Rage and Third Grade Monkey Bars
"These are Third Grade monkey bars."
Quinn had climbed the three-step ladder and stretched her arms to demonstrate the bars were just beyond her reach.
The sun was bright, the afternoon was mild, and when I fetched the girls from kindergarten, we peeled sweaters and walked to the playground instead of the car. They were showing off their new favorite skills and pass times. Quinn...climbing. London...evading spider webs.
(As a side note, one of these apples fell closer to the tree than the other....)
It was a rare and perfect feeling, and I was drinking deeply. Afternoons following school have tended more towards tears, meltdowns, and yelling (often from Quinn). Which leads to more yelling (me this time). Followed by more tears and meltdowns (all of us). I know it's heavily influenced by exhaustion from the long days and low blood sugar, since both girls continue to be too distracted during lunchtime to eat at school. And I'm aware that for Quinn, a full day of containing her wiggly body must be akin to torture.
But I also know that as a mom, I need to draw the line somewhere. Probably somewhere around the point where Quinn is red in the face and screaming "You hid my string cheese behind the banana in my lunch box and that's why I couldn't find it and eat it."
Okay, maybe somewhere before that point.
And I try not to yell. Oh, how I try. It's a cycle and it's getting us nowhere. They shut down. They don't feel good about themselves. I don't feel good about myself.
Friday night Quinn told me, "The problem is in your own heart, Mama."
Ouch. Such accidental wisdom.
A month or so ago I read a convicting blog article about anxiety and rage. It was the author's personal account of how her feelings of inadequacy and being overwhelmed were triggering episodes of shouting at her kids. (You can read it here.)
Not that there isn't ever a time to shout at your kids. I'm not a child development expert. We each have our own parenting style, and there's a time and place for much of it.
This is about the kettle blowing over the Small Things.
Responding with a level of anger that outpaces the situation.
I have never been diagnosed with clinical anxiety. But managing anxiety and depression are routinely discussed in my oncology visits. I think it's fair to assume anyone in their thirties with aggressive late stage cancer is at risk of these. And menopause can chemically further compound these feelings. So we discuss anxiety. We discuss depression. We discuss combatting them with exercise. Mindfulness. Medication.
I shared that article about anxiety and rage with my online IBC support group.
S.O.S. This. This is me. I am trying everything: Exercise. Mindfulness. Medication. What else? What else can I do to Stop. Getting. Angry?
A pharmacist and IBC sister spoke up about the anti-depressant I take, Effexor. I started taking Effexor 2.5 years ago because there's evidence it helps manage the hot flashes from chemo-induced menopause. At some point my dose increased, maybe hot flashes were worse? Or it could have been the emotional side effects (grumpiness) of having my ovaries removed?
It turns out in some patients, Effexor has a negative effect of increasing anxiety.
During my next routine check-up at the cancer center, the NP and I had a good discussion about this (more exercise, got it...), and ultimately decided it was time to wean off the Effexor. To see how I managed with hot flashes and depression. I'm currently on the third of five steps.
The good news: The hot flashes are managed. I'm also not depressed. That's a win. I get sad more often and more deeply with the lowest dose of Effexor. But it's an occasional, good, healthy, realize-the-weight-of-a-situation-and-cry-it-out sad. Not clinical depression.
And anxiety? When I think of anxiety, I typically think of worry. Of ruminating over situations that impact me (Or might. Or don't even, for that matter...) I've been paying attention to my feelings. Trying to flesh out the Beast.
Perhaps this problem truly is in my own heart. I can't say whether lowering the Effexor dose is helping or not. It's so objective.
This kettle-blowing Beast, she's not a result of worry or rumination. This is a Mama unpacking school bags, reminding Littles to hang up sweaters. Putting snacks on the table while starting dinner and toweling muddy paws when the dogs are ready to come in. A Mama wiping a bum and scrubbing hands and then, only then, blowing her top because the sweaters still aren't hung. Not a sharp reminder. Not nagging even.
A top-of-the-lungs How many times have I said hang up your sweater!? Why can't you just Do. What. I. Ask???!?!?!?
I've come to realize the Beast is triggered by feeling as though I am losing control.
In the last three years I've lost control of my health. My body. My plans for the future. Even my choice of how long to breast feed my son.
So I desperately cling to control of my Small Things. Keeping the house clutter free and the toilets clean. From-scratch meals made with real, whole ingredients. Raising sweet, honest, obedient children.
You know, all those Small Things...those things that aren't, as it turns out, quite so small.
It turns out this convergence of Parenting and Cancer is no Easy Street for a control freak like me. I got a knowing look from my oncologist when I tried explaining all of this.
She simply said, "Don't be too hard on yourself. You have a lot going on. Focus on what you're doing well."
Parenting is tricky business. It can be lonely. You and your partner mucking through as best you can, discussing whether it's time to start saving for the kids' future therapy. Recently one of the sweetest women I've met wrote this blog post about yelling (or not yelling) at her children. Now, I've read posts about yelling. You know the ones circulating Pinterest...Why Yelling is the New Spanking...and Saying No is the New Yelling...etcetera etcetera. Just the titles make me feel terrible about myself.
No this was different. An open, honest to goodness, Hey guys, I yell at my kids and its super hard to stop. She even admitted to *gasp* swearing.
Oh thank heavens, I am not alone.
And you, Mama...you over there struggling to hold your temper...you are not alone, either.
"I did it! I DID it! "
I was adjusting Eli on the teeter totter when Quinn cried out. I looked over just in time to see her swinging from the opposite end of those Third Grade monkey bars.
She did it.
Quinn has always been my scaredy cat. My timid child. Quick to panic.
My little Monkey set her mind to it, stretched herself (literally), and conquered the big monkey bars.
Brave. Strong. Swinging from one hand and then another.
In a couple days, I'll take the next step off Effexor.
Balancing all of this...cancer treatment, kids, dogs, the house, facing my triggers, trying to heal...Sometimes I feel like I'm stretching as far as I can.
Swinging from one hand.
When it comes to managing feelings of anxiety, or anger for that matter, I'm still improving my exercise habits. And working on mindfulness...focusing on what I'm doing well. Trying to force control of less. And then less again.
Finding comfort in that realization that I'm not alone.
We stayed at the playground for a bit longer so Quinn could practice. Squeezed for time, dinner was simple: Eggs and store bought croissants. Spinach hidden in smoothies.
A side of giggles.
Hold the yelling.