Anxiety Looks Like…

Anxiety looks like sitting perfectly still, eyes far away.  It almost, deceivingly, looks peaceful.  Except those far-off eyes are a little too wide and the hands laying in the lap are curled into fists.

Anxiety feels like a storm on the inside, a rushing wave, impending and yet also happening at the same time.

Anxiety sounds like a train coming around the corner.  It’s loud and pressing and demanding, yet your focus remains on the outside.  Have to look a certain way, have to look like you feel a certain way, have to actually feel a certain way, have to have to have to.

Anxiety steals the touch of the sun and the softness of your child’s skin and replaces it with concern about sunburn and fear that you’ll somehow hurt that child and also did you forget to turn off the stove and is that person upset with me and how will I get through today and tomorrow and the day after?

Anxiety smells like something is burning, when you can smell at all.  Your senses collapse into each other until all you can do is thinkthinkthink, trapped in a spiral of imaginary acts and words and possibilities, drowning in what the COULD be and what SHOULD be.

Anxiety feels like questioning every moment of the day, every interaction, every movement, every phrase and breath and glance.  It’s wondering if you scratched your nose at the wrong moment.  It’s feeling fine about a conversation until you are driving away, and then you replay every detail of that conversation and wonder where you messed up.

Anxiety is a constant battle between reality and head space.  A teetering between what is real on the outside and what is real on the inside and a forceful contest convincing the two to meet.

Anxiety looks like me.  It looks like me when I am smiling, it looks like me when I am confident.  It looks like me when I am crying in the closet, and when I am shouting to my music, and when I am furiously texting for help.  It lives in me, my constant companion, a part of me.

 

I’m a Teacher. Don’t Arm Us.

I don’t engage in arguments in Facebook.  At least, not often.  It often devolves into a metaphorical shouting match, and despite people’s claims that they are “looking to understand” or are trying to be “open minded,” I truly think very few opinions are changed on Facebook.

But.  I love reading it all anyway.

Maybe it’s that same part of humans that loves reality TV: the drama.  I also think that people are a little more direct in writing, so you can try to follow the discussion better than in person.

Naturally, the topic of the last several weeks has been the Parkland, Florida school shooting.  And because I have many teacher-friends on Facebook, the topic shows up often.  Specifically, the “solution” of arming teachers.  I have read an extensive amount of Facebook argument on this particular topic.  I have read both sides carefully, and resisted writing ALL CAPS, curse word-laden responses to some comments, in an effort to try to grasp the basic concept of both sides.

This is my conclusion.

DO NOT TRY TO ARM TEACHERS.

I hate emphasizing that.  Like many others, I am fed up.  I’m tired of the shootings, I am scared for my students and my colleagues and I’m devastated that this is the reality that I have to consider.  Please, as a society, let’s try literally everything.  Nothing has been done so far except practice scary and inaccurate drills.  Obviously, we need to start implementing all the solutions we can think of and we need to start doing it fast.

But not this.

 

Let’s talk about why it won’t work, starting with rebutting the three main arguments.

It will deter potential shooters.  They’ll think twice if they know teachers are armed.” 

I don’t know if you’ve been around a teenager lately, but high schoolers are idiots.  I say that with all the love of a warm-hearted teacher.  I love my kids, dearly.  But they can be dumb.  Student forget to bring pencils to class literally every day.  They just ain’t thinking about whether people are armed.  The kind of student who wants to shoot up a school is not thinking that far ahead, they’re just not.

Arming teachers would give them a fighting chance of defending themselves and their students.” 

1. I don’t have training.  I’m not interested in getting training.

2. Even people who have training say that’s a terrible idea.

3. I would never be able to shoot a student.  Not just because I’m certain that my aim would be shit in a situation like that, but also because I love my kids.  I very much see my job as a nurturing one, coming from a place of extreme empathy and compassion.  While I obviously cannot state what I would do in a “what if” situation, I have extreme doubts that I would be capable of shooting a child.

Molly, you wouldn’t need a gun.  Someone around you would need one. Just one or two in each school would make a huge difference.” 

Yeah, that’s not how a school works.  I don’t have a clue what is going on in my colleague’s classrooms.  I teach next to the kind of teacher that during a lecture regularly shouts for effect.  Regularly.  I don’t even pay attention any more, because I assume it’s part of a lesson but I don’t really know.  Do you know how quickly a shooting goes down?  Seconds.  Literally seconds.  And having a teacher down the hall, or even next door, who has a gun isn’t going to solve a damn thing in the literal seconds.

