When I Think I Can’t…Yoga

I know that I’ve talked about it here a million times and I’m sure that people in my life are sick of hearing it, but yoga has changed my life in so many ways that it’s hard not to talk about it. Where once anxiety waited around every turn, preying on my weaknesses, telling me that I would never amount to anything and that each little task was a mountain to climb, I now have tools to keep it away and keep myself strong. Where I once saw the words “no,” “I can’t,” “never,” I now start to see “I can” and “I will.” Anxiety still lives down inside of me, sometimes bubbling up to take over, but now it is easier to push it back down and make it behave. Anxiety now lives largely in the background, leaving the rest to be filled with living life. Some of this is because I found a great psychiatrist. Some of it is because I’ve gotten older and more comfortable with myself. But a large part of the credit goes to yoga.

Because so much of my anxiety is centered around my body and health, yoga is an excellent counter to it. If I can control what my body does in so many ways, there is less room to find fault with it. Add a little meditation and breathing to interrupt those ruminations and yoga is the perfect recipe for my particular brand of anxiety.

I still find myself daunted by certain tasks, especially those that might interrupt the calm(ish) little life I’ve got going here. But it has come to a point where my life needs a shake-up. I need to push past the “I can’t” and into the “I will.” So again, I’m turning to yoga

7 years ago I couldn’t do this.

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5 years ago I couldn’t do this.

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1 year ago I couldn’t do this.

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If I can hold warrior II, balance on my arms, and freakin STAND on my HEAD, I can do anything right? At least, that’s what I tell myself when my mind is full of doubts. Yoga reminds me that I am strong, that I can overcome fear, and that I have control. With that on my side, the only thing left to do is to move forward.

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What Am I Giving Today?

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Not…one…fuck! Oh wait, did I just say “fuck” in a blog post without using an asterisk? Damn straight I did. Why? Well, obviously because I don’t give a fuck.

Last night Declan woke with a fever around 3:30. I was in and out of his room laying with him, taking his temp, and doling out tiny cups of children’s Tylenol. When I finally got him to sleep it was after 5 and I lay in bed worrying. What will I do with him all day at home? What if he’s still sick Saturday and he can’t go to the in-laws so the husband and I can actually talk to each other for once? What if we never get a time to go out? What if we get divorced? What if that pain near my bellybutton is appendicitis? What if I don’t realize it and it bursts and I die of sepsis?

So when we got up this morning and the husband took Brady to school so that Declan could sleep in and feel better, I made a decision. Today would be “don’t give a fuck” day. We would watch TV and use the iPad and do whatever makes D happy and lets me relax for a God damned minute. See, I’m always feeling as if I need to care more, and not just more, but ohsomuchmore. In reality I think it is imperative that I care less. Not ohsomuchless, but certainly less.

I often feel as if every problem I encounter is MY problem. I worry about things from the dump being built in our neighborhood to the overwhelming issue of climate change. I ponder how the class and race issues in this country can ever be solved. I worry about my mom and my sister and my nieces. I worry about my kids. I worry what the other moms at school think of my newly purple hair. While much of this is good and I know that it is good, I also cannot let these things consume me. I cannot solve all the problems of the world. Sometimes I cannot even solve the problems of my apartment. My worry is like an armor that I build around me to keep the bad things from happening. This does not work, but my brain tells me it will. It tells me that if I just know all the problems and worry about all the problems, things will be ok. This is a lie. Feeling these problems around me constantly helps no one and leaves me feeling crushed, drained, and useless.

So today, I am letting myself (and Declan, I guess) off the hook. I don’t have to stop the dump or save the preschool or make sure that the kids are being stimulated in a developmentally appropriate manner while eating organic vegetables from BPA-free, recyclable plates. I just need to keep us all alive and in decent order. We can eat pizza and watch a movie and (gasp!) not clean up immediately.

