Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hope, in the moment

In recent years I've realized that much of what passes for hope these days is hope for an outcome. This is interesting (not to mention challenging) to me, because as a person of faith I'm called to have hope. Specifically, I'm called to have hope in God. That is different than hoping God will do something for me, like give me the outcome I want.

Last night I went for a walk with a neighborhood friend. She, too, is facing numerous  challenges. As I told her a bit of what was going on in my life, she rolled her eyes and said, "You must be constantly praying, 'Lord, get me through this!'"

"Well actually, no," I replied, surprised to hear myself say it, "I've almost completely stopped praying that." And it's true. Somewhere in recent months, as things have reached ever more ridiculous levels of impossibility, I've stopped the Calgon prayers. My first impulse is no longer to escape, but to be present.

A few weeks back I was trying to encourage/persuade/convince my PTSD child to break a large task (getting up and getting dressed) into smaller chunks. First, sit up. After that, stand up. Then take off the jammie top. Etcetera. We were aiming for the really basic stuff. The child refused to do any of it, because it was too scary.

I could feel my frustration rising, which is what happens when I don't know what to do. So I did what I always do in that (embarrassingly common) situation: I prayed for the words that were needed.

What came out was this: "I'm not asking you to do anything you can't. But I am asking you to do every single thing that you can."

Oh. Oh, yes! That was exactly it. If you can sit up, do that, and focus only on that one thing. If you can stand up, do that, and focus on the one thing. Do what you can, step by step, until you reach the point where you truly cannot go further.

It was exactly what I needed to hear, too. Because I think that's what God asks of us: to do every single thing we can do.

God doesn't ask me to handle this whole impossible thing: in this moment, I'm being asked to do what's required for this moment. That's all. And that I can do. It's the old, "Take care of the moment, and you take care of eternity" thing.

Here's the thing:
I can't do it if I'm focused on more than what is asked of me for that moment.
I can't do it if I'm focused on what I fear will be asked of me in the future.
I can't do it if I'm focused on how much I don't want to be in this situation.
I can't do it if I'm focused on the echoes of past difficulties or frustrations.
I can't do it if I'm focused on my lack of wisdom on what to do.
I can't do it if I'm focused on anything other than being 100% there, open to whatever I need to be open to, with a heart that yearns to do what is asked of me.

It helps me understand hope in God differently. And to have more hope, in general.

It makes so much sense to me. Does it make sense to you?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Life with a child in crisis

My child sobbed the other day, "Mommy, I'm sorry I'm broken. I don't want to create problems for the family."

I swallowed the football-size lump in my throat enough to reply, "Sweetie, I'm sad, too." Pause. Think. Pray. Then, "None of us want you to be broken. But you don't have to feel bad about the fact that you've fallen apart. And you don't have to stay broken, you know. We're all working to help you get put back together"

Oh, it's hard. It's hard to see your child suffer, hard to not-know if or when things will turn around, hard to manage a very complex situation. One afternoon last week I felt like a total failure. I told my child's therapist that it is wearying to try so hard and to give everything I have to give, and still not succeed. She replied gently, "Your child is alive. Your child is not in the hospital. That is success. That is because of you."

I dried my tears and thought, Okay. I can hold on to that. It's not much. On the other hand, it's everything.

*        *        *        *

The child in crisis is perpetually cranky, snapping irrationally at minor things, melting down over next to nothing. Not surprisingly, this triggers the other children. They don't like being screamed at, they feel unjustly accused, they snap back. The family is a pinball machine of anxiety, with one kid pinging off another. The situation exacerbates Big Guy's anxiety issues, another child's anxiety issues, Andrew's anxiety issues.

I keep an eye on my own tension level. When others start to blow I whisper, "Use a gentle voice. Stay calm. Get through the next five minutes." I succeed at this a surprising amount of the time. This is not due to me; it's abundantly clear that I'm not capable of doing what I'm doing. Someone, somewhere must be praying for me. For this I am thankful.

