Friday, February 23, 2007

Anxious

It’s as if my brain has been exfoliated, the tanned shell of common sense scrubbed away to reveal soft grey matter, exposed to every breath of wind.

  • One of the women has dropped out of my Thursday morning parenting class. At the meetings, she had seemed glowingly grateful, but now she has taken offense. One of the volunteers arrived at her house to offer her a ride (presumably by arrangement, since we don’t have the women’s addresses unless they choose to provide them), and she opted to view that as a violation of her privacy. I review all the reasons that I should not be upset by this. We knew these women had issues – that’s why they’re in the program. It’s not a personal slight – it has, in fact, nothing to do with me directly. But I still feel stabbed by this concrete evidence of how little value she has assigned to what we are trying to do for her.

  • One of my students passes a note to another. They smother grins behind folded hands, exchanging furtive glances. I become instantly, absurdly aware of the pouchy protrusion of my postpartum belly, so humiliatingly visible in my still-too-tight clothing. I might as well be a fifteen-year-old slouching down in the seat of a yellow schoolbus, trying not to hear the stifled shrieks of laughter from the popular kids behind me.

  • My blog stats take a sudden (and, really, laughably small) turn for the worse. Instead of shrugging it off (my official policy), I look for a cause, detecting a higher-than-usual degree of pedantry in my writing. That exposed brain of mine shudders in the cold wind of imagined rejection.

  • We talk about sleep in the parenting class. I’ve brought a Cabbage Patch Kid and a blanket so we can practice swaddling; I talk about nap routines and co-sleeping, adopting as expansively tolerant an approach as I can muster while avoiding the elephant in the room: the dreaded CIO. Finally, one of the volunteers brings it up herself: "Are we going to talk about the fact that it’s okay to let the baby cry?" Sensors go on high alert; I hear a suppressed gasp on one side of me, see a raised eyebrow on the other. I stutter something unintelligible about considering options when you’re at the end of your rope, and cringe at the many layers of my own hypocrisy: how I am afraid to discuss the fact that I let my own children cry, how I am afraid to give these women permission to do the same, in case they don’t know how to locate the line between strategic CIO and outright abuse. My rhetoric of respect-for-everybody’s-choices is more than usually empty today.

I’ve always said that everybody has a crazy-door – that back door in their psyche that usually stays wedged shut until the pressure of events forces it open. Usually, my crazy-door is the fear of bees, a phobia that remains manageable except when I am under stress, at which point it escalates into a more pervasive agoraphobia. Lucky me – it’s winter now, and the bees are sleeping under a blanket of snow. It’s up to social anxiety to pick up the slack; I hear whispers of rejection around every corner, see signals of mockery and contempt in the slightest curve of an eyebrow.

And I know exactly why I am feeling this way, too: next week is Reading Week, Slack Week, Spring Break. My usual schedule of classes will be in abeyance; I’ll have a few free days to catch up on my marking, to renew my license plates and visit the doctor and dentist. Surely this has to be my most pathetic trait – this inability to adapt to any alteration in my routine without the ritualistic nervous breakdown, as predictable as rain. One of the perks of my job is that my schedule changes every few months. I never have to settle into the weekly grind of a 9-5 job, instead shifting regularly from full-time hours, to part-time hours, to the two-month unpaid vacation that arrives each summer.

I really like this about my life – I get to know what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom; I get to go back to work again, though, before that life starts to drive me around the bend. I just wish I could skip these days of unexplained exhaustion, of quivering recoil at every imagined slight.

33 comments:

Joker The Lurcher said...

poor you! hope things look up soon.my son had a really bad wasp phobia which ruined all our lives for about 3 years but after a couple of sessions with a psychologist it was miraculously gone! i said she must be a witch!

natalie said...

This post provoked a very physical shudder of recognition. My crazy door is social anxiety too, and I'm particularly vulnerable during shifts in my routine.

It's very likely that much of what you're sensing in your parenting class is either imaginary or has little to do with you. Perhaps it might help to remember that these mothers are likely very embarrassed to even be in your class, that they might desperately need to find a flaw or flaws in you in order to feel that they are not complete and utter failures as human beings. If it feels like high school, that might be because teenagers try to make up for their self-consciousness and lack of agency by becoming hyper-critical of others. If, indeed, you somehow momentarily didn't measure up in the eyes of these students (imperfect dress, imperfect response to a question) then that might actually have been a huge relief to some of them. They're measuring themselves against you.

metro mama said...

Passing notes at their age! You shoulda taken the note from them. If they're going to act like children...

My number of blog comments has plummeted. I'm trying not to be bothered by it, but it is easier said than done.

NotSoSage said...

I had a very similar experience in a lecture I was giving two days ago. It's February, isn't it? I'm convinced that in February we (okay, I) hit a wall where I NEED sunlight again or I will lose my mind...

Rest assured that those who visit, love.

Kelly said...

Wow, I'm not sure what to say, except you're doing a remarkable thing for those women, and damaged or not, I don't think it remotely odd that you expect some sort of gratitude.

And God, I can imagine how dicey the CIO conversation would be, especially considering many of those women might not have the support of a partner. But still...

