about in that moment, but just as likely not.

It’s been this way lately.  The thoughts, feelings, and ideas are but transient settlers in my brain.  I’m distracted by too many things – wobbly emotions, mountains of anxiety and children who need me to be their mother.  Never enough time or quiet for me to allow something to fully unfold.  Everything about who I am and what I want feels wispy and fragmented.

I need to be able to stop long enough to let her thin black legs land on my heart, her powdery wings flicking silently apart then together, waiting for me to open to her.  I need to let her speak to me until the idea has enough of it’s own weight that it won’t fly away with her when she takes off again, finding her way on a current of thought to another woman in need of her inspiration.

I need more dirt under my feet, more salt air in my lungs.  I need more stillness, more peace.  I know these things like I know my bones, but I just don’t quite know how to get them.

~~~

photo credit via photopin cc

Being Real

time

Nearly 10 years ago I started blogging.  It was another space in another time. I had things that needed saying and found a way to say them, to shout them into the vacuum of the internet where they had a life outside my head. Initially, I wanted validation, I wanted the community I saw blossoming on other blogs.  I felt so invisible in my own life and I wanted desperately to be seen.

It started out as a craft blog, but with no time or space to be creative, or to even be myself, I blogged about what was happening in my life.  Sometimes it was sunshine and roses, and sometimes swirling clouds rained darkness.  There was a lot of the latter.  I chronicled four years of failures and triumphs, break ups and new love, diagnoses and treatments – the makings of food, crafts and my early years as a mother.

I went back there tonight, to find a short story I’d once written, wondering if I might submit it for a women writers publication.  It was there, nestled between recipes, thoughts, and snippets of every day; moments of my life that I’d almost forgotten.  But what I discovered was far more than any short story.

On those forgotten pages of a lifetime ago, I found my voice. I found unencumbered authenticity. I found joy and sadness and 4 years of my journey in black and white, 4 years of my childrens’ lives, 4 years of my evolution as a human and a mother and writer.  I didn’t care who read it or didn’t.  I didn’t care about page views or hits or pictures in my posts.  I didn’t care about what days more people read blog posts.  I didn’t write for anyone else. I just wrote.  Some days I didn’t.  I was just there, in those posts, a million words or 10 words, there I was.

Those words wrapped around me like a perfectly tattered blanket.  It felt like coming home.

I felt a cognitive dissonance washing over me.  Where did I go?

I ended that blog because someone I knew was reading who, at that time, I didn’t want having a birds eye view into my life anymore.  When I started blogging here I felt free again, but then my goals shifted a little.  I thought about building my writing career; thought about this blog being something that editors would be able to reference when they wanted to know about my ‘work’.  Those familiar feelings of wanting to ‘fit in’, to be accepted, and to be validated crept in and took over. I started censoring myself again, my true voice but a small whisper.  And then, as it happens on the PUBLIC internet, that same person from my past found their way here and I just shut it all down until I could get my mental shit together enough to come back.

As I read those snippets of my life from ‘before’, I began to feel even more fully the impact of giving away my power to an ideal, to an unknown, to fear.  Yet as much as I feel sadness at the lost opportunity to have recorded the last 6 years, I realize that I still have now.  My voice never went anywhere, I just hushed it and made it sit quietly in a corner while I tried to fit who I was into a tidy pigeon hole. I have an opportunity, right now, to take this space and reclaim it one more time, in an even deeper and more fulfilling way.

I don’t have it all figured out and I never will.  But being real means not hushing myself, it means stepping into my life and living it, out loud, as real and authentically as I can.  And right now that means speaking my truth here, in my way, even if I’m the only one listening.

~~~

photo credit via photopin cc

The Privilege of Being Poor

mercedes

Most of us have heard about, or read, the article about the woman who went to pick up ‘food stamps’ with her Mercedes.  Though, from what I read it looks like she really went to get WIC benefits, which are a whole different thing, but let’s not get caught up in semantics.

The snapshot is this: an upper middle class white lady with kids has a blip on her economic radar and has to get benefits and has an awakening about what it means to be poor.