*        *         *         *

There is another snarling-screaming-weeping child incident and I dig deep, searching to find compassion. I know that somewhere behind my child's rank irritability lies pain, and I need to respond to that rather than react to the behavior it causes.

It is hard to shove aside my desire to scream, explode, snap back. I do it because although the short-term effort is exhausting, the long-term consequence of falling apart myself is too expensive to contemplate.

*        *        *         *

At night I wrestle with my ego. It is hard to feel like a good mom when your child falls apart. I cringe at the thought that I've ever offered advice to anyone. Who, me? Me, whose family seems to be in perpetual crisis?

I grapple with the difference between shame and humility. Shame is the I don't want others to know piece, the fig leaf behind which I hide to preserve the image I want people (including myself) to have of me. Humility is honest nakedness, the here-I-am-ness, the willingness to say, "This is hard and I'm bumbling along, probably making mistakes... stay with me. Please."

Sometimes heroism consists of doing something as simple as crumbling the fig leaf. Sometimes, but not always, I can be heroic.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Staying calm, staying safe

A long while back I made up a list of things kids need to know before heading off to college. To this I will add the following:

        If there's national news taking place near you, call home.

Um... yeah. Eldest is safe. She was not at the marathon, she was not in the building where the security officer was shot, she is apparently not too distraught. I believe the colleges are all still on lockdown, and the wildest activity seems to have moved to different parts of town.

*         *         *         *

In its own way it's easier to be close to a disaster than far away. After 9/11 the people of New York had the advantage of a) knowing just how bad things really were (which is far better than imagining), and b) hearing all the survivor stories. Walking down the street made one infinitely grateful to be alive. Seeing neighbors I barely knew gave me joy. For weeks what we heard about were the close shaves, the common experiences of survival. It was a lot of humanity; from a distance and in the news you don't hear about the many, many gestures of goodwill that follow in the wake of tragedy.

*         *         *         *

Two FREE stress-reduction resources we've discovered, which may be helpful to someone, somewhere:

PTSD Coach is an app with a variety of tools for soothing anxiety. Worth having if you're prone to stress or panic; don't get scared off by the name.

Free guided meditation and relaxation MP3 recordings from NYU help bring down the adrenaline and refocus thoughts away from the negative.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A good day

We had a good day today. I am taking note of it, because we have been having such a long string of hard days that I felt almost giddy with repeating, "Thank you!" today.

There are things I want to write about but can't, out of respect for the privacy of my kids. Suffice it to say that Big Guy's 911 incident triggered some major difficulty for one child, who has now been diagnosed with PTSD. We're talking visceral nightmares, panic attacks, endless waves of anxiety, spurts of rage and irrational behavior. It's been a ride. At the same time, another child has been having aftereffects that flare up once a week or so, and trigger other problems. (What can I say? -- around here, it's hard to be a contender in the Crisis Olympics!)

One blessing: my dad arrived on Monday for an 8-day visit. He'd asked what he could do to help, and when I couldn't think of anything concrete, he offered to come and simply be. It is an amazing comfort. Plus he cooked supper for us last night. He's 80, and you may recall he broke his back two years in a row and then got hit by a car and still goes skiing.

Another blessing: we have so, so many good people helping us.

Another blessing: our state-sponsored insurance is covering crisis intervention, therapy, everything.

Another blessing: I think I have been more patient in the past month than any other time in my life. That isn't to say I'm approaching perfection, but I feel I've finally learned something. If I figure out what it is, I'll tell you. If not, I'm sure I'll need to learn it again, anyway.

Another blessing: All those years of learning to break big problems down into smaller problems have been really, really helpful. That's helped me develop the habit of focusing on what I can do instead of on what I can't. This is incredibly useful. A related thought: I love the point that the Heath brothers make in Switch, that although we tend to think a crater-size problem requires a crater-size solution, it doesn't. You can fill in a crater a pebble at a time. Sometimes that's the only choice you have: to do the little stuff that takes you a little bit closer to your goal.

