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.

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. 🤪

Solo Parenting: Putting All My Distressing Thoughts in a Container

It’s no secret I’m an advocate of therapy. When you try to experience life to the fullest, you pull in the bad and the good, and the really really bad. You don’t give up on people and you don’t give up on hope. You need a backup though, and over the years, I’ve realized that I can wear my friends out as backups. Sometimes it’s just good practice to pay someone to be your backup.

I’ve been working with someone recently, a.k.a. paying someone to help me process and also assist me with developing some positive coping mechanisms. We’ve been talking about all sorts of abstract yet concrete things and I’ve been practicing some visualization. One practice that’s connected to a larger strategy that I’m working on is this idea of storing my distressing thoughts and experiences in a container for processing later. It’s not something that comes naturally, and I’ve kind of scoffed at similar practices in the past – for example, writing things out on paper and burning it, and even journaling is a somewhat lackluster practice for me. I just want the pain to be gone NOW. And we all know, in the day and age of mobile phones, messaging and texting, painful words and experiences can be as frequent as breathing. When I’m not feeling at my best, it just takes the wrong person to message the wrong thing, and my day can crash and become irreparable. I have to admit that I turn off my phone frequently, turn off notifications from people, or hide my phone for periods of time so as not to engage with someone when I’m hurting. Sometimes I don’t do it quick enough and I shoot off words I wish I could take back.

So back to this concept of putting distressful thoughts and emotions in a container. I’m trying to practice it on the go as things happen, or as I try to recall experiences. My container is a shipping container you’d find on a major port – maybe somewhere on the east coast on the ocean. There are lots of seagulls squawking and I can smell rotting fish in the air. I cross a wooden dock to where there is a collection of containers, and I heave open a metal lid to one of them (it’s probably more like a large dumpster, but a shipping container sounds more capable of holding my pain and distress), and shove my distress in that container. I try to pull it from my body, where I’m feeling the distress the most.

It’s interesting because different types of distress show up in different parts of my body. Distress caused by parenting and children usually shows up in my chest and sometimes up as far as my head. Friend and family distress shows up primarily in my chest and head. Romantic distress is solidly located in my stomach. Visualizing tearing the distress from my body and shoving it through the open lid of this container is gratifying but my practice isn’t quite perfected yet. As soon as I shove the distress in the container and start to walk away, it seeps out through the lid, which isn’t securely fastened, and chases me down the dock, oozing around my feet in an attempt to get me to process it – maybe just a little bit? – and ruminate over it. Instead of sending positive energy out, I’m trapped by my distress and futile attempts to process it. I feel creepy and sad and overwhelmed. Part of this practice is visualizing my safe place to go to after dumping my distress, but for some reason, that damn smelly shipping container gets a hold on me and I can’t walk away. I know not all distress is avoidable, but I do know that often I’m attracting distress into my life. And getting trapped in the vicinity of a smelly dumpster doesn’t help repel distress.

This Solo Parent and Her Inability to Answer the Hardest Questions in the Universe

I was browsing the Internet doing some research for a job I’m working on, and happened to come across this article: Curious Children Ask 73 Questions Each Day – Many of Which Parents Can’t Answer, Says Study.

I’ve been asked to brainstorm thoughts about parenting tips and traps around some major concepts. I am thinking that this could be the most ill-assigned project I’ve ever been asked to do. It makes me laugh. Every tip I’ve brainstormed is something I’ve never actually tried in practice, and I fall into so many traps, I can’t even recall any to share. My life is a blur of one parenting trap to the next. When I came across this article, though, I had to stop and reflect.

My kids have been asking me so many questions about fathers, mothers, babies, biological relationships, donor dads, blood relatives, stepparents, same sex marriages, etc. The other night before bed I was dodging left and right and returning answers like a skilled squash player on the court (isn’t that reference great? I’ve played squash maybe twice in my life). I prayed my son would fall asleep mid-sentence like he usually does and that my daughter’s questions would devolve into some conversation about her stuffed reindeer Reiny’s father being King of the Forest. I was having a hard time explaining “blood related” and how two people’s blood can get into one person’s blood and really, blood related doesn’t have the same meaning it once did, so I just wanted to skip it.

The title states that kids ask around 73 questions each day and further into the article it says “while fathers field the most questions, mothers deal with 413 on average each week.” Laugh. My. Ass. Off. I did the math. If we use a 7-day week, at 73 questions per day, that’s 511 questions, with mothers dealing with 413 in a week. That leaves 98 per week for fathers. Taking the father out of the equation, and accounting for an extra child, 511 x 2 children is 1,022 questions per week. That sounds about right.

