The cemetery view

I live by an old cemetery with a few sandstones amongst the trees, and some new marble ones at the back.

For a long time, I have been afraid that I or my child may be swallowed in our morbid days by this sight, by our fear of death.

But fear of death is only fear of the unknown and fear of change, it is no evil but what we make.

These graves are Death Happened, but also Lives Lived!

How many were short, or lain not to be regretted?

The stones, the words, the few flowers say: however long they were there, here lay people who mattered.

It shines in the darkness, by the shadow of the sun in the trees, by the light of the moon on the grass:

Death is a life lived to the end. These graves are lives loved.

“Beautiful graveyard shot” by Matt Wharton, flickr

The fuel analogy

I was reading this article about authors who made a comic to show what anxiety and depression are to people who do not suffer from those. It got me to remember all the times that I tried to explain what an anxiety disorder is.

I’ve had anxiety issues forever, and at least since I was nine. Depression I am not sure, though the teenage years were really quite bad and I have a doubt about those. But because I grew up with anxiety, it shaped my personality – or my personality shaped my anxiety. I am superstitious, perfectionist, idealist and hypersensitive. I am also anxious a lot of the time.

What the authors of the comic show is true: it steals your energy. To go further, I’d say that a good analogy I’ve found is the fuel one: some people run on diesel while I run on unleaded 95, and when with a diesel engine you use about 4 litres of fuel for 100 km, I need to double that amount for the same distance.

Or, to put it another way, if we all start the day with the same fixed amount of fuel (just not the same kind, all engines are different), I run out of it faster than others:

– 1 to 2 litres to get out of the house: are the windows closed, the oven switched off, the cooker off, did I take enough games/change/food/drinks/warm clothes for him? Going down the stairs with him in my arms, going to the playground, going back up again with him wanting to be put down and run (+ the groceries and the baby backpack). Exhausting.

– 1 litre to drive somewhere: did I put his seatbelt right? What is that man doing driving like that?! (I think a lot of people would think these as well, but then they’d forget while I dwell on it, doing my best not to, to focus on the road… What if, what if?!)

– 2 litres for grocery shopping: people, people and people. It’s tiring to continuously make decision while trying to shut down the noise in the shop and the comments in my head (baby crying, child running, woman talking to herself, man-dressed-in-a-weird-way-who-is-not-necessarily-a-psychopath-so-you-don’t-need-to-avoid-him, chicken close to sell-by-date, cash-woman eating chewing gum or with unclean hair. Etc. etc.). Though I hope I’ve become slightly better at it with the years.

Pffff 4 to 5 litres gone!

So what about working, meeting with people, going to a picnic, to a barbecue, or a festival?

Working would be quite out of the question I suspect. I’d need to try again to be sure. Colleagues to talk to, people at the cafeteria, noises, deadlines for unimportant reports and projects (seriously who cares if it’s not done in time, my son walks!/is teething!/sick with a cold! and people are dying of hunger in the world! But I’d have to (force myself to) care otherwise I’d lose the job). And to leave my son at daycare?? I don’t know that I could trust anyone enough for that. Though I’ll also have to work on that, be it for daycare, holidays with the grandparents, or school.

Picnics, barbecues, festivals, I try. Some days are good and we go – when anxiety is on vacation. Some days or some festivals/places/people I just avoid. There is no point in it. There is no fun in being that exhausted, I don’t enjoy some of these things as much, it is true. It’s just too much work.

I work on all these, shut down noises, go out, do my best to accept what I cannot change. It’s just that it takes energy. What some people can do with the amount they have, I some days use it all doing not much, taking care of my son (Eat/sleep, please… Do not stand on the couch! Not that closet! Not the stairs!) or shopping. Even phone calls, emails or writing take their toll. But I still get stuff done.

Source: Ben Hollingsworth, flickr
Source: Ben Hollingsworth, flickr

The hardest thing

It’s been a little while since I wrote anything – why? Well because there is a big change coming for our family and we’ve been busy thinking, deciding and planning, though nothing is confirmed yet so it will have to wait a little bit longer before I can really announce it here 😉 But linked to it and coming back on the notion of change, and what the next change will mean for us, I have been kept awake at night lately, thinking.

Thinking about changes in life, in relationships, in ourselves. How it happens sometimes, against our will. How we sometimes make it happen, though less often. We usually only change things when they are going badly – and sometimes not even then.

“Don’t fix something that’s not broken” That sentence kept me awake, because it is true. What need do we have of changing things that are going well – even if it’s not perfect, nothing is and it also won’t be perfect once changed. We get used to ways, our routine, our habits, our friends, the way life is when it’s mostly good. Nothing bad in that, you cannot keep on moving. If you do that, you never settle, never make friends, and you have a good chance of screwing up your child’s education and relationships.

But does it also mean that we really shouldn’t change things that are going well? Or can we still try? Take the risk? Because change can be nice if scary. Lose everything for something different. How do we make that kind of choice? It’s a tough one. And a tough one to impose on our son, who doesn’t have a say in the matter.

Maybe it can be a question of schedule, of the right moment in life, when everything seems to come together? But, to be honest, I realize I don’t really believe in these moments anymore. They’re an idea, a feeling I had when I was younger and less experienced. Now it seems to me, more and more, that or we make these moments happen, or they just don’t exist and we push until we get what we want. Because they are times when if you don’t push, nothing will happen, what you want is just not going to happen.

But what is it that we want?

And how can a change be a good one when it is making me cry and keeping me awake at night?

