I was wrong.

A new lesson I’m trying to teach the kids is the skill and the ability in admitting you are wrong. I’ve come to realize in myself, and in others, that it’s an underserved portion of child-raising. And yet – YET – how many conflicts could be managed if someone would just admit they were wrong?

I think about this in terms of my own political beliefs and relationships. I think about past friendships and relationships and my part in the failure of them. That one is hard because the disintegration of important bonds is easier to accept if someone else can be blamed. I think about how I once fell for the “Welfare Queen” depiction of government assistance. How I once looked at the fact that more black men (by proportion) were in prison as simply an indicator of criminal status. Never once looking into the racist system that brought them there. I think about how I have changed my language and do not use the word “retarded” casually anymore. I think about all of the times I’ve had to say, “Sorry,” in personal conflict.

And I wonder how or why I learned it at all? And how can I make sure my kids learn the same? Because from everything to politics to interpersonal relationships I feel like life would be easier if we could sit in a moment and consider the fact: MAYBE I AM WRONG.

The best way I can imagine having learned that is that I saw my Dad do it a lot. He often discussed his own role in conflicts – whether his failed marriage or things at work. He would also apologize to us if his anger got out of hand and he yelled more than he wanted. He was very in tune with his own limitations and openly credited those limitations for failures in professional or personal relationships. He modeled the importance of owning mistakes and errors.

So I make sure to do the same for my kids. I can tell you right now at least three times in the last week where I’ve discussed my mistakes or failures with them. But they still struggle. There are times when it is SO OBVIOUS one of them is wrong and it’s like pulling teeth to admit it. “But, BUT, BUT…THEY DID THIS THING TOO!”

And that’s the crux. If you truly want to see benefits in a system or a relationship to you admitting your own failure, you HAVE to be able to admit it without accompanying blame on someone or something else.

“I was very short with you in that email, I apologize.”

is much different from,

“I was very short with you in that email because I thought you were trying to tell me to do my job.”

or,

“I was very short with you in that email because you’re usually making fun of my work and I assumed you were this time too.”

or,

“I was very short with you in that email because my kids made me crazy that morning and I had lost my patience.”

That last one is a little better because you’re owning the blame too, but still. The first one is the best. It simply says, “I was rude. I am sorry.”

That doesn’t mean the other things aren’t true, and they definitely need to be dealt with. BUT! If you really want your apology and your owning of blame to serve the purpose it serves, to create honest and open relationships, then you have to own it by itself and deal with the other things separately.

With political systems this is a little different because sometimes it helps us admit we’re wrong if we can recognize how we got there. “I’m sorry I used to assume black people were just more likely to be criminals because there were more of them in jail. I grew up in a racist system and these ideas were subconsciously programmed into me. I will work to be better.” That apology recognizes the fault and the blame which helps a little in the long run. And you’re not blaming another PERSON, you’re blaming a SYSTEM which is a little difference since that SYSTEM is what we’re trying to fix.

BUT STILL. Owning of error is something I’m good at (not great, just good) and something I wish others would be better at.

I think of this partly in the political climate and I get frustrated how rarely we see/hear politicians and legislative officials admit they were wrong about something. I loved when President Obama finally publicly supported Gay Marriage because he admitted he was wrong and attributed his daughters and their friends for showing him that. But he didn’t do it often, none of them do. Even if they’re looking at proof they were wrong and it’s black & white – STILL – it’s such a career killer they won’t do it.

Not only is it important to be able to admit we’re wrong, it’s important to recognize in most conflicts (except where there is emotional or physical abuse at play and someone is using a position of power to create the conflict) both sides carry fault. I see it in grown-up conflicts all the time, people have a hard time stepping back and saying: Okay. This part? This part is ALL ME.

Instead we want to say, “YEAH BUT THEY SAID THIS OTHER THING!”

So I work with my kids on it every day almost. I do it by making sure they see/hear me owning mistakes and I do it by forcing them to recognize their own. When they issue an apology I remind them that, “I’m sorry, but…” is not a sufficient apology. If you have to say, “but…” after it then YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

If there is a, “but…” you want to address you figure out how to do that separate from your apology. We work on ways to bring up general conflicts at separate times so that they don’t taint our apologies.

Do you have any ways you work on the same concepts with your kids? Do you see it causing problems in your life as an adult? Whether at work, in politics, or with personal relationships?

Teaching My Daughter The Worst-Case-Scenario Game.

There are many coping strategies with anxiety. One of the simplest ideas is to look at the thing causing you anxiety and see if there’s anything right now you can do about it, and then do it. If there’s not anything you can do, you try to recognize that and let go.