Today I am not giving a fuck and it feels FAN-TAB-ULOUS! That pain near my belly button has melted away and somehow I actually got a bunch of freelance work done. Many people, perhaps too many people, live this way day-to-day. I think the evidence of that is all around us. But I can’t make up for their lack of caring by caring extra. What I can do is give myself a little break. I can go back to my worries with a renewed spirit and a fresh perspective. Maybe I can manage to cut some of my concerns from the list and leave them to someone else. I can definitely give my kids, or my husband, or even (maybe) myself that extra minute, without feeling like I should be somewhere else, trying to do some other thing, at the exact same moment. And I can enjoy it. At least for today…

Walking the Walk

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Both literally and figuratively. I have written several times here about suicide. Both about how it has affected me personally through the death of my father and how it affects our society as a whole. I have written about the need to end the stigma attached, not just to suicide, but also to mental illness and its treatment. But now I will be not just be talking the talk, I am walking the walk–with the support of some wonderful women who I’m lucky to have in my life. On October 26th we will be participating in the Out of the Darkness Walk sponsored by The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

AFSP does some difficult and important work and I have long wanted to be a part of it. But shame or fear have held me back. Please check out their website for information about the programs they run, the research they support, and some sobering statistics about suicide.

Now comes the part where I ask for your donation. While the money goes to fund some things that I think are extremely important–like valuable research into suicide prevention and prevention programs for colleges and high schools and support groups for survivors of suicide–more than money, what I’d like is awareness. Click on the links I’ve included here. Read about suicide and what we can do to prevent the suicide rate from rising. And know that so many people are touched when just one person takes their own life. While it may seem like a personal decision, it is anything but. That one death affects so many and the effects last long after they are gone.

This is a cause that is obviously close to my heart. If I can do a little thing, like walking in Battery Park with 600 other people like me, to stop another family from feeling that pain, how can I do anything else? Please look at our team page and think about a small donation. This has been a long time coming for me, and it is still difficult for me to do, knowing I am being supported would mean so much. And if you live in New York and would like to come join us, just let me know and I can register you with our team.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Out of the Darkness Walks

Our Team Page

My Donation Page

Playing on Fear

After the kids were in bed tonight, I hopped in the shower. As I was shaving my legs I heard the door open.

“Hey Mommy, it’s me, I needa pee,” Brady said as he lifted the toilet seat.

“Hey Baby,” I replied.

“Hey Mommy?” he asked, “Why is there nothing to worry about, but I’m worried?”

My breath caught in my throat and I hesitated, “Oh honey,” I said. “It’s just the end of school and the beginning of summer.”

It’s probably the truth. Most likely, he’s just recognizing in himself that ambient nervousness and excitement that comes with the end of day after day in the classroom and the beginning of beach trips and pool swims and days at the park. But, to me, those words were a blade of ice to the heart. Something that I wish my children could be free from. Anxiety.

I’ve been worried for about as long as I can remember. When I was little I worried about–school, friends, getting sick, hangnails, growing up, my cat running away, the sun going supernova–basically everything. When I went to college my worrying morphed into an obsession about what the future would hold and a major depressive episode which led, thankfully, to treatment. These days, after years of medication and therapy, it’s the level of worry that I care about. It’s always there, it’s just whether or not it’s disrupting my life. Those life-disrupting episodes have gotten fewer and fewer, though their intensity can still be devastating.

I desperately don’t want my children to go through that. Brady is, in many ways, like me as a child. He is focused on his school work and has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He has a hot temper. He gets obsessive about the things he likes. And he worries. Lately, he has been worried about natural disasters and often comes out of bed to ask us if an earthquake/volcano/tornado can come to New York City. I recognized signs of anxiety in him when he was very young and I’ve taught him relaxation techniques to cope when he can’t sleep or gets worked up.

But I have to wonder if I am projecting my fears onto him. Maybe I see the anxious behaviors because I am primed to see them. I try to remind myself of the ways in which he is different from me as a child. He is rarely shy and is amazingly friendly. He doesn’t have a need to please everyone around him. His interests change quickly and his attention span can be short.

