Solo Mama: What Happens When You Let Go of Your Destructive Nature?

Oh. My. Goodness. I’m reminded of the song that has a line that goes “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Who was that? Who cares. I’m old and I don’t have space in my memory banks.

It was this summer as I was in the shower, crying, that I realized that my harmful coping skills were gone. The negative self talk about me and anyone who had hurt me. Murderous, slaughtering, blistering language that overlooks the humanity of me and others and dehumanizes, devalues, in order for me to accept myself and my situation. The thoughts wouldn’t come. The words wouldn’t come. Spewing rage. Didn’t come.

There I was left standing, without an angry word or malicious thought, water rushing over me, scorching my body because my protective skin, my shielding strategies, were all gone. I felt raw. All I had left was, when someone hurts you, tell them what they did and how it made you feel. Use “I” language. Don’t assume anything. Give people the benefit of the doubt. When you are hurting or anxious, check your toolbox for your new tools. Breathe. Distract yourself. Fully participate in an activity. Describe. Ground. Tap. Affirm. Self care. Text a friend. Call the crisis line. The problem is that I am new to this tools. They are like picking up a power saw, which I’m not super comfortable with, and using it as a way to a more positive, healthier outcome. I might lose a finger or an arm in the process.

Having kids doesn’t lend itself to the luxury of time to practice using your new tools. It’s awkward and clumsy and the frustration of trying to find a quiet space physically and mentally often exacerbates my anxiety. Then, not only am I dealing with the pain and anxiety of some other situation, I’m also the lousy parent who checks out to fumble around with a coping skill that is foreign and seemingly less effective than just a rush of thoughts and words to describe the latest asshat I’ve interacted with or me regarding something stupid I’ve said or done.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” I have NEVER been good at that. Hence the therapy and the medications and the tools and the constant push to grow through this. Often I’m encouraged to “give it to God,” or “pray about it.” I appreciate the sentiments and the effort to reach out with this, but DONE. Check. I’ve done that. Doing that. It doesn’t flip a switch and make everything better and I think God’s on the same page there. It’s pretty explicitly stated in stories and accounts throughout the Bible. Still have to engage those awkward new tools and counteract destructive old strategies. XOXO

Solo Mama: Defixating on a Fixation

I was checking in with a friend who has a young daughter who struggles with mental healthiness. He mentioned this thing about her fixations and how much energy she puts into trying to get certain parts of her life to improve. She refuses to give up, even when she is failing, and has essentially become obsessed with righting parts of her life to the point that it is debilitating her.

As he spoke these words, it was like part of the conversation was spoken into the dense, foggy part of my brain and when he mentioned her fixation, the fog cleared and I clung to his words. Yes, yes. That’s it. Part of all this has been the fixation. There are a couple parts of my life that I’ve become unnaturally obsessed with. Not necessarily the people who tie into the fixation, likely, it could be anyone, but the fixation itself. Two major fixations jump out at me. I have not been able to extract myself from them and the harder I try to get them right, the more things fall apart.

My therapist asked me recently “What if you were to let go of these things?” Not storm away, burn bridges, hurt people, but to simply let them go free. One of the issues I can’t really let go, but in a sense I guess I could let the fixation go. But how? I sat with her words for a week. If I let these issues go, I would be failing. In part, these issues were the impetus, the trigger, that got me here. If I let them go, I’d be admitting defeat. I’d be saying that I was unable to overcome them, to conquer them, to show them that there is nothing that I can’t do. To show them that my own mind will not stand in the way of me succeeding. I had invested so much time, in one case, years and years of energy. Months, hours, minutes, seconds. Hundreds of thousands of seconds. Obsessed, triggered, consumed, to the point that when my mind is spinning on these issues, I can’t hear, I can’t feel, I’m not even sure if my eyes are functioning and I can see. I’m not aware of anything going on outside of me.

