Sometimes parenting sucks

Parenting is an important job. It’s one of life’s double edged swords of beauty and pain, like a thorny rose. It’s a privilege and it’s precarious. It’s exhausting and life giving. The rewards of watching your child(ren) grow into their potential and seeing them shine with happiness are tempered with the tantrums of toddlerhood and teenage rebellion. The warmth and comfort of the loving hug and tender kiss on the cheek of a sleepy child is what takes the sting of being told, “You’re ruining my life!” Parenting is not for the weak of heart. It strengthens those who may start out weak and weakens those who begin with the belief in their own power.

My oldest is 30. My youngest is 8. I started taking care of my infant cousin when I was 14-15. My 23 year old is now parenting two of her own. My grandchildren will soon be 3 and 2. I’ve been doing this parenting thing a very long time . . . and still feel like I’m walking on sinking sand most of the time.

Even more so with my youngest.

When I was young, I had this hope and belief that I could figure it out quickly and be the best mom in the world. I had come from such a dysfunctional family and I just KNEW that anything I did would be so much better than how I had been raised. I had the overcertainty, overconfidence, and false sense of invincibility of youth to prop up my belief that I was a good parent.

Of course, hindsight has taught me that I was delusional and that my eldest was not the child blessed with the best parent. He and his sister saw more than their fair share of dysfunction and heartache throughout their lives with me as their mother. I’ve moved beyond the mommy guilt and shame from those years and realizing the pain I caused them. I’ve worked hard on my healing, recovery, and growth. I’ve worked hard to make amends, to repair and restore my relationships with them, so I can have a place in their lives now.

By the time their sister was born, when I was 39, I was overwhelmed with the knowledge of my faults and failures. I was living the life of a castaway on a tempest tossed sea of depression, hopelessness, fear, resentment, and bitterness. I was in no way, shape, or form under the illusion that I was a fit parent. However, I was determined to do better by her than I’d been able to do by her siblings. I’ve sought every opportunity for her to have access to supportive services to fill in my gaps. I’ve taken as many parenting classes as I was able to. I’ve done what I could to make healthier, more stabilizing choices.

I didn’t plan on getting diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, Hypothyroidism, and Diabetes II. I didn’t plan on her getting identified with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder. I didn’t plan on the relationship with her father continuing to deteriorate and to increase in toxicity to the point we couldn’t live together anymore. I didn’t plan on us figuring out that he’s probably on the autism spectrum, undiagnosed and untreated, all 51 years of his life. I didn’t plan on my mental and physical health disorders combining to keep me from working or holding down a job. I didn’t plan on feeling or being so broken that some days it’s all I can do to not go back to bed once she’s on the bus to her school.

I certainly had no idea that I would need to plan on being hit and kicked, called names, screamed and screeched at until my eardrums almost burst, and told on a daily basis that she wished she’d had a different mom.

I don’t want to be the mom who’s too exhausted and hurting to play with her child. I don’t want to be the mom who’s so overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings from PTSD that when her child has meltdowns, she melts down too. I don’t want to be the mom who has to restrain herself from lashing out when her child lashes out at her. I don’t want to be this mom.

My little girl is hurting right now. She’s hurting because people who she formed attachments to, have disappeard from her life. All children experience pain and difficulty when important people are no longer around. All children act out in whatever ways they need to in order to cope with the big feelings of grief, bewilderment, abandonment, anger, and whatever other feeling they may have. Her way of coping is all of the same things that other kids do . . . amplified on an exponetial level.

After the hitting, kicking, screaming, name calling, and lashing out have happened, at the end of each day, her sweet little girl voice tells me she loves me, tells me she’s sorry for saying and doing mean things, and tells me she wants me to hold her.

A better mom might say that hearing her tell me those things makes all the rest of it disappear and seem worth it. Well, I’m not that mom. As much as I love my little girl and as much as my heart breaks for her struggles and to know the challenges she faces, hearing those sweet declarations of her love for me, just don’t make me feel better about having been hit, kicked, screamed at, and called a bitch less than an hour or two before. At least not all the time and not recently.

