the power of positive messaging

I’ve been so overwhelmed lately and school and all of our fall activities don’t even start for another week. I’m already anxious about the anxiety of my day starting at 6 am and not ending until 8 pm between work, my side gigs, school drop-offs and pick-ups, soccer, dance and baseball. I’ve put over 12,000 miles on my car in the 7 months I’ve had it, and anticipate with all that activity, I will hit close to 20,000 miles by the end of the year. I’m tapped out. My therapist talks to me about “filling my tank” – what does that even mean??

I’ve been staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning listening to inspirational talks on YouTube. I’ve read motivational speeches set against background images of people working out, climbing mountains, going to the ocean, running marathons and reels of Matthew McConaughey and Denzel Washington movies. Then I wake up in the morning and turn on YouTube again to listen to more while I throw back some coffee. I’m trying to pump my brain full of motivational quips – don’t give up, keep going, cut the negative self-talk, life is hard and get over it, nothing good comes without hard work. I’ve generated dozens of post-it notes which I stick up all over the house. I’m sure the kids are wondering why they’re staring at a pink post-it note that reads “You have a say-so in how your life goes” while they brush their teeth. Funny story – there was a response post-it on that particular message that said “Sometimes, but mostly you don’t…” Ahh…so sad, the life of a 10-year-old.

At this very moment, I’m daydreaming about turning to the guy next to me at Starbucks and shouting like they do in the YouTube videos: “Life is 10% about what happens to you, and 90% about what you do about it!” before grabbing my stuff and marching out the door with Baba O’Riley by the Who playing in the background. I imagine throwing in a bunch of cuss words, because somehow that makes it feel even more motivating.

One speech I listened to recently really struck me. It was the idea of facing adversity when going after your dreams, and that the average person “turns back” – therefore guaranteeing that they never achieve their dream. The speaker tells people they need to close themselves in a room, once a day, and host a dream party. Focus on your dream, visualize it, celebrate it, then go out and live it.

Think about that for a minute. The “turn back” moment. How many times have I started something I had dreamed about or loved, and then when people criticized me, I got bored, or felt I’d never get anywhere with my dream or didn’t get enough kudos or recognition, I turned back. I gave it up. Dozens of times. I’ve turned back dozens of times. There are very few things I didn’t turn back on and trudged through – going to graduate school, pursuing and fulfilling the donor/baby process, buying and maintaining my own home (and the damn yard – “maintain” is on a spectrum, there is no shame in that. After all, the two “roommates” I support and chauffeur all over town love the yard but have no interest in maintaining it). Those big ones are things that are not very easy to turn back on. But there are dozens of smaller things that I’ve let go for the wrong reasons – mostly due to the opinions of others or the failure to prioritize my own growth and “tank filling.”

When I inundate myself with positive messages, it doesn’t allow my brain to spend time with negative thoughts late at night or first thing in the morning. It encourages me to think about the things I love to do, where I’ve turned back for the wrong reasons, and what dreams are worth revisiting. My day job is rough and I feel like I don’t have a skill in the world. Sometimes, you just need to hunt the positive messages down and immerse yourself in them, because you’re not always going to find them in the world around you. Note to you and me: there is good in you, you do have a purpose, you just need to find your thing and your people. Now, go out and yell something motivational at that guy sitting next to you at the coffee shop. He will appreciate you for it.

giving away your power

Everyone does this at one time or another. I’ve done it through some of the most difficult periods of my life and I watch people around me do it all the time. How does this phrase resonate for me? Giving away my power happens when I’ve been hurt in some way so much that I obsess or fixate on the event or the person who I perceived to have caused harm and I give away the good within myself in order to devote it to negativity and darkness that ultimately overtakes me. When you give away your power, you are at risk of losing precious moments of your existence that you will never get back.

