Friday, November 21, 2014

30 Days of Quotes about Life - Tolstoy and Thanksgiving

I'm going to attempt to kill two birds with one stone today, primarily because the time that I get to peck away at an actual keyboard is so fleeting these days that I have to try and make the most of it. If this child has done nothing else for my writing career, he's made me infinitely more efficient, that is certain.

I was asked earlier this week to write about familial dysfunction around the holidays. The person who requested that I write on this topic may be submitting a guest post in the coming days or weeks, which I will gladly feature here upon its arrival.

This time of year always makes me think about family, as I'm sure it does for most people, at least in this country. The tail end of November has always firmly belonged to my father, as his birthday is the 27th. Was the 27th. 

Death is so pesky that way. He may not be here anymore, but there is a part of me that still thinks of certain things in a present tense, as though his birthday still falls on the 27th even though he hasn't been here to celebrate it in years now.

This year, his birthday will fall on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since his death. I hate that, though I am sure that it will just work itself out to be more efficient this year, the grief and all that comes with it. We aren't actually celebrating the holiday on that day and have nowhere to be. We'll be spending the following day with my inlaws instead.

To be completely honest, I am glad to not have anywhere to be that day, glad not to have a laundry list of tasks to complete, glad not to be cooking for a small army all day. I think we may just buy some pizzas to throw in the oven and a 6 pack of Coors Light, park ourselves in front of the television and call it a day.

I'll just be home with my husband and our kids that day, which ironically is something I longed for back when I still had both of my parents and every holiday was filled with chaos and expectation and obligation.

Be careful what you wish for, my friends, because one day you'll find that you have nowhere to go on that holiday and you'll long for the days of holidays past.


Since I'm going to try and combine the quote with the topic request, here is the quote I have chosen:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 
~ Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina


Tolstoy was, of course, a famous Russian novelist. The book from which this quote was taken, Anna Karenina, was one of his most popular, alongside War and Peace. One of these days, I mean to re-read them both as an adult. I have this habit of loathing some books when I was assigned to read them in the past, but falling deeply in love with them upon revisiting them with the perspective I have on life these days. 

When I read this quote again yesterday, I knew that it would be perfect for this series, and for this topic about family dysfunction, because it is one filled with so much simple truth. We are all messed up in our own ways, certainly, and our issues had to come from somewhere. 

Damned apple trees.

To me, this quote seems to say that we are all indeed screwed up, even those who appear from the outside to be stable and happy, perhaps even more so. 

I can only speak from my personal experiences, of course, but I can tell you that what others see is hardly ever a true full picture of what reality is. Almost never. Those who have family problems that play out for the world to see are called names in our society, accused of being dramatic and worse. Most of us keep it all hidden, behind closed doors, behind those perfectly manicured lawns and bright white picket fences. 

Things in my family were never perfect growing up. They didn't get better as I aged. In most ways, they got worse. Either that or I just became more aware of the dysfunction as I got older. From the outside, though, things never seemed so bad. In my adult life, with my own husband and children, I think the illusion was even grander at times because it wasn't just the outside world being snowed, it was us too. We'd fallen for the idea that things were fine when they weren't. 

We put on the fancy clothes and the happy faces and pretended splendidly.

It's easy to believe that other people have their shit together. It's easy to see what is displayed to the world and believe it to be the entirety of someone. 

It's just not true. 

It's easy to believe that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but you should never make the climb over that fence on the assumption that your beliefs are accurate ones. The grass isn't greener, it almost never is, and even if it seems to be for a while, it might only be because it ends up being astroturf. A fake construct that you had in your head, revealed for what it truly is only once you've scaled that fence to the other side.

We've all got problems. Even and especially those of us who seem not to. 

Some of us are just better at hiding it.

The trouble comes when all those people with all those problems are thrust into the same dining room for holidays such as the one coming up next week. We build up the expectations so high, we hope that everything will be wonderful, we intend to make only good memories, and then we are slammed back down to earth when reality hits and we occupy the same space as all those people we are related to. 

Sure, some people have Rockweillian holidays. They take the gorgeous family photos, they have spirited but civil conversations, they catch up with one another, they leave on good terms. Some people have that. 

At least I assume some people have that.

Not everyone does. 

Not everyone can engage their family without flinching. Not everyone can get past the past. Sometimes the passive aggressiveness takes over, the snide remarks pile up too high. Sometimes the hurts are just too big. There's always someone drinking too much in the corner. Someone avoiding everyone else by staying busy in the kitchen. Someone who volunteers a little too quickly to try and find a store open somewhere in town because we've run out of butter or need a turkey baster. 

