Icarus

sun

I made a pros and cons list yesterday.

It was about me.

The cons list went to the back of the paper. The pros list had two things on it.

I thrive on being nice to people. Making them feel better. Doing anything they need. Being there at any time. Showing kindness with no end. Never expecting a return; simply doing it because seeing people happy and supported is amazing. But somewhere along the way in my life, I forgot how to give myself the same kindness. I’ve always struggled with insecurity. Not in regard to life, just me. Who I am and what people say. I have an intense personality and demeanor and I know it makes some people not a huge fan of me; yet I can’t compromise myself accordingly, nor would I. People not liking me, though, stabs right down to the middle of my soul. I find that I base my worth on what I have to offer as opposed to what I like about myself.

One thing that has always given me identity, purpose and drive was my job. I’ve had two jobs since the age of 18. One for 13+ years and the other for 2 and half. In between, I stayed home with my kids; yet found I just wasn’t cut out for it. My first job was my life. I was successful, good at it and sincerely loved the people I worked with and the customers I encountered. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them; different demographics, passions and personalities. I enjoyed every one of them, even the cranky ones.

I thought I’d be good at staying home. But I just have always felt like I wasn’t naturally inclined for kids and have had to work on that. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but it’s so hard to remember how to be a kid again and see things from their perspective; at least when they’re angry or misbehaving.

My first job gave me a reason to be, even as I struggled through the strange tornado of life that was my 20s. I grew up there, earned success there and honed my skills to ones I thought I could be proud of. Already fighting the stigma of not having a degree, I had to work additionally hard; learn programs from the ground up to the point of knowing them in and out. Researching anything I didn’t know. Educating myself. Along the way, learning how to work with all different types of people, understand the business world always has its quirks; it’s which ones you’re okay having a part of your daily routine. We’re all human and aren’t perfect. Emotions don’t stay out of the workplace, regardless of what anyone says.

I built my professional life there, sometimes through trial and error. Mistakes were my stepping stones and the lessons I learned were what created positive results. I thought about work all the time, in a positive way. I worked as much as I could, at times being made to take a day off and being locked out of my email. It was how I identified myself. All while still living a life with friends and social activities.

Then I got pregnant. I was certain I would be working while on maternity leave, eager to return to work. Silly me should have known with my history of depression, I’d be slammed with a case of postpartum depression, different perspective and a confusing tornado of love for a tiny person who confused the hell out of me most times. As my maternity leave started ticking to a close, I was gripped with utter fear and mixed feelings. I had no idea how to leave this little person, all while being intensely depressed and emotional. Hormones are no joke, no matter how funny those jokes can be. So I left. I gave my six week notice, whittled down to part time and ultimately, my last day. Bittersweet, second guessed and a whole new territory of life that I had no clue what to do with.

Before I even chose to stay home, I joined a mom group. Thinking it would keep me busy, which it did. Getting my kid (eventually kids) socialized and participating in activities, which it also did. But other than being happy that my kids and I were together, I was lost. I needed to be working, the thought of which filled me with immense guilt over what that said about me as a parent. I didn’t fit in anywhere. All the moms were incredibly nice people, but as had always been the case, I had no place. No defined group, clique, whatever you want to call it. I tried, desperately, but I was so crippled with losing my identity and being uncertain of the new one, I was never fully there. They were my friends, for sure and talking to them got me through some incredibly difficult times. Yet, I never found that I was anyone but just a friend, for lack of a better description. That’s on me and no one else, for my perception of it and determination of where I stood. As for my kids, I did my best, but I was often overwhelmed, lost and unsure I was doing anything right by them.

When I started my next job, I was reinvigorated. My kids had structure in a daycare setting and I had a purpose again! I excelled at my work. I was around people, so many who were good people. I had learned from the mom group that it was up to me to simply put myself out there, never avoid being nice or kind because I thought someone might not like me nor did I need to make them best friends. Just having people in my life should be enough. Professionally, my skills were back in use and I was learning new ones. My life came crashing down around me, through my own choosing and outside circumstances and I fought to get through it. At work, though, I was almost always on. My difficulties were kept quiet on my part and I did my job with motivation and hunger to create work of which I was proud. Through anything else, it gave me identity and a place that I could still do something right and have some happiness.

