Thanks For Your Texts

I saw your text. I am sure I did. Well, I saw that you had texted me. Maybe I opened it. I cannot really remember. I know I did not respond.

I want to apologize, but I was once told that an apology is only sincere when it is accompanied by a plan to do better.

I probably will not do better.

I mean, I will sometimes. I will most of the time in fact.

But I cannot promise that I will do better all of the time, which brings me to this post.

I cannot promise to always be better. Because I am not always better.

October is tough every year for some reason. If I had to rank my toughest months to get through, February and October would consistently be near the top.

I understand February. The days are dreary and cold. It is the depths of winter.

But October? October is lovely. The trees are beautiful, the mums are nostalgic, and we celebrate so much in October. Our anniversary, Saint Daddy’s birthday, and Sunshine’s second favorite holiday, Halloween. I have no complaints against October truly.

Except that every October, I spiral.

This October was no exception.

I felt the weight of my days. I literally psyched myself up before leaving my car in the morning. “You can do this,” I said this morning as I turned off the ignition and grabbed my bag on my way into the building. “I believe in you.”

Good. Great. The first step is the hardest one. I can do all of the others.

But at the end of the day, I am spent. I faked it until I survived it. I pretended and smiled and fought the good fight.

And occasionally, I cried.

I cried because it is hard and I am so tired and I feel unappreciated and unnoticed and unsupported and a million other things that, were it not October, I might not have felt at all. I certainly would not have felt them so deeply.

But there is something about October. Something about these cooler, shorter days. Something about the way they blur into each other. Something about the most beautiful fall days that makes me feel disconnected, discouraged, disengaged.

So yeah, I saw your text. And yours. And yours too. I read it or maybe I did not but I will. I saw your email as well and her email and that one over there. I saw it. I saw that you called. I might even have seen your smoke signals, read your card, seen your love.

But I, shamefully, was too deep in my head to respond. I had too much going on to act, to react, to reciprocate.

I get it. It is awful of me. You deserve better. That is something I apologize for. I am constantly trying to do better by you, by all of you. I want to be the best I can be, the one you can rely on, the one you can trust to respond.

But my muck is too deep sometimes and self care occasionally means seeing your text and saying nothing. Self care sometimes means leaving the conversation when it is not quite over. Self care sometimes means hiding a little so I can find myself.

There are limits. If you really did need me, I would have been there. If your text said “I have a problem,” I would not hesitate because I am a loyal and dedicated friend.

But my lack of text back said “I have a problem.” I hope you understand.

October is ending. I will read your texts, all of them. Has too much time gone by that I can no longer respond? Probably.

But know, please know, that, even when I say nothing, your texts might be the lifeline I need to help me remember that my muck is not something I need to wade alone.

So thanks for your texts.

Thanks for you.

Sunny School Days

Sunshine brought her class to the dinner table on Friday. Well, not to the dinner table. She walked them by the dinner table to the living room so they could eat in the cafeteria with the other students while Miss Sunshine ate with Mrs. Momma and Principal Saint Daddy.

At one point, one of the children in her class said the word “poop,” and Miss Sunshine had her write a note home to her mommy about how sorry she was about her behavior. Another student had to do the same for farting in the music teacher’s face.

I would apologize for the crude actions of Miss Sunshine’s students, but she already had them do that.

Sunshine starting playing school again on Wednesday.

I say “again” because she used to play school. I have pictures of Sunshine trying to teach Grumpy and Sleepy last September. By October of 2018, she had stopped.

I should have known then, but I guess I did not really notice. Not until I saw Sunshine playing school again. Then I remembered that Sunshine loved school until her belly started to hurt. Sunshine pretended to be at school regularly until she started begging to stay home. Briefly, she wanted to teach elementary school until she asked why she had to go at all.

There was a shift in Sunshine that I did not notice until it shifted back.

Many have asked me about Sunshine’s transition to her new school. I have responded as briefly as possible, but I have wanted to gush.

Sunshine loves her new bus rides. They are pretty long, but the girls she sits near are nice and the atmosphere is less chaotic and she is allowed to play with small toys, read a book, and drink some water.

Sunshine loves her new classroom. It is decorated like a tree house, and she sits nearest to a sweet girl who makes her laugh. They won a door decorating contest last week, and Sunshine contributed “kindness” to it.

Sunshine loves her new playground. There is a climbing area and a place to play hopscotch. On Wednesday, she played dinosaurs with one of her classmates and they giggled the whole time.

Sunshine loves the games they play in math class. She loves the fact that one of her classmates has the same headphones that she has. She loves that she did not take a test all week. She loves that her teacher is nice.

Sunshine is happy.

She had a moment on Wednesday morning when the new had worn off and she asked to stay home. She did not know anyone’s name. She felt anxiety creeping in and she did not understand why she had to go to school whole Grumpy and Sleepy were able to stay at home.

That afternoon, Sunshine ran off the bus with a smile on her face and she told me all about the girl who made her laugh and the girl who played dinosaurs with her and she forgot that she did not like school.

She played school that evening.

She had the time and the energy and the desire to play school.

On Friday, a colleague told me that I am right that there are times that we cannot know. We cannot know if we are doing what is right for our children. We make a plan and we cannot go back and sometimes we think about the other path, the one we did not take.

I wondered for a while about this path, the one I moved Sunshine to. I wondered for all of last year if Sunshine belonged at the school we chose for her this year instead of where she was. I contemplated the decision we had made to not send her there for kindergarten. I wondered.

