Pumpkin has been having a hard time falling asleep recently. She says that she gets bad thoughts in her head and can't get them out. This has happened before. I am sympathetic- I know exactly what she means, since I once laid awake working through the scenario of what I would do if someone crashed their car through my bedroom wall (it faces the street, but it is an extremely quiet and really rather straight street and there are several feet of bushes between the window and the street). Granted, I was pregnant at the time, but I can work myself into a worry about random things even when I'm not pregnant. It is a skill I have.
In one sense, I'm the perfect person to help Pumpkin figure out how to handle her anxiety problem. I've tried to teach her my tricks of short circuiting the weird, anxious loop in my brain. The best one, by far, is to have a mantra to recite silently. It helps nudge my stream of consciousness into a more relaxed place, where I can go to sleep.
Me being me, my mantra is from John Donne:
"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Yeah, it isn't a super happy mantra, but I've used it since high school and it works for me.
So, Pumpkin is working on picking herself a mantra. In the meantime, I spend a fair amount of time on her floor, reading tweets in the dark while she falls asleep up in her loft bed. She finds this helpful. It is a good thing she doesn't know what's in my Twitter feed, or it would probably cease to be helpful.
In another sense, I'm a terrible person to teach Pumpkin how to tame her anxiety because at 43 years old, I haven't really learned how to tame my own.
I have always been the type to conform to expectations, and to pay attention to what the people around me need and want. I don't really feel bad about that. I don't think there is anything wrong with trying to be nice to other people, or sensitive to their feelings. But it does sometimes make it hard for me to really know what I want. And the instinct to always do the right thing, or the nice thing, can make it hard for me to relax and enjoy myself, especially now, when there is pretty much always something more virtuous I could be doing (for the kids, for my career, for my health, to take care of the house, to plan for our future, etc, etc, etc).
Even beyond that, there is just a feeling that I should be doing something more virtuous. Or, if I can push that feeling aside, the thought of something unpleasant or downright bad that could happen... Let's just say, I find it difficult to unwind.
This is probably one of the reasons I love to travel so much, because when I'm traveling, I for some reason get a free pass. Yes, I can have the ice cream! Yes, I can have another drink! Yes, I can just sit there and read! OK, only the first one is really true when I'm traveling with my kids, but I really like ice cream, so that's OK. Regardless, I do just relax more when I'm traveling. I have no idea why, because frankly, travel can be kind of stressful. But it is a different sort of stress that somehow causes me less anxiety.
I know, that makes no sense. I wish I understood it, too.
I also wish I could tap into that "free pass" feeling more when I'm at home. I live in an awesome place, I have an awesome life. I want to learn how to relax and enjoy it. Maybe I should try eating more ice cream. But maybe that would just make me gain weight, and then I'd be anxious about that.
Sometimes I think the solution is to exercise more (exercise makes me happy, and also it enables me to eat more ice cream)... but that requires me to do some other worthy thing less, and that triggers anxiety, too.
It is a bit of a conundrum.
If I can't tame my own anxiety, I'd at least like to teach my kids how to relax and enjoy life. Petunia seems to have it down, to be honest. She probably got that from her father. Pumpkin got my anxious genes, I guess, and I feel bad about that.
Yeah, I know. That's sort of ironic.
Share your anxiety taming tips- for you or your kids- in the comments!