I’ve been reading a lot about how vain the current generation has become; especially concerning the rise of the “selfie.” As someone who has struggled her ENTIRE life with loving herself, let me just put it out there: I get it. I GET selfies. And recently, I’ve started taking them. Why? Because I have decided that I am not this deformed and humiliating monster that I have been seeing in the mirror. I have made the conscious decision to be the one in front of the camera instead of always behind it. I refuse to be paralyzed by the incorrect, and, quite frankly, ridiculous notion that taking my own picture makes me seem self-absorbed. Sometimes, the reasoning behind a selfie is that I want to share my happiness with others, and yeah, sometimes it stems from the baser need of wanting others to tell me I look nice. Why is that a problem? Why is it wrong to want to feel validated when you’re feeling down? I’m not going to personally blow up my various news feeds with pictures of myself pouting in a bathroom mirror, but so what if I did? I’m not so sure selfie culture is about vanity, as much as it is about the need to feel legitimized. I’ve spent so much of my life feeling as though I don’t deserve to feel happy or to feel beautiful; and I am finally seeing how wrong that is. I’ve lived for years believing that my face, my body and my mind were so ugly that I was terrifying to others. So, the next time you see a picture of my smiling (or not, as the case may be) face, know that I am mainly posting it for myself; to remind myself that I, too, have a right to feel lovely.
I’ve taken the plunge and decided to volunteer at my daughter’s school this coming Friday. They’re throwing a fair and I signed up to make cupcakes AND take tickets for the pony rides. I figured if I was going to be so out of my element, I may as well allow myself to be surrounded by ponies. It’s such a small thing, but for me, it’s momentous. Not only will I be in a crowd of adults I don’t know, I will also be hedged in by KIDS. Not only that, but I will have to interact with them.
It’s not that I don’t like kids, (I kind of don’t like kids, actually, they are so weird) I just have a hard time talking to anyone who won’t listen to reason. How do you tell a seven year old that no, she can’t actually eat an entire pack of peach cobbler flavored gum and have them see the clarity in that? To be fair, though, a lot of adults I encounter don’t abide by common sense either, so, maybe it won’t be too bad after all. Either way, it will be a new experience for me, and I can’t say I’m exactly looking forward to it, but the thought of it isn’t sending me into convulsions, either.
If you’ve been reading this for any length of time, you are well aware that my daughter has ADHD and a sensory issue. Something I DON’T talk about very often though, are her physical issues. She has a very weird and difficult to diagnose gastrointestinal disorder. I’m not going to go into details for the sake of her privacy and my sanity, however, I will tell you what it’s like to be bipolar and have a kid who’s plumbing isn’t hooked up quite right.
The emotion I feel the most often is guilt. I feel a crushing sense of guilt and defeat because I feel as though somehow, I am the one who did this to her. As though there was something I did, some great rage or lull I had when she was in utero that made her tiny parts come together incorrectly. Was it that time I had sushi? Or that time I fell into a depression and slept for three days? Maybe I laid on my left side too much and she got squished? What exactly did I do to hurt her?
Even parents who aren’t Bipolar suffer from these feelings of guilt. I think from the very first second you see that positive test, your guilt levels rise. For the rest of your life, your actions really have consequences that could ruin a life OTHER than your own. Scary.
Besides the guilt there is often a serious anger. Why my kid? With all the other things that happen in our lives, why MY KID? This feeling is always followed by that familiar weight of guilt the second we walk through the children’s hospital doors and I realize I have no idea what it is to truly suffer. At the end of the visit, I will walk my daughter right out of those doors again, get back in the car, and she will sleep, unencumbered by tubes and wires and beeping machinery, in her very own bed. The selfishness of my feelings is often overwhelming. How dare I be upset that there is this hiccup in her health? But don’t I have a right to be angry? There is no “winning” in this situation, just getting by.
Today, she is missing school because of her problem. This is the fourth time this year so far. And today, we are getting by. One hour at a time, but we’re getting by.
Nate and I often make jokes about how easy it was for the two of us to decide to only have one child. We say that we knew that when she got older, all of our lives would be easier, and our one and only daughter would grow up to be mature and at home with all kinds. So not true. Or, at least, it wasn’t true at first. We realize now that we love our one kid lifestyle. I love being able to pick her up from the bus stop and jet off to get fro-yo without having to worry about nap times, diapers and bottles for a younger sibling. Getting a babysitter or letting her go for a night at a grandparent’s house is easy for us. When she has friends over, I usually get to do my own thing for a while. It may seem selfish at first, but I really love those aspects of our life.
