Staying Afloat In A Sink Or Swim World

As part of the summer activities in this household we participated in swimming lessons. Not your average YMCA class, we put our child in an Infant Swimming Resource Self-Rescue course. These lessons are different than the “Mommy & Me” style relaxed waterplay that happens in a group class. They are individual sessions, one-on-one with the instructor where the infant is taught how to relax into a back float in order to self-rescue instead of drowning.

While it’s a pretty scary thing to put your baby into the water with (what amounts to) a stranger while they struggle to learn the techniques, I felt like for our family, having a pool in the backyard, I would feel less panicky about unlikely scenarios if we prepare for handling them. I forced the dog into the pool last summer so that I knew he’d be able to find his way out if he fell in, why do things differently with my child?
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24 Month Marathon

This post is kind of similar to my New Year’s Eve post, in that a lot of the low points of 2016 are also covered in what made the last two years so rough. While my repetition of the subject feels a bit like complaining, sympathy is not my goal.

I don’t generally like to share how I’m feeling with people around me. If I’m upset about something, I’m more likely to be found hiding than running to someone for comfort. My emotions show on my face a lot more easily than I want them to. I’d rather stuff my feelings down until I can deal with them alone. Instead, I wind up brooding about what’s going on in my life instead of facing it and recognizing that it is OK to not be OK.

Today I am claiming my pain. I’ve survived through it all and become stronger because of it.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I don’t want to play the comparison game, my struggles are just as valid as anyone else’s, and they don’t make me any more or less important than anyone else. I just want to share all the “stuff” that got to me in the past two years. Maybe as an explanation for my behavior. Maybe as a way to put it fully behind me and move on to a place where I can actually have peace.

Two years ago, at Easter time, I lost my first grandparent. That really started me down the rough path that followed. Being very far away from my family while they were suffering was difficult, to say the least.

It wasn’t much later that my grandma moved back to be near my parents and spent the summer in and out of the hospital herself. I wasn’t the one who spent those days with her at the hospital, but being unable to even visit hurt.

Work was stressful, we had some big projects that were not staying on track and some personality clashes that added to the strain. I’m very team oriented, so having all of us on edge and sometimes at each other’s throats was unsettling. At one point I was given a lead role on a project in the absence of some of the more senior employees, but even that trust and responsibility made me more on edge.

I remember at the end of that summer I was nearing the end of my patience with everything. I escaped. I took a trip to a campground at a state park with a beach. I unplugged and had no choice but to ignore all the stuff at work clamoring for my attention. I didn’t even talk to my family. I came back with enough peace to continue on. I credit that trip with stalling my tailspin.

Stress was its toll on my whole family. My sisters had some of the worst semesters of their lives. At times I didn’t even recognize them. When I finally got the time to go see my family it was to say good-bye to my grandma. I’m glad I was able to see her, but she had changed so much in the months since Grandpa’s funeral.

While I was home my mom was in the middle of finally getting her diagnosis. Through all of this I had my husband by my side. Through a blessing in disguise, he was laid off from his job a few weeks before this perfect storm of crazy hit its craziest. That’s not to say that him being without a job was easy. In fact that heightened the panic for a while. Being downsized is never a good feeling, but it gave him the opportunity to take off as much time as needed to be with me and my family. It also meant he could be home to pick up the slack while I was reeling from Grandma’s death and Mom’s diagnosis.

Another way I ended up benefiting from the job change situation was that when he was eventually hired into the department I work in, he could be there for me at the office when I got bad news phone calls, like the one for the death of my other grandmother in the early spring.

My husband lost his first grandparent a few short months after that. I hated how I knew what the pain felt like and how I knew there was nothing I could do to make a difference. Everyone grieves in their own way, and I believe everyone should be left to do so in the way they want to. By this point almost every one of my group of college friends had had a grandparent die that year. I wasn’t always able to be there for them because of my own struggle to stay afloat in the throes of grief and fear. I was deadly afraid I would soon be attending my own mother’s funeral.

My Mom’s surgery was in the summer, and my youngest sister came today stay with me while Mom recovered. Being with both of my sisters during the most nerve-racking part of the whole treatment plan helped, but also made me feel responsible for how my emotions were reflected in my behavior. I tried to keep my crying to behind closed doors. For the more than six months leading up to the surgery I couldn’t go even a week without a good cry, but I still tried to hide it when I did.

