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.
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.
From time to time, I listen to a meditation cd from a local energy healer, Mary Preuss Olson at Magnificent Living Institute. It’s great for centering, collecting all bits of my thoughts and energy back to where they belong, clearing away what I don’t want, and enhancing my state of being. It feels good to this- I like the whole meditation. But my favorite part of the entire cd is where she says,
You are doing a great job.
It melts into my bones when I hear it.
You are doing a great job.
I know that she means it and I know I deserve to hear it. And so do you. Because it’s true. This is a phrase that mothers (ok, and everyone) need to hear and, most importantly, believe. Knowing this statement to be true calms every fiber in our energy field, especially when we are in a place of really being able to absorb its meaning.
I try not to argue with it, try to burn through the shadowy mental response of “But….” But I didn’t get the dishes put away. But we don’t make enough money. But my kids has peanut butter in his hair. But I don’t make freezer meals. But I never went to grad school. No buts, no coconuts.
You are doing a great job.
You might not hear these words from your kids. They might not know you want to hear it. It’s ok to tell them that it sounds good to your ears, and that you like hearing it. You might not hear it from your partner either, unless you tell them it will make a difference in your life if they say it every now and again (and only when they really mean it.) What matters most is not who says it to you, but that you feel that it’s true in your bones.
You are doing a great job.
It’s true. Know it. Say it to yourself, especially when the wheels have fallen off the bus. There will always be unanswered questions and uncertain choices. There will always be more on the to-do list. Maybe it’s not actually your job to answer every question and be certain about everything. Maybe it’s ok to not know. What preschool is the best. What size your kids will be in next fall. What toy they’ll take to. Maybe it’s ok not to be certain. I’m not sure if this music class will be worth it. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to pay off our debt this year. This car seat we bought might not be the best choice. I don’t know. I don’t know. And not knowing is totally ok. What a relief.
You are doing a great job.
I’m saying this to you now and I mean it. If you are keeping up with things and sometimes not keeping up, if you’re self-loving enough to take a moment to yourself to read a mom-blog, if you keep your kids breathing and fed, if you know how to cook a hot dog, if you notice things your kids might like, if you manage to shower when you need to and maybe even find time to shave your armpits, if you think about things like whether cloth diapers or disposables are more responsible, if you read to your kids, if you kiss them on the forehead before they go to sleep….
You are doing a great job.
(If this is not your child, you are doing a great job.)
It started with pee and ended with screaming. In between there were samples of veggie chips, taquitos, and “granola bars” that were one layer of caramel away from being a Snickers. Also, a very convincing demonstration of a space-age blender by a man with a performance headset mic like Beyonce wears. (I’m pretty sure you could put some dandelions, a deck of cards, and a popsicle into that Blender and you’d somehow end up with a green smoothie.) There were also not one, but two trips through the understaffed checkout lines. And there were birds- including a red-tailed hawk- flying overhead. I’m talking about our trip to Costco today, of course.
Now that my kids are 4 and 1 1/2, the mental preparation that needs to happen in order for me to take both of them grocery shopping is equivalent to whatever prep Serena does before Wimbledon. Serious focus is needed. I should have a shopping coach, really, and get a trophy every time I make it back to the car with both my kids AND our food. Really I’m lucky if I make it through half my list.
Most trips start out smooth in the beginning. We are excited about the carts. We talk about our list. We love being in America where every time you visit a grocery store there is a new type of cracker you have never heard of before, made with things that normally don’t go into crackers – like kale or lentils.*
Today was Advanced Grocery Shopping because it was at Costco – where the enticement for my 4 year old, Braden, to run out of sight are tripled (ice cream samples! cool toy aisle! massage chair!) but I was prepared for the risk.
As soon as we had our cart and were focused into shopping mode, (already had a lifejacket and beach towel in it) the inevitable statement, “I need to go potty” comes from my four year old.
