Quizzical

 

Which character on Downton Abbey are you most like? What color represents your personality? What does your favorite fruit say about you?

Every time one logs onto his or her social media venue of choice, there is an endless supply of such quizzes. I admit, a few have piqued my interest. Perhaps it’s the ever present quest to find ‘my dream job’ that almost lured me into taking that one. But I never wanted to waste precious spare moments on such an endeavor and certainly didn’t want to link up my personal details with some outside entity. One quiz in particular that scrolled across my screen, however, hit me in a personal way even without relinquishing my information.

What mental disorder do you kind of have?

First of all, the qualifier ‘kind of’ is a slap in the face. Those who ‘full on’ have a mental disorder know there’s nothing ‘kind of’ about it. The questions dilute the struggles and pain of common side effects of these conditions, such as a misplaced pattern in a range of tiles. In a list of adjectives to describe oneself, the choices range from sad to crazy. One choice for the question ‘Are you an active person?’ is ‘No, I’m super lazy’. Is that how pop culture would describe the malaise brought on by clinical depression? I don’t think that’s how one suffering from it would. In a range of pictoral representations of one’s demeanor at a party, there are gross caricatures of stereotypical mental states. In terms of treatment, one question asks whether one would choose talking to a trusted individual or taking pills. Is that an either/or question? Is one any less noble than the other?

house party

After completing the quiz, here was my diagnosis:

 

OCD, or obsessive–compulsive disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry. You, while being completely healthy, know your fair share of disturbing and worrying thoughts. Don’t you worry, you’re perfectly fine. Just stop thinking.

Yeah, cuz it’s just that easy. Never mind that fact that I’ve never actually received such a clinical diagnosis, but to dilute overcoming OCD to simply ‘stop thinking’?

I get that I’m taking a silly quiz much more seriously than it was ever meant to be taken. I see the other quizzes in the side bar that invite me to find the decade I was born in or the quote that best describes my life. But forgive me for taking a possibly egregious offense to putting a real life daily-lifelong struggle alongside such drivel. Is this what we’re up against? The stigma surrounding mental illness will never be shattered with online memes like this. I’m all for humor, but this is the kind that pokes fun like a bully on the bus. This is not the release valve, instructive humor that is healthy.

Sorry if I’m ‘kind of’ offended.

 

 

The Center

 

How self-centered we are

to be governed by our emotions

and not the looks of pain on the faces of those around us.

To expect the world to orbit around our center.

 

The way we act shows it a thoughtless given in our minds.

 

To miss the fragile little being in front of us,

the industrious, frenzied flap of hummingbird wings -

the little things that should be front and center

so as not to be crowded out by the hulking beasts oh so eager to rule.

 

Solitary Confinement

 

It’s not that I didn’t believe her . . .

My therapist told me that, while I may have had underlying anxiety for years, it hadn’t presented itself until I had one, two, three children because up until that point, it had been manageable. I could handle it. I’d organically and subconsciously found coping mechanisms. The fact that I could no longer manage it didn’t signal failure, but a new tenor to my life that was above and beyond – and that wasn’t going to change anytime soon. I balked at taking medication to control it, but she pointed out that there is nothing I can do to control the level of stress that accompanies three children – while I can assist my bodily systems and psyche with medication.

Intellectually, I understood it. I trusted her and her care. But there was a part of me that didn’t truly want to buy it. The control freak in me raged. I can do this! Even while popping the pills, I thought somehow, someday, I’d overcome this. I’d whip that three-kid schedule and lifestyle into shape and surmount the odds.

Then one day, four years, ten months into the anxious maelstrom that had become my life, I found myself alone. There was movement, noises on the edges of my consciousness, but it was gentle, distant. My husband came to kiss me goodbye before leaving for work and then I was truly alone.

I debated going back to sleep, but figured I’d be in that half-conscious state that would leave me feeling worse than if I’d gotten up early. I did roll around in my head various scenarios of what I might do with my time, but more mind blowing than my options sans kids was the quality of the time sans kids; that is, unfettered. There were things I wanted to do, things I should do, but nothing I absolutely had to do. For several hours, the majority of this fine day, I had to answer to no one.

