Category: Mental Health

Silence Is Golden

I’ve been having some anger problems of late. After my last post, that’s probably no surprise. I’ve also written about my anger control issues before, which I’ve struggled with all my life. So this is not exactly breaking news, right?

But lately it’s taken on a different flavor. It’s beyond anger, or frustration, or irritation from being over-stimulated. It’s rage. 

My rage makes an appearance pretty often lately. It sneaks up on me and takes over, swiftly and overwhelmingly. It’s triggered by a few different things, frustration being one of them. But a bigger trigger lately is the feeling of being powerless, helpless, silenced, and/or unheard. 

For example, the person I wrote about in Vigilante Shit incurred my rage because they became aggressive towards me when I tried to enforce a boundary of mine that they were disrespecting. This led to me feeling helpless because I did everything I could to make that relationship harmonious, and the other person was still a bully. I was powerless to improve the situation while still protecting myself. And that sucks. 

Smaller things can also trigger my rage lately, when they trigger the same or similar feelings. Someone honking at me when they were the one who did something wrong. Someone being rude to me for no reason. Someone being inconsiderate and then being a prick about it if I say something. 

Basically, I go through the world trying my best to be a kind person. But when my kindness (or just my audacity to exist and/or stand up for myself) receives an aggressive response, it really pisses me off. In short, I’m a sweet little bunny until you fuck with me, and then I morph into a honey badger. 

It was hard at first for me to see the connection between that type of interaction and the feeling of helplessness or being unheard. But basically it’s a situation where I’m doing everything I can to be a good person, but I’m still treated as if I did something wrong. That feels helpless because I have no control over other people or how they treat me. My only influence over that is how I treat them, and unfortunately there are many people in this world who just don’t care. They will treat others badly if it suits them in the moment, and there is nothing anybody can do about it. 

Why does this trigger such rage in me? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself and exploring, and I think I might have an answer. 

This may sound a little “out there” to some people, but I believe that I experienced a childhood trauma that I have repressed. I believe that it was some kind of sexual abuse, and I have ideas about who might have been the perpetrator(s). But I have no solid memories. Just a gut feeling that has followed me around for over a decade now. 

Because I don’t have any memories, I tend to question myself about whether anything really happened.* I have high key imposter syndrome when it comes to being a trauma survivor. It feels really wrong to put myself in that category when I’m not 100% sure that I belong there. 

Of course, I know that I’m good at gaslighting myself, and it’s also possible that’s what’s going on here. Because when I allow myself to mindfully explore my childhood memories and speak to my past selves, I hear myself saying that something happened.

Ultimately, the results are the same. For some reason, either trauma-related or because it’s just who I am, I have a high sensitivity level to feelings of helplessness and being unheard. I believe that is because it triggers a childhood trauma in which I also felt helpless, powerless, and unheard. 

I feel unheard often. Sometimes it feels like the people closest to me don’t pay attention when I talk. Sometimes it feels like I’m shouting into the void and nothing I say is being absorbed by anyone. Sometimes it feels as if no matter how much I write and share, the few people who read it still don’t truly understand me. These are feelings, not facts. In reality, these things may or may not be true. Or, maybe it’s impossible for anyone to truly understand another person; maybe we just think that we can. 

Feeling unheard in those ways doesn’t put me in a rage, though–it just makes me feel sad and alone. What puts me in a rage is when I’m in any sort of conflict with another person, and I try to communicate something to make the situation better, or I try to defend myself, and they either don’t hear it, won’t listen, or misunderstand. Often it seems that they hear things I didn’t say, or read things I didn’t write. It’s so frustrating to be unable to make people understand. 

I think that the key to my rage is that I sense aggression directed at me. When I feel unheard, it doesn’t feel like an attack. But when somebody is mad at me, I do feel like I am under attack. I can literally feel my body going into fight or flight mode. My heart starts to race, I feel blood rushing from my extremities, and often I will start to tremble. Sometimes I feel nauseous or an uncontrollable urge to cry. 

When I am under attack, my first instinct (after my brain has a moment to process the threat) is to fight like hell. I quite literally am ready to fight someone, even though the threat is almost never physical. It’s all emotional, but to my brain the threat feels very real and needs to be addressed immediately. I can’t fully calm down until I have resolved it in some way, and even then just thinking about the event can cause the same physical reaction and trigger my rage all over again.

It’s all very interesting. It’s also something I don’t want to be controlled by. And so, it is something I am working on. 

My new approach is to remember the most important rule when dealing with a bully: usually the best way to stop them is to ignore them. Silence is golden! Any sort of reaction from you only gives them the attention that they want. But when you ignore them, there is nothing left for them to do because you are simply not engaging. Of course, it’s also important to protect yourself and your boundaries, which I believe is best done clearly, and succinctly. Everybody deserves a chance to realize their mistakes and redeem themselves. 

However, they should not need to be reminded constantly of your boundaries, nor should you try to explain yourself over and over again. They. Will. Not. Change. That’s when it’s time to move on to ignoring them.

None of this applies to children being bullied, or people of any age facing physical threats, to be clear. Children need to be protected from bullies, period. They should not be expected to ignore it; they can learn how to do that when they’re older, but until then we must protect them to the best of our ability because they are vulnerable and that is our job. Children who are bullies need to be stopped if there’s any hope for them to grow up and not be an adult bully.

Side-rant over.

My new approach is to ignore bullying behavior. Don’t respond. Do nothing. Say nothing. So simple!

I also am using mantras to help soothe my stress response and feelings of anger that could quickly escalate to rage. My mantras are: “This is not an emergency.”; and “I am calm, cool, collected, and in control of myself, even in chaos or conflict.” That second one is long, but easy for me to remember because of all the C’s. And it helps. If I can manage to stay silent and still for just a few moments and repeat these mantras, I can usually regain control of myself.

Reminding myself that “this is not an emergency” is huge. Because my brain thinks it is an emergency and I am being threatened in some way, when really all that’s happening is something insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Maybe my kids are running late for school… but really, that is okay. Nothing bad will happen. Or maybe somebody honked at me. That’s okay, too. It is not an emergency. I am calm, cool, collected, and in control of myself.  Who cares that somebody I don’t know and will likely never see again wrongly thinks I did something to them? Who cares if they’re screaming profanities at me from their car window? I don’t have to look. I don’t have to do anything except continue to drive safely. 

In situations like this, whatever happened truly does not matter. So I can just let it go. 

A lot of the time, reminding myself of that is all I need to calm down and diffuse my rising anger before it explodes into rage. And that is super important to me, because I want to be the kind of person who makes the world better, not worse. 

*Correction: I do have some definite memories of these things, but I’m so used to disregarding them because I didn’t want to believe it was sexual abuse. The things I remember were “not that bad” so to speak. But I suspect that there were more and worse events that took place which I have completely blocked out.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:

I want to make it very clear that the abuse I experienced was not at the hands of anyone in my immediate family. This was not my dad, mom, or brother. I have no intention of naming names, but I do want to make sure nobody thinks my parents did that. My parents never abused me in any way!

Need You to Need Me

One of the things I hate most in life is the feeling of being a burden. I’ve written about this before, but the more I come to understand my own psyche, the more I realize just how deep this issue goes. Not only do I strive to avoid being an inconvenience or a trouble for others; it extends to me needing to feel needed. If I’m serving a purpose for others, especially a purpose that nobody else can fill (or fill as well), then I’m not in danger of becoming a burden. I strive to add value to the lives of others rather than detract from it. 

Why is this so important to me? It’s a question I am still trying to find the answer to. 

I think that one reason is my fear of being selfish. I was raised to see Jesus Christ as the ultimate example for how to live, and Jesus is the prime example of being selfless to the point of self-sacrifice for the sake of others. The idea of sacrificing oneself out of love for others is one that I have idealized from a young age. To me, being a selfish and self-centered person is one of the worst things I could be. Virtually all the problems with the world could be fixed or drastically improved if people simply weren’t selfish. It’s the root of all evil, if you think about it!

But beyond the philosophical ramifications of selfishness, I also think that I strive to put others before myself because of a deeply rooted lack of self-love. It sounds sad to put it that way, because it’s not that I think poorly of myself. I believe that I am a good person, and I like who I am—but that’s because I work hard to be a person I can respect. My love for myself has to be earned, just as I feel the need to earn the love of other people in my life. 

It is ironic, in a way, that I feel the need to earn love, even from myself. One of the main tenets of Christianity is that God’s love cannot be earned; instead, we’re supposed to accept God’s love as grace. So, trying to earn it is just silly. But, at the same time, maybe my desperate need to earn love, not only from God but from everyone else, is a reaction that makes perfect sense. Essentially, we’re told that we could never be good enough to deserve God’s love… and to that, I say: challenge accepted. 