Looking back, it reminded me of another decision I made. In 2011, I interviewed for and was offered a position in another state. It was a wonderful opportunity that would have moved my career ahead much more quickly. It would have been a great move for me. When the offer came in, I rejected it. I felt that my story at the time was not yet finished. I spent the next three years wondering if I had made the right decision. I worried that Saint Daddy was angry with me about it because I made a decision that he did not understand, could not understand.

In 2014, I interviewed for and was offered my current position, and I never thought about that other position, that missed opportunity, again. If I had taken that position in another state, I would not be here, and here is where I belong, with a company I believe in and colleagues that I both respect and admire.

I know, with Sunshine playing school again, that I will not wonder about what could be, the path we did not take.

Much like my professional path is correct now, so is Sunshine’s schooling path.

I know the reason I spent three years thinking about a position I did not really want is because my anxiety convinces me that I can mess up everything. It tells me that even the smallest choices can ruin everything. It says that some decisions cannot be reversed and that my whole life will be in shambles forever because I did something wrong.

But sometimes, my anxiety shuts up. Sometimes, even my anxiety is not sure how to rile me up. Sometimes, my anxiety is not even sure what I have to be afraid of.

Sunshine playing school made my anxiety shut up. No easy feat.

So how is Sunshine doing at her new school? Perfectly.

School Blues

Tomorrow begins the fifth week of school for Sunshine. She has been doing well. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I began drafting a post about how her teacher was sensitive to her anxiety. It was going so well. When Sunshine forgot her “getting to know me” project after Saint Daddy spent a night in the hospital and we rushed around to get everything together in the morning, I expected her to spend our entire drive home from school hysterically yelling at me, something she does when she feels anxious. She did not. Her teacher said that it was okay and that other kids also forgot theirs. However she had handled the situation with Sunshine was the right way. A week later, her teacher emailed Saint Daddy and me to tell us that Sunshine seemed anxious about time limits because she wanted to be perfect and time limits sometimes prevented perfection. She said she talked to Sunshine about it. I told her about Sunshine’s anxiety diagnosis and thanked her for taking such good care of our girl.

Tomorrow begins the fifth week of school for Sunshine, and I wrote down the supply list for first grade at another school today.

Sunshine will be starting the sixth week of school somewhere else with a new teacher and new friends and new school supplies.

The last week moved quickly in a whirlwind of what should we do and how should we proceed and what if we are making a mistake. It is hard to believe that it all happened in a week. For some, our reasons might not be enough. For us, they are everything.

Sunshine is happy enough at school. We are happy enough with her school. Yet…

Last Monday, Sunshine came home from school with a nearly full lunch box. She takes the bus to and from school on Mondays at her own request. She is gone from 7:30 am to nearly 5:30 pm on Mondays. Her official drop off time, according to the bus company and the school, is 4:41 pm. She has never been home that early. In that amount of time, nearly ten hours, Sunshine ate one cheese stick and two graham crackers. She returned home with pita chips, hummus, blackberries, crackers, a bite-sized Kit-Kat, and a pre-packaged rice crispy treat in her school bag. We send more than enough food so she will never go hungry. We questioned her about this. She said she was not allowed to eat her rice crispy treat because it was too sugary. No alternative was provided. No note came home. She said they were late getting to lunch, a scheduled twenty minute daily activity that takes place in another building. She said that she only had time to eat her cheese stick. My six year old consumed one cheese stick and two graham crackers all day. We received no adult communication. We received a hungry child.

Hungry kids are not learning kids.

We had an issue last year with lunch. We learned that the kids were being made to stand quietly in the hall until they were all silent before they would move on to lunch. We cried out against these group punishments that prevented Sunshine from eating a balanced meal. The teacher swore it was not what Sunshine claimed. It happened again and again.

We had enough.

We know nothing about what Sunshine is doing at school. We know that group punishments are regular occurrences. We know that naughty kids can lose recess and other privileges for their whole class. We know that Sunshine is not a naughty kid. At least we assume so because no communication comes home to the contrary.

Sunshine’s headphones broke at school. Sunshine said she needed new ones. I said, “Is there a note from your teacher?” No, but I need them by Monday because we use them every day.

The hunger, though, that was the final straw. The nail that wrecked that camel’s coffin.

We had enough.

Saint Daddy looked into rentals to move into so we could send Sunshine to another school district. He found one and even sent a message to a realtor.

We contacted a charter school that we had considered when Sunshine was four years old. Saint Daddy wanted to know if they had space for a first grader. They did.

We applied immediately. We toured the school. We provided notarized copies of paperwork. Saint Daddy called the bus company about changing Sunshine’s pick up and drop off routines.

This has not been an easy week for me. I was confronted by an unknown that I could not tackle easily.

At Sunshine’s therapy on Tuesday, her therapist questioned why we decided to move her. And I said, “my heart tells me she’s not in the right place.”

And that was it. My heart said that Sunshine needed more that what we were giving her. I could feel it deeply. Sunshine’s school is not right for her or for our family. I could feel it every time something came home with her name spelled incorrectly on it. Her name is not Sunshyne. It is a common name with a common spelling, and not caring enough to know it shouts lack of care clearly and effectively.

My best friend asked if I had considered the impact that Sunshine’s school had on her mental health. She said that she knew that Sunshine was always a little worried but that school seemed to exasperate it. That something about her school kicked her anxiety into overdrive. As her year progressed, her struggles became more pronounced.

Had I considered?

I knew. Sunshine’s school boasts a long school day and a long school year. Those things are lovely on paper, but by the time she returns home after a long day at school, she has time to eat dinner, take a bath, and go to bed. If there is homework, her time is even more stretched.

She is six.

It is too much.

I knew all of that. I knew it in my heart and I tried not to focus on it because I was not sure of the alternatives.

I fretted. I lost sleep. I felt agitated and overwhelmed.