I could eat when I felt like it. Nap when I felt like it (which I did end up doing to counteract the non-sleeping-in). Pee when I felt like it. I could open that new bag of crispy treats at midday and eat as many as I wished without vultures swooping down upon me. I could concentrate unencumbered on the tutorial for a new software program that’s been languishing on my desktop for lack of time (and be inspired to take said nap before returning to it ;-) )

There’s no such thing as perfection. I did need to intersperse my chosen activities with household duties due to the threat of family members coming to see the house for the first time. But even that may have been a blessing in disguise, as I finally found a home for the mound of summer attire that had taken over a chair in my room – which, again, would never have happened had I not been alone.

It was at some point during all this alone time, however, that I sat on the couch and stared at the gloomy scene out the rain-speckled window. I was still tired, I was still mushy-mush. I wasn’t channeling Gene Kelly in all my solitary resplendence. I was still the non-prioritizing, neurotic perfectionist able to unravel at the drop of a hat if things didn’t go according to plan.

The thing was – the plan was much more likely to stay stuck without three little whirling dervishes to spin it apart from the inside out. And if not, I could adjust accordingly, changing course according to my needs and neurosis. Or just chill out for the day until my thin skin thickened up accordingly.

It’s so much easier when things fall apart for one person than a whole tribe. And much easier to put the pieces back together. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the whole tribe does not fall apart; in a poignantly fortunate way, I suppose, just its leader. And when it’s up to the leader to keep the tribe together, her own loose pieces rattle together until she has a day alone.

And since those days are few and far between, medication it is. At least I don’t drug alone.

 

Alone

It took me a moment upon waking to realize I would not be pounced upon by little people; that there was a depth of silence, solitude that would stay; the kind I hadn’t felt in over a decade; the kind that resonates deep within the soul and allows me to remember who I am – or better yet, allows me to just be.

 

 

Scars as Beauty

 

“On the girl’s brown legs there were many small white scars. I was thinking, Do those cover the whole of you, like the stars and the moons on your dress? I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.

In a few breaths’ time I will speak some sad words to you. But you must hear them the same way we have agreed to see scars now. Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive. The next thing you know, something fine will happen to her, something marvelous, and then she will turn around and smile.”

- from Little Bee by Chris Cleave

 

Native Species

 

The region in which I grew up is rich in Native American history. I waded in the waters at Conimicut Point. I balanced across plank bridges in the Great Swamp. Everyday, I passed places with names like Narragansett, Miantonomo, Apponaug, and Pawtuxet. Along the way, I learned the history and interaction of my colonial ancestors and the indigenous peoples, but the place names became commonplace and part of the fabric of my everyday life that blended into the background.

When my own burgeoning family outgrew our home a few neighborhoods over from the one in which I grew up, we moved deeper into the state; where native history remained vibrantly alive, resisting the squash of suburban sprawl. With signs marking the Narragansett watershed and roads transiting Shumunkanuc Hill, my desire to understand this new land meshed with a desire to better understand the native history and tradition that shaped it.

In an effort to do so, my girls and I visited Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, RI, our state’s only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the rich cultural heritage of its native peoples. We had a wonderful time, viewing historical exhibits, examples of artwork, basketry, and artifacts. I read the words of Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas in one glossy display detailing the meaning of and pursuit of happiness for modern native peoples. While their home culture and tradition teaches them to be in tune with nature, stewards of the earth with utmost thanks for the gift it is, upholding generational, tribal, and oral traditions, public education counters Native American values and history, forcing an incongruous duality of individuals, students, youngsters.

As I read the poetic description of the aspiration to a higher good we all possess, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to society as a whole. While not all populations in modern society deal with an environment hostile to their ways of life, we all suffer from a sort of disconnect.

We are totally disconnected from the earth, the land.

We can go to the grocery store and buy apples any day, any season of the year – not just during fall harvest. We go to the farmers’ market in spring and balk when we can’t find the main ingredient for our peach pie. We are conditioned like a spoiled child to have an endless supply of food placed before us whenever we want it, with no thought of the hand that put it there.

We are totally removed from nature’s rhythms, its cycles.

We look down the road waiting for a rush of cars when it is the rush of the wind through tree boughs.

We condition our air, we shut our windows tight. We notice not the storm clouds or fog rolling in until the weather report tells us to.

We miss the signal of the birds squawking in the trees or their sweet songs rejoicing in the spring.

We don’t find the hidden places on the back roads because we’re speeding down the highway. We don’t discover the interconnectedness of us all, regardless of background because we’re too busy to talk.

We forget how to, the benefit of, interacting with the world, the people right in front of us, because we’re so intent on interfacing with those halfway around the world through the computer screen.