This has been on my mind so much lately and how much it really gets in the way of living. I originally approached this from the angle of what happens when I do give away my power, then I flipped the script. When I DON’T give away my power, I:

  1. Avoid the pain of assumptions. It’s ridiculous how many stories I can make up about a person or a situation. Every which way I look at it, somehow I’ve lost the most, when in reality, I am usually better off. When I make assumptions, I have no idea about the facts of a situation and I’ve closed off any opportunity to learn them. I create unchecked fairy tales and lose moments of my life to pain, sadness, and a false sense of control. I don’t want to lose another moment to assumptions.
  2. Stay connected to the people and things that make me happy and fill me up. When I give away my power and fixate on something or someone that hurts me, all the things I love to do and people I enjoy spending time with fall to the wayside and I spiral. It’s counterproductive to a full and positive life. The one I would rather have – where I am present with my kids, friends, and family, rather than giving away that precious time to a demon in my head.
  3. Bring joy rather than misery to my relationships. When I am out of control with my own pain and feelings, I try to control everyone and everything around me and in the process, I drive people away. I can wish all the evil in the world on someone and even lash out at them (reference the famous saying: hurt people hurt people) but when all is said and done, I am hurting myself the most. I don’t want to spread that poison to the people around me.
  4. Make sound decisions. When I fixate on something so much it overtakes good judgement, I can end up doing things that are out of character or have long-term implications for myself or others. Not giving away my power increases my ability to make good decisions and stay grounded in what’s important.

Although it is much easier said than done, it only makes sense for future happiness and peace of mind to heal and move quickly through these events and away from the people who conjure up these negative feelings and exert this power over you. Life reflects back to what you are giving to it. Don’t make the mistake of giving away your power to others.

road trippin’ = peace

We love to travel. When COVID hit, our visas were canceled 6 days before we were scheduled to leave for India. I have to admit, the kids were not jazzed for this one – the prospect of spending 15 hours in the air on one leg was a bit terrifying for them. I’ve spent months in India throughout my adulthood, my son is half Indian, and it is probably the single most place in the world where I feel total peace. Even landing at the airport in the middle of the night in Mumbai, which has historically been total chaos. The shock of that experience alone was probably going to send my kids into a panic. It might be best that our trip has been delayed until a future date, when they are older.

After COVID, we took to the streets and have taken a few road trips over the past couple of years. We even lived out of state for a couple of months. It was heaven – a decision that took less than 6 days to execute between the spark of the idea and driving out of town with a rental booked near the ocean across the country. The kids and I just completed a short road trip (20 hours + 3 additional hours when I made a wrong turn – the backroads of Kansas are especially beautiful, for real). Good times with great friends, legal fireworks, and lots of swimming to counter hot temperatures, high gas prices, and too much McDonalds.

Traveling is fun and exciting but it is also a coping mechanism for me when hard times hit. It’s a way to simplify, to let go, and to be distracted from pain, sadness, loss and grief. It’s a way to free myself from harboring resentment and hanging on to self pity and it gives me space to process and time to be present with the people who are most important to me. It’s healing. Prior to having the kids I spent days and weeks and even months in various countries, traveling by train and bus, staying in out of the way places on a budget, making lifelong friendships, and learning new languages, food, and cultures. I lived an entire lifetime before I decided to have my children and while most people my age are seeing their kids graduate from high school and college right now and mine are not even wearing deodorant yet (one should be), I’m thankful. Life is disrupted by so many things at the moment and I’m glad I’ve never waited or thought “I can do it another time when it makes more sense.”

Do the thing that makes the least sense. Now. Get on the road, book the trip, make the move, quit the job, start the new career, say goodbye, say hello, say I love you, put whatever it is behind you. Do it. Traveling is my best way to heal. What’s yours?

get your s#*t organized, and don’t forget to enjoy the present

I hired a personal organizer a couple of months ago. I had always been led to believe that this was a luxury for the rich and famous and I needed to figure out how to clean up for myself. It’s not. Organizers are pretty reasonable. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart though.