I student taught at a school where teachers carried.  Utah, man.  Here’s the thing. In a faculty meeting at that school, we were told that if/when SWAT shows up during an active shooter situation, then make sure that you are not holding a gun because you will get shot.  Well then, Utah policeman, WHAT IS THE DAMN POINT OF THE TEACHER’S GUN?

I would also like to point out that the teachers I liked the least were the ones packing.  It was the teachers who hated students, who said things like, “That kid needs a good beating to shape him up.”  They were the ones with the guns.  And it made me incredibly uncomfortable to know that the least stable people in the room were the ones with the guns.

 

We are humans.  Humans do stupid shit.  I’m sick of people acting like teachers have to be a step above.  I mean, in an ideal world, sure.  You want the best type of people to be the type to teach your kid.  But, like, that’s just not always the reality.  I’ve known teachers that were definitely alcoholics, teachers with substance abuse problems, others (including myself) with their own mental health issues.  I’ve been the teacher who didn’t sleep the night before and is running on empty.  99% of the time, teachers are amazing humans on their A-game.  But on the day that a teacher is “off,” and something goes wrong in a classroom, do you really want that untrained or barely-trained individual to have a gun?

Setting aside the training issue, who would pay for it?  My school didn’t have the budget to buy me a bookshelf.  Where are they going to find the money to pay teachers a compensation adequate to ask them to defend a school?

 

Let’s also take a moment to talk about UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES.

For example, let’s talk about how scary it is when students start fighting.  We need training to learn to just not intervene in a fight.  What happens when a fight starts, a teacher is desperate to end it, and they have a gun on their belt?  I’m NOT saying it will happen.  I’m saying that teachers are humans and they are reactive, and sometimes teachers make poor choices.

What’s going to happen when kids do stupid shit and a teacher pulls their gun because they legitimately believe that it will solve the problem?  Then we have a whole new debate on our hands.

What if a black teacher is carrying a gun when the SWAT team rushes in?  What kind of fuel will that add to the fire?

 

We HAVE to do something.

Right now, I am socially expected to throw myself on a bullet for my students.  Don’t get me wrong.  If it comes down to it, I’ll take that damn bullet for a student.  But I’m fucking pissed that it’s come to that.

I shouldn’t have to consider leaving my son behind because of my profession.  I’m a teacher.

I signed up to teach.  And some parts of teaching are shitty: the drama, the testing, the bureaucracy.  Fine, I knew that was part of the job.  I didn’t sign up for bullets.  I just didn’t.  I didn’t sign up to have them fired at me, I didn’t sign up to take one, I didn’t sign up to fire them.  And fuck you, society, for acting like this (along with all the other shit I have to deal with) is also my, the teacher’s, responsibility.

It’s not fucking fair to put this on teacher’s shoulders.  We already carry so many burdens, we are consistently told that we cannot do our job from all sides, and then all those sides add more to our burden.  Anyone who has worked in a beaurocracy can tell you how the paperwork and demands mount.  I face an innummable amount of challenges every day.  I am not just responsible for the academic growth of my students.  Assuming that is ludicrous. I am responsible for social growth, emotional growth, psychological growth.  Politicians want me to do more, administration wants me to do more, parents want me to do more, in ALL of those areas. Now you want me to carry a gun into school?  No.  Just no.  How about we listen to the teachers begging for more resources?

Let’s get moving.  Let’s do everything.  Let’s tighten gun laws, let’s beef up mental health supports.  Let’s support parents and love kids and get resources to the individuals that can best use them (teachers).  But don’t you dare try to put a gun in my hand.

When The Dream Breaks, We All Will Survive

When I started this blog, I assumed that nothing about my life would be off-limits.  That was part of my depression: the encompassing feeling of alone-ness.  To fight it, I wrote openly about the “hard topics.”

Turns out, there is a topic too hard for me to really cover.

In fact, this topic came up loud and clear about the last time I published a post.  You may have noticed: I took a blog hiatus.

So here it is.  An explanation of my absence, and maybe the only time I touch on this particular topic (at least for now).

My marriage has ended.