Another blessing: I have had a ton of work, and somehow that has kept me sane (and driven me crazy, too, for lack of time to do it.)

Another blessing: The dog sprained his tail. It was one of those weirdnesses that makes you realize that life can be plain quirky at times. Although he looked pathetic and sad, shifting uncomfortably when he tried to sit down, the sheer ludicrousness of a dog spraining his tail kind of made life more bearable. (He's getting better now, and can wag again. Which is another blessing.)

I have no illusions that today is the start of a good trend; I can't afford to think like that. I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I do know that today brought thankfulness, and a respite, and a chance to be happy for a while. I figure my job is to treasure this day in my heart, so that on some bleak day in the future I can take out the memory, and remember that gray is not the color of eternity. There are other colors splashed into my life, too.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Long day

I've been having a bit of a time of it here, on a scale previously unimagined. Yesterday was one of
those days that defies description in under 100,000 words. I posted on Facebook, "Kinda feeling like I'm in the midst of a war zone. How many things can explode in one day?"

My friend Karen, who also has five kids, replied, "I've found that there is no limit to the number of things that can explode in a day. I will pray that there is a silver lining in your mushroom cloud."

This is why I occasionally use Facebook: people make me laugh. I like to laugh.

*       *        *        *        *

I started writing a post yesterday about making genuine progress on handling successive and even concurrent crises with less aggravation and more grace. Tonight I said to Andrew, drily, "It seems I still have more to learn about humility!"

*       *        *        *        *

At the end of the very long day, Big Guy said, "Mom, since I'm in an honest mood, there's something else I need to tell you." I nodded. "Today after I had my upset in school I thought I wanted to kill myself."

It is a measure of my day that I replied, "So what did you do with that thought?"

Big Guy looked puzzled. I elaborated, "What did you do after you had the thought?"

He replied, "Oh. I let it pass."

I said, "Good! That's exactly what you need to do with thoughts like that: if you have'em, let'em move on! Congratulations!"

He looked startled, but pleased.

*       *        *        *        *

At bedtime, my phone rang. It was a friend, calling on behalf of someone she knew who needed to know the preferred pediatric psych emergency rooms. I gave her the 5-minute rundown, and encouraged her to give my name and number to her friend. Note to the world: If you are ever in the position of even thinking you might need to take a child to the psych ER, you are absolutely going to call me.

*       *        *        *        *

Little Guy awoke with a leg cramp at 1:30 a.m. Somewhere deep down I was sympathetic, but frankly that part of me wasn't awake. I've always told my kids that I am not a good mother after 9 p.m., because it's true. (Once, when Dancer was little and I snarled at her, she wailed, "But Mommy, it's only 8:58!") I muttered to my son to go get a hot water bottle. 

A while later I heard talking in the living room. I staggered out and found Snuggler bending over Little Guy, rubbing his calf. "I'm helping him," she said.

"Why are you awake?" I asked, thinking only of school this morning, and the impossibility of getting her up at 7 a.m.

"I have stomach cramps," she replied. I shooed her back to the sofa, where she'd nestled up under a mountain of blankets, and settled Little Guy in my bed with the hot water bottle. Then I came out to  tuck Snuggler in tight, hoping against hope that she'd get some sleep. She's had gruesome dreams every night for weeks, and distinctly dislikes the dark now.

By the time I returned to my room, Little Guy was asleep. In my bed. I lay down on the sleeping bag he'd set up on the floor (he's had trouble with sleep, too). It was pretty cozy, though the hardwood was a challenge.

Just as I was drifting off, I heard Snuggler get up. Groan. I went out and persuaded her to climb in with me. I listened for her breath to settle into a pattern before allowing myself to go back to sleep. But just as I was drifting off, Snuggler got up. She headed back to sleep on the sofa. I vaguely hoped that would work for her, and fell asleep.