And now. I fight to understand the unemployment process, try to figure out state assistance and medical insurance for myself and my kids, how I’m going to pay my bills and keep the place where I live. All of which I could fight through, surmount what’s ahead of me if I had a purpose. A place. Something that defined me. Some days I think I have the world ahead of me; opportunities and chances are endless. Then I get that rejection email from the interview I thought went well. And another. And another. It can tear you down. Piece by piece; shoot bullet holes through your pride. Interviews are never going to be objective. There’s always some aspect of emotions involved; human judgment. I’m not ashamed I stumbled over that a few times when I was hiring employees. It’s hard to separate that, and I don’t think you should. You’re getting a human being working for you; not an android. There is going to be a new type of personality you have to acclimate to the work environment in a way that best suits them. Knowing that can mean I leave an interview I was definitely qualified for, wondering if they liked me or not. If they didn’t, I want to know why. What’s wrong with me and if it can be fixed.

Nothing is definite anymore; I fear the next hurdle. What will go wrong next. I can’t relax without stability. I’m truly and utterly terrified of what’s going to happen. But it spills over to me, it spills over to my friends and loved ones. Being a single mom was hard while working, but again, I had somewhere to go. A place to throw myself into. Deal with what I saw as parenting failures. Tantrums that drove me to tears as I ran out of options to diffuse them. Now it can be incredibly overwhelming. I just want to feel as though I’m at least parenting right, but it’s incredibly easy to feel like you’re drowning. Lost in not knowing how to escape the anxiety that utter chaos of behavior can create. My kids are great kids. But they’re 4 and 5 and have had a tumultuous couple years as well.

I fear losing friends, because my depression causes me to barely hold my head up some days. Worry that my inner panic of losing those closest to me will continually project outwardly and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m in here somewhere, watching the me I’ve become and hating her. The misery, sadness, fear, mistakes and behavior. I feel like I yell to get out, to be happy and to like myself, but I can’t get through the invisible barrier keeping me back. Everything is in limbo and it’s easier to guard myself. I find happy moments in showing love to others. Doing everything I can for them. In those moments, I can see me for a second and it’s ok. It fades fast. It never occurs to me to do the same to myself because I can’t find the reason.

It’s like a twisted Icarus situation. I actually fear getting burned, so I don’t even attempt to fly. I took those wings off and locked them away to stay safe. But the ground sucks. It’s cold, and lonely and limited. I stay here and fight myself. I want to feel okay for longer than a few minutes, I want to send goofy and sassy text messages to my friends; not ones where I need support or help. I’m tired of burdening those close to me with my pain. It’s not their issue and I feel as though they need to be able to focus on any they may be experiencing. It’s one thing to be there for a friend, it’s another for that friend to bombard you with intensity. I keep a lot in to avoid being too much. Taking up too much space and making it seem as though I take priority.

I don’t expect life to be carefree. There are always problems, things blocking your way and moments to struggle through. I have periods of happiness; moments where I want to let my breath out and feel at ease. They’re just near the sun and I don’t know how to get there without getting too close.

Sink or Swim

Divorce, break-ups, endings. They’re hard. They’re messy. Even in the most simple, mutual of ways, they’ve left their mark. Emotions are felt differently by each person involved. And even on the parts of those who aren’t, but are more than happy to share their viewpoint (requested or not). When you join your life with someone’s, whether it’s 2 months or 20 years, there’s a connection, a dent left behind in your armor that will leave you either respecting it as getting through or focusing on the damage incurred. There’s never a right or wrong way. Endings can come about in so many different ways; anger, changes, growth that doesn’t match, fear, hatred, realizations, death…..

At some point you have to move forward though, no matter what side you were on. You’re entitled to all of the emotions you encounter, but sometimes they’re overwhelming. Smothering, almost. You rise to the surface for air or you push it to that last minute where you’ve got to catch your breath to save yourself. Moving forward means new encounters, which can make some uncomfortable; can cause others immense fear and in others encourage curious excitement. But truth be told, moving forward involves something new. Finding a fit and a place. Understanding who we are on our own, as opposed to being someone associated directly with another. And depending on how much of yourself you’ve either held on to, or lost along the way, the path can be muddy and dirty and tiring or a cakewalk. Somewhere in between is where more probably go.

If you’re the introspective type, song lyrics suddenly mean more; if you’re the impulsive type, you indulge in momentarily soothing behaviors typically bordering on self-destructive. Those who can ignore their feelings simply land on the next day and don’t look back. Not to say they aren’t blindsided by the acceptance of the situation down the road, but some just see the constant rotation a way of life or what they deserve.

The addition of children to the equation is the hardest part. And that’s how this started. Becoming a single parent, whether you are solely single, as in permanent custody or a co-parenting situation, it’s really effing hard. I respect any single parent who maintains their sanity, even if that means pizza and two hours of Curious George to get stuff done for an hour, only to get those five minutes to sit down before someone needs water. Or food. Or can’t put their pants on. Life’s not fair, we all know that one. But this was a situation created by one or both parties and you can’t rest on the negatives of it. It’s life. It’s the present. You suck it up for the benefit of the kids. Especially because you have to explain to them that life isn’t fair when they use the phrase on you.