I’m not interested in going into the details of the why and how.  It wouldn’t help and it certainly could hurt a lot.  But I will pen this post, as an homage to my pain and a declaration of my future.

I am getting divorced.

I hate even typing it.  It sounds so… I don’t even know.  I started to write the word “final,” but that’s not quite it.  It sounds the way a gavel sounds, slamming into a desk as a judgement is made.  “Divorce” sounds like a sentence.  It’s a label I never wanted, a future I fought against heart and soul.  The word is heavy both in my mouth and on the screen and I despise it.

I’ve come to despise a lot of words lately.

“Ex” is another word I hate.

Any word that smacks of the legal aspect of all of this, “custody” in particular; hate it.

And I hate writing this blog post.

Amy Poehler once wrote a painfully accurate chapter on divorce in her book Yes Please.  It’s honest, but not overly-detailed.  The chapter cuts to the heart of the matter and also makes you laugh and I highly recommend it to everyone.  I read it years ago, before marital issues were even on my radar; even then Poehler changed my perspective on the issue.  Two quotes in particular lodged in my mind:

“I don’t want to talk about my divorce because it is too sad and too personal.  I also don’t like people knowing my shit”

It’s fucking sad.  And it’s fucking personal.  And I don’t like people knowing my shit. She goes on to add,

“I don’t think a ten-year marriage constitutes failure.”

And my seven years should not be completely undone by how it all ended.  It just shouldn’t.  I don’t want it to be.  I’ve been married my entire adult life, since I was nineteen.  I refuse to believe that those seven years were wasted.

Divorce is a grieving process.  Most of the time, my struggle is not the grief on looking behind (although I certainly have and will continue to experience that), but the grief looking forward.  I mourn the life I thought I would have.  Some days I feel like that dream has been stolen from me and stolen from my boy.

My dreams have been crushed.  And yes, some of those dreams were unrealistic.  But they were my dreams and I held them extremely close.

This whole process has taken my heart and soul, it has re-framed my entire world.  It has made me feel both powerless and powerful.  It has narrowed my viewpoint of myself but also expanded my horizons.  It has forced an inner perspective that I often fight and sometimes abhor.  All of it just doesn’t make sense and yet it is all real and somehow mine.

It will be okay.

I will survive.  I am surviving.  I have a tribe of beautiful humans surrounding and protecting my son and myself.  I am facing myself in new and hard and awful ways, but the kind of awful that forces a person to grow.  I am growing more than I thought possible, and healing more than I knew I needed, and I am grateful for that.

I’m actually grateful for a lot of things, lately.  I am incredibly provided for.

And so is my son.

And we will continue to be.

Even though that part of the dream has broken, we are all surviving.  We will continue to survive and thrive and yes, hurt.  But move forward in our hurt onto better and healthier things.  The dream has died and I will mourn that.  But we all will survive.

Spencer Holdaway: The HIGH Standard of Society

This post was guest-authored by Spencer Holdaway, a dear friend of mine. When he sent me his thoughts in written form, the feminist in me wanted the whole world to hear them.  I settled for publishing them here.  Spencer is an active member of the LDS church, a lens that colors part of this post.  (Used with permission.)

 

Ever since I was little, I can recall being attracted to bigger women. If I was speaking to someone like Freud, he might have pointed towards some facts in my family that might suggest that, because of my upbringing and those I was around, I have the attractions that I do.  Needless to say, I highly disagree with many of Freud’s claims.

Whatever the case, I find a woman that looks like this:

FAR more attractive than someone like this:

Now, why is that important?

Because the world is under the insane impression that beauty is if you are as thin as a rod, show off a great butt, and all that junk. I like to use Michael Bay’s movies for a prime example of how the world views women and how disgusting that is for someone like me. Bay, and indeed MANY in the movie industry, naturally assume that all straight men are into this sort of woman…so they cast them as the lead’s love interest and make any other girl who might be buff and big a lesbian, a dumb-as-rocks comedic character, or otherwise. They try and make those types of women look comical in some perverted effort to install their own views into the minds of their viewers that THAT is not the kind of woman any sane, straight man or boy would want to date.

That’s where I fall, however. Because I do. I would LOVE to date a girl that’s 6’0”+, that would just be so beautiful and wonderful…not saying that I wouldn’t date anyone shorter! I just feel…perhaps not as comfortable with it? I’m not being picky, it’s just part of who I am now. My eyes naturally fall upon those girls who, quite literally, stand out in the crowd.

