Bigger and Better Confidence

The teens play this game called “bigger and better”. The teams are each given a a small object.  They begin going door to door, calling on the poor neighbors to exchange the team’s object for something bigger and better. Each neighbor searches through their rummage pile or garage for a contribution.  At the end of the allotted time the teams reconvene and judges decide the winner, based on their final items.  Years ago when the teens were playing this game one group came home dragging a treadmill! Tonight it was a 10×10 carpet, a barbecuer, giant teddy bear and two extra kids!

Sometimes western culture is just a giant game of bigger and better. From the start of our “i want” stage in life we keep trading up; better toys, smaller electronics, better relationships, bigger careers, better houses, bigger toys etc. No matter how much we get or how perfect it is that satisfaction is temporary, so we trade up.

When we trade our vehicles for something bigger and better we try to hide the scratches, the dents, the paint chips. We want to camouflage the high gas mileage and the electrical malfunctions because in the material world this translates to less value. I bought into it, into the  lore, the lie that my won value is related to my perfection, as if I should be judged, assessed and monetized  like an object.

I am not as confident as I used to be.  Something about being mentally ill and needing to be taken care of by so many professsionals, not being able to care for my children, of living in solitude, losing career, relationships and independence has dampened my confidence.

I can feel the stilling of the jello that has been my confidence. I can feel it quickening like slow cure cement into something strong, like a bone graft that becomes stronger than the original bone. To succumb to the weight of a tragic childhood, diseases that have affected friends and family, the loss of loved ones, the suicides and unexpected tragedies I have witnessed, would be a tragedy. To deny their impact on my life would be an even larger one because that would be to refuse the grace that has been gifted to me to survive.

Much is put on being a “survivor”. We like the idea of the warrior who fights against the odds to conquer the foe. However,  it isn’t being a survivor that makes me strong or confident. It is the ability to point to the wounds that stand witness to my pain and say “it still hurts” or “I need help” that takes me from the game of “bigger and better” and puts me square in the lap of love and grace.

I’m Not That Mom

I’m not that mom. I wish I were. If I were that mom I would make my children breakfast, lunch AND dinner. I would do their laundry and be gracious about taking things to the school when they forget things at home. If I were that mom I would stay up late with them while they finished homework and maybe even help them with it. That mom would attend and enjoy all of their activities, sitting in the front row with a camera at every one of them.  But I’m not.

I’m the other kind of mom. I’m the mom who numbered the children because it seemed easier than trying to remember their names. I’m the mom who hardly ever remember their friends names. And Lord help me if I ever need their serial (social security) number.  I’m the mom who told my children the ice cream truck was a music truck so they wouldn’t ask for ice cream every time it came around. I’m the mom who taught my children to do laundry and gave them assigned days to do it, so I wouldn’t have to.  I’m the mom eats their treats out of their stockings and easter baskets. I’m the mom who says good night to them, leaving them to figure out their homework on their own.

I’m the mom who loves to let the kids bring as many people home as possible to eat all my food. I’m the mom who likes to build fires for them so they can sit around and talk and listen to music. I’m a mom who loves to work and sometimes forgets to take care of pesky things like food and cleaning because I’m engrossed in my work. I’m the mom who let’s the children all pile on top of me which they see as an act of love and not aggression, just so they know I enjoy them. I’m the mom who says I need to run errands and hides at Target for an hour. I’m the mom who was good at providing activities for the kids to do but wasn’t so good at playing with them.

No matter what kind of mom we are there is always somebody to compare with who seems to do the job better than you do. But no matter what I’m the mom God gave to these children and they love me. And I love them, even though I forget their names.

Public Space

I sit in corners or on the edges of the crowd.  Often I take medication, which  makes me tired, to calm me if I anticipate the gathering to  be stressful. If I am shopping or running errands I wear earplugs to cut out the people noise and screaming children, opting instead to listen to my favorite music or podcasts.

I didn’t know I had social anxiety until, ironically, the symptoms of my Complex PTSD began to be treated. As some of the more affective symptoms, such as depression and dissociation, began to come under control, other symptoms became clearer.  One of those is people anxiety.

I began to notice a pattern of symptoms. When I am in stores my stomach churns and becomes so upset that I seldom make it through one visit without visiting a restroom. When I am in a group setting the same thing happens, and often I become so exhausted from dealing with managing my emotions and symptoms that I am worn out for the rest of day and sometimes affected for days to follow.  This includes social gatherings, church, and concerts or events for my children.

Traveling can become especially problematic as airports, trains and buses are filled with noise and unanticipated interaction and restrooms can be hard to find and far between. I take medication to pre-treat my stomach and nerves before I travel, causing the aforementioned tiredness.

I am often frustrated  by all these accommodations and long to be like ‘normal people’ while in public.  However, as I have become aware of my adaptations I have become aware that many people have these same symptoms. There is a reason there are public restrooms everywhere and its not just for potty training children! I see many people wearing ear plugs and earphones, which discourages unwanted interactions and diffuses unexpected noises.

By being open about my life I have discovered how many people make adjustments to their daily lives to function well. Being open has given me new perspective on how to live well within my capabilities. I now know that I’m not alone and maybe not even as weird as I think I am. Sharing my life with others has given me freedom to be myself, even in a public space.