I can understand your trepidation.

Now, I don't want to sound like a baby here, but after blogging for close to three years, I am lucky if I get 3 comments on a post. When I frequent the blogs that I adore (B&P, all the way!), I regularly see how many comments are left. It's hard for me not to feel like there is definitely something lacking on my side. That people come for a visit but never stay.

So, what notsosage said, we love, really. We do. And that's why we keep coming back!

Mad Hatter said...

B&P,
First off, blogger just ate my comment. When in doubt, you can always blame blogger for a lack of feedback. Erg.

Here is my attempt at reconstruction:

I admire your candour. It will always keep me coming back here. Always.

I often feel the same kinds of social anxiety. In fact, I had to stop volunteering with an oraganization that was near and dear to me this past year b/c it began to feel like I was a walking, talking raw nerve. These times come and go; we retreat and find a new rhythm and routine.

As for pendantry. Bollocks. Your writing is never anything but wit, smarts, grace, and inclusion. If your stats are down, then I think the entire blogosphere must be feeling a cold breeze these days.

Sober Briquette said...

This is winter break week in the US. Perhaps many of your readers are someplace warm drinking something iced? Glancing over their magazines at each other saying,"Oh, my brain hurts because I haven't been exercising it enough. Can't wait to get back home and read Bub and Pie."

Cry it out is an important tool. Children need to learn to go back to sleep ON THEIR OWN. If parents consistently interfere with that, they are setting themselves up for escalating sleep problems. If it doesn't work within three days, go back to the drawing board.

The woman who dropped out may just need an excuse to assert a little independence to prove to herself that she is capable. (You know I don't know what the actual deal is with these at-risk mothers, but maybe.)

Veronica Mitchell said...

I know how you feel. I get the same raw insecurity randomly and embarrassingly.

I don't want to sound too cynical, but in my experience, the fact that the woman dropped out may be exactly because you were offering her something of value. Valuable knowledge and experience demand change from us, and sometimes folks would rather deny themselves the knowledge than consent to the change. Don't blame yourself.

Jenifer G. said...

I agree with Mad. Your writing never fails to inspire and I know I have said it before, but I will say it again, you have the ability to make us laugh, smile and think. A rare ability, really. Lots of people can do one thing well - you can do all of them.

My sister in Korea is in a funk, and I have felt a bit off too lately. Maybe it is the time of year as Sage said. Whatever it is, your writing, candor, way of reaching us has not waned.

I will always visit for my B&P fix. As a new blogger with very little following I have come to understand that my initial intentions of creating this blog for my family and myself remain. I love it when other bloggers visit, but truth be told I started this blogger for myself and I don't want to attach too much to the numbers. Is it a thrill when someone has something to say? Oh yeah! I love it. At the same time I don't want to become too dependent on it. I try not to compare myself to other bloggers. Easier said than done though.

Take a break next week. Regroup. Next thing you know you will be in the groove. For the record, changes in routine are not a strong point for me either and being thinned-skinned is such a work in progress for me. Myers-Briggs anyone?

My guess these girls/women in your class are on a very basic level threatened by you. So while you are
worrying about them, no doubt they are (whether they realize it or not) are comparing themselves to you.


Enjoy reading week. Sunny window, trashy magazine, comfy Starbucks chair=cure for funk.

:)

Beck said...

I think that most everyone's comments and stats are way down - and I think this is more about the state of blogging than the state of your blog or mine.
February just sucks, really. I've spent the past month in retreat, feeling those whispery shivers of self-doubt, self-loathing - but I do know that come sunnier March, I'll be much happier.

nomotherearth said...

That's funny, I thought the amount of comments you were getting was increasing...shows how good I am with numbers.

If it makes any difference, you (and a select few others) are the gold standard to which I hold my blog. Pedantic? Peh! I only hope to one day be able to write as engagingly and insightfully as you do. It constantly amazes me how someone with two children can have the energy to be so brilliant every day. It's a struggle to write what I do, and I only find the time because it's important to me.

Hang in there.

Kyla said...

Bees! Me, too.

You are brilliant. BRILLIANT! And we surely are not abandoning you.

Hang in there. March is coming soon!

theflyingmum said...

You are one of the "thinkiest" bloggers I read, and sometimes I need time to mull over what you have said - so, even if I don't comment, rest assured that your posts stay with me. You are also a prolific poster, and I am (as Sage so accurately put it) an infrequent blogger, but I still check back for comments on a daily basis. This seems to be how I measure my self-worth, lately.
I abandoned my chosen career of teaching (German) because I am totally insecure around teenagers - have been ever since I was one. So basically what I'm saying is "You are not alone." Yes, we do all have our crazy doors, even those whispering students, and the drop out. Remember that and try to feel sympathy for them, and confidence that you are a beautiful, intelligent, successful woman (first) and mother (second) and :::fill in the blank::: (third) etc.
Love, love, love.

bubandpie said...

Here are the things that have happened today:

1) The sun came out.

2) I wrote this post.

3) The handful of students who were in class this morning (the last Friday before slack week) joined in for a great discussion about how to write an opinion essay without coming across as a psycho (tip: don't compare your opponents to Hitler).

