This is an older post put–off for more pleasant topics. Consequently, the tenses and timing are off, and perhaps a disjointed read in parts; but the message is important:
In social work there is specific discussion of work exhaustion. It’s essentially occupation burn-out, and rampant in human service fields like education. It’s different from simply having too many things to do for too long. In social work it is the extra emotional burden of heaviness…carrying another’s struggles on or as your own struggles. I’ve never been interested in clinical work, my work tangent to the field is more macro and policy oriented. Generally, I tend to shut-down the emotional toil reciprocity. I’m not quite sure how I do it, but it’s a specific advantage, especially in the professional area I gravitate toward.
I didn’t read the story, but recently there was some article in one of my social media feeds that mentioned parenting burn-out. Maybe it was specific to mothers…or stay-at-home mothers like me. I can’t really remember, but I recall accepting the plausibility. At the time I felt fortunate not really experiencing such a thing in my own parenting ramblings.
Periodically I feel overwhelmed, but usually it’s something separate from the continuous act of parenting itself. Recently, however, I felt the exhaustion that leaves a distinct impression beyond a tiring day. There has been so much on my mind for the last month, really. Several things not appropriate for mass consumption of this blog…it’s why I have friends. I weathered my mind’s chaos of that time, but this was different. I wasn’t inclined to create a post, but I wonder if having such sentiments public when the details are within the realm of my public persona comfort level is helpful…to someone.
(Saatchi Art understands how to find the beauty amidst unforgiving turmoil.)
Perhaps surprising because of the nature of blogging, but I’m quite private with many aspects of my life. I’m selective with what I share and to whom. But, there are elements of unnecessary taboo within every stage of parenting…or trying to become a parent. It’s a shame because so much is so common, but often undiscussed unless a brave soul breaches the needless silence. I came to such a realization when I was told during my first Ob-Gyn appointment with Little Man that I would certainly lose his pregnancy. It’s impossible to effectively communicate the pain such news inflicts. I’ve felt it with every loss I’ve succumbed, regardless of how early in the pregnancy. Allowing the stories to breathe was the only way I managed. All of it…pregnancy…parenting…It isn’t a shame, and that’s the point. I’m still learning. I’m still private. Stigma is very real. Maybe one day I’ll be braver than I am, but for now my hope is someone reads these words and feels home within themselves. Even if I never know for sure, the possibility is worth the risk of possible backlash.
The past month there is an element of vacillating between stuck and drowning in endless stuff. I don’t like Little Man watching television, but he has been all summer…for various reasons. Two hours in the evening; one evening I’m listening to him giggling and talking to a hideously stupid cartoon that makes my skin crawl with its banality and sheer idiocy. It’s the price of accessing my outlets that hold their feeble wall against barreled waves colliding into me for months now. When one tidal recedes, something new and different hits, and I’m in the process or ruminations once again trying to understand events and process…things.
Some I won’t discuss in this forum, but the general struggle is ongoing. I’ve become better at managing specific predictable, consistent issues. This round I’ve been more proactive with what I can anticipate, and in many ways I’ve been successful alleviating emotional burden. There are many good things I do outside of childcare, but it’s almost always squirreled in stolen minutes. This summer I committed to a weekly activity away from home that I knew would breathe life into me in ways I forgot I missed. In many respects I’ve had to forget my pre-children identity as a coping mechanism to manage the unavoidable grief of how I’ve always understood myself to be.
When my son was first born it felt very much in a holding pattern. Professionally, even as a manager, I’d be lucky to break even with exceptionally awing childcare expenses…It’s fairly recently I’ve been able to accept that morsel. Perhaps because it seemed unsurmountable at the time that I wasn’t able to acknowledge the very real fact that me working doesn’t make sense at this parenting juncture. With such an issue are the challenges of resume gaps, personal stagnation, parenting penalties…It was an ongoing and reasonable fear of mine for a very long time. Strange to think at this point that I’ve mostly overcome the most glaring obstacles. I wish I were paid, but it’s a vanity. I am able to embrace more skills and fulfilling occupations than a token paycheck in itself would provide. It hasn’t escaped me that my personal success in self-preservation is in large part a benefit of privilege. Consequently, part of how I choose to spread my personal wings often focuses on combatting systemic barriers others face. Such things aren’t particularly new for me, but with such limited time I’ve become more focused in my efforts…weighing the things I believe have greater impact with the scant free moments I muster.