Whether trying to be good enough to deserve love is a complex that stems from my upbringing in Christian culture, or from a variety of sources, it seems to be a fundamental part of my personal psychology. 

I focus on my mission to be needed because it is the only way I can feel valued. 

But there is another reason, too. Feeling needed is an excellent distraction from my own pain, anxiety, depression, and even boredom. If I’m focused on others, I can ignore myself. Or at least I can try.

Like a substance abuser who needs more and more of the substance over time to obtain the same effects, I seem to need more and more purpose. Maybe the “self” that I’m trying to ignore is getting louder to try to be heard over the noise of all of the other needs I surround myself with. Instead of listening, I just add more noise. And what is the best way to create a noisy life? Kids and animals, of course. (The ironic thing about this is that I have a high sensitivity to literal noise, and so I often find myself dealing with sensory overstimulation that causes a cascade of other issues). 

Long story short, I bring children and pets into my life because they need me, and I need to be needed. 

But, I’m also human. I get overwhelmed, stressed out, and burned out when I feel like I can’t keep up with all of the needs around me. I react by blowing up, or by trying to reduce my responsibilities—quitting things, basically. It’s too hard and I retreat; that is, until I start to feel restless again and I find new things to keep me busy. It’s a vicious cycle, y’all. 

I had a realization a while back—maybe a year ago, if I had to estimate. I realized that there came a point in my last marriage where I felt like I was no longer needed. I’d always felt that my ex and I made a great team in life. But when we became polyamorous and I started to find things that gave me life outside of our marriage and our family, I sensed resentment building up towards me. Perhaps it was that resentment that produced an attitude that I was no longer needed. My contributions to my family and home were suddenly not enough, or not valued. 

Besides, I was never a perfect parent (and shockingly, I’m still not!). I started to question my purpose in life.  I felt like I could disappear and my ex and kids would ultimately be fine, if not somehow better off. 

Meanwhile, my new partner needed me. He was like a wounded animal who needed to be loved and cared for and nursed back to health. And he loved me and appreciated me and it was gratifying to feel that I was making a positive difference in his life. I once again had a purpose. He needed me, and my ex didn’t, so when my ex essentially made me choose between the two of them, I chose the one who needed me more. 

Nowadays, I feel adequately needed by the people (and animals) in my life—most of the time. There are times when my kiddos say that they want to be at their dad’s house instead of mine, and times when my preschooler says she misses daddy when she’s with me but not the other way around. This is the reality of co-parenting. No matter what I do to make our home appealing for them, the kids will still complain, and they will still have times when they prefer the other parent’s home. The grass is always greener on the other side, right? 

Kids complaining is another big factor in my feeling unneeded. It’s quite a leap from “I wish you did this one thing differently” to “I wish you weren’t in my life.” Yet, my mind has no problem making that jump. When I do my best as a mom, and the kids still complain, it makes me feel like a failure. It makes me feel like my very best is not enough; it makes me feel like I’m not enough. 

A critical component in any machine is useless if it doesn’t work right—it can even be worse than useless if it causes a cascade of malfunctions. So, when it seems like I just can’t do anything right, I start to feel not only that I’m useless, but that I’m—you can probably guess it—a burden. I’m a problem, a nuisance, an obstacle to the happiness of others. I’m a crumpled-up piece of paper lying here, unusable and in the way. I ruin things, because I’m a ruiner. 

Which of course, circles back to the whole self-love deficit I’ve discovered within myself. Unfortunately, it’s not something that I know how to fix. Instead, until I find a better solution, I will continue to try to patch it with distractions and trying to find value in my existence (and most likely failing). 

Sorry… that got a bit depressing. But that’s life, am I right? There’s not always a lesson or a silver lining or a happy ending. Sometimes, you just struggle until you die. But hey—it could be much worse for me. My life is objectively pretty great, and my problems are miniscule compared to so many other people. I really shouldn’t complain. 

Maybe my mental shenanigans are my mind’s way of creating interest in an otherwise-too-easy life. Maybe I’m choosing to feel this way and let anxiety and depression mess me up. Maybe I should try just being happy. 

Unfortunately, I have so far been unable to do so. It’s not that I’m never happy; I’m actually happy fairly often. But it’s never long before I fall from the pedestal, right down the rabbit hole. Long story short it’s a bad time. And so the cycle continues. 

Sad Panda

Being an empath is hard. 

Before you roll your eyes, hear me out. I know that not everyone believes in empaths. So if that’s you, then replace the word “empath” with “extremely sensitive individuals.” That is essentially what being an empath is, anyway.

If you do believe in empaths, you might know that some people are naturally more attuned to the feelings of others. Empaths experience this sensitivity in different ways. Some “absorb” the feelings of people around them. Some can sense almost instantly what others around them are feeling, even without obvious signals. There are even empaths who physically feel the pain of others (AKA sympathy pain). 

Being an empath goes beyond just being emotionally intelligent, observant, or an empathetic person. It’s empathy on a stronger level, and it’s beyond the control of the person who experiences it. An empath can’t simply “turn it off” or choose to not feel it. 

That is the hard part. I’m an empath in the way that I sense the feelings of others very quickly. I suspect that I subconsciously notice tiny changes in a person’s demeanor—which is why my empathic-ness is much stronger with people I know well. With strangers, my subconscious mind has to go off of common behaviors, micro expressions, or mannerisms. I’m not as attuned to those I don’t know. Yet, I do still feel the emotions of strangers around me often. 

I don’t absorb those feelings, personally. They don’t become my own. But I can sense them, and I have a very strong urge to help those who I know are feeling negatively.  

And so, being an empath is hard because I have to constantly fight my instinct to take responsibility for everyone else’s feelings. If the person I’m sensing negative feelings from is a loved one, it’s even worse. I have a hard time being happy at all when someone I love is upset. 

On top of being an empath, I’m also sensitive– meaning, my feelings can be hurt by others very easily. It really doesn’t take much. So when I sense negative feelings from others, I instinctively worry that they are directed towards me. If it turns out that they are, then I can easily spiral into an emotional pit of doom.

My husband is also an empath, and perhaps that has something to do with his emotionally turbulent nature. Our kids and I all joke often about his grumpiness. It’s basically a part of his personality, and we’ve all come to accept and expect it. We all try not to take it personally—but for me, that seems to be nearly impossible because of my sensitivity and empathy. 

The challenge I face is not letting his bad mood ruin my day. I have yet to succeed at this challenge. When he wakes up grumpy, my morning starts off on a bad note too. My focus shifts toward helping him feel better. I go out of my way to make things go smoothly for him in any way I can. I’m extra sensitive with my words and actions toward him. I shut down any negative feelings I may be having, because I don’t have time for those when I’m taking care of somebody else. And taking care of somebody else is one of the things I’m best at. It distracts me from my own pain.

Unfortunately, having a partner who is grumpy often is exhausting for me as an empath. My mind screams at me that this pattern of grumpiness is a sign that he’s not happy on a larger scale. Something is wrong with our lives and I need to fix it! My anxiety and depression flare up because of the stress of frequently feeling like something is wrong. 

Finding support in my partner for my own struggles is difficult as well. I hate the idea of being a burden or even an inconvenience for somebody else. If my partner is already unhappy, then how could I add more to that by sharing my own pain? I try to keep it to myself, but I struggle under the weight of it. When I feel those negative emotions from him, I can easily fall into despair because I know that I cannot possibly do any more for him than I already do. I cannot fix it. I have failed. I am not enough.

I’m lucky that my husband is so caring towards me, and that he knows I am often carrying a burden that I’m not talking about. I honestly need a partner who can pry it out of me sometimes! The problem is that even knowing that he wants to support me, I’m still terrified of being a burden or even asking for what I need. Often, he just can’t help me in the way I need to be helped, because I’m unable to communicate it to him. I end up feeling incredibly alone and unseen. It’s not his fault. I’m the problem, it’s me. 

Parenting is also emotionally draining, especially for an empath. As a parent, I can pretty much guarantee that someone is unhappy with something at any given point. There is always something to complain about when you’re a kid. (I kid you not– the other day, one of my daughters complained about the idea of getting cupcakes as a treat instead of donuts, because she doesn’t like cupcakes now.) 

When you have more than one kid, you also have to contend with sibling rivalry; in those situations, it’s often impossible to sort things out without one or both siblings being upset. When you’re a parent, you have to accept the fact that no matter what you do, you will not be able to please everyone–and when someone is upset, as an empath you feel it. Which basically means that you are bombarded with upset feelings every day.

It once again feels like something is wrong, because there is this constant feeling of negativity. That can feed into worries that you are not enough, that you aren’t doing enough, and that you are failing at being a good parent. Because if you were a good parent, then there wouldn’t be this feeling that something is wrong all of the time, right? Needless to say, this is pretty damn draining. 

Even when I am aware of this cycle, and I logically know that I am a good partner and mother, the feeling that this is not true is hard to ignore. 

