I used to call the moments of brain dysfunction writer’s block. But after the birth of my third (then fourth kid) mom brain has become the more appropriate term. It was about my second pregnancy when I realized how downright dumb I felt. As if my intelligence and actions were somehow blocked, like a kink in a hose blocking water flow. I’m smarter than this, when I walked into the kitchen for the tenth time forgetting I simply needed a glass of water. There was an incident, somewhere near the end of my second pregnancy, that involved a parked car and me fleeing to another grocery store to make it go away. Hit and run sounds so dirty, so we will call it a panicked pregnancy glitch followed by a knock at the door. It didn’t take long. It was the image of a pregnant woman, wet from sweat and tears on hot June day, and an equally confused husband who just couldn’t answer the question of why, that most likely got me in much less trouble than I deserved. To this day, I can’t answer the question of why beyond the loss of reason, intelligence and impulse control that goes along with a body swelling with hormones and water retention.
The Uncomfortable Monster
I live in this haze of memory and future fear, feeding the monster.
That is how anxiety works, it is the monster that lives inside of me. It scares me into two corners of past and future and get stuck there, unstuck from this present moment. The monster creates “to-do” lists and completion checks. Then it slides me into depression like the ocean waves hitting the sand it curls around me as I distantly get caught up in my own thoughts and worries. Everything becomes a reminder of the future – the things I should be doing- the mother, woman and human that I should be. It dictates my shame and tells me dreams don’t count unless they have financial value. Suddenly title, whether a book or job title, matter more and important things are only measured in currency. And I retreat into absence.
So I have been noticeably absent lately.
Absent from my writing, my goals or even my persistence. It is easy to do. I have been battling a case of seasonal anxiety. It is a lot like allergies. There is the mental fog, pressure, pushing against the brim of my nose until it itches. The uncomfortable itch of allergies pressing from my cheeks to the whites of my eyes. They begin to water. Something isn’t right. I desperately want to sneeze, to release. My nose begins to water, trying to drip in sync with the tears that slide down my face and brush a salty glaze onto the corner of my lips. I am in full bloom anxiety season. Medicine is my first instinct. It could unclog some of the pressure on my face, slowing down the need to sneeze (release) and the need to cry. But it puts me in a fog, a haze, like trying to see out of the front window of my car through a film of pollen disposed from the trees. Just like allergies, there is no magic solution for the pressure. In the midst of this anxiety season I am working harder on coping techniques. But pills, like coping techniques, only work when I take them everyday like a routine.
There are also bad coping techniques
Self pity fills my eyes with tears. I blame myself, then I blame others. They are too demanding, or distant or unable to give me the answer i want to hear. Or they are struggling their way through anxiety season as well. I look at the pages I just wrote. The only friend that listens completely to my words, and becomes them. I sneeze on the pages. First there was the itching, then the pressure that squeezed the brim of my nose. Look at the light. I have been told. So I stare right into the bright side and sneeze beautifully onto my blank journal page. I am finally able to fill my lungs with oxygen and see the entire portrait
Writing is my strongest weapon against the monster
I have always known I need to write. I call it a lot of things, my dream, my passion, my saving grace. It is the release of the words and thoughts that are swirling around my head like magnets on a refrigerator. When I write, I can organize, control and beautify them. My pen is my armor and my sword. Sometimes other people read and relate and I get high on that feeling, that connection. Sometimes I get high on my own words, like an artist who just painted a masterpiece.
So I just keep writing.
Easing my future, calming my past and keeping the anxiety monster under my bed.
** drawing by my amazing daughter. I asked for a cute little monster to personify my anxiety. She added the goat characteristics because “goats always look anxious”
The sweat. It is wet, hot, and a newfound uncomfortable that is becoming associated with running in the summer time sun. It tickles down my back, like a monster’s hot tongue, slowly licking between my shoulder blades, then on my forehead and pooling up to drip down my temples.
I keep running despite the discomfort
I imagine my legs could just give out at any second and press the souls of my shoes into the ground more firmly then I am used to as I steady my pace. The sun has been following closely behind me and occasionally reaches out touch my shoulders, burning them. I push up a hill, the dreaded incline. It is a test of how much heat my run can handle. The sun illuminates the path around me like a spotlight on my journey. Up the hill, in a small celebration of victory I steady my pace, once again feeling the pressure in my calves releasing and my mind resting. Through the pain and the heat, I can still feel that sense of peace.