These are the times when I think that parenting sucks . . . and then feel guilty for feeling that way because I love her so much, my heart aches. How can it possibly be okay to feel that way about this child, any child, my child?


PTSD: Emotional Flashbacks

I met with my daughter’s newest Developmental Disabilities Service Coordinator yesterday. She’s not someone just collecting a government paycheck. She really cares. She spent a lot of time giving my attention-seeking child the attention she needed. She spent even more time listening to my story. I’m really glad she’s our new liason to accessing the services my daughter needs.

That being said, the thing that always happens whenever I’m talking to someone who shows caring interest in me, my life, and my circumstances, happened. I broke down and started crying. I’d just been discussing the wish list for the things in my daughter’s room. A list that includes a bed of her own. A bed.

Yes, my eight year old child doesn’t have a bed of her own. Not that she would use it. She’s co-slept since infancy. Her autism and sensory issues have made it easier to just let her continue to share the bed with me. However, having a real bed of her own has never actually been an option. A couple of very used, hand-me-over, hand-me-down twin bunk mattresses, stacked on top of each other in a falling apart, hand-me-down, hand-me-over slatted bedframe that the slats kept falling out of doesn’t really count in my book.

When I started crying, the woman sat forward and cocked her head to the side, with a look of confused concern on her face. “What…?”

“I just want to be able to provide for my child.”

“You ARE providing for her.”

“I mean, on my own, not having to rely on outside assistance.”

I went on to talk about the fact that I’m 47, living in section 8 housing, unemployed and not looking because I mentally and physically can’t hold down a job. Not only can I not hold a job, I also won’t ever be in a position to finish my education and get the degrees I need to do the kind of work I’m really interested in and have the intellectual and experiential qualifications for.

Basically, I was in tears, again, because I was having an emotional flashback. Apparently, I’ve been in an emotional flashback cycle ever since DJT was elected POTUS . . . probably before.

All the things about me and the conditions of my current life:
– Physical health: obesity, diabetes, hypothyroidism = Metabolic Syndrome
– Mental health: Bipolar Disorder, Depression, PTSD
– Financial health: government subsidized housing, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aka Food Stamps, financially dependent on the ex, who covers basic expenses and our child’s needs
– Relational/Social health: almost no face-to-face relationships with friends and family that aren’t within the context of weekly worship and teaching services
– Basic identity: female, half-Mexican, middle-aged, single-mother, former teen mom

Plus all the things in my history:
– Sexual abuse/incest
– Unstable home/constant moving. For example, I attended three different schools in two different states, in between living in three different states when I was 11 years old.
– Undiagnosed, mentally ill mother who committed suicide when I was 12
– Four years living with/”raised” by substance affected family in toxic relationships
– Emotional and mental abuse/trauma from 16-19 by my first child’s father
– 18+ years in toxic, co-dependent relationship with a man who is psycho-socially impaired, with impulse control, and anger issues because, as it turns out, he has the same autism spectrum disorder my daughter has, but has never been diagnosed or treated.

All of these things, plus the daily emotional and physical battles which go hand in hand with parenting, amplified with parenting a child on the autism spectrum, have combined to trigger a self-perpetuating cycle of depression and dissotiation for more than three months.

The tears were coming from a place of intense shame, hopelessness, and self-loathing. They were coming from deep and profound grief from all the losses in my life that I couldn’t feel because of the dissociative coping that began in early childhood. They were coming from an overwhelming sense of lonliness and isolation. They were coming from a sense of helplessness and powerlessness.

I know that I am a strong, intelligent, compassionate, capable, and loving woman, mother, grandmother, and friend. I know that my size, my physical or mental health, my past, or my present circumstances don’t define me and aren’t my identity. I know that I am loved and that I have a father, protector, and provider in the God of the Universe. I know all of these things.

But, knowledge doesn’t erase what’s in the heart and it doesn’t override the altered neurobiology that is my brain on PTSD.

So, when I’m face to face with someone who cares and is interested in who I am, how I’m doing, and what I’m experiencing, I cry.