Everything is more complicated. Scheduling, dating, planning, identifying your new chapter; all while remembering it has to be as smooth as possible for the children who are involved. One parent brings someone new into their life and that new person goes, you have to address the idea of loss more than once with children. (Break-ups are losses, so that counts any situation). One parent brings more than one person into the children’s life through impulsivity and searching for air in a situation where they feel they’re drowning. Excitement can be that person’s air, and the balance between that, being a good parent and mental health is a potentially combustible moment. A parent decides to move; it creates more change. More upheaval. No matter your age, adult or child, those types of changes have effects. The parents fight and the children are in the middle and the kids absorb that regardless of age. That’s not to say all parenting situations are bad. Some of those aren’t necessarily bad, depending on how the parents handle it individually and with or without a united parenting understanding.

Having a bad day? Suck it up. Those kids need you. You might be lucky enough to have a co-parent who will change the schedule to allow you the time you need to decompress. Yet you also have to understand that you are the parent at that time and you can’t expect another person who has been removed to be that understanding or flexible, given that you now have separate lives, especially if they have brought someone else into their new path. (I hate using the word path. But it’s really the best description. Road? Trip? Go with it.)

You have to understand what you can do in your alone time and what can cross over. The mistakes you make, the losses you experience, those are all a part of their lives and if the children are young, explaining can be difficult and if they’re older, the ability to comprehend the situation without explanation will mold some part of that child’s future. You can have a bad day with the kids, but then you also may get the whole next day off (for lack of a better word) and know that while you’re dwelling on other life moments and feeling sorry for yourself, that parent may be having the same rough day. While having to solely monitor, watch, feed, give permission to, drive to events; etc.

Being alone is hard, no matter how strong you are. No matter how used to it you are. Being with kids alone can be incredibly trying and also incredibly rewarding. You manage to keep a roof over their heads, food in their stomach and clothes to wear and some days, that’s what you have to pat yourself on the back for and be okay. There are days where you have to leave the room and that’s okay. There are days when you don’t have the kids and be okay with that and not feel guilty. If you’re the sole caregiver, you don’t have to feel guilt for relying on a support system, or feeling burdened by the lack of one. We all just do our best, even if our best can suck, subjectively.

As usual, I’ve strayed from place to place. My end implication is always the same. Life is hard. Tricky. Either handed to us or earned. It’s what we do with it. Some choices will be right, some will hurt, some will leave marks and some will be in a gray area. If you want the less sunny description of life, you could compare it to a swimming instructor. Life is either going to teach you by keeping on the arm floaties or standing on the sidelines, yelling “Sink or swim, bitches!”

You can hate yourself for mistakes, feelings, emotions and reactions or you can face them and then make your next choices accordingly. I’ve contradicted myself in the last statement, and I acknowledge that. That’s kind of life, though, isn’t it.

In the hearts of men.

I don’t know anyone in Newtown. I’d never heard the town name before Friday. But I know moms and dads and how our hearts feel about our children. I know that I’m struggling to understand the tragedy that has happened. Again. Too often. And while every shooting, every death is heartbreaking and senseless, there’s something about losing classrooms full of first graders that is making me not be able to think about this without completely crumbling inside. My son is only three years younger than some of the victims. I unfortunately imagine him, in a classroom, terrified and I fight the urge to build a panic room and live in it forever. I read the victim’s names and recounts of the day and the tears well up again and again.

I won’t talk gun control. I don’t feel I’m educated enough on either side to offer valid opinions. But I want to talk about something I feel will be mentioned but not addressed. Because as I think of those victims, I also think of the family of Adam Lanza. They’ll live forever knowing what he did and wondering why. Wondering if they, as his blood relatives, should have been able to see this coming and if they somehow failed him. Mental illness continues to remain a stigma, a parodied, misunderstood condition that affects so many and yet never seems a reality to those not suffering. When I see pictures of the shooter, I don’t even see a man, I see a boy. A haunted, possibly ill boy who looks emaciated and as the mother of boys, his face and his actions haunt me nearly as much as the suffering of his victims. I am in no way defending what he did. His decisions were heinous and deplorable. I know how (guns), but I want to know why. We’ll never get the answers, but if we continue to ignore mental illness, questionable behavior and the severity of emotions any one person can be experiencing, this can only be the worst of all trends we could ever see.

