The past two-three weeks, I have been dragging. Dragging myself out of bed. Dragging myself to the gym. Dragging myself around the house to get stuff done.
My preference at home is to do as little as possible. Meals have been half-hearted. I have eaten many of them in front of the television with my children. (Kate, Michael, and I enjoyed Zumbo’s Just Desserts.) I am lethargic and unmotivated.
On Saturday, I had a to-do list as long as my arm.
And the sun came out.
I was energized, focused, and getting stuff done. I was not dragging. I even arranged an impromptu lunch with my husband; it included bloody Marys. I kept myself going until 10 p.m. that night.
I mentioned the dragging thing and the sunlight thing to Dan.
“Do you think you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder?” he asked.
Do I think that? No, not really. I think this time of year is hard for many reasons, including and not limited to:
Cold weather and gray skies
Too much to do for too many people in too little time
Grief and its complications
Short days, long nights
Zero time to myself
Do I feel better when the sun is out? Yes, yes I do. Today, I even made a point of going outside because the air was mild and the sun was shining. A little boost of energy and vitamin D, less dragging of self to gym.
Also, let’s face it, it’s been a tough year. I have a couple of end-of-the-year posts I want to do, including the good things from this year.
I am having a hard time thinking of good things from this year. My big highlight is: everyone in my family is healthy. Which is no small thing, to be sure. Not everyone is so fortunate. (And, believe you me, I am praying for those people.)
Those little bursts of sunshine are going to keep me going, people. What’s going to keep you keeping on this time of year?
After two nights of anxiety-fueled insomnia as we started into the new school year, I did manage two nights of decent sleep. At least, I didn’t wake up at 3 a.m. and stay up with a pounding heart and shortness of breath.
Here is a short, non-comprehensive list of the things about which I am having anxiety:
1. Flora, and her newly developed dislike of soccer. She’s on the school team, and has zero interest in showing up for games and practice.
2. Kate, and her deepening sadness. Her transition to middle school has not gone as smoothly as I had hoped it would.
3. Michael, getting off the bus, by himself, every day.
4. All the bad things that can happen to my children because I’m not right there.
5. Dan, and me, and our continuing struggle to stay connected. Today is our anniversary.
7. The children’s will and ability to do the chores. I have asked, repeatedly, to come home to a clean house. I don’t mean sparkling, but clean. Especially in the kitchen. I would like to come home and be able to make dinner — not come home, tell the children what chores need to be done RIGHT NOW, help them clean the kitchen, THEN start dinner.
8. Meal planning.
9. Coming home and cooking every day. I’m over it. There’s got to be a better way (that doesn’t involve lots of going out).
10. Having another anxiety attack and insomnia.
As we started into the school year, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the fact that I had control over NOTHING. I am cognizant that I don’t have lots of control over a great many things, and I have found ways to make peace with that. But lately, I haven’t been able to rein in the worry. I think a contributing factor is the horror of playing witness to the sheer incompetence of the T*ump administration. That daily onslaught from the Idiocracy has exacerbated my anxiety (I am sure I am not alone).
Solutions I am contemplating to deal with anxiety/insomnia:
1. If I start having sleepless nights, I may try melatonin. I fall asleep just fine — I am TIRED when I go to bed. But some nights, I wake up, and I’M UP. And some nights, even a little TV or reading, or counting sheep/relaxation, don’t do the trick.
2. If the anxiety gets too big to deal with, then I may see my doctor for a prescription. I have never taken anxiety meds. I came close when I was leaving my last job, because it was giving me daily panic attacks and tension headaches. But if my anxiety gets in the way of my day-to-day functioning, medication is a short-term solution I am willing to try.
3. Therapy? The question mark is for: when? In theory, I would love to return to talk therapy. I think part of my problem is simply that all my stuff runs around in my head.
4. Doing something different regarding meals. I’m not sure what yet. Maybe cooking a lot on weekends, putting together meals for the week. I can come home and throw something in the oven, or serve soup and sandwiches. The problems: what to cook (that everyone will eat); and getting in the habit of prepping and/or cooking, like, four big meals on the weekend. Plus, omnivore husband, daughter, and son vs. vegetarian me and other daughter. *sigh*
4b. I am considering a meal prep delivery service. A friend suggested Fresh 20, which is a meal planning service. They give you the menus, and what to shop for; you just have to shop, prep, and cook. But I looked at the first offering on the veggie menu, and I knew my children wouldn’t all eat it. They aren’t picky, but I’m not sure they are going to go for coleslaw wraps with hummus and a side of sweet potato fries.