Learning to fall

Thanks to Facebook, I learned today that a man I barely used to know, from our shared time in the same faith community, had died 12 days ago. 

As I looked at the picture of his happy, smiling face, on the Memorial program (Is that the right term?  Somehow it seems…lacking for something so important), I tried to remember him as a person, and I drew an emotional blank. Of course I knew his name, the mutual people we knew and the relational connections. Other than that, there was this kind of vacuum of shocked surprise and the impersonal thought of, “that’s too bad,” and “how sad for the ones who actually knew and loved him.”

At which point, I realized how numb and dissociated I’ve become…again.

I decided that I wanted to care about him, the way I think I might’ve desired when our oldest daughters loved being around each other…15 years ago. A lifetime ago, just yesterday.

Instead of intruding on the personal grief of his dear friend who’d shared the picture, because I didn’t want my sudden interest in who this man had been and why, at just a year older than me, he had died, to be experienced by his loved ones as morbid curiosity, I did a Safari search.

(Wow. What a long, convoluted sentence that was.)

I found the most courageous and personally inspiring thing I’ve experienced in such a long time; his blog.

ALS – my “Fast Pass ticket to the finish.” link here.

I clicked my way through to his first entry and read through the first few entries. As his story unfolded, I met a man of faith, courage, and peace. His writing was as humorous and ironic as it was real and raw. 

Reading through the entries took maybe a minute or two. They were brief, but so full of his character and personality. I could almost hear his amused and upbeat voice describing what must’ve been a terrifying and painful period of time: how he found out that he’d been given a death sentence by his body: Lou Gherig’s Disease.

The seventh entry was only a YouTube video: Lowen & Navarro, “Learning To Fall.”

I cried. 

For this moment, I was able to rise above the malaise of the depression, the PTSD, the anxiety, and the apathy of hopelessness, which are my day to day realities, and FEEL. Feel inspired. Feel connected. Feel the courage, strength, hope, love, and faith of people who have been able to live fully in the face of death.

Miraculously, the internal voices which once would’ve criticized me for being a self-pitying sad sack for no good reason, were quiet. In this moment, I was given a gift of peace and hope. The unwritten note with this gift tells me that I can borrow some of this courage, strength, hope, and peace when I don’t have any of my own.

Thank you, Doug. It’s nice to meet you. My world is a better place because of you, the man I never knew.

Panic Attacks: A Primer For The Well-Meaning Person

I wish all well-meaning people could understand that having an anxiety disorder, and the panic attacks that come with it, doesn’t mean we don’t know or understand that we have good things and good people in our lives.

Those of us who experience panic attacks don’t choose to have them. They aren’t a matter of having the wrong perspective or being unappreciative or ungrateful for what we have.

There are “triggers.” A scent, a phrase, someone who resembles someone else, a place, a sound/noise, a voice, a song, a shadow, anything really, can bypass the thinking, rational parts of our brains and burrow directly into the sensory memories, our involuntary nervous system, which flow through our bodies. Our bodies hold the memories that our brains tuck away and bury.

It’s instantaneous. It’s involuntary. It happens in a microsecond.

We can learn techniques and skills. We can create and hold onto touchstones that can help us get present again. We can work with a therapist to help us identify and process the experiences and memories that the triggers are connected to.

However, knowing the good things doesn’t stop the anxiety and panic attacks. Having someone tell us to remember the good things doesn’t make the attack stop or help us feel better . . . however much it makes the one saying it feel better for having said it.

After the attack, we don’t feel better. We feel drained and exhausted. We may feel frustrated that we “let” it happen again or feel guilty because it affected someone we care about. We may feel broken and unfixable because it never seems to stop happening, no matter how long we have gone since the last one.

The next time you want to comfort or help someone who’s experieced or is experiencing a panic attack, instead of telling us what there is to be grateful for or all the things we should remember, don’t.

Don’t try to hug or touch us. Ask if we want to be hugged or touched before you do it. Consent isn’t just for sex. Uninvited touch might be the trigger.