Sometimes, all of it just gets too heavy, and I start to feel like a sad panda–slow, bumbling, unmotivated, and colorless. Everything feels exhausting and I just don’t want to do it anymore. (Is it just me, or do pandas always look kind of sad?) 

A lot of people in my life don’t know that I suffer from depression, or if they do then they don’t realize the extent of it. That is because I’m extremely good at masking. Hiding my pain from others is one of my superpowers! I can act totally fine on the outside even when I’m a sad panda inside. 

Masking is tiring, though. When I’m at home, I let more of my emotions show. Sometimes, they explode out all on their own. Anger is a symptom of negativity-overload and depression for me, and I can’t always keep it under control. This is hard because I feel like I need to be in control for my family. They need me to be the one who has it all together. So that is exactly what I try to be, even when I’m crumbling to pieces on the inside. 

I know that my struggles as an empath are not the fault of anybody around me. Other people, including my husband and children, are allowed to feel whatever they feel whenever they feel it. If there are negative emotions around me all of the time, then that sucks, but it’s not because they are doing anything wrong. I’m a pathological people pleaser. I’m an empath and a fixer. It is… tiring. 

I’m still working on figuring out how I can take better care of myself emotionally, and not let my empathic nature wreck me all the time. I honestly don’t know if that’s even possible, but I suspect that if it is, then I have to start by believing some things that are hard for me to embrace. I have to believe that I deserve to be cared for; that I am enough; that I am safe; that I am loved unconditionally. 

I have to learn how to empathize without letting it consume me. 

iMom

When I was a teenager, I had a lot of stress in my life. Even though a lot of my time was spent with my friends– as it should be when one is a teenager—I also had a very big workload between school, my part-time job, and chores at home.

There were many days when I would go to school, go to work, go home, do homework and chores, and go to bed. That was my life, Monday through Friday. I had zero free time on those days. What’s worse is that even with multiple hours each night dedicated to homework and studying, it was still a challenge to keep up with my coursework because I was in very difficult classes. I have incredibly high standards for myself, and as a teenager I was also extremely motivated to make my dad proud of me. I worked very hard to achieve that. 

When life was very monotonous and demanding at the same time, I went into what I like to call “robot mode.” As a robot, I am efficient. I am productive. I am good at my job. I have a purpose, and that is my focus. I don’t have needs of my own, other than the basic requirements to continue to function. 

This is one of my shades of depression, I have come to understand. I haven’t experienced robot mode in a very long time, until now. When I recognized what I was doing, I welcomed my robot-self back as an old friend. 

The truth is that robot mode is very helpful to me, especially as a busy mom. Robot mom can handle all of my responsibilities. She has a schedule and a routine, and is very good at becoming whatever she needs to be whenever she needs to be it. When it’s time to take care of the kids, robot mom is patient and caring and even playful. When it’s time to go out in public, robot mom is doing just fine—she even greets others with a smile on her face. When it’s time to do chores, robot mom is on it. 

The thing about robot mom is that, well, she’s a robot. She doesn’t have feelings. She isn’t alive. She can feign emotions, of course. Her programming is well done. But the feelings that she lets other people see aren’t really genuine. She is excellent at masking, and the more she does it the better she gets. 

Robot mom is me, of course. Even when I’m in robot mode, I am still there on the inside, with all of my emotions and aliveness. I just choose to push those things aside because there is no room for them in my life at the time. 

What it comes down to is that I can’t be “on” 24/7/365 without becoming something else. 

I am a human being, and I have a limited capacity. I like to imagine my capacity as a backpack that I’m carrying on a hike that represents life. I carry all of the necessities in my backpack—being a good wife, being a good mom, being a good pet caregiver, being a good homemaker, being a good person. And all of those things are heavy. My backpack is full to the point that I don’t know how far I can go with it on my back. How can one person carry all of that?

Now, here’s the twist. I don’t get to take things out of my backpack, because there’s nobody else to carry them, and I can’t simply drop them. So I keep trudging on with my heavy-ass backpack, just trying to make it to my destination. (Don’t ask me where it is, because I don’t know what’s down this road. I’m just walking.)

Oh, and here’s the second twist. I have others on my hike with me; I have my husband, kids, pets, and other loved ones. They have backpacks too, and wouldn’t you know it? They’re also heavy. Too heavy for them to carry, it would seem, because I keep finding myself taking more of their things into my own backpack. When they need help, I’m who they look to. I am leading this hike. And so, I carry the things. 

Eventually, a person carrying too much will collapse. 

This is where robot mom comes in! Robot mom takes some of the things in my backpack and makes them magically disappear. Namely, my own needs and feelings. Without those things weighing me down, I find that I can maybe go a little bit further with all the stuff I’m carrying. 

When I’m in robot mode, I’m just trying to survive– but I’m not enjoying life. 

Above all, robot mode is lonely. It is both comforting and saddening to know that other people can’t see through me. Only my husband (and, I suppose now you, reader) knows I’m depressed and overwhelmed. That’s the way I want it, after all. I’m the one who takes care of everyone else, and to be honest, I feel quite uncomfortable when I become the one who needs help from others. I strive to carry not only my own weight, but the weight of others’ needs as well. When I need other people to help me, it means that I’m taking away from their capacity, and I am certainly not carrying my own weight. I become a burden. 

Pushing down my pain only works for so long. It has to come out at some point, and I do my best to ensure that it only happens when nobody else is around. That is why when I’m in robot-mode, I’m socially withdrawn and I try to isolate myself as much as possible. Masking takes a lot of energy, and when I’m alone I can take a break. 

I am in a stage of life right now that is incredibly challenging. I have three kids in school who need to be dropped off and picked up at different times each day, and who all need more attention than I can possibly give them. I have a baby who isn’t yet mobile but wants to explore everything while also being held at all times. I have a three year old. (Enough said.) Every day is exhausting. By bedtime, I’m a crumbled up piece of paper lying here.

I am fortunate, in some ways, that both my husband and I are 50/50 co-parents with our ex-spouses. It means that on half of my evenings, I have a break from the chaos of feeding dinner to five children, four of which are unbelievably picky (the baby is not picky yet), and getting them all to bed. From five PM until 9 PM on the nights when we have all of the kids, I am swamped. It’s a non-stop, well-choreographed dance to get everyone what they need and not have multiple meltdowns from multiple people. 

Co-parenting comes with its drawbacks for us, as well. It’s emotionally challenging to be away from my kids half of the time. It gives me anxiety and makes me feel like a bad mom; I often feel useless and depressed. Even though I know I need the break, I beat myself up for the mere fact that I’m struggling. 

But back to robot mom. Going into robot mode is a coping mechanism for me when I get overwhelmed with stress. Unfortunately, it causes me to feel disconnected from myself and my family, and especially my husband. That makes me feel even more alone, and from that point I can easily spiral into dark places. 

What it comes down to is this mindset: I am on my own here, and I will survive even if I have to be a robot to do it. It’s easier that way because then I don’t need to depend on anyone else or ask for anything. I live to serve and I’m not a burden. 

Of course, it isn’t sustainable. Eventually, my husband will get past the walls that I put up, either by his own effort or by my breaking down and letting him in because the truth is, I don’t want to be in this alone. When he tells me that I don’t have to, I cling on to that shred of hope. I start to think that maybe it’s okay for me to need things. I start to think it’s okay for me to be human. 

The jury’s still out on whether that proves to be true or not (that it’s okay for me to be human). Only time and experience will tell. 

Divergent: Part Two

As I mentioned in my last post, the term “neurodivergent” is one that resonates with me, and that I identify with. I wrote about my thoughts on neurodiversity, and how I experience it in my own life. For me, ADHD is a label I have embraced as a way of better understanding myself and the way my brain works. 

Before I get into it, I want to reemphasize that I am not diagnosed with ADHD. I have no interest in being diagnosed, and I have no interest in seeking treatment. I also don’t have the classic presentation of ADHD that many people think of, which includes difficulty with focus and attention, and hyperactivity. Those traits are in the name (ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder); but personally, I don’t see those things in myself as clearly as they usually are in people diagnosed with ADHD. Instead, I have many other traits that have been identified as common symptoms of ADHD. 

I can identify at least 21 specific ways that ADHD affects me, and there are probably more that I haven’t learned about or recognized yet. I see these differences as more of strengths than weaknesses, or at the very least they’re things I would consider quirks and part of my personality, rather than detriments. 

The more I learn about it, the more I realize that so many of my life choices have been affected by my brain working in a different way. Realizing this has given me a more positive view of myself and my life choices, both of which have been misunderstood by others more than a few times. Even if people around me don’t always understand my choices, that doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. Thinking and seeing the world and life differently isn’t inherently bad. Being different isn’t bad—that’s the spirit of the term neurodivergent, after all. 