5. Prayer. This isn’t a new one, but it’s a solid standby.
I can hear some people thinking: stop paying attention to the news/social media! But, look, that is a luxury. I think it’s more important to pay attention and do what I can — even if in some cases that’s just worry — than isolate myself from the crap in the world.
The man with the yellow hat decided to take George to cut down a Christmas tree. He figured George had never seen so many trees in his life!
Even though George was a monkey. From the jungle.
The man told George not to wander away, but George, being a monkey, started climbing every tree in sight. Pretty soon, he was lost.
George climbed the tallest tree he could find and looked around. While he was up there, a couple of men, failing to notice him, cut down the tree and carted it off to a children’s hospital.
The man with the yellow hat saw George clinging to the tree in the truck for dear life. He hopped in his little blue car and followed them.
Instead of going right into the hospital, though, the man decided to shoot the shit with the two tree delivery guys. George wreaked total havoc in the hospital.
And since hospitals are no places for monkeys, the head nurse called animal control and had George captured and taken to the nearest zoo.
Sometimes, it’s not the most wonderful time of the year.
People are heartbroken; they may be spending the holidays alone instead of with the person they love.
People have buried people they love and are still grieving.
I have a baby in the ground (yeah, 12 years, I know), and I am actively watching a family member die.
It’s not all merry ’round these parts.
If you are feeling bad this time of year, please reach out to a family member or a friend. If you are thinking of doing something permanent, please call this number: 1 (800) 273-8255 or visit the site. Please know you are not alone.
Here’s my repost from 2009.
It’s (Not Always) the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
This time of year makes me very reflexive. That is, given to reflection.
And, lately, I’ve been thinking of Gabriel. Not the archangel, the son, my son. (Possibly the son because of mentions of the archangel.)
As I often do when thinking about Gabriel, my son, I wandered over to Glow in the Woods, where I was reminded, forcibly, that I am not alone. Unfortunately.
The first Christmas after Gabriel died, I did not want to do anything. We did not put up a tree; we did not decorate; if we exchanged gifts, I’m sure they were of the book/DVD variety — nothing special to my mind.
I don’t remember what we did. I think Christmas Eve at his parents; Christmas day at mine. To add to the pain of the holiday, my SIL’s boy was only two months old. It was horrible. (None of my brothers’ sons, of which he had two at the time, a toddler & an 8-month-old, were in Erie when we were. Which was probably very helpful to me and my peace of mind. Such as it was.)
I probably drank a lot. Which is probably why I don’t remember very much.
Christmas is about the birth of a child. It is a holiday rife with images of babies and children — happy, lively babies and children. The irony of celebrating such a holiday is soul-crushing for a bereaved parent, especially in that first year. I am not exaggerating.
For me, I am sure it only got better because the next Christmas that rolled around featured Flora. And it was still difficult, and not just because of the stunning lack of sleep.
Grieving is hard for anyone this time of year. The pressure to express forced gaiety must be enormous. I for one would love to let the grief-stricken off the hook.
There is no ‘joy to the world’ when your baby (father, mother, spouse, fill in the blank) is (recently) dead. A first holiday without him/her is numbing. I stumbled forward — Dan and I stumbled forward together.
But not all of us babyloss parents are here. Not all of those newly bereaved are here.
If you know someone recently bereaved, reach out. I know you don’t know what to say. Say, “I’m thinking of you.” Say, “I’m thinking of him/her too.” Say, “I miss him/her too.” Send a card, send an angel ornament. The grateful feeling that person will have, knowing he or she is not alone with their memories, their loss, it will be a gift. [Edited to add: Need proof that what I say is good advice? Go here. I’ll be writing her an email myself soon.]
[Edited to add: And I’m touched, too, by this post. I thought of Her Bad Mother — and a number of people I know who have lost parents this year — when I was writing. I’m glad I told her.]
Here is the comment I left at “winter. discontent.”:
“And if I am going to sit here, with everyone in the [Glow in the Woods] community, I will say, Take it easy on yourself. Try not to let others’ expectations force you into ‘celebrating’. Use the winter as an excuse to hibernate with your spouse, and your grief. It’s okay. Have some tea; have some wine. Rest.
“This time of year can be like a slap in the face. I remember that. I think it’s okay to turn your face away, and wait for the new year, the new spring.”
Maybe I had too nice a Thanksgiving vacation. I am finding it very difficult not just getting back into the groove of regular life, but in any way, shape or form getting geared up for Christmas.
