Friendship Should Not Be a Chore

Someone recently told me that no healthy friendship ends dramatically.

Looking back, I can pinpoint a few of my friendships that did end dramatically, and with the clear eyes of someone removed from those situations, I can see how right she was when she said those words.

Friendships change. They fade. People change. And some of our relationships are entirely dependent on the person that we were when they took place. I had plenty of friends in high school and undergrad who are little more than Facebook friendships to me now. I think of them fondly, I am glad I knew them, but we are not truly friends anymore.

That is okay. We had our places in each other’s lives, and now, we have moved on to new things.

Have you ever thought about how much you know about people you now know nothing about? Do you think about all of the birthdays you can remember? The favorite colors? The future plans?

Sometimes, I wish I could shred some of that information. I wish I could throw it away. I wish I never thought of it. And, inevitably, those things I wish I could forget are the pieces of information that I gained from the friendships that ended dramatically.

One such friendship was the one I shared with my best friend in the world from the end of seventh through ninth grade. We were inseparable. We shared a bed during sleepovers and spent the summers together every day. One day early during sophomore year, she was mad at me and, without realizing how close I stood to her, she told someone I did not even know how horrible of a person I was turning out to be. When I called her on it, she proceeded to work on turning people against me. Very high school.

When it was all over a year later, I was better off without her. And the people who stayed around were the ones who led me to Saint Daddy’s arms. But I remember her birthday, her favorite color, and that she wanted to name a son Bastian. Years later, she made the news for committing a heinous crime, and that last fact haunted me for months.

It was not a healthy friendship. That is why it ended so dramatically.

I was friends with someone else, someone whose friendship defined my life while it lasted. She asked more of me than I was willing to give, but I gave it anyway to see her happy. It strained my other relationships. It strained me. I had many sleepless nights as our friendship progressed. She manipulated my feelings and gaslighted me. If she was upset, I could be doing more to fix it. If I was upset, there was nothing she could do, she said. Sometimes, she ignored me entirely for a day or two and then apologized with a gift. Looking back, I can see it for the abusive relationship that it was, but at the time, I was committed to maintaining it. I was not happy.

Friendship should not be a chore.

That is the other thing that person mentioned in our conversation. Friendship should not be a chore.

I do not know why some of us choose to stay in toxic friendships. I can only speak for myself.

I have mentioned before that my anxiety makes me cling to this notion that everything is perfect, even when it is not. Walking away from a friendship is providing evidence that I could not make a relationship work. Having a friendship end is providing evidence that I was not loved enough.

My anxiety rages against both of those ideas.

I cannot be a failure. I cannot be a failure. I cannot be a failure.

Losing a friendship appears to me as failure.

As with many thoughts that my anxiety brings to the forefront, this idea is a little ridiculous. Continuing to love toxic people does not save me. And sometimes, I have to be the one saved. Saint Daddy has saved me.

In both of these relationships, he was the light at the end of the tunnel. The first one because that lost friendship led to the ones that took me into Saint Daddy’s arms. In the second, he was there the entire time, watching me foolishly put her ahead of everything else until he told me it was time to stop. And I did. For him. I am grateful for him asking me to stop it. He saved me. He usually does.

How do you know a friendship is toxic?

Does one of you get inordinately jealous if the other one has other friends? I do not mean something simple like, “Man, I wish I was going out with you tonight instead of staying home.” More like, “I can’t believe you told someone else that completely mundane part of your day and didn’t even mention it to me. I thought I was your best friend!” That is obsessive, and it is unhealthy.

Does one of you demand that attention be on them instead of any other person? This is for long periods of time and also for small periods. If you are at your niece’s birthday party, for instance, and you keep getting texts about how you should not be ignoring your friend, that is unhealthy. Walk away.

Does one of you expect emotional support and validation while consistently diminishing the feelings of the other? If every time one of you says you are having a tough time the other one mentions how her life is harder, that is unhealthy. We all have terrible things going on in our lives, and friends can acknowledge the suffering of each other while still knowing that they are hurting themselves.

Pain is not a competition.

Does one of you seem to disappear when the other needs support? If your kids are sick or work is hard or money is tight, does your friend tell you that sucks and then ignore you until they need something themselves? That is unhealthy. It is similar to the previous paragraph, but it deserves emphasis. Caring goes both ways.

I am an anxious person. I am incredibly introspective. I notice little things. I internalize.

If one of you turns to the other and says that they felt belittled or hurt by the behavior of the other, does the other person brush it off as irrational? Do they provide excuses instead of acknowledging the hurt. If they do, the relationship is unhealthy.

I am not perfect. I may very well have been the toxic person in a relationship or two over the years. I try not to be.

Jane Austen wrote: “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it’s not in my nature.”

I like to believe that I live up to that ideal. I love completely when I can. I am loyal to a fault sometimes (it is how I end up holding on to toxic relationships). My anxiety makes me desire perfection and positive reception at all times (again, sometimes to a fault).