I've been that someone. More than once.

Oh god, there are times I've been all those someones.

Holidays are hard because we want them so desperately to be good. We want to believe in our hearts that we can overlook all the bad things about ourselves and each other for just that one day, except that sometimes we just can't. 

Perhaps if we didn't create these expectations in our minds, if we didn't wish for things to suddenly be rosy and perfect just because of the date on the calendar, if we gave everyone else and especially ourselves a break, it wouldn't be this way. 

What I wouldn't give for the chance to find out.

That ship, though, has sailed. My parents are both gone. 

Believe me when I say that as hard as the holidays are with your family, as much as you may wish to be without them at times, as much as you may want to stay home and refuse to engage them...once you don't have any other options, you will wish that you did. You'll miss them in ways you never imagined, and you'll always wonder what could have been.

Once they are gone, so is the hope that things could ever be better.

This Thanksgiving, I wish for each of you out there reading this to find some peace and solace. Be gentle on yourself. Lower the expectations you put on yourselves and on everyone else. It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful. 

And know that sometimes, on some years, pizza and beer can make the best Thanksgiving dinner. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

30 Days of Quotes About Life - Bob Marley

Hi there. Welcome to the newest series around the Hive. This time around, I'll be writing about quotes that interest me and those that I'm asked to write about. I'm hoping to get through about 30 of them, though I highly doubt it will happen without interruption.

Anyhow, I hope that you enjoy this series. If there is a quote that you would like me to write about, please send me a message at debiehive@gmail.com.


The first quote up in this series is from Bob Marley. He was an amazing man, one that left this world far too soon, but one that left behind a huge volume of material for the rest of us. His music, his philosophies, his words.

"The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for."
~Bob Marley

Whew.

Anyone else need a moment just to breathe after reading that one? I know that I do.

I'm going to start with the assumption that you all know who Bob Marley was. When I come across quotes with questionable sources or lesser known speakers, I will go into more detail. For him, I think...or at least I hope that you all know a little bit about him.

He was a reggae musician that shared the music of his people with the whole world. He changed so much about the music industry as a whole and has left his legacy through the influence and inspiration of countless artists. He was a peace loving man who made some of the most poignant observations about society in a tumultuous time.

His words cut right through to the heart of the issues that affect us all, and this quote is a perfect example of his uncanny ability to reduce humanity to a sentence.

This quote, one that has painful truth attached to it. One that those of us who've lived long enough know to be true.

When we are young, when we are naive about how the world really works, we don't believe things like this to be true. We think that our friends, our families, our partners will never hurt us. For certainly, if they love us, they wouldn't, right?

In an ideal world, that might be true.

In this world, it might even be true...for a little while.

Eventually though, any relationship with any person at any level will result in pain. It's just a part of the reality of human interaction. There is no universe where two people can exist in perfect harmony forever.

We hope that those we love don't hurt us with intention, and in many cases there may never be intent involved with the pain that is inflicted. As individuals, we necessarily want and need different things in life. At some point, our wants and needs may diverge. At some point, we may act selfishly and do things that hurt others, even if hurting them is never part of what we are wanting.

In my life, I've been hurt the most this way, by those closest to me.

In many ways, the harm inflicted this way is the worst. It would be one thing if someone meant to hurt me, if they made a conscious choice to do something to hurt me.  I've been hurt that way, certainly. I've hurt people I loved that way too, though I carry regret for doing so.

Being hurt without intention, though, it carries more pain I think. At least it has in my experience. Knowing that I was hurt as badly as I was simply because they just weren't considering the damage they were doing to me, that I was irrelevant in their choices, that I was collateral damage...it hurts more. It hurts more, and it requires more levels of forgiveness to move on from the hurt. We don't just need to process and forgive the harm done, but the fact that we were so willfully ignored first.

People do stupid, selfish things. In the process, they will hurt those they love most.

I've hurt others like this. I've been utterly devastated by others doing it to me.

The recovery from this particular pain is something that took years, something that isn't complete and may never be. It's something that changed, fundamentally, who I am as a person. It altered just about everything in my life.

I could have refused to let those who hurt me back in to my life. I could have harbored resentment. I could have stayed angry, stayed hurt. I could have. I could have built walls to protect myself from being hurt again, but those walls would have kept out the good along with the bad.

The people we love can and will hurt us more than anyone else ever could, but if we protect ourselves from the hurt, we deny ourselves the love too. To stay safe, we stay isolated. Opening your heart to love means opening it to the chance of being hurt.

There is great risk in love.

