The Control Freak’s Climb

Anxiety is a funny thing. It has, at times, ruled my life. It can ruin your life, if left unchecked. But what if I told you that some of my best personality traits exist because of my anxiety? It’s true. Some of my most “hire-able” qualities are nothing more than excellently honed coping mechanisms. For example, I am probably one of the most detail oriented planners that you’ll ever meet. This comes in very handy with the type of work that I do, and my skill in anticipatory planning is one of the reasons that I was hired for, and have since excelled at, my job. It is funny then, to realize that my skill at planning is mostly just a coping mechanism, and my ability to foresee problems is not really a skill at all – it is anxiety itself. I always see problems. I see danger around most corners. I live on a precipice of anticipation. It’s actually quite awful. What I’ve done though, is become skilled at prioritizing possible obstacles and outcomes by their likelihood to happen, and preparing accordingly. Does this mean that I cease to fear the outcomes which qualify as the most unlikely and irrational? Nope… that’s sort of how anxiety works. I just learn which ones to fear more. I find comfort, however, when I am able to make a plan. A solid plan feels like a shield. It is my security against the things that life might throw my way.

Planning is a fickle friend, though, masquerading as a solution to anxiety the way that it does. While it can be a very useful tool in managing anxiety (anything that gives comfort and doesn’t hurt anyone is a useful tool), it isn’t always available. Some of my biggest, most irrational, persistently recurring fears are things that I simply cannot plan against. For example, since the moment my youngest son was born, I have been afraid of losing him. Since losing Clara, I have been full-on terrified of losing him. But how does one plan against unthinkable tragedy? My reach only extends so far. I feed him healthy food, take him for regular check ups with his pediatrician. He is under the care of a trusted, experienced care provider who loves him. I keep him out of dangerous situations and parent like a responsible, competent and loving Mother. This is all that I can do. But, is it enough?  Does it shield him completely?

…No. It does not. Admitting that is like ripping my heart out and offering it up on a platter. You see, planning gives you control, like a clock gives you time.  It doesn’t. It only gives you a sense of it. Sometimes that sense is strong. Like when one of my kids comes down with the stomach bug and so we enact what I like to call Operation Quarantine – the sick child is given a little recovery haven in our second, downstairs living room and for a short period of time, we try to keep the kids as separated as we reasonably can, in order to avoid the illness spreading. We wash hands even more diligently than we already do, and I move through the house like a bleach tornado. Does this plan guarantee that no one else will get sick? No, but it does work most of the time. We know that this plan gives us a pretty good hold on the spread of germs and so the sense of control is strong. However my plan to raise healthy, happy children who will long outlive me does not give me the same sense of control. I know that terrible things happen, despite our best efforts. So all the carrot-loaded dinner plates in the world are not likely to make me feel strongly in-control of my children’s futures.

Planning has a place in my anxiety management tool box, but what I am really working on (and have a long way to go with) is accepting that there are things that I cannot plan for. There is so much that is out of my control and I believe that one of the most important things that I can do in order to free myself from anxiety, is to learn to be okay with that. I’m far from being there, and the path appears steep, but I am beginning to climb.

Peace and love to you all.

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The Tree

Caution – post may inspire unbridled tree-hugging.

I have this thing that I do, whenever I am afraid of dying… I think about a tree.  Any tree, really. Though I am especially drawn to big trees. In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, he describes a fictional type of coniferous evergreen tree, called a Sentinel. There is a giant sequoia living in Giant Forest Grove in Three Rivers, CA that stands at 257.6 feet tall, measuring 79 feet in circumference. It is named The Sentinel. It is not the largest of the giant sequoias, but I love the name. Both trees, the fictional species and the real life giant sequoia, embody the type of tree that I am drawn to. I believe that trees really are sentinels. They keep watch. Trees endure.

This endurance is part of the reason that thinking about trees calms me. When I think about the inevitability of my own death, I am scared. Scared of what I do not know. Scared that there is nothing I can do to prevent it. However, when I am gone, the trees will remain. This thought comforts me profoundly. It is almost as though the tree serves as a reminder that all of this is not about me. There is a world here, a vast and beautiful world, which will endure long after I am gone.

Trees do more for me than just shed light on a wider perspective, though. Trees inspire strength. After all, the image of a towering tree, reaching into a crisp sky, roots plunged deep into the Earth, is a powerful one indeed. Trees withstand storms, earthquakes, fires. Trees not only survive such hardships, they grow despite them.

The oldest known living tree is Old Tjikko. Located in Sweden, it is believed to be about 9,550 years old. Imagine, for a moment, the vastness of that time period. Imagine the lives that have come and gone, the world which has changed so dramatically, since Old Tjikko first sprouted. Imagine all that has passed since Old Tjikko first began its watch.