How do you defixate on a fixation? I can distract my mind for only so long – as they say in my group therapy – fully participate so that my mind is completely in the present moment and can’t focus on the fixation. Moving away from the unhealthy distractions (men, alcohol, negative self-talk) toward the healthy: podcasts, music, side work, budgeting, readings on mindfulness, playing cards with the kids, cooking a favorite recipe, facilitating a workshop, church, learning about a new topic at work. I move from thing to thing, trying to fully participate and defixate. Realizing that I can’t succeed if I continue to fixate. Letting go is necessary, essential, healthy. Working on the how…

Hi God, It’s Me, Crazy Solo Mama

Hi God. I’ve known you since I was little and I probably haven’t skipped a year of church since I was born, including in my adult life. I’ve read so many books about you and traveled the world and talked about you with hundreds of people to learn more about you and how others interact with you. I’ve seen you through the eyes of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and other faiths. I’ve seen you through the eyes of people who don’t believe in you, have set you aside, or have thrown you out. You could say I have really wanted to learn about you intellectually because I need to know as much as I can about something when I care about it.

I’m pretty sure you’ve been there in some capacity most of my life. When it comes to the principles and laws of religion, I screw up all the time. I don’t really fit in with people who go to church every Sunday, but I still go.  By traditional standards, I’m sinning constantly. Every day. But I can usually still feel you nearby, and despite some of the really stupid or horrifying things I do, you trail behind me, walk ahead of me, and track alongside me, picking up the fragments of my life and others’ whom I hurt or betray or neglect.

Sometimes, when people judge me in your name, or tell me I need you, or that I’m not following you right, I’m a little taken aback. I think inside my head “Hey! I’m on that team too! Team GOD! Aren’t we all out here messing up every day, but trying to do better?”

This summer, for the first time in my life, I felt like you disappeared. Footprints style, but there were never a set of two footprints, only one. Maybe you were carrying me all the way? Maybe my feet didn’t touch the ground at all? I don’t know. I even admitted to a police officer, from the behind the partition in his car, that it felt like you had gone away. That dumb officer told me that he thought you had put him in my life that night and I felt like kicking him. Maybe, maybe not.

I told my therapist that I was going to stop talking to you until I got my shit together. She told me to talk with you more, that you want to hear from me anytime, all the time, even when my shit’s not together. That seems counterintuitive and it’s hard to do because every time I go to do it, all I can think about is how awful I am. The other people I know who talk about you all the time seem really pious and well mannered. Not me. Now, when I’m driving to work in my car, I have to yell at you otherwise I won’t talk to you. “Damn it God! Today! I know I’m supposed to be talking to you and I need you to hang out with me and be close because I’m about to fuck up in a million ways! I NEED YOU!”

2018. God, people have said you are timeless. I’m tired of keeping track of the years by the number of the year. It doesn’t matter to you, so why should I do things that way? When I checked, it has been 736,993 days since January 1, 0001. Though this is probably not accurate, maybe it would be healthier to keep track of the days rather than the years. Then I can’t just write off a whole year as miserable, or hard. Kind of like George Constanza and “Festivus for the rest of us!” I’m boycotting years and skipping New Years!

So, God, hey! from the crazy lady. Keep sending me signs that you are nearby, because shit, I need all the help I can get. Here’s to day number 736,994.

Solo Mama: When You Are Not Trying Hard Enough

I’m just curious. Has anyone out there been involved with some type of “system” in life – justice, education, employment assistance, public assistance, mental health , child welfare, religious, medical (health) care – and are told by someone “inside” the “system” that you are just not trying hard enough? You are not trying hard enough to be a whole, healthy, ideal, productive citizen of this community.

For the first time in my life where I feel like a lot hangs in the balance, I was told by someone “inside” the “system” as a beneficiary, recipient, consumer, user of services, whatever, that I’m not trying hard enough.

Let’s count up the hours in the week that I have dedicated to trying hard enough on this particular issue: 8 hours of group or individual time and at least 5-7 hours of personal time to study each week plus numerous hours of launching coping skills which fail half the time. That’s on top of soccer, swimming, dance, school, work, dog sitting, budgeting so I can pay a shit ton of money to “un-crazy” myself, consulting and caring for two young children who need to be bathed, fed, helped with homework, LOVED, etc.