This is not poverty.  Not even close.

She’s not part of the population of women stigmatized and shamed for being poor.  She’s part of the pat on the head, look what they had to do to get by, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, better days are coming, poor for a few minutes poor.  When the conservative right talks about welfare reform, they’re not targeting her.  They’re targeting the millions of people in culturally propagated poverty.  People whose mothers and grandmothers were on welfare.  People who were raised in a multi-generational culture of poverty and lack and struggle and oppression, who often don’t know any different.  And if those folks raised in this ‘norm’ of poverty do know, if they want to escape the oppression, finding the way out can be harder than just staying in it.

I once had a teenager on my caseload when I was a Child Protective Worker.  One of her primary objectives as she approached her 18th birthday was not to graduate high school, get a job or go to college.  It was to have a baby so that she could get on benefits.  She grew up in a constellation of abuse, mental illness and addiction.  I don’t fault her at all – she knew no different.  For her it was a way to be independent, ironically, in the only culture of survival that she knew.

Welfare reformists might use this case to point out the need for reform, but that’s missing the mark as well.  Poverty for some is a jail they have lived in their whole lives where they have been, if they are lucky, provided food and shelter.  It becomes the only means of survival they know.  You cannot rip the roof from their heads and the food from their plates and expect they will ‘figure it out’.  Living in abject, multi-generational poverty is traumatic in and of itself.  And we can’t simply ignore the underlying contributors to poverty like mental illness, addiction, and racism – things that keep people in the cycle of poverty – and expect people to land on their feet when we pull the rug out from under them.

It’s not welfare that needs reform, it’s how we approach our humanity and the humanity of others that needs a complete overhaul. We need far better access to mental health services, to substance abuse treatment and services, and we could use a whole lot of compassion.  “Those people” aren’t the other, they are us.  They are us because we are all human.  We all deserve dignity, respect and love.

farmers market

Our warped sense of poverty and classicism was highlighted for me this week in an exchange that I’m still shaking my head at.  A fellow social worker was venting that she did not think it was “fair” that people on WIC and SNAP get a “50% discount” at our local Farmer’s Market.   Her rationale is that the Farmer’s Market is “so expensive, y’all” and she lamented that she can’t even afford it and she has a “job”.  She thinks everyone should get a discount, you know, to be “fair”.  Oh and, by the way, she’s not going to be giving the Farmer’s Market a cent of her money.  So there.  ::: insert stomping feet and hands on hips :::

The fact that SNAP and WIC recipients really don’t get 50% off the run of the Farmer’s Market is really moot.  What is also moot is the fact that many, if not a majority of, SNAP recipients work.

What this person does not seem to grasp is that she has the privilege of having choices that people who rely on SNAP and WIC do not.  Every day that she gets up in her 4 bedroom house where her children all have their own rooms, gets in her car that is not falling apart, drives herself to her job that allows her paid sick and vacation time, goes to Whole Foods for lunch or Starbucks for a coffee, leaves work early to go to her kids sports games, she has choices that those living in poverty simply do not have.

She gets to choose if she takes the day off with her sick child because she has a job with sick time.  For many working parents, taking the day off to be with your sick child means you do not get paid.  That means no money; at least 20% of your weekly paycheck gone.

She gets to choose if she spends $50 this week between Starbucks, Whole Foods hot bar and the local sushi place or spends that money at the Farmer’s Market.   Many parents on SNAP have a simple choice between eating and not eating; between cheap boxed chemical laden junk and healthy food full of nutrition (that they hope can help their children’s bodies combat the stress and trauma of living in poverty).

Please tell me what’s wrong with improving SNAP and WIC recipient access to fresh, local, often organic, produce.  I’ll wait.