The sacredness of simplicity is lost.

The elemental forces of the universe are covered over by the noise we humans have created, covering over ourselves.

But on days when we stop to hear a song, shake a rattle, smell the sweet grass, the stories become part of us and there is an elemental shift within – perhaps drawing us all closer to ourselves and each other.

tomaquag

 

Know the Parameters of Your Vehicle

 

One of the first lessons of drivers’ ed, no?

I remember sitting in a stuffy classroom with a bunch of bored teenagers waiting for the gruesome slide show of what could happen to us if we exceeded the speed limit (This was before texting and driving existed). While I may have forgotten the exact way to proceed through a four-way stop sign in an orderly fashion, I can still see the imaginary line the instructor drew from the left front fender of the car diagonally to the yellow line in the road – and the other one he drew from the right front fender to the white line marking the shoulder. Absolutely essential to align one’s vehicle in the center of its traveling lane and at a safe distance from the vehicles around it.

I can still sit myself behind the driver’s seat of that virtual tank of a car and see the nice neat points of the front fenders riding the rails of those lines in the road, shielding me from oncoming traffic and obstacles.

via IMCDB.com

via IMCDB.com

But just as telephonic technology has surpassed the cautionary tales of my days of drivers’ ed, so too have the aerodynamic advancements in car design. You try to find a car with square edges anymore. Even the quintessential government-issue boxy Suburban has rounded out. Jack Ryan (as played by Harrison Ford) would be ashamed. It’s nearly impossible to match all those swooping curves to the angular lines of the road nowadays.

Transfer these trials, if you will, to the grocery store.

Have you had the pleasure of driving one of those insipid race car carriages?

Whoever created them is an evil genius of the highest degree. Yes, in theory, it keeps children contained and entertained. Aside from the incessant beeping of the suction bulb horn, your children are a captive audience – thanks to the handy seat belts. However, there are various permutations that alter that ‘blissful’ scene.

Your one child has both steering wheels to himself, but making engine noises gets old fast with no audience and he quickly wants to climb out to be with Mommy, leaving you to push a gargantuan half-empty carriage around the store.

Your two children each get their own steering wheel, but only one horn works. A flailing of arms and flapping of hands ends in a slap fest with wails more heinous than the strangled duck quack of the remaining horn.

Two of your children, the biggest and least able to fit in the cab of the car, strong-arm their way inside, leaving the youngest, smallest, and most amped about such a ride, trailing behind pitifully, alternately pulling on your pant leg and her siblings’ arms – or hair – begging for a ride.

And that’s just the kids.

One would think that the least problematic part of this equation would be the cart itself, given its inanimate nature and all. Ha ha. Then you would be deceived, my friend.

I decided to up the ante this past Friday. You know, July 4th ?

We needed food. We weren’t doing anything fun since it was raining and the holiday. What better time to go grocery shopping with three kids?

It’s not like the entire vacationing population in the surrounding coastal area had the same exact idea.

My husband and I dragged the kids to a discount store beforehand, too, where the eldest convinced the youngest to stick her head into a carpeted cat condo. Good times. When the two oldest, yes oldest, requested the car carriage at the grocery store, I was grasping at straws, really. The look on my husband’s face when he saw me pushing the monstrosity of a carriage into the store, where he and our youngest were waiting, confirmed my insanity. And my state of being matched the tenor of the store.

The produce section, which on any day is hard to navigate with multiple bins packed in, was crawling with more people than potato bugs on a field of bruised spuds. With the turning radius of a sea cow, I ended up moving backward through the aisles. Alas, I did not know the parameters of my vehicle and banged into a woman’s leg with the front of that infernal car. And then I ma’am’ed her as I apologized – the first time I’ve done so in my life. It’s no wonder she didn’t slam the car back into me. After another near miss with the same woman near the bananas, I ended up parking the car and kids with my husband to dive back into the produce pool, while he refereed our youngest’s attempts to gain access to the driver’s seat.

We made it to the check-out aisle with minor infractions after that, but our trip was not yet done.

My husband loaded the conveyor belt and then moved to the other end of the register to bag our groceries. Industrious, helpful, and proactive. But totally unaware of my trial-and-error navigation of the beast of burden. As we went to leave, I pushed the cart to the left, even though we were going to exit to the right. I knew it wouldn’t make the tight turn to the right and planned to go left and back up. Only my husband stepped forward to walk toward the exit just as I swung left. He howled louder than our youngest before she got her turn driving. All those gathered at the front of the store turned, to see my still sputtering husband stalking toward the exit and me moving backward, pulling the car behind me.

