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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back to My Future, Too

It's October 21, 2015... the date that Doc Brown and Marty McFly travel to in Back to the Future II, so I suppose it's appropriate that I found myself reliving a powerful part of my childhood this evening with my kids. 

It was a perfect autumn evening, and the Mountain was beckoning. Some recent construction around our apartment complex had created a small deposit of dirt and rocks in one spot, and from that location, adventure called. This particular evening, we came equipped with a few plastic trucks and spoons for excavating. As we approached the site, the kids quickly scrambled to the Mountain's summit. 

It was a perfect mountain: about a dozen feet high, mostly dirt with some good-sized rocks and several broken pieces of concrete slabs scattered throughout, ideal places to perch while climbing or digging. It was absent of broken glass, rebar, and other tetanus-laden hazards that might otherwise threaten the carefree explorations of a 3- and 6-year-old.  

Back to the Future came out 30 years ago, and I was around the age then that my kids are now. As I watched them play, I smelled the dirt and remembered how much fun I had had when left to simply play by myself outside. A dirt mound, a small copse of trees, a cove of bushes, even a pile of rocks, all became places of potential magic and adventure.

As a child, some minute, perceptive part of my young mind knew that childhood was a one-way journey. And so –much to the chagrin of my mother-- I took advantage of playing in and exploring every dirt mound, every wilderness-like patch of woodland, any place that looked as though it held the remotest possibility of fun or adventure. And it made my childhood wonderful.

Now, the Engaging And Involved Parent part of me wanted to climb the Mountain and join my kids, to sit in the dirt, asking to be included in their play, in their world... but I didn't. I have already had that time of my life, and I enjoyed every bit of it that I could. Now it was time for my children to experience the joy and magic of being able to play free from parental intrusion. I needed to let them create those experiences on their own.

So I sat for an hour in the cool and slowly-fading autumn light and watched my kids from 10 feet and 30 years away, until it seemed as though my past, our present, and their future came together, and my heart filled with so much remembrance, peace, and joy that it ached.

It was absolutely wonderful.

This post is dedicated to my dad, who taught me from a young age to enjoy and experience life in every way I can.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Irreverent DIY Guarantee

There is no shortage of tastefully-lit, artfully-filtered photos of completed DIY projects all over the Internet: I've seen everything from a kitchen table with a poured concrete top and iron pipe legs, to high heels with the undersides painted with sky-blue nail polish. Sure, the table looked great in the bohemian-urban-chic loft, but good luck finding friends to help haul that heavy-ass table down the stairs when you move out of that apartment. And the shoes looked nice in the finished display photo, but after just one night on the town, they'd look way worse than before. A lot of the DIY craft projects circulating on artsy blogs and Pinterest are, at best, impractical; at worst, they're downright stupid. (I'm looking at you, gold-painted honey bears.)

“What? We coordinate perfectly with the chalkboard-painted toilet seat and the television made of wooden pallets.”

Truth be told, I'm not a “crafty” person, despite what my friends tell me. I'll admit to being creative, but I'm definitely not crafty in the sense of “I like to make things for the hell of it in my free time”. When I make or do creative things, it's usually motivated by some kind of necessity, and it's almost always done in the most inexpensively MacGyver-ish way possible using pretty much whatever I have lying around or can easily find at Dollar Tree. Also, because we live in an apartment, projects that take up significant construction or storage space aren't really an option.

So, having said all that, I present you with my Irreverent Guarantee: 
The DIY projects featured on this blog do not require you to be “crafty”, or have previous experience, special equipment, or extra space or money. All projects have been tested for Practicality (i.e “How well does it do what it's made to do?”) and Durability (“Does it last a reasonably decent amount of time with normal expected use?”).

I've made plenty of things that looked great... but fell apart not long after the “Finished Product” photo was taken. I've also seen projects that look really cool, but required materials, space, money, time, and/or effort I just didn't have. Hopefully some of the things I put here can give you some ideas, inspire some creativity, and spare you the headache of making something impractical or flimsy when you could be doing more important things like playing video games or sampling beer or plotting world domination. Or parenting. You know, whatever floats your boat.