That risk is terrifying once you've been hurt. Allowing yourself to love and be loved requires a huge leap of faith once you've been hurt because it requires a conscious choice to be vulnerable again.

It's terrifying, but for the right people, it's worth it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday - the broken internet edition

The sleep deprivation is starting to really take hold, and I'm having a hard time getting riled up about much these days. 

I'm also deliberately avoiding the news because it makes me mad right now. I am fully aware that the head in the sand approach isn't a long term solution, that the problems of the world won't go away simply because I am ignoring them and that I can't kid myself for too long. I know that.

Right now though, I'm tired. And emotional. So there.

Having said that, there is one story that is really pissing me off this week, and it has to do with this.


In case you need a caption, that's my boob in my son's mouth. Yep. 

What is pissing me off about this has nothing to do with nursing, actually. It took him and I several weeks to get our particular nursing relationship all squared away, but now that he's mastered latching, we are good. The funny thing about nursing is that it should be so natural and it isn't. Even for someone like me, a doula with over a decade of nursing my own babies already, it's not always this simple beautiful easy thing like we believe it should be. 

It's frustrating and painful and exhausting and messy at times. It's hard to teach a baby how to do something that they don't seem to want to do, and doing it all while under the microscope of twice a week weigh ins and growth charts and threats of supplements is a special form of torture. I won't lie and tell you that nursing is this magical thing. It can be, but it isn't always, and it especially isn't in the beginning. 

My daughters latched easily and we never had problems. All three of my boys struggled. 

We got here though and we are settled in. Finally.

In these weeks since he was born, the typical fights on the internet have raged. I've tried to avoid them, tried to keep my head down, tried not to comment on things. Really, I have. 

This though, this is what is pissing me off. 

What, you ask?

I'm pissed off by the fact that my picture up there, the one of my beautiful baby boy eagerly nursing discreetly, would in all likelihood be deemed offensive and removed from social media if I posted it there directly and someone complained. Hell, even having it as the photo attached to this post might mean that it gets yanked. 

Instagram and Facebook are notorious for removing pictures of breastfeeding mothers and their babies. I have countless friends who have had pictures pulled. 

To have those pictures pulled, someone had to have reported them. 

Someone on their friends lists, presumably.

Look. If you are on my friends list and you have a problem with seeing a picture like this one, maybe we just shouldn't be friends. Anyone who has known me in real life in the past 13 1/2 years has likely been around me while I was nursing one of my babies. I don't hide to feed them. I don't sneak off to bathrooms. I don't drape huge covers over their heads. I don't. 

I never have and I'm not about to start doing it now.

I feed my babies when they are hungry, wherever we happen to be, and I have the legal right to do so. 

There is nothing offensive about a breast being used for what nature intended.

There is nothing offensive about a picture of a nursing mother and child, particularly in a world where celebrities are stripped down, oiled up, paraded around and turned into trending topics. 

So there.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Parenting, with a side of anxiety

Last week, I put my son on a public bus. Alone. At night.

Clearly this wasn't my idea.

He was to take the bus all the way down to Denver and meet his father at the bus station in downtown for the Black Keys concert. He had his phone with him. My husband was planning to meet him at the bus so he wouldn't have to navigate the station alone.

He's a smart kid with a good head on his shoulders. He's pretty aware when he needs to be, he's good with directions and has always been a good traveler. He's basically man-sized these days, with his frame flirting with the six foot range.

He'll be 14 in the spring, old enough to start thinking about taking driver's training courses. He's trying out for drum line for high school tonight. For high school.

He's not a little boy anymore. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

For them to let go, first I need to.
Even if I have to force it.
And he was fine. He did fine. He got to where he needed to go and his Dad met up with him and they had a blast.

I, on the other hand, spent most of that day dreading what I knew I had to do. I knew that I was going to drive him to a bus station here in town and that I was going to tell him to get out of the car and go stand over there and get onto a public bus and drive away without me. I knew that. And I did it.

I did it even though I spent the majority of that day imagining all the things that could go wrong. I did it even though a huge part of me wanted to tell him to forget it and that I would just drive him down there. I did it even though I knew it meant that there would be a lump in my throat that would form when he stepped foot on that bus and it wouldn't dissolve until I knew he was safe on the other end. I did it even though a part of me wanted to follow that bus to make sure he was fine. I did it even though it was more than a little bit terrifying for me.

What if he was kidnapped? What if he had to go to the bathroom on the bus? What if there was an accident on the interstate? What if he got off at the wrong stop? What if what if what if what if what if what if what if.......

