Friday, September 6, 2013

Back from a two year sabbatical ...

Dear SlackerMom Blog, 

I'm so sorry ... It's been almost two years (!) since my last post.  It's not that I had nothing to say during that time.  In fact, a lot of interesting (and challenging) stuff has been happening here in the Slacker household.  But I just couldn't bring myself to talk publicly about a lot of it back then.  First of all, much of it involved my kids (primarily their relationship with their father) and since this blog isn't really anonymous I didn't want them to feel that I was betraying a confidence of sorts.  After about a year of therapy, custody hearings and negotiations and many difficult but ultimately beneficial changes, their privacy became much less of an issue. But by then I had gotten out of the habit of writing. And couldn't seem to get myself back on track. (That silly internal editor got really strong during that time ...)

Lately I've been struggling with life in general.  Things are just ... hard. Like slogging through molasses. So, in an effort to make things better, I've been thinking back to the times in my life when I was happiest, when I felt like I could conquer the world.  When my mojo was in my back pocket and not lost somewhere in the cluttered mess of an apartment we now live in.  When I had a VOICE.  And when I felt I was making connections with people who understood. Who GOT IT.  I discovered (or, more accurately, remembered) that, during those times, I was writing.  Not just journaling.  Not just thinking about blog posts in my head and never actually typing them.  I was writing.  For you.  Whoever and wherever you are.

I want to say "I'm back!" and promise to never leave again. But I've learned not to make promises I might not be able to keep. So I'll just say that I'm trying to come back.  It might be slow going at first. I might only post once a week ...  or so.  But I can say that I'm not going to be hiding here on my couch anymore.  I'm going to really try to break out of this shell (chrysalis??) and let my voice out again.

So, hi! Good to be here again.  See you soon!

Jessica (aka SlackerMom)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Forget the blind leading the blind. We have the distracted leading the . . . squirrel!

I've mentioned before that I have ADD.  Not ADHD - I've never been hyperactive, just easily distracted and overwhelmed.  Back in my lawyer days, I think most people who didn't know me well would have been surprised by my diagnosis.  I used to be good at pretending that I had it all together.  I generally seemed to know what I was talking about.  I produced good work.  I worked well with others.  But what most people didn't know, was that just getting through a day back then took a tremendous personal toll.  The energy that it took to hold my life together was ridiculous.  I was constantly checking and double-checking things.  Fixing (and, unfortunately, sometimes hiding) mistakes. Worrying that something would fall through the cracks.  Freaking out when things inevitably DID fall through the cracks.  I ended up taking more pharmaceuticals than a depressed Beverly Hills housewife.  And yet I still never felt right.

Back in those days, I worked while my then-husband stayed at home.  He took care of a lot of things at home that I simply couldn't handle.  We had, I thought, a pretty good division of labor.  But my ex was also an abusive son-of-a-b*, which I've spent too much ink on.  He constantly reminded me of my limitations, as if I needed any reminders.  I thought that once I left the high-pressure legal profession and my high-stress marriage, things would calm down in my life and I would be better able to handle the day to day crap better.

But, according to Buckaroo Bonzai and Jon Kabat-Zinn - "wherever you go, there you are."  It's easy to blame things outside of ourselves for our problems and think that if we just get rid of the bad situations, and away from the bad people, things will be all better.  But the reality is that if we don't deal with our own shit, it doesn't really matter how many external changes we make in our lives.  My ADD affected my life as a lawyer and wife.  It affects my life as a massage therapist and a divorcee.  It is part of who I am and isn't something that is caused by external events or the people in my life.  So, even though I love my job and I don't have to live with someone who makes me feel like crap on a regular basis, I still have ADD.

Adding further complication to the situation is the fact that my older daughter was diagnosed with ADD and is struggling in school.  Throw in the fact that my ex has recently decided that he doesn't want to be a parent anymore, making me a 24/7 single mom and my life has suddenly become very stressful again.  All the things my ex used to do for the kids - even after the divorce - are now my sole responsibility. Plus I'm starting my own practice and I've never, ever run a business before.  I think anyone in my situation would find it difficult to manage.  But for someone with ADD this situation is unmanageable.  And it feels like it's getting worse by the day.

