When my son was two, my husband and I were exhausted, and beyond frustrated in seeking answers for his insanely rambunctious behavior and his sleepless nights. We were wrecked with stress.
Though preschool and peer interaction was never a problem, home was a different story. He woke every 2-3 hours at night, needing “snuggles” throughout, and was up for the day at 4:30am. During the day, we saw endless, rigorous, willful, loud (so loud) opposition over large and small issues- as though his feelings were too big for him to manage. He had non-existent impulse control and we struggled with getting kicked, pushed, and yelled at daily. To simplify things and keep him safe in our home, we removed every breakable object from display and removed all furniture and decoration except a mattress from his room, as anything that wasn’t nailed to the wall or could potentially be knocked over or climbed was a hazard. His time with his older brother was limited as he couldn’t control his physical impulses to push, kick, and hit.
We were sad, frustrated, sleep-deprived, and stressed to the max. Time-outs weren’t working. Natural consequences weren’t working. Positive attention wasn’t working. Essential oils, herbs, supplements, dietary changes, and endless outdoor time weren’t working. (Nothing was freakin’ working!)
We wanted 3 things: family harmony, an empowered calm state for him, and stress-relief. We knew there had to be a way to create a more harmonious home and get some dang sleep, but we didn’t know how to get there. The answers weren’t coming from our family doctor, the sleep specialists, or the parenting books and blogs.
I have a background as a massage therapist and had been seeking out bodywork for him. Around once a month I had been taking him to a pediatric CranioSacral therapist who also was a pediatric Physical Therapist. Craniosacral therapy is a light-touch therapy that works directly to soothe and unwind restrictions in the body’s central nervous system. Watching him receive these treatments was like watching him melt into a state of calm we rarely saw at other times. She noticed that he liked toys he could pound on, that his legs sought the edge of the table, and that he liked to lean into her as she was working. These were breadcrumbs for her that his body was seeking a certain kind of input. After decades of working with kids, her intuition was pretty keen and she suggested we take him to an Occupational Therapist for an assessment, to see if they could provide some insight.
From the moment he had his assessment, I felt we were stepping into a world that could finally provide some answers we so desperately were seeking. The therapy room itself was a relief because everything in it was something that could be punched, flopped into, jumped on or knocked down. And to have an adult look at him and say to him, “Wow! You are so strong! You are so clever, look at how you use your body!” To hear him being celebrated with genuine sincerity…..it actually made me cry. Since then we have met with several different OTs, each with a different style and protocol, some covered by insurance. We began to observe our son in terms of what kinds of experience his body is seeking, rather than whether his behavior is ok or not ok.
The eyes of our OTs viewed him as excited, intelligent and enthusiastic, needing specific impact on his joints and muscles (proprioceptive and vestibular systems to be exact), and fully capable of learning to self-soothe. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to see him through those eyes. In OT, everything is a clue as to how his unique system works and how he is seeking to regulate that system. We all have ways that we regulate our bodies. Chewing gum, pacing, fiddling with our rings, crossing our legs…..each of us has different ways of grounding and relaxing. We were finally learning to observe how he was seeking to regulate his.
It is a true gift to be able to see his progress in managing his body, feelings, and impulses. Not just that, but it has allowed us to take the judgment out of the equation. It has made our family a team, working together, instead of opponents playing tug-of-war.
I won’t go into more detail here but am happy to speak with anyone curious about our experience. If you have an intuitive sense that your kid might be seeking something you haven’t yet put your finger on or you notice you are expending a ton of energy on just day to day life…OT might provide some answers. Feel free to contact me with questions about Occupational Therapy or the resources we have connected to around Madison.
Panic attacks are like, so scary. Way scarier than Children of the Corn and that movie was fucking terrifying. I still cannot believe there are parents who chose to name their kid Malachi after having seen that movie. Anxiety attacks are way scarier than that but also way more ridiculous than another horrifying movie from the 80’s: From Beyond, which I remember mostly as some really crazy pineal glands wiggling around like possessed worms and causing havoc. Panic attacks = 80’s horror movies in every single way because the ridiculousness is matched only by how terrifying they are despite their ridiculousness.