Of course, we need to talk about my anxiety and depression for a moment.

My anxiety likes to try and point out a few things to me, they are as follows:

  1. You’re not attracted to sexy women like Megan Fox or thin models in bikinis? Oh, you must be gay then!
  2. Freak
  3. You’re attracted to women who are large, big, muscular, etc., who could probably bench you? Oh, you’re just secretly a closet homosexual because everything you find really attractive in certain women are only acceptable in men (pixie cuts, sportswomen, women in the armed forces, etc.)
  4. Freak
  5. You are attracted to a woman who could hold you in her arms, that would require you to get on your tip-toes to kiss? You must REALLY like those dominatrix women then, huh? Sicko.
  6. Freak
  7. Is this a “fetish?” Is it not? Some of your friends think it is, some of them think it’s not – What is it then? There is absolutely no clear definition on this either
  8. Freak
  9. You just view women as meat, you sicko.
  10. Freak
  11. What’s the Church’s stance on this kind of attraction? It certainly makes your heart flutter and gets you excited. Sinner.
  12. Freak
  13. You would rather cuddle up in the arms of a big, strong woman like a girl would to their big, buff football boyfriend? Huh. Wonder what that makes you then
  14. Freak
  15. You really do like those girls that have “junk in the trunk”, huh? You pig.
  16. Freak
  17. Why would ANY girl who is taller would want to date you? Don’t you know? Tall girls don’t LIKE shorter boys. Might as well get a cat now and die alone, weirdo.
  18. Freak
  19. Why would you EVER like a girl with arms as big as your chest? That’s disgusting, you’d never fit in with the other guys
  20. Freak
  21. What would your parents and family think if they ever found out? Gee, you’d be an outcast FOR SURE.
  22. Freak
  23. Did I mention freak?

 

These honestly are some of the things that have come into my mind as my anxiety locks me down.

There are some good things, that I’ve come to find though…thanks to some wonderful friends of mine.

1. There is NO commandment that says: “Thou shalt not like women bigger than you”

2. Are you sinning? NO.

3. Are you a worthy priesthood holder still? YES.

4. Quoted from a friend: “In some ways it makes you more masculine because you are not afraid of girls like that. A lot of guys would feel intimidated by dating stronger girls but you admire it! It also kinda makes you humble because you recognize that you need to be held and that you too need to feel safe in a relationship.”

5. This world is increasingly more understanding than my anxiety wants me to think.

6. The cuddle value of a big woman? Heck yeah, spot on

7. There are FAR weirder things out there to be attracted to, such as dead things and children…I think I’m doing pretty okay if I’m still attracted to women (albeit 6’5” ones…)

8. Who says that ONLY women are entitled to wanting that security that is found in a bigger significant other? Am I not free to want that as well?

Also, if anyone gives us crap? She can TOTALLY beat them up, and I’d be perfectly alright with that ❤

 

And the end of the day, it’s my choice, isn’t it? Yes, I am attracted to big woman; women who are strong, well-built, tall and even very tall. Is that normal? Eh, not really. But hey…it’s MY vision of beauty, and as the beautiful, wonderful Gwendoline Christie once said:

MORAL OF THIS POST:

I’m worthy, I am not a freak, I am a wonderful guy who just has slightly different taste in women. And ya know what? That is OKAY. So, you have your attractions and tastes…

…and I’ll have mine.

I’d Rather Be a Shitty Teacher

When I was a student teacher, my cohort group would meet every couple of weeks.  Our coordinator (the liaison between the university and the middle school) was this tough old woman with the kind of zeal for education that anyone would find enviable.  She also had a resume the length of my arm: teacher for a billion years, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, HR coordinator.  Unwilling to completely retire, she guided the fresh faces of the student teaching program.  She walked slowly, vocally despised driving of any kind, and her nails were always perfect. I loved her.  She was experienced, she was direct, and she answered every little question with brutal honesty.

And she looked shockingly like this stock photo woman

One day, us student teachers were talking about the work load.  Let me stress: the work load for new teachers is immense.  It is overwhelming at best, and burn-out worthy at worst.  Linda, the coordinator, leaned back in her chair and glanced out the window, which overlooked the staff parking lot.