I can play the what if game like a professional.

You don't even what to know what goes on in my head.

Part of what I do with everything, particularly with new situations like that one, is that I go through every possible set of circumstances that could arise, imagining the worst case scenario played out, then I run these simulations in my mind. I have to let them all play out to their usually catastrophic finales, just in case it actually happens....which it literally never does.

My mantra is to prepare for the worst, hope for the best. 

I can prepare for the worst until the cows come home. All day, every damn day.

I have to remind myself of the second part of my mantra almost constantly to keep my anxiety from taking over and swallowing up that part of me that allows for normal functioning: the hope for the best part.

Without the hope for the best part, I would have never have let my son get on that bus. The fact that he's a fairly independent and responsible teenager wouldn't have swayed me, because anxiety isn't about reality...it's about all the imagined possible realities.

It's not about what is. It's about what might be.

The anxiety can be crippling at times when it comes to my kids because there are so many things to worry about with them. Some of the concerns I have are wholly legitimate ones, like the worries about Little Boy and diabetes. The vast majority of them, though, aren't real at all. I worry about things that will never ever happen. I worry about things that most people never even think about. I worry about worrying too much.

What I work to do every single day is to not let all that worrying I do affect how I raise my kids. I don't want them to grow up to be afraid of the world. I don't want them to imagine every possible thing that could go wrong constantly. I don't want them to hesitate. I don't want them to hold back.

I want them to get on buses to crowded downtowns alone and know that they can do that because they are smart and capable and can take care of themselves. I want them to be able to tell me goodbye when they walk to that bus stop and know that things will be okay. I want them to have the confidence to try new experiences.

I don't want them to be afraid.

I squash the anxiety down in my brain out of necessity. To let them live, to let them experience life, I have to find a way to silence the doubt in my brain enough. It can torture me, but it can't torture them.

I don't allow the irrational fears inside my mind to have a voice that speaks to them. I caution them about the likely things they will deal with, counsel them as a parent should...but I don't let my worries become their worries.

I don't want them to be like me.

Unfortunately, one of them is far more like me than I would have ever wanted. She has across the board anxiety, testing above the diagnosis threshold in every subcategory. Her anxieties have anxieties. She worries about things that will never happen almost constantly. Before we can even start to make plans, she's already imagining the unraveling that will take place. She builds things up in her mind like enormous cities of tall gleaming skyscrapers, only to have them squashed beneath the feet of her giant fire breathing monster.

She is her mother's daughter.

She's also the child with whom I suffered postpartum depression the worst. A therapist once told me that the fact that I'd had PPD with her almost certainly altered how we bonded when she was a newborn, that I was unable to be the safe place she needed me to be and that she picked up on that from birth. Coupled with her natural tendency to be this way already, it's not a good combination.

As an aside....I'm not sure that knowing that truth helped, at least not on my end. Telling a person with anxiety that they contributed in large part to the anxiety their child developed doesn't bring much comfort. No. No, it does not.

Anyway.

I spend so much time reassuring that child about life, most of my efforts falling on deaf ears.

I don't want her to be like me, but she already is. Maybe she would have been this way even if I hadn't had such awful PPD with her. Maybe she wouldn't have. I don't know.

All I do know is that as heartbreaking as it is to see her struggle this way, as frustrating as it can be to see her give her energy to these make believe scenarios, I know what is going on with her. Who could possibly be better equipped to help her navigate this than I am?

Those who don't operate the way we do don't understand. They think that we just worry incessantly for no reason. They think that we can just stop doing it, or that we should just stop doing it. They don't understand that we'd literally give anything for that ability.

She will, with time and maturity, become more able to tune out the anxieties in her head. She will learn to hope for the best, just so that she can function normally. She will, I am confident of it. She will get there. I know she will because I did. I know she will because I will help her.

Perhaps that is the silver lining here. Those of us who have children that struggle the same way we do are far more equipped to help them than anyone else ever could be.

There's comfort in that.

There is.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Jerry Seinfeld, The Spectrum and Light Bulb Moments in Adulthood

Much has been said about the interview Jerry Seinfeld gave this past week where he revealed that he's pretty sure he is on the spectrum. As is often the case online, opinions have run from one end to another. Some people are bent out of shape that he appears to have diagnosed himself, some think his self diagnosis makes sense. Some think this will be a horrible development for the autism community, some think it will be a wonderful development for the same community.

Regardless of how every individual feels about his particular situation, it's done something important. It's generated a conversation about what happens when an adult decides to figure out what is going on with them.

