Monday, April 18, 2016

It's like the ocean

Last week I was talking to a co-worker about her life and a friend she has who she feels she's drifting away from.  She was saying that she just feels like it's hard to continue to be friends with this person because they don't ever seem to just fix their own problems, and it's frustrating.  I told her that I understood, but that people have said the exact same things about me before and it sucks to be the person who hears that the reason people don't want to be around them or whatever is because they don't just "fix it".  She seemed surprised that anyone would have that opinion of me, but in her defense she's my co-worker and it's not like she knows the deepest depths of my soul or anything.  She said that her friend just has so many problems and is always going through a rough patch and it's hard because she's not fixing herself.  So, I gave her this analogy:

Imagine you're out in the middle of the ocean.  Everywhere you look it's just water, and no sign of hope that anything good can come of this situation.  You're treading water where you are, and you're starting to feel a lot of despair.

Then a friend flies over you in an airplane, and they can see from above that there's a sand bar just 300 yards from where you're currently treading water in a bottomless depth of ocean, and upon seeing the sand bar they shout down "Oh god, just swim a little bit and stand up, you're being so dramatic!" and fly off.

The solution seems so easy to them, because they're outside and they can see it and they don't know all of the variables you're facing in the water.  They don't know if you're a strong enough swimmer to make it that distance.  They don't know if you've been treading water so long that you're too exhausted to actually swim.  They don't know if getting to the sand bar will REALLY solve your problem, because you'll still be in the water and maybe you're getting hypothermia, and at any rate, even if you can stand up, you're still in the middle of the damn ocean and you've got to get to land.  What they know is there's a simple solution from their perspective to fix your current situation.

The other problem is, they tell you to "swim a little bit and stand up" but they don't tell you which direction to swim, or how far you'll need to swim, or anything else.  All you know is you're being "dramatic", but from where you sit, all you can see is ocean and you're afraid of drowning.

Sometimes that's what it's like to be the person who "won't solve their own problems".

She looked at me as if I was some sort of incredibly wise individual, and said she had never thought about it that way and maybe she had the wrong idea about what was causing her friend to have these problems, and maybe she should consider the true cause instead of just looking at the situation in simple terms where a solution seems so very obvious.

I guess, in the end, I hope I helped her relationship with her friend.  But, if I didn't, at least I know I can craft a damn good analogy.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Maybe I'm a Vulcan?

I'm sure my geek husband will be a fan of the Star Trek reference here, but this is something I was thinking about the other day while I was painting my guest room.  That's how things often happen, I'm working on something that is relatively mindless and can let my brain wander into lots of other topics while I work.  Roll some paint, think about how absurd it is that some cultures used to believe in human sacrifice.  Roll some more paint, think about how easily hula dancers move their hips and wonder if it was hard to learn.  Role some more paint, and so on and so forth.  This weekend I was thinking about myself, because sometimes I'm self absorbed, and my life and some observations made by other people and why things are as they are.

Basically, I have a habit of taking care of a lot of things in my home and in my life.  Things that others may not think about, or things that may go unnoticed.  Things that I think people would only really remember to do themselves if I wasn't around to take care of it.  Sometimes, that's exhausting, because it's a lot of day in and day out cycle of work that makes your life feel like there's not enough down time.  For example, I cook dinner almost every single night, and after dinner I'm also the one who does the dishes.  In most households, the person who cooks doesn't have to clean up and in so many ways that sounds like SUCH a luxury to me, but it's just not the reality of my living situation.  I've argued with my husband about it a million times, and he always says things like "If you don't want to do the dishes, don't do them.  Just leave them.  Someone will do them eventually.  Your problem is they don't get done on your timeline".  My challenge with a statement like that is that, yes, eventually they will get done.  But probably not before I have to use them again to cook and I won't be able to.  So, if I don't do them, no one will do them in a timely manner, and I'll just be unable to cook after a day or two because there will be no clean dishes left.  I suppose I could leave everything sitting and just wait for someone to step in and do it, but I feel like that's more frustrating and stressful for me than just doing the stupid dishes.  I'm annoyed that I have to do them every night, particularly when I'm cooking food I won't eat (I'm picky, I don't always eat what's on the menu for the week) and then washing dishes for the food I didn't eat.  It gets annoying.  In the end, though, the reality doesn't change that the next day I will need to cook again and I will need clean dishes and if I leave the dishes in the sink overnight, no one else is going to take the initiative to do them.  So I do them.  I still don't love it, but I've started to take a sort of Vulcan-esque approach to my thinking about the situation.  I have three other people in my family, and they all need food every night.  They need clean dishes to eat that food off of.  They outnumber me.  Maybe I need some down time, but I'm only one person.  So, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  This means I do the dishes.