I have many personal/professional efforts occurring simultaneously aside from my writing pursuits. But, my actions are almost entirely keystrokes and electronic exchanges. Summers can be especially grueling for me, so at the beginning of bathing suit season I committed a specific prioritized effort to volunteer away from my computer. Summer is the rare consistent time I have a child care option because my parents visit for a good stretch. It isn’t a perfect situation. The setbacks become a struggle of adjusting and organizing additional routine involvements, as well as the effect such disruptions and perpetual excitement have on my children’s functioning. I’m oversimplifying the issue, but the specifics don’t really matter in the context of this blog. All of this isn’t a complaint, per se…although it sounds so. It’s a complication that is lunacy to ignore…I’ve tried, and the effect has a significantly more negative impact on all parties. In every arena I encountered, fairing better during challenging times has more to do with preparation and strategy than dismissal and denial. It’s funny how that works…
To circle back to this summer, among other things I’m skilled at writing curricula…developing programs. The programs I create or embellish for the Department of Corrections have earned me the seeds of a reputation that might help me further on if I nurture it. One such program is a creative writing workshop. It’s three units spanning nine sessions that primarily focus on literary devices as a tool for expanding personal expression for individuals, among other issues, lack background knowledge most society takes for granted, as well as a specific deficit of risk taking in a classroom setting. In order to have this program approved without a formal agency endorsement, I used my reputation as an in for a couple of administrators; one responded to my email in a timely manner…the one I expected, actually. I’ve been teaching my creative writing class at our maximum security prison since the onset of the summer. It’s a spectacular experience in a humbling way.
I have substantial experience working with at-risk and incarcerated adolescents, so I see the progression stepping into a virtually empty, sterile room with glass walls. There are dichotomies occurring in this experience; it’s overwhelming at times. I have no illusions as to what behaviors lead to my students’ incarcerations. I can see the intimidation etched in practiced perfection the first moment they sat before me. It’s a dazed glare, a drilled unreadable scowl; it’s truly terrifying. I’d forgotten that first moment from when I taught reading in one of our medium facilities almost ten years ago.
But, there is something truly remarkable witnessing the wave of interest in the class content shift. One by one surprising things poke, and hardened stares of aggression soften into a childlike vulnerability and innocence. It becomes the new landscape for the class, and I almost forget where I am…almost. Honestly, it’s tragic and I can’t help but consider all those missed opportunities because a maximum facility prison was not the first step, rather just another in a series of rocky freefalls where no one and everyone are to blame. I knew to expect this. I needed this experience, and I’m glad after many failures to reenter this path, I could feel the complexity of this…situation again.
As objectively successful this class has been, I feel insecure about my performance…always hoping to be better…It’s my shtick…or one of them. As much as vague displeasure or fault I find with this piece or another, taking up this teaching opportunity has grounded me in expected ways. I’m thankful for my one morning a week, and will miss this during my fall and winter hiatus.
That said, as much as I return to my children renewed in some ways, it’s challenging to return home. Little Man and Warrior Queen are mostly fine these days spending the time with Nana and Papa, but they aren’t particularly settled when I return. I frequently mention that I’m an exceptional disciplinarian…for better or worse; consequently, my children behave best when it’s only our roving threesome. There is a marked difference when I’m not around, so returning to the subtle…and sometimes not so subtle changes…is unpleasant for me to witness. Returning from the prison isn’t such an issue, as I’m not absent for too much of a span, but even with my brief space vacancy my children often cling to me as soon as I enter from the garage…requiring some part of their body to grab hold of me. Such things I find disturbing, and I wonder if I’ve done something wrong for my brief absence to have such an impact. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good, hard snugglefest as the next Mommy. Some day the experience will be a phantom in my life, and I will ache in profound ways. But, I perceive this behavior as a response to excessive displeasure that I’m away. That’s a challenge to endure, but not enough to miss my class…I recognize it’s not a novel challenge for parents, but novel to me.
