motherhood

Bamboozled

Did you know that toothbrushes are immortal? Unlike human beings, plastic toothbrushes keep on living even underneath tons of pounds of garbage. They keep on living even inside the bellies of dead dolphins. They keep on living even as they float all the way across the ocean until they wash up on Taiwanese beaches. Then, they keep on living even after they’ve become sculptures in the sand.

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— ◊ —

The past six months have tried to end me. The life I once lived in which I wrote, mothered, taught, sang, performed, took politic action, and somehow also relaxed, has been shattered. Instead of making art, going out, or sleeping, I’ve learned firsthand about anencephaly, the gray area of sexual harassment, and municipal regulations on basement apartments. I’ve dealt with wild hormonal swings. I’ve worked my ass off for a job I was promised that ultimately didn’t exist, then found myself in an uncomfortable situation when I said no more. I’ve packed, moved, unpacked, re-packed, re-moved, and re-unpacked – all with a cat, two dogs, and a busy-bee toddler who recently dropped nap.

I’ve never felt this much rage before, and while it has cracked me open in important ways, it has also shaken me to my core. My mind has raced in circles. My muscles have morphed into a single knot of tension. And my anxiety, after eighteen years of treatment, has found a new way to express itself: my throat is clenched tight, leaving my voice strained and hoarse, my neck and teeth throbbing with each heartbeat.

— ◊ —

Did you know that bamboo is the fastest-growing plant in the word? It is also one of the sneakiest. Its roots can run underground for over twenty feet before popping up again as a new shoot called a culm. These culms then grow up to three feet a day for the next 120 years, sending their own runners out to sprout in surprising, faraway places.

About three to five years after its initial sprouting, a culm can then be harvested and transformed into basically anything: food, medicine, toys, rugs, clothes, bikes, houses, roads, bridges. In fact, bamboo can withstand twice as much force as concrete and can hold up to 16 tons of weight. It can also cure cancer.

bamboo

— ◊ —

Becoming a mom has turned my home into a plastic palace. I look around the living room of my new new apartment, a place I hope will last much longer than the three months we spent in our illegal new apartment, and identify eleven items that will never die.

The bathroom isn’t any better. Three toothbrushes stick out from inside a plastic cup. A plastic bin filled with plastic toys is propped precariously on the lip of the tub. I move it to the floor, out of sight, then run hot water for a bath, but as I soak my stress-induced hemorrhoids and eat the M&Ms intended to aid in my toddler’s potty regression, I can’t relax; plastic is still very much on my mind. Also on my mind: pregnant women who’ve been denied access to proper health care, immigrants who’ve been detained for going to work, animals whose homes have been destroyed by loggers. I lament my now inactive Quick Action email list, my abandoned blog, the phone calls to senators I never placed. The enormous task of surviving my day-to-day has been all consuming, and while the depths of my strength have truly amazed and buoyed me up, I also feel like a failure of an activist.

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— ◊ —

Did you know that toothbrush bristles were once made from boar hair? Of course they contained loads of unhealthy bacteria, not to mention the moral issue of how these pigs were treated before they became tooth-brushing tools, yet, because animal hair is biodegradable and nylon is not, this is the only completely decomposable option presented thus far.

There are scientists dedicating their entire careers toward dissecting the greater impact of a single bristle. I think of these people out there in the world and feel the knot inside of me loosen a little.

— ◊ —

I’ve always approached my activism from the angle of who needs it the most, but for the first time, I’m now approaching it from the angle of what I can most reasonably do. I am not ready to jump back into the strict schedule that once worked for me, and perhaps I never will be, perhaps that life wasn’t sustainable with or without my recent crises, but either way, here I am, dealing with effects of events that, though they’ve calmed, are still very much present: an unfulfilled due date, a static career and lingering sense of violation, an unresolved case with the Department of Buildings.

I will never solve all of the world’s problems. I will never even solve all of my own problems. But as I hold my recently purchased bamboo toothbrush and move its brand new form of bristles around my teeth, I realize, I don’t need to.

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— ◊ —

You can buy your own set of bamboo toothbrushes by clicking here. And if you need some more motivation to start the long process of giving up plastic, check out Margaret Atwood’s compelling piece in the Guardian.

