Saturday, September 17, 2016

Heroes Can Be Human

I hate that moms are considered superheroes in our society.
That shit needs to stop.
I very much understand that parenting is undervalued in our society, but the idea that mothers are superheroes is not doing anyone any favors.
Have you seen the viral news story about the mom pumping while running a marathon?  She posted the photo with #normalizebreastfeeding.

Uhh...No. No. Please don't.

A photo of Hein Koh working while breastfeeding her twins went viral not very long ago. The internet blew up with articles praising Koh for proving children "don't hold women back". Hooray for moms! We are so strong and powerful! Look at how well we make it work!
Yeah..y'all need to stop.

These women are kicking ass and taking all kinds of names, but can we all agree that they are (hopefully) not normalizing anything? Can we all take a step back and see that a woman nursing twins while working is no more "Making It Work" than Angela Cavallo was when she lifted the car off her kid?
I'm sorry, they are unbelievable women, but Koh, marathon-mom, and the like cannot be celebrated as symbols of motherhood. They don't represent mothers; they hardly represent humans. (Are we sure that they ARE in fact humans, because I have my doubts.) Or maybe they do represent motherhood, but that's not a good thing.
     To me, these photos only illustrate that pressure on mothers to has really come to a fever pitch. Women are led to believe that if they are not simultaneaously June Cleaver and Beyonce, they have not lived up to what motherhood is supposed to be. Across the internet, women bemoan their own inadequacy with the hashtag #mommyfail.  "I bought a cupcake without sprinkles", "I forgot her swim lesson", "I missed the first day of school pic".
Don't get me wrong, I'm obviously not blaming the hashtag. I am well aware that people love to poke fun at themselves for silly misadventures in parenting. As a matter of fact, poking fun at myself for misadventures in parenting happens to be my forte. However, it's important to realize that by only joking about "failures", and holding demigods up as the only examples of #momsuccess, we begin to create an unachievable standard, and trivialize the difficulty of being a parent.
     When I was in the center of my depression, I remember wondering to myself why everyone else seemed to be handling parenting so well. It seemed like everyone thought it was hard, but also cute, and silly and fun. Everything I read, from ecards, to newspapers, to parenting literature diminished the difficulty of just being a mom.  During our birth class, the doctor warned that women are particularly sensitive during this time because of adjusting hormones. They warned against "Mommy Burnout"?
Are you fuckin' kidding me?
We Can Do It!!
     "Oh those silly mommies and their horomones. If they weren't so emotional and weak, maybe they would deal better with being able to sleep five hours a night in 45 minute chunks and then working full time. Dads, try to be sensitive to her moodiness."
     When I called in hysterics literally begging the doctor to help me with Amani's eating and sleeping schedule, the nurse told me to have someone watch he baby and go get a manicure.  A MANICURE? I am alone, recovering from an infection, nursing my child every 45 minutes round the clock, while she holds daily four-hour-long crying fits everyday, and you think a MANICURE is the solution?
     The way I saw it, the onus was on me. I would say to myself,  "This is parenting. It's hard. Everybody knows that. Yet people succeed at it everyday. Suck it up, just like all the other parents do."   I would not ask for help; not when I was becoming septic; not when Amani had GERD; not when I was in the deepest darkest of despair. I wouldn't ask for help, because I didn't think there was anything anyone could do to help me, and I was weak for even complaining about it.
     I say this as one of the most priviledged in our society. I am white, educated, and upper middle class with a healthy and supportive family. I can only imagine how difficult parenting must be and how lonely other women must feel. Imagine if Koh's photo had not been a woman at her laptop in bed, but of a women wearing double baby carriers while she worked the register at McDonalds.
Or handed out fliers on the street.
Or cleaned a hotel room.
Somehow #Makingitwork doesn't seem appropriate. If we posted accurate reflections of "superhero" moms, the hastag would read  #maternityleavenow

To her credit, Koh noted that she holds a position of priveledge.
"I couldn't [be a working mom] without the support system that I have and I'm very fortunate in that regard. However, many moms don't have enough support and it's pathetic that out of all of the industrialized nations, the U.S. offers the least amount of support for working moms... I'm self-employed and I choose to work, having a flexible schedule and a support system in place, but so many moms don't have choices and are forced to go back to work way too soon after giving birth."
     It used to be that science thought women had a higher pain tolerance than men because, well, how else could they possibly endure labor? Turns out, that no, women aren't able to give birth because they have superpowers. Women are able to endure labor because they have to.
We need a similiar paradigm shift with regards to "superhero moms". Mothers should not have to be super human to maintain a job or a hobby. Our society needs to shift our perspective of parenting to give families the support they need.