So when he told me that he felt worried when there is nothing to worry about, it was a hard thing to hear. While I know it could be nothing, I have been fighting a battle against that very feeling for most of my life. It defines me in a way I would love to undo. All that I can do is offer him my experience to lean on. I can give him the coping techniques it took me years to learn to use. I can honestly tell him that I understand when he tells me that he’s worried about the sun going supernova. I can love him and not let my anxiety define our relationship.

We all have fears about what our children will face in life. Often, they are the very things that we have fought ourselves, the things in us that we wish we could change. It’s difficult to know that, with all of the good things we pass on, we can also bring along the things we wish we could rid ourselves of. But everyone has demons to face in life. We cannot change our DNA and we can’t always change the world around us either. All we can do is help our children to highlight the wonderful and cope with the less-than wonderful. And never underestimate the power of love.

Keeping It With You

The holidays are over. The weather is cold. The days are still too short and the sky too gray. The long stretch from January 2nd to the first nice day in March is often a dreary one. Living in the city I often feel trapped in the winter. I used to think it should be the other way around since there is so much within walking distance, but somehow it hasn’t worked out that way for me. The sidewalk and buildings and sky seem to blend together into a bleary smudge and I can’t help but become a part of it. 

I’ve been struggling with anxiety and feeling a bit lost. I’ve sat down to write so many times and been unable to form a thought to put into words. Yesterday, Brady had pinkeye (yuck) and his first sick day of the school year (not bad). Having both boys at home all day was fun for the first few hours, then it started to wear thin. Since Brady wasn’t really feeling sick, he was bored. Since Brady was home, Declan wouldn’t nap and wanted him to play. But Brady didn’t want to play with Declan, he wanted to play with me, but only if I played the games he wanted to play. And so it goes. By the time the husband arrived home from work I was “mommy, mommy, mommy-ed out” and bolted out the door to the yoga studio.

A nice class focusing on the basics with candles burning, culminating in a long, guided meditation and a savasana where somehow, someway my mind actually got quiet had me ready to face bedtime. I walked home in the cold feeling refreshed, renewed, and stronger. But I stepped through that door and the calm blew right off me. The kids were being wild, their room was a mess, they were begging for snacks when their teeth should have been brushed and all of my meditation and quiet mind were forgotten. Anxiety rushed in and I felt a mess all over again.

So how do I keep it with me? I try to get back to the breath. I sometimes do left-nostril breathing and it does have a calming effect. I tell myself to remember the quiet moments that I’ve had and to put myself back into that mindset. This is nothing new. In the years I have been practicing yoga I have found that it has an amazing ability to calm my anxiety and to hold the depression that follows it at bay. Clearly, I am keeping something of my time on the mat with me as I go through my day-to-day. But I want a way to preserve the wonderful feelings I leave class with, even if life outside of the studio is chaotic. I don’t want that falling apart feeling that I get when it all hits me again.

I remind myself of my intentions from my practice: calm, acceptance, love, understanding. I breathe deep and recite mantras in my head. I remind myself to be present and to look around and find the thing that can make me happy. It isn’t easy. It’s a process. 

How do you get back to the calm when life is anything but? Do you find it more difficult to cope in this long stretch of winter?

Legacy

When the soft falling of snowflakes lit by multicolored lights causes tears to prick the corners of my eyes and the smell of a pine tree filling a warm room opens up an ache in my heart, I get so angry with you. Because, somehow, after ten years, though I have learned to enjoy Christmas again, though the happiness of my own children allows me to smile, something still rings hollow. The center has been scooped out and all of my attempts to refill it still leave a hole.

I try each year to remember the joy that this season brought to you and the happiness you gave us in turn. I decorate, though I can never match the transformation you performed in our house. I tell myself to think of the layers of cotton snow that you so carefully placed around our manger on the mantel and the way you searched each year for the perfect new ornament for our tree. I call up the sounds and smells of our Christmas house: each card we received hung around the doorway, garlard wrapped around the bannister on the stairs, the ceramic village taking up the buffet in the dining room–each house and store lit, tiny people skating on the glass pond. Christmas at our house was by far the happiest season of all.