I work hard to be a person who makes the world better, not worse; someone who is competent, caring, and considerate. So even if I choose paths in life that seem foolish or crazy or strange to others, I know that I am smart and sane and kind, and that I’m making the best choices I can– for reasons that make sense to me and my life— and that’s all that matters.

So, with that out of the way, I can now get into the details of what ADHD looks like in my life, and how it affects me.      

First off, ADHD is most likely the reason I tend to be a quitter. I have a history of quitting things when they start to feel too hard or scary, or I lose interest– even if I know that those feelings are likely temporary, and that there are benefits to continuing the thing that I want to quit. 

This quitting tendency includes hobbies or activities that I briefly participated in, like dance club, martial arts, or cheerleading. It includes volunteering opportunities that I was excited about for a while, but then decided to stop. It includes jobs I have had, the shortest being for only a few months and the longest for just over a year. It includes career paths I’ve tried to follow and businesses I’ve tried to start. It includes relationships, such as friendships that become too difficult or are giving me anxiety. It even includes pets– but more about that later. 

Basically, if I don’t like doing something, I quit it. There are pros and cons to that characteristic, in my opinion. I think it’s a good thing that I feel free to follow my instincts and focus on doing things I enjoy in life. But, it also means that I sometimes give up on things before I really should, and then I end up wishing I hadn’t. 

Socially, ADHD causes additional challenges for me. I have a high level of rejection sensitivity, and a tendency to over-analyze and dwell on negative or awkward social interactions. I kid you not– I am still haunted by that one time 12 years ago when I excitedly told my pastor he had the same Tupperware as me, and he looked at me with patronizing disinterest. (Why am I so weird?) I also have difficulty making and maintaining friendships, in part because of that rejection sensitivity, and in part because of social anxiety and being an introvert. I am also extremely sensitive in general. My feelings can get hurt quite easily, and I tend to be very hard on myself when I make mistakes or do something wrong. 

ADHD can cause people to have a low frustration tolerance, which is one thing I can very much relate to. I get overly upset when frustrated by things that others may feel are minor setbacks. A big example is when I can’t find something that I need; I tend to get way more upset than seems reasonable, and I can’t seem to control it. And while I do feel that I have a lot of patience usually (which becomes very necessary when you have five kids), I can also have a short fuse when overstimulated, overwhelmed, stressed, or frustrated. Sensory overload is something I experience very frequently, especially with noise and messes/clutter. These stimuli often cause emotional dysregulation for me, usually manifesting in anger explosions or shutting down and withdrawing from others. 

I am aware that I have anger issues, and I have known this about myself for a long time; but only recently have I realized that these problems likely stem from ADHD. They are a result of my brain working differently, rather than just me being a bad person. That means I can find tools and techniques to adapt, which gives me hope! 

There are so many things I can do to improve my emotional regulation challenges that come with ADHD. I can plan ahead for potentially frustrating situations and make changes to set myself up for success. I can designate easy-to-remember places for things and be strict about putting them where they belong, so that they don’t get lost. I can use noise-dampening ear plugs when things are getting too loud. I can build small chunks of time to decompress into my daily routines. I can set aside time to tidy up the house before bed (but keep it reasonable, so I don’t end up staying up too late and missing more sleep). I can also actively remind myself that the goal is never perfection, but improvement. 

Focus and attention are the more well-known problems that people with ADHD struggle with, and on the surface it never seemed to me as if this described me. But I have learned that there are many ways that ADHD can affect a person’s focus, and they aren’t all as obvious as being easily distractible. For example, I find it very difficult to switch tasks before I’m finished with whatever I’m currently working on, and I often feel an unproportional level of frustration or anger when I’m forced to do so. 

Conversely, I’ll often find that I’ve moved on to a new task before finishing the current one, which can happen for a variety of reasons; either I did the main bulk of the task and subconsciously considered it done before actually finishing the final parts, or I got caught in a chain reaction. As an example, I could be going to do the laundry but the washer is full, and the dryer is also full, and the basket is also full, so I need to fold the clean laundry first. But as I’m working on that, I will notice that the linen closet needs to be organized before I can put the clean laundry away, and then I end up organizing and tidying up the surrounding area as well. Before I know it, I’m being called away to do an entirely different task by one of my family members, and the laundry remains unfinished. 

Another subtle way that difficulty focusing can show up for me is being prone to clumsiness or accidentally injuring myself. I have realized that this happens because my brain is already moving on to the next task before I’ve physically finished the previous one, which leads to rushing or not paying attention to what my body is doing. (Just for laughs, I will share that the day I started writing this post, I got a cardboard paper cut underneath my fingernail, and later while eating a hamburger I was able to somehow flick a crumb into my eye– which didn’t hurt, per se, but it also didn’t feel good.)

People with ADHD can often struggle with mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. The reasons for this aren’t completely understood, but the result can be someone like me who oscillates between having too much mental energy, and having too little. These two ends of the spectrum are essentially my very boiled-down descriptions of anxiety and depression. When I’m feeling anxious, I’m like a shark who needs to keep moving so I don’t die. When I’m feeling depressed, I’m like a sad panda who is just trying to get through the day. Both stages tend to come and go fairly rapidly for me, lasting anywhere between a few hours to a few months. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, and it’s quite possible that ADHD is what fuels the ride. 

Insomnia is a symptom of ADHD, anxiety, and depression, so it should come as no surprise that I struggle with it. Sometimes I just can’t fall asleep until 3 AM, even though I’m tired, because my brain won’t rest or it simply decides to malfunction and forget how to sleep. Other times I’m in the midst of a bout of depression, and staying up late into the night gives me some level of feeling in control and at peace, or at least time to ruminate on all of my swirling emotions. Fortunately, (I guess?) years of sleep deprivation as a mom have conditioned me well to function on little or poor sleep. 

The biggest way that ADHD affects me is my need for novelty in life. This is thought to be a dopamine-seeking behavior common in people with ADHD. It’s also tied into other characteristics like hyperfixations, boredom, and impulsivity. What it looks like in my life is a very strong drive for making changes—often, the bigger the better. Combine that with my proclivity for quitting, and my anxiety and depression, and what you get is quite a concoction. 

I have a history of moving fairly often. I love rearranging, buying new things, and starting new systems or habits. I love taking things that are messy and making them clean, neat, and organized; that kind of change is so evident and satisfying! I enjoy redefining and refreshing my perspectives in life. I loved when I had a polyamorous lifestyle, because it meant there was always something shiny and new in my life. New flirtations, crushes, first dates, first kisses—talk about an abundant source for those dopamine hits I crave so much!

It’s also quite possible that I love having babies so much because of the constant change that they bring. There’s always a new stage to move on to, a new milestone, or a new parenting challenge to defeat. Plus, the very act of caregiving can be dopamine-boosting.  

But, the most visible and obvious manifestation of my ADHD-fueled need for change is something that’s caused me to build quite a reputation… as a crazy pet person. The number of pets that have come and gone in my life, even just as an adult, is astounding. Not including family/childhood pets, I’ve had eleven dogs (three currently), ten cats not including the three foster kittens I didn’t adopt, (I have seven cats currently), seven guinea pigs (none currently), five bunnies (none currently), seven rodents (four currently), six birds (two currently), three horses (one currently), and countless fish (none currently or hopefully ever again). That’s over 40 pets in the past 13 years! 

Now, I do have 17 pets as of this post, but you may be wondering what happened to the other 23+ animals that were at some point in my care over the past decade. Well, all of the fish died despite my best efforts, and 12 of the other animals passed away from old age (one dog, three rodents), illness (two dogs, one cat, one guinea pig), or accident (three guinea pigs); my dog Macy had to be put to sleep for severe and unpredictable aggression issues. The remaining 12 pets I had were rehomed, for a variety of reasons. 

Personally, I don’t believe that rehoming pets is wrong, or a negative thing when done right. I’ve always ensured that my rehomed pets went to new owners who would meet or exceed the level of care I gave them—which was always very high. I’ve never had a pet who seemed traumatized by being rehomed; that is to say, the pets I rehomed didn’t seem to suffer emotionally from transitioning to new owners, and they all ended up arguably happier in their new homes. I’ve always checked in on them afterwards to ensure they transitioned well, and I’ve always told the new owners that I would take the animal back if they ever needed to rehome them again. Basically, all of that to say that I have taken rehoming seriously and done it responsibly and with care. To me, the possibility of needing or wanting to rehome an animal in the future doesn’t make me afraid of adopting new pets, because I know there’s a net positive even when that happens. 

And yet, the constant change in my pet-life has been, at times, problematic. It caused a great deal of conflict with my ex-husband, and his lack of understanding and support for my choices when it came to pets was actually one of the “last straw” reasons for ending our marriage, as crazy as that sounds. I began to feel like a child who had to convince my “parent” that I was responsible enough for a new pet. I wanted to feel like an adult, who can be trusted to make my own life choices, for better or for worse. Not to mention that I wanted to feel like an equal partner, whose feelings and desires mattered just as much as my husband’s mattered to me. 