Trees are nature’s sentinels. They are the watchers of our planet. Standing proud and strong, they not only outlast trials and the passage of time, but they have the nerve to grow through it.

Trees endure, and there is so much peace and strength in knowing that.

Fake It Til You Make It

Yesterday, I watched a clip on TV about a guy from Nowhere, USA who got himself a makeover, went to NYC, hired a couple of security guards and a camera crew and walked around Times Square. Seeing him, surrounded by beefy guys in suits and trailed by an eager camera crew, pedestrians began to ask to have their photo taken with this random man. They even cheered as he came out of shops, restaurants. Girls squealing, as though the shadow of their Teen Beat-centerfold-dream-crush was passing over their teary eyed faces. When, in truth, they had never seen his face before. They did not even know his name. When interviewed by his sham camera crew, people proclaimed that they loved his work, had his debut albums, watched all his movies, etc. While some of them may have genuinely mistaken him for an actual celebrity, the large majority of these people were just flat out lying. They simply fell into line.

It occurred to me that I am so much like this guy, when it comes to parenting. Fake it til you make it. If I have ever given off the impression that I have any idea what I am doing when it comes to parenting, I apologize. I really have no idea what I am doing. What I do have, is an image. I have an image of the type of people that I would like my children to become. The image is kind of like a watercolor, with edges that are blurred and fuzzy. The colors blend together in places. I like to think of this lack of rigidity as flexibility in my expectations. There is wiggle room in there. My end game is not precise, but I know the general direction.

The way that I parent though, is like our pseudo-celebrity. I am a pseudo-parent. I think one of the keys to parenting effectively is to seem like you know what you’re doing. Your children have to buy it, even if you are straight up ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Every parenting decision that I make is made in love for them. It is made with their best interests at heart. Does that mean it is always “right”? Hell if I know.

Fake it til you make it.

This doesn’t mean that my kids don’t see my failure, or that they are not taught that it is okay to be uncertain or wrong. We embrace imperfection, but sometimes parenting requires confidence, and it’s often when you don’t have it. Sometimes they need me to be strong when I am not. So, I will do my best to parent with confidence, and hold onto hope that someday I actually do have it all figured out.

Hopefully before they are old enough to read my blog.

“Cwara”

It goes without saying, but I will say it anyways, that losing Clara has impacted a greater number of people than just myself. My husband, for example, has endured every bit as much emotional pain as I have. Our parents, loving and supportive, empathetic and compassionate people, have hurt along with us. They have done their own grieving. We have borne this loss, together.

The two people who I have been most concerned about though, are my sons. I have, in typical maternal fashion, been very preoccupied with how they are impacted by losing Clara. We have done our best to communicate with each of them. We have left the door open for questions. We have left our hearts open for their hurt. Our oldest son does not seem to be largely affected by the loss, and for that I am so thankful. He is old enough, at 12, to understand that with pregnancy, comes risk, and yet he is young enough, to not necessarily recognize the wound in our hearts, or indeed to feel one in his own.

A few days after our abortion, my husband and I were talking with our oldest son, at the top of our staircase, when he expressed in so many words that he felt bad, for not feeling bad. He said “How can I say goodbye to someone I’ve never met?”, and explained that since he never knew her, he did not feel as though he lost her. He is perceptive enough, however, to understand that this is not how we feel, and he worried that it made him “wrong”. We explained that we completely understood why he felt that way and that, truly, there are no wrong ways to feel. There are only different ways, for different people. We don’t want him to hurt, and so we are honestly glad that he does not. In some ways, his removed way of feeling is just what we intended. Indeed, part of our decision to terminate our pregnancy, rather than attempt to bring Clara to term, only to watch her pass away, was heavily influenced by our concern for our sons. Delivering and losing her would have been torture for my husband and I, of course, but I especially could not imagine putting my sons through that pain, not when we already knew the outcome, and not when there was another way. A way to protect them. In every decision, I am a Mother, I am always protecting.

My youngest son’s reaction has been different. It has not been as simple. Of course, three year olds are never simple. We waited to tell our youngest until after the procedure was finished, thinking that it would be easier for him to understand if she was truly gone. We chose our words carefully, not wanting to scare him, and unsure of how much he would be able to understand.  We simply told him that the baby was gone. We explained that there was a problem, and she was not able to be big, strong and healthy like he is, and so she is not coming anymore. He was disappointed… and then he was playing with trucks. I was relieved until, over the next few days, he continued to refer to the empty room as “my baby sister’s room”. It was then that we made the decision to create the Library, and swiftly gave the room a new identity. It took a couple of days, but he eventually seemed to understand that this room was no longer his baby sister’s room, and he began to call it “Our Wibwy”. He stopped talking about her. Stopped asking about her, and I believed that we were done with the topic, until he was old enough to ask more questions, at which point we would happily give more information.