Tell us you support us, even if you don’t know what we’re going through. Let us know that you recognize how hard it is and know that there’s nothing bad or wrong that we experienced another one. Sit in silence with us.

Most of all, don’t get and act offended if we don’t respond, willingly receive what you offer, or react in a happy, grateful way. Taking care of our feelings is difficult enough. We can’t be expected to take care of yours.

We know you mean well and that your intentions are good. Let that be enough.

Propaganda Dispersal System vs Critical Thinking

This is intended as reminder for those of us who forget to use it, for whatever reason – I do include myself in this – and a primer for those who haven’t had the opportunity to learn it, for whatever reason.

“Critical thinking skills truly matter”

Our social media culture of “like, copy, share” has turned many of us, again, myself included, into cogs of the Propaganda Dispersal System (PDS).

Much of what passes in front of our eyes, through our FB news feeds and notifications lists, (as well as other places we like to hang out on the internet), regarding governmental, justice, social, and environmental issues, is both product and fuel of the PDS.

The facts are often true…except for a detail or two. There are frequent omissions or additions. Language is used in a way to slant and hook our emotions. This is why the term “click bait” exists.

If you know anything about fishing, the following may be helpful:

Fisherman = person/organization that wants our attention in the form of votes, money, and/or time.

Fish = us. Every single one of us is a target with thousands of goods, services, products, political parties, activist organizations, public and private institutions  ALL wanting our votes, money, and/or time.

Hook & bait = carefully crafted words, images, and videos designed to bypass the rational and analytical parts of our brains and hook into our emotions.

This is where fishing analogy ends and the virus one begins:

How many times have you heard the phrase, “it’s gone viral”?

Once our emotions are hooked, we then become carriers of the propaganda virus. Even the most educated and rational person can and does “catch the virus.” We all have some things we’re immune to. Things we can bypass without a thought or regret. However, all of us also have those things we’re almost always susceptible to. Again, this also applies to the well and over-educated, because we’re humans.

After that happens, we’re the carriers, propaganda is the virus, and social media is the transmission system. We get hooked by whatever powerful emotion the information in words and images and how it has been presented trigger in us. Then, we copy and share it so the people on our friend lists will see it and react. And the next cycle begins.

It has taken longer for you to read this than it frequently takes for the entire cycle to happen.

A headline. A meme. A 30-60 second video. 👍❤️😮😥😡 & share. Scroll and repeat.

If we will stop and take the time ask the questions in this chart, we can break ourselves free from the Propaganda Dispersal System.

How do we unify as a nation again?

In some ways, despite it having happened only five days ago, the election for the next President of the United States feels like forever ago. I think, in some ways, that may be my PTSD coping coming into play – dissociation from it all to deal with the almost non-stop anxiety that started on the day of the election and lasted for the next couple of days.

Since then, there have been so many acts of violence resulting in death and destruction. A lot of the reports are of Trump supporters harassing, threatening, and even killing people whose minority groups were insulted, demeaned, and identified as undesirable residents in our nation. The slogan, “Make America Great Again,” for many people, became code for, “Make America White Again.”

The results of election night seemed to be the eruption of a volcano which had been awakening over the past several years, decades even, as economic hardships, job losses, the battle for marriage equality, the seeming increases of Black Americans losing their lives and their futures to the lethal force actions of the police charged to protect and serve, a protracted war on terror throughout the Middle East, increasing numbers of refugees who share ethnic and genetic backgrounds with the terrorists, soldiers killed and maimed in this war on terror, veteran’s not receiving the care and services promised and needed, an epidemic of homelessness, and the list goes on.

We have long been divided according to the political two-party system of the liberal, leftist, Democrats vs the Republicans of the religious right. This false dichotomy has polarized the people in our country and pitted us against them. The propaganda of it all is quite confusing, until you step back and examine the big picture a little more closely. The professional politicians in the upper echelons of our government, many of whom fall in the category of the 1% and who are often considered to be the puppets of the 1% of the 1%, have done an excellent job of distracting us and pitting us against each other.

