Twin Kindergarten Panic: I Feel Everything and Nothing

IMG_20180828_203653.jpgEveryone keeps asking me how I’m doing after sending the twins to kindergarten. The truth is that I don’t know. I’m in shock. As I am obviously a very wordy person, it shocks me that I’m in shock but can’t explain it. How do you feel, everyone wants to know. How do I FEEL? I feel everything and I feel nothing. I can’t explain it and I know I just need time to process. My husband tells me to write it out. As always, he is right. My brain usually feels clean and neat after I write.

I FEEL OVERJOYED TERRIFIED EXCITED GRIEVING CELEBRATORY MAUDLIN FROZEN CONFUSED RELIEVED GUILTY NERVOUS LIKE A BALLOON THAT MIGHT FLOAT AWAY BY ACCIDENT.

Oh, and did I mention terrified and nervous?

And thank you for asking.

I know I’m not reinventing the emotions wheel here, folks. But you have to admit that sending two children away at the same time doubles the feelings that other mothers have. Then we add in the worry about an older child who is switching schools but doesn’t adjust well to change. And don’t forget special needs and mental health stuff stirred into that pot of worry. Three children in a new strange place. It’s a lot. IT’S JUST A LOT OKAY?

When I taught kindergarten, there was one mother who needed an ambulance on the first day of school. She had so much trouble separating from her child that we had to call 911. I guess she thought she was having a heart attack. Was her heart panicking or was it breaking?

At the time, I was not yet a mother. I’ll be honest – I thought she was being ridiculous. I had no patience for crying parents whose tears were contagious to their children. In retrospect, however, I see things through a different lens.* Like my current self, she was an older mother, who had probably struggled to conceive this only child for many years. He was probably a miracle baby. Maybe even a “rainbow baby” born after the storms of miscarriage and loss. Like my current self, she probably had an anxiety disorder that crippled her. She was probably ashamed that she couldn’t control her feelings that day. Like my current self, her son had some special needs. Special needs that probably terrified her when they were in the hands of a stranger. And unlike my current self, she had the additional burden of being a single mother, whose husband had either died or left. I don’t remember, but I do remember that her son was all she had.

I want to deeply, sincerely, profoundly apologize to that mom. And to all the other parents that I didn’t understand. Yes, I was a professional that day. I technically didn’t say or do anything wrong that day we called the ambulance, but I want to apologize for my silent judgement. I know now that she wasn’t being dramatic and she didn’t want pity. She genuinely could not control her pain and worry. Her son has probably graduated college by now. I don’t even remember his name. I actually don’t even remember if he was my student, or belonged in the kindergarten class next door. It doesn’t matter. I was wrong to judge.

Last week, I had a panic attack at my children’s open house at their school.

And, yesterday, on the first day of school, I lingered thirty seconds too long and made Twin B start to cry.

I did both those things. Yes I did.

The first thing, the panic attack, was not under my control – or at least I’m trying to convince myself of that fact. The latter thing, staying too long, was an error and I should have known better. I have no patience for my mistakes here.

That panic attack at open house really hit me like a truck. It blindsided me. My anxiety has been semi-well-controlled lately, but I expected the first day of school would be hard for me. Harder for me than for the kids, anyway. But open house, the week before school starts? Why would I expect that to mess with my mental health? We were just there to hear a speech about school rules, meet their teacher, see their classroom and whatnot. Standard procedure, right? My subconscious didn’t think so.

The principal was speaking, and I had two children to the left of me, one child to the right, a mound of paperwork on my lap, and about two hundred dollars’ worth of school supplies under my feet. Suddenly I felt that familiar cold claw start to clamp down on my heart. My heart felt frozen and squeezed to the point that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My heart was working too hard and my lungs weren’t working enough. My children were nervous enough, and I desperately didn’t want them to notice my unwarranted panic. I want to protect them from the world – but sometimes I just have to protect them from my own brain. I dug my nails into my sweaty palms until the skin started to tear. I bit the insides of my cheeks until I tasted blood, to distract my eyes from the tears they were trying to spill. I tried to breathe slower and tried to remember all those things you’re supposed to remember but can’t. I couldn’t hear the principal. I could only hear my own blood and adrenaline pumping.

Then I jerked to attention, as the teachers lined up the students to take them to see their classrooms. The parents were to remain seated and continue listening to the principal. Twin sets of bright eyes, so different from each other, looked at me. “Momma, do we go now?” one of them said. Moms are the best actresses in the world. Yes, I said with a normal voice. “Will you still be here?” the other one said. Yes, I promise, I said with a calm voice that sounded alien to me because it didn’t match my brain, which was screaming. Their four eyes were nervous, but they turned and obediently but very slowly walked toward their new teacher and out the door, into their new world without me.

