Monday, September 2, 2013

Oh My Heart

It's one of those periods when everything is swimming around in my brain, trying to get out, but there is no way out for those little fish other than through my writing a door for them to swim through. I'll try, even though work awaits me this morning, a story to cut by more than half so it will fit its layout (always a painful task when the writer brilliantly delivered) and another one to edit from scratch. I thought I'd stop by here first, and see if I could summon the words to open that watery door.

So the kids are gone again, though our son comes home later tonight, driving back from track alumni weekend, and then he will be home with us for the meanwhile. Life changes again. It's been just my husband and me for the last week, and it has been a sweet time, easygoing, gentle, full of humor, the light dancing in his eyes the way it can. I think when he was in the cave the week before, when I felt so abandoned, as I do when he disappears, he was working through some thorny family stuff, and he was also preparing himself, maybe not consciously, for his adored daughter leaving yet again. When finally he emerged on the five-hour drive to take our daughter back to school, I had my love back, and I wondered at the duality of marriage, the times when it feels so loving and sure and the times when you think the loneliness of the moment just might crush you. But it never does. 

I think my emotional membranes are too fluid, gossamer thin. I can't keep the moods of those in close proximity outside myself. I absorb them fully, and then think it is my own darkness I am wrestling with, when in fact I have borrowed another's ache, and without true comprehension of its source, and so it feels formless and dangerous, as if I won't survive because I can't identify the threat, which means it might slay me when I'm not paying attention, but I don't know what to pay attention to. I don't think I've explained it very well, but I hope I remember this the next time I am reeling and can find no reason for the sensation of sucking on no air. 

My darling girl called me yesterday. She says she is doing okay, that she finds her room cosy, and classes are going fine so far. And then she asked me, "Have you ever heard of generalized anxiety disorder?" Yes, I said. I have it. "Oh," she breathed. "I read it can run in families." I realized she had been googling her feelings and trying to self-diagnose. I told her my father, the esteemed judge, had also suffered from it, and asked her if she was feeling anxious. "Sometimes when I just wake up," she said. "And I don't really know why I'm anxious."  

She explained that the anxiety wasn't related to tests or schoolwork, it was more a social anxiety. I suddenly remembered feeling this way myself when I was in college. I wished with all my heart I could spare my children ever feeling anything uncomfortable or hard, but of course, we can't do that. We just need to help them understand they are not alone, and they will survive it, and many others are made the same way, and they do wonderful things in the world in spite of it and sometimes because of it. I urged her to get a regular exercise program going for the endorphins, and to find a therapist on campus she could talk to regularly to help process what she is feeling. She said she would if she felt she needed to, but she was okay right now. So I encouraged her to process her thoughts and feelings with trusted friends, she has a few really good ones, and of course I am always here if she ever wants to talk something through. 

I'm a big believer in therapy. I was lucky in that the therapist I saw in my twenties and thirties was one of the best. The cognitive behavioral therapist I went to more recently helped a lot, too. It's healing to have a place where one can comb through the detritus of one's conscious and unconscious life, shine a light on what is most frightening, and realize that illuminated like that, the shadows disappear, terror dissipates. I spoke to my friend who is a therapist and who knows and loves my girl. She suggested that what she is feeling is in part developmental, related to recent changes in her life. She agreed that my girl would find comfort in talking things through with a therapist, but that this would be most helpful if she was ready to seek this out herself. She offered me a couple of names should my girl want to speak to one. I'm keeping those names in my pocket, at the ready. A good therapist can be a powerful adjunct to living. 

Back when I first became a mother, someone told me that having children is like giving your heart permission to walk around outside your body. As the years pass, I understand more deeply what she meant. 

He starts his EMT/ paramedic training on Sept. 11.
If you know him, you'll appreciate the symbolism. 


  1. I love this statement, " I wondered at the duality of marriage, the times when it feels so loving and sure and the times when you think the loneliness of the moment just might crush you. But it never does." You stated that so perfectly and beautifully. I also struggle with absorbing other people's moods. Once in my system I fight to separate them out so I can get back to center. Thank you for posting this. It is good to talk with others. Just another reminder that we are not alone.

  2. Such a beautiful, heart-giving post. I get it all.
    Here's a funny little story- last week my husband came home and he was SO bummed. I could tell something was going on and I'm wondering if we've lost all of our money or if he's decided he doesn't love me and doesn't know how to tell me and so I asked him- what's wrong?
    His bow kit (don't ask me) had not arrived and he was afraid it would not get to him before gator hunting started.
    "Pshaw," I thought. But I did not say that to him.

  3. Dear Angella, I get it. I get all of this. Those thin emotional membranes! Yes. How helpless a feeling it is, almost like an attack. I've often wondered at the anxiety issue it also a form of absorption of energy that is not ones own? and I marvel at those who are not the least bit affected, cocooned in a way from the detritus of life that swirls around us.
    All this pondering on a Monday afternoon.
    ps time for a cooking show.

  4. When my kids were born I kind of knew that they would have to struggle with mental illness. I figured my son would have more struggles than my daughter and this is proving to be true. And god, it hurts. We always want our children to be strong and free. I am starting to see that more people struggle with mental illness than not but there is still a stigma and nobody wants to admit it. That is the worst part of all. The hiding.

    Your daughter has strength, I can see it in her eyes. She has the most lovely mother and I am so glad for that.

  5. Sigh. I have missed you. My plans were to get to writing again and then I stopped by here. God, I've missed you....

  6. I relate to all of this so very much. I was even going to suggest something might be in the air, as you and Ms. Moon and I all seem to be suffering from too many things banging around in our heads. Your words are so wise and help me remember not to blame myself, and to process as much as I can. Thank you and much love to you, Angella.

  7. "Too many things banging around" as Vesuvius said. And I understood you - I believe - perfectly, something like being a magnet for what is untethered or unresolved in the universe. I'm working on a post for an on-line workshop called "Invisible Illness" speaking of the things I'd prefer to leave unspoken. Yet if we don't speak, how do others know they're not alone? Your children are fortunate to be so loved, so known. Sorry to have been absent such a long time. It doesn't mean I haven't thought of you. xo


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