When a panic attack comes, you are completely safe. Safe as can be. Everything’s pretty much alright. Sure, there’s an extra 10 pounds on your body and you could use a couple hundred thousand dollars. But all told, most things in your immediate reality are not cause for alarm. And even though literally nothing is happening to you: you could be, say, chewing gum and walking down the sidewalk, your body suddenly is shouting at you, “NO! NOTHING IS EASY! BREATHING IS DANGEROUS! DEATH IS IMMINENT! YOU ARE GOING TO CHOKE ON THAT GUM! ALSO THERE IS TOTALLY A CORNFIELD RIGHT BEHIND YOU WITH SOME REALLY FUCKING SCARY KIDS THAT ARE COMING FOR YOU. ISAAC IS BEHIND YOU. RIGHT NOW MOTHERFUCKER!” And suddenly your lovely, mostly neutrally-existent body goes all-in to convince you of grave danger, just really goes for it to make it real for you. Like it’s auditioning for Hamlet overseas, desperate for a new beginning after a failed movie career.
Unless I’m wrong, and I am never wrong, chewing gum and walking down the sidewalk are pretty safe in the scheme of things. But while you’re walking and looking normal, thinking, “Act normal,” your smiling neighbor walking her dog waves to you. And you smile and wave back, thinking your teeth feel dangerous, trying to ignore your screaming body. Because your body is in a cage match with reality, trying to convince you that spontaneous combustion really could happen at any moment or, alternatively, you could pass out instantly and soil yourself in front of your neighbor and her dog. Every moment and thing in the world is petrifying. Including that blade of grass, definitely that honeybee, the invisible smog in the air, the branch that could fall on your head, your heart beating too fast, and the skin holding your bones in.
It’s amazing how effective your nervous system is at convincing you that you are literally losing your mind. It is so convincing. All of the years of mindfulness practice where you observe your thoughts as they come and go…while hearing Deepak Chopra’s soothing voice in your ear….as soon as a panic attack shows up, it wins over all that. Way to go sympathetic nervous system. It squashes Deepak like a bug. And if your panic attack nervous system really were in a cage match, it would definitely win because it is so fucking committed. Nobody wants it more than your flight or fight response.
Today’s panic attack brought some fairly juicy imaginative thoughts like:
- I am literally going insane
- I am reliving a traumatic past life where I had a best friend named Trixie
- I am being invaded by foreign invisible entities and/or are still carrying invasive beings from years ago but never knew it
- I am stuck in a loop of unprocessed emotion that I cannot get out of like an M.C. Escher stairwell
- my kidneys are failing right now
- The electricity in the room is attacking me
- The fly in my wine is a sign of impending evil and/or carries a bacteria that will kill me
- I am too dizzy to sit or stand or walk and too nervous to lay down
- I’m so scared I cannot journal. Writing words will make feelings bigger
- Inhabiting my body inside my skin is too trippy to think about- I might lose my mind if I think about being a sentient being
- I immediately need to start walking a long distance but it won’t work to reduce panic unless it’s in the mountains, I must be in the mountains and I’M NOT
- Sitting is squishing my cerebral spinal fluid and causing more panic
- There’s definitely something really wrong with my cerebral spinal fluid
- If I take one step to the left, I’m going the wrong way. (Ditto one step to the right.)
- I might need to quit my job immediately. I am too crazy to work.
- The metal decor of the room is interfering with my electromagnetic field
What I don’t get is how evolution could do this to us. Good job, evolution. In what sane world do unprocessed emotions cause the same reaction that a tiger charging causes?
That’s really all I wanted to say. Panic attacks are ridiculous and terrifying. And that the sympathetic nervous system would win in a cage match against reality. Also, 80’s horror movies, panic attacks = Same.
