Monday, September 15, 2014

In Defence of Downtime: A Parent's Near Burn-Out Survival Guide

Rule #1: Downtime begins with yoga pants.

I feel a little panicky lately. It's like being a lot panicky, but with a bag of cookies. The feeling comes on, and you can slip one of those bad boys in your mouth to block the screaming sound.

Don't judge. It's a system that works.

I'm juggling, you guys. I'm juggling like I have never juggled before. I'm juggler - a really, really bad one, but with a cute outfit on because you shouldn't take on something if you can't look good doing it. (Exceptions: giving birth, being constipated, and most bacterial infections.)

I have a ridiculous amount of balls in the air: Support the teenager through his graduating year, support the little one who is still behind in French Immersion, support their sister through the biggest change of her life (and ours), and support my husband in his new (and more demanding) role at work.

Homeschool Gutsy, attend a host of medical appointments and support groups, finish high school, volunteer a little at Spawnling's school, shop and cook on a budget, score some work contracts to help with said budget and find time to do them.

Oh, but don't forget to keep writing the stuff you love, work out, spend time with friends, enjoy a hobby or two, hang out a bit on social media, and look totally fabulous. Don't lose yourself, Maven. Don't spend your entire life being everyone else's support. Be amazing for them and be amazingly you.

Do all the things. Clean all the things. Cook all the things. Be all the things.

Holy Hannibal, that's a lot to bite off.

When I look at my sizeable list of responsibilities, I'm not surprised that I'm constantly dropping balls. I'm an epic ball dropper. Actually, it's a wonder I got pregnant three times.

So I maybe kind of snapped yesterday a little bit. Not in a bad way, but in a much needed one. I decided that, for an entire day, I would just say, "fuck it."

Fuck responsibilities.

Fuck productivity.

Fuck getting dressed.

Fuck checking my phone, which I normally cradle in my arms like a little baby and practically coo at as I carry it from room to room with me. I threw it on my bed and ignored it most of the day.

Fuck being a good parent. Kids, stay in your PJs and eat Fruity Pebbles and watch YouTube videos to your heart's content. I did not insist they play outside and did not insist they eat all their fruits and vegetables. I was too busy not doing anything.

Fuck doing smart people things. I love documentaries, but keeping up with theories about what's beyond the universe or discussions as to whether or not the Amish will ever join the 21st century sounded like too much work. So I binge watched terrible reality TV. Awful stuff. I got wrapped up in other people's drama and I loved every minute of it. All the fights. All the hookups. All of it.

Fuck watching carbs. You know what? I like carbs. And yesterday I ate tons of them. Toast. Chocolate. Chips. A fucking sandwich. And it was delicious and so awesome not to care what I was eating for one whole day.

And you know what? I found myself feeling almost human by the end of the day. It made me realize that I don't unplug and decompress nearly enough. I'm always on. My adrenaline is always going. My mind is always racing. I'm always worried. I'm always a breath away from hyperventilating.

And let's face it; you can't be attractive when you're hyperventilating, people. If anything, I need to get it together in the name of vanity.

It sucks to feel buried under a mountain of obligations. I've been there for months. But in many ways, it's a self-imposed prison. Yes, I have stuff to do. Lots of stuff. I have responsibilities I can't even begin to wrap my head around yet. Helping a child switch genders? I could write a book about it (and, actually, I am.) But my expectations of myself are high, and the worry that I'll let everyone around me down by not performing at my best is completely unfair.

I can't do it all. I can't. No one person could.

Some of the balls are going to drop some of the time. I will be mediocre at best when it comes to certain tasks so I can rock the ones that really matter. Some things will fall off my radar completely so my mind can focus on the crucial things. People will get upset with me sometimes for not returning their phone calls or texts fast enough, or for saying no to an event or twelve. That's life. This perfectionist attitude I've been holding onto only leads to tears - and cookies. So many cookies.

So yes, I had a moment. I was entitled to one and I'm entitled to many more. And I will take them when I need them. There's an abundance of bad reality TV out there.

Why am I making my moment public? Because we all have them, that's why. Moments like these are part of the human experience. They're when we're standing on the precipice and we either veer off in the direction of a day of carbs and PJs or we fall into the burnout abyss. I've fallen in there before and it's not pretty. The humidity does terrible things to my hair.

I want people to know that no matter what your situation is, it's ok to lose your shit sometimes. It's ok to not know what you're doing and be scared about it. It's ok to worry that you're making huge mistakes. It's ok to feel like you're taking on way too much, because you probably are.