“When I was a principal, I hated seeing teachers leave late.  Every school has a couple who do that.  They come before everyone else, when it’s still dark.  When they leave it’s dark too, and they’d often be lugging stacks of papers and carts of projects.  I knew they were going to go home and keep working on school stuff.  I hated that.”

We all looked at each other and looked at her.  Isn’t that a hallmark of a good teacher?  The kind of person that goes early and stays late?

Linda sighed.  “In this profession, you have to take care of yourself.  You can’t give 100% to your students every day.  Give it to them when you can, sure.  But if some days, you have to give them 70%, so that you save your sanity, do it.”  She looked at us.  Leveled with us, the kind of honest gaze that people of a certain age can just lay on you.  “It’s better to give 70% and still be in the profession in five years.  Your students will be okay.  You need to be okay, too.”

I clung to that advice like it was a ship mast in the middle of an epic sea storm, because that’s what student teaching feels like.  I worked my ass off most days and some days… I didn’t.  Some days I rested or ignored school, or let papers sit for a day or three extra.  I left student teaching excited about teaching, not scared of it.

My last day of student teaching.

I continued to set boundaries with my teaching.  I refused to take work home (except essays.  Essays almost always come home.)  I came early many days because I liked it and I felt productive, but I often left exactly on time.

We glorify teachers who ruin their lives for teaching.  Take Freedom Writers, that Hilary Swank movie.  In the movie, the selfless teacher slaves for her students, going so far as to get a second job to support her classroom supplies, so that she can be everything and more for her students.  She works heinous hours.  Her marriage falls apart.  She about loses her mind.  And yeah, she helped those kids.  And that’s great.  But at what price?

I mean, yeah this is ideal. Sure. But sacrificing everything for this? Nope.

I work with a phenomenal teacher who consistently amazes me.  He is a department head, his lesson-planning is superb, he coaches like three different sports, is working towards administrative positions, and volunteers all the time.  One day I was asking about his personal life.  He told me that he had a girlfriend.  When I asked about kids, he kind of shrugged and said that he didn’t really have time for them.  From his tone, I felt like he was implying that he wanted kids.  When I inquired further (because I suck at boundaries,) he admitted that he didn’t think he could be a good father because of all the stuff he does at school.

I am not the end-all be-all for my students.

My students are not my end-all, be-all.

I am not their friend.

I am not their counselor.

I am not their parent.

Point of fact, I am someone’s parent.  He is not my student.  As of this publishing, he is 20 months old and happily asleep in the next room.

I want to take care of my students.  I want to give them 100% on the days that I can, because I like to and they need it.  But more than that, I want to remain in the profession.  And more than both those things, I want to be a good mom.  And yeah, sometimes I have to choose between being a shitty mom and a shitty teacher.  And I can promise you, when it comes down to it, I would rather be a shitty teacher than a shitty mom.

Right now, I am the end-all, be all for my kid.

And in many ways, he is my end-all.

Good teachers go home on time.  Good teachers take care of themselves.  Good teachers work to balance their home life and their professional life.  I don’t always get that balance right (in fact, I often fail,) but at least I know what my priorities are and I work towards them accordingly.

Three Reasons the First Year of Motherhood is the WORST.

I’ll say it.  I don’t care anymore.  The first year of my child’s life sucked royal dick.

Those first twelve months? Hell.

Don’t get me wrong.  I loved that little boy with everything inside of me.  And.  I hated that first damn year.  I often brooded, “What the hell have I done?”  Because no one told me I would hate the entirety of that year.  No one told me how much I would resent everything about it (except the little boy, I promise I really did love him).

No one told me I wouldn’t enjoy this part.  I kind of figured I would just instantly love motherhood and everything that came along with it because, I dunno, sacrifice?  I feel like I was fed this line about how everything that is hard and frustrating becomes okay because you’re a mom.  As though all the negative things in life kind of wash away because of the great glory that is motherhood.  I bought it, hook line and sinker and I SUNK.  Holy shit did I sink.

And I’m not just talking about my post-partum depression.  That was certainly part of it.  But if I look back on my son’s first year rationally, three things stick out that objectively made everything about it just the Worst. With a capital W.

 

#1: Sleep deprivation.

There is no way to overstate the exhaustion of motherhood.  Like, parents try to explain it before you birth those little babies, but… There’s just no way.