Succulents and Children

In the absence of having as many children growing in my house I have returned to my roots and begun growing plants again. I used to have a house full of plants but as the babies arrived the plants became more and more neglected until they became like an Agatha Christie novel, “and then there were none”.  It seems I can’t grow plants and children at the same time.  Which is worrisome given my renewed green thumb and the fact I have one child still at home.  It stands to reason she may be in jeopardy at this point.

I have been devoting my efforts at growing succulents, the en vogue thick leafy colorful small plant variety that store their water in their leaves. Succulents are fussy little devils if you don’t live in an arid climate or if you are trying to grow them indoors.  Too much water and they die. Not enough water and their water bearing leaves shrivel and die, leaving you with a leafless stump which mocks you until you pluck it out of the dirt in anger only to discover the roots are strong and viable.

Unlike my parenting it has take several failed attempts to arrive at a basic understanding of what these plants need to survive.  Not that my parenting was stellar but I did manage to keep the humans alive.  Botany, agriculture, horticulture, sciences on the art of growing stuff, would be good education for me, I just prefer the trial and error method. Either way, there is deep satisfaction to knowing that you were able to keep something alive and sustainable by your efforts and wisdom.

However, the difference between raising children and plants is marked.  I can control the environment of my plants. I control the temperature, the light the water, the quality of the soil and even select the quality of the seeds or plants that I choose to grow.  I even get the PICK the plants I want to grow.

Children, however, are given to us as a mysterious blessing. We don’t get to pick the personality, nature, emotions or makeup of the children we are blessed with, even if they are adopted.  God gives them what they need and endows them with their personalities and characteristics that make the unique to all other humans on the planet.  We don’t get to fully control the affairs of the world, the environment, the social toxins and changing landscape of morality and politics in the world.  We are stewards of our children to help them navigate these complexities but we are not in control of them. And should they go “astray” we aren’t allowed to pluck them out of the dirt and repot them into new material, just because we don’t like the way they are growing.

However, the blessing of being a parent and watch children grow, mature, live into the fullness of who they  has no competition in the growing of plants.  The work is great but the personal reward for a job well done is greater.

I love my plants and am enjoying rediscovering the beauty of careful, patient applied science to watch them thrive. But I love being a mom. Thanks Emily, Alex, Brittany and Taryn for being way more fun than houseplants and for giving my heart joy.  You are an every day blessing from God to me and give me hope for a bright future.

Dissociative Identity Disorder

I have dissociative identity disorder (DID) without multiple personalities.  DID used to be synonymous with multiple personalities but it is now accepted that it can be a distinct disease even in the absence of multiple personalities. When people ask ‘how many of you are there?” The answer is “one”. There is only one personality, one person, on being inside my brain but it is fragmented. Movies and books have sensationalized DID but those of us who live with it know it is a day to day struggle to keep your life and memory together and on track.

Dissociation happens, in its most benign sense, when the mind wanders and you find find yourself three chapters past where you remember reading, two exits past your exit on the freeway, or your mind wanders in the middle of a conversation and you realize you have no idea what is being talked about. Dissociation is also a very useful psychological tool that helps victims of trauma separate their brain from whatever trauma or pain of their body is experiencing.  Children are especially adept at using this tool, largely because they have no way of escaping tragedy on their own so they disappear in their own mind, relying on it to relieve them of the stress. It is a gracious gift from God to protect the minds and hearts of victims.

However, dissociation becomes maladaptive when the person is no longer under duress and yet the brain still wants to dissociate, fold in on itself.  Such is the case with me.  I joke a lot about having a terrible memory, which I do but it’s more complicated than just not being able to remember things.  8 months ago I enjoyed dinner out with my family and friends to celebrate my birthday. The other day I mentioned to my youngest that we really need to take her to this restaurant someday, when she reminded me we had gone for my birthday.  I have no recollection, zero memory, of having done this,

I look at pictures of my children when they were little and wish I could remember what it felt like to be there with them but it is as if I am looking at a scene where I wasn’t present. This last weekend we were going to take an adventure in Seattle and I mentioned a place I wanted to go because I never have been there. My husband reminded me we had been there with good friends some years back.  Blank. I would swear on the Bible that I had not been there.

My brain checks in and out with less predictability and dependability of a shift worker punching a time card.  But, it cannot be assumed that I don’t remember everything – I do remember a lot and hate to be challenged as to what I remember.  I know when I know something – and it makes me hostile when people assume my illness has warped a memory I have.  I have a memory that works. It just doesn’t work all the time.

Its a challenging way to live. DID makes reading books difficult because I can’t remember characters from one chapter to the next. My husband says every movie is new to me because I don’t remember how they end, which is true sometimes.

Living with DID is a challenge because my brain is constantly battling a non-existent enemy and escaping to higher ground, leaving me in the darkness. You would never know my brain is checking in and out. I cannot predict when it will happen and often don’t even know when it has, until I cannot remember something I did this week, this day or last month.

This is living with a DID brain; a lot of blank space with fragments of memory floating around like puzzle pieces anxiously looking for a match to make a more complete picture.