If You Worry About Tomorrow

Depression. It's like cancer. Either you've had it or you love someone who's had it. And it comes in a huge variety. Like headaches. Benign and fleeting or heavy and serious and in rare cases, deadly.

Feeling depressed here and there is leaps and bounds from chronic debilitating depression that interferes with your relationships and passions and work and everything else...but mostly your natural state. Your birth right. Your happiness.

What is happiness anyways? I think it comes from the joy we find in the moment.

I'm sitting here in my bathrobe, nursing Skyla while Giovanna draws with a pen in Daddy's old notebook, pondering depression and happiness and joy. I've had a bad morning and I'm sad and I'm wondering when things will get easier and when I won't feel so bewildered by life. 

The sun just broke through a few clouds, bringing with it an immense shining of gratitude. I want to climb out of the hole but I can't find the first step. So I ask myself, what's Good about this moment? 

The sky. The lake. The abundance of trees. The sweet fuzzy head between my arms. The curly talking head to my right. The laptop beneath my fingers. The people on the other side of my phone. 

If you stop enjoying that which you once loved, day after day and week after week, I hope you seek help in a professional or a loved one or both. This is the kind of depression that needs treatment, though I'm sure there are as many definitions of depression as there are people who experience it. Likewise, depression does not arise from an isolated reason but from a complex web of experiences, past and present; the tangles in your auric field.

And then there's the anxiety that either contributes to depression or is often a byproduct of depression. Suffice it to say that depressed people have a lot to worry about, and people who worry have a lot to be depressed about. The world is just so damn scary and evil and hard. Even white middle-class Americans like myself know that things can fall apart in a second, and nothing is guaranteed. When we have our basic needs met, we have everything to lose. What's more, we have expectations. We want to know deep satisfaction and purpose and maybe even a certain version of "success." Maybe we don't believe ordinary is enough; maybe we want more. We think happiness is something to find or have or keep or achieve.

A loved one recently shared with me a transcontinental conversation with a loved one of her own, an African man who is happy in spite of living in poverty. He makes $30 per month, most of which goes to his daughter's school fees and medical care. He lives with no running water, no electricity, but plenty of death. He said that because of the struggle to survive, Africans live only day to day and don't worry about tomorrow.

In other words, they live in the moment, and not because they're trying to be zen or mindful. If they get to eat today, then today is a good day.

He said: if you worry about tomorrow, you'll go mad.

Simple truths are often the most profound, the most important to digest and understand.

May we remember this when we find ourselves in billows of stress. May we take this to heart when we become paralyzed by anxiety. May we focus on enjoying the moment rather than preparing for the future. May we practice looking for the Good so our minds stay healthy. May we turn down the volume so we can live in peace.

Just do what you can, now.

gandhi

Mommy Stress (Why can't I relax?)

There we were. It was a Friday evening. A beautiful bright Friday, somewhat rare in the bipolar month of March. In two days, my baby would be four weeks old and we were taking her with us out to dinner for the first time at one of those conveyor belt sushi places.  I anticipated the sashimi after 9+ months of abstaining.

I should have been enjoying myself.

I wasn't.

In the car, Skyla cried. We'd left the house to pick up James' car from the mechanic but then we'd ventured further so I could get my new iPhone. And I felt guilty. I didn't really need a new phone, I just wanted one. I didn't really need to stay out and about, I just wanted to. As my tiny baby flailed her arms and screamed her little heart out, growing sweaty and crimson and all out of sorts, I knew it was my fault. No longer did I want a new phone, no longer did I want to get out of the house after nearly 4 weeks of holing up, I just wanted to hold her in my arms and soothe her frayed nerves.

Alas. We were already there. The parking meter wouldn't work and James was parking his car on another street and my moby wrap touched the dirty sidewalk as I clumsily wrapped myself in it while my baby continued to believe she was being tortured. I felt like a drippy foolish mess.

I got her in the wrap and hooked her up to my breast. James showed up and found a parking meter that would actually spit out the sticker. Gigi entertained herself in the AT&T store. I got my shiny and sharp gold iPhone. It was dinner time and we decided we might as well eat somewhere nearby. The rain had come before the sun and so the light reflected off of the slick streets, shrinking puddles of sunshine.

We were in a pedestrian-heavy neighborhood of Seattle and everyone around us seemed to be smiling. (The sun will do that to us Pacific-Northwesterners.)

I was not smiling. I clutched Giovanna's hand, weary of the cars whizzing by, separated from my babies by just a curb. The world can be such a scary place when you have so many fingers and toes to lose. This was one of my first outings as a mother of two and I thought it to be pretty damn intimidating.