And it's ok to throw your hands up and say fuck it. Today, just fuck it all. I declare it slippers and cookies day.

Just not too many cookies. There's such a thing as too many. Trust me and my pancreas; we know.

Today I am going to do what I need to do, a little bit of what I want to do, and absolutely none of the things I tell myself I need to do but don't actually need to do at all. It's time to slow it down a little. The abyss is still only a step or two away.

I'm off to hang up my juggler's outfit and put on some yoga pants. This bitch loves some yoga pants.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Least Sexy Date Night We've Ever Had

My miserable, bathed, groomed, and yet still a little smelly cocker spaniel, Shadow.
He looks a little guilty. And he should.

My husband and I never plan Sexy Time.

Sexy Time just happens, because that’s part of what makes it sexy. One minute you’re watching Doctor Who and the next you’re saying “Why, Doctor! Is that your Sonic Screwdriver, or are you just happy to see me?” (In a British accent, of course.)

But it’s been all kinds of busy lately, so last night we decided we would carve out some Sexy Time when we’re not totally exhausted. While hubby went downstairs to let the dogs out in the backyard for a few minutes before bed, I decided to slip into something more comfortable and await his return.

Incidentally, something more comfortable was not nearly as comfortable as the yoga pants and tank top I had been wearing before. It involved fishing out a cute bra and panty set, and stuffing my chest muffins into some underwire in an attempt to set them back a full decade. (Underwire is a very effective time machine. I’m not quite sure why The Doctor doesn’t use it.)

And, oddly enough, I was kind of excited about the whole planning out of the Sexy Time thing. It was almost sexier because it was so planned, and what old and tired parent doesn't appreciate a good, hard planning? Also, my hoots were going to look spectacular in a way that surprise Sexy Time doesn’t deliver. Sweet.

And so, of course, it was right then, when I was standing in the walk-in closet trying to look spectacularly planned, that I noticed The Smell.

The Smell wafted in subtly at first, like a light tap on the nostrils, before basically punching me in the nose. It was an awful, pungent, rubbery smell. Within seconds, our eldest was knocking on the bedroom door. “Mom?”

“Um, I’m getting dressed,” I called from the closet. “Like, sort of.”

“It smells like skunk. Everywhere!”

“I think someone got sprayed!” yelled my husband from downstairs. “I’m trying to find a flashlight. Where are all the damn flashlights?”

R.I.P., deliciously planned Sexy Time.

I sighed and threw a tunic over the whole ensemble – backwards and inside out because I’m a classy sort of dame – and started googling “how to get skunk smell out of a dog and all the other shit I’m probably going to have to get it out of.”

Flash forward to me loudly blaming the kids for the missing flashlights and then finding one where I had left it in the basement that last time.

Then flash to my husband saying “I’m not sure if Shadow is wet from the grass or sprayed or both” and me stooping down low on the deck to get a good whiff, only to get blasted with a skunk oil smell so foul that it made my eyes burn.

Cut to next sexy scene: Me sitting on the garage steps barelegged in a backwards and inside out tunic (because I’m a proper lady) patting the excess skunk oil off Shadow with paper towels while he foams at the mouth and looks like he might vomit and/or might also have rabies. And me, shaving the dog and trying not to let his skunky fur touch my toes, lest I vomit all over him.

All the while, a part of me is wondering if the bra and panty set I’m wearing underneath my atrocious outfit while performing this atrocious task and surrounded by this atrocious smell might somehow make the scene more… erotic.

It does not. But thinking positively can get you through the bad times, kids.

Husband and I then passionately (not passionately) wash the dog together in the backyard. It was really romantic. It was basically just like that scene in Ghost, except instead of pottery there was a smelly dog, and instead of a beautiful soundtrack there was the beautiful sound of us both retching.

When he did finally take my clothes off, it was in front of a hot shower and only because my hands were still full of skunk oil. He stuffed the tunic into a bag, and my beautiful undergarments were cast aside only so I could unceremoniously scrub every inch of my body with the most chemically scented products I could find. I emerged an exhausted yet clean woman who smelled strongly of citrus and some kind of flower scent made up in a Swedish laboratory.  

Shadow has been forgiven for being kind of a dumbass (he’s really too cute to stay mad at), has had three de-skunking baths and a grooming, and has now been allowed to come back into the house. He is quite thrilled, but has the IQ of a dead goat, so I will be scanning the yard before he goes out again after dark and forgets what he learned last night.

And, as with all crazy things that happen in life, there are a few important lessons to be gleamed from this experience:

1. Telling your husband, “Well, at least this will make a great blog story” is probably not going to console him nearly as much as it did you. Weird, but true.