My house is a terrible place. We have so many fix-it-up projects to tackle, that we choose to do nothing. And so when something else falls apart or gets too cluttered to deal with, we just add that to the end of the “things-to-ignore” list.
I flipped out on my children recently because toys that were gifts ended up broken within *hours* of being opened. I couldn’t believe it when it happened the second time, and I totally lost my shit. I told my children that they weren’t getting any toys for Christmas, and pretty much ruined M’s birthday.
Also, we have a large piece of furniture that we are storing for a family member, and it needs to go. We are supposed to be hosting Christmas Eve this year, and if things do not improve, I’m going to punt.
Getting large piece of furniture out of house
Painting hallway and hanging pictures (yes, still)
My father-in-law is battling health issues. We don’t know how serious yet. Please keep him and my mother-in-law in your prayers.
And of course: more gun violence. Crappy politicians — I mean the Senate GOP fuckers voted to defund Planned Parenthood but voted to nothing on gun control. Can’t give people access to healthcare, but access to weapons is just fine. The state of the world. I’m having a hard time focusing on the joy of Advent and Christmas.
This is not a feel-good Friday post. I don’t have one of those today. I am struggling on the work front too.
Instead I just keeping listening to this song and crying. It kind of helps if that makes sense.
I have one positive thing to report: I achieved my goal of 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. Thanks to my whole family for being patient and encouraging, especially the week of Thanksgiving, when I actually kicked out 2313 words on Thanksgiving day.
Of course, my writing has since fallen off because I no longer have a daily writing goal. Plus sadness. So I told Dan my new writing goal is 1000 words a day until the book is done.
Wednesday night is what I consider an “off” night. That means, in general, we don’t have a soccer practice, and I don’t have to do baths (obviously, the two are related). Often I dump M in the bath anyway because he manages to get a little dirty and/or by 7:15 I need to occupy him in one place until bedtime.
Plus, California Baby Calming Bath Bubbles.
This past Wednesday night, I cooked All The Things.
While my children played outside for about half an hour, I started slow cooker fried rice, easy peasy dinner pie, and considered also baking a pizza (premade). I fed the kids peas, tofu, and leftover rice. I made a salad. I also put the dishes from the dishwasher away.
I didn’t sit down to eat until 7:30.
This is not how I cook during the week, and the whole time I was doing it, I was wondering WHY I was doing it. But I couldn’t stop. I had to cook, and I had to cook those specific things.
And now I have an appointment on Monday with a psychologist.
Do you wonder about your brain? Does that seem solipsistic? Thinking about thinking?
It seems to be what I am doing a lot of lately. The upshot is that I am trying to decide if my brain is “normal”, or if I need to seek some help.
I suppose even asking the question somewhat answers it, no?
I am — I seem to be — having troubles that can be labeled, and therefore, treated. In theory, anyway.
Obsessive thinking — oh, the obsessive thinking. It’s a little embarrassing, the way this manifests itself. Let’s just say that although I haven’t crossed over into celebrity (celebrity? HA!) stalking, it’s been a close thing.
Sexual impulsiveness. (Expression of which is strictly confined to my marriage, so no worries there.)
Emotionality: short tempered, easily enraged or, conversely, weepy. Maybe this is what the decent into aging looks like from a certain perspective, i.e. hormonally. I don’t know. I’ve never been this age before.
My appetite has dropped, a clear sign of depression. And, people, not to put too fine a point on it, but I cannot afford to lose any weight.
Sleeping is a disaster. I can almost always fall asleep. I’m tired. Staying asleep is another issue entirely.
About once a month, once every six weeks, I crash and burn. I really do. I sit and do as little as possible. I think it’s a combination of exhaustion, depression, and hitting reset. I call it “getting sick”. It usually doesn’t last for more than a day.
I am unable to get things done at home. Really done. My house is an embarrassment. Now, this could very well be a time problem, as in, I don’t have a lot of it. The girls recently started soccer, and that’s two practices a week, and the games pretty much occupy our Saturday mornings. It could be an organization + time problem, as in I’m not organized enough to use the little time I have well. And it could be a focus issue. I did get some things done this weekend, but in a very haphazard manner. I changed all the sheets, and mopped the kitchen floor, I organized our billing and banking. I didn’t cook very much. And the clean laundry is still in baskets.
I am trying to take care of myself, I really am. I make myself eat regularly, and I am a healthful eater. I have been trying to focus on exercise as well, playing with the kids, walking, doing a core workout and an arm workout at least once a week. And of course I am trying to take care of the kids and not lose my patience with them too much.