The reality is, there are no privileges to being poor.  There is no red carpet of choices that opens up like the heavens when you finally are ‘lucky’ enough to have your head dip below the poverty line.  It’s not a privilege to have to justify your worthiness as a human in order to have access to healthy nourishment for your body.  It’s not a privilege to be trapped under the weight of shame, stigma, racism, sexism, mental illness, addiction, trauma and all the other things that keep people firmly planted in cyclical, generational poverty. It’s not a privilege to learn how to stuff and swallow that shame just so you can look at yourself in the mirror, get yourself on the bus, drop your kids off at daycare, go to your minimum wage shit job that no one else wants, go back and get your kids, throw some moderately healthy food at them, try to find enough love for yourself to give to them and pray for the strength to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

Privilege is knowing, like that woman in the Mercedes, that one day she’ll drive away from that church basement never to return again.  Or better yet, like my former co-worker, that she’ll never have the ‘privilege’ of needing to go in the first place.

photo credit via photopin cc

photo credit via photopin cc

My Postpartum Progress


warrior mom

I was about 5 months post-partum with my youngest, whom I affectionately call “Mack” here, when things slowly started to unravel.

It wasn’t depression.  I wasn’t depressed. I was frustrated.  I was angry.  I didn’t feel like myself.  But I wasn’t sad.

So what was this thing happening?  Why the floods of cortisol, the tight chest, the explosive outbursts over nothing?  Why the irrational fears about my family being harmed, the constant feelings of being unsafe, the terrible, intrusive thoughts?

~~~

Mack’s birth was a long time coming.  Ten years before, his brother had been born, via an ultimately unnecessary c-section.  Mack, however, was born into a tub of water in my dining room, surrounded by trusted caregivers, The Man, and my sister.  Emotionally, my pregnancy and birth were very healing.  I had a lot of unexpected physical hurdles during the immediate post-partum period – nerve and tissue damage, tongue tie, very low iron/blood volume, and three back to back colds. Yet even with all of that going on physically, I was still happy, light, and able to find grace in small things.  I thought I was in the clear from post-partum ‘depression’.  I was wrong.

~~~

Mack was 6 months old when The Man decided to follow a job lead that would land him 500 miles south and land me home, alone, with a 6 month old, 10yo and 5yo, and no reliable income.  I had started to struggle a bit prior to him leaving, yet when he first left I was very supportive.  As things started falling through and not panning out like he’d hoped, I wanted him to come home.  But he had hope beyond hope things would work out.  He was confident he would land a position with the campaign he was working on. He wanted me to trust him.  I tried.

But I wasn’t sleeping.  I was losing weight.  I was yelling at my older kids, a lot.  My capacity for handling new stressors was non-existent.  Every day was a miracle if I could keep everyone alive and fed.  I felt trapped and scared most of the time.  I couldn’t watch certain TV shows because they triggered panic.

Eventually he came home when it was clear things weren’t going in the direction he wanted.  But for me, things had headed in a direction that I wasn’t going to be able to come back from on my own.

While he was gone I started blogging again, I found Twitter, and I found an outlet for some of what was going on. I also found a community of women on Twitter who were struggling in some of the same ways I was.

Most importantly, I found Katherine Stone’s website Postpartum Progress.  Before Twitter and Katherine’s site, I thought the only post-partum mental illness to worry about was depression.  But I knew I wasn’t depressed.

So what exactly was happening?

Thanks to Postpartum Progress, I realized that I was facing a post-partum anxiety disorder.  And it wasn’t the first time.  I had been misdiagnosed after my oldest child’s birth; it wasn’t PPD, I had an anxiety disorder then, too.  I finally found a spot for that square peg I’d been trying to fit in a round hole!

It had a name.  What was happening to me was REAL. I wasn’t crazy.  I wasn’t losing my mind. I wasn’t a bad mother.  Armed with this knowledge I could get treatment that would work.  I was still resentful that I had to deal with this, again, but knowing what I was facing empowered me to advocate for myself and treatment that was right for me.

And I did just that.  I went to my PCP’s office and when she would not listen, I asked for a referral to a Nurse Practitioner who manages psychiatric medications.  My NP was amazing.  She took time with me, she took my lead, she looked into medications and supplements I wanted to explore.  She walked me through fire.  And earlier this year I weaned off my medication with my only regret being that I won’t see her anymore.