But, although I fill my mind with these joyous memories and feel the love they project even today, it is the other legacy that still invades this happy time each year. The legacy you left of sadness and loss, of shock and pain and anger. When you lose a person you love, you want to spend times like this remembering the good things. In a way, I think I will always feel like you robbed us of that. There are too many what-ifs. Christmas is forever linked now to that awful raw feeling of knowing that you are gone, that you will never show my children the joy you showed me, you will never choose another gift, never give another hug. Every year I think, “if he had just waited for Christmas everything would have been fine.” But of course, now we’ll never know and isn’t that the worst part?

Death is permanent and while I know that a mind sick with depression and anxiety doesn’t see that things can better, they always can. So that, that, is the legacy I try so very hard to hold onto–nothing lasts forever, every bad thing ends even when it seems as if it won’t. Hope is the legacy I hold in my heart and I give to the people around me. While Christmas will never be the same and each year I will feel that numbing sadness, will deal with that memory of what happened, I use it to remind me of the importance of hope, the thing that you lost.

Ten years ago today I lost my father to suicide. It’s something I have shared with some and not with others for various reasons. Today, after ten years, I finally decided that I needed to share. So many people suffer at this time of year and that suffering is sometimes compounded by the joy of others. If you, or someone you know, is one of them please get help. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but it is by far the best. Here are some places to find it. 

Crisis Text Line

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Balance

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This morning at the start of my yoga class I bowed my head to my prayer hands and set an intention of balance. I wasn’t thinking of poses, although I’ve got a mean repertoire of arm balances in my practice these days. I was actually thinking in particular of jealousy. I was feeling very envious of someone yesterday and it was weighing on my mind this morning. When I set balance as my intention I was thinking specifically of balancing the jealousy I sometimes feel toward others with gratitude for the wonderful things I have. I realize that I cannot completely eliminate the green-eyed monster from my life. I will always look at what others have and sometimes I will think “I want that too.” Sometimes I will think “why do they have that when I don’t?” What I can do is temper these thoughts and feelings with thoughts and feelings of graciousness and contentment in my own life. When these thoughts pop up I can push back by reminding myself of what I do have and why it makes me happy.

After class I went to mass with Brady. The Gospel was one that is often used as proof that the end times are coming, Luke 21:5-19. You know, “nation will rise against nation…there will be great earthquakes…etc”. It is certainly not one of my favorite passages, so I was curious to see what the priest would say in his homily. He told a story of a man who went into his wife’s drawer after her passing and pulled out an unworn, expensive item of clothing. She had never worn it in all the years she owned it because she was waiting for a special occasion, one that never came. He chose to concentrate on the message that we should always be prepared, that we should live each day as a special occasion because each day is a gift from God and we never know how many more there will be.

It is a wonderful and true lesson and I tried to relate it to Brady in terms he could understand. I told him that the priest was saying that we shouldn’t worry about the end of the world, we should live today. But as we walked home I began to think. Of course we should take each day as a gift and we should try to remember to live in the moment. Yoga teaches us this same thing, be present. As a person living with anxiety, this is something I constantly struggle with. I live too much in the what-ifs and far too little in the right now. It’s one of the reasons I do yoga in the first place. But again, we must find balance. Nothing would be gained by actually living each day as if it were our last. While we need to be present and to remember that right now is the only thing that is guaranteed to us, we still have to live as if there is a tomorrow or we will be seriously out of luck when we wake up with the gift of another day.