Even after it seemed Mom was out of immediate danger I kept making trouble for myself. I managed to stress myself out at work again with coworkers who both quit and got fired, both of whom I was feeling partially responsible for. I put a lot of energy into worrying over friends’ job situations as well as my own family’s.

We bought our house while Mom was still in the hospital, and the associated responsibilities did not make the already busy summer any easier. Towards the end of crunch time on the house we weren’t getting the right amount of sleep anymore, putting in 8 hours at work then another 8 on the house before turning in for the night, and I do not do well emotionally with lack of sleep.

The middle of no sleep brought me to some difficult positions with respect to people I care deeply about. A place where I had to step back from the relationships for the sake of their maintenance. I struggled a lot with guilt over severing ties, but my own self-preservation won out. This is one of the lessons I learned in the middle of all the pain. I have to make sure I’m OK before I can worry about what my perceived attitude is doing to others around me. Otherwise I’ll be in no position to do anything for either of us.

Another camping trip to my happy place put me right again for a while. I smiled the most that I had in a year, and finally felt my jaw unlock after being clenched for over a month. I wanted to keep wandering down the beach forever, but had to return to normal life again.

The months since have been a blur, they’re filled with moving ourselves and then my mother and sister into the new house, to say nothing of the craziness the puppy brought with him. Even with Christmas and a vacation I still don’t feel like I’ve had time to breathe in a long time. I managed to say “no” to a lot this winter, but even so, I was only home maybe one night out of the week. Now that most of my extracurriculars are wrapped up for the school year, I’m trying my hardest not to get overwhelmed at all the things I’ve put off in the meantime.

I’m starting to learn that it’s OK to feel feelings and let others know about them. How else can we grow other than through vulnerability? I’ve been feeling run down, put out, and just plain upset. I don’t want to be, but that’s the truth.

It’s been a long time in coming, but I think I’m due for a break. I’m calling it now: I’m ready to stop running and I’m ready to stop hiding.

The Contrast In Waiting

One year ago, last December, I had two of the worst days my family has experienced. December 3rd was when we started to finally get answers for my mom’s increasing pain and December 10th she got the official diagnosis/prognosis. Those days were hard. I felt so much panic and so little hope. It was hard to imagine any future.

This year, December 3rd and December 10th will be marked by some wonderful things. Number One being that Mom is fine. Number The-Second-One being that I have acquired a puppy. I spent all day last week out on the far side of the state where I had traveled with the express purpose of meeting a puppy that I had already adopted into my heart. As it is part of a rescue program that carefully vets its prospective owners to ensure the dogs’ best interests are kept first and foremost, we could not adopt my new baby that day. We left, after an hour plus of cuddling and falling deeper in love, without even knowing whether we’d get to see the dear thing again.

Having to wait to hear back about the fate of my future furry friend was held in parallel to the waiting game we played a year ago, but was thankfully a much more positive thing to wait for, as well as a much shorter length of time. The rescue chose our family out of the 75 applicants for the litter of 4 puppies, and (mercifully) called early on Monday afternoon. I’m sitting here in peace and joy, cuddling a bundle of cute fuzzy energy, thankful that I am able to see the difference that a year brings. The future that I couldn’t see came, and even though it came with a lot of rough stuff, I got through it. Out on the other side, it’s easier to say that next time I might see the promise of a path through more easily. I pray that this experience means that even if I do go through worse valleys in the future, I will be able to have hope more readily.

I don’t take for granted the fact that this contrast is so stark, between a year ago and today. This is the future that I was too afraid to hope for, one where everyone is OK and things are actually going well! I feel like I’ve made it out from around a bend in the road and suddenly the landscape opened up with possibility again.

This year on December 12th, instead of answering the phone to hear of my grandma’s passing, I’ll be answering the door to hear of my family’s arrival for the holidays. Anticipating something pleasant makes it so much easier to be joyful. I don’t think that it’s just because of the change in my circumstances that I’m able to feel peace and hope. I don’t want to go through a year like 2016 again, but I have learned so many valuable things and grown so much that without this year I would be missing part of my identity.

As I look forward to an exciting season of happiness, the feeling is tinged with emotions from the past year. We have a lot to celebrate this year, but we had a lot to celebrate last year too. There is a lot to look forward to this year, but there was a lot this past year to look forward to as well. I’ve learned to live in anticipation, and how no matter what I plan in my head, the expectation never matches reality. I’ve decided that’s a good thing.