I survived a post-partum anxiety disorder for the second time.  Thank you Katherine for being brave enough to share your story and strong enough to grow your personal journey into an organization that is valuable beyond measure.

~~~

Yesterday I worked with Katherine to help find a mom resources in my state.  Katherine took hours of her time to talk with this mom, to reach out for resources, and to support this mother where she was at.  Katherine isn’t just the story behind Postpartum Progress, she’s in the trenches, working and advocating for women both directly and indirectly.  If you have time, please go to her site, look around, and make a donation.  Every single dollar goes towards helping women get the access services and support they need.

~~~

Happy Anniversary Katherine, you deserve every ounce of gratitude and grace pouring your way today, and every day.

Surviving Your Child’s First Day At Daycare

1. Attempt to coerce potty training child to poop in his diaper before leaving for daycare so his brand new teachers won’t hate you for the shitsplosion they’re going to have to deal with.

2. He refuses, obviously, so pack 3 changes of clothes and enough wipes, diapers and pull-ups to outfit a small village. Warn teacher. Know that she already hates you.

3. Linger while dropping him off even though he is totally fine. Give him kisses and hugs while his wide eyed peer looks on, expecting your kid to freak out, which he doesn’t, but part of you, just a teeny tiny part of you, wishes he did.

4. Go to Directors office. Give her all your money.

5. Go to car, stand by fence looking like a creepy stalker trying to see your child. Feel anxiety welling up when you can’t find him.

6. Find an excuse to go back inside – perhaps some paperwork the director gave you that doesn’t need to be filled out right away. Sit in air conditioned car, start crying when you can’t find a pen, find pen, stop crying, fill out paperwork.

7. Bring paperwork back inside, get visual on happily playing child (being sure not to let child see you).

8. Go back out to car, realize you have no further excuses for prolonging the inevitable. Force yourself to leave and actually drive away. Circle back around the daycare one more time, valiantly hoping to catch a flash of your kid on the playground as you drive by. Accept defeat and head for home.

9. Forget tissues and wipe streaming tears and boogers on your shirt (it’s okay, you can change and shower once you get home to an EMPTY HOUSE if you need to). Realize this, cry harder.

10. Remember you forgot to bring a towel. And that you forgot to label his afternoon snack. Send an e-mail to his teachers that they may or may not have time to read because, you know, they’re busy keeping your kid safe.

11. Get on Twitter. Pretend someone cares. Make tea (because, caffeine!).

12. Talk to your child’s other parent on the phone, but cut it short to avoid bawling.  Again.  Decide to stop answering the phone unless it’s the daycare because talking to real live people will just make you cry.

13. Get sucked into the vortex of the internet while simultaneously beating yourself up for not using this time “wisely”. Throat punch that voice in your head.

14. Realize your ass hurts from sitting down because you haven’t sat down for longer than 5 minutes in the last 5 months since your partner went away to military training.

15. Write a blog post because you can’t think of anything better to do with your time. (Wait, yes you can, you can think of a million things to do, but you don’t want to. You feel anxious and worried and sad and happy all at once and scrolling through that list nothing seems appealing other than nap and even that requires all sorts of effort like climbing stairs and such, so you sit and you write and you hope you can get it all out on paper so that tomorrow will be just a little easier and you can get out of your own way just a little bit better).

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Co-Parenting: What Not To Do

findinglove

Until a few years ago I didn’t know there was a name for the tactic my father employed in his campaign of hate towards my mother when they divorced.   When I was 9 he pulled me aside to ask if I knew what cocaine was and to inform me that – he believed – my mother was a coke head.  He also asked if I’d seen any cocaine at her/our house. Not only did he try to tell me my mother was a drug addict, but he hoped I would rat her out to prove his theory.

I was 9 years old.  Barely older than my daughter is now.  On what crazy-ass mental plane did he have to be to think this line of questioning, and information sharing, was appropriate?