You can’t take items past the checkout at Costco unless they’re paid for. Now comes the philosophical question of our generation. Do you want to take your cart to the bathroom for the benefit of having your toddler strapped in, but go through the trouble of emptying the cart? Or do you want to take your toddler out of the cart and try to contain him in the stall for who knows how long? I opted to dump the beach towel and life jacket and go for the strapped-in toddler benefit. Smart choice- and we were back out shopping in no time, until I noticed Braden picking at his pants. Turns out his pants and underwear were sopping wet because his pee had sprayed all over them instead of into the toilet. A rookie would have just gone home. But I was not going to abandon this shopping trip for a change of clothes, and thankfully we were at Costco where you can buy a replacement for virtually anything that gets broken, lost, or peed on during your shopping experience. So we threw a pair of pajamas into our cart, waited in a line that moved So Slowly, bought them, returned to the bathroom again, changed his pants, threw the pee-soaked clothes into the cart and got things underway again.
Already, I deserve a medal for this shopping trip and we haven’t even bought food yet.
By the time we actually start shopping for real, it’s been 20 minutes since we walked through the front door. This is already too long of a shopping trip for my kids.
On most trips to a normal grocery store, 20 minutes is when things start to break down. Today was no exception. My 18 month old, Wyatt, wants to eat everything I put in the cart and tells me this by shrieking and pointing. He can’t look at food without wanting to eat it. So I end up opening packages as we shop to keep him quiet so I can stay focused on our list. Gatorade- yes, Wyatt-here, take it. Goldfish crackers- yes, Wyatt- here, eat them.
Braden then gets tired of sitting in the cart and getting swatted & elbowed by his brother. He wants to “walk” next to the cart and “help” me shop. If I let him walk next to the cart, he keeps his normal pace which is a slow sprint. Will I have to jog with the cart to try and keep up? Will I lose him around a corner and find him carrying 3 mammoth peanut butter tubs in his hands? Who knows? If his listening ears aren’t on, it’s over. Store lock-down, my kid is fast and doesn’t care how far away he gets from me. He wants to help and I want to let him, but sometimes his help involves adding things to our cart that we would never eat in a million years-beets, orange sodas from Mexico, prune juice- anything from the bottom shelves is eligible.
Around this same time, Wyatt has turned completely around in his seat and is reaching for the foods I have intentionally placed away from him. (Once, I walked away from the cart to grab something and when I stepped back to it he had 2 eggs in his hands that he was starting to lick.)
When things get squirrely like this, I then have exactly 5 minutes to get out of the store before the wheels fall off the bus. Game on. I race to try and get the last few things on our list like I am in a shopping game show, then panic and start grabbing random things off the shelves on the way to the checkout. If I did have a shopping coach, she’d be running next to me shouting, “Leave it! Just leave the guacamole! Go for the bacon! The bacon!”
When we make it to the checkout line, the lines make me cry. Why are there 17 registers and only 3 cashiers?! Why?! I open at least two more packages for my 18 month old. Yes, pretzels and applesauce pouch- here you go. We inch our way toward the register. Up to this point, I have managed to hide the berries from him, which is essential. His passion for berries is unquenchable. But when we get to the register, as soon as I grab the blueberries from the cart to place on the moving belt, he spots them- and the shrieking begins. Shoppers at the far corner of the store look up and wonder if there is an orangutan loose by the registers. The cashier avoids eye contact and scans things as quickly as she can. Customers that, two seconds ago, were smiling at my kids and making googly eyes now shrink back in horror. “That woman’s cart smells like pee, her kid is wearing pajamas for some reason, she’s opened every package before she bought it, and her baby is louder than a bullhorn and covered in blueberries.” If I don’t start feeding Wyatt blueberries, the shrieking will just grow louder and louder until all our brains explode and our ear drums burst.
Once he sees the blueberries, he can’t not have a blueberry in both of his hands and his mouth. What he really wants is to hold the blueberry container and either push his mouth into the container or grab fistfuls at a time. But then even the gigantic Costco size tub would be gone before we get through the checkout and nobody wants that.
Finally we make it through the checkout leaving a trail of blueberries on the cement. Braden is squishing them unknowingly as he jogs back and forth, asking for a “sugar stick,” his word for churro. (Um, no.) The cashier is asking me something. Yes, I want that shit boxed. Do not spend one second telling me about the premium membership. My kids’ brains are melting into a pile of goo!
We push out into the fresh air, finally, feeding Wyatt blueberries the entire way. Braden is crying because I didn’t buy him a churro…But by God, we made it- and with almost half our list.
I am a great fucking mom.