When I look at my life on the whole, that's how I've always handled things, really.  I've been called selfish before, sometimes by people who are closest to me and I always feel like they should know better.  I have spent my whole life doing what's best for the most people.  I always did things with my siblings in mind and made sure that their needs were handled growing up before mine.  I have supported friends repeatedly through rough patches, when in reality what I really needed was support myself for my own challenges I faced, but I never asked for it.  Their needs came first.  I've been selfish at times, I'm sure.  I actually hate the idea of being seen as selfish, because I try so hard to be selfless, but I'm sure there are times when I've been a bit of a petulant brat about things.  On the whole, though, I typically put the needs of the many first, and the thing is, I'm not bothered by that.  I mean, sure, the dishes thing kind of pisses me off sometimes, but on the whole I don't mind that I'm never first.  I feel like people often think I should be bothered by the lack of balance there is a lot of the time, but I'm usually not.  And when I am, it's typically when it comes to something dumb like chores, because I just hate being the only one doing daily chores while everyone else gets to sit around and do once a week chores.  Yeah.  That sucks.  But, it's not like it's a deal breaker in my world.  There's a piece of me that actually LIKES making sure everyone is taken care of.  At the end of the day, I bring a lot of it upon myself by not telling other people they have to do things differently.  I don't think the chore thing would change, since I've already had a million arguments about that, but I could tell people I need more support, or that I can't make sure everyone is taken care of all the time.  I just don't really want to.  I think that might be a problem from someone else's point of view, but it's true.

I think that the only time it really becomes a true problem is when I need other people, and they're just not there for me the way I would be for them.  That's hard.  That's when I want to become a selfish person and say "I would do it for you!" but I've also come to understand that it's often expecting too much and that I'm seeing the world as I am, not as it is.  Just because I would do something for someone doesn't mean I should expect the same in return.  That's been a long and hard lesson to learn, but it's also true.  I've also learned that while it's often easy for people to give a gift card, or a meal, or a donation to something, the hardest gift to give up is their time.  And sometimes that's what people need, it's your time.  I know I've had friends who have needed my time from me and I've made that work, but it's been a struggle on occasion and it's often done with a sacrifice on my part of something else I may have wanted or needed to do.  But, it wasn't easy.

And that's where the Vulcan part of me comes in.  I've always just been like "Well, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" and that's who I am.  And, I guess, I kind of like that about myself.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

My kid is my bestie?

I made a joke the other day that my daughter is my bestie, which is both sad and accurate.  Not in the sense that I'm Amy Poehler in Mean Girls walking around like "I'm a cool mom!" or anything, but in terms of shared activities, it's sort of not wrong.  We go shopping together, we spend tons of time wandering Target for no reason, we run errands together, she goes with me to get coffee, we get lunch together, she listens to me sing songs badly in the car without judging.  When you lay it out, I do more with her than I've ever done with any individual friend or anything.

On one hand, I'm glad I can spend so much time with her without wanting to kill her.  Mostly because I sort of have to given that whole "She's your kid and you have to keep her alive" thing, but also because it's nice to genuinely enjoy her company.  On the other hand, I sort of hate that it toes the line of becoming one of those moms whose whole world revolves around their kid.  Or becoming one of those people who doesn't know who they are without their kid on their hip.  I don't want to cross that line, so it's something I try to be really aware of.  I try to make sure that when I'm out with just my husband (which, let's be honest, hasn't happened since before Christmas) I don't spend all my time talking about the toddler.  Or if I'm with friends, which also doesn't happen often lately, I'm not solely focused on telling them about my daughter.  Sometimes I actually look up and pre-select topics that I can talk about that have nothing to do with kids.  Just in case I run out of things off the top of my head.  I just don't want to always default to "Look at this photo of my kid!" in those situations.

I think it's a struggle a lot of people have.  You have all of this time and this contact with your kid, and because you love them and enjoy your time with them (usually), it can be hard not to fall into this trap where you define yourselves by your children.  I want to be a great mom, but I also want to be me. I imagine everyone worries about this on some level, and some do a better job of balancing it than others.  I'm hoping to be one of the people who is good at figuring out the balance.