My personal opinion, not that anyone asked, is that his story is his story. Whether he's on the spectrum and where exactly he falls on said spectrum really only matters for him. It's not reflective of the experiences of anyone else, and frankly I don't see why it's even an issue when we are talking about a condition that is so highly individual as this is.

Besides, he's an adult.

The spectrum isn't something cut and dried. It's not like a diagnosis of diabetes that uses specific objective measures. It's not like cancer that there are set tests and thresholds for. It's not. It's nuanced and varied. Every person is different, and at some point the variation of normal become irregular enough that someone is said to be on the spectrum.

Whoever gets to decide what normal is anyway?

But I digress.

There are many people up in arms over the fact that he's self diagnosing. I guess I don't really see it as a horrible thing honestly, at least in this instance.

The diagnosis of spectrum disorders, much like the diagnosis of ADHD or psychological disorders, is based primarily on subjective assessments of behavior. Sure, there may be specific criteria for a formal diagnosis to be triggered, but whether an individual falls on one side or the other of that cutoff is a subjective determination. There's no blood test returning a numeric value that we can just look up on a chart.

When children are screened, the assessments are done by parents and teachers and other adults around the child. When adults are screened, most of the data is self reported. No one knows Jerry better than Jerry, right?

No one knows me as well as I know myself.

The same could be said for most of us, I think.

As an aside, the diagnostic criteria and even the categorization in the most recent DSM aren't without controversy themselves. Asperger's technically isn't even a diagnosis anymore under the current DSM, though many people disagree with its removal.

Labels. They're so damned artificial anyway, aren't they?

We're all just people.

My point is that the system isn't a perfect one, even when the professionals are the ones handling the labels. I don't necessarily see his self-diagnosis as correct or incorrect, mostly because it's not my job to make that call. I see a man who put some pieces together about who he is, realized that maybe there was a reason he is the way he is.

Ultimately, I think that is the most important piece of this story anyway. I can't even begin to tell you how many people I know personally who have had these light bulb moments far into adulthood, these times when they've looked at their lives, and started to wrap their heads around the fact that there might be a reason that they are the way they are.


When we were kids, these conditions weren't diagnosed. We were told to change, to fit in, to deal with it, to stop being weird, whatever. Jerry wasn't diagnosed as a kid because almost no one was back then.

No one ever suspected I had ADHD as a kid because I wasn't hyper and I was smart. Doesn't mean I didn't have it.

Maybe it's anxiety, maybe it's depression. Maybe you have sensory issues. Maybe you get overstimulated easily. Maybe you are an introvert. Maybe you are on the spectrum.

Maybe.

Maybe when you start to figure it all out and it starts to make sense, there is a comfort in knowing that there's a reason that you are the way you are. Maybe you don't necessarily need a doctor to tell you that. Maybe the involvement of the doctor only comes when you start to put the pieces together and finally go in to the office and ask the right questions.

For so many of these conditions, a diagnosis as an adult isn't going to mean much aside from finding an answer.

More than the story with Seinfeld, I look to the character development on the show Parenthood. Hank has been struggling with his own situation for the past few seasons, but if you've watched, you know that he's been struggling with life forever. Confronting the reality that he may very well be on the spectrum has begun to explain a lot of what happened in his past. Knowing how he sees the world, how he interacts with other people, he's beginning to change how he does things. He is taking this condition, learning about it, using that knowledge to adjust to a world that operates differently than he does.

I won't lie. At times, it has been hard to watch because his character is so real in my world. I know Hank. I know what he's been through. I see him working so hard to understand himself, to understand how he can do things differently.

Wanting to do better.

Isn't that what we all want? To do better.

To do that, we need to understand ourselves better. Maybe that means we realize we might have this condition or that condition. Maybe that's not a bad thing. Maybe it's just an explanation of who we are.

Self awareness is always a positive.

Jerry Seinfeld didn't have to tell the world what he believes he's figured out about himself. But he did.

I, for one, am glad he did, because he will prompt other adults to think about these things too.

My ADHD and PTSD, though later confirmed by professionals, were self diagnosed first. Just because I figured it out before someone with a title did doesn't make these conditions less real in my life.

And none of it defines me. It's all just a part of who I am, just like possibly being on the spectrum is part of who Jerry is.

For that matter, I figured out that I had PPD before any professional did too. The anxiety, though....that was diagnosed in the emergency room when I had a panic attack. High five, self!

There's no shame in admitting this stuff. There shouldn't be. If we want our children to accept what they are dealt, we have to be willing to figure out and accept what we have too.

Chance are, it came from somewhere.

***looks around, blink, blink...

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