So I’ve been reading, looking on google for clues and books, and I found this: Finding peace with uncertainty.

I especially like the part on How to get good with uncertainty – at which I am really bad, even more so since I started having anxiety issues – I loved these:

“See the wonder and opportunity in change.”

“Become aware of your clinging. (…) What are you clinging to? Often it’s just an idea — the idea of you and a romantic partner, an image of who you are.”

“See the downsides of clinging.”

“Experience the joy in the unknown.” So true! How bored I get when all is known! It actually made me think of a poem I love by a poet named Ben Orlin:

“The Hardest Thing

The hardest thing for unproved men—
it scares them to the bone—
starting out a journey
with ending still unknown.

The hardest thing for wiser men—
it makes their blood run cold—
carry out a journey
whose ending is foretold.”

If life was known, how boring, how scary…

Still, what will my son think of us, of the choices we make? How do we decide? Why do we choose change?

Because we want the years to count. Because we want a bigger house. Because we hope that it will be good for our family, good for our son. Because our life here is good but not perfect and we hope it can get even better.

The limit I draw is that I want us to make our choices for positive reasons, not negative ones. I want to choose because I hope, not because I run away or because I fear – though it can be very hard sometimes to entangle feelings and reasons to be sure, and it’s never so simple that there is only one reason behind what we wish for and decide…

To conclude, there is a wonderful Spanish proverb that I heard years ago and even wrote down to keep in my wallet: “Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias.” “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”

Sailing the unknown - Russ Seidel, flickr
Sailing the unknown – Russ Seidel, flickr

The way other people live

RecipeforThe other day, I was reading one of these funny books on parenting. Amongst many advices that the author gave (in a less funny part of the book) was a list of all the things we should do while we still can – carry our child, kiss him, embarrass him – before he or she will not want us to do these or be too old for these, and these aspects of being a parent would be over with this child.

While I was reading this, my son was playing on his own in the same room, a play-list of videos of French songs in the background, and I felt afraid, an emotion I am very familiar with.

Fear is a constant companion of the mum, I believe, and it is surely one of mine. As such, I could even say that I am a “naturally” anxious person. Though I have always been a little anxious, during the pregnancy things went up to a whole new level. I was afraid of what I ate, of going out, of walking for too long and too far, of taking the plane or the car, that the baby would have defects. Basically, I was afraid of losing him and not doing the right things, absolutely all the time. In the end I had to get help for this.

After his birth and once my hormone levels went back to normal, things got slightly easier. But I was still afraid. Afraid he wasn’t growing well, afraid he didn’t get enough milk, or wasn’t sleeping enough, afraid he would catch diseases.

Fears just kept adding themselves to the pile. The vaccinations. That he would fall in the stairs. Hurt himself on the balcony. Fall from the couch, not looking at what he is doing. Get sick. Not eat enough, or too much, or too sweet. Doesn’t talk enough. Too much screen time for his eyes and his brain. That he would fall playing with his dad, or using his walker. That he could lose us…

In a less dramatic way, but still very frightening to me, I also worry that I will miss out on him. That I will miss the important milestones by not being aware or present in mind at those moments. That he will grow too fast (it is already happening). Afraid that I am not spending enough quality time with him – him alone in the living room while I read… And books and articles reminding me that “they grow so fast!” are just not helping.

My son is healthy as we also are with my husband. We have a good house, if a little small. My husband has a good work. We have family, who, if they are a bit far, could still help us if we needed help. Things are good, and I am afraid. And while fear can be useful, to prepare ourselves and to be careful, it turns out that constant background fear is actually paralysing, debilitating, until I find myself enable to care for my son at times, and unable to take basic decisions – should we go out this afternoon? Maybe not.

The last time I remember not being afraid at all, at least for a moment, was already a few months back. We were the three of us, listening to music one evening before our son’s birthday, and there was a perfect moment there where I remember feeling amazingly happy. No cloud, just joy. Wondering what had happened, what the difference was, I realized that for just that moment I hadn’t been afraid. Only enjoying.

Later that night, I sat there, watching my son play with his dad, afraid, always. Afraid of what? That he would hurt himself, that he would grow too fast, or not well, that I would finally lose it for good one day. Thinking of all that I could do to protect him and us. Terrified, paralysed. Until lightning stroke. I cannot live that way all the time. I cannot waste more time and spoil happy moments with unnecessary, non-useful, if not unrealistic, fears. I cannot take more decisions based on fear – decisions and actions, such as playing with my son or taking him to the playground, should be based on hope for joy, not on the fear that he will grow too fast.

I also cannot bear the thought of transferring my fears to him, of risking to paralyse him, for nothing. For what could possibly happen, but might not, ever, happen, or not the way I think they will anyway. He should have the possibility to be free of my worries, or in Teri Carter’s words: “This is what normal people are like, I think, and this is what I envy: the luxury of true spontaneity. The lack of expectation of impending disaster.  How comforting it must be to never imagine and imagine and imagine such an event. The lack of worry and anticipation. The lack of mentally creating and dreading what-might-be.“ I find it hard to believe that people can really be free of worries that way, but maybe it is true for some, and it would be great if it could become true for me and for him.

Worrying will not stop things from happening, as being afraid of something will not make it happen. I cannot ignore my fears -it is like a pressurized container, after a while it blows up- but I’m doing my best to work on them. One by one leave them behind. To work on today. Now. Enjoy. Believe that tomorrow will come. Because it usually does.