With my husband now, it has also caused conflict on numerous occasions. My pet obsession has been something that RJ, for the most post, understands, supports, and to some degree even shares with me. But, his biggest form of neurodivergence is arguably anxiety (although ADHD is a very close second, in my opinion). So at times, the idea of adding another pet or rehoming one has triggered an extremely unpleasant reaction in him, and caused some emotionally traumatic fights for us. Some of our fights about pets have left me feeling as if I have ended up in the same dynamic that I was in with my ex– the main thing I was trying to escape! Which of course, has been disheartening. Fortunately, we are actively working on these issues and have made great progress.

Even aside from the pet thing, I’ve observed that with both Cory and RJ, my need for novelty and my struggle with depression and anxiety has at times been misinterpreted as dissatisfaction with my life, or with my partner. 

I’ve been accused of “always wanting more” and “never being satisfied.” I’ve been told that I should work on myself to learn how to be content. I’ve been accused of steamrolling and manipulating my partner into decisions they don’t want. I’ve been told that I’m not “compatible” with my partner because I want things that they don’t. I’ve been told that nothing is ever enough for me. These are words that have wounded me deeply, and will take years to heal from. 

But, the truth that I often have to remind myself of is that I am not broken. I am not too much. I add far more positive things to the lives of my loved ones than negative ones. I am a good partner. I’m thoughtful and loving and empathetic—and imperfect. And that’s okay. 

So, yes. ADHD may have negative effects in my life. But I also recognize that many of the struggles I have are only struggles because society says they’re bad. Being a “quitter” is seen as a bad thing, but it also could be reframed as being adept at letting go of things that no longer serve me. Being someone who constantly seeks novelty and change could be seen as being impulsive and careless–or, it could be reframed as being adventurous and adaptable. 

Aside from the differences I’ve already described, ADHD also gives me more obvious strengths and advantages. I can hyper-focus on tasks, getting a ton done in relatively little time without running out of steam. When I procrastinate, I almost always do it productively; in other words, I may not always do the tasks I need to as soon as I should (hello, mountain of laundry), but at least I will be doing something productive (like reorganizing the pantry). 

My food fixations (common with ADHD) make things simple when it comes to meal-planning. As long as I have my 3-4 staple foods (whatever they may be at the time), I’m good to go. Variety isn’t really necessary for me, in the food department, so I’m easy to feed.   

One interesting aspect of ADHD is that it can cause caffeine to affect people differently. So, rather than wiring me, coffee actually helps me feel calm and improves my ability to sleep at night. This means I can drink a delicious latte every night before bed, if I so choose! Fortunately, coffee still gives me a much-needed energy boost in the morning, which means I also get to start my day with a routine that I look forward to. 

Another interesting and benign effect of ADHD is that I am prone to (harmless) binges and obsessions; this has given me a wide variety of specific knowledge, but also it’s just fun. If I can find great joy in baking ten dozen cookies in a day, then why not? It’s the simple things in life.

As with many people who have ADHD, I’m level-headed in crisis. I tend to be more calm and confident when I’m thrown into chaos, which is a great advantage when you have five kids and 17 pets. 

While having insomnia is a challenge, and I’d really like to be able to sleep when I need to, the other side of that coin is that I’m naturally a night owl (like many other people with ADHD). I like staying up late, and I can get so much done after everyone else is in bed. Often, the time I have at night is the only time I have to get chores done without constant interruptions, and if I’m lucky sometimes even a little bit of time to do things I enjoy, like writing. 

Last but not least, my need for novelty means that I’m good with change—in fact, I crave it! This can be seen as an advantage considering that life is full of changes. Most people fear them, but not me! It also means that life with me is never dull.

Ultimately, whether ADHD is considered a negative or a positive largely depends on one’s perspective. I feel that these things are all just part of who I am, and while some of them can be challenging at times, overall I do believe that they aren’t problems that need to be fixed. The world is not built for neurodivergent people, but that doesn’t mean that we need fixing. I think we can all agree that the world is very much in need of fixing.

And so, I’m going to keep being me–the gloriously chaotic, go-with-the-flow, productive, interesting, ever-changing phoenix that I am. 

Divergent: Part One

Sometimes, being different is a good thing. Differences are what make people and life so interesting, and allow us to learn and grow.

It was a couple of years ago that I first heard the term “neurodivergent.” My introduction to the term was through reading a trilogy of books called The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect, and The Rosie Result, which feature an autistic main character. The story explores the topic of neurodivergence with a humorous and heartfelt approach. After I read those books, I started hearing the word “neurodivergent” in popular culture more and more. If you didn’t already know, this is a thing now. (In all fairness, neurodivergence had actually been a thing presumably since humans came into existence, and the term was coined decades ago, but the awareness of it is now becoming more mainstream).

A great summary of what this term is all about is the following excerpt from the Verywell Mind article, “What Does It Mean to Be Neurodivergent?”

Neurodivergence is the term for when someone’s brain processes, learns, and/or behaves differently from what is considered ‘typical.’

Formerly considered a problem or abnormal, scientists now understand that neurodivergence isn’t inherently an issue for the individual and that it has a large societal benefit. Not all presentations of neurodivergence are a disability, like synesthesia, but all are a difference in how the brain works.

With this shift, practitioners are no longer treating neurodivergence as inherently an illness. They are instead viewing them as different methods of learning and processing information, some of which become disabilities in an inaccessible and ableist society.

Resnick

“Neurodivergent,” in a nutshell, describes anyone whose mind works differently than what is considered “normal.” Of course, what is considered normal can vary across cultures and change with time. Like most labels, “neurodivergent” is a term that can be used in many different ways and for many different types of people. 

Most narrowly and originally, “neurodivergent” was used as an alternative or complementary term for people with autism. But more commonly and in recent years, the term has been used to describe people not only with autism spectrum disorder, but also people with ADHD, dyslexia, Down syndrome, Tourette’s, OCD, bipolar disorder, and many more mental conditions. 

Whether one has an official diagnosis or not has also become less important when using this term. Remember, neurodivergence is not a medical term or a legally protected term–it’s a social term, and its use has changed and expanded over time. 

An article from the Child Mind Institute explains:

“The term used to be used to describe people who either had a clinical diagnosis or were borderline, with symptoms that are near the clinical threshold for a diagnosis,” she explains. “More recently, what I’ve seen is broadening to include anybody who identifies with it. People who feel that they think or process outside of the box.”

Miller

Even with a diagnosis for something like autism or ADHD, every neurodivergent individual experiences life and the world uniquely. No two neurodivergent people are exactly the same–just as no two neurotypical people are exactly the same! We are all different in ways both big and small. 

As an article from BetterUp says:

The number of different ways a human brain can be wired is almost infinite. Diagnoses simply provide us with a kind of verbal shorthand. It’s a convenient way to refer to a specific set of symptoms or experiences that commonly occur together. Even within a diagnosis, two people’s experiences can range widely.

Cooks-Campbell

Considering that no two minds work exactly alike, using the term neurodivergent is becoming more and more a personal choice. For example, most loosely, neurodivergence can also encompass many other mental differences and conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, sensory processing disorders, and learning differences. 

And, while it has been used most often as an umbrella term for disorders, a mental difference doesn’t have to be a disorder to be considered neurodivergent. Things like non-heterosexuality, having a non-cisgender identity, synesthesia, being an empath, introversion, and possibly many more differences that could describe the mental workings of an individual, could all be considered neurodivergent. 

While mental illnesses and the non-disorder differences I listed may not be generally or popularly accepted forms of neurodiversity, I personally would advocate for this wider and more inclusive use of the term. Because ultimately, claiming that label for oneself is a personal choice. I know that not everyone likes labels, but for me, they add clarity and can be empowering! That is why I am proud to call myself neurodivergent.  

I believe that increasing awareness and reducing stigmatism of both neurodiversity and mental illness go hand in hand. The more we can understand ourselves and how our brains work, the better lives we can live. And the more we can understand others and how their brains work in ways that are both similar to and different than ours, the better we can make our world for everyone. Mental disorders can be a part of one’s identity, and that doesn’t have to be a negative thing. They can add strengths, as well as weaknesses, to one’s life.

That being said, it is important not to use the term to downplay the struggles of those with mental disorders. Some types of neurodivergency are not just differences, but disabilities. Those disabilities may be partially a result of living in an ableist society which is not designed for those who are different; but, they also can be innate, and debilitating in and of themselves. Seeking diagnosis and treatment can have great value for many, many people. I am not advocating for simply accepting the struggles that come with being different! I am only advocating for recognizing that being different isn’t always bad, and can in fact be a good thing in many cases, or at least in some ways.