I’m planning ahead. I require various classes for license renewal, and this summer was an opportune time to fulfill all of my social work continuing education for this cycle. It’s only three full days dispersed throughout the summer, but they’ve inexplicably been the most challenging for me, as so many routines are out of my hands. When I return home in time to prepare dinner, I step into the fall-out of askew naps and simply a different day for my children. There is nothing inherently horrible or wrong about such things. It’s good for my kids, but I feel endless guilt that my children are likely misbehaving under my parents’ care…as happens when routines and caregivers shift. Usually within a couple hours away from my typical childcare hustle and bustle, I feel my skin crawl and my mind begin to wander. Guilt begins its press, and I start planning my exit. It all has to be neurotic. I’m vaguely aware it’s typical speaking to my Mommy friends first returning to the work force.
Just as Little Man is sensitive to routine shifts, so am I. It took returning to a normal day to remember that I haven’t had “normal” for several weeks. Emotionally I’m not at my best at the moment. I’m in a constant state of worry overload; I should have stopped trying organize everyone else…appease everyone else with an agreeable schedule. I likely would have saved myself some of the grief in the past couple weeks and enjoyed some of my rare adult time if I prioritized the need to experience what has become a bland, yet fine tuned typical day for our threesome.
Several things had seeped into my consciousness draining my reserves, but the confirmation of the foreboding I felt for weeks…that a good friend was significantly hurt should have pushed me to simplify…not expand…everything. Two brain bleeds hindering his ability to communicate, but I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I’ve certainly had vivid dreams of his condition…waking to a jaw clenched for the duration of the night. I wish he was my only friend fallen on a hard stretch; he’s just the latest one. I haven’t adjusted to the feel of his situation yet…found a groove to support him and care for myself simultaneously. And, just when I find my balance, something wonderful happens that this one friend would particularly delight hearing, but I can’t share the news; I grieve it in unreachable places. The success laced with a slight bitter edge making celebration a challenge to fully embrace.
I’d dreaded a day with no formal plans…loose ends…too many things requiring attention, even if I had help with some of it. Abruptly I was forced into a forgotten typical day, and even though I woke exhausted and uneasy, afternoon I blossomed into a surprisingly invigorated state…or as refreshed as possible with so much weight…so much to consider and to push through. But, it was a better day…my children felt it too.
(Amy Whitehouse Paintings knows no calm is ever perfect.)
I don’t like droning about hardships; this was a difficult post to write. I questioned publishing it. But, the lesson I take from this challenging time that certainly won’t be the last: simplify. I get lost with pleasing others…worrying for and feeling helpless about others until it consumes me; that likely won’t stop. It’s who I am, and I’ve developed strategies. But, sometimes I forget key interventions like my time with my children in its most basic and lackluster form. I think I forget from fear. I’m bombarded with the peanut gallery celebrating having help for the summer that I internalize the importance of help. But, forced to return to my way I’m reminded of precisely how powerful I am when I remember the basic things I need to feel like myself.
I don’t know if or when my friend who was a key, like minded voice in my life will be able to really talk to me again. There is a whole bunch more I can’t predict or control. I don’t know if my prison class attendance will drop-off even more, and I’m forced to cancel the remaining scant classes, having to wait almost an entire year to experience this specific avenue of my work again…for another chance to improve. My children are surrounded by so much love that they don’t know what to do with it at times; obviously that’s a good thing…even when it isn’t a good thing. We all reset when I provide the opportunity to do so, and I need to remember that very thing when I’m spinning off my axis. Because at the tail end of a typical day, I wasn’t spinning. I ate a wonderful cookie following an actual lunch not scarfed in between obligations. I consumed the iced caffeine I love so much, but more than the wakeful perk I enjoyed the drink for itself…sipped and savored over the course of a couple of hours. And, the next wave will inevitably rush forward attempting to sweep me off my balance. I’m sure I will let it, but there are always solid fixtures to grab. I only need to remember to open my eyes.