Today, before cleaning vomit out of the couch upholstery, (F-You Child Flu of 2018. Next year we will be going to Costa Rica for the winter) I listened to my new favorite podcast, Lovett or Leave It from Crooked Media. The always hilarious and brilliant Jon Lovett asked his panel what they thought of various members of Trump’s posse resigning or being excused over the months. In other words, does Trump need babysitters? Is having people around him attempting to advise him a good thing? Even if they are not world class geniuses?
Since I am a stay-at-home mom, get my news from podcasts, and am not a political panelist, I will answer that question here.
To me, Trump is on a rubber life raft with his team in the middle of the ocean. He is eating all the Datrex ration bars and using the bottled water to rinse off his hands because the saltwater has made them itchy. He is desperately trying to carve “Trump was here” into the side of the rubber life raft with his diary key.
He forces his team to form a human shade above him in the heat of the day.”Shade me! You’re not shading right! Keep shading me, you’re doing a terrible job!” And in the evening he forces them to braid his magnificent spiraling hair around him to keep warm. His main thought is: “How can I remind everyone I win? At politics, tv, and life? How can I show them I am this raft’s winner? How can I bring up The Apprentice? Maybe set the raft on fire?” The people he has surrounded himself with are in an impossible situation. Stay and try to keep him from doing what he’s doing, or abandon ship, knowing that he will eventually sink the raft and doom anyone left on it.
He’s a terrible leader so people will continue to leave him. What we need is not adequate or inadequate Republican candidates for the jobs advising him. He needs a team of disguised Democratic mental health workers and political geniuses that can coach (trick) him into doing his job well. Democratic agents with, I’m thinking, elephant pins and “I’m a Republican” buttons to put him at ease. Then therapy the shit out of him (because people who need care should receive it) while assuring him that the best way to stay in the spotlight is to lean left.
An even better team for him would be The Avengers or The Justice League, superheroes who won’t complain about how shitty the job is and will be immune to his criticisms and abuse because at the end of the day, they’ll have group therapy support at the Hall of Justice or Avengers Mansion where there will be free donuts.
You know at some point Trump will pull off his Mission Impossible rubber face mask and reveal that he’s actually Joaquin Phoenix in an elaborate performance art piece. Well done, Joaquin. Way to float the dregs of society to the surface. Ills exposed. Bravo.
So….there’s your answer. Keep people around him who are Democrats working undercover, are smart enough to persuade and thick-skinned enough to not care about being criticized. And who have group therapy available at the end of the day and who work for the good of all people. And who are incredibly fit and charming. And who have really great one-liners and who are aging beautifully. There. Next question.
(I’m a Mom. So I feel I have a right, as much as anyone, to share my thoughts about guns. I’m no legislator, no commentator, no analyst. I make a lot of buttered noodles, change like 5 diapers a day, and most often avoid the news because it looks to me like the infrastructure holding our two party system together is quickly crumbling. But I digress. Guns.)
Not sure when guns began to mean freedom for some legislators, for some citizens.
Maybe it was when the Black Panthers needed to arm themselves to defend against racial injustice. That makes sense. Or when frontiersman needed to be safe fighting against the hardships of life in the wild. Logical.
Not sure when people started using the 2nd Amendment (intended to protect against musket-fueled military coups) as justification to claim that they and violent criminals have the right to buy an automatic weapon and use it for sport or terrorism.
Not sure why we’re calling legislators who support easy access to assault weapons “pro-gun” instead of “pro-violence” at this point.
I’ve shot guns before. In college, I had a friend who was a gun enthusiast who took me into the Rocky Mountains to shoot his AK-47 assault rifle. Was it fun? Not really. Did it make me feel powerful? Yes. Do people need to feel that particular power, the power of a gun, to feel free? No.
At least not if they’re living in communities where they are free. Where they feel free. Where they can walk down the street, go to work, raise children, be safe existing in our country. When they have access to great solid mental and emotional healers who help them feel free from within.
Yes, there’s a big mental health problem in this country. Which is exactly why there should be gun control. That’s just it’s own argument. Would you want your local psychiatric institution to have a gun booth next to the food court? Let me tell you, people who are feeling depressed, panicked or repressed in daily life- in their minds, in their families, in their communities- they’re not feeling free. I speak from experience. So we better stop associating guns with freedom starting now. It’s not like ditching your bra or using windpower and going off-grid. Guns are weapons. They’re not freedom.