So, with all of that explaining out of the way, I wanted to share a bit about my personal differences, or neurodiversity. 

I am neurodivergent in six ways that I know of right now. For me, these differences add both strengths and weaknesses to my day-to-day life. I use this label to encompass my ADHD, anxiety, and depression–the golden trifecta, as I jokingly think of it. I’m also an introvert and an empath, and I’m pansexual and polyamorous by nature. All of these labels are ones that I embrace because they are part of who I am, and they are ways that my mind works uniquely. They each come with drawbacks as well as advantages.

At first thought, I struggled to see a way that depression could add anything positive to a person’s life or to the world. But then I realized that empathy is a strength I can attribute, at least partially, to my depression-susceptible mind. My experiences with depression have allowed me to develop deeper empathy for the suffering of others, and an ability to think more profoundly about life. It’s even possible that my struggle with depression caused me to develop my empathic nature.

Depression shows up in my life as feeling down, sad, unmotivated, and just “over” life. It also brings feelings of guilt and inadequacy–especially mom-guilt. It makes me feel that I’m not enough, and that no matter what I do it will be wrong. It makes me lose interest in things I used to enjoy. It gives me insomnia. It makes me want to isolate myself socially (although that is also just part of being an introvert, and having social anxiety). And of course, the worst part of depression for me is suicidal ideation. It can take very little for me to spiral into not wanting to be alive anymore. So, those are the not-so-fun things to deal with. 

Depression is the label that I have used the longest. I have known that I struggle with depression since I was a teenager, although it wasn’t until further into my adulthood that I consciously accepted it. I would say depression is my second biggest form of neurodivergence. It is a disorder that I, personally, have chosen to seek treatment for. 

Although I also have anxiety, I struggle with it the least. For me, it shows up as restlessness, insomnia, feelings of dread, feeling the need to escape situations, excessive worrying about everyday things, muscle tension and headaches, and repetitive/racing thoughts. I also have a touch of social anxiety, but that’s pretty tangled up with introversion, depression, and ADHD. On a side note, I also have migraines, and it can be hard to distinguish my tension headaches from migraines, unless I have an aura or nausea, which indicate a migraine.

The ”positive” side of anxiety for me is that, in a strange way, it energizes me. The feeling of restlessness shows up as needing to be doing something productive, helping someone, or taking care of others. I get hits of dopamine through these activities, which seems to counteract my anxiety somewhat.

Another aspect of my neurodivergence is being an introvert. As I said earlier, some people count it and others don’t–but it doesn’t really matter what other people think. For me, I feel that it’s something that makes me different than what is considered “normal,” so it fits. My introversion shows up in a few different ways, some of which are similar to mild autism spectrum disorder. 

I have difficulty making eye contact and difficulty initiating or maintaining conversations. I have a very small social circle. I’m almost always happier at home (or in my home-away-from-home, aka Eleanor, my travel trailer). I don’t like meeting new people or being in crowds. I am a quiet person, in general, although when I’m comfortable with people I come out of my shell. Personally, I don’t see introversion as a weakness at all. It’s something that I like about myself. I’m never too busy talking to be a good listener, and that goes really well with my empathic nature. I have learned to be confident and comfortable in my own skin without needing to be loud about it. 

Being an empath is hands-down my favorite area of neurodivergence. What it means is that I am very highly attuned to the emotions of others, especially those I’m close to. It allows me to show compassion for others beyond what is probably considered common. I can tell when something is off with someone, and I have a powerful intuition. This makes me an excellent care-taker, partner, mother, and friend. It also means that I have a tendency to absorb the emotional energy of the people around me, which can be a big challenge. This is something that I have to be aware of and consciously reframe my thinking around all of the time. Taking responsibility for other people’s emotional states is not healthy, and can happen very easily–so I have to be careful and cognizant. 

Being pansexual and polyamorous wouldn’t be considered neurodivergent by most people (based on my research), but I believe that sexuality and gender identity are part of the way a person’s mind works. I believe they are ingrained, present at birth, and originating in the brain–and being non-cisgender and/or non-heterosexual is, by definition, “different” than the norm. (It’s called heteronormative, after all). Thus, I include it. My sexual identity is basically irrelevant to my daily life, because I am in a monogamous heterosexual relationship that I’m committed to for life. Nevertheless, I feel that it’s an important part of my identity. 

Out of all of my neurodivergent “labels,” ADHD resonates the most. I have many behaviors that can be associated with ADHD, including anxiety and depression themselves. It is not uncommon for all three to go together, with ADHD as the underlying root cause.

ADHD is a label that I only very recently embraced. I am not diagnosed, and I have no interest in seeking a diagnosis or treatment for it. This is my personal choice. I never felt that I had ADHD until I learned more about it over the past year. I learned about ways that ADHD shows up in people’s lives and behaviors, beyond the basic definition of having difficulty paying attention and hyperactivity. Realizing that there is a huge range of ADHD far beyond that small-box definition allowed me to see just how much I am affected by it. 

It’s such a big topic for me that I decided to write a whole separate post about it! That will be coming soon, so stay tuned. 

References:

What Does It Mean to Be Neurodivergent? By Ariane Resnick, CNC

https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-neurodivergence-and-what-does-it-mean-to-be-neurodivergent-5196627

What Is Neurodiversity? By Caroline Miller

https://childmind.org/article/what-is-neurodiversity/

Types of Neurodiversity: Understanding How People See The World, By Allaya Cooks-Campbell

https://www.betterup.com/blog/types-of-neurodiversity

Spin the Wheel

It’s been a hot minute since I posted, and it’s not been for lack of inspiration. I have a note on my phone with seven different posts I want to write! But, life has been crazy. I’m fairly certain that life will be crazy for the foreseeable future. 

Life with five kids is a lot. For me, going from two to three was a challenging transition, and then going from three to four was just the gradual process of becoming a parental figure to my stepdaughter, Penny. She’s our oldest, so it wasn’t exactly the same as adding a new baby to the family. 

With Finley, I really feel the five. FIVE. It’s grueling, to be honest. 

You would think that co-parenting with four parents would be easier in a way. We only have four of our kids about 50% of the time, because the other 50% they are with their other parents. And in some ways, it is pretty awesome. We get to have some quiet nights with just Finley, and some nights with just Finley and Penny, and some nights with the Westys (that’s what we call my three kiddos from my previous marriage) and Finley, which is a different dynamic than when we have all five. 

Having times without all of the kids gives me and RJ the ability to decompress a bit and recharge for the next time we have them. When we have all of them, we call it “Kid Chaos,” and the name is fitting. It can feel a tad chaotic when you’re holding a baby, two kids are crying at once, and the other two are asking you for things. Oh, and there’s poop, too. Where? Just everywhere. In diapers, unflushed in toilets, in the dog’s crate, possibly on me somewhere. It’s par for the course. 

So the days when we have fewer kids are really helpful for our sanity—or what’s left of it.

But, in other ways, our co-parenting lifestyle is more challenging. The scheduling alone could be an Olympic sport. Even as someone who enjoys organization and lists and calendars and schedules, I can’t always keep track of who’s supposed to be where and when. I absolutely hate being the one who dropped the ball in the parenting game. 

The hardest part, though, is the emotional side of things. 

My mental state is drastically affected by which kids are with me on any given day. When it’s Kid Chaos, I automatically go into Mom Boss mode. I summon the patience and energy to keep things running (mostly) smoothly. I pull out some of my best parenting tactics and often find myself satisfied with my work at the end of the day. 

But, if Kid Chaos goes on too long, I run out of steam. I sometimes describe stress to my kids like air in a balloon. If you’re blowing up a balloon, and you keep adding more and more air, eventually it’s going to burst. If you stop adding air, and maybe even let some out, then you will be able to fill it up again later without it bursting. All the things in life that cause stress are like air that you’re adding to your balloon. Taking time to release some of that pressure—to pause, rest, and recharge—is important to prevent a blowup, AKA an emotional meltdown. 

So, needless to say, when Kid Chaos goes on longer than my personal balloon can handle, it doesn’t end well. Those are the days that I consider “bad parenting” days. Am I too hard on myself? Possibly. But in any case, yelling at my kids is not something I want to do, ever. So when I fail at keeping myself regulated and end up adding to the chaos with my own out-of-control emotions, I consider that a parenting fail.

When it’s time to bring the Westys to their dad, I usually have a complex tangle of emotions to process. I feel relief, because I can finally let some air out of my balloon. Even if my balloon didn’t survive, well, at least I have time to acquire a new one. (Metaphorically speaking…) When I get a break, I have a chance to mentally recover from any bad moments I had with the kids. That brings a sense of relief, because God only knows I need those breaks. 