The woman I ended up hiring was the only one who actually came and looked at my space, and then followed up with an estimate I couldn’t refuse. I was ecstatic. I was going to pay an organizer to recreate my space in lieu of a spring break vacation and my kids were happy because they don’t like to leave the house. I could not have anticipated the trauma that would ensue.

She brought two other people with her. I came to know them as the “New Girl” (mine was her first house) and the “Empathetic One” because every time I tried to remember their real names, I got them mixed up and they would correct me. Over and over. Until I started to feel really stupid. They each took a room in my house, minus the kids’ rooms and my living room. My job was really just to stay out of their way. Until I came across the lead organizer dragging a huge black hefty bag behind her and basically swiping things off my window sills into the bag. My anxiety forming quickly, I stopped to ask her what she was doing. She said she was throwing away what she thought was trash. Meanwhile, the Empathetic One was pulling down every picture and kid drawing on my refrigerator just behind her.

Here’s the deal. The organizer and her crew were not bad. They did a good job. Their work helped me start to think through how to organize things and since they came, I’ve been good about putting things away from the spaces they organized and keeping window sills and counters clean. I just didn’t realize the impact seeing my kids’ goofy, half-finished art projects being tossed or packed away would have on me. After they left that first day, I cried. Even after the lead organizer promised not to remove anything from the house. The huge black bag STILL sits in the corner of my dining room, waiting for me to go through it. Right alongside a bag with the kids’ first twin bedsheets in it (Lightning McQueen and Hello Kitty) that I can’t seem to haul away.

They came back again the next day and I cried some more. The Empathetic One was kind and acknowledged how difficult the process could be. I was glad the lead organizer showed up later, I would have been horribly ashamed if she would have seen me crying over handmade votive candle jars that were broken long before she had arrived and spelling tests saved from kindergarten (the last year my son would spell anything accurately forever).

Looking back, I would do it again. There are still rooms in the house that need serious help. I realized that I was not necessarily attached to the things, but more attached to an era that I would never see again. The era when the kids were small and innocent and sweet and created things with their whole heart and soul. A time that I took for granted while in the midst of, and sometimes even resented as a single mom. In a way, the organizing project caused me to stop and really take notice of the moments the kids and I have together, and to enjoy them, or at least sit in them. Sit in every moment, good or bad, because it is part of a period what will never come again. It taught me that worrying about work, or meeting the right person, or how I’m going to manage the upcoming year’s activities and driving, are really not the things I need to obsess about. That is all easier said than done, but sometimes I am able to achieve that state of present living, which is entirely peaceful.

getting older

It’s a lot scarier than I ever thought it would be to get older. I can’t see small print without glasses anymore, and my mind is definitely not as sharp as it used to be. I don’t remember names of songs or bands I’ve listened to for decades. I often wonder how these old men keep getting elected as president. I’m not trying to be a jerk, I know people are still brilliant when they are older, but it seems that the time it takes to process information and recall things from memory gets a little slower.

I spend a lot of time analyzing my skin in the mirror. I know it will never look better than it does at this moment. Working out hurts more, injuries take longer to heal. I’m more exhausted than ever before. I seriously have a different type of medical appointment almost every month as part of regular maintenance. I recently took my car in for an oil change and listened to the “advisor” in a shirt and tie at the fancy dealership I went drone on about service milestones at 48,000 miles, 60,000 miles, 90,000 miles and I thought about my own doctor appointments. How will I keep things straight between services for my body and my car? Do I schedule a colonoscopy at 50 years old or 48,000 miles? Is it time to get my brakes or my eyes checked?