I’m not sure of next steps. I lean toward talk therapy (it’s helped immensely in the past), but I’m not sure I have time for that. I’m not sure about medication because I think… well, I think what I am going through is normal. As long as I’m not in danger (or a danger), I just think I have to get through this… roller coaster.
Soccer is finite.
The work project that has me locked down is finite.
Summer is coming, and summer means the nanny, and less housework for me. (She’s a slave driver. I love her.)
I have time scheduled for myself (a spa day, a vacation at the beginning of May).
Dan and I are communicating fairly well.
I guess the question that remains is that after these external factors have reached their ends, what the internal landscape looks like.
And go from there.
Incidentally, this blog is standing in for talk therapy at this time, so if you feel the need to weigh in, please do so. Be gentle. I haven’t engaged well here lately. Maybe I need to get back to that as well.
(This is a continuation of my replies to @mindymin from yesterday’s post. I think she makes valid arguments, and I completely understand her POV, even though I don’t share it. Also, I don’t think this is a matter of taking sides — I think it’s a matter of recognizing that workplaces can’t be one size fits all any longer. IMO, anyway.
Of course, my mother would probably point out about now that I should have become a pharmacist.)
Let’s also recognize that in the face of high unemployment numbers and a poor economy in general, the American workplace is even less likely to feel the need to change to accommodate any workers, let alone parents. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to fight for optimal working conditions for everyone, or ask for more options. If they feel they can screw you, they’re going to screw you. People are accepting lower wages, fewer benefits, higher health care insurance costs, and so on, because the thinking is: “Well, at least I’m working” or “At least I’ll be working again.”
This is a major story line on Parenthood, the NBC show, right now. A once-senior executive of a shoe company is thinking of taking a job driving a truck to deliver beverages just so 1) he is working and 2) he can appear to be providing for his family again. But at a significantly reduced wage and with a job that takes him away from his family, what is he really gaining?
Slate examined this too, what people — the long-term unemployed, specifically — are doing to get back to work. I don’t think this article was critical enough. They simply reported what strategies people adopted to get back to work. They don’t ask, “Is it [the particular strategy] worth it?” I think that should be examined also.
These are hard questions. It’s a hard economy right now. Losing my job would be devastating in economic terms. Would my family adjust? Yes, we would. I think there are things that I could do, steps I could take, to get back to work in some fashion without making the current sacrifices I am making. But until I’m up against the wall, I will keep making the sacrifices I am making (a long commute, missing my children, etc.).
Also, from yesterday’s comments, what do you think about @FunkyDung’s point about SAHDs? They are fighting on a different front for some of the same respect that SAHMs have access to: community, acceptance as primary care givers, etc.
Anyway, those are some of my thoughts. More below! Weigh in! Be nice. (Like I have to tell you that…)
Because my father reads this blog, let me offer this disclaimer: I am fine.
Saturday, however, I was not fine.
I experienced for the first time ever true, black-hole depression.
I felt broken. I felt that I couldn’t go on, that I didn’t want to operate another day doing what I was doing. I didn’t want to work, I didn’t want to be a mother or a wife, I didn’t want to clean or do laundry. I did not want to shower or eat or get out of bed.
As a matter of fact, I spent quite a bit of the day in bed. If Michael — my dearest son, who was also sick with a fever and an ear infection (diagnosed Sunday), and who made this sound all weekend, “eehhhhh” “eehhhhh” — If Michael was asleep on Saturday, so was I. My other two children watched Looney Tunes and played with their cousins, and were largely looked after by their Tadone and Bella. (Thank you, Tadone and Bella.)
Two things set off this feeling. Well, no, I shouldn’t say that. I have been feeling increasing pressure for weeks now, pretty much since I went back to work (see: plate spinning). I guess there were two straws that broke the camel’s back. So to speak.
One was a minor argument that Dan and I had Friday night — it just soured things, and when things aren’t right with Dan, nothing is right for me. Then on Saturday, we were late for Flora’s last soccer game of the season. Because: I couldn’t find her shin guards or her uniform; I had to bring snacks; I had to wrangle children who were intent on doing anything but what I told them to do; and because after sleeping well all week, Michael picked Friday to Saturday to get up twice in the night.
All the plates came crashing down, and I didn’t care.