Even when Sunshine was accepted to the new school, I worried. She would go, but honestly, I had never been to the school. Could I put my six year old on a bus to a place I had never seen? What kind of mother would do that? I was not that mother.

What if I was making the wrong call? What if her new school was more wrong for her than her current school? What if I do this and she hates it? What if she does not want to go? She already has anxiety. What if I set her off by forcing her to do something she would never want, could never want? Her best friend in the whole world is at her current school, and while they are no longer in the same class, they see each other in the hall. How would she feel if I took that away from her?

So I asked. “How would you feel if Daddy and I put you in a different school?”

She did not hesitate. That sounds fun!

I was astounded. I expected more trepidation.

Her excitement over the prospect did much to assuage my fears. If Sunshine felt ready, maybe it really was right.

We did tour the school. They have a butterfly garden and sensory pathway; an outdoor classroom and grandparent luncheons. Their programs are on point. Sunshine will participate in a pageant at the end of this year. They offer piano and drama lessons after school for a small fee. And Sunshine was thrilled to learn that there are not any uniforms. I was thrilled to learn that she would be home from school earlier than she is now, even by taking the bus. Lunch and recess are also longer, despite the shorter school day.

There are still so many questions for which I do not have any answers. I spent this week with my mind racing, hoping that I would somehow find the right answers to know that we were making the choice that would save Sunshine.

There is no way to know.

For now, we move forward.

Sunshine has one week left at her current school. Her new school would have taken her tomorrow, but we decided to give her a week to ease into it. Plus, Saint Daddy will take her to Back to School Night to meet her new teacher this week. An event that Sunshine’s current teacher did not notify us about at her current school, besides when Sunshine mentioned we were supposed to be at the school at 6:00 that day.

How can a mother know that she is making the right decision for her children? Is there a way to feel fully safe that you chose correctly?

I suppose there is not. When anxiety is at play, that brings hours of struggle, hours of worry, over sometimes the simplest decisions.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am right. Whatever it is, Sunshine is at the foreground of my thoughts, and that, I feel, is the best that I can do for her.

When Sunshine Was Diagnosed With Mental Illness

Sunshine was sick for December. Not just sick in December. She spent the month in various stages of sickness. She said, “I don’t feel like myself” on our Nutcracker date, prompting us to leave a little before the end of the second act. She did not eat much for days at a time. She vomited without having a fever. She seemed better for a day or two. Then, she vomited again. She missed four days of school during the two and a half weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. At one point, she even developed a limp because she was experiencing leg pain that I at first attributed to growing pains.

She saw the pediatrician four times. She did not have the flu. She did not have strep throat. She did not have a fever, but she definitely had a virus. Viruses, Saint Daddy and I learned, can sometimes cause pain in the major joints, like the hips. No one else appeared sick until Sleepy vomited for twenty minutes and we celebrated the fact that Sunshine was contagious. Being contagious meant she would recover, even if it was taking a long time.

Shortly after this illness passed, we noticed that Sunshine felt sick regularly. At least three days a week, she did not want to go to school because she felt sick. Sunshine felt sick while we ate dinner. Sunshine felt sick as we prepared to leave the house. Sunshine felt sick around bedtime. Sunshine felt sick.

Then the nightmares came. Sunshine had a terrible dream that someone tried to kill her. It kept her up for a couple of nights with horrific “maginations.” She imagined that a man with a gun crawled into her bedroom window and took her away before Saint Daddy or I could stop him. She wanted to know how Daddy could save her if he was all the way across the hall. She imagined that someone was hiding under her bed, waiting to kill her. She imagined that no one would be able to protect her.

We bought her a new nightlight that projected beautiful stars across her ceiling. We gave her a sound machine. We even let her pick out a scary demon statue that she said would scare anyone away. It was her suggestion. He faces the window she is most afraid of. She calls him Mr. Scarypants.

These things helped for brief amounts of time. Inevitably, their usefulness would wear off and she would be imagining something even more horrific.

Sunshine’s fears increased as the year continued to progress. She stopped eating some of her favorite foods after she felt sick shortly after their consumption. Bananas, an absolute favorite, are a no-go for her now. She became afraid of the dark, of corners where spiders may lurk, of water being poured over her head, of walking within a foot of grates in the street. She refused to let us leave her room at night without a fight.

She associated “Sucker” by the Jonas Brothers with a particular magination about her swim instructor being a zombie and required that it be turned off if it ever played, and I do not know if you have noticed, but that gets played a lot.

About six weeks ago, Sunshine came to the living room where Saint Daddy and I were watching television after getting our babies in bed. She had a magination that she did not want to tell me about. She said it would make me scared too, and she did not want me to be scared. She was crying and wanted me to cuddle with her some more.

I followed Sunshine to her room. With her sound machine going and her stars projected on the ceiling, Sunshine gripped me and told me her magination. Someone had come into the house and had lined us up by age and had killed Daddy and then Mommy and they were going to kill her next and each of the brothers. She ran to me.

I felt grateful because she knew that she could come to me. I stayed with her that night, letting her feel my presence and know that I would always be there, choking on my tears, aware of my shortcomings.

It was that night that I knew, without any doubt in my mind, that Sunshine needed help. She was not going to get better going the way that we were going. She had spent eight months getting progressively worse, and I needed to do something. I needed to help her in ways I was never really helped.

Sunshine was formally diagnosed with anxiety in a therapist’s office on July 8. Her therapist noted that Sunshine is particularly afraid of being separated from me and that these fears manifest in recurring intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and a growing number of fears.