Monday, April 11, 2016


My birthday is coming up.  Well, sort of.  It's in a month.  But, the point is, I have a birthday in the not terribly distant future.  I'm not really looking forward to it.  I'm normally the person who loves birthdays.  I make a big deal out of everyone's birthday, I make cakes, I organize dinners or gatherings, I spoil people.  I literally remember birth dates for classmates that I went to elementary school with.  I'm not sure why.  I think that, at the core of a birthday, it's a celebration of a person.  It's celebrating that they were born, and they're here, and they matter.  It's kind of like a day of saying "I'm glad you're here, and I'm glad you're in my life".  So, I make a big deal of birthdays.

I have to make a cake for a friend's birthday coming up the first weekend of May, and mine is after that, but I'm not planning anything.  I asked my husband not to plan anything either.  It just doesn't feel important.  In some cases, I feel like inviting anyone to celebrate would just illicit attendance out of some sense of obligation.  I don't want that.  Everything with everyone is weird lately, so I just feel like I'd rather not be bothered.  And I'm ok with that.  It's actually a choice I'm making, and I'm fine with it.  I'll spend the day with my husband, and my kids, and I'll know that I'm surrounded by people who actually want me around them, faults and all.  We'll probably get dinner and then go home and watch some tv and that'll be that.  It'll be low key, and peaceful, and free of any sense of forcing people into something they don't really want to do.  Now all I have to worry about is making sure the toddler makes it through dinner without melting down.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Nailed it

Sometimes I don't know how much I buy into therapy.  I did it for a while, because I needed to sort my shit out, but that mostly just made me realize that "my shit" was largely related to dealing with other people's shit.  I think the problem with things like therapy is that it's supposed to help you understand why you do things or feel certain things or whatever.  I over analyze everything.  I typically understand the why.  It's really the "how do I do this differently?" question I struggle to answer.  And, even after having gone to therapy, I still struggle to answer that one.  Today, though, I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw this post:

"All the highly empathetic people I know in my life have had abusive home lives, and that's because we were trained to read a situation at any given moment in our homes and learn how to react within seconds because if we didn't, and we said or did the wrong thing, we'd get yelled at or beat or hurt.

But, subconsciously always reading the mood of any atmosphere or space you're in, always being able to gauge how people feel, it's not exactly a gift.  It's exhausting.  You can't turn it off, even if you want to.  You read the situation, and if it's negative you freak out because if someone is angry at you, it's the end of the world.

We've internalized the scars from our childhood when an adult being mad at you was the worst thing that could happen, and it's been carried with us into adulthood.  It's hard to unlearn that.  So, a lot of us have mental health or anxiety issues because we also start internalizing all the energy from other people, be it positive or negative, and it can be anxiety-inducing and frustrating."

On so many levels, I know this is what goes on in my head.  I know that's why other people's moods affect me so strongly.  I know that's why I am always trying to push people to "look on the bright side" or trying to control situations and emotions in people.  Because, in the long run, it's a self preservation thing for me.  If I can control how someone else feels, I can then continue to feel ok myself because I don't have to absorb all of those negative feelings from other people.  I know that is why I freak out when I worry that someone is upset with me, or that I've done something wrong.  It's also why I sort of kick myself when I feel I've done something stupid.  Clearly I missed something, clearly I didn't do the right thing, clearly I didn't understand something and now I must over compensate and fix it.  I know all of this about myself.  This post, though.  This post sort of put it into words, which I haven't really been able to do before.  I understand, I get it, but I never know how to express it in a way that people who live outside my head would understand.

I think, sometimes, I wish other people understood this about me.  Not so that I get a pass on things, but maybe so that situations are handled with a bit more understanding than I typically receive. I don't think people necessarily get that I can feel it when things aren't going ok.  Even if everyone is acting just fine, and things appear normal, I can almost always tell when something is off.  Then I worry that I'm doing something wrong, and I trigger back to the idea of someone being mad at me or upset with me being the worst thing in the entire world, because the consequences of that are just astronomical in my past.  I start to think I should have controlled more.  I should have seen more things coming, I should have prevented more obstacles from happening.  I should have been out front to fix it.  It's a bit of a terrible cycle, and I'm still trying to figure out how to break it.  I know my husband hates it.  He hates that I'm always trying to diminish my role in situations so that I don't have to admit that I don't know the right decision or what the right answer is, so I avoid making decisions or choices on things that largely affect others.  He hates that I need him to "always be happy" because I'm always trying to push him into a better mood or I get really anxious when he gets angry about stuff, and he's always saying "People are allowed to get mad, dammit!  No one can be happy all the time!" but with me....if he's mad, I feel it.  I feel responsible, I feel upset, I feel stressed out, I feel a little mad too.  He doesn't even have to be mad at me, it's just the overall feeling when that happens that is hard for me to swallow.  His years of misery at his job weighed on me.  Perhaps not as heavily as they weighed on him, because his situation was really bad, but it was like a weight on my chest too and it was hard.

