Category Archives: anxiety

How Big is Your Fear?

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It was a big day. It was Dylan’s first day of early morning band practice at school, and it was my first day of work.

Did I mention I got a job? After a brief twenty-year hiatus, I’m putting my M.F.A. in Modern Dance and Choreography to good use as a part-time creative movement and beginning ballet teacher at my local YMCA. I’ve kept a low profile about it because I’m so freaking excited and happy to have the opportunity to do what I love (and get paid!), and I don’t want anything to jinx it.

“My stomach hurts.” Dylan’s first words upon waking up were ominous, but they didn’t scare me. When you have a kid with anxiety, unexplained stomachaches are a common occurrence. I know because I get them, too.

My gut told me he was worried about the band. Truth be told, I was a bit on edge, too. After eight years as a stay-at-home mom, it was scary to be accountable to anyone other than my kids. I had deadlines and responsibilities as a writer, but for the most part, I worked when, where, and how I wanted. Now, I’d be clocking in and out on a weekly basis.

I made breakfast and sent Dylan upstairs to get dressed. He slogged through all of it. He barely touched his food. “Are you afraid of going to band practice?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “A little bit.”

“I know you’re nervous, but I want you to go because you’re a talented drum player and I’m pretty sure you’re going to have a great time. If you’re tummy still hurts after the practice, go to the nurse and I’ll come get you, but I have a feeling you’ll feel much better once you get there and get settled. Trying new things is scary. I get it. I really do.”

He agreed but continued to trudge.

I went to my bedroom and into my closet to fetch a small, round, hand-painted wooden box that I used to hold hair pins. It was a gift from a choreographer back when I was in college. She gave a different box to each dancer backstage before our first performance. Mine was red with raised streaks and waves of black, white, and gray across the top. My name was painted on the inside of the lid.

It was the first time I performed at a venue that wasn’t on campus. Instead of the audience being filled with teachers, friends, and family, it was filled with teachers, friends, family, and complete strangers who paid actual money to see the show. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once, and receiving that precious gift eased my nerves.

I told Dylan about the performance and the box and how scared I was to perform that night. Then I asked him, “How big is your fear?”

“Big,” he said.

“Show me with your hands.” He spread his hands wide like he held a beach ball in front of his chest.

“Put it in the box. Squish it so it will fit.” He looked at me like I was nuts, but he followed my directions.

Once his fear was safely in the box, I closed the lid. “It’s mine now. I’ll hold your fear so you can let it go. Go get your socks and shoes on.”

Still, he lumbered. We were going to be late if we didn’t get in the car in the next two minutes. I bent down to help him with his socks and that’s when he projectile vomited all over himself, the kitchen counter, the bar stools, the floor, and me. It even landed on the lenses of my glasses.

He was definitely nervous about band practice…and he also had the dreaded stomach bug. My big fear of vomit and even bigger fear of my kids getting sick on my first day of work came true. It was a good thing I unearthed that special little box. Hopefully there was enough room in it to hold my fear, too.

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Filed under anxiety, fear, motherhood, Uncategorized, work

Replacing Buts (Not Butts)

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I’ve started seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist to address my anxiety. I’ve done a lot of traditional therapy over the years, but this is the first time I’ve approached my excessive worry from a behavioral standpoint. I’m only a few sessions in, but and so far it’s been kind of mind-blowing.

I crossed out that “but,” because one of the strategies I’ve learned is to replace “but” with “and” to remove negative bias. For instance, if I say, “Dinner was delicious but the service was slow,” I let the pessimistic part win. I diminish the fact that the food was good. If I say, “Dinner was delicious and the service was slow,” I still feel pretty good about the meal I ate. It’s a small tweak that has an enormous impact on my automatic thought process, which tends to thrust me down a perilous rabbit hole of fear and negativity.

For example: I have a headache. I don’t usually have headaches. This is weird. Something must be wrong. I must have a brain tumor. I’m going to die.

My fellow anxiety suffers, amirite?

I do this dangerous dance often with my health. In my defense, when you try to have a baby but (and?) get cancer in your uterus instead, an onslaught of irrational worry isn’t so farfetched. It happens with my writing, too. Imposter Syndrome is a beast. Another breeding ground of angst is my children, both of whom are anxiety triggers I lovingly live with day in and day out.

As any parent will attest, kids are a constant source of concern, but and when you have anxiety, concern occasionally turns into calamity without warning because anxiety is a shitty friend.

Lately, I’m fixated on school because I have one child, in particular, who is incredibly bright but detests school. Hold up. I have one child, in particular, who is incredibly bright AND detests school. Better.

I’m a successful product of public schools and my kids are enrolled in an excellent public school district, but parenthood has woken me up to how kids with learning challenges, sensory differences, and special needs struggle to fit in the neat and tidy boxes for which most classrooms are equipped and teachers are trained.

Did you catch that? Classrooms are crap! Teachers are crap! My kid is going to slip through the cracks! His spirit will be crushed! He’ll fail out of school!

I’m ridiculous. Let’s try that again.