I’m just not trying hard enough. Really?

If you work in any kind of “system,” please choose your words carefully when meeting with your students, consumers, clients, patients, offenders, residents, whatever you may call them in your line of work.

Are there some cognitive distortions going on in this post? Rationalizing? Justifications? Maybe! But I need my moment. Go screw yourself, system! End of rant! 🤪😂

Solo Mama: Eccentric Coping

Jumping ahead in my story (without even starting from the beginning), part of my summer included learning numerous coping strategies for dealing with several mental health diagnoses. Probably the hardest hitting issue has been anxiety. Every time I go in to see my prescribing nurse, I ask her if we can’t just medicate me out of anxiety attacks. She smiles kindly at me across her desk and reminds me that changing 40 some years of behavior overnight or through the use of medication alone is not realistic. Every time I’m disappointed to hear this. Total bummer. I actually have to use “coping skills.”

Having been in the criminal justice field for nearly 30 years and encountering mental illness more often than not, I’m very familiar with coping skills. I’ve even incorporated them into workshops, teaching and coaching I’ve done with clients. I can talk about them all day long and how great they are in staving off anxiety attacks, distracting, self care, managing emotion and anger, bla bla bla, but use them? Laugh out loud! Coping skills are kind of like exotic paper weights for me. They look nice but they are rarely used to hold paper in place, right?

I’ve spent hundreds of hours this year learning coping skills. Even with all these new skills, it takes effort to use them, and the sooner you use them, the better they work. This means I’ve also had to get better at understanding triggers and what can turn into a major anxiety episode for me. I’m not always good at figuring this out until I’m feeling full-on crazy and engaging in destructive behaviors. Sadly, when you are acting all crazy, your social opportunities and circles really shrink. This has mostly been self-imposed, but I’m sure there are a few people that I’ve scared the hell out of.

The coping skills I’ve landed on are definitely surprising to me. I’ve become really regular at the gym. While still balancing 4 jobs technically, I’ve found 3 mornings a week where I can drop the kids at school and run to the gym. While I haven’t acquired a beach body, I definitely feel better and I’ve rebuilt some muscle.

When I’m really starting to lose it, I turn on podcasts of Dave Ramsey taking calls from across the country about money decisions. When I was less anxious and maybe more mentally stable, I doubt I would have paid much attention to him (no offense to mentally stable people who enjoy him) but now as soon as I start to feel anxious I scramble for my headphones and Spotify – save me from myself, Dave! Not only do I enjoy listening to him chew out people for doing stupid things with their money, I’ve gained a lot of budgeting advice that I’m starting to use – um, like having a budget. He probably has no idea that there is a goofball out there who calms herself by listening to the debt-free scream interview every week.

Another surprising coping skill: Christian music. Anything else depresses me or stresses me out. The songs are always uplifting and positive and I guess that’s where I need to focus these days, with a lot of effort.

So, there’s a bit of self disclosure. Maybe some humor? I had no idea one’s mind could get so out of control. One day you are a bit moody, and the next day you are legitimately doing everything possible not to self destruct. And maintaining responsibility for two small children while praying you aren’t setting them up for a lifetime of their own therapy needs.

 

Solo Mama: Reconstructing Reality

I am sitting in an all-day departmental workshop focused on problem solving. The facilitator has everyone stand up in a circle and give their name, division and project update. My morning was off to a bad start. I was triggered by a text and am doing my best to manage my emotions. They go straight to my body and I’m feeling sharp pains in my neck, back. I can’t stand still anymore and start stretching my neck, my limbs, my back. Looking back, my public behavior has probably always been strange. On one hand, I seem to have no filter on what is socially acceptable and what is not, and on the other hand, I am painfully aware of each thought and word and how it will impact every single person in my presence.