In my last post, I wrote about my diagnosis, but it was not that easy as a mother to admit that I could not save Sunshine on my own. I had tried. I knew what it was. I saw in her so many of the same issues that I saw in myself. The recurring belly aches, the incessant fears, the sleeplessness, the hesitation. I knew I had passed these to her in my blood. I wanted so badly to be the one who could help her figure out how to manage them.

But Sunshine and I are different people. She is an extrovert. She thrives on social interaction. She spends much less time in self-reflection that I did, even at her age. Sunshine needed help, and I, her mother who wanted to save her, got it for her. In many ways, my personal experience with anxiety helped me to know that the only way that I could help my daughter was to find someone else who could do it for me.

Sunshine did not let me out of the room for her first two sessions with her therapist. She was worried about where I might go while she was in this strange new place with this strange new adult who asked so many questions.

During the third session, Sunshine relinquished her grip on me and let me sit in the waiting room.

Her therapist has been amazing. She has helped Sunshine to evaluate good and bad emotions. She has her focusing on ways to lessen her fears as they happen. They talked about making scary things funny, like Harry Potter does in Prisoner of Azkaban. She taught Sunshine belly breathing, which Sunshine asked to do while listening to “Sucker” play on her therapist’s phone. Sunshine imagined that her swim instructor was a smiling zombie that was going to save the world, not hurt people.

They have worked through so much in so little time.

Today, on the way home from therapy, “Sucker” came on the radio. I did not realize what song it was until the chorus began to play. Sunshine did not yell about the song. In fact, she sang along with it and yelled at me when I changed the station when I realized what we were listening to. When we stopped at the store to pick up a few things, Sunshine walked on a grate. In fact, she stood on it long enough for me to snap a picture for Saint Daddy. “It’s not even scary, Mom!” she said.

Sunshine’s bedtime routine has also improved. She sleeps with a picture of the two of us nearby in case she feels lonely. She keeps a large book to use to practice belly breathing if the maginations come, but they are not coming, not like they were. We play lullabies instead of white noise (this was actually a friend’s suggestion, but her therapist said it was a suggestion that she often gives herself).

Sunshine is still afraid. I do not count her as cured or anything, but I am so grateful for her diagnosis. In many ways, Sunshine’s diagnosis has changed her life.

I pray that this experience helps Sunshine to understand her mental health in ways that I never could at her age.

As we were leaving her appointment today, her therapist told Sunshine, “Remember, you can’t make all your fears go away, but you can learn to not be afraid of the ones you can’t control.”

I am so happy to have found this woman who has helped my baby to learn what to do about the fears that she cannot control.

When I Was Diagnosed With Mental Illness

As a child, I was often sick on major holidays. I felt nauseated as we prepared for Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house. I was not quite myself on Easter Sunday. It was a pattern that I had come to accept. Sometimes, I would power through. Holidays were special, important, not-to-be-missed. Sometimes, I spent Thanksgiving afternoon napping in Grandma’s bed, surrounded by my extended family members’ coats.

Remarkably, I often felt much better by the evening. We would go home, the guests would leave, and I would be ready to enjoy what remained of the day.

As a child, I often felt sick on my birthday. I often felt sick when my family made their once yearly trip to my dad’s favorite restaurant for a big family dinner. I often felt sick in the days leading up to vacation. I often felt sick on the first day of school. I often felt sick when we went to the theater on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for a family movie. I often felt sick when Grandma picked me up for a night at the symphony. I often felt sick.

I felt sick. My belly hurt. I felt sick.

Many years would pass before I knew why that pattern existed for me. As a child, though, I just felt sick.

I rested my head on the coolness of the glass in the backseat of my mom’s mini-van. I wanted to lay down. I wanted to sleep. I felt sick.

In an effort to not be a bother, sometimes I told my mom, but I usually kept quiet. I have spent much of my life going out of my way to not be a nuisance to those whose affections I crave.

I did not know why it was, but I felt sick.

I suffered from recurring nightmares that I never spoke about either. I dreamed that my parents, surrounded by their multitudes of children, would take us somewhere fun. A festival, a fair, an amusement park, the mall. And when it was time to go, they rounded everyone up, put them in the car, and drove home. I was left behind. I believed they would come back, but time would pass and they would not. I would be there on my own, entirely forgotten, because I was easy to forget, to ignore.

I would wake from these dreams in a panic. They were so real. I could not quiet my brain. In an effort to not be a bother, I told no one, not even my mom. Instead, I went to my brothers’ room, their floor covered in linoleum, crawled under their bunkbed and let the cool floor take some of the edge off my fears. I would lay there like that until the grayness of morning began to spread throughout their room, and I would go about my day, pretending that I did not believe that I was so easily forgotten, so easily left behind.

I had terrible thoughts. I once imagined biting my little brother’s ear off. Not maliciously. It was an accident. We were playing. I did not know what to do. I was afraid of how my mom would react, so I took his little ear, placed it in the bathroom waste basket, covered it with toilet paper, and hoped my mom would not notice.

This vision comes to me still, even though that baby brother is now a grown man with children of his own. I am haunted by it and others like it. Some worse, some better. Always constantly with me.

I dealt with my first “prolonged illness” when I was fifteen years old. It began in the summer. I was reading eight different books for Honors English 11. I was overwhelmed because school would begin in four weeks, and I had three books left to read. I went to a friend’s birthday party, and of course, I felt sick. Because that is what I do. I feel sick. I had decided that I was dying. This was no ordinary sickness. This one would probably kill me.

I stopped sleeping at night. I ate poorly. I was sick for months. I suffered from constant tension headaches, my thoughts raced, I felt I was always no the verge of vomiting. I needed to escape, but there was nowhere to go. Wherever I went, this illness came with me.