Friday, September 9, 2016

I'm Just Scared: Dealing With Generalized Anxiety in Children

     Amani has been suffering from a lot of anxiety lately.  When we first moved into the house it was mostly nightmares and fears about being in a strange place. That has subsided some, but she still tells me she is scared a lot.  I've looked into ways to help her but it's a little tricky. Most books and websites I have looked at are for kids who are very shy, or are overly fearful. Amani is not shy in the least, and she is not really fearful. She is not anxious about anything. We could be driving in the car and she will suddenly say she is scared. She could be sitting on the couch playing pleasantly while I fold laundry, and all of sudden she is saying she's scared.
     Part of it is probably boredome and attention seeking, but I think at least part of it is anxiety. I have had little "anxiety storms" since I was about her age. They would come on the same way that hers seem to- unprompted, especially when I'm sitting quietly- and I said the same thing when I was little; "I'm scared".  Now I call them anxiety storms because they are not anxiety attacks, but I think they are still a manifestation of anxiety.  Anxiety attacks feel like a heart attack and last for around 30 minutes- I guess. I don't think I've ever actually had one. What I call anxiety storms are these little shudders of panic that are very intense for a few seconds, and fade after a minute or so.  I've always had them, but they are way worse now that I am an adult.  I think Amani is getting those, and she will sometimes have them all day, just like I do.
    So I have been looking for ways to help her. Whenever she tells me she is scared, I try to assure her that she is safe and that I sometimes get scared too. Sometimes I suggest taking slow deep breaths, or we turn on some music. At night we play the Indigo Dreams guided meditation from Lori Lite. Personally I like the Indigo Ocean Dreams stories the best, in case you are looking. They have been really helpful, not only to help her get to sleep, but also to have familiar terminology to talk about her feelings: "Remember how the octopus felt when he got mad?": that kind of stuff. 
     Today I saw this list in my Facebook feed. At first, I didn't have much hope for it, because, you know, Facebook forwards are usually pretty obnoxios. I'm glad I looked at this one though. The author suggests a lot of things I am already doing with Amani, but there a few new approaches to try. I think I will ask her to draw what she is upset about (#1). Although I think she just has generalized anxiety, it's possible she is fearful about something and can't explain it.  I also really like the idea of the Widdle Worrier (#35). Amani loves imaginary creatures and I could really see her get into calming a little imaginary creature. Outside of the new techniques, it is nice to see that someone out there can appreciates where I am coming from, and that I am generally on the right track.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

If it's not too much trouble

Excuse me, Mom? I couldn't helped that you seem to be looking in another direction for nearly 45 seconds. Is everything okay? You weren't looking at my sibling were you? Because I really need you to help me with this problem I'm pretending to have. I'm hungry and thirsty and I need you to build me a fort. Also, my imaginary machine isn't quite making the right noise. Okay, well, I know those things can wait, but also, I need to go potty, but I seem to have forgotten where it is... 
Wait, where are you taking me?  Play with my toys? Is that a joke? Could there possibly anything more excruciatingly banal that the hundreds of dollars worth of toys and books strewn around this room?  What I really need is whatever it is you just picked up off the floor. 'Carpet lint' you say? Fascinating...
Wait, are you trying to get work done, or are you trying to be a motorcycle? Let me help you by climbing on to your back. Ahh, your right, Yelling is an effective way to relay a message. I'll be right back; I'm going to get my sibling to scream at me. 
So, hey, I was wondering, do you need to me to inexplicably scream "No" at you until I start crying, because that just happens to be my forte. Also, there's something sticky all over the carpet. I've no idea how that happened, but I thought you should know.