When you have a baby, if you are breastfeeding, you have to feed that child at least every three hours.  Every.  Three.  Hours.  And every three hours from the moment he starts to suck, not the moment he finishes.  So if you have a slow feeder (mine took 45 minutes to an hour) that means that you get two hours, then an hour of feeding, two hours, then an hour of feeding, two hours, then an hour of feeding.  And in that two hours you have to do all the following: change the baby, bathe the baby, feed and clothe and bathe yourself, plus whatever household/work responsibilities you have.  Oh.  And sleep.  Literally sleeping in two hour increments.

And then.  He gets a little older.  And his feeding shortens, but he still eats all the damn time, so now you have two AND A HALF hours.  Which is a big bonus, trust me.

And then you get four hours and it feels like HEAVEN ON EARTH.  Seriously.  I never thought four hours of sleep could feel so good.

But that was basically my maximum for twelve months.

So I spent twelve months of my life extremely sleep-deprived.  Extremely.  And, to be honest, sleep is number one of my list of priorities before I had children.  I’m a nine-hour-a-night sleeper, minimum.  So this four-hour thing?  Absolute.  Hell.

Sleep deprivation fucks with you.  It messes with your emotional capability, your processing ability, your socializing skills.  I regularly experienced sleep deprivation so real, it mimicked intoxication.  Like, no.  All the no.  Just no.

My son did not sleep through the night until he was fifteen months old.  I swear, motherhood got so much better when I could sleep a whole night.  Before that?  It was damn hard.

#2 Everything is in transition.

Think back on the last big transition of your life.  Moving?  Job or career change?  Relationship shift?

Nobody really likes change.  We all struggle with the transition, finding our “new normal.”  Motherhood is the single biggest transition I have ever gone through.  All my normal was turned on its head.  And because babies grow incredibly fast, once you master one skill, they hurl another thing at you.  And babies require a million skills of you for basic survival.  A LOT of skills.

Like, diapering and cream and bathing and feeding (bottle or boob, it’s a giant pain) and daycare and sickness and different cries and sleep training and OH MY GOD STOP.  Full disclosure: I babysat constantly through my teens, including little babies.  It was helpful, yes, but it NEVER taught me the full range of skills my child required.

Remember the way you fumbled through your first “big girl” job?  My entire first year of teaching felt like a big clumsy series of missteps and anxiety and frustration.  Motherhood is no different except 1.) you’re sleep deprived and less able to handle your shit correctly, and 2.) there is a tiny human literally dependent on you for survival, and 3.) you never get to clock out.  Pressure’s on, bitch.

Plus, your relationships turn upside down.  All of them.  Suddenly you don’t have time for friends the way you used to, and sleep deprivation makes it difficult to form a complete sentence, and all you can talk about is diaper cream brands anyway.  Not to mention the relationship with your spouse.  Want to know what kind of hell that goes through?  Husband and I needed rehab and counseling just to begin to work through that shit.

#3 Babies are boring.

In perhaps the most ironic twist of it all, babies are boring as shit.

Let me repeat: I love my son.  I enjoyed going through all the milestones.  I enjoyed watching him grow.  I enjoyed all the snuggles and bonding.

Let’s get real, though.  Babies don’t do anything.  Especially at first.  They literally cry and eat and shit and piss and sleep.  They don’t smile.  They don’t hug.  They don’t say thank you.  They barely raise their arm.  IT’S DULL.

And yeah, as they get bigger they interact more.  But.  Is laying on a mat and smiling really interacting?  I didn’t know what to do with my son.  I felt like I was “supposed” to stimulate him or teach him or… something.  Leaving him just to sit and stare at the wall?  That seemed so barbaric.  Insensitive?  Cruel?  I don’t know.  But I didn’t have a clue how to interact with him.

Eventually I decided to just talk at him, which probably proves my own minimal degree of sanity and predicts his, but whatever.  It was still boring.  And sleep-deprived boring?  Fucking torture.

Cute, but boooooring.

 

When my son turned one, it was like the clouds parted and sunshine bathed the land.

BOOM. Personality and interaction!

While he did not sleep through the night until 15 months, by 12 months he was only waking once a night.  I could handle that.  I didn’t like it, but I could handle it.  The clutter of my sleep deprivation cleared and I started to think and feel clearer.