Although I'm not responsible FOR my girls, I am responsible TO them. (And maybe the explanation of that needs another post . . .) I need to be the best mom that I can be in order to guide them through their teen years and get them out into the world as happy, healthy, productive adults.  And right now it really feels like the blind leading the blind (or the distracted leading the distractable).  How can I get my kids - especially the one with confirmed ADD - on a schedule and organized, if I can't do the same for myself?  We constantly lose things. It takes so much energy for me to remember all the things that have to be done for the kids that I rarely have energy to do things for myself.  I haven't had my "annual" check up in years.  My mother comes to my house to visit and spends the whole time cleaning up because the apartment is a disaster.  How can I teach my kids to keep a reasonably organized house if I can't even do it myself?

I'm a huge believer in natural remedies. I've gotten myself off of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds more than once.  In the past, I felt guilty for taking ADD medication because I know that if stopped eating all processed foods, ate only organic whole foods, did yoga every day and meditated regularly, I might actually be able to get the ADD under control without resorting to pharmaceutical management.  I'm sure there are people out there who are willing and able to make the sacrifices that lifestyle requires.  But in my world, those sacrifices seem too great to make right now.  I have two busy kids.  I'm starting a business.  The work, time and money it would require to eat only organic whole foods is too much for me.  And the protest that would erupt in my house if I tried to make the kids start eating only organic whole foods would rival the Occupy Wall Street protests.

So I made the (clearly not easy) decision to go back to medication to help me manage my ADD symptoms. If I can't model good management of my own symptoms, how can I expect my daughter to manage her own symptoms?  I don't want her to feel bad about relying on medication.  There's no shame in needing help.  I hope that medication is a short-term solution.  I hope that things will settle down, at least a little, so that I can feel like I'm in control again.  And once I feel in control, maybe using natural remedies won't seem like an insurmountable goal.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Change the picture, change your mood

Lately I've felt like my life has gotten a bit out of control.  Every day I was living life in such a way that I felt like there was no room for error. So when the inevitable bumps in the road happened I would fly off the handle. I'm a single mom to two busy, easily distracted girls and I'm starting my own massage therapy practice - bumps in the road happen every single day.  So I was flying off the handle - every single day. The anxiety was getting to me and to my girls.  I started imagining my life as a bobsled race.  I was the captain, my girls were my teammates and we were careening down an icy course.  One wrong move on my part and our very lives would be in danger.  It's no wonder I was a complete freaking mess.  Daily.  On top of that, we are still struggling with living in a much smaller apartment than we used to have.  It's been hard to pare down our belongings and hard for the girls to clean up after themselves when there's so little space to put things.  My mental, emotional and physical spaces were closing in on me.

At yoga the other day, my teacher talked about making space.  Metaphorically speaking.  Doing the poses helps make physical space in our joints and our spines.  Meditating and taking time for recovery hopefully helps us make space in our minds and our souls for the inevitable challenges of daily life.

By the end of class I realized that it was my own imagination that was making me anxious. I'm not a bobsled team captain.  My girls and I aren't in a bobsled race.  But keeping that in my mind made me feel physically as if that's exactly what we were.  I can choose to dismiss that picture from my mind and I can choose to replace it with something much more peaceful.  Something with space.

At first I thought of cross-country skiing.  (And what is it with me and winter sports? I hate to be cold and I don't even ski.)  But then my heart started pounding at that thought so I realized that wouldn't work. I changed the picture. I imagined that my girls and I were walking in a boundless meadow.  On a sunny - but not too hot - day.  I knew that if we needed to change direction at any time, that would be fine.  No obstacles.  No ice.  No scary, blind turns.  Just grass and flowers and sun and happy.  And calm.  Lots and lots of calm.

I'd love to say that since then I've been unflappable.  Calm and peaceful as Ghandi.  Not so.  But I've been better.  And improving every day.  Because I know that when that bobsled racing, no room for error thinking starts creeping into my mind, I can change it.  And the meadow is always there to calm me down.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Finding joy in the music of your own making

Say hello to Uncle Jimmy.  That's probably not his real name, but it seems to fit.  A friend sent me this picture yesterday and more or less dared me to find in it some inspiration to write.  I'm not one to wimp out on a dare.

Of course this picture is meant to be a joke.  We're supposed to laugh at Uncle Jimmy.  And I did laugh when I first saw it.  What's not funny about a half-naked fat guy playing the flute and dancing in the street?

But when I really thought about, I realized that the picture makes me uncomfortable.  Things we find humorous usually do, on some level.  Looking at it, I feel like I'm seeing something that should be private and I'm not really talking about his nearly naked body. (Which wouldn't even be an issue if he had a six-pack.  Consider what that says about our culture's body image issues.)