But there is no shame in leaving a toxic friendship. If it is the right thing for your mental health… If your friendship does feel like a chore… Walk away.

It is okay to take care of yourself. It is okay to take care of myself.

Think of it this way: If you had a friend who was in a relationship where they were constantly being hurt, what advice would you give them?

Be your own friend. Take your own advice.

Let go of the toxicity in your life.

This is like an open letter from someone who has been there.

I cannot allow my anxiety to put me into situations that contribute to the further deterioration of my mental health. I cannot lose my spirit in pursuit of someone else.

What do I have?

Saint Daddy is my heart and soul. He is my first and my last. He is my solid ground. He is so much more than my best friend. He understands every little piece of me.

My best friend hears my silence. She validates my feelings. She supports me endlessly. She is family that I have chosen for myself.

My BFFL is a constant. She is like a sister to me. She gives me stellar professional advice and a reliable sounding board.

I have my babies, my sisters, my mom. I have some of the best colleagues in the world.

I am letting go of the toxic and surrounding myself with people who are good and loving.

If you are putting up with toxicity, I challenge you to do the same.

She Made Me Strong and Fierce

Last Sunday, I was writing out my Christmas cards. Okay, I was addressing envelopes. Because honestly, even though I know some people will judge me, I do not have the mental energy required to personalize every single card.

Happy Holidays! Love, My Family!

I address envelopes in alphabetical order because, as a traditionalist, I keep an address book. It is the easiest way to not miss anyone if I start with A and go all the way to Z.

When I reached the Ss, I cried. I whimpered and tears filled my eyes. Aunt B passed away last month, and the sadness is still fresh. I had cried the week before while putting presents in the basement because her present from last year is still down there and wrapped. We never made it to her house for a visit like we usually do in December. I had excuses. Now, I have regrets.

Aunt B loved me. I knew it. She loved me as a child, although we shared no blood. When she passed away and I needed a day off, I had to explain. “See, Aunt B was my godfather’s wife. They divorced in my early teens. I didn’t see her for years. I didn’t see him either. He skipped all my important events. She didn’t come in case he was there, figuring he “won” me in the divorce. She didn’t know. And when she saw me again at my bridal shower, she cried tears of joy. Aunt B was back in my life. Anyway… She passed. I am not okay. I’m going to say goodbye.”

So she’s not really your aunt then?

I mean, maybe not by definition, but she is my family. I love her and she loves me. And what else is family but that?

I was nervous about going to her service. I did not think anyone would recognize me. It has been twenty years since I had seen her son. I met her granddaughter at Sunshine’s first birthday party. She was coincidentally dating my brother in law at that time. So I would probably be familiar to her in a I-can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it sort of way. But otherwise, I could be anyone crashing a funeral. What if I was not sad enough? What if I was too sad?

Thankfully, my mother offered to go with me. My older sisters also came to pay their respects to someone that was part of their childhoods.

And they did know me. “She kept all of your letters,” her son said. “I’d love to get them back to you.”

I cried quietly in the back of the parlor. I let my mother hold my hand. She held my whole body while I sobbed in the parking lot. “I just got her back,” I cried. “I loved her. I just got her back.”

This time of year is difficult. It is filled with joy and anticipation and love, but it always reminds me of loss as well.

“What will you be doing for Thanksgiving?”

This is a simple question.

But the answer is great.

I never leave home for Thanksgiving. See, Thanksgiving was a Grandma holiday. All of the cousins, the aunts, the uncles, everyone… We all went to Grandma’s for dinner. She set up three tables. The dining room for the adults. The living room for the teens. The kitchen for the kids. It was a big event. Grandma was not a great cook, but she had foods we were used to, we expected, and we appreciated.

In 2007, I was a senior in undergrad. I came home for the holiday as I usually did. But Grandma would not be cooking. She was in the hospital, recovering from surgery to remove a tumor.

Dad asked me if I wanted to go see her before break ended, and I wavered. Hospitals trigger my anxiety. The smell, the fear, the death lurking around each corner… It is all too much for me.

In the end, I went.

Grandma passed away less than two weeks later, having never fully recovered from her surgery. A blood clot traveled to her heart. She went quickly. Death had been waiting for her around that corner. She was gone.

I will never forget what happened when I found out. Saint Daddy had left my dorm room about twenty minutes before. It was a Sunday in December. It was dark outside. My roommate was not back from her boyfriend’s. I was watching American Beauty and typing an essay for Women’s Lit that was due before noon the next day. My phone rang. It was my sister. Strange. “Grandma’s gone. She died. She died.” She repeated herself because the words made no sense. I dropped the phone to the floor, and I sobbed. Audibly. In that quiet dorm room. I called Saint Daddy, and he offered to come back. I told him not to. I would find someone on campus who would help me feel less alone.