After the introductions, the facilitator and my supervisor come over and tell me that while I am wearing a really cute outfit, I look like I’m not well and in severe pain. My boss suggests that I take the day off and if I feel really compelled to work at some point, I can do it at home. I go to my office, pack up my stuff and head out. My head feels compressed. Foggy but dense. Like too much matter is shoved over to one side of my brain and it needs to disperse or shift so that I can think more clearly. I get in the car and start to head home, resting my elbow on my window sill. My arm is pulsing. It’s my heartbeat. I decide I’m going to head to the store before going home so I can get some ibuprofen for the pain.

Once I arrive at the store and park, I think as I walk towards the new bright green facade entrance of Walmart, I’m about to enter Disneyworld. I have the choice of a thousand different comfort items in this store (besides ibuprofen) that I can purchase and take home to get me through the day. My thoughts race through their normal checkpoints – how much do I have in my bank account? Nothing too high in calories, sugar or fat. What would really make me feel good because today will be a bad day?

I settle on an 8-pack of Diet Pepsi, a box of hot chocolate packets for the kids for later, a bottle of ibuprofen, dark chocolate chips, and some keurig cups which I will use with my pumpkin spice almond milk creamer later. The compression in my head continues and seems to have spread down to my chest, my stomach is queasy. I am in a fog; drifting away and then returning to the present moment. Then experiencing both at the same time. I screw up all the instructions on the self check-out, in a split moment of clarity, remember to withdraw an extra $20 for the kids’ school Lego club enrollment, then leave the bill hanging out of the cash slot and start to walk away before the cashier calls my attention to it.

As I walk out to the car, I realize that I’ve had so many misconceptions about things like anxiety, depression, suicide, personality disorders, PTSD, and it’s almost comical. My experiences dealing with people at the absolute brink as they enter the justice system had me believing that these were all really outwardly dramatic, loud, extravagant displays of behavior. Personal experience has taught me that they are not. Which tells me that something is really going on and it is frightening. It is frightening to realize that your mind, the thing that regulates your intake and processing of external information, controls your output to the world, your reactions, responses, words, decisions, actions, emotions, behaviors, is broken somehow. And all you want to do is fix it. Give me medicine, give me therapy, give me God, give me mindfulness, give me skills, give me groups, give me information, give me some understanding. And then go away because I’m embarrassed that this has happened. My mind is broken and I need to know how to fix it and I don’t have much time because what if it breaks more?

Solo Mama: Where Do I Begin?

For anyone who has read my posts in the past…I love humor, I love telling stories about my kids and I love putting myself on front street for all bad parenting choices I make. I want to be a voice out there, speaking loudly that:

It’s ok to have bad parenting moments!

It’s ok to have a messy house!

It’s ok to have a headache on Tuesday morning because you had a little too much wine “trying to relax” on Monday night!

I could go on…but it gets darker…

Writing blog posts over the past couple of years has been an outlet for me and it has been a way to keep in touch with the outside world. I love it when people reach out and comment and say that they’ve had similar experiences, they are just afraid to share, or they found something hilarious in something I wrote.

So, at the encouragement of a good friend, who in one of my dark moments the other day reminded me that I used to love to write (as recently as this past spring), I’d like to jump back into posting. I honestly don’t know what’s going to come out. These past 10 months have been some of the ugliest in my life. I’m not sure what I can share or want to share. But I know that writing used to lift my spirits in a crazy way, and in large part because of friends who read and commented and reached out, and that made me a better person at life. And we all know that the world would be a better place if it contained people who felt their best on a daily basis. So, here we go…

Solo Mama Traveling Through Drug Purgatory: 5 Realities and Strategies

Holy wow. Who ever knew that changing prescriptions could be a living nightmare? Probably lots of people. I just never had the opportunity to hear about their experiences. They probably weren’t jumping up and down to share them with me (or anyone else).

