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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lately

My dad keeps bugging me to write, so here I am.  
I have a lot of little posts that I want to put up, but this one is the one I’ve been meaning to put here for a while.
This August, I experienced a significant transition.
I returned to work full time for the first time in over two years and Eleanor went to preschool. 
Being home part time with her was my great luxury.  I couldn't treat myself to nice new clothes when I wanted them, or splurge on gifts for the people I loved. Heck, there were times when just meeting our day-to-day bills was a challenge. But as soon as she was in my arms, I knew that I didn't want Eleanor's early years to be spent with someone else. I wanted the majority of her hours, not just for ideological reasons, but because being separated from her was, for me, physically and emotionally painful.
I should be clear that my mind about this topic has not changed. While I've come to a point of acceptance, and can see that there are immense benefits to me nourishing my career and her thriving in an excellent preschool, I still deeply believe that the best place for her to be is at home with her mother. As I march firmly down the path we've chosen of Working Mom and Preschooler, I still hold a very clear ideal in my mind of a homestead and homeschooling.  (My fantasy is complete with a hefty retirement fund and a book deal or two, naturally.) 
I remember the phone call that started the transition.  I was offered a full time position with a significant raise plus generous benefits to teach one more course in addition to the two I was already teaching.  I was walking the aisles of the grocery store pushing Ellie in a cart and as soon as I hung up the phone, I burst into tears, overwhelmed by all the things that were about to change, even though the contract wouldn’t start for months.   
The first three weeks back were perhaps the hardest of my life. I have never experienced anything like it before, but I think it should be called simply depression.  I have never experienced real depression before, so it’s still strange to me to label this thing that happened to me. (I recently started getting migraines and it took me a long time to recognize what was actually happening to me. It’s funny how things change when you have a name for them, isn’t it?)
I had anticipated that the return would be difficult, so I dedicated a significant amount of time to self-care. I took baths and ran as much as I could. I cut my hair, losing a full 10", in an attempt to shed my old self and mark the big change, and bought a few new things to wear to work.  I kept the house tidy because it makes me feel better, and spent as much time as I could taking care of myself in all the ways I know how.  I let myself play with Eleanor without worrying about chores, but I also went out by myself, for no good reason, so that I could just be alone.  These things usually fill up my cup and I can draw on them when I feel stretched thin, but nothing helped.  I don't need to add to the sea of writers who have talked about depression, but for me, it was like being lost at sea.  I watched myself struggle with the new schedule, ticking off all the requirements of packed lunches and morning coffee and fresh sheets, but I barely felt like I was keeping my head above water. I’d come up long enough to get air to survive, but most of the time I struggled.  
I cried. I cried so often. I cried at my desk at 12:30, the time when I'd normally leave to get her. I cried at 4:00 when I left, feeling all the hours in between.  I cried when I heard the tiny voices of toddlers around town and when I watched a new mother open the door to the pumping room.   I cried after she went to bed because I felt so guilty for snapping at her and my partner because I was feeling so frustrated, helpless, and lost. 
When I wasn't crying or angry, I felt sort of numb.  It was this insipid underlying nothingness that pervaded everything, and I’d never experienced anything like it. I had moments where I felt happy, but that numbness never left. I would recognize that something good was happening to me or that I was enjoying something, but I only felt my face smiling from the outside. 
I could sit at this keyboard forever and never adequately describe what it was like. (And to all my friends, loved ones, and fellow humans who continue to struggle with this every day, I am here, sitting next to you quietly and supporting you, humbled.)
I threw everything I had at this thing and it wasn’t getting better. 
Then a few things changed. The first few weeks of each semester are testing, when I have to enforce a lot of rules and meet an endless stream of students whom I will never work with.  But eventually my classes started.  I had real names and faces to take in and see again each morning.  
My period came. (I’m sorry if that’s too much information for you, but its significance cannot be understated.)
Things were still very difficult, but I no longer felt unmoored.  
In early September, I had the opportunity to take an intensive class on mindfulness meditation and I jumped at it.  For eight weeks, I meditated daily for 30-45 minutes and attended a weekly class.  I practiced a variety of types of meditation, all completely secular, and experimented with giving my awareness to different aspects of my emotional life, from how I recognized positive emotions to how I responded to stress.  I spoke with a group of thoughtful and hard working people every week about what it’s like to live in a world where everything (and everyone) moves so fast, and sitting, just being, doesn’t seem to have a place.  The course is called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. If you want to read more about it, you can look here  If you’re interested in taking the course but it isn’t offered where you live or you can’t afford it, a free online option is available here.
Meditation is sort of a strange concept for some people, and it can evoke a lot of negativity.  To be clear, mindfulness meditation is simply the practice of intentionally becoming aware. 
I still meditate daily. I may miss a day here or there, but for the most part I’ve been consistent since I started the program, thanks to my supportive family.  
Mindfulness has taught me about four simple things:
1)  Seeing things for what they are.  Like most people, I spend most of my time thinking about the past or worrying about the future Mindfulness has helped train me to recognize when I’m seeing things as they actually are and when I’m caught up in the story I’m telling myself.  
2) Recognizing my reactions to things as they are.  All events elicit some reaction: positive, negative, or neutral. We want good things to stay, bad things to go, and boring things to be over.  Meditation has helped me recognize that I have automatic reactions and that these reactions, in themselves, are a sort of story. Everything changes with time. My depression passed. My back pain, which can be incredibly intense on some days, is often completely gone. Migraines end. Job situations change. Children grow and move on to new phases of life.  Everything moves along, with or without me, and my reactions to these events do nothing to change them. 
3)  Being with my emotions. Having these emotional responses is natural, and meditation has made it easier for me to sit with my emotions as I have them, that is, to see them as passing objects, rather than getting caught up in them.  (Please understand, I’m not able to do this all of the time. I still struggle with letting my emotions dictate my behavior, and wanting negative emotions to go away.)  
4)  Being accepting and playful with my life, even when things are difficult.  Being a careful parent has taught me a greater understanding of empathy, but it has always been difficult for me to direct empathy and compassion to myself. I didn't realize it growing up, but i have perfectionistic tendencies and get frustrated with myself when things don't go the way I want them to.  Mindfulness has helped me be more accepting to the things that happen to me and to my reactions to them, and it has given me tools to be more playful with the difficult parts of life.  Being playful and kind to myself takes so much of the sting from things that otherwise could cut deep into me.  There are some excellent free guided meditations on self-compassion available here.

