Anxiety.

Picture from Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. I have lived this feeling.

Last weekend, Jetpack wandered off in the grocery store. I had a basket with six apples, and three other things, and I unloaded it, and turned my head, and he was gone. He’d gone the length of the supermarket to look at the flowers, and he didn’t answer my calls. Luckily, some amazing person had seen him wandering and started looking for me. He was gone for about two minutes, and before I found him I was pretty convinced he had been kidnapped.

A week before that, I wrote all this:

I’m not good enough. I’ve yelled at Jetpack for really stupid reasons, like not listening or not letting me use the toilet without climbing all over me like a caffeinated capuchin. I’m always late on flea/tick drops for the dog, and someday she’s going to get lyme disease again because of it. My sister (I’m her primary caregiver) didn’t get a bath the other night, even though she should’ve, because I took Jetpack trick-or-treating. Sometimes she has dry cereal because we run out of soy milk in the fridge and I don’t notice until after she’s eaten breakfast. Sometimes we yell at each other because we don’t understand each other well. The other night the Mister was up very late because I forgot to clean something up, even though I promised, and it really needed to be done. The last two times I put away laundry, I did so because I needed to the basket, in order to wash all the newly dirtied stuff. I can’t fix everyone’s problems. I don’t think I can fix anyone’s problems. And my worries about something terrible happening to Jetpack are as numerous as grains of sand on the beach.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I saw it first written, about me, in college. The student counsellor didn’t mention anything to me. She just wrote it on her notes, and I happened to see. It left me with a huge mistrust of her, and a diagnosis that I researched on my own. (Protip, mental health professionals: don’t act like we’re stupid, please).

I’ve never had a job where I didn’t spend some days at home, terrified of going in for absolutely no reason. I’ve never been bad at a job, but I’ve always had attendance issues, usually from days spent sitting at home, sobbing and shaking, afraid of going anywhere. Classes too. I’ve dropped plenty of classes because I was SO SCARED of going. I had a panic attack in spanish class once—not anxiety, a full-on panic episode. Completely lost it. I drove home and actually hid in my bed. (Protip #2: don’t drive directly after a panic attack. I made it home okay, but it was probably the most unsafe I’ve ever been on the road).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had a pretty complicated childhood. I also know I don’t have a lot to complain about—my parents are very loving, I’m white and have never been homeless or without food.

But sometimes I’m still damn crazy.

A friend—who has been travelling her own bumpy mental health road—mentioned the fear of passing these problems on to our children. If you’re genetically related to your child, some of your mental health problems are probably passed on automatically (thanks, genes!). But nature and nurture being the murky waters that they are, who knows. And I know so many people who identify their own neurosis in their parents, and blame them.

I don’t want Jetpack to look back and see that.

Sometimes I wonder, who am I to have a kid? Shouldn’t I have thought about this before taking on that responsibility? (I did, but that’s not the point). I never want to see Jetpack even half as crazy as I feel sometimes. But no matter how much I struggle to shut it down, no matter how much therapy I attend or medication I put into myself, I can’t hide it all. That sad and twisted fucked up me is still in here. I can’t just cut it out. And it scares me that someday he’ll see that too, and he’ll resent me for it.

I don’t have any answers for that friend. I don’t have any hopeful closing paragraph for this litany of my own tragic faults. I can try my best, and I will probably fail.

Ambiguous Loss

Who knew this baby would turn into such a weirdo!

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a strong family identity. I would do anything for my family, move across the country, drop everything I’m doing, and give them the shirt off my back. It sounds nice, except no one else in my immediate family shares this identity. Looking back, I wonder how I developed this strong family identity. When I was a kid, I asked my older sibling for a sweater that no longer fit them:

“No.” they said.
“But you can’t wear it. It literally does not fit you anymore.” I said.
“I know,” they said, “I just just don’t want you to have it.”

This is a good example of my family’s mentality. Don’t share, look out for yourself. Everyone will take what they can. This example was also repeated by my mother when I moved out for the first time and she wouldn’t let me take my bed. It’s now broken under a hundred pounds of fabric that she’ll use “someday”.

I moved to a neighboring state in my early 20’s, driving three hours round trip to see my parents once a month. They returned those visits twice in the four years I lived there. This theme continued for years, and I finally stopped asking if they’d visit. My parents and sibling don’t write, call, email, facebook or text me except on rare occasions. I once asked my mother how she would know if I was ok, and she said “One of your friends would contact us if something happened to you.” I recently told them (via email) that my partner and I are trying to get pregnant. My mother’s response was “What’s ‘IUI’?” and no one else replied. This non-reaction sent me over an emotional cliff that I didn’t even see coming. As a comparison: my partner’s parents showed excitement, wished us luck, and hope for more grandkids.

I’ve always managed to push down any disappointing family of origin behavior by reminding myself that as a child, you don’t pick your family and I know they love me (I do know this). But something is happening to me as I am, for the first time in my life, feeling like I am part of my own little family. I am finding it hard to accept my family of origin’s ambivalence about my existence. Do I want my kids to see that this is how families treat each other? I find myself wanting more from my family of origin. They don’t seem to care about my life, or want to get to know me as an adult. I’m lucky to have extended family members that fill that gap, and we make the effort to stay close (though I could do a better job there). But it doesn’t replace my parents; the very people who loved and breathed me into existence. As my friend recently said: “It is just difficult to understand how a parent’s profound love for their child doesn’t translate into action very often.”