I did. I had friends in a dorm across campus who told me to come over immediately. We watched something funny that I cannot remember. They offered me silence and companionship, and I was grateful.

In the morning, I went to my Women’s Lit professor and asked for an extension. She told me not to even worry about the essay. She asked if I needed a ride home. She was willing to drive me three hours to be with family. She contacted my other professors. She told me I could miss her final, which was the following week. She was my professor for four other courses in undergrad, I was taking Women’s Lit as an independent study, she knew what kind of student I was, and she did not need more evidence of my dedication to know what grade I would receive in the course.

She did not drive me home. I gratefully accepted a few extensions, but all of my work was in before the semester ended. I took all of my finals. Perhaps that is why the offer was made. I was not the kind of student who would take it unless I was completely shattered.

But I was shattered. Thin, spidery lines of weakness spread over my person. I was destroyed.

Grandma was, and will always be, the strongest person I know. As I grow older, I learn more about her, and I am even more in awe of her. She was born at a time when being a woman came with few choices. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school. Her class ring is in my jewelry box and mentioned in my will. She married, at 18, a man 11 years older than she was. She had four children, peppered with a few miscarriages. She worked long hours on factory floors to help feed her children. She developed fierce lady friendships. Her dear friend, whom I knew as Nana, loved us all. Nana’s piano is in my dining room. She stopped her car to pick up trash in the streets, she threatened naughty kids with her shoe, she gave us presents of things she found in her house, and she rounded up all of her grandchildren for movie nights followed by hamburgers at McDonald’s.

Grandma never missed a concert, a performance, a party, or a graduation. She picked us up for sleepovers. She was the emergency contact at school, and she answered the call a few times when my belly was upset, bringing me to her house where she provided saltines and cartoons until Mom came.

We had picnics in the backyard. She pummeled ramen soup to bits. She taught me every card game I knew at her coffee table with hot tea and butter cookies. She reminded me that seven is the Lord’s number, so we always shuffle seven times. She took me with her to performances at the city’s concert hall. She had season passes, and I was her favorite date, she said.

When I quit my first job, I walked to her house, ashamed. I believed she would berate me for giving up. We had recently talked about how much I hated it. Instead, she told me that she knew I did what my heart told me to do. When I missed home my first year at undergrad, she wrote me letters to remind me that home would be there but I was in the right place.

She was tough and loving. I am lucky to have had her in my life.

When we lost her, I began to think about all of the things I would no longer have. She would not be at my college graduation. She would not be at my wedding. She would never hold my children. She would not know the person whom I was to become.

There would never be another Thanksgiving at Grandma’s.

Saint Daddy and I bought our first home eight months after Grandma passed away. We lived three and a half hours from our families, and we decided together that we wanted a holiday we spent at home.

Thanksgiving is that holiday.

What are you doing for Thanksgiving?

Staying home. Staying home because on December 2, 2007, I lost one of the greatest people I will ever know. I carry her with me at all times. I gave Sunshine her name. But the holiday would always have been filled with sadness if I did not make a huge change.

The thing, what my Women’s Lit professor even tried to tell me, is my grandmother is never not with me. Whatever I believe when it comes to afterlife does not matter ultimately. Because the memory of Grandma is always here.

Grandma helped shape the person I am. She made me strong and fierce.

And sure, I have mental illness, but it turns out, Grandma had her demons too. But she lived at a time when it was not okay to acknowledge it.

But Grandma showed me how to be a mom. She showed me to how to keep going. She showed me how to love yourself and your family.

This time of year is filled with joy and with the remembrances of loss.

I am so lucky to have known people worthy of being missed.

We Are All Jerks Sometimes

I can be a real jerk sometimes.

At least, that is how I see me.

I know it about myself.

There are so many situations that cause me anxiety, and when I feel anxious, I look down, I avoid eye contact, I become short, and I try to hurry my way through the experience. It appears rude. It is always uncomfortable.

Yes, I can be a real jerk sometimes.

Saint Daddy somehow sees beyond that. I do not know how. Maybe it is because he can be a real jerk sometimes too, and I see passed that. Maybe every relationship is just two people who can find a way to see passed the jerk in their partner.

It is not that I need to be in my comfort zone at all times. It is merely a matter of emotional safety. I need teammates.

I talk about it that way too. “Thanks for being on my team.”

I grew up surrounded by people, yet I often felt alone. My two older sisters had each other. My two younger brothers had each other. And me? I had myself. Quintessential middle child.

It was okay most of the time, but I knew it was discussed. I knew my sisters talked about ways to leave the house without taking me with them. I knew I was not particularly wanted with the older girls. They had a friend who was in my grade but my sister’s age. I went with my sisters to her house, a few blocks away from home. When I arrived, the friend said I was “too young” to play with them. My sisters did not defend me, and I walked home, acutely aware of the sting of rejection.

Growing up, I often felt teamless.