But the feeling of relief is very quickly followed by guilt. Mom-guilt is a powerful force, and I have loads of it. There’s guilt over feeling relieved that I get a break from my kids. There’s guilt over needing a break at all. There’s guilt that I’m only half of a parent to the Westys, because I’m only with them half of the time—I know that this isn’t true, but it’s what that little voice in my head tells me. 

There’s guilt in knowing that our divorce has caused and continues to cause pain to my children, because they are sometimes upset during the transitions and often miss the parent who they aren’t with. There’s guilt in hearing my kids tell me that they wish we all lived together. There’s guilt in every meltdown, misbehavior, and moment of conflict, because what if it was caused by the trauma of our divorce? 

Guilt is heavy, indeed. 

Plain and simple sadness is also entangled in the ball of emotions. I’m sad that I’m not with my kids. I’m sad and nostalgic about the simplicity of our lives when we were a nuclear family. I’m sad knowing in my heart that Cory and I were not meant for each other forever, and nothing that I did or he did would have changed that. I’m sad knowing that the first part of my adult life was spent with Cory instead of RJ, and that the first part of RJ’s adult life was spent with Amber instead of me, and knowing that I still wouldn’t change a single thing because it brought me my kids exactly as they are. 

I’m sad that out of all our kids, only one will know what it’s like to have an intact family. I’m sad that I’ve done to my kids the one thing I never, ever wanted to do to them—and vowed never to do!—because I didn’t want them to experience the pain that I experienced as a child. I’m sad because I know that life just isn’t as simple as I once believed, and we can only do our best, and nothing is guaranteed, and things change in ways we can’t predict. 

I often find that when I’m with my kids, I feel stressed and overwhelmed, and yet somehow also energized and motivated. But when I’m not with all of them, I feel relieved, and yet also sad and anxious and depressed. It becomes this paradox where “I can’t live with them, and can’t live without them,” as they say. I’m unhappy in both situations, just in different ways. 

It can feel like each day I’m just spinning a wheel to see what it lands on. Chaos? Stress? Guilt? Sadness? Depression? Anxiety? 

Which will it be today? 

Of course, those aren’t the only things I feel. I feel joy and excitement, amusement, contentedness, satisfaction, and so many more positive things when I’m with my kids. They make me laugh, delight me with their adorableness, and warm my heart with their sweetness. Above all, when I’m with my kids, I feel love.

There is no love like a parent’s love for their child. I would do anything—anything—for my kids, and my highest priority in life is to take care of them. But also, there is no love like a child’s love for their parent. To your child, you are a hero. You are the one human in the world (or one of a very select few) that they need and love more than any other. You are the world to them. Even when they say they hate you, or that you’re mean, or any other angry and thoughtless thing that kids can sometimes spew at us parents, we still know that they love us and will forgive us. We can mess up again and again and again, but as long as we do our best and try, our kids will still think we hung the moon. That is such a privilege. 

To love and be loved as a mother is the most priceless gift. Despite the immense challenges that come with parenthood, I wouldn’t give it up for anything. My kids are my biggest source of both pain and joy in my daily life. They are everything.

So, onward I march. I’ll continue to take my days as they come, one at a time. I’ll continue to spin the wheel. Or maybe the wheel is spinning me? At this point, I don’t think it really matters. I’m just along for the ride. 

Brain Thoughts and Things

You can learn a lot from the internet, you know. It may sound funny, but I’ve actually learned a lot of very interesting, helpful, and insightful things from videos on TikTok. It’s become my favorite social media app.

One of the topics that comes up often in my TikTok feed is mental illness. ADHD is a very popular subject within this genre right now, and I think that’s really awesome because it’s bringing awareness to the different ways that ADHD can manifest in adults, and women especially. It’s no longer just a “kid’s” issue—and although there are negative aspects to ADHD, there are also ways that it can be seen in a positive light. Some people prefer to use the term neurodivergent nowadays to describe many mental differences, including people with ADHD and those on the autism spectrum.

The word neurodivergent is great because it reflects the reality that people with mental differences aren’t somehow broken—rather, they are simply different. And being neurodivergent gives those people special strengths, as well as challenges. The challenges are mostly due to the way that society is structured to work best for neurotypical individuals, anyway. That’s one reason why neurodivergents often need to seek professional help and/or medication to help them cope with their challenges.

Anyhow, that went down a rabbit hole. My point with this post was to talk about hyperfixation. This is something that is most commonly attributed to ADHD. What it means is that people can get super-focused on something (or someone) and that thing (or person) can take over the majority of their thoughts and attention for a period of time. There are also food-related hyperfixations, in which people might want to eat a particular meal every day for a period of time. A common hyperfixation can be on a hobby or interest, a TV show, or a book.

I have given a lot of thought to whether I have ADHD or not, because there are a few ways that I definitely relate to the “symptoms.” One of those things is how I will start doing one task, but then get distracted by another task that needs to be done and start doing that task, and so on until I’ve started several tasks but not completed any. This, however, I mostly attribute to my lifestyle. Being a mom, and homemaker, and pet owner, and partner… well, it leads to many people (or animals) needing things from you, often at the same time, along with a lot of chores that continuously need to be done.

Ultimately, I have landed on “no”—I do not believe that I have ADHD. I do suffer from depression and occasionally anxiety, and I have recently realized that I do tend to hyperfixate at times. But the interesting thing about this is that I just learned that hyperfixation is not only attributed to ADHD, but to depression and anxiety as well. So that makes a lot of sense for me, and I feel weirdly excited about finally having a word and an explanation for some of my behaviors.

My hyperfixations in the past have often been pet-related. I will decide that I want a certain pet and then hyperfixate on that—including figuring out what I need to buy for the pet, what care the pet needs, setting up the living area for the pet, and adding the pet’s expenses to the budget. Then of course I get the pet and enjoy it for a while… but eventually, the hyperfixation ends and then I’m left with more responsibility than I needed on my plate. And so, I’ve rehomed a lot of pets in my lifetime. While this isn’t ideal, I also am very diligent about finding good homes for them—and as I’m learning this about myself, I am also trying to end the cycle.

Other hyperfixations have been on hobbies, exercise regimes, daily schedules, meal-planning, home organization projects, budgeting, homeschooling, potential career paths I could follow, and even people (specifically, romantic partners).

For me, hyperfixations aren’t extreme. I don’t spend every waking minute thinking about or doing the thing that I’m fixated on. But I do spend a good amount of time on it, in between my mandatory tasks such as taking care of my children, home, pets, and occasionally myself (haha, joke…).

From what I read, and it totally makes sense, hyperfixations are a way of diverting negative emotions, like those stemming from depression and anxiety, into something more positive. They can become a problem if they interfere with living a healthy and balanced life, but they can also be a suitable coping mechanism at times.

My current hyperfixation is karaoke, of all things. I went to an arcade with karaoke rooms the other night, and had some fun singing there with my boyfriend and brother. As it turns out, my singing in the car doesn’t translate perfectly to good singing into a microphone in front of other people! And even though I had fun, it was definitely humbling. Instead of saying “well, never doing that again!” I decided to practice until I get better, so that next time, I can sing confidently in front of more people. And as it turns out, it’s pretty fun to practice singing with the goal of getting better. And this has been a source of stress-relief for me that is very needed.

Right now, there’s a lot of stress in my life. I have a busy co-parenting schedule with Cory, which means a lot of kid-swapping and time alone with the kids, as well as time to myself. It’s a really good balance, but it does take a lot of mental energy to keep up with. I also have my boyfriend’s schedule and time with his daughter to consider, not to mention keeping up with chores and pet care. My dogs Buddy and Macy and my cat Leo live with Cory, and he takes care of them. I have my dog Pepper, my boyfriend’s dog Dezi, and our cockatiels Pikachu and Eevee living with us at our apartment, and we share the responsibility for taking care of them. Since homemaking and being a stay-at-home mom is what I consider my job, I do most of the chores at the apartment as well. Cory has taken over the vast majority of chores at the house, though I help him with some things still. All in all, I have a lot on my plate, but it’s still a manageable amount of things to take care of.

My stress also comes from challenges with building a relationship with my boyfriend, in the midst of both of us getting divorced and both struggling with mental illness. I’m used to being the one with the “issues,” and now I have to learn a new skill of supporting a partner through these things as well. We have had some incredibly painful experiences as a couple while figuring out these new dynamics together, and even though we’ve made a lot of progress, it’s still not easy.

I love RJ beyond words, and I am committed to being with him forever, just as he is committed to being with me. But that doesn’t make our relationship easy. We have challenges and things that we need to fight through and work hard on. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve been in that position, because things were honestly always so easy with Cory. And that fact alone has its own weight, which can add to my insecurities and stress over this relationship!

What it comes down to is that right now, my stress levels are high and my depression and anxiety are a daily struggle. But if singing “Let It Go” a dozen times in a day makes me feel a little better, then that’s what I’m going to do!