Balance is something I find much easier to master in the form of standing split or tree or even firefly pose than I do in my everyday life. Yes, there is that constant in the life of a mother, balancing your family and yourself, your children and your husband, work and play. But in truth, it is everywhere we look. The instructor in my class today talked about knowing when to take the most basic form a pose and when to take the advanced option. It is often difficult to know if you are pushing yourself to a place you can go or torturing yourself needlessly – to know if you are taking the easy way out or resting when you really need to. And isn’t that the way of so many things in life? Balancing the guilt of letting the kids watch TV with the ability to cook dinner without herding them out of the kitchen 18 times in a row. Balancing the desire for one more glass of wine with the contentment of enjoying what you’ve already had. Balancing what is good for yourself with what is good for others. For most of us, it will always be a struggle, and maybe that’s a little piece of the meaning of life – the work of finding balance.

Clearly, I was in a contemplative place today and I thought I’d share. I don’t think this line of thought is something unique to me or my life. How do you work for balance? Do you find value in the work you have to do to find it?

I found the image after I had written this post. Anubis weighing someone’s heart to determine their fate in the afterlife certainly adds a whole new layer to the discussion, but I think I’ll leave that one alone. By the way, this particular image is from the Met Museum’s collectioAmun Nany’s Funerary Papyrus.

Beat Down and Burnt Out

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Image from burnoutmama.com by Taika Joensuu

So I haven’t been writing much lately. This is partly due to the fact that I have zero time in which to write and partly because I hate whining on the the internet, especially on my blog, and lately all I want to do is whine. But a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile told me recently that she likes reading my blog because I tell the truth and that she always knows where I’m coming from. I KNOW other people have shitty weeks and that being a mom sometimes sucks and so I’m whining here for all to see. (Better to get it out now and move on to optimism tomorrow,right?)

The last two weeks have beaten me down. I’m not broken yet, but I feel like I’m getting there. The slightest wind might bend me that extra inch. I took a freelance project awhile ago and it has a deadline (like most work, correct?). I have been behind. I have been behind because of sick children and sick mommies and doctor appointments and school performances and auction preparation and a myriad of other things. The week before last my mil could only come one day to help with the kids. Normally she comes 9-5 two days a week so I can concentrate on paid work. Then, last week, she got sick and couldn’t come at all. (Don’t worry, she’s fine. I’m glad she’s feeling better and felt awful that she was sick. But here I am focusing on me. K?)

So now, in addition to already having been behind, I am really, really, REALLY behind. I am cramming work into every crevice of my life. I am parking my children in front of the tv, handing them iPads and Xbox controllers and saying, “Mommy is WORKING!” I hate doing this. It stresses me out.

On top of that, Declan has had some sort of tummy issue so I’ve been changing millions of diapers, applying tubs of butt cream, running to pediatricians, and worrying about my poor little Smoosh. (He is also fine, just having trouble throwing it off. Ped assures me I should not worry.) Somehow, I also managed to get flowers to all the kids in Brady’s class to hand to his teacher for her birthday AND got Brady swimming on his own in the pool. I am a Goddamned super woman! 

Super woman though I am, I am also in anxiety central. I can’t sleep, my stomach hurts, I’m clenching my jaw at night, and I’ve got tension headaches. I’m not enjoying things because I’m worrying about other things. I do NOT like this. Yoga this morning did NOT help and yoga always helps. I need to just ride through and keep breathing and get to the other side. I’ve caught up a bit on work this weekend and gotten a little extension on deadline which should help. 

Unfortunately, there is no end in sight. (Huge sigh.) This week I don’t have any full working days either. Tuesday I’ve got to get Declan to the allergist on the West Side and figure out why he’s still allergic to dairy. Thursday is Brady’s dance performance at school, right smack dab in the middle of the day. It will be ok. It will be ok. 

Is that enough whining for you? I try not to complain on my blog because I’ve read enough of that there internets to know that people LOVE to pick apart the complaints of others. Commenters will cut down anything and say, “you don’t have it bad, shut up, quit bitching.” But you know what? Eff it! I’m tired and anxious and overwhelmed. I know there are much worse things to endure in this world and I remind myself of that all the time. But, sometimes, everyone needs to acknowledge their own problems and let them be problems. Everyone needs to complain or vent or let it out. So if you’ve been having a shitty time and you need to get it out, feel free to do it here. I will read what you have to say and I will attempt to make you feel better or I will sympathize or I will tell you that it’s ok to be pissed about it. Go on, do it.