Continued from Part 1 (yesterday’s post)
Ok- this is embarrassing- but it was ridiculous how attractive I thought I’d look in skinny jeans. Those skinny jeans models and celebrities look so good in skinny jeans! When I saw the jeans on the hanger, in my mind I saw those women, wearing their skinny jeans like they do. In the dressing room, as I was pulling on said skinny jeans, I looked super awesome from the knees down. I was thinking “Hotblooded, check it and see! These skinny jeans are going to make me look skinny!” But as I kept pulling, tugging, yanking upward it became evident that my postpartum body is in no mood for skinny jeans. The tops of my legs looked like water balloons packed neatly into a nylon stocking. The Foreigner song in my head scratched abruptly off and I got angry. Skinny jeans? What is this concept anyways? Only skinny people look good in them. Back to the curvy fit boot cut. Only two sizes bigger than I was three years ago.
There’s a little culture shock from the blessed body acceptance during pregnancy where no matter how much weight you put on, it’s beautiful. Endearing. Sexy. My butt was three times its normal size with my last pregnancy and I regularly heard how beautiful I looked. Size did not matter. Being big symbolized and embodied life, renewal, and miracles. But now, postpartum, I feel a pressure to get skinny fast. (And, by the way, how long can I keep saying that I’m postpartum as an excuse? I’m 24 months postpartum doesn’t seem acceptable.)
Every time I look in the mirror, I hear my thoughts echoing ridiculous cultural expectations: “I could stand to lose that back fat. It should only be a few more months before I can wear my old jeans.” When I hear myself judging, I have to stop myself: “What the hell? Have I learned nothing from the monumental experience of birthing a child? Am I really going back to the mindset I learned in adolescence that women need to be thin like Barbie? Bah.” That mindset did some major damage to me, not to mention the millions of other girls who struggle with body image.
Today I will pull on my yoga pants and t-shirt and wear them proudly. I have two gorgeous kids and an amazing husband who thinks I’m beautiful. I’m a great mom. I’m gorgeous. (We all need to say this to ourselves.) Gorgeous! Gorgeous! Muffin top- gorgeous! Cellulite- gorgeous! Big ass- gorgeous! Double chin-gorgeous! If I am overweight 48 months postpartum, guess what I will be: GORGEOUS!
It is so important for me to love this body of mine: my soul’s only home for this lovely life I have. It’s been said before, because it’s true: we must teach our kids to know that women love and respect their own bodies. Because as my boys see me respecting my body as it changes, they will grow and become short, tall, big, or small- and hopefully see they must love and respect their own.
My everyday clothing for the past six months has been exceptionally casual due to my expanding and contracting waistline, the general business of having a newborn, and the lack of time I have to spend on my appearance. I mean, I care about how I look but not enough to be uncomfortable in any way. I’m really one step away from pajamas most days. So those of you in need of style guidelines from a woman six months postpartum of her 2nd child, here they are.
1. If my jeans are roomy enough that I can’t feel my muffin top with every move and flexible enough that I can pull them over my hips without unbuttoning them, these are jeans that are a “good fit.”
2. If said jeans are on and my maternity t-shirt does not have poop, urine, spitup or breast milk stains, this is called an “outfit.”
3. If I have not only shampooed but also conditioned my hair, this is called “primped.”
4. If my nursing bra does not smell like breast milk, this is called “lingerie” and is appropriate for a date night out.
I went shopping at Macy’s recently for jeans, as my pre-pregnancy jeans are too small and no longer fit me, and my maternity jeans are too big. The experience was sobering. It seems there’s a difference between checking myself out in a mirror from the waist up after putting on an “outfit” as I’m running to catch a screaming toddler and actually being alone, viewing myself in a full-length mirror in a well-lit dressing room. Even though my maternity belly is no longer there, the rest of my body still looks pregnant.
I also found that my understanding of my own body was in a time warp. I had selected some roomy looking size 10’s and some slimmer 12’s thinking, “These are cuuuute. These will look great.” Not so. My mind had been fondly remembering the pre-baby butt, the pre-stretched belly. It became crystal clear that my brain had some catching up to do. Reality check: those 14’s are the only ones you will be able to pull over your widened hips.
Will she buy the 14’s? Will she run screaming from the dressing room? Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow….