Here is a story. There are two parts.
My mom died seven years ago. She was young. I was young. My son was just a baby.
He wasn't yet walking. He was my pride and joy. Still is.
He kind of lost his mommy that summer too. He lost the mommy who had always been 100% his. Suddenly his mommy was gone on a plane, trying to get to a hospital in time to say all the things she wanted to say. So daddy packed up baby and they came on a plane the next day. But then mommy was grieving. Everyone was sad and crying. Mommy was going to funeral parlours and florists. Then mommy was writing a eulogy. Delivering a eulogy. Making small talk with people about death. God it breaks my heart. Baby was with daddy all week. Which isn't all bad. Daddy had never been responsible for baby for a week. But what it must have done to baby's heart to see mommy, here and there, running in and out, happy to see him but busy, busy, busy.
Then mommy had to go back to work, bringing baby to daycare in the morning, crying, picking him up at the end of the day, and so on. Mommy was angry. Why was mommy's mom dead? And mommy was busy at the job that she hated. Mommy was busy trying to prove that she was good enough, day in and day out. Rushing to the daycare and getting baby into his snowsuit at the end of every day was challenging. There is an image in mommy's mind of that year and this is it:
The tiles on the floor are terracotta. Smooth squares, burnt orange. Baby's snowsuit is on the floor, spread out like a star. It is bright blue on the outside, silvery on the inside. There in the middle of the star-shaped snowsuit mommy places baby. Baby is mommy's heart and joy. Mommy feels like a mess. Mommy is wearing a dark suit, pantyhose, and high-heeled boots. Actually she has had to remove her boots, because those are the rules. Mommy feels like Bambi, crawling on the floor, long arms, legs, bare feet. Mommy is trying to get baby into the snowsuit, but baby is fighting it. Baby is crying. Mommy is trying to hold it together. Other mommies and daddies walk past, to and fro, while mommy tries to get baby into the snowsuit and baby cries, night after night. Outside, baby refuses to go into his carseat. He resists, rigid. Mommy waits. One day mommy says okay. We can play in the snow. Mommy and baby walk in the snow for an hour. Mommy's feet are numb but she feels good: she is being a good mommy. Finally mommy leads baby back to the car. Baby refuses to go into the carseat. He goes rigid. Mommy is worn out. Mommy is sad.
Little one is now seven. Seven-and-a-half, maybe. That's as far as mommy is prepared to go with that. Because mommy doesn't want to believe that so much time has passed. That her beloved boy is growing up, and his mommy is STILL sad. And beloved, beloved boy seems sad too. Mommy cries hard just writing those words.
Mommy has a LOT of sadness and guilt and worry to work through. And whenever she gets close to it she cries and she gets scared, so usually she avoids thinking about it. It's hard to avoid the sadness, because it's inside mommy's body. It's in her brain, supposedly, and she feels it all over her body. It is awful.
The most effective way mommy has to avoid it is social media: distracting mommy's brain with novel ideas and images. The problem is, mommy has a new job now: mommy is a housewife. Mommy got depressed and left her old job, which she hated. She was supposed to get well and get a different job, and she tried going back to school, but it went very badly and mommy even thought that it would feel good to be hit by a train. Finally, mommy said, the only job I ever wanted was to be a mommy. So this is mommy's dream job, but mommy is busy avoiding her thoughts almost all day long. I'll tell you this. It's really, fucking hard to be a successful housewife when you spend most of your time avoiding your sadness. Not a lot gets done around the house. A bit of weeping and curling up in bed. A lot of staring at screens until the funny images and friendly people and interesting stories there grab hold of mommy's brain and hold it tight. Mommy's brain temporarily forgets the pain and sadness. For just a little while (or as long as possible) mommy feels better. Until mommy has to stop staring at the screen. Mommy has to deal with reality, of course, eventually. And the reality is a mix of sadness and despair and fear and shame and guilt and it sucks. It is very, very hard.
Mommy knows that she has
Mommy looked away from that sentence for a moment and now mommy has no idea what she was going to say.
Oh yes. Mommy knows that she has to get better. Maybe not 100% "better" (because what is that?), but better than she is. Imagine if mommy could not be depressed and sad and anxious! Mommy has AD/HD or ADD or whatever they're going to call it in the next edition of the DSM, and that is not going to stop, but what if mommy could learn to manage it better. Imagine if mommy could be healthy and happy. Just imagine... Mommy can't imagine it. All she can feel is sadness. Mommy cries hard.
Mommy has to try to improve though. Not only because this is awful and mommy feels so much guilt about it, about being a sad and anxious mommy with a messy house, but also, also, because what if mommy got worse?
What if mommy got something life-threatening? This is a new fear for mommy; mommy's cousin has metastatic cancer and mommy knows so many people with cancer right now. It's not right. Mommy has been meaning to meditate and throw out all in the crap in mommy's cluttered cupboard and cook organic food, for more than a year. There is zero doubt that mommy wants to do this, but mommy hasn't made a single step towards that goal. Originally this was about cooking healthy food for little one. Now mommy sees that she has to stop poisoning herself and daddy, too, with the crap they put in so-called food these days. Little one needs mommy and they both need daddy. This thought, about food, is oddly comforting... Why? Because it is a distraction. Because thinking about cleaning out a cupboard and starting to bake is a fucking fantasy, and it's easier (easier!) to worry about GMO's over which mommy has little control, but can feel very worked up, than it is to worry about the fact that mommy is falling apart. Mommy knows how to avoid GMO's. That would be easy.
It would be easy, if mommy weren't so fucking sad that she may or may not get dressed or make supper at all, let alone anything that requires a trip to the store and thinking and decisions.
Mommy is fucked up and she is scared.
She is scared to feel how she feels. She isn't scared of hurting herself. That's not going to happen. Mommy is loved and she loves her people so much. But she's scared that she won't be able to be a good mommy if she stops avoiding her feelings. That she'll be too sad.
Mommy's psychologist is a wonderful therapist. He pointed out that mommy has been telling him that she wants to clean up her house for about 10 months. He wondered if maybe not cleaning up the house was enabling mommy to avoid something else...This was a very interesting question. The messy house causes mommy anxiety and grief, so why would she do that?
There are layers of answers to this question. If mommy avoids the house altogether, or avoids seeing it even though she's in it, she avoids the horror of the messy house. However, mommy knows that when she decides to work on it, she is forced to face the fact that she can't possibly clean it up in one hour or afternoon or one day. It's frightening. It might take... more time than mommy has. It makes mommy feel anxious. Sometimes mommy works on it. It's very hard, she may start to feel less anxious as she works, but she feels sad and worried and scared.
A possible answer came as mommy pondered the question. Mommy doesn't like to host because the house is messy and mommy is ashamed of the house. But maybe the messy house is a protective barricade. Mommy doesn't have to host if the house is a mess? Is mommy avoiding hosting? This doesn't seem to fit. Mommy used to like hosting. Mommy wants a clean house. Mommy does find hosting stressful though, but isn't that because of the messy house, and the distraction, and the sadness and pain...
Does mommy avoid cleaning up the house because she doesn't want to go back to work? This might seem an answer because mommy won't go back to work unless the house is organized. But no, this is not the answer. Mommy feels such clear rejection of this answer that it is a little bit troubling. It seems like an obvious answer, but mommy doesn't think that this is the problem. Why not? Why doesn't this fit? Well, two things.
First, mommy wouldn't be adverse to going back to work if mommy were healthy and well and the house was organized and she had laundry and grocery and cooking and bill paying and filing and all the other fucking routines (hmm) that mommy would need to cope with life, and if mommy had a job that let her still be an awesome fucking mommy because mommy loves her little one more than the sun itself. It's true! He is her beloved shining star and she wants to be here for him. Which, of course, she doesn't feel that she is adequately now, because although she's in the house all day, or picking him up, or taking him out, her mind and body aren't healthy. She's not all here. Okay where was mommy? Right, it's not work that mommy is avoiding, it's going back to work and having a complete fucking breakdown. Being "here" mentally is what mommy wants.
Second... what was second... it's related, I think... There was another reason why mommy doesn't accept the idea that cleaning up the house is a way to avoid working... Right: getting on top of this house and running it well would actually increase the odds that mommy could continue not working if she chose. If she could get on top of the house, then she would have choices. She could keep kicking butt at being a SAHM, or she could work, or work part-time. It would all be ok.
So, no, mommy does not buy the idea that she's sucking at being a housewife so she can not work. Au contraire, mommy is scared that if she continues to suck at not working, she might be pressured to try working while her home is chaos, and that is scary. So yes, the idea of working does scare mommy. It does. But that's not why she's not making progress on the house.
Rather, mommy feels that this whole why-can't-you-clean-up-the-house topic is a distraction and wants to get back to the real issue.
Because mommy had an epiphany last week. A scary epiphany.
Mommy realized that she isn't just avoiding looking at the house. It's a lot bigger than that. The house is a red herring really. (Mommy used to be a lawyer and lawyers like red herrings. In analyses. Mommy doesn't eat herring. Mommy's never seen a red herring, but the grey ones look gross enough, oily, pickled things at a Dutch pier or worse, in a big, bland jar in the supermarket.)
Mommy's distracting herself again. She's fucking annoying that way.
Okay mommy, where did that epiphany go? (Mental flashback to the coffeeshop where this happened, while working on homework for anxiety group therapy...) Just the flash, not the irrelevant distraction. Stop typing and let yourself remember. Even if it hurts.
Right, I don't just distract myself to avoid seeing the clutter (although the clutter is upsetting and overwhelming.) No.
I distract myself to avoid feeling my pain. The pain isn't (just) about the clutter. (For all I know the clutter is a way to avoid the pain too -- isn't that what they say about hoarding?) See, distracting myself again. No. No. No.
I (that's me, mommy) distract myself to avoid feeling all my pain and sadness. Not just the stuff around me. The stuff inside me.
I realized this when I was working on my homework and I had to take off the blinders. I had to look at my feelings. And the pain came and it was scary. The pain is emotional pain. It's sadness. But it's so much more than sadness. It's a lifetime of fear and sad and scared and confusion and trying. Or something like that. I'm not really tapped into it now. Or rather, my door is shut. I'm distracted by typing, etc.
What forced me to open the door was that anxiety group therapy homework, so I guess I should get back to it.
It was so powerful to me at that moment, so much so that I expressed it in the group 30 minutes later, by which time it sounded trite or fake... it's so easy for it to slip away from me, but it hit me like a tidal wave when I was open to it.
I'm reminded of the day I blurted out in therapy that, "I stare into the computer screen to avoid seeing my life!" and made a little box around my face with my hands.
I took this as an explanation of why I waste time online, but that missed the point, which is that I'm avoiding my life. A friend later asked, "What is it in your life that you're trying to avoid?" It struck me as a profound question, and I couldn't answer it.
I think, now, that I'm avoiding my emotional pain. It's that simple and that big.
The thing I realized last week is that I am full of pain and sadness, and I am afraid of it. I am afraid that if I feel it, I'll go under. I'll fall apart. I put on a happy face and out I go. So much so that sometimes I doubt myself. My depression is being treated, I'll tell myself. My mood is okay. Except that it isn't.
Each day I can worry about my ADHD or my anxiety or my mood or my son or other loved ones or the world (no end of worries there). And just typing that brings up a rush of anxiety. I'm scared, because in my heart I know that those are distractions.
Then that next thought comes flying in -- no, no, think positive! Do the opposite thing! Don't wallow.
I'm not wallowing. I'm avoiding.
When I look at, really look at, what I've been avoiding, I start crying.
Again, counter thought says, see, if you stop avoiding you start crying! So stop avoiding!
But it doesn't work that way. Even my dear, sweet husband said that. You can't keep avoiding it. You have to get in there and deal with it.
Okay. That's my assignment.