Constructed completely out of Mason jars, hot glue, Christmas lights, and chalkboard paint, of course.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I Have to Be Medicated to Deal With My Kids.

So yeah, it's been a long time since I last posted anything. Over a year, actually. After this past February, that hiatus was mostly due to various home-improvement projects, playing all the way through Borderlands 2 (with all the expansions...twice), and --especially in the last few months-- being intimidated by a blinking cursor on my white computer screen as I stare blankly and try to think of the *perfect* way to say what's going through my head.

Well, screw that noise. I've had enough and decided to just say what I'm trying to convey the best I can, and the Overzealous Perfectionist Editor in my head can shove it. 
In the most grammatically correct way, of course.

I've always struggled with a strong temper, and it would almost always manifest itself via my mouth: yelling, cussing, and verbal attacks were my standard coping mechanisms when I'd get overwhelmed or frustrated by life. While that may not seem like a big deal, it becomes a MASSIVE problem when children are anywhere in the Anger Fallout Zone. As a kid, I was often on the receiving end of my mother's Verbal Hiroshimas, because that's simply what happens when you're a stay-at-home mother of 7 kids and don't have a support system to help you cope. 

Not wanting to repeat that experience with my future kids, I began taking steps to find better, healthier ways to manage my temper not long after I got married. This included counseling and, for a few years, medication. By the time Offspring 1 arrived several years later, I had made HUGE improvements. And I was still doing really well when Offspring 2 came on the scene a few years after.

Things got difficult when the kids were (respectively) preschool and toddler age. They were both at a stage that was an ever-changing shift between independence and dependence, and the unpredictable nature of this situation threw me for a loop. Some days, I could deal with it just fine; but with increasing frequency, them simply acting their ages (needing help, crying when tired, bickering, etc.) was enough to send me into the Stratosphere of Rage.

The Rage Stratosphere, common destination in the State of Insanity

I knew that the core of the problem was not that I would get angry at typical "kid" behavior, but the fact that the rage was so instantaneous and so intense, to an abnormal degree. It literally took every ounce of energy I had NOT to do or say the unwanted thoughts that were battering the walls of my mind, begging to come out: I would imagine screaming the most unspeakably hurtful things at my beloved children, accompanied by mental images of enacting physical abuses that would guarantee me a one-way ticket straight to hell. 

All of these were things that I would never actually do. But those thoughts were so. Damn. LOUD. It was like a pack of caged, rabid wolves was inside my head; yeah, I knew they couldn't get out, but there's still that panicked adrenaline rush of 'Oh my god, they're there and I can't ignore them and I can't turn my head for a second and they're trying to get out and I just want it all to stop ohmigodohmigodohmigod....

Through counseling I had tried to find other coping mechanisms (e.g. journaling, refocusing, etc.), but none of them really worked, because when I got stressed out, my anger response was so instantaneous and all-encompassing, I literally could not think of anything else. And because I had deliberately shut off my normal outlets (i.e. an out-of-control mouth, throwing things, etc.) around the kids, I no longer had any pressure valves to release the sudden rage I'd feel. And when there's nowhere for that pressure to go, an explosion becomes an implosion.

Portrait of the Author as an Overwhelmed Mess

And thus my frustrated, helpless anger imploded into a morass of depression for almost three months. Around November 2013, it got really bad. Like, depressed-to-the-point-of-barely-being-able-to-function bad. It took every ounce of energy to manage to get dressed every day (bonus points if they were clean), go to the store when needed, feed the kids, and sometimes do the dishes and laundry. Other than that, I wasn't capable of much else.

All the things I previously loved doing --playing with the kids, going to the park, playing video games, watching science documentaries-- completely stopped. When my husband would help with the kids, I'd always go in my room and sleep, and after the kids went to bed, I'd either mindlessly browse the Internet, or I'd sit on the couch and stare blankly at the wall.