Okay, okay...fine. I need to think about my life choices. I'll just climb somewhere high from which I can't get down.....
Mom. For real. I'm going to need your eyes trained on me with laser like precision for a minute/hour/forever... while I...move around the house randomly... Let's make that happen.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

I will shrink my own head, thank you very much.

     So I recently decided to try therapy.  Actually, I recently decided to try therapy, and then even more recently than that decided to quit therapy.  I am sure the therapist think I have commitment issues, but the truth is I just generally do not trust therapists.
     There was a combination of two things that were really the impetus for giving therapy a go.  The first was that my anxiety levels have been increasing gradually since baby number two, and have been reaching something of a fever pitch. My doctor insists that I go off my Cymbalta, and, as we all know, that is not my favorite thing for her to say. Changing medication is like playing reverse Russian roulette: all the chambers are filled with hormonal rage monsters except for one, and that one contains just a normal monster that causes some weight gain.
     Yeah, my doctor is going to need to pull my Cymbalta from my cold dead fingers.
     Anywhoo...I decided to try and manage the anxiety through therapy.
     The other reason I tried therapy is because of the little girl.  She has been having a lot of nightmares, and sometimes gets scared in the middle of the day for no reason.  We'll be in the car, and all of a sudden she'll tell me she's really scared.  I remember feeling like that when I was little, and it was terrible.  I actually still feel like that, only now, only I realize it's anxiety. So, I thought that if I learned some techniques to deal with my anxiety, I could help the little one when she is feeling scared.
     The problem is that I get really annoyed at when a therapist asks me questions, which, I realize kinda limits how much a therapist can help me.  It's not that I don't like being reflective.  I am Dr. Reflective Ph.D., but it has been my experience that most therapists ask presumptive and/or leading questions in hopes of discovering my "real" problems. When I was a kid I felt like my therapists were looking for a history of sexual abuse, or a fear of abandonment, as if I had experienced it, but didn't know about it; so annoying.  Often when I explain to therapists that my father is schizophrenic, their eyes light up and they practically start salivating.  I told my latest therapist that I had always been independent and she responded, "Is that because you schizophrenic father couldn't provide for you?" C'mon, for real?
     I am not saying that people should not try therapy, and I have had a good therapist at one point, but generally, I don't think its for me.
     One positive thing that did come out of my latest endeavor with therapy was that I began reading Mind Over Mood, a workbook that trains the reader to use cognitive behavioral therapy to cope with anxiety, guilt, phobias and so on.  Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a really focused therapy technique that uses concrete steps that help the patient deal with with distinct thought and behavior problems as articulated by the patient; articulate the problem, devise a plan, establish a goal. Follow through. Boom. Sounds good, right?  I had originally hoped the latest therapist could walk me through the process, but then she started trying to "uncover" the damage my parents had caused, and I couldn't handle it.  The book I ultimately feel is helping though.
     The problem I wanted help with was the endless stream of embarrassing memories that my brain perpetually harasses me with.  You know how sometimes you'll be lying in bed ready to drift off to sleep and all of a sudden you'll remember the time in elementary school when you laughed and shot snot all over the lunch table?  Or the time you were on a bowling field trip and partnered with a boy you had a crush on, and you were so distracted that you rolled the ball without any pins set up?  Or the time you were belting it out in the back of the band room and everyone heard you in the practice rooms?  Or how you're so stupid and incompetent and everyone thinks you're weird...gah!!!!
     This happens to other people, right?  Well, it happens to me endlessly.  Since I started reading the book, I've been timing how often this happens to me.  If I'm not actively engaged in something, my brain will torment me about every six minutes.  Usually I get so embarrassed and anxious about it, I have to say something out loud to relieve the tension, which makes me look like a crazy person.  The whole thing is very exhausting.
     So, the book is helping me with that.  I have this little chart that I feel out whenever I have an "anxiety storm" that has me describe where I was when I had the memory, what exactly I remembered and how it made me feel.  The I am supposed to find evidence that supports my interpretation of the memory, as well as evidence that might support a more balanced interpretation of the memory. I think it's kind of working.  I think I've been having fewer attacks, and when I do have them, my brain kind of automatically begins to analyze the memory, so I don't start to catastrophize what happened.  So it's good; it's a start anyway, and there is something refreshing about making progress.