Freedom is knowing you have a right to be yourself. It is feeling safe in your communities and parks and subways and schools, knowing your neighbors and friends and leaders have your back, that they celebrate and support you, that they care, that we- all of us- care about each other. It’s getting help from someone really good at helping you be you, and to recover from any traumas life may have handed you. It is feeling sane and healthy and empowered to work and learn and earn and grow. That is freedom.
When there is a suicide attempt in a home, the first advice given is to remove all weapons, lock up all medications and store knives and sharp objects away. In other words, if mental health is a big problem, make the scary things harder to find. Because it helps. What else is there to explain?
The freedom of children and teachers and families who are able to live and thrive in their communities is the freedom referred to in our Constitution. It is exponentially more important than cash and the Congressmen and gun sellers and the NRA offering an easy pathway to attaining an assault rifle.
For as long as we are fighting to establish the mental health of our citizens, we should have rigid gun control. And when everyone’s hunky-dory and painting rainbows on their cheeks, guess what? Nobody will want assault rifles as a hobby or to make a statement because they’ll be too busy living their damn lives, singing and shit and shooting bows and arrows for fun if they have to like fucking Katniss and they will understand the risk of introducing violent weapons into communities.
When I was working in a high school, the social studies students did a pen pal exchange with Australian students in the same grade. They were supposed to draw pictures of their impressions of each other’s countries. Our kids drew kangaroos and the Great Barrier Reef. When we got the letters in from Australia, you know what they drew? Mostly guns. And that was 10 years ago. Super, right?
Do I think the NRA can switch gears and be reasonable as it has in the past? (First started in the 1800’s as primarily a program to improve marksmanship! And for the next 100 years the NRA condoned or supported limitations on gun accessibility to criminals and the mentally ill.) Yes I do.
Do I think the freedom of individuals and communities to live without the threat of violence warrants a redefinition of the 2nd Amendment and the prohibition of violent assault weapons? Yes I do.
Do I think people should start hitting Congressmen and women where it hurts? Making it so difficult to support easy access to weapons that they cave in like the cowards they are? Yes I do.
Maybe thinking out of the box is called for.
Obviously yes, vote them out of office. That one’s easy.
Billboards, yes. And yard signs in neighbor’s yards with permission, and teepeeing of houses, and magnetic bumper stickers on their cars that say it like it is: “I support gun violence.”
For pro-gun legislators with families, what if life was really difficult for them? What if their spouses were on board with gun control? After a tough day on the Hill, “Hi, honey, I’m home! What’s for dinner?” “Dog food. And you can sleep in the tent out in the yard until you change your mind on gun legislation.”
Do these legislators drink coffee? Have a favorite restaurant? Barber shop? If Congressman Bob’s regular is a double espresso, let’s make that a decaf vanilla soy latte for “Boob, the violence lover.” And if Congresswoman Sue needs her roots touched up, guess what? All booked up for the next decade.
What if life were really uncomfortable for them? What if neighbors put up signs that said, “My neighbor supports gun violence” with an arrow pointing straight at their home. Think the kids would like that? Think they might give mom or dad shit endlessly until things got really tense at home?
What if Democrats got really savvy and dirty and hired hackers to disable NRA supporters’ technology so their screens only show guinea pigs in knitted sweaters holding dandelions? What if they changed their ringtones to “All We Are Saying, Is Give Peace a Chance?”
What if their childhood heroes pay them a visit? Buzz Aldrin or The Rock or David Letterman or the Pope or Bono or the Dalai Lama shows up at their door to chat? To hold them accountable? To ask them why?
We all know that no why is good enough. Not when people are dying. These men and women, the ones who want to make assault weapons easier to get than citizenship? They are the why. And they’re not good enough. And they’ll learn that soon enough when they’re voted out.