And that is what keeps me going.
I lay in my hospital bed shortly after giving birth for the fourth time. A spot I knew too well. I struggle to find the right position that doesn’t rupture my still aching lower body, and upper body and tired brain. “Are you comfortable?” a nurse asks, after taking my temperature for the millionth time. “I think so.” I lie.
I am in Cece’s bed. Again. She never wants to sleep all night, alone, or with her brother. I am too tired to train her, so it goes like this: she cries. I wake up. I glance at Josh’s loud snores, and I go to her room trying not to wake Jackson up as I crawl out of bed. He has been barreling out of his room lately just as we are about to go to bed. I spin another round of wondering if we will ever be the kind of family with normal sleeping arrangements, again. I cuddle next to Cece, calming her crying. She looks at me, “where Papa go?” she asks, drifting back to sleep. I kiss her squishy soft little cheek and try my best to ease my body into the mattress, between pillows and blankets. I pull a block from under my leg and set it under the bed. So often we end up scattered, like our various throw pillows, with at least one toddler awkwardly lying near my feet wondering what is going on beyond our closed eyes to get us here. Somehow, I am perfectly aligned with the direction of the bed and Cece curled right under my chin and we are breathing in sync. The air outside is unsettled as thunder rumbles a soft roar in the distance and the rain taps melodically against the window. I pull her even closer in a soft embrace, imagining the rain is feeding her growth like the outdoor garden we just planted. If I can just hold her long enough, I can stop it, or slow it down, or just enjoy it. My back is always sore from the many nights of sleeping where ever would calm a crying toddler. But yet, in this moment, the soft tap of rain is echoing her breathing. Her hair tickles my nose as it gently sways from the ceiling fan and her little golden curls move in a slow bounce, a contrast to the way they bounce about due to her awake constant motion. In this passing moment of a thunderstorm causing us to sleep too late, I am the most comfortable that I have been in a while.
I hold on to Jackson’s arm as he flings him self around me on a set of bleachers. It is Layla’s eighth grade graduation and I was trying to hold onto some sort of emotion long enough to be nostalgic. It is really hard when my head turns like a wind up toy every time Jackson breathes funny. Josh had already taken Cece out to the hallway but I was stubbornly holding on to the notion that I would see them announce her name. I craved hearing the words they used to describe her, creative and poetic. I fought the urge to raise my hand and list off additional synonyms for Layla Taylor: artistic, unique, passionate, genuine, old soul, good friend. I can go on and on and on – and not just because I am her mother. “Are we bringing them to the ceremony?” she asked, in the snarky teenage tone that suddenly worked its way into her inflection range. “They can’t stay home alone.” I said, in my new defensive tone – a mom/teenage hybrid. This is common now. Teenagers and toddlers are the epitome of the self-centered years, the time in your life where being an asshole can be explained simply by referencing age and everyone nods in agreement. Trying to explain to Layla that Jackson’s behaviors are mostly because toddlers lack impulse control is like explaining to Jackson that Layla is hormonal.* Back in the gym, as I am just as focused onto Jackson and I am swallowing my tears as a beautiful girl stands on the podium, with a soft pink dress that contrasted her bright green hair, and she is giving a speech about how much middle school made her grow. I envied her, almost as much as I envied Layla, at the very beginning of adult hood with so much ahead. Like a Hallmark greeting card, I mouthed the words along knowing the theme and how graduations go. I look at Jackson; he is sitting on the step smiling at me. That smile, the way he twists his lips into a perfect little grin, he looks angelic – and completely full of mischief. I see the spark and he ignites, across the gym floor. I am spry and suddenly thankful for all the running I do as I dart across he gym after him. I could hear the entire gym laughing. My mouth can’t figure out whether to laugh or cry and my lips start shaking at the confusion. I realize half my bra may be hanging out, but I am moving too fast for anyone else to notice. “Good catch” someone comments as I scoop him up and drag him into the hallway.