Instantly I was on the operating table, fading in and out of consciousness. One twin was already out of my womb, and I was experiencing being separated from that child for the first time, ever. The second twin was being pulled out and was not breathing. I was experiencing a panic for that child, like I had never felt before. A mother’s fear. A primal thing. I wasn’t in the school gym. I was in a cold operating room and my arms were tied down and I was more helpless than I’d ever been in my life.

I tried to remember what my therapist always said, “If you’re replaying your trauma like a movie in your head, just try to move ten rows back.” She wisely knows that you can’t stop it. You can only try to wait it out – but maybe with a little more space.

My oldest child was still sitting beside me. He would start third grade at this school next week. I had to stay here, stay present, stay quiet, for this sensitive and precious boy. He didn’t ask for this. He doesn’t deserve a mother like this. But guilt won’t help stop panic. I feel like my conscious brain was slapping the face of my subconscious brain. STOP IT. GET IT TOGETHER. THIS CHILD NEEDS YOU NOW. ALL YOUR CHILDREN ARE HEALTHY. YOU DON’T DESERVE TO GRIEVE SOMETHING THAT HAS A HAPPY ENDING. (I didn’t say my conscious brain is always right.)

I never did feel all the way better that day. The anxiety lessened but it didn’t leave. I faked my way through the rest of the open house and the rest of my day. I sobbed at night. I told myself that I would try again tomorrow.

Four days later, I am dropping my twins into their kindergarten classroom for their first day of school. This time, my husband is with me. My third-grader has already insisted on walking to his classroom alone. My husband is a deep well of calmness. He is contentment, not excitement. He is logic, not panic. Despite all that reasonableness, he is also the only person on earth who is feeling what I’m feeling right now. These are our babies. Babies that are a miracle of modern science. Babies that almost didn’t survive.

My husband is my rock. He is my bravery.

We watch the natural chaos in the classroom. There is one boy standing in the middle of the rug alone, sobbing, like a lost kid in a movie. The teachers bustle about, kind and sensitive, but also trying to get business done. We watch Twin A calmly walk to his cubby, hang his backpack up in an orderly fashion, put his nametag around his neck, walk evenly to his assigned desk. He never looks at us. We watch Twin B wander in circles around the room, eyes getting wet, looking lost, pleading with us telepathically. His wandering becomes faster and more ….lost. He has forgotten everything the teacher told him during open house. I already know we have overstayed. He stumbles over to me and actually asks me for a kiss. I kiss his soft cheek and breathe his baby smell that somehow never left and I want to scoop him up in my arms and run away. His teacher tries to pull him off me and says, “We’re fine” as he starts to cry. My conscious brain knows she is right.

I am in the operating room. He is my baby. He isn’t breathing. His tiny body responds when his father whispers in his ear. They intubate him and whisk him off to the NICU. I wake up a couple of days later, in the dark, arms tied down, intubated myself, unable to speak, and I don’t know if he is alive or not. Eventually I will meet him, but it will be three weeks before I can even change his diaper.

My husband gently pulls my hand. I try to snap back into this classroom, into this moment. I try to “move ten rows back”. I try to remind myself that my baby survived. He is strong and healthy! Look at him! I let go of my crying baby. I don’t cry this time. I realize that I’m glad I’m not the teacher. I remember that I’m alive. These feelings, whether good or bad, mean that I’m alive. I intertwine my clammy fingers with my husband’s warm fingers and we walk down the hall and out of the school.

No one calls an ambulance.

How do I feel? I really don’t know.

But thanks for asking.
******

 

*Please forgive any errors in my memory.

Where Have You Been? /My Anxiety Coming-Out Party

Readers, you might not care where I’ve been, but I do. This post is my coming-back-to-life party. Let me take a deep breath.

I used to post at least weekly, and it wasn’t for you. It was for my mental health. (Oh, and some future version of my kids.) I don’t think straight unless I write. And you poor souls have been the recipients. I haven’t posted much lately, and for the first time in years, I didn’t post anything at all for six months. That probably means I didn’t have a complete thought during that time, either.

So, where have I been? Let’s see. I had a triumvirate* of reasons that led to my writing/thinking demise:

  • My oldest son started school. For reasons I can’t explain publicly (see Sharing vs. Oversharing), this milestone rocked our world for quite a long time. It’s been a difficult time, but I’m proud of my kid, and, yeah, proud of myself for not giving up.
  • Twin Non-Napping Disorder. For real this time. Unlike last time I wrote about my twins’ napping strike (see Fireball of Change: Twins Breach Cribs), this time there was no going back. They were done. As soon as my oldest began school, no amount of mothering finesse, bribes, threats, tricks, separations, or whiskey (just kidding, duh) could put these toddlers to sleep during the day. Nap time was one of my only blogging times. I have always said that their nap was the only thing keeping me sane. Now I have proof. Wow, it feels so sucky to be right.
  • Twin Potty Training Disorder. I haven’t really “unpacked” this one yet. I’m still too close to this train wreck to be able to write about it. You’re welcome.
  • <deep breath> I have an anxiety disorder. There. I said it. I am completely open about my struggles with infertility, IVF, adoption, miscarriage, a transracial family, and multiples. I have years of practice with all those things. I have found that being open about my struggles has brought me peace (through writing therapy) and solace (through sharing with others and opening up communication). I am good at advocating for children who have been adopted and for women who are infertile. I will fight for them. But a mental health problem? That’s new to me. I had to sit on that a while. (Although my most dedicated readers probably read between the lines  – or just read the actual lines – and figured it out a while back. Also, sometimes I write drafts and forget to publish them and then my blog or my life is out of order.)

The kicker is that the very thing that helps me muddle through these three stressors IS writing. And yet the stressors have prevented me from writing. Ugh. What a vicious self-defeating circle. Enough is enough! I have to get back on the writing wagon. (What would a “writing wagon” look like? Maybe some alphabet stickers on a Radio Flyer? A horse-drawn cart carrying authors to a writing convention?)

What are the repercussions of “coming out” as an anxiety sufferer on a public and only semi-anonymous blog? For my future? For my children? I’m not sure. (Mr. Okayest still has veto power over my posts, so he can help me there.) What I am sure of is that keeping it hidden has not worked for me. I can’t seem to work through it without writing about it. Plus, it affects my mothering life greatly (badly?), and thus, writing about being an Okayest Mom without writing about being an Anxious Okayest Mom just seems hollow.

I have learned that my anxiety, and not necessarily my children, is the source of my stress.

That was big news in my addled brain.

One of the things that gave me courage to admit that I have an anxiety disorder was a religious article published recently. It was beautifully written, and it really touched me. Hit me. Smacked me. The article is from an LDS magazine, but I believe it would benefit any religious person struggling with a mental health issue – or anyone (religious or not) who is close to that person. The author writes, “I had thought my spirit was primarily under attack, not my brain.” [You can read more about this at the end of my post if you’d like.]

Anyway, I’m glad to be back. I missed you guys. Hopefully by being more open about my anxiety, I can write more – and write better. Along the way, maybe I’ll even help some other mother who has simultaneous experience with infertility, miscarriages, adoption, IVF, multiples, a transracial family, AND anxiety.

What? Oh, that’s just me, isn’t it?

***

*I initially had three reasons, therefore I used the word “triumvirate”. Then I added a fourth thing and I couldn’t think what the word for four things would be.

***

The longer quote:

“It is essential to understand that such a spiritual crisis is not a result of spiritual weakness or lack of faith. Rather, depressive feelings and the resulting depressed view of one’s spirituality are usually caused by a chemical imbalance. Because our physical bodies and our spirits are necessarily connected (see D&C 88:15), it can be common to feel the effects of a physical disorder in a spiritual way, especially in the case of depression, which alters our very perception of ourselves. Therefore, it is important to seek out the actual source of such feelings, especially when experiencing the often-distorting effects of depression…

I soon discovered that medication and cognitive therapy were effective at bringing relief. But the one thing I didn’t find in any of my research was mention of the spiritual repercussions of mental illness. This surprised me, since so many of the symptoms I’d experienced seemed spiritual in nature. I came to realize that while the medical texts rarely acknowledged the spiritual effects of depression, I had initially gone too far the other way—I had misconstrued my depressed feelings as spiritual unworthiness. Indeed, I had been so sure my feelings were manifestations of spiritual weakness that it had never occurred to me I might have a chemical imbalance…I hadn’t seen myself as depressed because I had thought my spirit was primarily under attack, not my brain.

In the light of such challenges, the message given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the October 2013 general conference offers perspective and hope:

‘I wish to speak to those who suffer from some form of mental illness or emotional disorder, whether those afflictions be slight or severe, of brief duration or persistent over a lifetime. … These afflictions are some of the realities of mortal life, and there should be no more shame in acknowledging them than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor.'”

from https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/02/depression?lang=eng

 

 

Mothering My Child Named “Anxiety”

My anxiety is one of my children. It’s new, so it’s just a baby. Maybe a toddler. I wonder what gender it is? Let’s call it a “she”, because I don’t actually have any girls and I don’t know what they are like. She – my anxiety toddler – is demanding. Selfish. And I don’t like her.

She was dropped on my doorstep. I have no choice but to live with her. Where did she come from? No one knows. She might have been created in pregnancy hormones. she might have been birthed in the operating rooms where I almost died. She might have decided to stay when the demands of “triplets” became too much.

I am learning how to live with her. I am learning what she needs, and what makes her flip out. I am a little ashamed of her, because she is badly behaved and has a black spot on her heart.