As an adult, my older sisters are assuredly on my team. No outsider would be allowed to tell them to not pick me.

I know it is not the case for everyone, but there is something about my siblings. We live our own lives in very different ways, but we are always on each other’s teams.

That is not what this post is about, though. This post is about me being a jerk. Because I am sometimes.

When I first met my in-laws at the tender age of sixteen, I was in full jerk mode. (As were they, but that is another story for another day.) I was anxious. I did not know what to say. I was short and weirdly sarcastic. I was a jerk.

That is what my anxiety makes of me.

I am thoroughly convinced that, based solely on those early interactions, my mother in law decided not to like me until Sunshine was born. I felt like a part of her hoped that I would one day disappear, a part she might not have acknowledged but was definitely there. Sunshine changed things because Sunshine was tangible evidence of the roots that Saint Daddy and I had grown.

The thing about my jerk status is that, once I feel comfortable, I am a friend worth having. I am loyal, loving, and supportive. I am giving and kind and helpful. I love deeply and without fail. I would do anything for those who are truly my friends. I would do anything for my teammates.

This is my apology for being a jerk sometimes. I am. I know I am. I crawl inside myself and let my mind tell me who to be and how to act and that person I become is not friendly or open or relaxed. I am not my best self.

This is my apology for seeming standoffish.

In the third grade, a fellow student apologized for throwing his pencil across the room. He had done it before; he would do it again.

Our teacher told him, “You’re only truly sorry if you’re going to try not to do it again.”

I am sorry, and I am trying.

But it is difficult.

So if you catch me being a jerk, know that I know I am doing it. Know that as it is happening, I wish it was not. Know that there is a battle within me at times. Know that sometimes I win and sometimes I lose, but I am trying.

After all, I think we can all be jerks sometimes.

Have You Found Your Thing?

When Sunshine was less than a year old, a coworker stopped me in the hallway to comment on how quickly I had lost weight.

“I cannot believe how good you look for having an infant. I never looked that good again after having kids. But look at you!”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ve been running again.”

She said, and I will never forget this comment, “I just don’t see how you can do it. You’re away from her all day. Don’t you think you should be spending that time with her instead?”

She had taken off from work when her children were little, she said. You cannot get that time back with them, she said. Maybe you should reconsider, she said. You have your whole life to get fit again, she said.

But for me, running is not just about fitness.

I was never fit growing up. I was the pudgy one of my parents’ older children. I was not athletic. I wore the same sizes as my older sister until we hit puberty, and then, I was a size or two larger. I did not enjoy sweating or being outside or sunshine. I was a homebody through and through.  In undergrad, I put on the freshman twenty-five without any issues. I loved food and sitting around watching reruns while I drank a Coke and ate salt and vinegar potato chips or graham crackers smothered in gobs of creamy Jif.

There was no shame in my emotional eating game.

I did not become active until sophomore year. I had a horrendous roommate, and the rec center on campus gave me somewhere to go. I worked out and discovered cottage cheese and egg white omelets and portion control.

Saint Daddy and I did not see each other for six weeks that spring because of how our spring breaks lined up and he did not have a car and I could not drive. He called me one afternoon, wanting to see my new room after I had finally convinced res life to let me move out of that situation, and when he walked into my room with a cherry gelati from Rita’s in his hand and his roommate trailing behind him, he thought I had given up eating altogether.

I did not. I was eating well and working out. Food was still delicious, but it was more fresh fruit than processed carbs.

My fitness level fluctuated a lot over the next few years.

I took up running about a year after Saint Daddy and I got married. My doctor prescribed me an antidepressant and told me that I should limit my caffeine intake and take up exercise and see if the combination of the three helped curtail my daily panic attacks. He said, “The trick with exercise is to find something that works for you. That something is not what works for everyone. But you have to find your thing and love it. Then it’ll become part of your life.”

One day, I had off from work and Saint Daddy did not. I put on my sneakers, a pair of New Balance that my dad had gotten me during a BOGO event four years before that day, and walked to the park near our home. I ran two laps on the path around the park, and I went home.

Two days later, I did it again. But I did it faster. Without even trying. I thought, “I wonder how fast I could do that…” Two days later, I did it as fast as I could. I impressed myself. I did not know how far I had run, but I knew I had run.

Shortly thereafter, I looked up a Couch to 5K program, and set out to impress myself some more.

I did give up caffeine. I have been caffeine free since 2010, no easy feat for a full-time working mom with multiples. If I have more caffeine than the amount in a small cup of decaf coffee, I suffer from heart palpitations, chest pains, and nausea. Another doctor said it is an intolerance. Sometimes, I call it an allergy because people understand that term better.

And I ran.

I have been running since 2010. I am pretty good at it. I cannot run very fast. I cannot run very far. But I run with heart. That is what makes me good at it. I am a runner. The kind of runner that gets irritated by the term “jogger.”  I have been properly fitted. I have opinions on running brands. I actually use the treadmill in my basement. I rarely miss a run.