That’s the first basic approach, and it’s one I’ve taught Nikki.

But it’s really not a “cure-all” by any means. Those of us with anxiety disorders know that just saying, Welp, nothing I can do so I guess I won’t worry… doesn’t do anything at all 99% of the time. I mean, I stress out some days about the driving I might have to do in cities I might travel to in the future. Obviously there’s nothing I can do about those things yet still…NIGHTMARE INDUCING.

So I was working with Nikki last night using a “game” my therapist taught me. The Worst-Case-Scenario Game. Where you literally talk out the Worst Thing that could happen and just keep following it through and then dissect each of those moments to see if you can remove the fear from them. You have to talk it out, you can’t just think about it because it still sounds scary in your head. But if you say it out loud, it often sounds ridiculous: I’ll ask my husband to drive while we’re in that city and he says, “No!” I mean, my husband never says, “No!” when I ask him to drive. HE WANTS TO DRIVE. Or how about: There are no Taxis to drive me. What? NO TAXIS? THERE ARE ALWAYS UBERS. Or LYFTS. Or SOMETHING.

So – say it out loud so you can talk through the thing you fear.

Now, back to my daughter. Nikki is about 5 days away from the final stage of an application process to get herself into a magnet school here in Huntsville that she’s been wanting to attend since she first learned about it last year.

Let me make this clear: THIS IS ALL HER.

This is an academic program and so there are a lot of parents that are pushing their kids to apply, but not us. It’s going to really complicate our lives if she gets in and we’re a bit worried about how it will affect her anxiety so we’ve just let her drive this car. And we’re on the home stretch and next Tuesday she has to go to the school board office to write an essay on-sight as the final step and she is FREAKING THE EFF OUT.

So last night we went through the Worst-Case Scenario.

Nikki, what’s the WORST thing that can happen?
I don’t get into the school.
Okay, so then what happens?
I go to my regular middle school.
Yeah, and what’s that like?
Well…my friends go there. And I’ll have dances and stuff.
Okay, so if you totally bomb this essay and don’t get into that school, then it won’t really be that bad, will it?

Not all anxiety can be helped by the Worst-Case-Scenario Game, but I knew this one would because I knew that going to this “new” school comes with it’s own challenges. And not going to the “regular” school means missing out on a lot of “regular” things so I knew that in this case – the Worse Case was not actually that bad.

Once we had the Worst-Case analyzed and realized it wasn’t too big of a deal, we talked a bit about the essay. How she needs to take her time, but keep her eye on the clock. How she needs to just breathe and stay focused because we all know anxiety can make you brain jump around and that is NOT ideal when it comes to writing. We talked about writing from your heart (this seems to be a “personal” type essay) and how if you are sincere and true in your voice, that’s the best you can do.

She’s still super-stressed. I’m not sure the timeline of when we’ll find out if she’s been accepted after this essay, but I really hope it’s soon. We’re really lucky our school system has started this program (if she gets in, she’ll be the second class to go through it) and we’d love to take advantage of it. BUT! If she doesn’t get in, it will be her first major life disappointment AND I AM NOT GOOD AT HELPING MY KIDS THROUGH THOSE. All I can usually do is offer to cry with them indefinitely and then eat all the ice cream.

Anyway – no real point to this other than kinda walking you guys through how A Mom With An Anxiety Disorder Helps Her Daughter With An Anxiety Disorder.

It’s a circus, people.

Truths in Dreams

This apartment we are in – this 900 square foot apartment – has taught me quite a lot about my sleeping children. I wake up in the mornings and sit on the couch in the living room with my laptop. My daughter is 10 feet away sleeping in the “Dining Room” and my son is not much further – but behind a door – in one of the two bedrooms. I sit here and go over the news from the night and check social media and I hear their sleepy noises. My daughter tends to be anxious even in her sleep, and my son evidently thinks he’s just as hilarious in the dream world as he thinks he is while awake. I sit on the couch and hear the stress sounds as Nikki panics in her slumber and the laughter as Wes entertains whatever dreamworld he’s in. It’s a strange dichotomy, one I always feel when I think about the differing personalities of my two children. Wes wants to be the entertainer, although he hasn’t quite figured out how to do it sans jokes about bodily functions. Nikki wants to plan every moment of every day down to the second and her inability to do that creates extreme tension in her spirit.

Two very different souls, even in their subconscious.