Sources:
Encyclopedia Britannica: Bamboo
Bamboo Facts
Bamboo Herb
Brush with Bamboo
The Bamboo Solution
15 Creative Uses of Bamboo

Photo Credits:
1. Flotsam and Jetsam by F Delventhal
2. Bamboo by Serlunar

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Living / Screaming / Trying

Love wins, we say, and I believe it. But hate is powerful, too.

When my anger over the sexism I’ve simply swallowed in the past week, past month, past year, past lifetime, bubbles up and makes me want to scream, I look at pictures of my dogs until it passes. Often, animals exhibit more humanity than we humans do.

But now I’m thinking I should be screaming more often.

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I am raising a son. My God, I have a son. There are so many things he must know and do. There is so much work ahead of us.

I wish it were a better world.

Is it enough that I am trying?

This Fine Life

“She started shakin’ to that fine fine music,” I sing along to the record as Lew and I dance hand-in-hand around our living room. He’s smiling brilliantly, hopping back and forth on his tiny toddler feet, throwing our arms up and down in an arrhythmic expression of joy. I’ve always loved to dance but never before motherhood did I just burst forth like this.

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His ecstasy is contagious and in spite of all the freedom motherhood took away, being a mother has also freed me. We lose ourselves and I feel so full of love, love for this song and this kid and this life, and I don’t understand how my breastbone and thin skin manage to hold
the hugeness of my heart.

Remembering Rain

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I am six-years-old in the backseat of my family’s blue Oldsmobile. My father is driving through a patch of heavy rain and my mother is nervous, she bites her nails and spins the radio knob in search of a local weather report. My older brother, however, is fascinated, he presses his fingers to his window and traces streaks of water as they race down the glass.

The rain somehow beats harder against our car. My heart beats faster along with it. I am worried this much rain means a tornado is coming and I know a car is the worst place to be during a tornado. There is so much I don’t understand yet – the nature of storms, of my mother’s phobias, of my own mind – and I am too young to find the words to form the right questions, much less accept that they don’t have answers. I am confused and I want to cry but everyone tells me I cry too much and I don’t want to prove them right. My brother can sense my disquiet, he turns to me and reaches one hand across the middle seat, pats his lap with the other. I lie down on him and am instantly soothed. He drapes his arm over me and tells me that he likes the rain, I shouldn’t be scared, rain is fun. I love him and the soft way he speaks and also how safe it feels to lie in his arms. My body relaxes and I think that if my very smart big brother likes the rain, then perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing after all.

— ◊ —

The rain stops right as my husband pulls into a hotel parking lot. I release our boy from his seat and he is thrilled to be free after all those hours of driving, he skips across the sidewalk through the front doors and into the lobby, climbs onto the couch and bounces three times before jumping down and dashing off again. I check in with the receptionist and then corral him back out through the doors to our car. My husband, laden with bags, comments on how beautiful the lightning is. He hands me the stroller then slams our trunk right as a loud crack of thunder rattles the sky, cracks open the dark heavy cloud hanging above us, and releases an onslaught of rain. We squeal and run into the hotel, our hair and clothes drenched from mere seconds of downpour. The boy is beaming, he dances in circles around the lobby, delighted he is wet enough to leave puddles of water behind him. “Watch me!” he shouts at the receptionist who obediently walks around her desk and watches his clumsy rendition of a frog. She asks him if he likes the rain and he nods enthusiastically. She then asks if he is scared of thunder and he pauses, cocking his head in thought. After a moment, he leaps up to his feet, sticks his arms out behind his back and runs to the couch, shouting “Nooooooo!” as he throws his wet body against a cushion and bounces off of it, laughing hysterically.

Photo Credit: Downpour by Vaidehi Shah

Brain-Picking Becky #11: Good Morning, Anxiety, Sit Down.

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This has been a profound month for me and my anxiety disorder. Fortunately and unfortunately, there are three big reasons for this. Fortunately because it used to be that my entire existence was one big OCD attack no matter what was going on, so the fact that I only get like this for real reasons now is a great thing; unfortunately because in some ways, it’s easier to deal with generalized anxiety, to convince myself that nothing is wrong, than it is to convince myself not to stress over things that are actually truly wrong.

Trigger #1: My father is having an aortic valve replacement surgery next week, and while it’s a very common procedure with a 99% success rate, we were given the date over a month ago and this kind of waiting period wreaks havoc on the anxious. Trigger #2: My husband’s place of employment is closing on August 9th, and we don’t know what he’ll be doing afterward. He’s experienced, connected, educated, friendly, hardworking – it shouldn’t be difficult for him to get something. But the anxious brain hears the mouth say, “He’ll find a gig, we’re not worried,” and laughs heartily. Trigger #3: The state of affairs in our country right now is overwhelmingly scary and enraging, two emotions, like most emotions, that transform into anxiety inside of me.