Some shooters have been bullied and I feel that schools, adults and parents have made steps (albeit, minimal in my opinion) to rectify the torture school children endure at the hands of their classmates. But mental illness, whether it’s depression or bipolar, autism or anxiety, are widely laughed off. They’re not tangible. You can’t see the suffering, so they’re not real. Maybe the person is making it up. But they’re very much fact.

Through my teen years and into adulthood, I’ve personally dealt with merciless bullying, severe depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, self harm and most recently, postpartum depression following the birth of both of my sons. I’ve fought through; I’ve fallen down and gotten back up. Sometimes with my own strength and sometimes with the support of others.  While I could never imagine turning on anyone with any form of violence, I still to this day wince inside when I think about the bullying and hate that part of them that turned their insecurities and their cruelty on me. I know when I’m feeling emotions that may cause an eating disorder relapse and I stop them. I know my depression signs and can let others know it’s coming. While in the past, I would consider and did harm myself, I’m far too much of a bleeding heart to think of hurting another person. It’s unfathomable to me to consider the act of it. But I know the pain and the hurt and the confusion that you deal with when your brain just isn’t working the way society is telling you it should. It’s like being in a maze that has a dead end at every turn. You just turn in circles and go left and right and every time you run into a wall. It’s maddening. You scream silently for help, but in most cases you don’t feel you deserve the actual attention you’d receive if you spoke loudly enough for someone to take heed.

Our brains are so very confusing and there’s much we don’t know about them. There’s science upon science about our behaviors but there’s never any true way to know why one neuron may fire and another may not or who this might happen to. And there’s enough evil in the world to cause our fragile minds to process life in such different ways. PTSD from sexual abuse that may lead to eating disorders, mania and anxiety. Bipolar disorder purely from the genetic card dealt.  I recently read an article that detailed scientific evidence regarding our digestive system and its direct tie to our mental state. Our enteric nervous system, which is what lines our gut is so complex and influential that scientists refer to it as a second brain. The serotonin being produced there can directly affect our reactions and our stomachs. If our digestive system can be so complicated, I can’t even imagine what is going on in our brains.

My experience and knowledge of mental hurdles makes me afraid for my kids. Not only in sending them to school not knowing how safe they are, but also in what they may come up against emotionally. Will they be too ashamed to tell me if they’re feeling emotions that scare them or make them act irrationally? I tell myself I would notice if their behavior is amiss, but I fear in the fast-paced world, I might overlook a warning sign as just “being a kid thing” or that they’re just having a bad day. If they’re being bullied and don’t know how to tell me or their dad, I hope they reach out. I hope they tell someone, but I know fear of payback may scare them into painful complacency and mounting, confusing feelings. And if I’ve somehow failed them and they bully someone else, I hope someone tells me. When it comes to bullying and mental illness, we can educate our children, hang posters in schools and count on teachers, with their limited resources, to try and address any concerning behavior. But despite the video series, It Gets Better, I want to keep the secret from my kids that sometimes it doesn’t  Even as adults, we come up against bullies and confusion and mental anguish, it just happens. It hurts now, just as it did then. As parents we need to be the strong ones who power through and while we show weakness, also show our children how we deal with those weaknesses and come out on the other side. This means trying to understand each other, addressing the issues that are hitting our children, like mental illness. Not starting internet fights about gun control or whose fault this is. We owe it to our future to stop sweeping some issues under the rug because we’re not comfortable with them or we don’t understand them.

I want to stress again that my heart hurts for the families of the victims and I wish there was a way to step in and change time so that this never happened. The shooter’s mother may hold some responsibility in exposing an obviously fragile, potentially calculating (possibly even sociopathic, I’m not discounting that) to a stockpile of weapons. Weapons no person needs in their home. (Off that soapbox, quickly).  I question how so many of these people get to the point that we lose innocent lives at their hands. Are they shrinking violets, wallflowers who isolate as they calculate? It’s unfortunate I don’t know more details and am obviously making grand speculations, but I’m struggling to cope with this and the fear in my heart of this world.

There’s a story making the internet rounds about a popular high school boy who saw another boy struggling with a large pile of school books and instead of ignoring him, he helps him. This forms a strong friendship that grows over their years together in high school and the boy with the books goes from being alone and sometimes made fun of to having a wide circle of friends. As they graduate together, this boy, as the valedictorian talks in his speech about the day he was heading home to kill himself. Suffering from depression and feeling alone, he wanted to end it, and had chosen to clean out his locker and take everything home so his mom wouldn’t have to do it. And then a stranger had taken time out to go to him and see that he needed help and reached out. He saved his life.  I’m sure I could internet search or debunk this story with Snopes, but I’m not going to. Because this is how I hope and wish for society to be. Instead of laughing and pointing at the boy with the pile of books, help him.