I love learning new things about myself and discovering that other people do similar things—it makes me feel less alone, and more “normal.” So, this is my reminder to go ahead and use hyperfixation as a coping mechanism, even when it feels silly. Because it’s okay to be a little weird and silly! It’s all just part of being human. 🙂

The B Spectrum

I’ve realized something interesting about myself recently. I guess I already knew this on some level, but I never really defined it before. What I realized is that there’s a sort of “goldilocks zone” for my happiness, which I have named the B Spectrum.

On one end of the B Spectrum is Boredom. When I don’t have enough to keep me occupied—physically, mentally, and emotionally—I get bored. And when I’m bored, my anxiety is often triggered. This will lead me to try to make changes in my life to add some excitement, such as a new pet or a move or a new project or goal.

Being a stay-at-home mom keeps me busy in a lot of ways, but they’re not always the right ways. This job—and yes, it is a job—has the unique properties of being utterly exhausting while simultaneously being mind-numbingly dull. Keeping kids safe, fed, and otherwise well-cared-for requires the presence of a responsible, mature, and capable person—but it doesn’t require a whole lot of thinking, or interesting problem-solving, or any sort of mental stimulation, really. Yet it is still completely exhausting to deal with constant requests for menial labor, ridiculous bickering, emotional outbursts, and never-ending (and often disgusting) messes.

So, simply put, I get bored! And then I get antsy and anxious.

On the other end of the B Spectrum is Burnout. When I feel like I have too much on my plate, I get overwhelmed and stressed out. This usually triggers a depression. And then I might react by trying to simplify my life, such as by quitting a project or rehoming a pet. (This might sound terrible to some, but I always make sure that any pets I rehome go to a loving family that will take just as good care of them as I would, if not better. And for the record, I never set out to adopt a pet only to re-home them down the road, this is just a pattern that I’ve noticed, and I’m trying to break it.)

Again, being a stay-at-home mom is exhausting, and frequently does lead to burnout for me. What it comes down to is that I’m doing a job that is very demanding, despite being often unengaging.

Please understand, though—I love being a stay-at-home mom. Yes, it is hard. But I adore my children and it makes me very happy to know that I get to be the one home with them day in and day out during these early years of their lives. I feel very blessed to be able to do this, because I know that not everyone can.

Nevertheless, it honestly isn’t the best job for my mental health, because it triggers both sides of the B Spectrum simultaneously, which exacerbates my anxiety and depression. I can and will continue to find ways to cope with these challenges, because I believe it is worth it. But I also truthfully look forward to my kiddos being in school so that I can have other projects to work on that that challenge and excite me.

In the middle of the B Spectrum is Balance. When I can manage to find Balance between doing too much and not having enough to do, that’s when I feel the best. Right now, with the shifting dynamics happening in my family, I am finding more and more balance.

In some ways, I’m busier than ever. My life is essentially controlled chaos at the moment. I have schedules in place with Cory for who has the kids and when (on evenings and weekends). This means that I finally have regular time that isn’t with the kids, and so does Cory. Both of us are able to do things that we want to do as individuals, and that has been wonderful! That alone has gone a long way towards giving me some more balance between mom-ing and me-ing.

For the most part, boredom is not a problem lately. There’s still depression spells, probably from the stress, but keeping busy is helpful for keeping those at bay. The more pressing issue is making sure that I don’t get burned out, and so far, it feels like I’m staying in that golden zone of Balance for the most part.

I don’t know exactly what my life will look like in the coming months and years, but I feel like I’m moving toward something positive. Some days are better than others, but for right now at least, I’m feeling good. 🙂

Stredepranxiety

My stress, depression, and anxiety have now merged to form a new and exciting phenomenon: Stredepranxiety. (Yes, I did take longer than probably necessary to come up with that word. Thanks for noticing!)

What is stredepranxiety, you ask?

It’s when stress builds up to such a degree as to trigger a depressive episode, which is also sprinkled with periods of anxiety. Sometimes, the anxiety is about the stress and depression. Sometimes, the stress is about the anxiety and depression. And sometimes, the depression is about the stress and anxiety. Wahoo! It’s a non-stop fun-fest that just keeps on self-perpetuating. Welcome to the party.

While mental health is no joke, sometimes I just need to joke about it anyway.

The truth is, it’s been a pretty rough… oh, I don’t know, two years for me?—emotionally speaking. I struggled with antepartum and postpartum depression, and then just regular depression (which has been pretty consistently part of my life since I was a teenager, but I’m more aware of it and able to label it these days). Anxiety has been a struggle on and off as well. As a teenager and young adult, it was social anxiety. Now as an adult, it’s been more of a general anxiety, and it’s not severe but it is nagging and annoying.  

Stress is just a part of life, and mom-life is no exception. Kids need a lot, and it can be stressful and exhausting to meet all of those needs day-in and day-out, often with little to no breaks. The auditory overstimulation alone is enough to make me want to scream into a pillow most days.

Recently, my stress has also been through the roof because of huge life changes that I’m going through. Mainly, separating from my husband and figuring out what our new lives look like both individually and as a family. But also, being by my boyfriend’s side as he goes through a much more emotionally volatile divorce of his own. Watching the person you love be verbally and emotionally abused and being able to do nothing to stop it is extremely stressful and painful.

Being in a new relationship with RJ and experiencing all of the ups and downs of falling in love and learning each other is stressful enough (even if most if it is good stress), but doing that while simultaneously navigating the ends of both of our marriages has been a lot. Doing all of that while also living an hour and a half apart and managing our children and other responsibilities—well, it’s taken its toll for sure. I’m stressed, no way around that.

When stress overwhelms me, I get depressed. And usually when I’m depressed, I alternate between mostly feeling down, sad, tired, and hopeless—typical “depressed” feelings—and feeling anxious.

When I feel anxious, I tend to find things or tasks to fixate on, and get extremely irritable when I’m interrupted from those tasks. I do a lot of “problem-solving,” organizing, and scheming in my anxiety. Which doesn’t sound too bad, to be honest, but the problem is that those things don’t really take away the anxious feelings. I need constant distraction, and when I’ve run out of problems to solve and things to organize and schemes to plan, then I end up watching TikTok for hours or trying to find some other meaningless thing to do. Which of course, still doesn’t help. I feel restless and that something is wrong or I’m forgetting something. I don’t feel at peace.  

The worst thing right now is that my depression is consistently reaching levels that I’ve only felt a few times before in my life, prior to the last year and a half. It used to be rare that I had “not interested in continuing living” feelings, but now it’s a pretty frequent occurrence.  

To be clear, there is a big difference between “not interested in continuing living” and “planning to discontinue living.” I am zero percent planning to discontinue living. I have kiddos and parents and a boyfriend and husband (weird sentence) who all need me to stay living. So.

But anyway, the feelings are there and they suck.

There’s a lot of reasons I could give for feeling this way. Such as, my life has taken a completely different path than originally planned and that’s scary and makes me question what’s the point of anything. Yeah, it’s a bit of a spiral that doesn’t really make much sense, but there you have it.

There’s also a big fear I have of “never being happy.” Whatever that means! Basically, I sometimes question whether I can be consistently happy on a big picture level. I don’t mean that every day has to be great, but just that the average day is more happy than not. It’s absolutely not quantifiable, which makes it a fantastic measuring stick for the valuable-ness of my life. *sarcasm*

I have days where I feel content and happy. I have moments in my days where I feel sparks of joy and excitement and positive things like that. But I also feel that many of my days currently are more characterized by feeling worn out, listless, and unexcited about life. Worse are the days when I feel those dull waves of sadness or sharp spikes of despair throughout the day. There are still pockets of happiness throughout my days and weeks, but it’s hard for me to tell if they outweigh the sadness.

One thing that scares me the most is the thought that I’ve tried so many different things to find happiness, and I always just end up back at depression station. A narrative I have in my head right now is that I just blew up my entire life for the sake of trying to find happiness, and I’m now worse off than before. I was content in my life, but now everything is a mess and I’ve ruined everything.

Is this narrative based in reality? No. Is it still in my head? Yup.

The reality check I need to give myself is this:

I didn’t blow up my life. I have made changes in the pursuit of living more genuinely as myself, and those changes have been successful. I am on the right path. I was living a good life, but it wasn’t a full life. I am in a season of challenges as I navigate these changes, but overall I am in a better place in terms of my life trajectory and potential for happiness than I was a year ago. I haven’t ruined anything. My kids are happy and healthy, my relationship with Cory is positive, I’m in a good spot financially, and I have a bright future. I’m madly in love with RJ. We’re extremely happy when we’re together. We’re planning a beautiful life and future together, and what we found with each other is worth all of the difficulties and stress that we are currently facing. There is more peace and joy and a life very much worth living on the other side of this, and we are going to get there together.

Until then, I’ll just be here, slogging through my stredepranxiety one day at a time.