My facebook feed is lit up with women storming the gates of misogyny, non-consensual sexual behavior, and the culture of submissiveness women have been cornered into for….well, forever.
Finally, we are blowing up the culture of “I’m ok with that” and calling out stuff that is and has been common to many of us: unwanted touching, unwanted groping, unwanted humping, unwanted comments, unwanted pressure, unwanted visuals of man-parts standing at attention. And the crazy, unacceptable normalcy of boyfriends, bosses, friends, colleagues, doctors, or whoever ignoring the word “no,” passing through it like a small town without a coffeeshop, assuming “yes” is just on the other side of it, or hidden within somewhere (she just doesn’t know she wants it.)
I feel like half of the American population is staring at the other half shouting, “The Jig is Up! Come out with your hands where we can see them, fuckers.” And thank God for this because what a relief. Please, oh please may this be the end of times where women are cornered into needing to be submissive, sexy, attractive, docile, good-natured, roll with the punches- when our instincts, bodies, and voices are shouting the opposite.
In a strange way, I think #45 tugged us right into this, like a steady little insensitive, unevolved tugboat. Every woman who voted against him, and visualized the first woman president, fell so hard when he somehow tripped his way into office, that it felt like a personal violation. It was too far. And from that point forward, any single damn teeny tiny violation of respect in our everyday lives or any assumption of our willingness to go along with a status quo that felt unequal- it all had #trumpwon attached to it. It was already too far. Dirty dish in the sink your man expected you to wash for him after your long-ass day? Too far. Interrupting your much-needed ladies’ night to tell you to come home? Nope. Someone saying you look “cute?” Hell, no.
So this whole me-too thing, (which, by the way, me too) is such a relief because I finally can locate a valid reason for this rage I’ve been feeling since I was a little girl. It’s all clicking into place as I backtrack through the years, seeing not just glaring violations, of which there were a few, but also all the mini, many nearly invisible times my feelings and spidey-sense were sounding alarms that had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with knowing I was not standing on equal ground. All the times I felt less than or unheard accumulated and internalized until I believed the culture, not the truth. Album covers of girls in lingerie, movies where men talk more and women talk about men, health care that doesn’t cover things like tampons, less than adequate morning sickness solutions, Beyonce on the cover of Time in a leotard while her colleagues wear tuxes, out-of-reach childcare expenses, pink baby onesies that say “Daddy’s Princess” held against blue ones that say “Daddy’s Champ,” uncomfortable shoes marketed so your legs look good, wrinkle creams, age creams, cellulite creams, not being able to identify my favorite female celebrities because their faces can’t move, the fact that my favorite swear word has the word “mother” in it, unequal pay, and all of it. Like the whole culture was somehow pressing its big, phallic thumb down on me and I deep-down knew it, but didn’t understand how pissed, like really pissed, I was. About what was expected but not spoken, obstructed but not admitted, accumulated exponentially over decades and, looking back, centuries. So to finally have this whole culture evolving, bringing it all up to the surface-it’s so wonderfully liberating.
Translating this to home life…..If you talk to my husband, he can tell you I have been deeply concerned about having my voice heard in our marriage and being treated with respect on every level. He has handled my rage quite well, I think, when it’s all said and done. Because he is a strong man who can handle women being strong.
I am at home with our 3 kids and am inspired by what I’m seeing around me, the women in the workplace who are speaking out…..and it has me wondering now where the action is for those of us who don’t work outside the home, like me.
So, I thought amidst the amazing voices rising up, I’d throw in mine to the mix of practical things we can do in our daily lives, as moms, as wives, as ex-wives, as daughters, as parents, to contribute. I practice these things and am sometimes astonished at how unnatural it feels to place myself willingly into a position of power, emotional and energetic power. But unnatural or not, we must practice until it becomes habit. Here are some ideas…
- Stop asking permission for things you do not need to ask for. As in…”Can I use the bathroom?” at the doctor’s office or “Do you mind if I chew gum?” at a teacher conference or “Can I have the last bread roll?”
- Stop apologizing for other people’s feelings.