Old age in this country seems frightening. If I live that long, I don’t want to be driving around when I’m 86, getting flipped off or cussed out when I get confused about when to make a turn (honestly, this is already happening), or running down to Walmart to pick up a prescription. I don’t want to be doing any of this even now at 50. By nature of the fact that I had my kids at age 39 and 40, most of my mom friends are in their 30s now. Sometimes when I’m talking with them, my mind drifts off to when I was their age. Busy traveling the world, finishing up my graduate degree, getting divorced, dating a few psychopaths, crying a lot, and finally thinking at age 38 that it might be nice to have a kid one day. It wasn’t necessarily the best time of my life and I don’t really miss that decade.

I have a precious few older female friends who have had colorful lives just like me and they are amazing, doing incredible things, and inspiring me every time I’m in their presence. They don’t talk about their physical and mental slowness or pains. They don’t focus their efforts on finding a companion due to some irrational fear of being alone. They no longer obsess about whether they are building a healthy and happy foundation for their kids or just screwing them up for life. They are just…free. I want that.

anxiety

I’ve gotten so increasingly anxious over the past couple of years that I started carrying my “fix it now” anxiety medicine with me wherever I go.

In 2018, I was hospitalized twice after a bit of a breakdown due to stress and relationship issues. I was equipped with pages and pages of coping strategies and emotional regulation worksheets. None of which were news to me, I had been talking to clients about and training practitioners for years on positive coping, trauma and resiliency, thinking errors, grounding techniques, and self care. While in the hospital, I shared space and meals with people who had just gotten out of prison who had mental health issues and no place to go and people who were on mandatory mental health holds. We heated up food that had been frozen since the Ice Age and drowned it in hot sauce. We had structured days, no cell phones, belts, or shoelaces, and lots of resources at our finger tips. I got to sleep for 10 hours straight my first night there. I haven’t sleep for 10 hours straight in years. Staff was caring, approachable, and helpful (you would never have known it was a state-funded program), and I felt at ease knowing that I was responsible for nothing and no one, just simply showing up where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there. Would that ever happen again? I’d like to think not.

I would like to say that I’ve made a full recovery and it has been smooth sailing. That I clean my house or take walks or check facts or call a friend or tune into wise mind or ground myself in my senses when I’m anxious. But I don’t. I’m a lazy patient when it comes to preventing anxiety and its attacks. I’m not really qualified to write about anxiety or how to support people with it or what works and what doesn’t work when you or a loved one has it. I haven’t quite processed it to the point that I can provide helpful support like some of my friends can. It interferes with my daily activities and with my relationships. A couple of things that help me when I’m on the brink of disaster are hearing “How can I help?” from someone I trust and when another person shares that they’ve been there, or are there. It makes me feel less alone. It can be especially tough as a single parent. You can’t tap out when your mental health issues hit you the hardest. The best you can do is tell your kids you need a break (if they are old enough), and fall apart behind a closed door, if you can actually make it to a private space in time.

A pandemic, a layoff, starting a new job in a field I know nothing about, watching the world blow up and violent crime increase hasn’t helped. I know it has been hard for lots of people. I rarely go to the grocery store anymore, even though it was a favorite outing for me during COVID lockdowns. The other day I actually had to walk into the store and there was a woman pushing a cart around the aisles aimlessly, wearing only a white bra and shorts (ok, yes, I was in Walmart). Some people drink, some smoke, some meditate or pray, some exercise, some go to the store in their skivvies. We are all finding ways to deal and it’s not easy.

10:15 on a Monday Night

Day 5,468,901 of the pandemic…my kids are in bed early (10:10 pm – I know the doctor has repeatedly told me that a 9- and 10-year old need more sleep) and I am sitting here wondering if I should a) do early Christmas shopping (is the end of November early? My definition of “early” is pretty loose re: kids’ bedtime), b) continue watching “Away,” my current Netflix favorite about a mission to Mars starring Hilary Swank or c) keep reading a mystery series I’ve been into lately, where most of the scenes are set in a cozy house in a Quebecois village and always involve warm croissants, homemade jam and a Scotch. Decadent. I’m reading mystery novels for the food and drink escape. Or I could just keep sitting here listening to my kids through the wall talk about how they would spend Robux if they had it – this is a currency in their favorite video game. My son has fallen asleep mid-sentence and my daughter continues to talk…they remind me of an old married couple. My daughter sings random songs from TikTok while my son sleeps. There is no such thing as going to bed early for my daughter.