When Sunshine was born in 2013, I went back to running.

It was not only to get my body back. It was to get myself back.

When I run, my only competition is the person I thought I was. The person I thought I was did not run at all or could only run for a quarter of a mile at a time or could not run better than a twelve minute mile or did not have the endurance for a 5K. She certainly could not run a half marathon.

But I am not the person that I thought I was.

And running has helped my mental health immensely. Because I am constantly beating that person that I thought I was, I know that I am strong and capable.

Is it perfect? No. I run three times a week. I used to run four times a week. But I still have panic attacks. I still wake up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts. We still sit on the aisle at the theater. I still hate driving. Running does not cure my anxiety.

But it helps me to remember that I am the one in control of it.

I often think about that conversation with my former coworker. I have since switched jobs. I have moved on. I will likely never see her again. We are not friends on any social media platforms.

But I think of her. I think of what she represents.

This is my love letter mommas everywhere.

Find your thing.

Run or dance or draw or take bubble baths or go out for a drink with your friends.

Find your thing that helps you feel like a person. Find your thing that allows you to feel strong and capable and brilliant. Find your thing that helps you to see the good in yourself and in the world.

No one asks Saint Daddy how he can stand to be away from our children for an hour or two each week so that he can go to the gym. No one wonders how he manages to stay in shape or read or write or tutor or sleep or eat.

Mommas of the world are not required to explain to anyone why they need time for themselves.

That coworker was right. Sunshine was only a baby for a little bit. She is very much a kid now. But giving up my thirty minutes of sanity three times a week was not going to slow down that time. It was also not going to make me a better mother.

I believed then, and I believe now, that I am a better mother because I know what my thing is. I am more present when I am with my children than I would be otherwise. I feel happier because I have taken care of me. Running is how I take care of me.

Never let naysayers tell you that you should not have something for yourself just because you have babies. You do not deserve that guilt or that anxiety.

And for me, comments like that do fuel my anxiety. Now, I can look back and see that giant grain of salt. But in the moment, with my infant at home and me missing her dreadfully all day, I allowed that thought to consume me. It was unfair of her to make something simple into something so sinister. Saint Daddy understood. I understood. Sunshine was thriving. That was all that mattered.

And, mommas and daddies, taking that time for you does not make you any less of a loving parent. If anything, it makes you that much more capable of being exactly what your children need.

Have you found your thing?

Turns Out… There’s Not All That Much To Complain About

Social media causes me so many conflicting emotions.

I actually met some of my closest friends there. When I lived hours from my family, I used it to share my life quickly and effectively. I announced my second pregnancy to groups of my cousins via Facebook Messenger so that their first time learning about it would not be when I posted a public announcement. My extended family is close and having my cousins find out that I was carrying twins at the same time as the girl who sat behind me in freshman comp would not have been very fair to our relationships.

Social media allows connections that can overcome great distances.

I am glad it exists. Truly.

I am also glad it did not exist when I was a teenager. I am so happy that my Timehop cannot show me what fifteen year old me was up to. No one needs to see that. And fifteen year old me would never have understood the responsibility that comes with social media. Fifteen year old me would not believe that the internet never forgets, that screenshots last, and that not everyone who smiles is your friend. In this case, not every like is a positive connection.

But the thing with social media is… Well… It sucks.

Like… It really, really, really sucks.

It especially sucks because of my anxiety. Social media is not good for my anxiety.

There are two reasons for this. I am aware of them. I know what they are.

The first is the one I talk about more. When I deal with exceptionally high levels of anxiety, the keep me awake at night for days on end kind of anxiety, I log out of Facebook. Sometimes, if my anxiety has consumed me too much, I deactivate altogether.

I do not announce this. I just go. My best friend and oldest sister are usually the first to notice. I do not do it to get anyone’s attention. In fact, with few exceptions, I would prefer not to be contacted about it. Deleting Facebook seems like such a show of my inability to keep it together. I do not need anyone to know I am falling apart. I would tell them if I wanted to.

And why?

Social media, especially Facebook, is crammed with so much negativity. Some people simply love to complain. It seems to be all that they do online. While I am glad that they feel they have an outlet for their thoughts, when mine are spiraling, I cannot handle theirs too. I am in Facebook groups that have a steady stream of complaint threads. I ignore them because I cannot be weighed down with all that is wrong in the world.

I absorb a lot of what I read. I am deeply affected by it. Too much personal negativity becomes my own personal negativity.

And it is not only personal negativity, but news article after news article comes up on my newsfeed filled with the worst that the world has to offer. It seems that people are most likely to share articles about children being raped or beaten or murdered than anything else. I do not understand the compulsion to share that horror with the world. I know it happens. I do not need to know it happened again. I want to hold my babies and cry and promise them that I will do whatever I can to make sure that they are not one of those stories that people share because they feel compelled to share the ugliest side of the world day in and day out.