- Stop apologizing for your own feelings or display of emotion. Women feel. There’s not shame in it.
- Stop apologizing for bumping into people, interrupting, etc. Either say nothing or say “excuse me.”
- Stop moving out of the way for men on the sidewalk. Stay your course and see if they move.
- Take the armrest.
- Make statements without lilting your voice up at the end like it sounds like a question.
- Stop discounting accomplishments of yours by saying “but,” as in “I have my degree but it’s only Liberal Arts.”
- Stop saying “I’m just….” as in “I’m just a stay-at-home mom.”
- Consider how you feel before you consider what others’ feel.
- Stop apologizing for your feelings.
- Stop trying to predict how your true-to-you actions will affect your spouse.
- Stop editing yourself based on what you anticipate will be a negative response.
- Expect equal contributions for housework if you and your partner live in the same house- the things anyone would need to do if living alone.
- Sit where you want to sit, eat where you want to eat, watch what you want to watch- it’s ok to take turns but make sure you’re not sliding over your own needs to make room for someone else every time.
- If you’re unhappy with your partner, tell him/her: Start with “This is what I feel. This is what I need.”
- Stop having sex when you don’t want to.
- Wear what you want, cut your hair how you like, wear what makes you feel strong, not pretty.
- Shop for your babies in non-gender conforming ways. Shop for your girls in the boys’ section and your boys in the girls’ section. And let them choose when they’re old enough to.
- Express appreciation and respect for what has traditionally been seen as feminine qualities: empathy, intuition, nurturing, nourishing, non-hierarchy, feeling, circles of support and conversation, inclusion.
What about you? What steps or practices do you take to place yourself in a position of equality?
I have a friend who just had a baby and is adapting to her new role as Lord Ruler of All Things Baby-Related. The boundaries she sets for visitors, for instance, are clear. If you want to interact with her baby, you must be a close family member, your hands need to be washed, and you need to have received a pertussis vaccine. It’s her home, her baby, her rules. She is finding herself surprised at the strength of her desire to protect her family bubble for the first few months. Equally surprising is her guilt for wanting people to stay away unless they are fully on board with her style of parenting. It’s the classic inner battle for women: strength vs. guilt.
When I gave birth to my oldest, it was a surprise to find that I had a Mama Bear instinct. I was floored at how strong it was. I felt, for the first time in my life, that my own intuition and feelings about what I wanted for my family trumped what other people might feel or think about my choices. The most important views about what was best for my baby belonged to me and my husband. I had never felt that important before. Hello, power.
Lea Wolf, my doula for my that birth, was essential in helping me understand that the first few weeks after birth are yours, your baby’s, and your partners. They belong to no one else and no one else can claim them, though they may try to. I understood this rationally, but not emotionally, with my first and made some mistakes in not creating a month-long safe space to honor that fourth trimester bond, find a rhythm, and heal from the birth.
It can be hard and foreign to explain our instincts to others in the face of their sometimes different expectations. We need to start with our instinct as the starting point and create space for it. If we can find the strength to create that space, we are rewarded in so many ways. Because as we maintain our truth, it grows bigger and stronger. Crucial!
Your inner, intuitive voice may ring so loudly and strongly after baby is born, it may take your breath away in how certain and solid it feels. Following that inner voice is the most blessed actualization of mother’s intuition. It is as real and valid as your five senses, developed over generations of our ancestors fine tuning their ability to love, guide and protect their children and themselves.
So when an un-nurturing neighbor knocks on the door two days postpartum and wants to see baby, and you hear that inner voice saying “No.” — that “no” is there for a reason. So that the word can find your lips: “No.” It’s not right for you.
Social expectations can push up against this instinct and try and sway you toward a “yes.” You might think “It isn’t polite” or “I want to be nice” or “I don’t want them to think I don’t appreciate them.” Part of listening to yourself is knowing that when you choose what’s right for you, it is quite likely that you will not please everyone all the time. And as far as I can tell, not pleasing everyone all the time, staying true to yourself, and accepting yourself for it…. is just the beginning of motherhood.