4) I came home to find your wonderful, lovely words.

I've got that feeling of lightness right now, the one you get when you chop off eight inches' worth of thick, heavy hair. Thank you.

Oh, The Joys said...

I love the idea of a crazy door... and I have no idea what is happening with your stats. It's not because of me... I keep coming.

cinnamon gurl said...

HUGS!!!

Ah, the crazy door. I have so many phobias, though they are based on a fear of being trapped away from home: elevators, airplanes, getting sick to my stomach from both ends in a public bathroom (it is REALLY stretching my comfort zone to write that, but there it is... that was a really tough phobia to get over, and I was seriously agoraphobic for like two years as a result of it).

I love that you are not afraid to bare your phobias, and your less than perfect moments. I love that you share the perfect ones too.

cinnamon gurl said...

Just saw you're feeling better... Good.

mamatulip said...

I hear whispers of rejection around every corner, see signals of mockery and contempt in the slightest curve of an eyebrow.

Boy, can I relate to this.

I hope next week's better. :)

Terri B. said...

Well, I can see from the many comments that many of us can relate to the social phobia thing. You are not alone!

Speaking of teaching and snickering students, etc. ... have you ever read The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer? I can't remember him specifically addressing phobias, but he does capture the ups and downs of teaching -- the down days (did they learn ANYTHING? how did I fail them?) and the up days. Sounds like you just had an up day in several ways. Hang in there :o)

Karen said...

amen, February sucks; change is great once you are over the hump - and the motivations of others remain mysterious to me - when I don't know the story I tend to make one up to fill in the gap...sometimes the stories I write to fill in those gaps are bad stories cause I feel bad. Sometimes I try to re-write them (and it is vacation week for U.S., so lots of people are away or under more children than usual -that'd be me!) It might be fun for you to rewrite all those scenarios in a way that is completely complimentary to your altruistic self, your postpartum body, you maternal wisdom on sleep, your exposed brain and you totally fab blog!

Christy said...

I have never heard of a crazy door, but mine is definitely social anxiety. And crowds.

I love your blog, though I don't comment much (not enough time).

Lisa b said...

Hmmm is it me? I've been commenting more recently. Is that driving everyone away? (how's that for a crazy door?)

I relate to your experience with the parenting class. I always have this fear when I work with high needs students like that as you are opening yourself to them and they are in a bad place in their lives. The risk is that they will lash out at you when really they are just angry about their situation. As you say you know it isn't personal but still its hard to take.

Jill said...

A crazy door! I love that concept.

Here's a sign of appreciation for you to replace some of that doubt. I came back here earlier today just to find your starfall link to use with my 5-year-old. I figured that if it's good for Bub, it's good for Joe.

flutter said...

I've just started reading you and I just love following your brain processes. So if you've lost some readers...you've gained a new one.

Becky said...

I don't want you to take this the wrong way... but just with this post you have made me feel much better! I've had this image of you being super-woman/super-mom... nothing seemed to phase you, stall you or stop you! But, thank you for sharing your anxieties and moment of being on the edge of losing all shreds of sanity. It makes me to feel better about my own shredded sanity to know that even someone like you, B&P, someone who seems to have it all so together, has moments of insecurity and temporary insanity.

BlogWhore said...

tell us more about this parenting class?????

Mom101 said...

Wow what a week. Is there a silver lining in that it will all come and go at once and open the door for only good, happy, non note-passing days?

bubandpie said...

BW - I was too lazy to put in the links properly, but if you click on the "change the world" category, you'll see my other posts about it: basically, it's a life skills/parenting class/support group for women referred by the local crisis pregnancy centre.

Heather said...

"back door to crazy"--I love it. thank you! I've been wondering what to call that.

Sarah said...

I hate it when things seem to pile against me like that. I get all socially awkward and anxious and replay it all in my head a hundred times.

I hope things contiune to swing up.

Emmie (Better Make It A Double) said...

Can so relate.. I get like that too, where my self-esteem takes a sudden hiy for awhile and I just walk around feeling slighted or hurt all the time. Usually it's one genuine hurt that puts my in that mode for awhile. I'm glad you feel better. Nobody's been commenting over at my bloghouse either, but then, I haven't been posting much with this head cold.

Pieces said...

Maybe I've got it good--no chance of much social anxiety if I never see actual people. :)

The others are right--February sucks. I hope things are looking a little more positive for you today.

c4cara said...

Hey you, me too. Oh am I socially phobic, and the more vulnerable I feel, the more suspicious I am of other people... The crazy door. What a very apt description that is. Fuzzies to you, and as I am so late in getting to this post (after a few hellish days of my own that are all about my inner crumbling) I hope you are already feeling better. Ditto to the schedule thing and the physical self conciousness and all of it. Sigh. I just did a birthday party for my 4 yr old, and almost fell completely apart at the terror of having people in my house that might judge me when I am feeling less than strong. It went ok. I am sure the crazy door was banging open and shut in the wind of my fear, but the kids seemed happy, so it was a success. However, I may never leave the house again. *grin*.
PS - You are awesome, you do know that don't you?? We come here because you are awesome.