Every day is a struggle for me. Not as bad as Saturday, but definitely a struggle. Even to do the simple stuff. Every day I pick and choose what I am going to do well, if at all. And Saturday wasn’t a struggle simply because I didn’t do anything. After soccer, I let the kids loose in the yard (except for Michael, who was sleeping), and went to bed. When Michael went in for his other nap some time around 2:30, I went to bed again. He got most of my care on Saturday: he got fed, changed, and held. I gave him Tylenol for his fever. I can’t say a was a very excellent mom, especially to my other two, but everyone survived.
Including me, apparently. Sunday I slowly emerged from the black hole. I talked to Dan about how I felt; I listened to him talk about how he felt. I don’t know that we solved anything. Given that our situation hasn’t changed, I suppose it’s perfectly possible that I could have another bad — really, really bad — Saturday any day now. I don’t know.
I guess that’s the scariest part of this: Nothing has changed. I don’t foresee anything changing. (Flora’s not in soccer for now, so I guess that’s a plus.) And now as I’m going about my plate-spinning life, I’m horribly aware of the black web underneath it all. Waiting to catch.
I have come across a couple of reflections on grief on the Interwebs in the past week.
Her Bad Mother, Catherine Connors, talks about what is beautiful about grief and heartbreak. Catherine’s father died unexpectedly last year, and her writing about the experience and its aftermath is powerful and gorgeous. (You should go watch this video, too, for its graceful beauty.)
A writer from a site I frequent, Slate.com, Meghan O’Rourke, has a book out called The Long Goodbye. It was written in the aftermath of her mother’s death on Christmas Day of 2008. She reflects not only on her own experience, but on the larger context of grief in society. I haven’t read the book yet, but her articles have been fascinating.
Both of these women have gotten me thinking about my own experience of grief as it pertains to Gabriel. Especially where they touch on the trouble of grieving in our culture. There seems to be a common misperception that the death of someone you love is something to be gotten over, that eventually, a parent’s death, a child’s death, a spouse’s death, is something we move beyond — or it should be.
And, according to our culture (that is, a Western culture) the sooner the better.
In part, I think we can blame the Kubler-Ross model for this idea of “getting over”. I think people mistake the idea of acceptance in grief as “the end” of grief. As someone who has grieved — who still grieves — acceptance means moving forward and through; it means incorporating the grief into your life. We’ve got this tidy little model to look at, and we often overlook the fact that these stages aren’t hard and fast rules. Even Dr. Kubler-Ross noted the stages aren’t meant to be complete or chronological. It was just a way to recognize grief, not a blueprint for how to experience it.
I think we people who experience deep grief need to fight against this idea as grief as something that is supposed to end. Actively. For our own sakes and sanity, as well as those who come after us. Maybe we need to change the culture of grief from the inside.
While I cannot speak to the death of a parent (knock on wood) at this point, I have talked about this in relationship to the death of my first son at Glow in the Woods. In short, you never get over it. And that’s okay.
Mike Spohr of the Spohrs are Multiplying lost his daughter Madeline, and he writes about being defined by that loss. And that it’s okay. Our losses — like so many other things in our lives — define us. Not in a limiting way (unless we let them), but in an expanding way.
I also share in the spirit of Catherine’s comment to the effect that we should — instead of pushing grief or heartbreak away — step back and *feel* it. As she says, “…Try to take the time to go, ‘ow’ and really think about that ‘ow’.”
After all, I was thinking, what is wrong with being sad about losing someone? What is bad about wailing and crying, about the rituals of grief? Someone DIED. Maybe there is something unseemly about a grieving mother or a grieving adult child — the tears, the snotty noses. But I think that’s society’s issue, not the grieving person’s.
Also, what does pushing grief away do to our relationship with the person who died? Encouraging me to “get over” the death of my son sounds to me, “Just forget about him.” That seems so callous! The impatience our society brings to the experience of grieving is damaging — doubly damaging — to the people who have lost. In my opinion.
I also want to say here: I have been incredibly supported in my grief, from the time that I had to make the hardest phone calls I ever made in my life right up to every anniversary of Gabriel’s death. Early June brings emails and cards and phone calls — not the flood that happened when Gabriel died, of course — but one or two (or 10) from people who just say, “I’m thinking of you.” My mother, for one, acknowledges Gabriel regularly. I don’t know that it is easy for her to do it, but I also don’t feel as if she’s forcing anything. Sometimes at a holiday gathering, often on Mother’s Day, she’ll make a passing reference to our loss. And it helps keep me sane. It anchors my son in the world.
I think talking about my grandmother might do the same for my mom. I hope so anyway.
These people who died lived first.
Have you ever grieved? Do you still? How do you do it? And do you think society should be more accepting of grief and grieving than it is?