The hardest thing to deal with has been the extremely horrifying days and the somewhat decent days. To help distance myself emotionally from the experience, I’ve decided write and express some raw realities and the strategies I’ve tried as a tool to work through the realities. Maybe there is some entertainment in here.

  1. Seeking validation excessively through human contact. This is something I’ve struggled with for years and it seems to have really amped up recently. The invention of a device that you can take with you everywhere becomes a tool to feed this addiction. I’ve never been a person who becomes addicted to substances. I can quit anything cold turkey. I can’t quit the addiction of human validation. These days, when I sleep, I keep my phone in an inconvenient place so I can’t check it all night long. I hide alerts from certain people whose texts are like taking a hit of a potent drug so I don’t keeping looking at my phone. I’ve had some success with these strategies. Continuing to work on it.
  1. Looking through the lens of negative thoughts at my life and imploding every 5 minutes. This one is tough. To support my medication transition, I’ve been involved with all sorts of extracurricular activities like learning coping strategies for living life with a significantly broken mind. One of the strategies I’ve been trying recently is looking at my negative thought, and accepting it as a thought, and not looking at everything in my life through this lens. I can also try visualizing the process of putting this thought on a leaf, and watching it float downstream in a river. All of this to acknowledge that thoughts are simply just that; they don’t have to ruin our days and our lives. It has its roots in dialectical behavioral therapy (distress tolerance, specifically radical acceptance), for all those out there who are much more knowledgeable in the ways of the mind and resulting behaviors. I’ve had a little success with this. It stopped me from freaking out on a human who wasn’t validating me fast enough. Still trying it out.
  1. The runaway mind and sleepless nights. This one relates to the above. This is where I can’t get to sleep because my mind has buried itself in all sorts of negative thoughts about how I suck as a parent, no man will ever love me, I won’t be able to pay my bills and I will end up on the streets, everyone I know who is my age with my level of education is smarter than me and has a better job, and my kids are going to be kidnapped. Once I am asleep, and have had a few hours of rest, I wake up again to the same thoughts. Like waking up in an endless nightmare of horrible thoughts. To try and curb this issue, I’ve taken to running meditations off of YouTube. One I really like is: Guided Meditation for Deep Sleep Create Your Destiny Hypnosis for Law of Attraction . I’ve found that male voices that are quiet and monotone and have a slight apparently British or Australian accent work the best for me. The combination of the voice, visualization, and progressive relaxation has been very successful in shutting down my thoughts. Thankfully, no one sleeps near me to hear a strange man droning on about relaxing my jaw at 3 in the morning.
  1. Beating myself with an iron hammer. It’s funny. If I were to beat anyone else up as much as I do myself, I’d be arrested for domestic violence. Is it possible to bring assault charges against myself? Can someone arrest me, take me to court and sentence me for the damage that I cause to myself on a daily basis with my words, thoughts, and recently, my behaviors? If I could incapacitate and even punish myself, would it deter me? Something to think about, considering the line of work I’m in. Another coping strategy I’ve learned recently is tapping. From my limited experience, it’s around disrupting my brain activity through cognitive and physical disruptions that occur at pulse points on my body. I like this because of the physical sensations. With my fingernails, it’s somewhat uncomfortable. It’s like gentle and somewhat irritating beating with a soft hammer, only strategically, in a helping way.
  1. Empathy for other’s pain and sadness is dulled and in some cases, non-existent. This is not consistent. Some days I want to hang a sign outside my office, not unlike Lucy from the Peanuts. I won’t even charge a nickel. Just come in and tell me why your life sucks. I need to know that other people suffer too. Some days though, you could come in and tell me your mother was attacked by a rattlesnake or your partner dumped you on your birthday, and I struggle to find a soft word for you. I might just blankly stare or fidget uncomfortably. I might even pull out a nail file to smooth the latest nick out of my fingernail. It’s grotesque behavior. Like that of a sociopath. Inexplicable. No words for this. I shock myself.

So there it is. Another raw, real excerpt from life. In sharing, I hope that some will find a connection point, or maybe just another perspective or some shared experience.

