Thursday, March 25, 2010

"You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the Facts of Life..."

First the turtle died. A week later, after much speculation that it was on the down and out, the beta fish died. Jake, who lived the fish life in the kids' room, was belly-up last Saturday.

I hesitated telling the kids. After Sean's acute grief over the loss of the turtle, I felt badly that it would be compounded by the death of his fish. Nevermind that I'm the one who fed it every day, or that no one besides me ever really talked to the little critter. But still, Sean was going to be sad. And a very big part of me wanted to protect him from that.

The boys were with their father Saturday morning, so Ian and I left Jake to float in his bowl for a bit while we went out for our first anniverary (which was Sunday). We enjoyed a nice late breakfast at the Stony Creek Market, hung out by the water surrounded by Creekers and others who came out to enjoy the day, watching birds and kayakers--and a photographer taking pictures of a large wedding party on the beach. It was lovely. A perfect couple of hours in the sunshine.

We had intended to hit the pet store on our way home to buy a replacement beta, but instead we were happily delayed when we ran into old coworkers of mine from my days at the magazine. Mark and Sabrina, who met and married while working at the magazine, had driven down to Stony Creek to enjoy the sun and clanging sailboat masts like the rest of us. It was such a great surprise to see them and introduce them to Ian. After forty minutes or more of chit-chat, we finally hit the road, choosing to take the long way home through Pine Orchard and Indian Neck, rather hop on the highway. We skipped the pet store. "I can't protect the boys from sad things," I said to Ian. "It's not healthy."

I should know. I'm currently at a weird place in my head. It's a good place, for sure, but it's weird to me because it's new. I'm finally, after five years of therapy and a whole lot of life changes, willing to admit and work on the fact that I have a hard time letting myself feel any emotion beside happiness.

What this means is that I will allow myself only a few minutes of feeling uncomfortable--sad, angry, fearful, whatever--and then I say to myself, "Well, I felt it but I don't have to stay there." And then I distract myself, with crafts or shopping or reading or writing or socializing or cleaning... But here's the thing: That unprocessed emotion always comes back to haunt me, because when the next unsettling thing happens in life that causes me to feel "uncomfortable" in one or another, those feelings are compounded by the ones I never dealt with the previous go-around.

In short, this is why I have a tendency to panic.

That unsettled energy has to go somewhere, and in my case, those unhappy feelings make me so uncomfortable and make me feel so out of control, that I panic I will lose control. And thus, a nasty panic cycle is born until I break myself out of it. Sometimes it takes a few days. Sometimes it takes a few weeks. Sometimes it can be on and off for, well, a couple of years.

I'm not going to get into the psychoanalysis of why I don't like to feel unhappy. That's for my shrink to know and me to keep figuring out. But I can say that I have been working hard lately to just let myself feel things, and yet not give into the fear that it is the end of the world--or even the end of me--when doing so.

So now I sit with fear, sadness, anger, etc. I am learning to own it until it passes through me--not around me. All feelings, even joy, are temporary. I am learning to let myself feel sad when things upset me, fearful when thoughts or situations frighten me, angry when something frustrates me. And if I really let myself feel what I need to feel, I will undoubtedly feel super-uncomfortable for a while. But then, it goes. And I'm okay. And I realize that dark feelings do not mean I am a monster and will lose control. Nor do they equate depression. They are simply part of the scope of being human. combine all of this with the fact that for Lent I've given up shopping for anything that is not a necessity, and you've got an edgy little Moira with a whole lot of emotion just brewing inside of her and no Home Goods or Kohl's to run to in order to charge it out of her system. What's more, I've kicked coffee again, going back to my usual one cup of PG Tips tea in the morning. And since I've really not been drinking at all since Christmas, I'm basically going cold-turkey as far as crutches go. It's me, my emotions, and my trust that I'll be fine even if I feel unhappy. This is a huge leap of faith for me, even after five years of therapy and 12 years of yoga. This is big.

I guess I was finally ready to just deal with my own human-ness. And, quite honestly, I'm in the kind of relationship with Ian that provides a super-safe place for that to happen. What a gift.

But back to the fish.

Later that Saturday afternoon, as Ian cleaned the gutters and I vainly attempted to scatter grass seed in hopes of a lawn this summer, the boys came home from a night at their father's. They were looking forward to a birthday party at our neighbors' followed by a Pizza/Bingo party for the kids of our parish. In the midst of all the hub-bub, I informed the kids that Jake had gone on to a great big pond in the sky.

Sean's eyes brimmed with tears, but then he laughed and said, "Everyone is dying around here these days!"

For a second I worried that maybe he, too, was going to grow up learning to stifle unhappy emotions just like his mom.

Then I remembered that I'm new to this "feeling" business. It's okay if sometimes we're sad for just a minute or two. In fact, the more accepting of the fact that we are human and feel the scope of emotions, the more likely it is that all emotions will ebb and flow, rather than stagnate.

Sean went with the flow, drying his eyes, snapping on his bike helmet and going out for a quick ride on his BMX bike before the party. Nolan and Ian played in the back yard with our three dogs. Alone in the house, I unceremoniously flushed Jake down the toilet with a little goodbye, and then went to check on my vegetable seedlings, which are growing like wild.


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