When I am already anxious, when my world is spinning out of control, these stories affect me so much more.

The first reason I hate social media is the negativity.

When I leave and my sister or my best friend notices and reaches out to me, I always say, “I needed a break from the negativity. I am trying to remain positive. Facebook does not help. Maybe in a week.”

But there is another thing. Something that I talked about with a colleague last week.

She recently recommended that I follow a particular account on Instagram. The account was that of a woman rocking her role in a similar position as mine. Like… Rocking it.

I followed her and then another like her and then a third and suddenly, I was knee-deep in follow requests for people who figured I was also sharing how I rock at what I do.

And I do rock at what I do. I am passionate about it. That is half the rocking.

But I do not post much about work on Instagram. Only occasionally. As I do here.

I made a separate account for these follows and follow requests. I began sharing how I rock too.

Last week, I was speaking with that original coworker, and I told her about the separate account.

“I figured that I could keep it all in one place as well as share what I’m doing too. I don’t need these random people seeing all the pictures of my kids, but I love what I’m seeing. Also, having a separate account lets me choose not to see their posts when I’m feeling down about myself.”

Because we all know that social media is filled with hyper-inflation of the ego. While some people breathe negativity, others only share their 110% moments.

The fact of the matter is that not every moment could be 110% for anyone. It is impossible. The truth is that we all have ups and downs and in-betweens, but social media is not really a true depiction of that.

I have mental illness. What that means for me is that I can know something is true, but I cannot make myself feel that truth.

Feeling the truth is what I struggle with.

So even though those rockstar Instagram accounts are filled with brilliance and wonder, I know that those account owners are not like that at every moment of every day.

But I cannot feel that knowledge when my anxiety is rising.

I need to be able to avoid people who are too awesome when I feel like my life is in shambles. It is too difficult not to compare lives, especially when I cannot feel the truth of its being unrealistic.

So what is someone to do when she loves social media because of the way it connects her to her friends, her family, and people who rock at what she does every day but who also has a mental illness that causes her to dwell so much on her negativity that she cannot even begin to handle the negativity or exuberance of others?

(Wow… That was one sentence. Crazy!)

What does she do?

She shuts it down.

She picks up a journal. She does better for herself.

When my anxiety is out of control, I need to think about what is positive in my own life. I need to let go of my own negativity. Social media will not help me do that.

I have a gratitude journal. I recently picked it back up again after a very long hiatus.

I keep my gratitude journal next to my bed. Every night before bed, the last thing that I do before laying down is write in my gratitude journal a short list of things that I am thankful for from that day.

Sometimes, there is repetition between days. I am almost always happy for quiet time spent with Saint Daddy after Sunshine, Grumpy, and Sleepy finally go to sleep at night. Sometimes, I feel gratitude for something large, like the fact that I come home to my family every night. Sometimes, it is something small, like that someone held the door open for me on my way into work that morning.

I use it to forget the negative that happened. At the end of the day, I do not want my final thoughts to be of the guy who cut me off or that Sleepy peed out of his diaper during his nap again. I want to think of the happy parts of my day.

It is not foolproof. Nothing I do is going to cure my mental illness. I know that. I understand it. But my gratitude journal helps me do something important. It helps me to remember that, even when it is really bad, there is something beautiful in every day.

Since I began my journal again, I have been falling asleep more quickly. I am telling my brain to let go of self-doubt and to focus on what went well each day.

It helps me see my days in a positive light and to remember that it is not always bad.

There is not really all that much to complain about.

It Is All Sunshine’s Fault

Almost every mother I know will tell you that her first child was an angel. Her first child lulled her into complacency. Her first child somehow convinced her that parenting was easy. She could do anything. Her first child did not yell or climb or throw things.

There are exceptions, of course. My best friend’s first was difficult from birth. She has had plenty of rough moments with him.

But, for the most part, moms agree that baby number one was a breeze.

That is certainly the case here.

Sunshine arrived on the scene two weeks late after a rather uneventful pregnancy. She cried at night if she was not in her swing for the first six weeks, but once she overcame that six week growth spurt, she slept on her back in Saint Daddy’s grandmother’s cradle next to my side of the bed. I could easily reach her there for her middle of the night nursing sessions, which we were both pros at by six weeks. She nursed once or twice a night, and I placed her fresh diapered and full bellied into her cradle where she slept happily until her tummy told her it was time for more noms.

At three months old, I transferred her to her crib in the nursery, which adjoined our room. I expected a fight, but she accepted it beautifully. She hit all of her milestones at a delightfully average rate that caused me not even the slightest concern. She grew on her growth curve; she took to solids right at six months. I did not think too hard. It seemed natural and fitting and completely intuitive.

She did not require baby proofing. She was not a climber. Sunshine did not put random things in her mouth. We put a baby gate up to keep her in the living room and made sure she could not pull items out of the entertainment center, which would cause us more work. But she was not destructive. She did not like messes.