Some the most challenging questions for parents, according to the article, are:

1. Why do people die?

2. What is God?

3. What does “we can’t afford it” mean?

4. Is Father Christmas (ok, we’ll give this British author a pass) real?

5. Why can’t I stay up as late as you?

I WISH my kids would hit me with these questions. These would be nice and easy for me. Most of the answers they’ve already learned through life experience to date. Except for Santa Claus. We are trying to preserve that fantasy for awhile. And for the record, I go to bed at the same time as they do, sometimes before.

This article has inspired me to jot down as many questions as I can from my kids over the next couple of weeks and report back on my findings, as well as the percentage of questions I can’t, or don’t have the energy to, answer.

As a final note on this post, I would like to specially recognize the single mothers I’ve had the honor to meet over the past year, some of whom have more kids than I do. Bless you. Sometimes answering the questions is more tiring than providing for and cleaning up after a family by yourself.

This Solo Parent’s 10 Most Mundane Yet Creative Ways to Save Money

Ever wonder how I look so well put together and stress-free? No? Some of these are for real tips on saving money, folks! I don’t mess around 🤪

  1. Live in an undesirable neighborhood. We may know our neighborhood officers by name and may lose a few household or yard items occasionally, but did you know I have a super low mortgage in an unaffordable city and the best access to all the major highways in town? Every time a new store pops up, it’s a pawn shop or a check cashing store, not some cute coffee shop. I know some of the best drive through liquor stores in the metro area, and the parking lot of the abandoned strip mall makes a great place for riding bikes, as long as you keep an eye for cars cutting through to skip the light at the intersection. No cute coffee shop boutique yuppies are going to ever buy up property in my neighborhood, it’s a well-kept secret.
  2. Enroll in an automatic “round-up” savings account. I love this. Similar to the way the local grocery store cashier hits you up to round up by 13 cents to the nearest dollar to donate to a cause, some banks also offer this option to dump into a separate savings account. I’ve saved over $900 in 3 years. This doesn’t look as good typed out as it does in my bank account, but it’s $900 I definitely wouldn’t have saved for myself.
  3. Split sides at restaurants when you do eat out. I came across this fascinating practice when traveling to India over the years (prior to children – who can afford to travel with them?). I remember going to a small roadside restaurant with my former in-laws and watching my brother-in-law order soup “1 by 2” or “2 by 4.” I doubt any American server would clue into this lingo, but our portions are so huge here, ask for an extra plate or bowl and split it at your table. My Indian coworkers did this with their Starbucks every morning. Saved themselves a truckload of money.
  4. Have lots of low sodium canned soup on hand to resist the urge to eat out when you are too tired to cook. Our favorites are anything lentil.
  5. Don’t accept a dry squeeze as the end of a product! Cut open every bottle of any product (food, beauty, etc.) when you get towards the end and dig that sh*t out.
  6. Opt to gamble with driving a car old enough to be your great grandfather. Low or no car payments and the money you spend on repairs might not exceed what you’d pay on a new monthly car payment over a year’s time. The key word here is “might.” Try at your own risk.
  7. Enroll in something that is sent to your house for you to peruse and opt to purchase. I’ve seen people do this with makeup, athletic clothing and dog accessories. I do it with clothing. Some may argue this is not a way to save money. I think it has helped me. I receive a box of 5 clothing items every quarter. They always fit perfectly. I think it’s because everything is stretchy. I can try stuff on in my own home and send back what I don’t like. I have not gone clothes shopping outside my home in 2 years. Good riddance shopping! I hated you anyway.
  8. Order food from the grocery store online and pick it up. My brother and sister-in-law swear by this. I’ve tried it a few times. It prevents me from impulsively buying a bunch of stuff in the store.
  9. Use your exes’ phone numbers at the gas station to get the 10 cent gas discount they’ve racked up over this past month buying groceries. Just kidding. I’ve never done this.
  10. And just like it helps you lose weight, if you must eat out, because you are just too damn tired to create a meal, buy meals for your kids and pick off their plates (or out of their bags in our case). Then snack on popcorn, cuties, and cottage cheese when you get home.

Solo Parenting and 5 Secrets to Weight Loss

Just kidding.

I have no secrets to weight loss. In fact, these secrets can likely lead to weight gain.

  1. Be broke enough that when you take your kids out to eat, you can’t afford a meal for yourself.
  2. Cut gluten out of your diet when you’ve made so many sandwiches for school lunches you can’t stand the smell of bread.
  3. Co-sleep with your children and as they grow, stretch yourself into so many unnatural positions that your body burns calories as it reels in pain from awkward sleeping poses.
  4. Pay $30 a month for a gym membership that you don’t use. The stress from paying needlessly for something burns a few calories a month.
  5. Balance out the effects of extra cortisol generated by lack of sleep with a minimum of two fully caffeinated coffees per day, one for breakfast and one for lunch.