This article was originally written in 2008!
Not much has changed…
Last tuesday I had an epiphany. For some reason, I woke up that morning with a vague sense of anxiety. It emanated from my slumber like the stench of a long forgotten piece of cheese left in an old shoe by a two year old. My mind echoed with unsettling fragments of dreams. I recognized the wild call of anxiety but pushed it away. After all, I am the luckiest woman on earth, right? I have a beautiful and healthy baby, a great partner, loving friends and family, and an interesting job. And anyway, my list of things to do that day was already too long to add ‘deal with pesky, ambiguous feelings’.
In the shower I nearly managed to wash off the heaviness of the night when I realized my towel had been left in the washing machine with a moldy load of forgotten laundry. Damn! I grabbed my son, Dylan’s tiny towel with the yellow ducky ears and proceeded to dry myself off as quickly as I could, one body part at a time. I woke Dylan up, changed his diaper, nursed him and changed his diaper again (at what age can they be potty trained?). I made myself some coffee, made breakfast for Dylan, let the dog out, fed Dylan, ate (well, I swiped a couple of spoonfuls from the kid’s cereal bowl), let the dog back in, had a couple of sips of what was by now cold coffee and headed for the door. A minute later, I turned around, remembering for the third time this week that I can’t leave the house with slippers on. I dropped Dylan off at daycare, and drove all the way back into Vancouver in morning rush hour to try and make it into work before my first client arrived. Most days my job is a source of satisfaction, but that day I listened to client after client’s wows, and woes, barely stopping myself from crying out ‘you think you got problems?’
I made it home, still unable to ward off the remnants of stress from my body. I kissed my hubby, and thanked him for walking the dog (one less thing to do). I hugged my kid and reminded him that we only have booby in the mornings now. I made dinner, ate dinner and tried to keep my danger- loving toddler alive for just a little while longer, until I can reasonable declare ’night night’.
Putting Dylan to bed that night, I knew that I still carried the previous night’s anxiety with me. I could feel the tightness of it in my back, spreading to my shoulders and the back of my neck. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong, but I knew that something was off with me. I could have looked into the thoughts that accompanied me the previous week and found the familiar tinge of self- criticism and negativity. If I had tried to recall my activities that same week, I would have had a difficult time finding a handful of things I did for myself.
Just for myself.
But instead, I was resigned to the fact that I was done. I was more done that I had ever been done in my whole life and I wasn’t terribly happy about it. As I was lying on the couch mindlessly watching absolutely nothing on Television, my partner who obviously had slightly more energy than me (sooo not fair) decided to make a late night mayo, pickle and cheese sandwich. Now, usually my partner needing a snack is not a major annoyance for me. Snacks in general are not known to evoke any strong feelings in me what so ever. I don’t really get the mayo-pickle-cheese combo, I doubt I ever will but its one of his favorites. But that night I wanted nothing to do with the trans- fat, and preservative laden concoction.
“Want a bite?” he asked, sitting down beside me, sandwich at hand.
“You sure?” he tried again; extending the foul delicacy toward my face. I looked at him with obvious disgust.
Why is he chewing so loudly? I thought. Does he not realize he’s got a piece of cheese stuck to the side of his mouth? I could- not look at him anymore. I looked away.
“Come on” he said with an amused smile, shoving the disgusting ensemble in my mouth.
And right then and there, a vision entered my mind.
I saw the beautiful face of my toddler.
I saw that brutally honest, spontaneous look of disgust that his face adopts when his mommy offers a food that he’s just not interested in and as such, is certainly not going to entertain. Instinctively, I extended that look to my hubby and his proud creation. I gave him the full meal deal, the look, the yell, and the swing of the arm that not only pushes the undesirable food away, but actually launches it across the room.
And, it felt good.
Boy, did it feel good.
I mean, aside from the look on my hubby’s face, which was priceless, the genuineness of that neanderthalic reaction revived something inside me that had been long forgotten. It reminded me of an authentic self that had been pushed aside years ago. Probably around the same time I learned how to behave in public, how to be a good girl, and how to act reasonably. It was a direct link to my fun loving, broccoli hating, living in the moment, sparkle in the eye child- self that had been buried under a mountain of notions about how I needed to be.
We carry with us a diaper bag full of rationalizations for why we can’t follow the lead of our impulses. Whenever a thought or a feeling erupts we automatically numb it down with justifications for why we should come up with a more appropriate one instead. We need to be sensible, we need to be selfless, we need to be sensitive (but not too sensitive). We need to be anything but real.
Before we can be honest with the people around us, we need to be honest with ourselves. The first step toward being honest with ourselves is accepting our emotions just as they are: non-verbal, primordial, electro-chemical currents that vibrate through our bodies and minds. Can an energy current be right or wrong? Can one energy current be more acceptable than another? Then why do we rush off to overanalyze these physical experiences and justify them in social terms?
As I sat there on the couch, my hubby staring in disbelief, a smile crept up on to me as I wondered what would happen if we allowed ourselves a little bit of that senselessness back? What would happen if we gave ourselves permission to have a temper tantrum when we got overwhelmed? To scream out when we were angry? To cry when we were sad? To grunt when…well, whenever we damn well felt like it. What if we took the energy we use to censor ourselves and used it to experience ourselves. Not in a reasonable way, but in a pure raw feeling kind of way. Maybe then we wouldn’t have anxiety-burdened dreams. Maybe then we wouldn’t wake up more tired then we were when our heads hit the pillow. Maybe then we could teach our kids that while its important to recognize our feelings and articulate them, sometimes you just feel like having a good ol’ tears down your cheeks, snot passed your chin, unable to speak, barely catching a breath, you’re not quite sure why, but you know you’re going to feel better afterwards kind of a cry.