When Solo Mama Can’t Snap Out of It

“Snap out of it.”

Those words haunt me. They repeat themselves over and over as I drive to work, drive home from work, drive to meetings, sit in front of my computer and try to focus, as I make dinner, clean my house, make my bed and stream a hundred positive statements about myself through my brain, morning, noon and night. My mind is in a battle right now. A battle between living and being a mother and a good employee and a friend, and just functioning. Barely making it. “Snap out of it.” I am willing those words to come true. If I could just snap my fingers, and return to life.

“So, I’m just going to tell you, the next few weeks will kind of suck. You will just feel bad, and…” (shrugging for effect), “there’s just no way around it,” said the young, hip-looking nurse practitioner with rolled up jeans cuffs and mismatched socked feet, which had no shoes on them. His hair permanently stood up on end, probably shaped that way because he constantly ran his fingers through it as he talked, taking occasional breaks and resting his head in his hand as he read from his computer screen. A younger, lanky, somewhat attractive replica of Einstein. We were talking about changing old medications to new medications, new medications that may actually work better? After a waiting period of misery.

Yes. These weeks (exactly 8 days actually – 1.1 week?) are sucking. And there are several more to come. And nothing makes me feel better, or alive, for more than about an hour or two. Not human company, not artistic expression, not the sound of children’s laughter, not some random out-of-context thing my children say, nor conversation with good friends.

Is there not a drug for this feeling? “Snap out of it.”

Writing words helps. I haven’t written for months and writing helps. But I’m like one of those people who has been given a truth serum and the only thing I can write about is how ugly I feel and have felt for weeks. Months. It has been like wearing a mask that has slowly been eroded by environmental factors- what are those things that beauty products fight these days? Free radicals? Free radicals have been eating me alive for the past several months and now I’m bare and raw, until my new medications take effect. Until my mask can grow back and the free radicals can be eradicated from my system.

Solo Mama: The Facebook Highlight Reel

Social media has taken over our lives. At least twice a week I hear someone say “I’m quitting Facebook” or “I’m taking a break from social media.” We hear more and more about how too much time on social media can be detrimental, not only because it’s making us forget how to talk to each other and interact as humans, but it is also giving people a false sense of the reality of other people’s lives, causing depression, anxiety and other ailments.

Strangely, it occurred to me the other day that I’m no longer affected as much by others and their seemingly perfect lives on Facebook, I’m more stressed out by my own highlight reel, which pops in as a “Facebook cares about you and your memory from x years ago” almost daily. Can anyone else relate? Pictures of my children’s happy faces, running through sprinklers, building snowmen, eating popsicles, taking vacations, drawing with sidewalk chalk and cheerfully skipping along in a beautiful setting, holding hands. My eyes tear up every day as I open up the Facebook app and see yet another memory of a happier time. I wonder, who are these happy children, smiling all the time at me and at each other? Will a study come out some day talking about how my Facebook memories can actually worsen my depression and make me think that I’ve already lived through the best times of my life? Instead of being jealous of all my friends, I will now find reasons to be jealous of myself, in my earlier, happier days?

Is it worth taking pictures of my kids right at this moment and posting them? One’s face is buried in an iPad and the other is writing incoherent sentences about a stuffed reindeer. Then in “x” number of years, this memory will come up and I will cry harder because at that time, maybe my son will be sitting across from me, smoking pot on my fake leather couch (which I will probably still have), watching reruns of Phineas and Ferb, while my daughter is hunched over on the couch next to him, texting some gross boy who is probably too old for her and complaining about wanting her own car. I liken this to seeing old pictures of myself, knowing that back when the picture was taken, I was probably complaining about being too fat, or having bad hair, or just generally being unhappy with how I looked and now I reflect back and think “damn, you were HOT!”

I need to cherish every day and live in the moment, because inevitably, Facebook will remind me that as the years pass, my children will get older, more surly, and more expensive as I get older, more poor, and less attractive. 🤪