How are we holding up after the first week of remote learning? Not sure. I’ve never spent so much time at home in my life and I’m one of those people who gets out quite a bit still. Now the kids are locked at home with me and each day is a blur – I’m typically tied up with work all day long and they are back and forth grabbing really crappy snacks that I leave in a basket on the stove (fire hazard). I really feel for everyone out there these days. I probably have it pretty decent given the circumstances, and every day it can be challenging to keep my head straight and remain optimistic. I’m determined not to have the shittiest holiday season ever – I don’t like this time of year and each day I wake up, I start with my pro-holiday mantra of “this is going to be the best holiday season ever!” and “at the end of this week, it will be one down, one to go.” Yay!

If you are reading this, I hope you are hanging in there too. I am available to listen, change your flat tire, bake you some cookies, or buy you a coffee. Just reach out. 🙂

Solo Mama: (Not) Surviving Work at Home with Kids

Hey Mamas! Are you at your wit’s end? Read on.

There are several reasons why I’ve dropped blogging for months, but I’m not ready to share those stories. What I am ready to do is try to make light of my current situation because honestly, I’m not really surviving work at home with kids. We just finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time and I don’t quite relate with the tenacity, willpower and courage of Frodo, hence making me Gollum. I’m raggedy, unpredictable, and even worse, I host more than two separate voices battling for power in my head. I’m tussling with Frodo on the precipice at the end of the movie, just before being knocked into the fiery pit below with the ring, which represents the last grains of my sanity…

What would I say to you, mama, also trying to survive? Let me tell you. At the start of this “Safer At Home, Stay At Home, Now Come Out but You are Still Safer at Home,” I kind of liked it. Maybe I’ve held out longer than others…but I’m feeling myself start to crack. Here are 3 of my go-tos to try and stay grounded:

  1. Avoid social media as much as possible. Surprise! Everyone is still posting their highlight reels! Our lives are falling apart to some extent but nevermind! I lost 20 pounds, my son was just accepted into Harvard at 10 years old and we are moving to LA because my daughter was discovered by a Hollywood agent who just happened to be buying cereal at Walmart while in town filming Back to the Future 4 when she lurked past him wearing a mask and matted hair that she had not combed out for 3 weeks.
  2. Create an “approximate” schedule. (That you will revise every day, but at least you have the satisfaction of telling everyone that your kids are on a schedule of learning AND fun!) Here is our schedule if you need some ideas. It is not copyrighted, so feel free to steal it and paste it up on the fridge:
    • Wake up and do chores that mama creates on the spot just because she thinks you should build character and not just sloth around the house all day like the teenagers you have not yet become.
    • Complete one homework assignment
    • Complete one language lesson on Duolingo so mama can post on Facebook that you are developing fluency in Navajo
    • Find new ways to pick on each other and make each other cry with intermittent spells of good fun
    • Go outside and ride around in the vacant lot across the street while mama accompanies you during her 20th Zoom meeting that day
    • Eat lunch (a cookie)
    • Get on your devices (here is where we take a wrong turn every day…)
  3. And finally, drink water! (Just kidding. That’s a tip in about every list of tips you can find online).
  4. Really, just try your best not to lose your shit and if you do sometimes, don’t feel bad. I would say that I’ve tried baths, meditation, learning languages, reading devotionals, long drives to nowhere, exercising, therapy, regularly taking my meds, and it is just plain hard out there right now.

Until next time, I’m thinking of all of you who can relate, and trying to push good vibes out into the universe…

Solo Mama: Single Parent Overload

Whhhoooooaaaaa!