The truth is, I don’t know if my mom used cocaine.  Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t.  It was the mid-eighties, wasn’t everyone and their grandmother using cocaine? Didn’t they dispense cocaine in those gumball machines at the grocery store?

I do know this: my mom was not an addict.  However, my father was.  He was addicted to his anger, to his righteous indignation and to hating my mother.  Being angry made him feel powerful, it kept him from having to be vulnerable and it kept him from having to look at his contributions to the dissolution of their marriage.

He was fully committed to being as angry and hateful towards my mother as he could be, for as long as he could be.  They’ve been apart for 30 years.  He still hates her.  Thirty years!

But that’s not quite my point, this is:

What my father was doing is something referred to as parental alienation, also known as Hostile Aggressive Parenting.  As we become more aware of what this is, we also see the negative impact it is having on the emotional and mental well being of children whose parents engage in these behaviors.

See, when you intentionally attempt to make your ex look bad by demeaning, criticizing and saying negative things about them to your children, you are engaging in parental alienation.  And when you talk smack about your ex-partner/husband/wife within ear shot of your kids, that is parental alienation as well.

When you do either of these things, you are emotionally alienating your child from their other parent.  In essence, you are taking a sledge hammer to your children’s relationship with their other parent. And by doing so, you are making your anger, and need to have that anger validated, far more important than the well being of your children.

You hate your ex.  I get it.  It’s probably justified.  There is, after all, a reason (or two or three) that you aren’t together anymore.

But your children do not.  They love their other parent the same as they love you.  And here’s the thing:

You don’t get to decide if your kids will love or hate their other parent.

You don’t get to try to make your children side with you over the other parent or fertilize their own frustrations with that parent.

It’s manipulative and self-serving.  And it is also incredibly damaging to your children.

When your kids hear you spout hatred about their other parent, they feel their loyalty to the other parent is being tested.  You are making them choose between loving you and loving their other parent.  By outwardly bad mouthing and hating on their other parent, you turn their love for that parent into a betrayal of you.  You are exploiting their vulnerability to push your own agenda of hate and that comes at the direct expense of their mental and emotional well being.  The effects of parental alienation on the children are anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, self-hatred and issues with addiction.  Is that what you want for your children?

And buyer beware, you may also find that you’re destroying YOUR relationship with them in the process.  At some point, the children that you’ve been actively trying to brainwash into hating their other parent may realize that it is unsafe to have a relationship with you.  They may realize that you are angry and hate filled and, while their other parent certainly is not perfect, the way you have chosen to handle your feelings has made a difficult and painful situation worse for them.

All those times when he called my mother a slut or demeaned her in some way did not make me hate her.  And didn’t make me love him more.  His pervasive hatred and anger showed me he was not a safe person. His actions and words confused me and made me feel protective of her.  He put me in the middle and that is not where I belonged. Children belong in the forefront with their emotional safety and stability as THE priority. Children belong in a place where they are allowed to love and be loved by both parents.

It’s been two years since I talked to my father.  And this isn’t the first time we’ve been estranged.  I’m in a place of trying to heal from the damage caused by his behavior, including his parental alienation attempts, and I simply can’t have his pervasive negativity in my life while I do that.  There wasn’t an argument, fight or defining moment; I’d just had enough.

And what about my mom? While my father never wasted a chance to chastise my mother, my mother never said anything bad about him.  Ever.  There was no loss of factual negative things she could have said, but she never did.  She even went so far as to make us stop if we were badmouthing him.  She didn’t do it because she loved him, or even cared about him.  She did it because it was the right thing to do.  She did it because she loved us more than she hated him.

Do you love your children more than you hate your ex?

~

photo credit via photopin cc

The Break Up

A few weeks ago I decided to end a relationship. It’s funny to call it a relationship when, for the most part, I’ve been held against my will.  To some degree I’ve even developed Stockholm syndrome. But this relationship isn’t with a person or a food or an inanimate object. It’s not with anything physically tangible at all.

I’m talking about my relationship with fear.