Sunshine was pure bliss.

I told people that Sunshine most assuredly was not completely human. She was too easy, too good-natured, too smart to be completely of this world. At least half of her was alien. It was the only explanation.

In deciding to have a second baby, Saint Daddy and I knew that we were pressing our luck. It seemed unlikely that our second child would be as calm as Sunshine. We referred to this hypothetical child as Sunshine’s Little Brother or even, sometimes, by the name we would eventually bestow upon Sleepy. We knew that Little Brother or Sleepy would rock our world.

When people would ask me if we planned a second child (a question I will always loathe), I would tell them that we were trying to decide if it was worth tempting fate. There was no way we could possibly get two little aliens, nature and nurture be damned.

But of course, I always knew that, if I was having one child, I would be having two. It is not that I see anything wrong with only children, but being raised with so many siblings, I knew that I wanted my children to always have each other in the way that I always have my siblings. We would press our luck. We would see what happened. We would try anyway.

And we did.

But then there were two flickering heartbeats inside two little seahorses.

We never would have had three children. No matter what, at the end of that second pregnancy, one of us was getting “fixed.” That was the agreement. But God wanted Saint Daddy and I to have three babies. That is why he sent us twins. We would not have had a third otherwise. He knew it.

Ideally, as Saint Daddy said, exactly one of them would be a boy. But if he had to choose two of the same sex, he wanted two girls. Saint Daddy makes such a wonderful little girl daddy. Worst case scenario, we would have two boys on our hands. Worst case.

And then, we did.

Our sons were nothing like Sunshine from the first day. We struggled in the hospital with nursing. Sleepy was too sleepy to care about eating. Grumpy was a gassy baby and needed extra care. They woke frequently and at random intervals. Saint Daddy and I separately considered running away. It was a very difficult time for us.

I turned to pumping, which strained us further at the beginning. I spent hours of each day with my breast pump. Saint Daddy took on a lot of the burden.

Then they needed solids earlier than I would have liked. Grumpy reacted poorly to foods, but I could not figure out which ones. Our world was a blur and time was meaningless, and it took too long to figure out. They did not sit up until almost the age that Sunshine was when she started to crawl. They crawled quickly enough after that, but they did not walk until much later than she did, late enough that the doctor began to worry me about it.

Their language development is right on target. But one thing the pediatrician does not measure is their capacity for destruction. Sunshine ripped exactly one book in her first two years of life. Grumpy and Sleepy destroyed two books this week. And by destroyed, I do not mean ripped a page. I mean that they bent them open and stomped on them until their spines cracked and their pages fell out.

They rip apart toys. They throw. They break. They slammed a toy into the television, destroying pixels in the lower left hand corner. Grumpy has been to the hospital for stitches. Sleepy terrorizes the dog.

They are watched, but they are sneaky and unstoppable sometimes.

My best friend often tells me that Sunshine did not prepare us for human children. Nope.

Sunshine might be part alien, but our sons are one hundred percent human.

They are destruction and danger and tears.

Sometimes, I feel incapable of knowing what they need or what they will do next. I love them and hug them and try to teach them, but I know that I have my work cut out for me. Sunshine gave me such a beautiful feeling of complacency. Nothing could get me down when I was only Sunshine’s mother.

But Grumpy and Sleepy are why we cannot have nice things. They are the reason that my China cabinet’s drawers are on the dining room table and why Saint Daddy had to put a lock on the sliding door that leads to his office. They are the reason why we own giant gates and hid our movie collection. Grumpy and Sleepy are why Sunshine’s crayons, which she draws with nearly daily, are put away in another room so they cannot eat them or break them or, now that they have the dexterity with which to do so, color on my walls with them. They are why I do not sit comfortably on my couch in the evenings so as not to tempt them to higher heights.

Right now, Sleepy and Grumpy are throwing toy cars at each other’s heads in the living room. I have already learned that there is not anything worth doing about it. One of them may get hurt, and I will comfort him if he does. But I will also say, “Maybe you will learn not to participate in those sorts of shenanigans in the future.”

Then again, what do I know? I thought parenting would be a breeze.

And it is all Sunshine’s fault.

I Will Get There

I had twin boys eighteen months ago. Sleepy and Grumpy are wonderful little terrors, constantly working to destroy our home and bring joy into our hearts.

During my pregnancy with Sleepy and Grumpy, I gave up on all forms of exercise. My high risk doctor told me to stop running at the end of my first trimester. At twenty weeks, he told me to stop lifting anything over ten pounds, including Sunshine. By twenty-four weeks, I weighed more than I did at forty-two weeks with Sunshine and most yoga poses were nearly impossible.

By the end of my thirty-eight week pregnancy with my sons, I had put on sixty-two pounds.

That is eight pounds more than the recommended amount for a twin pregnancy, but I was not concerned. My doctors were not either.