I am ashamed that I am ashamed.

She makes me tired and scared at the same time. She confuses me. She is a paradox. She doesn’t want anyone to see her, but she begs for reprieves from others.

She is selfish. So so so very self-absorbed, as most (all) toddlers are, but she doesn’t give any of those cute wet slurpy kisses and fat arms around my neck and warm heavy snuggles into my bony chest to make the selfishness feel worth it. She just takes takes takes. And then, when other people need me, I am too stuck under her weight to physically move.

wp-1456000594353.jpgShe is the reason that just taking my children to the park makes my hands shake. She is the reason that laundry seems like an insurmountable mountain (which sometimes it literally is). She gets hold of my phone and gives it some sort of virus that prevents me from emailing people back. She, like a newborn, keeps me up at night and causes me to pace the floor to rock her back to sleep, and makes me feel exhausted upon waking.

She makes me sweaty and headachy from the adrenaline of chasing her. She overstimulates me so badly, that once the children are in bed, I collapse onto the couch and have to turn my body to face the couch. I block all else out, and just stare at the busted up leather two inches from my face until I can breathe again.

She hides in the shower curtain and jumps out when I’m least expecting to play hide and seek. Worst of all, she steals from my children. She sneaks up on them too. She steals experiences and time and games and imagination from them.

She doesn’t know it, but, as her mother, I am determined to find her best qualities, no matter how hard I have to search. Since no one else will love her, then I have to try even harder.

Against her will, she is teaching me to say “no”. It’s embarrassing at first, but a surge of relief later. I say “no” to chores during nap time. I say “no” to baby showers, even though I love my friends dearly. I say “no” to doing more than one thing in a day. To certain places, certain activities, certain people, and certain responsibilities . And this can be a positive thing. She is teaching me my own limits. She is helping me draw that line between what *I* can do and what *other moms* can do.

She is accidentally teaching me compassion toward others’ “faults”, which may just be their own evil babies dropped on their doorsteps, too. She would hate that she gives me empathy.

She is somehow reminding me how to breathe, count my blessings, pause, and contemplate. Because of her, I am learning to retrain my brain about a few things. She doesn’t like that either.

wp-1456000626204.jpgMost importantly, she has taught me that she is the source of my stress, not the children. It isn’t them who make me hide in the bathroom. It’s their evil sister! This realization is big news in my addled brain.

Anxiety, and not my children, is the source of my stress. 

How long will I have to raise her? When will she be grown enough to leave the nest?

I Have Ping Pong Balls in My Head

My heart deflates and swells a hundred times a day.

img_20151107_154642.jpgHave you ever had a moment when you felt like you were going to run out of the house screaming like your head was on fire because you couldn’t take one more second of toddlers? I have twin toddlers. They ask the same question, sequentially. Then I try to answer both of them at the same – because, after all, they just asked the same question – and it never works. Inevitably, only one of them will listen to the answer. Then the other one says, “What you say?” and I have to repeat it again.

Thus, I have the questioning of toddlers, in stereo, at all times. It makes me long for the good old days of mono. (Audiophile joke there.)

I’m tired in my bones.

They have quit napping. Did I mention that? For real this time. I have coerced and forced and reinforced naptime many times over, and I have always won every uprising and insurgence the twins have launched at me. Not this time. It’s been several weeks and all my bribes, threats, tricks, and separations have gone over like a lead zeppelin. (Audiophile joke there.)

I can’t write anymore, so my blog and my brain are suffering. And, oh, the irony: I finally get my oldest child off to kindergarten, and the twins decide that very week that they are done with naptime! There is no rest for a momma.

I have tried quiet time. It worked with my oldest child. Play with some toys and be quiet and let’s do this until kindergarten starts. But these twins turn quiet time into a WWE match. There is almost nothing in their room – no toys, nothing – and yet they manage to put holes in walls and perhaps in their heads as well. Twins always have an audience, and they love it.

I have tried separation. The Hurricane Twin gets the guest room. Then both of them cry. Forever. They don’t know how to live when they are apart.

I have tried separating the twins, but joining with one twin in the guest room. Hey, even though I won’t get my own time, at least I get some cuddle time with no questions in stereo, right? Hmmm. Not really. Heaven forbid I nod off… because I have been hit in the face with pants to wake me up. It is quite a window into the soul of whichever twin I am cuddling, but the other wails for his WWE partner/ audience in the other room.

wpid-wp-1425383125280.jpegMy soul is screaming for relief and I feel like I have ping pong balls in my head and I think I might run out of the house like my head is on fire. And then, out of nowhere, he snuggles into my armpit and says, “Don’t take my sunshine away,” and my heart swells within my chest and I feel like I might burst.

I guess my mental health will have to take a backseat to that kind of love.