It somehow feels childish that I can’t just be a little worried or mad and then set it aside and move on. I feel like I should’ve outgrown anxiety by now, or at least be farther along in the process of dealing with it. But I have to remind myself that this disorder is powerful, mean, and tricky, that it creates these negative, self-critical thoughts in an effort to keep me in its grip. It doesn’t give up easily. But neither do I.

billieholiday“Might as well get used to you hangin’ around.
Good morning, heartache, sit down.” ~Billie Holiday

I started therapy back when I was fifteen-years-old, and throughout all of high school and most of college, my sessions focused on my eating disorder, specifically on cognitive behavioral therapy to retrain my brain surrounding food and not so much on the underlying anxiety. Even when I’d reached a point where I honestly wanted to be healthy and eat like a regular person, my body just wasn’t used to it. I had to wear an ugly, bulky sports watch that did not at all go with my cute hippie skirts, and set multiple alarms that would beep at meal times to remind me to eat. I also had to work on identifying the voice of my eating disorder and separating it from my own voice, then replacing an “Ed” thought with a nicer, more positive one (e.g., Ed: You are so ugly. Me: That’s your eating disorder talking. You are not ugly.) This was a long process. Yes, I wanted to get better, but it was hard to believe my thoughts over Ed’s. In time though, I did it. I distinctly remember a moment from my senior year of college, six years after I’d first started therapy, when I was wiping down the surfaces at the coffee shop I worked in and caught my reflection in the refrigerator door. For the first time in my life I thought, Oh my god, you’re actually pretty. That evening at home in my bedroom, I examined my naked body at length in the mirror and thought, Wow girl, you ARE pretty! And then I burst out crying; past examinations in the mirror had been the exact opposite of this experience. It was a huge leap in my recovery.

Therapists at the time were big on reminding us that we’d have our eating disorders forever and the goal was to manage it and stay healthy, not recover. Jenni Schaefer, a mental health activist who coined the “Ed” concept in her transformative book Life Without Ed, wrote in a later novel of hers, “I would not encourage you to go through the sweat, blood, and tears of the recovery process only to reach some kind of mediocre state where you were just ‘managing’ the illness. It is possible to live without Ed.” I agree with her, especially now that my eating disorder is a decade in my past and I love to cook and eat. But I also still agree with the therapists. Eating disorders tend to develop as a result of other things, like anxiety, depression, or environmental situations, to name a few. Ed is no longer a part of my life, but the obsessive thought loops, the heart racing and stomach churning, the desire to be perfect and make everyone happy, are always there in some capacity. And I would never do something like a juice cleanse; it’s not that my relationship with food is that precarious, but rather that avoiding any kind of cleanse/diet is an offensive move on my part. I know how easily I obsess over things and how easily I act compulsively on these obsessions. I also know how sneaky my disorder is. OCD has an excellent memory. Once it sets in, my whole system reverts backwards; my body seems to like it in a way, like, Yeah, we’re so good at being an anxious mess! It’s familiar, and it tricks me into thinking that because it’s familiar, it’s comforting. In fact, it can set in without my even realizing it. I’ve had many moments where I’m playing catch up, where I find myself furiously scrubbing behind the stove while rapidly repeating the same thought about a conversation I had earlier in the day. Then I stop myself like, Becky, it’s 11 pm, why are you doing this? What are you actually upset about? There are also other moments where I’m fully aware of the trigger and the progression of the process, but my efforts to stop it are slower than the OCD’s efforts and I end up in the midst of it all despite my awareness. And then there are moments where I succeed before it sets in (high five!). So, when I say that I agree with both Jenni Schaefer and the therapists, I mean that I’ve recovered from anorexia, I no longer focus on my food intake or my thoughts surrounding food, but OCD, the underlying reason for my anorexia, is like high blood pressure – I will never “recover” from it but instead will always be managing it.

meincollege (1)Me in college. Cheers!