I have no authority to teach meditation or mindfulness, but I have a little tool that you might find helpful.

When something challenging happens to you, use the acronym RAIN.
R: recognize Take a moment to see what is actually happening to you and label your reaction. Sometimes emotions can sneak up on us and we need to take a moment to step outside our reactionary selves and see what’s really going on.
A: accept Instead of spending time wishing you weren’t angry, or getting frustrated that you’re wasting time by being sad, accept your emotions as they are.  
I: investigate Be curious about your emotions, especially how they are in the body.  If you’re sad, where in your body do you feel it? What does it feel like?  Don't get caught up in thinking about why you're sad, or what you should do to make it stop.  Focus on the feeling of sadness in the body in the present moment.
Nnon-identify  Your emotions aren’t you. The things that are happening aren’t you.  Negative emotions aren’t as powerful when we refuse to let them threaten our sense of self.

I don't mean to sound like sitting in meditation has made all my problems go away, but it has made me feel like I can truly handle anything that happens. It has dulled the sense of helpless urgency that used to populate my everyday thoughts, and has freed me to enjoy the good things in my life more fully.  I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to take the course and couldn't have done it without the support of my family.

Other things that have been going on here recently:
I've been using instagram a lot.  It is so easy to share quick snaps of our days. If you want to follow me, you can here. (You can look at that link even if you don't have instagram!)
Here we are on the Culinary Walk. It's funny to look back and think about years past, before her existence and during my pregnancy, going on this walk.  This year I'm on the executive board of Field to Family, the organization that runs the Culinary Walk, and it has been a pleasure to watch it all come together so beautifully.
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We raised some tadpoles! It was so much fun to watch them go from tiny little eggs into bright green frogs. 

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We've also been making a lot of things. 
I made my first quilt for E's nap time at preschool.  
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We made a leaf mobile by dipping the leaves in beeswax and hanging them from a painted stick.
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Knits.
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Biscuits.
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The nephew turned 10 and wanted a minecraft cake.
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And this one turned THREE!
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I'll be back with more updates soon. Thank you as always for sticking with me. xo


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