The thing that makes me most uncomfortable is his abandon in the moment.  His joy in the music of his own making.  When is the last time you allowed yourself to just be exactly who you are, doing exactly what you love to do and enjoying it - in public - without worrying what other people thought of you?  When is the last time you did that in private?

Go out today and play your version of Uncle Jimmy's flute.  Dance half naked.  Hell, dance naked (but I suggest you do that in private for legal reasons).  Do whatever makes you feel good in the moment. Push aside that voice in your head that tells you that you're doing it wrong. Let go.  Find your inner Uncle Jimmy.  Find your joy in the music of your own making.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Surrender - but don't give up

To let go of struggle. To give up control where I have no control. To stop trying so damn hard all the time. To do what needs to be done and let the chips fall where they may.To understand that when things don't go as planned, it often means that the universe had other - better - plans. To let things be what they are and not wish them to be different.

I want to see surrender in those positive ways.

Instead, I keep seeing it as failure. As my inability to organize things correctly, think about things in the right way, or consider all the possible obstacles and the ways in which to overcome them. I see it as giving up. As being lazy. As not wanting it bad enough - whatever it is. After all, that's the American dream, right? Want it bad enough, work hard for it, never say die and you'll be successful. But if you let go, give up, let things happen instead of trying to make things happen then you're not going to be successful. And you only have yourself to blame.

Strangely, I'm getting better at letting go of the big things. Although I'm in the middle of a custody battle, I'm not fighting.  Not really.  I'm letting the lawyers and therapists work with my kids and figure out what's best for them.  I just listen and help where I can but I'm letting other people do the worrying and fighting. I know in my heart that my kids will be fine. All the rest is details. In addition, I have some financial issues. Right now I'm dipping significantly into my savings in order to take care of myself and my kids. But I'm not worrying about money. Not really. I'm doing what I can do to set up my business, get clients and work the hours I can work given my single-mom schedule. I know in my heart that I will always have enough money - however much (or little) that is. Those are huge issues. But they don't really stress me out - not day to day anyway.

It's the little things that are driving me absolutely nuts! My daughter having to scramble to finish her homework in the morning because she "forgot" to do it the night before (despite my repeated questioning that night about the status of her homework). Not having the basketball practice schedule even though the season starts in less than a week which makes it hard for me to plan anything. Streets and Sanitation randomly closing streets near my kids' schools during drop off time creating huge traffic jams. My computer freaking out the day before I'm leaving on a 5 day trip. Bike riders not following traffic rules.

One of the things I learned in an ethics class recently is that I'm responsible TO other people but I am not responsible FOR them. (Easier said than done when it comes to my kids but important nonetheless.)  All of those little things are the responsibility of other people. My daughter might get a bad grade for not finishing her homework on time. But hopefully in getting the bad grade, she'll learn a lesson about doing things in a timely manner. I can't force the basketball coach to get the schedule done but if my daughter can't attend a practice because I can't pick her up when it's over or I plan something else, that will have to be ok. If the coach is missing one of his best players because he didn't get the schedule done in time for me to plan ahead, then maybe he'll learn a lesson. Or not. Not my issue, I think.

I don't like the saying "Don't sweat the small stuff. And it's all small stuff."  First of all, it isn't all small stuff and the small stuff adds up. It's hard to be bombarded regularly with things that are not your responsibility, are not within your control but impact things that are your responsibility.

Maybe the best thing is to be ok with the fact that the small stuff bothers me. Maybe it will be easier to get over the small things if I stop trying so hard NOT to let them bother me. It's ok to be pissed off at the bike rider who flies through the stop sign requiring me to slam on my breaks and nearly have a heart attack. It's not ok for me to let it ruin my day.  Learning to surrender doesn't mean I can't ever be angry or upset.

Learning to accept things as they are doesn't mean I can't work to change them, where appropriate (and possible). I can accept that my daughter is forgetful sometimes. I can love her despite that (god, I hope so since I'm probably 10 times as forgetful as she is). But I can also try to help her come up with strategies to improve her memory and be more organized.

I can surrender but I don't have to give up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Who do I think I am?

So I've been talking about fear and how I've let it hold me back.  What I'm slowly beginning to realize is just how much of who I think I am has been shaped, in some way, by fear.  The way I dress, the decisions I make for myself and my girls, the ways I spend my time.  The people I spend my time with.  All of those things are determined by my fear of not fitting in or living up to expectations or disappointing people I love.  Or being thought strange by people who's opinion I couldn't care less about.