I hit Monday night, at the end of a long weekend (Dr. King, I celebrate you AND I also celebrate sanity AND there are too many Monday holidays over the next few months), and I realized I was on the verge of losing my mind. I was anxious, irritated, and had a very short fuse. Does this sound familiar to any parents with an extra day tagged onto the weekend? I’m blocking any Facebook parents who post cute, smiley, huggy-family pics from their long holiday weekend snowmobiling, ice fishing, taking a cooking class, posing with Mickey at Disney World, adopting a cat, getting matching tattoos, attending a major sporting event, soaking in hot springs or skiing at ??? (I don’t even know where it’s cool to ski anymore). Insert LOL emoji here. Especially this past weekend.

I’m an introvert, and every introvert knows that you need time alone to recharge. Time alone over the past 10 years=non-existent. In addition to being an introvert, I hold myself to standards that are simply not achievable. Our little family was non-stop from Friday night until Monday night with activities, friends, family, typical weekend chores – groceries, laundry, house cleaning – and by the time I realized I was tapped out on the final evening of the long weekend, it was too late.

Back to the time alone piece. Every parent knows that once you have children, you are never alone. They follow you everywhere, like tiny little poltergeists, they appear from out of nowhere and they are usually bleating “Momma. Momma. Momma” and then they disappear as mysteriously as they appeared.  As they’ve gotten older, “Momma” is just the stem to a monologue about a random piece of trivia that they’ve encountered on YouTube. The other day, I opened up the browser on my phone, and the first page was titled “How do I be a girl in Roblox?” Really. Everything about them is shocking. And it never fails, the moment you’ve hit your word quota for the day, one of them launches into a speech about Tones and I and how they imagined she would look based on her voice in the song “Dance Monkey” or they ask you about sex.

It is also a one-way street with these people. The other day, my daughter and I were painting clay animal figurines, and I brought up what I thought was an important topic. I wanted to know how she felt about it. After she answered my first question, she said, “Momma, can we not talk anymore? I’m trying to concentrate.” I will need to remember that line the next time they want to discuss the body styling of Mustangs versus Camaros in the car or ask me what world events I might be hiding from them (my son accused me of purposely withholding current news from them about Iran last week).

I hit a wall Monday night. I need to notice the warning signs before everything caves in. I need to be better about going into my room, closing the bedroom door, and hanging up my “Keep out” sign and escaping even just for 30 minutes. It might just make us all appreciate each other more as well. For others who hit this wall on a regular basis, I see you.

 

Solo Mama Exhausted

It’s the holidays. And most people are stressed, on edge and exhausted. Church today was a good reminder of where to focus. Our pastor had just come back from a 6- month sabbatical with a simple message, which he delivered through tears: God loves you. God wants what’s best for you.

Wow, did this resonate with me. I’m exhausted. I’ve felt disconnected from God for over two years at least and possibly longer. I’ve done all the “right” things to try to get reconnected. Examples include attending church twice a week, listening to numerous different speakers on YouTube and podcasts. Downloading and attempting to use a Bible app which everyone in the world seems to be able to figure out except me.

But I’m exhausted and I still don’t feel connected. I’ve never had to search so hard. God had always been near and present. Through friends, family, my children, people I interacted with daily demonstrated God’s love in some form.

The dark side of this, the dark sad places though, are the haunting voices and feelings that have been tearing me apart from the inside. The fact that I’ve been tearing myself down as a parent. Never feeling like I’m doing it right or good enough. The fact that I’ve been trying to prove to someone that I’m worthy enough to love for the past two years and still not hitting the mark. The fact that even though I put my full self and efforts into my job, there will always be naysayers. I’m so tired. So tired about not making the mark in these major areas of life. I feel gut punched. I imagine most people do, they just don’t say it out loud.

What exhausts you? How do you recharge and remind yourself that you are worthy and good? Once you find this, how do you sustain it? And pithy sayings are never enough anymore to answer the question: “Where does God go when you desperately need Him?”