This thought is actually encouraging, believe it or not. I’m fairly good at dealing with anxiety by this point – my awareness of it has increased exponentially, I’m familiar with many effective techniques (meditation and acupuncture being the two most useful), I have a wonderful support network, and, most importantly, I’m not as scared of it as I used to be. It still frightens me sometimes, but I’m able to recognize that even this fear is a part of the disorder and that my job is to simply chill out about it. I’ve come up with a new mantra that I really love: Just let yourself be okay. I feel like this responds to all aspects of my anxiety, the over-analyzing, the worrying, the intrusive thoughts, the expectations and criticism. I don’t need to be perfect or always joyful or on the up-and-up in every aspect of my life. Even in the middle of an anxiety attack, I am okay. Just let yourself be okay.

So what does anxiety actually look like for me? On a day-to-day basis, I experience only very mild symptoms that don’t affect my life at all, like I get startled easily and my heart swooshes and sinks into my stomach and then races for a few seconds before going back to normal. Most often it doesn’t phase me; I’m used to it by now, and for this I am grateful, to myself, my therapists, my practitioners, teachers, friends and family – getting to this point took a lot from a lot of people. I’m also able to see how my OCD brain can be a huge boon to my life; it gives me motivation and energy, allows me to productively analyze and act accordingly across various situations, and enables me to multi-task effectively. But the spells are a different story, and while I’m grateful they only happen for specific reasons nowadays, they’re still very challenging.

And this is where my frustration comes in. Anxiety is a hot topic in the media, Twitter, even fiction right now, yet most people don’t actually understand what it really means to live with it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad people are talking about it. But I want people to see it and get it, not just talk about it. Therefore, I feel compelled (haha) to describe it for you, so here’s my attempt at explaining a recent morning.

5 am. Your heart swooshes and sinks, waking you up with a jerk. It’s racing and pounding against your chest as if you’ve just finished sprinting. Your throat is tight and you’re having trouble breathing. A short gasp. No, no, don’t gasp, you’ve got this. Breathe in deeply, it’s hard, you’re still gasping, that’s okay, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Your heart is slowing down now. You’re fine, try to sleep.

7 am. You shoot up to a sitting position, heart racing. The baby is awake and screaming from his room, “Mommy, get up!” Breathe in, breathe out, slow down your heart. You love his little voice. Just listen to it for a minute. Such a wonderful sound. Now go squeeze him. You feel a little nauseous as you walk to his room, so you reflexively do that weird tic cough thing that drives you crazy (it’s so strange and it doesn’t even help the nausea, why do you do that?). No, you’re fine, just let yourself be okay. Breathe in, relax your neck. Remember how in college you used to throw up every morning on your walk to class? How you knew all the trees on campus with trunks thick enough to hide behind so no one would see you? You’ve come a long way. Don’t be mean to yourself. Mornings are the hardest and you’re strong. Be here, be present, get out of your head and just be with this little creature and all this love. Also, you actually fell back asleep for a bit, so that’s a win.

7:15 am. Why did your Facebook comment piss her off? You were just trying to help. Women should not turn on each other so easily. If we don’t support each other, who will? Should you reply? Yes, you have to. No, no, don’t, it’s dumb, you don’t even know this person.

Your heart is racing again. Get off the phone and focus on your kid who’s so patiently reading a book by himself while you waste time on this bullshit.

LewReading
7:25 am
. Why did your Facebook comment piss her off? You were just trying to help. Women should not turn on each other so easily. If we don’t – Stop it, you
’re thought looping, and your heart is now pounding in your throat and you feel nauseous again. Don’t cough, it doesn’t help.

Wait, when did you even pick up your phone again? Just reply and be done with it.

7:35 am. Why did your comment piss her off? You were just trying to help. Women should not turn on each other so easily. 

Stop the loop. Slow down your heart. Breathe.

Why did your comment piss her off?

Stop it stop it stop it!

You shouldn’t have replied. Should you check for a response?

NO, YOU IDIOT!

And seriously, do not look at the news right now. Don’t do it. It will only make things worse. Don’t you dare do it. Put the phone down NOW.

7:40 am. Oh come on, “Meh, whatever,” is the best reply that asshat could come up with in response to your very understanding reply? Your heart is pounding in your face now. This is fucking stupid. Why do people have to be so mean? Women should not turn on each other so easily. If we don’t support each other, who will?

PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE AND GET OUT OF THE APARTMENT RIGHT NOW.