2.  Just because the night ends up with your clothes off does not make it good night. At all.

3. Never plan Sexy Time. Sexy Time is nobody’s bitch.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Depression, and Why we Need to Talk About it More

This contraption saved my life.

I remember the day I planned to die.

It wasn’t all that different from any other day except that it felt like I would finally get some rest. I was so tired. I was worn down from pretending, from trying.

Depression starts off subtle, like a light sheet draped over your body. It’s annoying, but you figure you can shake it off. Each day it gets heavier, until it’s a thick, cumbersome blanket, weighing you down. That heaviness makes everything harder, even the little things. It obstructs your perspective and suffocates your joy. You can’t just shake it off. Sometimes, it feels like you can hardly breathe.

I was tired of living like that. I felt depleted in every way. Worse still, I felt like I was everyone else’s heavy blanket, burdening them with my problems that just wouldn’t go away. It didn’t seem fair.

So taking my life seemed like a good solution – the only solution, really. I was going to do us all a favour. I knew how and I knew when, and just knowing this made me feel lighter.

I went to school knowing it was my final day, and I was probably a little happier than usual. When I talked to people, I tried to drink it in a little, like a last meal. I was careful not to let anyone in on my secret, knowing full well they would probably try and put a stop to it. People can be so meddling, I thought. I needed the pain to end in a way I couldn’t possibly explain to anyone else. They wouldn’t get it. They weren’t inside my head.

I remember it all. I remember when the weight was so heavy that going on for even one more day seemed impossible. I remember thinking that reaching out for help was futile, that nobody could possibly understand, that the pain would never go away - ever. I remember it all.

I was at a friend’s house yesterday when news broke that the incredible Robin Williams had taken his life. He was a genius comedian, someone I grew up wanting to be. We shared a love for the stage, a love for making people laugh.

But I could see it from time to time, that pain in his eyes. I recognized it. I’ve lived active addiction, too. I’ve lived depression, too. And now anxiety is my gremlin, throwing wrenches into my every day.

“I have a good life,” I’ll remind myself on the really bad days. “Why can’t I just be happy?”

And I wonder if Robin, with the world as his oyster, living a life most of us can’t even imagine, asked himself the same thing. My guess is that he did. Mental illness doesn’t give a shit who you are. It doesn’t care if you’re somebody’s parent, or what you do for a living, or how high your property value is. It doesn’t care if you’re loved by tens or by tens of millions. It doesn’t listen when you take stock of all the good things in your life. It doesn’t respond to logic because it’s an illogical beast. That’s what makes it so terrifying.

I don’t often talk about trying to take my life. To be honest, it’s not something that tends to come up in conversation very often. But if I said that was the only reason, I would be lying. Shame is the other.

Mental illness loves shame. It fucking loves it.

When we don’t talk about mental illness, it can continue fester and grow in ourselves and in others. When nobody speaks out - when we don’t hear about other people coming out the other side of something insidious like depression – our brains don’t have the chance to think, “Hey, maybe I can, too.”

Shame keeps things hidden. It says,

“Don’t talk about that.”

“It’s embarrassing.”

“Nobody likes a downer.”

“People will think you’re weak.”

“They won’t look at you the same again.”

And sometimes I listen. I’m not proud of it, but I do.

I was saved by a phone call from a complete stranger. I’m not even kidding. On the evening I was going to die, the phone rang. It was my friend’s boyfriend. She had asked him to call me because she knew I was depressed and was worried about me.

I talked to him, this complete stranger. But most importantly, he talked to me. He told me about his dark place. He told me he had tried to kill himself. He told me how much better things were for him now, how he got help, and how the darkness had lifted.

I listened, and I cried, and we made plans to get together the next day. I did not try and take my life that night, and we struck up a friendship that saw me through the darkest part of my life. We’re still in touch today.

His kindness and openness saved me. To say I’m grateful he made that phone call when he did would be an understatement. He didn’t let his shame keep him silent, and I’m here today because of it. I have a rich and full life because of it. I’m married and raising three kids and toiling away in my garden and painting on big canvases and laughing with friends because of it. I’m here to write this because of it.

Depression can take hold of anyone. Suicide becomes an option far too often. There is help out of the darkness, but sometimes people need those around them to shine a little brighter so they can find their way. We need to be that light.

We need to talk about this shit more, you guys. It won’t bring back the incredible people we’ve lost, but it can save someone. I’m proof of that.

Let’s stop drowning in stigma and start swimming in hope.