Everything changed this week. Every, single day this week, on the ride home from the train station, he talks about her. He asks about her, and I try to repeat the original explanation with patience and love, but I cannot seem to erase the stiffness from my voice. It hurts to explain it over and over. I am always careful to not say that she died. I am afraid to tell him that. He is smart, creative, and imaginative beyond belief. Just this week, he has introduced us to his imaginary friend, “Johnjadeere” (yes, one word) who works at a movie store which also sells popcorn, shirts and books (and, conveniently, whatever other things our son seems to take interest in at any given moment). I am afraid to introduce him to the idea of death at such a sweet and innocent age, but I am equally as afraid to shield him from the whole truth, the lack of which might confuse and scare him even more. I don’t believe there is a right way to deal with this, and so we continue to stumble through as best we can, trying to answer his questions, trying to give him security and understanding. Trying to ignore the way it hurts to talk about it.

A couple of days ago, we were on one of these interrogative car rides, when my youngest son, for the first time, asked her name. My neck muscles clenched, voice seized in my throat, as I realized that I had never spoken her name to him. He did not know it. “Clara.”, I managed to squeak out, “Your sister’s name, is Clara”.  “Cwara”, came the sweet voice from the back seat. “Yes, Cwara. I miss her”. Stifling sobs, I managed only a weak, “Me too, honey.”, before covering my face, weeping silently the rest of the way, as my husband navigated us back to the safety of our home.

Once home, I took myself to the bedroom, where I could close the door and cry without scaring the boys. Hearing him say her name felt like having my heart ripped out. Foolishly, I had begun to delude myself into thinking that I was done grieving, or at least done with the hardest part of it. On the contrary, I realized that I had simply been willing myself to pretend that it didn’t happen. “How can I say goodbye to someone I’ve never met?” But I did meet her. I knew her in the way that every mother knows the child who shares her body, and she knew me. My heartbeat was the music that lulled her to sleep. I cannot pretend that she never was. There is no wrong way to feel, only different ways, for different people.

What’s more, I realized that I was heartbroken because I think, in his own way, my youngest knew her. He was the first to grow inside my womb. He, too, slept to the sound of my heartbeat. Mentored by his wonderful Big Brother, he was so ready to enter the ranks of Big Brothers. He has so much love to share, this little one.

He was so ready to love her.

“Me too,  honey.”

Me too.

Crest and Fall and Knit

In the last 10 days I have written nothing. I have had ideas. I always have ideas. No, it is not a lack of substance that has kept me from putting my thoughts down, but rather a lack of motivation. This lack of motivation has not been limited to my writing, either. It has applied itself to nearly every aspect of my life. Chores, cooking, reading, my growing to-do list. Even showering has been too tedious a task (though I have powered through and done it, for my husband’s sake). The only activity which did not completely lose its allure these past 10 days is knitting. My saving grace. I have knitted furiously since losing Clara, and perhaps even more in the last 10 days, when everything else seemed to lose its lustre. As is often the case, it has carried me through.

I believe what I have been experiencing this last week and a half would be considered pretty run-of-the-mill depression. I think my therapist would tell me that this is a perfectly normal side of grief, that it is absolutely acceptable for me to feel this way, and I would agree with her. Unfortunately, an explanation and permission slip does not make the depression any more tolerable. Depression is not my wheelhouse, you see. Anxiety is my nagging shadow. I know how to identify it, I have become fairly practiced at avoiding what triggers it and, when it’s around, it at least feels familiar. Depression is a stranger at my door, and its presence is uncomfortable and unwelcome.

The veil does seem to be lifting, for brief moments at least. It reminds me of the way a stomach ache will fade. What had been near constant discomfort will suddenly begin to come in waves, offering relief in between. Eventually the waves settle and the stomach ache subsides. Since I have no experience with depression, I don’t know if that is what is happening, but I like to tell myself that it is. The thought that the rhythmic troughs of these waves will draw out, leveling the landscape of my emotion and bringing me back to myself, is a hope that I cling to like driftwood. I am weary of the sadness.

Aside from being tired of my own feelings, I worry constantly about their impact on those around me. My loved ones have been so wonderful and supportive. I want to be better, for them. I want them to have the reassurance that I am okay, that I have come out the other side, that I am me again. What scares me is that I know, deep down, that I will never really be me again. Or rather, I am me. This is me. I know that things will get lighter and life will get sunnier, but no matter how much I want to wear my experience like a cape, it only seems to fit like a shroud.

In time, we will see how things fit. In time, we will see how the waves crest and fall. In time, we will see which Me I become. Until then, there’s always knitting.