However, I don’t love how often she calls the cats her “brothers,” because she doesn’t have any. How she tells me all she wants for Christmas/birthdays/Halloween/President’s Day/whatever is a younger/older sibling; anyone at all who is remotely close to her in age and experience who can stand by her side. Someone to laugh with and blame things on and scream at and build pillow forts with.
When Nate and I first got married, one of the first obstacles we faced was an early miscarriage. Nate, not knowing how I could get so upset about losing something we had always said we didn’t want anyway, did not immediately understand why I was reeling. I didn’t understand it myself, actually. After our daughter was born, I had such a difficult time adjusting to motherhood. Sometimes I would quietly allow myself to envision what my life would be like if she had never been born. In the small, dark closet of my mind, I imagined myself happier, calmer and more at peace without an infant. Of course, following these little fantasy sessions was a rib crushing guilt that I would ever think that way about my own baby. Looking back, I know that I was struggling (and failing to deal with) a mixture of a depressive episode caused by my as then undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and likely some postpartum depression.
When she was a year old, Nate and I decided to try to expand our clan. We couldn’t. We lost three babies over the course of a few months. And each time I reminded myself of what I had thought when our daughter was new. “You brought this on yourself,” was my almost daily battle cry. The most difficult loss was when I was able to at least see the plus sign on the test before the miscarriage started.
Now, when friends announce pregnancies or plans, we laugh and tease. “Gosh, don’t you know what causes babies!!” and try to come off as the smug, smart couple who was genius enough to only have as many kids as they could handle. (ONE) My heart breaks for the babies we could have had and sometimes I think about how old they would have been, and what milestones they would be smashing this year. Would we be throwing a Spiderman birthday party?
We love the life we have, but it’s difficult to not think about, and grieve for the life we could have had.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my husband’s coworkers, upon seeing our darling cleaning woman’s van at our house, said, “Wow, you have a cleaning lady AND your wife doesn’t work? Damn. Wish I was married to you.”
After the two hours I spent in a red eyed fury, I chuckled a bit. Yes, it IS a delight to be married to a man on the autism spectrum while raising a child who, at least in the government’s eyes, counts as “special needs.” So yes, I do have a cleaning person come in two times a month to do the baseboards and the bathrooms. See my post about being not sorry, here, if you need a refresher on how to not care. I decided again that lists speak volumes, and so I wrote down some of the more enviable things I’ve done throughout the last couple days. Enjoy:
- transported a cup of pee from my house to the doctor’s office. And had to wait in the doctor’s office for quite some time, so I became “the pee lady.”
- cleaned up poop-human and cat
- ironed shirts. Not so bad, and maybe it’s just me, but iron=burns
- scrubbed the inside of the oven. Don’t worry, there was no Sylvia Plath leanings here, it was genuinely dirty.
- made turkey burgers with my hands. This one is really fun. Raw meat, egg, spices and patty forming. Delish. Oh, do I want some dinner? Absolutely not.
- Paid bills for the 10 ultrasounds in two months our daughter has had to have on her dysfunctional organs.
- Cleaned up pee-human and cat.
- Scrubbed armpit stains.
I truly am living the life.
Bitterness aside, it’s easy to say flippant things and not worry about their lasting impact. I’ve been guilty of it too. We all make snap decisions about people we really don’t know, and with little to no basis. But at the end of the day, I can finish off with a clean, mostly feces free house and indulge in a little joint coloring session with this girl. And that’s amazing.
I read an article recently about how women tend to apologize for an inordinate amount of things; even when events are out of their control. So I decided to take notice and note of the things I apologized for, for a few days:
- not standing in the rain without an umbrella
- having to go to the bathroom
- my daughter’s ADHD
- someone hitting my grocery cart with theirs
- not shaving my armpits
- being half an hour early for an appointment
- a power outage
- having stuff in the trunk of my car
- having to borrow money
- my friend’s daughter being out of town
So… why do women do this? Not all, but most of the women I know apologize for simple everyday things on the daily. Why is it your fault if someone steps on your foot? Or when you don’t respond to a text immediately? Or when your kid flips out at Target for no reason? Wait… maybe an apology is in order for that one.