And it was about that time I stopped wanting to live. I didn't actively want to die, per se, but simply existing had become such an energy-sucking daily chore devoid of any joy or purpose that I simply didn't care any more whether I lived or not. 

"Could you please just run me over and save me the effort of suicide?" -Me, every day
Finally, I got so tired of being, well... tired of existing that I agreed to set up an appointment with a psychiatrist. I knew that I needed medication at that point; other avenues such as counseling and nutritional supplements had been duly explored and were insufficient. I met with the psychiatrist and told her everything: my past struggles with anger, overcoming it, having kids, being a parent, and my current inability to cope and function. She listened, asked questions, and agreed that I did need medication. After some discussion, she gave me a prescription for the mood-stabilizer I'd been on many years before. 

The difference it made was immediate.

Before, everything hit me at once, like a blast from a fire hose: The Preschooler is being uncooperative and the Toddler is crying and I need to make lunch but I don't know if I have the food I need to make it and I might need to go to the store and the sink is full of dishes and the Toddler needs a diaper change and I'm still in my pajamas and now the Preschooler is trying to take his brother's toy and...

Now, instead of a fire hose it was more like a garden hose; I could take in each thing one at a time and assess it:
The Preschooler is being uncooperative. Ignore it for now; deal with the Toddler first.
The Toddler is crying. What does he need? The toy he dropped. Give him the toy.
Lunch: Do we have what we need? Not sure. Check it in a minute.
Sink full of dishes: Unimportant right now. Deal with it when the kids are busy or asleep.
Toddler's diaper: Change it. Oh wait, the Preschooler is trying to take his toy...
Preschooler (again): This is really pissing me off. Take a deep breath. Give toy back to Toddler. Correct Preschooler, then give him a task to keep him busy while you change Toddler.
Change out of pajamas.
Check on food situation; throw something together for lunch and call it good.

Sure, I would still get angry, and to be honest, that was a big relief to me. It let me know that, although the medication was helping, it wasn't taking away my emotions or making me some kind of robot impervious to stress. It didn't stop the anger or even prevent it, but instead it simply slowed the rate at which my brain was perceiving multiple stressors.

"What are you telling me? That I can dodge tantrums?"
"No. I'm telling you that when the time comes... you won't have to."

The reason why I'm sharing this is because I know that I'm not the only one who's struggled with this. I can't be. 

Anger issues, being uncontrollably overwhelmed, severe depression, etc. can make you feel incredibly isolated as a person, let alone as a parent. You can feel like a HUGE failure if you admit to struggling with any of these issues, especially if you don't think anyone around you can relate. Even worse, I've known many people who've opened up to someone about their struggle, only to be dismissed, given trite solutions, or even worse, lectured about how their problems are all their own fault. 

I'm here to tell you that you're not alone. You're not the only person who's thought terrible thoughts or felt terrible feelings.You're not the only one who's struggled to function or regretted being a parent or felt like a horrible parent for feeling these things.

You might need help, and THAT. IS. OKAY. Get the help you need. It might be finding a mentor or counseling or even medication. Whatever it is you need for you to be the person/parent you need to be... do it. And don't make any apologies for it. You wouldn't think less of a hearing-impaired person for wearing a hearing aid, would you?

If you need that hearing aid to hear your grandkids' laughter, you're a failure as a human being, Grandpa.

No, you wouldn't. So try not to think less of yourself for getting help for yourself.

I know this isn't easy. It's a journey, and I know firsthand that it can be a long one. (Hence the gap since my last post.) But if you're struggling and you need help, I want you to know that you are not the only one. And you sure as hell are not less of a person if you seek help. Quite the opposite. It takes a lot of strength to seek help, and doing so makes you so much BIGGER of a person, not less.

Image credits: sky; implosion; truck; Matrix; hearing aid