Daily Prompt: Landscape

I’ve never done any Daily Prompt posts before, but I’ve been having trouble with writing motivation and this one seemed to call to me so here it goes.

When you gaze out your window — real or figurative — do you see the forest first, or the trees?

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 This is anxiety…

I look out the window and see the forest before me; lush, green, leaves upon leaves as far as I can see. It’s beautiful, peaceful, inviting. But there are an awful lot of trees. Everywhere I look, trees. What kind of trees are they anyway? How far do they go? What could be on the other side? If I went out into the forest, what would happen to me? Would I get lost? I’m sure I’d get lost. Would I be able to survive? I can’t make a fire! How would I survive without fire? I would definitely NOT survive. I would be eaten by a rabid bear before nightfall.

Inhale.

Exhale.

The forest is beautiful, peaceful, inviting. I CAN think of the forest without seeing all those damn trees. I can imagine walking the paths and hearing the birds. I can smell the flowers and the earth and the rain from the night before. Could it be muddy? It’s probably muddy. Should I wear boots? I might get too hot if I wear boots. I could wear shorts and boots. But if I wear shorts will my legs get scratched up, will I get poison ivy? The scratches and the poison ivy could get infected and then I’ll need to call the doctor. I HATE calling the doctor! What if they find something else wrong with me? What if I have cancer? What if I’m dying?

Inhale.

Exhale.

The forest is beautiful, peaceful, inviting. The other things do not matter. I can go for a walk and not get lost and wear boots or not wear boots and wear shorts or not wear shorts and the end result will NOT be my death. My death by walk in the forest is highly unlikely. I just need to breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Look at the trees. Why are there so many damn trees?

I am WAY Too Afraid of the Flu

A lovely norovirus depiction from planetscience.com

Well, not just the flu, I’m also terrified of norovirus. Actually, norovirus more so than the flu. I dream at night that my children wake with fevers or throwing up in their beds and then wake to find that everything is fine. There were five kids out in Brady’s class yesterday and I mentally tracked his contact with each of them over the past week. Brady told me that the “throw up virus” was going around the second grade and I started to feel nauseous myself.

Why am I so scared of sickness visiting my house? It’s not as if it hasn’t happened before. We’ve all been sick and we’ve all gotten through it and life went on. But each winter since Brady was born, my anxiety heightens. The winter of H1N1 was especially difficult and only the husband ended up with it. I am absolutely petrified of sickness because I am convinced that I will end up in the hospital or worse.

Now, I know that at least part of this fear is born out of my anxiety problems. I have problems with anxiety in general and it tends to center around health, so cold and flu season is my nemesis. I do worry about the kids and how it will affect them, of course. I especially worry about Declan this year because he is still under 2. But mostly, I worry that no one will take care of me. That I will make sure that the kids get fluids and that if their fevers go up or they seem dehydrated or they aren’t recovering that the doctor is called and the proper measures are taken. However, there would be no one to do the same for me. While I know in my head that the husband would look out for me, I still fear that I would fall by the wayside and be forgotten to succumb to my illness.

Now, a better question is why do I keep reading about viruses? Really, why? It is probably one of the stupider things I’ve done and yet I cannot stop myself. Last night I read an msnbc article telling me that, basically, I cannot possibly take enough measures to prevent my family from getting stomach flu. And just now, as I was eating my prepared salad, I read about how salads are the most common culprits of food-bourne norovirus. Somebody, please stop me!

So with each Facebook status and blog entry about fevers and vomiting and chills, my stress levels go up. I’m sure it’s right around the corner and that the worst fate awaits me. So I’m sticking to my relaxation techniques, trying to get enough sleep, and upping my vitamin C intake. Let’s hope we get through this flu season with no major incidents and my sanity in tact. 

Do you fear the flu like I do? How do you deal?