I told my parents that I needed help, and they told me it was all in my head. They told me it would be fine. They told me that I was just a kid and kids have nothing at all to worry about. They told me it was nothing. Nothing at all.

Just feel better.

And it went away. Not quickly. Slowly, over time, I felt better.

I dealt with my second “prolonged illness” when I was seventeen years old. I did not believe that I was dying, but I did believe that I would never recover. I believed that the way I felt was the way that I would always feel. Sleep came in fits and spurts. I ate only what appealed to me, which was mostly potato chips. I cried a lot. I cried often. I was irritable, moody, and completely wrecked.

I told my mom that I was afraid, and she sent me to my pastor’s wife for comfort. It was the best she could do for me.

Saint Daddy was there that time. He held me through it. It was hard, but I knew, because of that experience, that he would always be the one for me. Who else would love me through a complete mental breakdown?

These prolonged illnesses came a few more times.

About two months after Saint Daddy and I got married, one began. My boss had told me that he had received a complaint after someone did not get me to agree to her terms. He did not believe the complaint, but he wanted me to be on my best behavior to prove that I was not what the complainer had said. When I entered my first meeting the next day, I felt sick.

I had to go home.

I left for the day and rested on the couch. Miraculously, I felt almost entirely recovered as soon as I walked into the sanctuary of my home.

Weeks went by as I suffered daily with frequent runs to the bathroom in case I vomited, which I never did. I slept less. I felt like I could not find my footing. I was drowning. I could not rise above it.

By this point, at the age of 22, I knew what I had. It was not a prolonged illness. It was panic disorder. I was not physically sick so much as I was experiencing physical responses to being mentally sick. I knew by this point that all along I had been dealing with anxiety. That I had a disorder that made me susceptible to panic disorder. I knew then that I could have been helped, that I needed help, and that it is okay to not suffer through it in silence.

I did not have a diagnosis, but I knew.

After a month, Saint Daddy urged me to call my doctor and talk about getting myself some help.

Within a few days, I had been formally diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder.

My treatment was to take up exercise, to give up caffeine, to cut back on alcohol, to talk about it, and to take a little pill once a day.

I took up running. I gave up coffee. I held onto my wine. I became so much more open about my experiences. And I took that little pill every day for a year.

Thank God for that little pill. It helped me to set myself to rights. It was not a miracle, but it was like someone had thrown me a life preserver as I tossed in the turbulent sea of mental illness.

And suddenly, with that diagnosis, I felt that it could be okay. For the first time in my life, someone with real knowledge in that sphere said, “This is a real thing you are dealing with.” It was not “all in my head,” even if it was in my head.

I was sick, but I was not actually sick.

In the last ten years, I have had other bouts of panic disorder. But I have talked about them. I have learned to cope better so that they last less time. I experience symptoms of my GAD almost every day.

But one of the best things that happened to me was being given a name for why I felt sick on special occasions and why I could not push aside visions of terrible things that came to my mind.

My mental illness was normal for me, even if it is not normal for the world.

My diagnosis changed my life.

Sunshine’s Summer Swimming Sessions

Sunshine is taking swim lessons right now. She has always been terrified of the water. Absolutely. 100%. No doubt about it. Terrified.

We have been swimming, and even with her trusty Puddle Jumper there to protect her, she would cling to me or simply choose to sit on the steps. She has always been content to watch her friends have fun frolicking in the water.

Saint Daddy and I recognized that she needed lessons a few years ago, and we signed her up for lessons at a new area swim school a few months after her brothers were born.

The lessons were okay, I suppose. After a few weeks of twice weekly lessons, Sunshine was not terrified but she was also no more willing to move away from the steps of the pool at her best friend’s house.

Now that she is six, we knew it was time to try again. So we signed her up for the best lessons to be had. Everyone says so. People come from counties around for these swim lessons. This method was developed here and has been imitated throughout the region.

Sunshine’s lessons began on Monday morning. They last for an hour and occur every morning.

She was nervous on Monday morning. She did not eat much breakfast because her belly hurt, which she often says when her anxiety is piqued. It is the only way she knows how to describe her feelings. I hear her clearly when she says it. She is really saying, “I’m scared.”

I convinced her to put on her bathing suit, and we drove over to the local college’s pool together.

She sat next to me on their bleachers, pretending to not be scared. But I knew. Her fear was palpable, and I was nervous for her. When they called her name, I squeazed her hand and promised her that she would be okay.

Sunshine followed the other children down to the pool, away from their parents. I knew that many of those children had more experience than Sunshine, but I also knew we were in the right place.

I watched from afar as Sunshine was evaluated and then shifted to another area of the pool. She was not ready for whatever they had put her in initially. I was not surprised to see that. She hates even getting her face wet during bathtime.

I watched her, and each time her instructor turned his back on her, she climbed out of the pool. I watched her pull away from him as he tried to bring her back in and another instructor had to pick her up and hand her to him. I watched as she gripped his neck when he tried to have her bob into the water. I watched as he pried Sunshine’s tiny arms from his own so he could give another kid his time.

When that first lesson was over, Sunshine came to me in tears. It was too hard. She was too scared. She did not want to go back.

We walked out to the car. I opened the back hatch and placed Sunshine in the trunk space. “Tell me about it,” I said.

Sunshine said that swim lessons are a big thumbs down. The other kids were better. She was so scared. Her instructor was nice, but he kept asking her to float and she did not know how and she would never know how. I held her cold, wet self for a few minutes and we got into the car.

“I don’t want to go back tomorrow,” she announced a few miles into our drive home.

You have to…

I turned down the radio, rolled up the windows, and slowed down the car.

“Listen, baby,” I began. “I know it’s hard, but… Do you remember the first time you read Big Pig on a Dig? Do you remember how hard you thought that was? Do you remember how you yelled because you didn’t think ‘ground’ made any sense? Do you remember?”