I’m reminded of the fall of the Roman Empire, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution. In each case there was some combination of over-involvement in the wars of other countries, major economic shifts where the 98% grew poorer and poorer, while the top levels of leadership became more and more self-serving, making governing decisions to increase their own wealth and power. Each of these events had additional factors, however, these are the largest ones and the ones which most closely resemble what is happening in our country right now.

We have a 1% leader who, throughout his campaign, appealed to four groups of people, the first of which are those most concerned with the loss of their way of life, which isn’t just the loss of middle-class comfort and status, but their very survival. The second group consists of those who are fiscally conservative, believing that a large, bureaucratic government, taxing the working and upper classes in order to provide supportive services to the lower classes, who they often deem to be lazy, unwilling to do what it takes to lift themselves out of poverty, and more likely to “take advantage” of the system, thereby costing them their hard-won earnings and way of life.

The third and fourth groups can be found in the midst of the other two groups. The third group, are known as the Religious Right, the ones who have been trained and taught a doctrine based on a fairly modern interpretation of the Bible, which doesn’t take into account the context and the history, the cultural and religious connections to the original people groups to whom the different books of the Bible were addressed and derived from. This third group treats the Bible, its teaching, and its prophecies as if they are the chosen people and the promises are for the new Holy Land of The United States of America.

I think it’s important to note that this is likely the group which is the most diverse in terms of race, gender, gender identity, sexuality, and religious faith. The reason for this is likely the level of and type of education. This is the group that was most likely to vote for Trump, instead of Hillary, because of that education combined with religious beliefs, despite the obvious words, actions, and history of our President-Elect which flouted any true example of morals and values espoused by themselves.

The final group consists of those who believe that anyone who isn’t “white” is an inferior race and should never be considered equal to themselves or have any advantages that they don’t have. They, too, tend to believe the things of the Religious Right, and see themselves, exclusively, as the Chosen and inheritors of the earth.

On the opposing side, we have the Millennials and the Liberal Left. Both of those groups tend to be highly educated, academically, and their academic education came from Liberal Colleges, not affiliated with religion or religious denomination. They’re the ones most concerned with social and environmental justice. They’re also the ones who want human rights and equality to be a given for all human beings, regardless of “minority” status.

Since the election, one side has been reported to have committed heinous crimes against members of the other side. Of course, the portions of that side who don’t share in the overtly bigoted beliefs of the perpetrators are quick to their own defense and to absolve themselves of any responsibility in those actions. On the flip side, many of the members of the other party, have staged protests, intended to be peaceful, which have erupted into rioting, destruction, and violence. Of course, the more moderate of this group are quick to disavow those actions by the anarchists, the angriest, and the most marginalized.

How are we going to become a unified nation? How are we to work toward reconciliation and reparation when everyone is shouting over each other and worse, in order to establish that they are right and the others are wrong?

The Peace Prayer of St. Francis

by an anonymous Norman c. 1915 A.D. Peace Prayer

Lord make me an instrument of your peace

Where there is hatred,
Let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, Joy.

O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
As to console;
To be understood,as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Or, as Steven Covey puts it, in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Of Millennials, Protesters, and Anarchists

I live in a city filled with diversity. We are home to a strong, active, civic-minded, engaged, and involved African American community. We have been and are home to refugees and immigrants from various countries in Eastern Europe, India, Africa, Asia, and more. We are home to a large, entrepreneurial,  hard-working, contributing Hispanic community, some of whom may be undocumented, but are valuable members of the communities they live and work in. Our LGBTQUIA community is friendly, fun, fierce, fabulous, and fearless. We have strong, courageous, dedicated women in all sectors: private, government, and social service . We are known as the place, “where the young go to retire,” where the “dream of the 90’s” is alive and well, and where the hipsters, post-millennial hippies, and bicycling eco-activists work hard to honor and respect diversity and work to make inclusivity a way of life. We are a blue city flying a rainbow flag.