Fear and I have been on the outs for some time. For too many years I have clearly seen the ways it has been holding me back, keeping me from doing what I love, from being who I am.  When I notice it, when I am honest with myself and really look at how trapped I am, I don’t totally ignore it.  Sometimes I even think… hey, maybe I should do something about that.

Instead I’ve just sat back, expecting that awareness would be enough, that my pathway out of fear and into light and growth would just magically become clear one day. And I’ve waited. And I’ve stayed, a hostage to fear, in a familiar place of worry and anxiety that kept me from having to take risks, to open myself up, to be vulnerable.

Prickly Landing

Over the last few months I’ve been in a position where I have to show up. There are no distractions.  I have to be present in my life and doing so has forced me to really look at what that life is. The tugs and pulls to do more, to unfold, to be authentic to myself have become strong tides. But, I’ve become so used to dragging around this ball and chain of fear.  I’ve become so complacent to it’s limitations that I usually don’t even let myself dream about what it would be like to run into the arms of the sea and swim untethered into the great ocean of opportunity.

Until now.

I had been thinking a lot about writing, which is one of the most important things in my life yet faces the most chronic neglect. In the past, blogging gave me the push to write, to create and to share. I’d been feeling the siren song to blog again. But I’d left this space and wasn’t sure coming back was the right thing.  I had to look at what I wanted to say, where I wanted to say it, and why I was afraid to use my voice.

I wanted to be here. This little corner of the internet meant so much to me in those early months of Rex’s life, when I was processing my post-partum anxiety disorder and what it meant to have a newborn and to change the constellation of my family and my partnership with the Man. The act of writing and sharing and connecting with other mothers was very healing.

Yet when someone who is no longer a part of my life, whose exodus was full of deep pain and remorse, found this space 18 months ago, I went into lock down. This was a space where I’d opened myself up wide, where I let myself be vulnerable, where I felt safe doing so out of perceived anonymity, and I barely looked back at first. But I’ve been looking back a lot lately, wondering what to do, whether or not to start over.

About a month ago, on a weekend, I was standing in my kitchen mulling my dilemma over the meditative act of making lunch for my children. Suddenly, the last tile of awareness shifted into place with an audible click and I stood there looking at a crisp, clear picture of all the ways I was not living my life because of fear.

The answers to all my questions became so obvious when I looked at them through this new lens. When I asked myself “what exactly are you afraid of?” the answers seemed so trivial.  What was I afraid of? That someone who hates me will read my words and… what?  Hate me, more? Judge me, more?  Exactly who cares?

By sitting in fear I had handed over gobs of power to someone who I wanted having no power over my life. The irony was a much needed slap in the face.

So I said “fuck it” and that sentiment cracked through my life like a bolt of lightening.  In a flash, it illuminated who I was and all of the parts of myself walled off by fear. Now that I could see, I looked at those parts of my life with reverence.  Instead of grieving lost opportunities or berating myself, I just sat with them, becoming so acutely aware of how fear permeated nearly every decision I made.

I can no longer accept a life lived through fear. I am done stifling the Realness of me because of the unknown. I’m done making choices based on how someone else might see me or how they might feel.

If I keep living with fear driving this ship: the parts of my life that make me who I am, that should be rejoiced and celebrated, will whiter up and die. And that’s just not what I want to do with this one life I’ve been given. I want to live it. I want to love with my arms outstretched. I want to love myself boldly, without a single care for what other people see because what they see doesn’t matter.

Does. Not. Matter.

For far too long I have kept myself small, quiet, and easily digestible. Who does that serve? Not me. And not my partner or my children, either. They deserve to know a partner and a mother who loves herself, who can teach by example that they are whole and perfect and worth loving just the way they are. I never want them to bear the legacy of that uncertainty I’ve felt my whole life. I never want them to be where I am today, having to re-learn the purity of love I was born with.

freedom

I am here. I am whole. I choose love, for myself, for my family, for those who love me and for those who hate me or don’t understand me.

I choose a life lived with love and not dictated by fear.

Finally, for the first time, I choose me.

photo credit via photopin cc

photo credit via photopin cc