Yeah…

“Do you remember how it felt when you figured it out? You read the whole book and you felt awesome?”

Silence.

“There are going to be thousands of things in your life that you think are too hard. Things that seem impossible or really scary. Things you are convinced you can’t do. But you’re going to work at those things. You’re going to practice. And one day, you’ll do them and you will realize that they are not so bad. Because you can do that scary thing, and just like reading Big Pig on a Dig, you’re going to be so happy with yourself once you see what you can do.”

But…

“This happens to everyone, baby. We all get scared sometimes. Mommy has this thing. I have never really named it for you. It’s called anxiety. It tells me that things will be too hard and that they won’t be worth it and that I can’t do them anyway. But I can. I just have to tell my head to let me do it. That’s what I want you to do, baby. I want you to tell your head that you can do this. Because I know you can. I know it’s not too hard for you. Your teacher won’t let it be too hard for you. You’ll do it. So will you go back tomorrow and try?”

Okay…

She did not seem entirely convinced, but she did not fuss in the morning when we returned.

It took her instructor a few minutes to convince Sunshine to get into the water, but he did. Somehow. And once she was in, she stayed in there with her group for the remainder of the class.

After class was over, there were no tears.

I again sat her in the trunk. She said that she hated bobs but that class was a thumb to the side. Maybe it would be a diagonal up tomorrow, she said.

On day three, she was the first member of her group to get into the pool.

On day four, she began to practice bobbing with her group members while they waited for their instructor, who was working with other students.

When she joined me on the bleachers she announced that class was “finally fun today.”

When I sat her in the trunk on day four for our post-swim class ritual, she told me that her instructor told her he was proud of her and that she thinks she could probably bob for five (seconds) during the next class.

Outside of class, Sunshine’s baths have become much more pleasant. She puts her face in the water. She does not scream when the water runs down her face. She told Saint Daddy that she wished our tub was deeper so she could swim in it like she can swim at swim class.

Within class, she has become far more confident. She bobbed up and down enough times for me to get a video for Saint Daddy. She laughed with the other kids. She put herself into the pool.

She will most likely never request to join a swim team, but she is not terrified of the water. Maybe, just maybe, she will play with the other kids the next time we go to a pool.

Sunshine’s swim lessons are a great example of how facing the scary thing makes us better versions of ourselves.

My anxiety has told me thousands of times that it would be better to not go again tomorrow than to keep trying. My anxiety has told me to quit and stop making a fool of myself. My anxiety has told me that I am not worth the improvement.

But I am. Sunshine is. We all are.

I know I gave Sunshine my mental illness. I passed it to her in my breastmilk. I did not mean to, but I did.

I hope that she hears the lessons that I have learned and can learn from some of them so she does not have to spend so much time figuring it all out on her own. If she cannot learn from me, at least I can say that I will always be there to love her though it.

Normal Twin Language Delays and Their Mother’s Anxiety

Sunshine began speaking shortly after she turned seven months old. Her first word was “duck,” but she picked up new words so quickly that it was hard to maintain a solid list. By her first birthday, she had multiple sentences under her belt. She could count to thirteen by fourteen months. She said “I love you” by eighteen months. She responded to questions. By her second birthday, she recognized twenty letters and could read her own name.

Once she knew a word, it was hers forever.

She was verbally advanced. We knew it. We nurtured her language development through talking and singing and reading with her as much as we could.

I told my oldest sister that she should not compare Sunshine to her second son, who was born exactly seven weeks after Sunshine’s birthday. It was not fair to him. Sunshine was very verbal. She understood language.

She still does. Now that her kindergarten teacher has put a few tools in her hands, she is advancing quickly with her reading.

Grumpy and Sleepy are altogether different. Grumpy spoke first. Coincidentally, his first word was also “duck.” He and Sunshine had both fallen in love with the same stuffed duck in their infancy. While Sunshine was seven months when she grabbed onto that word, Grumpy was nearly ten months old.

Sleepy did not find a word until weeks after that. It was “mama,” but he lost it. I posted a while ago about both boys calling me “dad” for months and breaking my poor mom-guilt-ridden heart.

That is another thing about my sons’ language development that separated them from Sunshine. They have lost words over time. “Dog” faced a similar fate. It was an early word for both of them, but they lost it along the line. Instead, they have used “cat” to mean any animal. They both agree that all animals are cats, even ones that do not look even slightly like our pet cat.

Timehop continually shows me videos of my very verbal Sunshine, who was born six weeks later in the year than Grumpy and Sleepy, and was therefore younger than they are when I watch these videos. Grumpy and Sleepy are not where she was verbally, and I have found myself tempted to compare, which is precisely what I told my sister not to do five years ago.

I need to take my own advice.

This post is for mommas of multiples. If your babies seem behind, do not compare.

I first questioned the possibility that twins might sometimes be delayed with our pediatrician when Grumpy and Sleepy were nine months old. They were late crawlers, especially compared to Sunshine. (There I go again, comparing them.)

The pediatrician said that many multiples reach milestones in the “late average” range, meaning that the concern is likely to be my own and not truly medical/developmental in nature. I did not find any research to support the fact that full-term twins walk later than full-term singletons.

For language, though, there is research that suggests that multiples do develop later. This issue is more likely to appear with identical twins, and may be linked to complications related to multiple pregnancies and deliveries. However, fraternal twins, like Grumpy and Sleepy, are also more likely to develop speech deficiencies than singletons.

