This morning, my nearly 3-year-old huffed out his longest sentence to date. His physical therapist had him building a tower and as he reached to place a block, he looked her in the face and with great caution managed, “This block goes here.”
Recently the pressure of life has been building. You know, that feeling that life is a gigantic tower and you are its foundation, its shaking, unstable, “WHAT AM I EVEN DOING HERE?” foundation. Or maybe the feeling that your brain is so full and so empty all at once. That you have so many things to decide that you can’t finish asking yourself a question before you get distracted by yet another uncertainty. Anxiety is real, and heavy, and sometimes debilitating.
My most recent bout of debilitating anxiety revolves around finances, housing, and our first trip back to Florida. All of these things are related and complicated, unavoidable, and so stressful. The thing about dealing with stress as a person who struggles with anxiety is that there are loud alarms blaring their sirens in your head saying, “OH NO! THERE IS TROUBLE AHEAD!” There is trouble ahead and you don’t know what to do and you can’t decide what to do first and so you should sit and wallow in your trouble. Let the pain of the intense stress literally permeate in your bones because stress is unavoidable, and heavy, and TOO MUCH FOR YOU. That’s what anxiety says, anxiety says don’t even try because it will always be too much. Anxiety says don’t get that thing done because what if it would be better to do the other things first or what if you aren’t ready for the thing that’s coming tomorrow.
This morning, during his physical therapy, my son’s speech therapist walked by and with mild excitement I mentioned that he said his first four word sentence just moments before. “Oh yeah? What was it?” I relayed it back and his therapist took a few more steps down the hall and paused, grinned, and repeated “This block goes here. That’s cool.”
On our long drive home I processed that moment. I never ask a lot of questions of his therapists but I spend an incredible amount of time overanalyzing every word, gesture, and facial expression they make. “That’s cool.” What did that mean? As I spiraled my way down the parking garage I pondered his milestones and where a single 4 word sentence placed on his spectrum of abilities. I literally shook my head and laughed at myself, convinced I needed to redirect my train of thought. “Maybe the words he said were ‘cool’?” I replayed the moment in my head. My youngest is such a peach. I thought about his easy temperament and winning smile. His words came with much hard work. “This block goes here.” When he has something to say he usually concentrates a great deal and pauses between each word and this time was no different. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and what he needed to do to make it happen. He knew that block went there.
Last night, on my way to bed, a photo hanging on the wall of my two oldest children caught my eye. They were only 1 and 3 years old in the photo. In an instant, it brought me to tears. I was already at my maximum stress level at that moment, when I saw it hanging on the wall I remembered where my life was at that point and how I thought then that I had it all figured out. I was settled, life only gets better because people only get better at doing life. Lol, right? That’s why I cried, how silly was I five years ago? Raising humans gets more complicated every single day. When they’re babies you tell yourself, “Oh it’ll be easier once they’re feeding themselves!” or maybe “It’ll be easier once they’re potty trained!” and then later, “I’ll get more done once they’re in school!” No. That isn’t how it works. Babies become toddlers, toddlers become preschoolers and preschoolers become little kids, and little kids become slightly smelly, super opinionated, energetic, overwhelmingly curious, and socially unstable KIDS. Every single stage gets more complicated than the one before it. That is parenting and parenting can sometimes bring you to tears on your way to bed because when the stress of life, housing, finances, and your first trip back to Florida are weighing on you to the point you can’t finish a thought, Rhonda still has to be mom. I still have to parent. I have to wake them, feed them, answer ONE MILLION questions, hug them, referee them, direct them.
The tasks of being mom, of being grown, of being alive are so heavy. Anxiety says I’m going to mess up one thing because I should have been doing the other thing so maybe I should just do nothing. Do you know what kids do? Kids do exactly what they want and almost always immediately. They know they want that block there and so they pick up that block and they put it there.
There are few things I enjoy more than when I can go to bed feeling accomplished. When I can close my eyes and say to myself, “Well done, Rhonda, the things you did and said today were enough!” The trick is finding peace and contentment. There aren’t enough hours in the day to check off the items on my lists. Sometimes the items on my lists aren’t even items that should be on my lists. They’re items I dealt with a week ago but I’m still expecting an imaginary anvil to drop or they’re items I don’t even need to deal with until three months from now but WHAT IF there’s some solution I haven’t thought of because I haven’t paused everything to dwell on it. The thoughts, the troubles, they pile and they pile into an insurmountable list. Every. Single. Day.
When anxiety is sounding it’s alarm between my ears what I need desperately is to pick up a single block and put it where it goes. Any block, a small block, a heavy block, a noisy block, all I have to do is pick it up and put it where it goes. And when I’m done, tell myself that it was good. Whether it looks good or bad, or feels weird or great, picking that block up and picking somewhere for it to go matters. Making my kids’ breakfast is picking up a block and it’s something to find worth and contentment in. I can find peace in picking up the block that is answering the question “How do you spell purple?” for the millionth time. Each and every block is important and valuable and each block is something I can find peace in. Allowing the weight of ten million future blocks to keep me from placing today’s blocks gets us absolutely nowhere.
It isn’t easy, reminding one’s self that today is worthwhile, that there is good in the small efforts that make tiny ripples. This long winded blog post will serve as a reminder to myself to pull things together, hopefully at least a few times and hopefully remind everyone that reads it that it’s okay to admit you’re a total mess, just keep placing blocks, that’s worth something.
One last parting idea! Somewhat recently, I was discussing mental health with a group of friends and someone asked what everyone’s “stabilizers” were. Not medicine, but, things, activities, that each person turned to as a form of self-care when stressed, overwhelmed, sad, etc. Things that help you bring a sense of balance, things that help you clear your mind. People listed things like running, puzzles, baking, etc. I legitimately couldn’t figure out what mine were, it seemed like a helpful thing to be aware of so I was surprised how unprepared I was to answer the question. Well! I’ve figured it out. I urge you to ensure you’re aware of at least a couple of your own. Here are my top 3:
– Hymns! I love them, a lot. Here’s my favorite: It Is Well With My Soul
– Sitting in a parked car all by myself, alone with my thoughts
– Writing 😉