At about a year, the transition settled (mostly) and I felt far more secure in the world of “Mom.”  It wasn’t always easy, but I had a clear idea of my expectations.  I felt like MOST (not all) of the literal and figurative shit he threw at me I could handle.  Or.  I at least knew which Mom-Friends to call and ask for advice.

And the best part?  The very best part?

My son is now the most interesting human in the world .  He has a personality that totally sweeps me off my feet and restores my faith in humanity.  He is gentle and snugly and determined.  He loves our little dog and giggles uncontrollably when he gets to pet her.  He likes to say “Bye!” to everyone anytime we change location (including, yes, strangers).  He loves to blow kisses and give hugs and name things.  All of those things are SO EXCITING and I love seeing the world through his fascinated and happy eyes.  None of these wonderful aspects of him existed, at least not obviously, in that first year.

 

Hang in there, you first year mamas.  It gets better, I promise.

 

What Does it Mean? The story of an ellipsis

. . . 

Is it just ’cause it looks cool?

It’s for your family, right?  You, your husband, your son.  Three of you.

Oh my god, how long have you had that?  I just noticed it.

What does it mean?

I get asked these questions on a semi-regular basis.  I got my little tattoo just over one year ago; it was a gift to myself and a reminder of hard-learned lessons.

Usually, I simply tell my curious questioners, “It’s an ellipsis.  You know, the dot-dot-dot in punctuation?”

They respond, “Oh!  I didn’t know it had a name.”  Sometimes, they add, “What does it mean?”

“It’s my reminder to pause.”

I usually leave it at that.  Because the rest of the story isn’t something you usually tell a perfect stranger, and quite honestly most of those strangers are pretty satisfied just to know what the dots mean.  It doesn’t change that there is a rest of the story, however.

In April 2016, I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation, stemming from postpartum depression.  It was horrifying; I was ashamed, I was scared, and I was desperate.  That was the beginning of my healing journey, because it turns out that postpartum depression wasn’t my only struggle.  In the following months, I took drastic steps in my mental health recovery.  That is a story for another time, but suffice it to say that it was long and hard-won.  I had to face fears I desperately wanted to ignore, and I had to let myself experience nearly debilitating emotional pain in order to move forward.

I learned valuable skills.  The ability to pause, for example.  Mindfulness, the art of staying present, is the kind of thing that is so simple to explain but so incredibly difficult to practice.  It is literally just keeping your mind entirely on what is happening in reality in your present.  It’s not obsessing over the thoughts in your head, or clinging to the memory of something painful; it’s figuratively grabbing hold of the present and staring it in the face with your full attention.  It has been said that depression happens when you focus too much on the past, and anxiety is when you focus too much on the future.  Mindfulness is a medicine for the extreme anxiety that I battle on a regular basis.

I had to learn that pain isn’t permanent.  Pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice.  I could choose to recognize my pain for what it was, and recognize that it wasn’t permanent.  Life marches forward without your permission, and pain moves too if you let it.

I also had to learn “No.”  It’s a simple word, but a hard word.  I commit myself too often to too much and I wear myself thin.  My hospitalization forced me to find ways to self-soothe, to self-care, to self-appreciate.  Often, this included saying, “No” to extra obligations, “No” to unfinished projects, and “No” to perfection.

Move forward I did, and heal I did, and heal I continue to do.

Which is where my tattoo comes in.

Have you heard of the semi colon project? In sum, it’s about suicide awareness, using the semi colon as its symbol.  In punctuation, a semi colon functions as a place where the author could end the sentence, but decides to keep going.  The sentence isn’t over yet.  Your life isn’t over yet.  Get it?

My tattoo is in homage of that.  In punctuation, an elipsis, also known as dot-dot-dot or [ . . . ], represents one of three things:

  1. a pause
  2. a trailing off, with an implication that there is more information
  3. a way to omit unnecessary information when quoting material

As such, my tattoo is my own personal reminder of three things:

  1. Pause.  Breathe.  Remain mindful, especially when anxiety arises. Mindfulness = medicine.
  2. Things go on, always.  My life went on when I was convinced that it wouldn’t.  My pain moved on, even when I thought it was permanent.
  3. Omit the unnecessary.  Say no when you need to, and get rid of the extra.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, but it’s my perfect metaphor.  Every day it reminds me and strengthens me.