So, the universal question is how to make it all stop.  I'm not sure, honestly.  I try to ignore things.  I try to understand that someone being mad at me does not equate the end of the world, though I don't have a whole lot of examples where that hasn't been the case, I suppose understanding is only part of the journey.  But, I think that other people understanding is also a part of the journey.  If people understand why you do things, maybe they'd be less harsh in their judgement about you and that can help a lot as well.  I don't know.  I just saw the post and wanted to get my thoughts about it out of my head.

Monday, April 4, 2016


On Saturday morning I was out bright and early with my daughter running some errands and giving my husband some quiet time in the house since it's his morning to sleep in, and he often has some work he has to get done on the weekends so it's nice to give him a quiet space to do that.  This seems to be a pretty common routine for us on Saturdays.  We get up, she plays for a bit while I get dressed, she gets some breakfast, I get her dressed and then we run out to accomplish whatever is outstanding on our list for the week.  

As I was driving around, I was thinking about how much I enjoyed the familiarity of everything.  I know for some people, the idea of living where you've always lived sounds like the worst thing in the world.  I know some people desperately need to separate themselves from their home towns in order to figure out who they are, or find their place.  I know that there are a lot of people who would listen to me say that I've grown up and lived in the same general area my whole life and they would think about how sad and small my life must be, but in all honesty, I'm happy with it.  I think, largely, because what I do is not directly tied to my location.  I don't do the same things I've done since high school just because I live in the same town.  I've met new people.  I've done new things. I've traveled from this town across the country and even across the globe.  My life isn't small, even if my town sort of is.  In the end, I like the familiarity of the streets, and the fact that I can drive my daughter past my grandmother's old house if I want and show her where some of my childhood happened.  I like that the bakery my grandma took me to as a kid is still there and I can take my daughter to it.  I like that I can create and build some of these shared memories for my family because of where I am.  I like that I'm near my cousins, and near friends who are as close as family sometimes.  I like that on a Saturday morning, I can drive down the street and the sunlight looks the same as I've always remembered it looking that time of year, and there is comfort in that familiar feeling.  There is comfort in being able to embrace what you've always known and see it not as a hindrance or a thing that is holding you back, but as a space of comfort to come back to when you've pushed yourself out of that comfort zone for a while.  Sometimes that's a really nice feeling to have, and it encourages you to branch out sometimes and travel to places you're unfamiliar with, or do things you're uncomfortable doing, because you know there's always a soft space to land back home.

So, while I know some people might look at my life and cringe, I'm actually pretty grateful for it.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Broken people parenting

One of the things about being a parent who didn't necessarily have the best examples to work from is that it makes you constantly worry about repeating the bad example you had.  It's not passive.  It's never passive.  It's an active concern that you have that nags at you after every decision you make, and every reaction you have.  It is that voice in the back of your head that can't ever seem to be silenced.  Then you read articles, which are supposed to be informative, but just make you go into a panic.  Things about how children react when their mothers aren't loving enough, and how it damages them for life.  Those things make you think that every time your toddler clings to your legs while you're trying to cook dinner and stares up at you with huge pleading eyes saying "Up!  Please!  Please!" your'e going to leave her scarred for life by telling her no, that you've got something else you need to do.

I don't think most people understand that kind of constant concern.  I don't expect them to, honestly.  I think that most people understand average mom worries where you think "Am I doing the right thing?" but it's very different from constantly questioning "Am I going to leave her messed up like me?".  It's hard.  It's hard to be wholly unable to silence that voice.  It's hard to feel like no matter how well you do, the voice will never really be satisfied.

I think that's what makes it hard to accept if someone makes an offhanded comment about something you're doing as a parent.  Whether it be the person at Target who gives you an odd look when your kid is angry crying because you strapped her into the front of the cart because she was insisting on standing up in the seat and your reaction to her crying is "Oh yes, I've ruined your life and now it's over".  Or if your kid melts down while your friends are over and someone makes a comment about it and you find yourself worried that you're doing something wrong because your kid melted down to begin with.  Or if someone implies that you're doing something at a level less than you should be.  Or if someone questions how you're handling anything.  That just reinforces the voice, and it makes you think that you're doing everything wrong, or that you're handling something differently than you should be.  It's enough to leave a person ugly crying in the middle of the afternoon.

This is a bit rambling, possibly because I've had a large glass of wine so I could pretend I don't care about people saying things or giving me those looks.  But, I do.  Those things hurt.  Maybe if the voice wasn't there, they wouldn't, but they do.  So, yeah.