Once I got the cart turned the right way and pushed out into the pouring rain, I imagined the ways I could torture the inventor of the infernal object that had obviously been spawned in the underworld. But I’m sure he or she was functioning under the same principles that forced my decision to load the kids into the thing at the start of that grocery visit: the risk/reward factor we all take into account with each parenting decision. Is the frustration of pushing an unwieldy vehicle through the store equal to or better than dealing with wild animals loosed upon the produce aisle? I do have some suggestions for said inventor, though.

Would it kill you put some tall flags on the front corners of the cars? Little orange dooies like the little old ladies put on the back of their scooters? Decrease the wheel base, perhaps? Or better yet, offer a free babysitting service at the front of the store with a racetrack where they can drive the suckers themselves while I shop?

When it comes to grocery store race car carriages, I may not know the parameters of my vehicle, but I’ve learned my threshold of insanity. Yet again, in the grocery store.

shopping cart race car

 

Heaven or Hell

 

This is heavenly.

 

That was the thought and feeling that flooded through every part of my body as I sat under a grove of trees a few miles from the shoreline yesterday.

 

I was with two women I didn’t know particularly well, my children playing with five other children, only two of which they knew particularly well – but so go play dates when you join a new group, I suppose. At least I could relish the gorgeous weather and spot for what it was. A quintessential coastal breeze in the shade of old growth trees. An hour of my three children not waylaying each other and my own ear drums and patience.

 

How odd, then, that conversing with these two women, watching our children twirl and loop around us, that I made the decision to love my life.

 

I’d asked them the ages of their children, which led to a clarification of grade levels just completed, and then, a conversation debating the merits of forcing kindergarten for children with birthdays on the cusp of the cut-off and/or waiting an additional year. I’ve had this conversation countless times the last few years, starting with other people’s children all the way to my own four year-old. It’s never cut and dry and the anguish is always apparent on the parent’s face – that they might somehow harm their child’s entire educational career for the sake of a start nine months too early or late.

 

But that’s not what this post is about.

 

I’ve come to terms with our family’s decision to keep our precious little pea home another year for the sake of six lousy days.

 

It’s the nature of that additional year that this conversation affected. The nature of life now.

 

There will come a day when I have to work outside the home. When I won’t be able to see my babies at 10 AM just because. When I won’t be able to sit at a park with virtual strangers/possible friends and discuss issues for the age and stage we’re all at.

 

There will always be dishes and laundry. There will always be exhaustion. There will always be the guilt of the unwritten chapter lurking somewhere behind the keyboard. It will always take more energy and effort to pack the kid(s) and all their crap up and go on an outing than it will to stay home.

 

But there won’t be the brush of feathery grass on the backs of my thighs. The rustle of wind through green leaves. Legs long and lithe, short and compact, darting and weaving. The call and answer of hide and seek. The heavy weight of a tired child solid against my side.

 

We travel through this world from start to finish regardless. It is totally within our determination to make it heaven or hell.

 

 

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image from wallpaperscraft.com

 

Cause and Effect

Wondering if you are a foodie?  Shop at Wal-Mart and see if you don’t come out frustrated.

Wondering if you should have children?  Borrow three children and take them along with you to Wal-Mart.

Wondering if you still struggle with anxiety and/or irritability?  Take your own three children along with you to Wal-Mart.

Not sure whether that neon blue frosting on your child’s cupcake is artificially flavored and colored?   Watch for pond slime diarrhea the next day.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

For every aisle of frozen fish fillet, there is the gaping hole of fresh bunches of cilantro.

For every idealistic preggo or wistful grandma, there is a mother clinging just barely to this edge of sanity.

For every woman struggling for balance, there is one thrown out of whack by hooligans hanging off her shopping cart.

For every over-zealous and genetically engineered diet choice, there is a revolting bowel movement.

No shit.

0hVjWPQRePKm1rZ

 

Not the Dimming of the Day

photo: Jennifer Butler Basile

photo: Jennifer Butler Basile

The sunset draws me in.

It pulls me west,

to the continuation of life, light.

If I move toward it,

if I suck the gloaming dry of its marrow,

I gain that much more

hope

possibility

potential.

The day is not yet done.

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