I have an image of myself.  That image represents who I think I am.  And when I want to do something, I consider that image and try to figure out whether someone like "her" would do something like "that."  Would she wear colorful clothes that show some cleavage?  Would she wear clothes that show off her curves?  That might attract attention?  Or would she wear loose fitting clothes that hide the figure she doesn't think is good enough to show off?  Would she go out with the smart, cute, funny, interesting guy who gives her butterflies but happens to be quite a bit younger than her?  Or would she stick with the safe guy who looks good on paper, who would please her family, but bores her to tears?  Would she get the tattoo she's wanted for years or does she decide not to because her teenage daughter thinks it's weird for a mom to get a tattoo?

Like a lot of people, as I was growing up, I conformed to other people's expectations of me. It was like someone built a box of expectations and I jumped right in and stayed there too long.  So long, in fact, that I forgot who I really am.  Living an unauthentic life is painful.  And exhausting.  It's easier to just accept it and adapt.  And somewhere along the way I started thinking that the life other people wanted for me was the life I wanted for myself.  It was easier that way.

Lately I've been thinking about The Matrix when Neo first meets with Morpheus.  And Morpheus offers him a choice:  "You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."  Or, in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy sees that the Wizard is just a man hiding behind a curtain.  I took the red pill.  I see Wonderland.  I know that there's no big, scary Wizard of Oz that we have to obey.  I'm out of the box and there's no going back.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Be afraid. Be very afraid. But do it anyway.

So, I guess that my last post wasn't the catalyst to regular writing that I had hoped it would be.  I sit down to write.  I write a few sentences.  I decide that they suck.  I delete the sentences.  I go do something else.  And nothing ever gets written.

I want to write. I truly believe that I have something to share and that writing is the way I need to share it. I've written things that people like.  On occasion.  I have ideas sometimes.  I can tell a good story now and then and if I try, I can get it to sound as good on paper as it does when I tell it out loud.  When I'm not writing, I feel like something is missing in my life.  And since I haven't been writing for months, there's a big gaping hole that's only getting bigger.

There's only one thing that's stopping me.  It's as common as hay fever in August.  Which makes it a cliche.  I hate being a cliche.  I hate being in the same zip code as a cliche.

My albatross is fear.  Fear of not being good enough.  Fear that even if I happen to write something half way decent, everyone will eventually figure out that I'm a fraud and any good writing is just a fluke.  Fear that if people do like what I write, I'll have a reputation to uphold which will require me to keep writing stuff people like. Regularly.  And what if I can't?  What if I run out of things to say?  (Well, anyone who knows me in real life will know that one's not likely.)

I was talking to my teenage daughter about making fear-based decisions last night.  Actually we've been talking about it a lot lately.  Or, more accurately, yelling at each other about it a lot.  She's in the process of making a fear-based decision.  There's something I'm pretty sure she wants to do but she's convinced herself that she's not ready. That she can't do it right now.  That she needs to do something else first and get herself ready and THEN she'll do this thing.  Next time.  After much "discussion" about it she admitted that she's afraid - people expect big things from her and she's afraid she won't measure up. She's been a big fish in a little pond in some ways and now she's swimming in the ocean.  She can't bring herself to try because fear of failure has overwhelmed her.  Fear has led her to question whether she even wants to do this thing at all.  That's where fear is the most dangerous.  It makes us hesitate to work towards our dream and then convinces us we never wanted that dream anyway.

I'm in a pickle with this situation.  On the one hand, if I push her to do this thing she'll likely resent me and it will hurt our relationship.  And maybe not doing it is the right thing for her anyway.  On the other hand, if I don't push her to move past her fear, her comfort zone may get smaller (and smaller and smaller) until she's afraid to take any risks.  And isn't it my job as a parent to help her make good decisions?  Decisions that will help her get where she wants to be, wherever that is?  To help her evaluate her options, work through her fears and make the best decision for herself (even if it's not the decision I would have made)?

But, really, who am I to be counseling her on dealing with fear anyway?  Fear has my number.  Fear has had me in a choke hold for years.  And I'm trying to teach someone how to deal with it?  It's kind of sad, if you think about it.

So this morning I decided that the best thing I can do for my daughter is to wrestle down my own fear.  To work on my own issues and, maybe, be able to show her by example how to do it.  I'm still afraid.  But I'm going to do what I need to do anyway.