But you haven’t packed anything, and now you’re walking frantically around the living room picking up objects you don’t need, and Lew thinks it’s a game and is laughing, and you wish it were just a game, and now you’re shaking.

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7:45 am. Hooray, you have successfully straightened every single knick-knack on every shelf while simultaneously singing songs with Lewis. Now you get to enjoy the peace and calm of an apartment filled with straightened objects! Except that your heart is racing again. Because this has absolutely nothing to do with Facebook or women or having an organized home. Really this is about Dad. You simply can’t lose another parent right now, you cannot become an orphan. 

Ugh, why do you have to go to the most morbid place imaginable? What is wrong with you? 

Shit, you’re nauseous again. Sit down. Breathe in, breathe out. Everything is going to be fine.

HA! You wish. No seriously, it is reasonable to assume it will all be fine. But you know what’s not reasonable? Losing both of your parents before you turn 33. You could deal with it, you have to, you have a kid and you have Dave and your writing and your music. You could write and sing through the pain, maybe even help someone else deal with their grief.

Come on, don’t be so dramatic. No one is dying. It’s like, a statistical improbability. Your neck is so tense is hurts. Relax a little, let yourself be okay.

7:50 am. So, you just texted like, ten people to see what they’re doing today. You cannot hang out with ten people today. You also somehow read three books out loud to Lewis while sending those texts. Wait, did you make any typos? Go back and reread them.

No. Get outside! It always helps to just get outside. Grab the bag and go – it doesn’t matter what you’ve packed.

7:55 am. Excellent work! Those books Lew ripped yesterday are now all nice and neatly taped up, and look at how happy he is reading them! I can’t believe it took you so long to repair them. Anyway, what can you do next? Yes, prop up the stove and clean around the burners, you love doing that.

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8:00 am
. Beautiful! The stove is cleaned and also you made a to-do list with 36 items for your week off of work, including ‘shower’ just in case you forget. But that’s silly because you love showering. Cross it out. No, don’t cross it out, you haven’t done it yet! Oh and also, you
 haven’t applied for that tutoring job, don’t forget to add that to the list.

Ahhhhhh, what the hell are we gonna do if Dave doesn’t have a job come September?

Heart swoosh, sink, throb throb throb.

Oh no, your eyes are glazing over, you’re doing that thing where you’re pulling away again, where it feels like there’s an immeasurable distance between you and your surroundings, where you have trouble interpreting other people’s body language and expressions and then just analyze it all on repeat. You’re getting dizzy, your throat and chest are tight tight tight. Don’t do this, don’t float away. Lew finished his puzzle. Put him in the stroller, get outside. You are fine. Just let yourself be okay.

8:05 am. Phew. We did it. But you’re walking really fast. And dammit, you forgot that you have to move the car today!

Swoosh, sink, thump.

Dude, seriously? Your heart’s doing its whole thing over something as simple as moving the car later on? You need to slow down. Feel the sun, hear the birds. Smile at your beautiful baby boy. No matter what happens, you will be okay.

Breathing in, I calm my mind. Breathing out, I smile. Breathing in, I am dwelling in the present moment. Breathing out, it is a wonderful moment. And yes, it truly is.

The most fascinating thing for me is that most of you can probably relate to much of what I just described; it was a huge breakthrough in my process when I realized that everyone has these thoughts and fears, just not everyone has the same physical reactions to them as I do. I’ve really worked on viewing my anxiety disorder as a set of physical patterns and not as a reflection on my sanity. This separation allows me to observe it without feeling lost in it. But it can be difficult, especially in a society that devalues women and the mentally ill.

I see it as a personal mission to be honest about my experiences so that people can better understand and empathize with hopefully everyone who suffers from a mental illness. Please, keep in mind that you have no idea what a person is going through based on their outward appearance. In fact, people are often shocked to learn that I have OCD; because I’ve worked hard to maintain it and incorporate mindfulness and relaxation into my life, I often come across as laid-back and easy-going even when I’m having a spell.

I guess what I’m saying is, try to be more understanding. We need to love and support each other right now. No matter what happens with my dad, Dave’s job, the Senate, Supreme Court, or the White House, we all need to practice more compassion for one another. An act of kindness can multiply and multiply and make a tremendous difference. Just let everything be okay.

bexndaveinLA

Writer’s Note: I totally broke the rules and spent over four hours on this piece and then edited it again later for at least 30 minutes.

Click here to learn more about the ongoing column Brain-Picking Becky.