Preparing To Move

Change is hard. Some people like change, some are even addicted to change, but for me it’s hard.

I tend to avoid change for that reason, along with my inherent laziness and procrastination. Small changes aren’t immune to my avoidance either. I would rather spend an extra five minutes every morning instead of going to get my hair cut, because the change isn’t worth the effort. These types of mental compromises happen more subconsciously than intentionally. I’m really not against change, but something about the unknown factor freaks me out on a primal level.

My discomfort, however, is nothing compared to my husband’s. We’ve recently purchased a house and have been getting it ready to move in while we finish out our lease at our apartment and his nerves are getting the best of him, even though we know what we’re getting into.

Thankfully, the way moving has worked out for us so far has been for us to work on fixing up the house for a few months, instead of paying to break our lease and rush out of the apartment. There have been plenty of projects to keep us busy and delay the date of actually changing residences. My list of things to procrastinate on do is ten pages long, but I continue to be surprised by just how much we can accomplish when we prioritize and motivate.

I feel like this time of transition and adjustment being so long is both helpful and a little bit more stressful, just because of the anticipation. The best approach I have found so far, in the middle of change, has been to hold onto things that are constant. I’ve noticed how much time I have spent with my friends, even while my life feels consumed with packing and planning for the move.

A lot of my friends are also in the midst of periods of intense change and we have been drawing together and finding stability and consistency in each other’s company. I love that I can count on our bi-weekly breakfasts and bonfires. Routine is so important during change. It gives back a measure of control in situations where there is so little we can predict.

As I approach the final stages of a big life change, I can’t say that I’m going to be ready for it. I just know that whatever happens, life will not be the same again, and that’s OK.

Returning To The Outside World

Over the course of the past 12 months, I’ve felt very insular. I’ve been sequestered in my apartment and made a plethora of excuses to avoid going out. Some valid, some just excuses. It’s been a long year, and as a person who thrives on time to think, I’ve spent a lot of that time in introspection.

I’m starting to learn though, that I still need people. I need community. I need to be surrounded sometimes, by others who can carry me up and out of a funk. As much as I claim to be an introvert, being buoyed by people around me is what is starting to bring me back to a healthy mental state.

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Helpless Worry As A Control Freak

Along with my strong desire to fix other’s problems, comes my empathetic worry for their situations. There are some problems I know I just can’t fix, some nobody can fix. In those situations my helplessness takes over my attention and all I can think of is how I want things to be different, but there’s nothing I can do to change them.

As I sit here, a thousand miles away, there is a hurricane barreling down on my old hometown, the likes of which have not hit the area in over a decade. I remember the damage a decade ago, and how much potential there is for danger and destruction in a storm of this magnitude. I’m helpless to protect my family, and its much too late to make it down there before the storm hits. Instead, I am worrying about something I can’t control, and anticipating outcomes I can’t predict.

I’ve run into a lot of this type of worry lately. It’s especially common because I’m so far away, but also because a lot of things like health and well-being of others are never in my control. It can get overwhelming when the things we care so much about are things we can do nothing about.

Hurricane
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

I haven’t been able to talk myself down from the panic I’ve been feeling all day about the storm, but I’ve noticed an interesting trait: sometimes talking to other people about the situation can help me to feel more confident that it will turn out OK. Maybe its a measure of bravado, where I feel like I need to both diminish the danger so I sound cavalier, and still impress my audience with the gravity of the situation. It isn’t a great coping mechanism, but right now I’ll take what I can get.

Another way I can try to calm myself is by comparing one situation that I’m currently in to another that has come out alright. When I’m worried about someone’s health, I can remind myself of how many times I have already seen them come out of similar circumstances. I claim these events as evidence of God’s faithfulness, in hopes that it will carry me through again. Sometimes that is enough to help. Sometimes it isn’t.

I am full of worry. As much as I would like to say I take these verses to heart and “do not worry about tomorrow,” it is always a struggle. I like to be in control, and when I can’t feel control over my circumstances, it’s easier to lose control over my attitude.

There is a lot of growth left here still. Just like with my jealousy, I hope that by recognizing it, and talking about it openly, I can hold myself accountable to change my perspective. I don’t want to worry, and that’s what worries me the most.