What if someone coughed on my baby? What if Giovanna caught salmonella from the sushi? (Not that she was eating the raw pieces.) What if she broke free and ran into the street? What if a car ran up onto the sidewalk? What if someone hit us on the way home? What if my baby cried again? Would there be sweat marks in the car seat? Would her brain be irrevocably damaged from the neglect? Did it count as neglect?

Why was I so stressed out? I felt jealous of everyone on the street who seemed relaxed, I felt jealous of my former childless self. So carefree and unencumbered. Never again will I be so free.

And this is what I love most about my life: my family. my children. So why can't I take refuge in my blessings and relax into them?

A crux of parenting: either I'm not with my kids and I'm worrying about them, or I'm with them and able to focus on little else. Either way, they're in the forefront of my mind. Unless they're sleeping. Right now Skyla is snoozing and I can see her on the video monitor. Giovanna and Emile are with James in the hammock and though I can see them through my window, I don't have to watch them.

Gigi has a baby doll and Emile is wearing sunglasses and I'm still worried that someone is going to fall out of the hammock and get hurt. But because they're with their daddy, I know he will catch them.

I daresay I am semi-relaxed. I love this feeling. Like I'm dipping my toes in the ocean. I want to be here more often.

I don't want to live my life in a state of anxiety. It's exhausting and draining and soul-sucking. I want more trust and less fear. I want to enjoy things like a sushi dinner on a pretty Friday evening, the sunset tinging the edges of the sky orange. Not the orange that means CAUTION but the orange that means FUN.

How do parents learn to let go of their worries? Is it possible? I know there are many mothers out there who struggle with this. I feel them. We are desperate to protect our babies from hardship, disease, injury and heartbreak even while knowing that our control is not powerful but powerfully limited.

All we can do is pray. And worry.

What I don't know is how many mothers out there have managed to siphon the stress away, channeling this nervous energy into something useful. Maybe even beautiful.

I would like to channel it into my stories, the fiction I write while everyone else is sleeping. My previous post here was part of a blog hop in which a group of writers made fun of our own paranoia by writing a story together through the eyes of an extremely anxious person. We had a grand ole time and we found some new friends in one another.

I'm tired. I want to relax. I want parenting to be lighter. Maybe it's not meant to be light, but surely I can learn to manage the stress when it starts to impede on my mental health and therefore my disposition.

I am going to practice. Perhaps the more I focus on relaxing, the more relaxed I will become. Perhaps the more I find my happy place, drinking herbal teas and getting massages and reading books, the better acquainted I will become with that happy place and the easier it will be to find when I need it.

I want to focus on being rather than doing. (Which includes thinking.)

I want to enjoy this fleeting and fragile time in my life with greater ferocity.

I want to embody love rather than fear.

I just want to stress less. About everything, from the rampant messes to the safety of the playground (see picture below) to the circulating illnesses to the state of their hearts.

Say it with me: don't worry, be happy.

IMG_5219

Choosing Happiness Over Cleanliness?

If I followed my kids around with a camera you might be surprised at how quickly and severely they can mess up a perfectly clean house. Or maybe you have kids of your own and you wouldn't be surprised at all.

I bought this coffee table book for James: "A Perfectly Kept House Is the Sign of a Misspent Life." He was not interested. He likes a clean house, as do I.

But it's driving me nuts. With a newborn in the mix, I have very little time to clean. We live in a big house and our two older children are like twin tornados.

Spring break is coming up and it's our year to have Emile and we're not traveling anywhere which means it's me and three kids at home all week and God knows that I'm going to be quite frustrated quite often if I don't learn how to LET IT GO (cue Frozen soundtrack). The house is going to be a disaster zone and I can either enjoy the extra time with my daughters and my stepson or I can have a clean house.

via thisperfectmessblog.com

I know this and yet I can pretty much guarantee that I will fight with them about cleaning up behind themselves at some point. Or more likely at multiple points. And I'm not sure if this is a good and necessary thing or a waste of breath and time. Inevitably I will either do most of the clean up myself, or exhaust myself by harping on and on, offering bribes and taking away privileges and such.

This is a significant source of stress for me or else I wouldn't be blogging about it. (Talk about first world problems.) I want them to be mindful and aware of their surroundings and I want my living space to be zen but at what cost?

After all, I want to live life, not clean up after it.

Dear readers, what would you do? Fight the messes or succumb to their power? Ideally, I could find a balance though it has eluded me thus far. Any tips or tricks or mind games to play with them/myself?