Don’t twist it and get me wrong. We have our negatives and our misunderstandings. We have our prejudices and our biases. We have our oppressed and our oppressors. However, we also have enough people willing to have the conversations, listen to each other, learn from each other, and stand with each other against the inhumane things humans do to other humans.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we’ve had three days of protests since Donald Trump won the Presidential election with the electoral vote, if not the popular one.

What was surprising is that last night’s protest turned into a bit of a riot, with projectiles being thrown at police, them firing non-lethal rubber bullets and the like back, windows getting smashed in, property getting destroyed, physical altercations between protesters and frustrated motorists trying to get home after 16 hour workdays or get out of the city to get to an emergency. That isn’t who we are as a city. This isn’t who we are as people . . . most of us anyway.

Since the protests started, I’ve seen a lot of posts by people I know, who are criticizing and dismissing the protesters as entitled brats who are upset that they didn’t get their way in the election. These people, many of whom are friends and family of mine, or people I went to school with 30-40 years ago, are claiming that the protestors are whiny, spoiled children who don’t know or understand what true hardship is and are doing this because too many participation trophies were handed out. This couldn’t be farther from the truth . . . at least for the majority of the protesters.

First off, let me say this: There were people, self-proclaimed anarchists, hiding behind masks and wearing distinctive clothing, who inserted themselves in the crowd of otherwise peaceful protestors. Some of these people may be of the Millennial Generation and may have been handed too many participation trophies, but, their actions have little to nothing to do with the intention and message of the protesters. They just want to cause chaos and destruction. They get a kick out of doing it and their payoff is distracting from and derailing the dialogue which the protesters are trying to have.

Secondly, the true protesters, Portland’s Resistance, have disavowed those who committed the violence and caused the damage. Additionally, Portland’s Resistance is taking responsibility and corrective action. You can read more about it here.

Now, on to what this post is really about . . . clearing up the misconceptions about the protestors and the Millennials among them. What needs understanding is this, the world Millennials grew up on is completely and drastically different than the one I, and others before me, grew up in. The differences go much deeper and are more far reaching than participation trophies. I have some perspective on this because I am parent to a pre-millennial, a millennial, and a post-millennial.

My Millennial child was born in 1993, was a pre-adolescent at the turn of the millennia, and came into adulthood in the 2010’s. She’s an amazing, compassionate, passionate, determined, and civically active and aware woman.

You see, she and her peers grew up in a time of unprecedented globalization. The internet led to social media: Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress and so many more online spaces where people of all ages, faiths, nationalities, colors, genders, sexualities, health conditions, family structures, educational levels, and economic levels could communicate with, see, and hear each other. All of these people created and shared the things that represented who they are, where they’re from, what they believe, what they’ve experienced, their gifts, talents, and passions.

The internet and social media became the great equalizer, even if anonymous (or not so anonymous) bigots and bullies trolled to see who they could attack, threaten, heckle, diminish, and demean.

Which brings me to my next point: rising awareness and rejection of bias, prejudice, bullying, and violence.

My Millennial daughter and her peers grew up in an era where many of the previously hidden and accepted isms of our society rose up in awareness, because the people who were stigmatized and terrorized by these things courageously began rising up and speaking out about their experiences of injustice, violence, suppression, and oppression. Domestic Violence, Rape Culture, Racism, Sexism, Gender Inequality, the dehumanization of LGTBQIA people, Ableism, Ageism, Body Shaming, Cyber Bullying, Xenophobia have been an inherent part of their lives, throughout their lives. There have been so many actions, organizations, events, and movements to rise against these things and our Millennial children were taught in school, on television, in social media, and even by their parents, that these things are not acceptable and that this is not who we want to be as people, as humans.

We taught and they learned that everyone has a place and everyone has something of value to contribute to the world, even if they aren’t the MVP. That’s what participation trophies taught them.

They learned to use their voices, the privileges they may have, their personal experiences, their gifts, talents, and passions to stand up, stand for, and stand with people different from themselves, to stand against the things which destroy and devour the hopes, dreams, identities, and lives of the people in the world around us.

Don’t dismiss them. Listen to them. Learn from them. They’re the future policy makers, leaders, and caregivers we’ll be dependent on in a few years.