The reasons why are so logical:

  1. Multiples spend more time with each other than anyone else. Since they speak at an underdeveloped level, they tend to mimic each other’s methods of communication. My best friend told me that she has a local friend with twins in speech therapy who was told that her sons are reinforcing each other’s poor language skills. It makes perfect sense. If language is developed mostly by interacting with people who speak it and their primary interaction is with someone who does not speak it well, children will struggle to develop language quickly.
  2. Multiples get less one-on-one time with adults than singletons do. This is actually the reason I believed my sons were late to sitting up on their own. I could not easily get on the floor and play games with them for as long as I did with Sunshine because there were two of them that needed my support. I blamed myself for their poor core development. It was not actually my fault, but mom guilt is real. However, much like the first reason listed above, multiples spend less individual time than singletons with people who do speak the language well, so the correct methods of speech are not modeled as much for them.
  3. Multiples also tend to simplify their language in the essence of efficiency. Because they get less individual attention, multiples tend to stick to short sentences. They also tend to be louder. I did not realize that was a legitimate twin thing until I began to research it. They do this so that they can say what they need to say in a way that will be quickly heard and understood. Unfortunately, it can delay their development further.

Grumpy and Sleepy also have what is called a Shared Understanding. This means that they understand each other and use sounds that they have developed to stand for objects that are not true language. Around their first birthday, they were referring to each other as “ahgugug.” Other shared understanding words that they have had include “dee” for anything that they like to throw, “guy” for sock, “psss” for star, and “guk” for boat. They both agree that those are the words that mean those objects. Shared Understanding is something that develops largely because twins spend more time with each other than with anyone else.

There is also research to suggest that the mental health of the parents plays a role in language development as well. Parents of multiples have a higher incidence of mental health problems than parents of singletons, and when parents have a difficult time taking care of themselves, they have a difficult time supporting their quickly developing children.

(Holy link share in this post!)

Here is the thing: Even with all of this information, it is hard not to worry. It is particularly difficult to know when that worry becomes something worth bringing up with a doctor. We are not at that point of worry with Grumpy and Sleepy. I feel like they will be fine. They are working on it. Grumpy is starting to pick up words more quickly right now. Suddenly, he knows that the animal that came with their Little People farm is a “cow” instead of a “cat.” He began saying “sock” the other day, which was a major turning point in the Shared Understanding department. Sleepy is always a couple of weeks behind Grumpy when it comes to language, so I assume he will catch up to Grumpy soon.

There are services for delayed children, whether they are multiples or singletons, and concerned parents should talk to their pediatricians about beginning evaluations.

I worry, though. Each time a Sunshine video comes up on Timehop, I cannot help but wonder when her brothers will get “there” because they are not there yet. It is not fair. I know it.

As with most things related to my anxiety, I have little ability to control that worry, those nagging thoughts that something is not right, that I could be doing more.

I love my sons. I love them up and down and all around. I love them from the ends of the hair on their head to to their tiny tickle toes. I read to them every night and as much as they will let me otherwise. We sing and eat dinner together as a family. We try.

But the people they spend the most time with are each other, and they are both at the same developmental age. They reinforce each other’s speech patterns.

And I wonder… What more can I do? Could I do better? Could I be better?

This is anxiety meeting motherhood. I have read the research. This is normal, natural. Twins are more likely to have a slight delay in language development. I know it. I understand it. My sons are developing language every single day. Over the last week, Grumpy picked up four new words. Sleepy found two of his own. They will be fine.

If only I could make my brain believe it.

This happens to me time and time again. My sons’ speech is not the beginning of this, and it will not be the end.

Having twins has certainly impacted my mental health. My heart is full, and my anxiety is in overdrive. I pray that it gets better.

Twin language is a story that twin mommas should hear, but this story–one of knowing the truth but struggling to really believe it–is one that I am sure that all people with anxiety can understand.

Sometimes, when I learn something that will assuage my fears, I spend time telling myself to “believe it, believe it, believe it.” Eventually, I can.

Soon my sons will say “I love you.” I believe that. They are close. They respond to the phrase now. I say “I love you,” and they give me kisses. We are communicating a beautiful thought.

One day, they will say it too. And I will cry. With joy and with relief. Because that is what I do when the thing I tried so hard to believe finally becomes a truth.

We Will Figure That Out When We Get There

If I had a dollar for every time I said that, we would have so many fewer things to figure out when we get there.

I have been thinking about this a lot over the last month. It has been more than a month since my last post. Allow me to explain…

My best friend was sick. Not, like, a little sick, but really sick. It started as a cold that would not quit. She was diagnosed with various issues that seemed to be related to a cold. Bronchitis, laryngitis, a pulled muscle from the cough. And you know what? They would not quit either. She saw specialists. They told her it was anxiety. “It’s probably panic attacks.” My best friend does not have anxiety. She has had panic attacks. She knew it was not panic attacks. “Maybe it’s heartburn.” She saw a cardiologist who essentially told her she was too young to have any real issues, but if it would make her feel better, he would run tests. It was not serious enough to rush anything. Two weeks’ wait was fine. The next day, I drove to her house to spend the night with her while her husband was away. She wailed in pain while I held her baby and felt helplessness. Three days after meeting with that cardiologist, she had heart surgery. She gave her stent a name. That stent saved her life. It deserves a name.

If I could have put into words my feelings about it when it happened three weeks ago, I would have waxed poetic about a life spared. I would have praised God above, the universe around us, and medical professionals who finally hear a young woman when she says, “This isn’t normal. Something’s wrong.” I had so many feelings. Relief, joy, gratitude. I love her very much. I need her very much. I could have lost her, but I did not. We did not.

Before she saw that cardiologist who brushed her off due to her young age, she told me she feared that she would die. She told me that she feared that she would have to give up so much about her life that she loved. She told me that she was scared. And I thought, “We’ll figure it out when we get there.”