I’m a successful product of public schools and my kids are enrolled in an excellent public school district, AND parenthood has woken me up to how kids with learning challenges, sensory differences, and special needs struggle to fit in the neat and tidy boxes for which most classrooms are equipped and teachers are trained.

Can you feel the difference? I turned out great and my kids are in an awesome school AND there are challenges. Now, the positive and negative parts of this story have equal value, and I’m empowered to tackle the problems and advocate for solutions. Everything’s going to be okay, but and I have a serious “but” problem.

School is important, BUT there’s too much homework, BUT there’s not enough recess, BUT there’s too much sitting, BUT there’s not enough STEM, BUT the classes are too big, BUT the classrooms are too small, BUT handwriting skills are ignored, BUT no one is teaching the kids how to type… I could go on, but and I won’t.

It’s hard to see anything positive from behind all of my “buts” (not “butts”). Not only am I hyper-aware of my own “but” problem, but also I’m starting to notice other people’s “buts” (not “butts”), including my kids’ “buts” (not “butts,” although their butts are adorable).

“The Amazon Jungle is the biggest jungle in the world.” My nine-year-old school-hater surprised me with this random and unsolicited outburst of knowledge.

“Is it bigger than New York?” My seven-year-old son’s curiosity was unleashed.

“Of course it’s bigger than New York.”

“Is it bigger than Texas?”

“Yup.”

“Is it bigger than Earth?”

“How can it be bigger than Earth when it’s on Earth?” He was smug with 4th grade superiority.

My seven-year-old, who will always be two frustrating years younger than his big brother no matter how hard he tries to catch up, matched his jungle and raised him a cloud. “Did you know clouds are heavy?”

 “How heavy?”

“Heavier than a grown man. More than 105 pounds!”

“Wow, that’s really heavy.” I stifled a giggle.

“If a cloud falls on you, you’ll die.” The older brother added his two (morbid) cents.

“Mommy, do you know how rain is made?”

“How?”

“Water evaporates from the earth into the sky, it forms clouds, and then water falls out of the clouds,” and then, “but that means when it’s raining, God isn’t peeing on us.”

but

There was a mix of satisfaction and disappointment in his voice. He was proud of his newfound knowledge, but and his imagination got truth bombed by science.

I knew just what to say. “Oh, sweetheart, it’s true that God isn’t peeing on us, but and it’s still God playing the drums when you hear thunder.” (For now, anyway.)

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Filed under anxiety, health, molar pregnancy, motherhood, parenthood, school

Our Gathering Place

It’s 6:20 p.m. We just got home from the reading tutor. It was an hour-long session, but traffic was hideous so we were gone for nearly two hours. Neither kid has finished their homework, practiced the drums, or taken a shower. No one has eaten dinner, and I have nothing planned or prepped to cook. The dog’s water bowl is empty again. The kids won’t have anything to wear to bed unless I fetch some wrinkled pajamas from the load of laundry that’s been sitting in the dryer for two days. Whatever is in the washer smells by now and will have to be rewashed. I have a dozen emails to return, a check to write for the PTO, and a claim to submit to our health insurance provider. We need flu shots, and if I don’t pay the gas bill online today (as in over an hour ago when it wasn’t yet 5:00 p.m.), it will be late. I haven’t gone through the mail in nearly a week, a tower of boxes in the garage need to be broken down for recycling pick-up first thing in the morning, and I need to text our soccer coach about bringing a team snack to the next game. Lunch boxes need to be unpacked and ice packs need to be refrozen, reading logs need to be signed, and the dishwasher needs to be emptied so everything in the sink can be loaded. I owe my sister a phone call or at least a text (I can’t remember the last time we spoke), there are 25 voice messages on my cell phone, and I haven’t checked in with my writing group in several days.

It’s a typical day. We’ll never catch up. We’ll never get it all done. We’ll never get it all right. We’ve definitely passed the window to do math homework without a meltdown. We’ll wake up tomorrow and try again.

“Let’s go!” One by one, we spill into the backyard.

The boys jump, run, spin, and giggle on the trampoline. They rest their eyes that have been fixed on a screen, a workbook, or a smart board all day. They breathe fresh air. They marvel in the feeling of being weightless in the air, and they surprise themselves when they flip and land on their feet. I throw the ball for the dog. When she tires of that game, she races in circles underneath the trampoline barking and jumping to catch the feet she sees bouncing above her. Distracted by the fun and physical movement, the kids tell me snippets about their day. About the game they played at recess, the book they borrowed from the library, and the hopes and dreams they chose at school for the year ahead – to be strong and make new friends.

As the fall sun sets and the noise of cars on the road beyond our yard dwindles, we let the exhaustion, stress, and anxiety of the day evaporate into the cool air. Inside, there’s schoolwork, chores, and endless household tasks to be done before we go to sleep. They are important. But so is this. We will get back to work. But first, this. Our safe place. Our happy place. Our nothing else matters no matter how much we still have to do place. Our gathering place.

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Filed under anxiety, boys, chores, school