I see myself in both my of children’s mental health struggles. And many days I’m grateful for my own struggles in that it helps me, help them, but I also find that by helping them…I am helping myself. I’ve learned more about coping with my own anxieties in the last few years by helping them with theirs, than I ever learned in the decades before. Nikki’s anxieties manifest in many of the same ways mine do, so we really often help each other. But Wesley’s manifest in entirely different ways which give me an incredible insight into how anxieties can shape our behavior. His make him want to make people laugh, but if that goes the wrong direction, he hides in a ball of uncontrollable anger.

I think having the language helps. I just assumed I was broken when I was a child. That I was strange and different. That I would never fit in with the world so my only choice was to put on some sort of facade to survive in the crowd. I knew the “popular” type of kids would never accept me so I aimed for the outer circles. I tried to do this in a very practical sense once I left the confines of a high school uniform and just tried to dress like the people around me. I found myself torn because I liked the hippies and I liked the grunge kids. So I alternated between flowing skirts and Birkenstocks and baggy jeans and doc martens. And I made very real very true friends, but I was also so deeply insecure with my “real” self that I shat on those friends as the years went on, as I was just always trying to find validation somewhere. Anywhere. Everywhere but inside myself.

I had to learn the very VERY hard way that looking for validation outside yourself is a never ending journey. No one can give that to you, so you just keep moving on and leaving friends who loved you behind in your destructive wake.

I hope my ability to define some of the things now, that made me feel like such an outsider then, will help my children avoid the same mistakes I made. That maybe now they can know themselves and not hate themselves because they can see the beauty in understanding their mental health. I am often trying to explain to my daughter about how I truly believe the anxieties also give me some amazing characteristics that I would never choose to be without. I hope both of them will see the beauty in their true selves, instead of running from it and trying to hide it like I did for so many years.

But for now, I’ll just listen to them sleep and hope that they find truths in their dreams that I can’t show them.

Dearest Daughter,

You and I are very much alike, so I hope that means we will be quick to forgive each other for our faults throughout life as we will see ourselves so clearly in those faults. We also are both blessed (for it is a true blessing, even on the days it feels like a curse) with a strong sense of empathy, so we will see each other’s pain and guilt after a mistake as if it were our own.

I have been telling myself this over and over throughout the night so that you hopefully don’t hold yesterday against me forever.

I’m stressed about this move. We waited until we were on the “safe” side of this home selling process to start seriously looking for an apartment. We naively expected it to be easier than it is. At this point, 13 days out from closing, we found ONE place and it’s only two bedrooms and not even in your school district. And this place? Still has to “approve” us so we won’t know for sure until the 10 or 9 day mark. THIS WAS CAUSING ME IMMENSE STRESS YESTERDAY.

We were also waiting for two bids for repairs, having requested three but not hearing back from one guy at all. The first bid was much higher than we expected and the second one was taking quite awhile so I was also very stressed about whether or not we accept the first (very high) bid just to meet the deadline to sign the request for repairs. Spoiler alert: the second one came in at the bell and was much closer to what we were expected. The problem is that by that point? The damage had been done in terms of my anxiety level.

I had two panic attacks yesterday. The kind where I kinda start yelling irrationally and dropping curse words left and right. Compared to the panic attacks of yesteryear it was quite mild, but you don’t have those memories very clearly in your mind anymore so you just had my regular self to compare it to and it was quite ugly.

The sucky part is that you were helping me all day. I would work for a little while (we were home with a snow day) and then you would help me sort/pack for a little while. And back and forth all day. You were doing it enthusiastically and eagerly and yet…YET…you were the target of my anger when the stress just knocked me over all at once.

We had a good talk (Wes was caught in a little of it but he doesn’t take it as personally as you do) and I explained to you guys what I’m doing to try to manage my stress and that I obviously was a little overwhelmed and it was a good talk and I took solace in knowing I was teaching you all about proper mental health care.

And then you offered to help me with dinner and it happened again and I snapped at you and I finally just had to hide in a quite corner for a few minutes and count to a million taking a million deep breaths. Then, then I finally felt like I had myself calm again. We talked…again. I don’t know how many times I will apologize before you stop forgiving me. I know that – big picture – I’ve got a very good grasp on my anxiety. But this is a little more than my fragile soul can handle right now, I believe. I walk around the house and still see so much to do and we still don’t know for sure where we’ll be living. And if we do get the one place we found, it is a 75% reduction in space which is a little more extreme than we were aiming for with this whole “downsizing” adventure.

13 days.