So what now? It’s not as if I’ve been cut out of my family of origin. There’s no situation or event that I can point to, memorialize, or mourn. I can’t change them; I can only let myself grieve and try to heal in some way. I can be grateful and love my own family a little bit more. I can keep working to make our family strong and healthy and know that I’ll always be interested in who they are and where their lives may take them.

For Boston

Seems close, but we still only have the one stoplight.

I’m from Boston. Ok, I’m not from Boston. But if you grew up west of Pennsylvania, it’s just easier to say Boston rather than: “Just outside of Boston. About 45 minutes west. Have you heard of Hopkinton, where the Marathon starts? What about Framingham? Ok, well it’s right next to Framingham. No, I don’t have the accent.”

It just so happens that I took a loosely planned road trip with a friend from Minneapolis to pick up hir furniture in New Jersey (where ze is from) last week. With room in the trailer, we headed up to Massachusetts to get my drum set out of my parents’ house. We drove through Hopkinton to get there, and though we didn’t drive over the starting line of the marathon, we were very close – close enough to read all the signs store owners had placed in their windows for the runners.

The marathon falls on a state-specific holiday every year. Officially called Patriots’ Day, most locals call it Marathon Monday. My father ran the marathon nearly every year since I was a child until his Achilles heel injury in 2005. We would find a spot on the route, coordinate with extended family members about the time and place, make signs of encouragement, and bring snacks. The night before, we’d have a large spaghetti dinner so that my dad could carbo-load.

I can’t imagine that anyone reading this has not heard of the Boston Marathon bombings that occurred exactly one week ago. Feels like a lifetime. My friend and I were able to spend some time with my family-of-origin as we packed up some of my things on the Saturday before the Monday bombings. Several (agonizing) days of driving later, and we were home. I was setting up my drums in my basement Monday after lunch, listening to NPR, as the word came through that someone had bombed the finish line of the marathon. Of course there’s confusion at first, and denial that it’s as bad as they say it is. I was thinking “I was just there. I asked Dad if he was ever going to run it again. I was in Hopkinton two days ago.” I was glued to media outlets for the rest of the day week. All my family is fine, by the way.

It made me start to think about conversations with kids. No one talked to E about the bombings; she’s too young to notice and we left NPR off for the week. I realized that I feel mostly reactionary with kids. If they ask a question, I will answer it – or at least I’ll think about it and get back to them. But how do I bring up things that may come up for them? How do you help kids deal with potential danger while allowing them to be be kids while they can? After an extended Captain Planet marathon the other day, E asked me: “Are there like really real bad guys out there?” and I didn’t know how to answer that. Yes, there are. But they won’t be putting a force field around an island to heat it up; they’ll probably try to touch your genitals. Reality is a hard thing for me to wrap my own brain around sometimes. I can’t imagine a world where I’m not hypervigilant about danger. Balancing the weight of the good and evil in the world and making the best choices you can make each day; that’s all I’ve got. But how to explain this to a kid?

“The word is beautiful and shitty, kid. Learn to enjoy booze and your friends and you’ll make it just fine.” I guess that’s not going to make it into a kid’s book any time soon. Any tips on bringing up conversations with older kids? Can’t Mr. Rogers just raise our children for us?

Stay safe out there. #bostonstrong

Family Surprises

This past weekend we drove down to Madison to go to my grandpa’s 84th birthday party. We left Saturday afternoon as soon as I was done with class, picked up my sister, and arrived after 8pm. Frankly, I was surprised my grandparents were still up. We stayed up and visited a little bit, letting Little Bear run around before bed. She hasn’t spent much time in that house, just an hour here or there when we are driving to Milwaukee, so there was a lot to inspect before bed.

The next morning we spent visiting with my grandparents and watching Little Bear. She climbed up and down the stairs, pulled cards and games out of drawers, carried my grandma’s stuffed bears around, ate snacks, and was adorable. In the afternoon, my parents, three of my mom’s six siblings and their spouses, and a handful of cousins came over. We did what do best. We ate, took photos, and sat around talking. Everyone oooh’ed and ahhh’ed appropriately over Little Bear. We talked about the most recent great-grandchild born a few weeks ago, and the 11th great-grandchild due in the fall. We talked about the weather, we talked about old family stories.

Before we left Monday morning, Little Bear sat on my grandma’s lap totally relaxed listening to her tell stories and sing a finger counting song she sang to me when I was little. She giggled and let my Grandpa dance her around the kitchen on the tops of his feet.

In the car on the way home I was struck by how easily my family has welcomed Little Bear into their midst. Relationships with my family weren’t exactly rough but they also weren’t exactly smooth over the course of my multiple comings-out. I was worried that my family wouldn’t reallly know how to relate to Little Bear, but I’ve been happily suprised at every turn. She has been welcomed whole-heartedly into the big mess of people that is my family of origin in such an unquestioned manner that amazes me.

Families of origin are certainly messy, complex, and painful. But occasionally they can also be beautiful and easy. Here’s to my family, in all their imperfection.