While pregnant with Sunshine, I ran 2-3 miles three days a week until my thirty-sixth week. I delivered six weeks later. I had gained thirty-five pounds, the upper limit of the recommendation.

I lost all but five of those pounds before returning to work at twelve weeks post partum. I returned to running at six weeks postpartum. I kept those extra five pounds until I stopped nursing Sunshine at eighteen months old, even during half marathon training. Then, they melted right off of me.

With Grumpy and Sleepy, my C-section meant not returning to running until ten weeks after delivery. Because I was so completely out of shape and thoroughly exhausted by newborn twins, it was slow and horrible.

When the boys were four months old, they entered the four month sleep regression. I lost sleep and precious ounces in milk output. I started eating my feelings and I stopped running. I needed to consume a minimum of 2500 calories and drink a gallon of water each day to maintain my supply.

I lost fifteen pounds between two and four months, and I gained every ounce of that back between four and six months as I ate more and exercised not at all.

I have been running again for ten months. Seven months ago, I cut my calorie intake back down to my pre-pregnancy levels.

I reached my goal weight three months ago.

But I am not happy with my body.

It will never be the same.

After Sunshine, I lost the weight and my body was only a little worse for the wear.

Now I am soft and doughy. There is extra skin that droops. I look like someone who lost weight too quickly and her skin did not get the memo until it was too late.

Which makes sense because I did and it did not.

It is demoralizing.

Because I am not happy with my body, I am having a hard time focusing on my fitness goals.

In my mind, I should be able to easily run six miles at this point. The boys are eighteen months old. Six miles is no big deal. I have done it countless times before. And I have done it a handful of times since the boys were born.

But I keep accepting excuses.

I often quote Wedding Crashers, saying, “No excuses. Play like a champion.”

But I am not playing like a champion.

I have a great long run. Hitting my six mile goal. I feel awesome. I know I can do it. I am proud of myself.

But the next weekend, it does not go nearly as well. And the following weekend, I convince myself that four miles is enough. That it is okay. I am still working on my comeback.

It is not until afterwards, when I am home again, that I realize that four miles is not enough. I could be better. I could do better.

The thing is, what sucks the most is that, no matter how hard I work or push or try, I am probably still going to be soft and doughy. I hit my goal weight and I do not look anything like what I think I should.

This is not a cry for compliments. I know I look good. About six months ago, people stopped adding “for having twins” to their comments about how good I look. I just look good.

But I do not feel good.

I am not happy with my body.

It is not just the running. I am not strength training because I do not feel strong. I am not eating well because I do not feel like it even matters at this point.

I have become incredibly cynical about my body, and it is being a twin mom that did that to me.

Now, while I have said before that there are experiences that are unique to being a MoM that non-MoMs cannot appreciate, this is not one of those things. I believe there are millions of moms who feel this disconnect with their own bodies. Women who love their bodies because of the babies that they brought into this world but hate them for what they look like afterwards.

For me, though, I believe I feel this way expressly because I am a MoM. Carrying Sunshine did not make me feel so uncomfortable in my own skin. My stretch marks never made me feel uncomfortable. I still only own bikinis. But I am afraid that I will never truly feel comfortable in one again.

For me, my journey to accepting my body has been rife with highs and lows. I first started questioning its value when I was very young.

My skin is pale. Very pale. It makes getting blood work easier because my blue veins stand out against my white skin. I am paler than all of my siblings. They pointed out my Irish skin frequently. How I burned and they tanned. How I needed my own beach umbrella.

I was always chubbier than my next older sister. She was athletic from a young age. I was not. And my mother pointed it out to me on more than a few occasions. Grandma took me to her TOPS meetings where she weighed in and women sat in a circle and discussed how disappointed they were with their bodies.

Dislike of our bodies is ingrained in the minds of young girls so thoroughly, and I was no exception.

I did not buy my first bikini until I was in my mid-twenties. I was “too fat” before that.

But I had taken up running to combat my anxiety at my doctor’s suggestion (exercise, he said, may help if medication was not something I wanted to stick with). And running did something for me that nothing else could have done.

Running showed me that my body was capable of amazing things. My body could run miles. My body could go farther than I could have ever imagined. My body is wonderful. It is spectacular.

I was proud of it.

I remained proud of it until about a year ago. It brought me three children. Two at once.

But then I was thoroughly post-partum, and it feels less mine than the one I used to have. I feel less capable and less amazing.

I want to love my body again. Sometimes, I am afraid that I never will.

I keep trying to.

One day, I will to write a love letter to my body. One day, this will merely be evidence of where we once were.

Today, though, I am feeling that disconnect from what I see and what I am. From what I did and what I can do.

I hope that I can find my pride again. No, I know that I will.

For any mommas reading this post who understand, I see you. Your body is amazing, but I know that it can be hard to see that when you spent so much time sharing it with other people. You will get there.

I will get there.