You still…AMAZINGLY…want me to wake you up early this morning so you can help me load the first batch of stuff in our new storage unit. We do have an activity on the calendar today – we’re going with some friends to see “Hidden Figures” and then going to our favorite restaurant for a discussion afterwards. I plan on turning off the “WE HAVE TO MOVE IN 13 DAYS” part of my brain to try to REALLY enjoy the movie and meal with you. You deserve at least that. I’m going to try to be better because – one thing is for sure – it’s only 13 days. I can handle anything for 13 days.

Thank you for motivating me to try to be better. And thank you for helping me so much. I hope the big picture of life will show you I was the Mom you deserved, even if these small moments of darkness seem a bit unbearable at the time.

I love you, my beautiful angel.

Mom

The Ticking Time Bomb Of Parenting.

I woke up yesterday around 1:30am – FOR THE DAY – after getting the final counter on our contract and knowing we’d be signing it later in the day. I just could not go back to sleep as my brain worked through all of the next steps in life from that moment. THERE ARE A LOT OF STEPS. And more importantly? THERE ARE A LOT OF PLACES THINGS CAN GO VERY WRONG. I find myself suffering from a type of Analysis Paralysis where there’s so much to do I can’t figure out where to start. Some of which requires handyman type skills and while my husband has many, I have very few. I did install a new faucet once and new light fixtures once…but other than that? I’m useless. So I just stare into the abyss and wonder if I just sit really really still…will everything just happen around me and I don’t have to do anything?

No, Zoot. Unfortunately you have to get up and get some shit done. I went to bed a little before 9pm last night and still woke up at 2:30am this morning. I’m not going to be getting any shit done if I can get a handle on my sleep patterns. Tired Zoot is Useless and Emotional and Eating Zoot. None of these things are useful when trying to be productive.

Unless the productivity goal is: GAIN 20 POUNDS. If that’s the goal? I’m SUPER-Productive! Check that shit off the list, baby!

********************

We had a family gathering last night with the kids and I’ve been hyper-aware of the ripple effects of Wes’s non-ideal behavior which makes it so I have a lot of trouble relaxing in those situations. I am really saddened by this because he has really made such good progress lately. Ever since his Pediatrician mentioned anxiety being at the root of things, we’ve given him different language and tools to help with his anger and I really feel like it’s made a lot of difference. I see the triggers now and discuss the anxiousness first – before he spirals – and it’s helped him look at all of it the same and he does a lot of this: Stumble…Catch Footing…Deep Breath…Apologize…Move on.

This is a huge change from Stumble…Collapse…Roll down the hill tearing down every tree in your path…Crush small villages with anger…Declare hatred of all the people who love him.

So – he’s in such a good place lately – but I was so on edge and worried about how everyone would handle any of his missteps that when he just stumbled a bit (which for him is NOTHING but to an outsider might look terrible) I would get super-freaked out and panicked and OH MY GOD THIS IS WHERE IT ALL GOES WRONG!

But – it didn’t. And I was trying to keep recognizing that and commending him on resetting in moments where he wouldn’t have before. He stumbled after losing a game and there was “TANTRUM!” looming in the air but he reset and shook it off, got his mind right to give everyone thanks and hugs, and then as we left he apologized for being a sore loser. I was SO PROUD of him. But I was also SO ON EDGE from a couple hours of monitoring his every breath for a meltdown that I am not sure I praised him as much as I should have. And I’m 100% certain I was a drag on the energy at the gathering. It’s hard to relax and socialize when you’re obsessing over your child’s every move.

It’s like walking around with a ticking bomb which could explode after every tick, but probably won’t. You’re still jumping at every tick, bracing yourself for an explosion, and that anticipation can wear on your soul and make it very hard to engage with the world around you.

Parenting is hard, yo.

********************

It’s crazy that I feel better – in general – but worse – in specifics – lately. Like, the overwhelming feeling of anxiousness and sadness doesn’t permeate my every smile. BUT! The localized anxiety regarding current events and family and life is WAY WORSE THAN EVER. A lot of 2015 and some of 2016 were spent with this weird gray tint to everything – a sadness I just couldn’t shake. And lately that tint is gone so the happiness can feel DEEP and REAL, but the surface level stuff is out of control. I’m anxious about family and houses and politics and current events and all of the things that are happening TODAY and YESTERDAY and TOMORROW.

I guess it’s a good thing I sorted through all of the pervasive shit, right? I couldn’t imagine having to deal with real-time anxiety and depression ON TOP of the constant feeling of despair that was always a part of everything. At least now I have joy and hope and love underneath it all.

It’s just hard some days to dig down deep enough to see it.