Sunshine was sick. She first became sick on the second Sunday in December. I took her to see The Nutcracker at a nearby college. We go every December. When intermission ended, she asked me if we had to stay for the second half of the play. I was surprised. She loves the ballet. She said, “I don’t feel like myself.” We did stay for the remainder of the performance. When we arrived home, however, she put herself to bed. It was 4:30 PM. She would not leave the bed for dinner. That night, she threw up in bed. She was sick for most of the next day, but that dissipated as the day progressed. She went to school the following day. She had a cold, but her belly was fine. No one else was affected.

A week later, she threw up in bed again. She spent the next day at home, but she was fine. She returned to school. At 2:00 that next day, her school called me. Sunshine needed to be picked up. She did not have a fever, but she had thrown up in the classroom. She was not permitted to return to school the next day. Saint Daddy took her to the doctor that night. The doctor suspected a lingering virus from the week before. Again, no one else was sick. She had no fever, but she was lethargic and nauseous and, occasionally, vomiting. She spent the entire day after the one when I picked her up at school in her bed. I could not get her to open her eyes long enough to eat a few bites of food.

I was scared. I was scared about all of the things that can cause nausea and lethargy without a fever or being contagious.

Saint Daddy swears up and down that this is not true, but he is a bit of an alarmist when it comes to medical stuff. He swears this because his mom is a much more extreme alarmist. She is a nurse and she sometimes diagnoses our children via Facebook posts. Shortly after Grumpy’s stitches episode, she babysat the kids while Saint Daddy and I went for lunch to celebrate our anniversary. She said she noticed that Grumpy tripped a lot and wondered if we ever considered the possibility that he might have cerebral palsy.

I truly appreciate her concern. She loves our babies and worries about them. But she is definitely an alarmist.

Saint Daddy does not consider himself to be an alarmist because he is not that extreme. But as I sat there watching Sunshine sleep, unable to rouse her, crying and praying, Saint Daddy came to me with theories. “Maybe we need to have her tested for the serious stuff.” Maybe it’s a tapeworm, maybe it’s another parasite, maybe she has… The last one is one I cannot even put into writing. It is too much.

What will we do?

We will figure that out when we get there.

That night, as I put Sleepy into his crib, he vomited all over their bedroom floor, his crib, and himself. I did not think I would ever celebrate a vomiting one year old, but there I was thrilled.

If Sunshine is contagious, Sunshine has a virus. We will never have to figure that out. Praise God. Amen.

Sunshine’s issues did not end there. Her cold remained. She felt periodic nausea over the following two weeks. We believe that Grumpy and Sleepy did as well, based on their appetites, but they could not tell us themselves.

That is when Sunshine began limping. She could not step over the baby gates anymore. Her leg hurt.

We took her to the doctor. “Maybe it’s the virus. Sometimes viruses in children can affect their hip joints.” The same virus that began three weeks ago? When do we worry that it might be something more? “Call us if it is still bad in two days.” She continued to cry out in pain and to limp around the house. She did not run around. She barely stood up at all. Two days passed. My mind went crazy places. I called my sister and she said the thing I was thinking. She did not say it, just as I would not write it, but we both thought it.

How will I live?

We will figure that out when we get there.

Sometimes, I feel like Saint Daddy thinks I do not care the right amount about certain things. I think he wants me to worry about things in the same way that he does. I know he knows that I spiral. When my best friend told me she was afraid that she might die, I told her that I refused to think about that. I could not think about that. I could not imagine that as a possibility. I would spiral. I would lose my footing. I need her to be okay because she is such a monumental part of my life. I needed to think about that only if it would actually happen, not just in case it would. The same is true of Sunshine. I needed to pray for both of them. I needed to do what I could do. I needed to drive to her house and spend the night. I needed to make Sunshine chicken soup and spoon-feed it to her as she laid down with her eyes closed. But I needed to not think of the things that could happen.

I am great at the worst case scenario. If you are ever looking for someone to tell you what the absolute worst outcome could potentially be, I promise to be that person for you. Trust me. I have imagined some horrendous outcomes to completely innocuous situations.

The last thing that I need in these situations is for someone to remind me that there are things that could go wrong. I can do that myself.

With that in mind, if I can somehow shut down that part of me that will focus on every negative outcome imaginable, I want to do that. When I manage to do that, I say, “We’ll figure that out when we get there.”

Five years ago, when I was nine months pregnant with Sunshine, I planned a major event at work. It took me nearly six months of concentrated effort. I made phone calls, organized teams, and formulated plans. It was a massive undertaking.

Whenever my second-in-command asked me very specific questions, I tried to answer them to the best of my ability, but sometimes I said, “We’ll figure that out when we get there.”

it was my way of telling her that I believed our preparation would lead to a smooth event, even if I had not ironed out every single wrinkle in the fabric table coverings. The following year, as we planned our final event together before we both moved on to different ventures, she said our motto would always be “We’ll figure that out when we get there.” Ultimately, I believe that hard work and planning can lead to it all “working out” in my favor.

I have to believe that way so I do not obsess over the details. Sometimes, I get lost in the details. My anxiety makes me get lost in the details. My anxiety tells me that I need to think about every little detail. My anxiety tells me that I need to be in control. Over time, i have been able to tell myself that I do not have to be in control. It is a coping mechanism to say these words and give myself time to deal with what will come my way.

These situations are not the end of this either.

How will we handle twins? What will we do with the dog when we go on vacation? How will we get there? What if the boys do not walk before fifteen months? What if the car breaks down? What if? What if? What if?

We will figure that out when we get there.

I promise.

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.

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.