September 18th, 2009
Yesterday a new mommy friend came over for a play date. Her son, Red Bull, is in Toots’ class, and her daughter, Demure, attends Booger’s preschool. Our kids perfectly pair off, because Toots and Red Bull are human energy drinks in a kid bottle, and Booger and Demure remain content to read books and play Barbies for hours.
So in between our oldest ripping up the neighborhood and our youngest sitting quietly, the two of us mommies settled into a couple of lounge chairs and began to talk.
The past week or so, I’d sensed some angst in my friend, and although I didn’t know her well, my intuition picked up some unsettledness. She seemed pensive, quiet, maybe a little like a shell about to break. I know that emotional state well, having spent a lot of my time putting on faces for the public when inside I’m a ball of anxiety, so I thought maybe I could get her to release whatever was plaguing her. She needed to talk, that much I knew. And soon enough, she did, and the conversation became like the many, many I have with dozens of other women.
My friend recently turned 40 and has begun to feel “off.” She gets dizzy, has “cloud-head,” and suffers panic attacks. A week of so into the symptoms, she finally broke down and confessed to her husband that she didn’t feel right, although she couldn’t put into words so much what was wrong. God bless him, he insisted she go to the doctor and after several tests and some weirdness (one doctor prescribed antihistamine for her anxiety), she was told she had high blood pressure and TMJ.
Assuredly these issues cause her symptoms, but she still thinks there’s something behind her new onset emotional ups and downs (“Maybe I’m depressed?” she suggested), and this bothers her. After a trip to the dentist for a TMJ night guard and a prescription for blood pressure medication, she’s waiting to see if she experiences a break from her anxiety and muddy head, but something is niggling at her, something that says there’s more to it, more to the sudden change in her body chemistry, more to the dizziness, more to the heavy sense of dread she is now feeling every day. The worry is like a coat she wears.
I know it well.
We talked more about what’s going on. Her dad just passed away, her best friend’s five-year-old son died, and she’s overwhelmed with grief and sadness. There is that, there is that. Of course, right? She knows this, but there’s more, there is more. She insists it’s true and I believe her. I’ve proclaimed the same insistence.
She beats herself up for not being a good enough parent, her son is strong-willed and she doesn’t know how to handle him, so at the end of the day she drinks wine to decompress and she worries this is bad. She’s high strung, over emotional, often worried, trying to do it all, concerned she can’t, wants to define herself beyond motherhood and well? It’s caught up with her. She’s unraveling.
My friends, I know it well.
It never stops surprising me how many women go through this and how we don’t talk about it much until we’re at the end of ourselves. I know there’s the “others” out there, the ones who can handle it all with aplomb: the PTA, the hormones punking their bodies, the “spirited” children, the deadlines, the evolving marriages, the deaths of loved ones, the “what lies beyond motherhood?,” the etc. and the yada.
I’m not one of them.
I kick, I scratch, I wonder, I rail, I obsess, I blame, I question, I cry, I panic.
There’s more of us out there. We’ve got so much going on at this stage in our lives. Managing families, raising kids, setting aside “me” time, possibly caring for a sick mom or dad (or worrying about a sick mom or dad), keeping the love relationship on track (or derailing it and getting on a new train), negotiating boundaries, finding ourselves…the list expands. I also think after 40 can be a perfect storm of external expectations crashing into internal expectations. Maybe some of us followed the template until this point in our lives (you meet someone, you have kids, you build your family) and now we turn our attention to discovering our authentic selves. We’re breaking the template. Or creating a new one. There’s growing pains in that. Also it’s said that to know your true self, look through the eyes of a child, and maybe some of us don’t like what we see. So we try to improve, change old behaviors, be all we can be. Plus, the guilt associated with parenting is intense. THEN, hormonal fluctuations don’t help matters. I believe that that organic change creates issues — physical transformations, brain chemistry peaks and valleys, anxiety — that compounds emotional angst.
Whatever it is, things suddenly aren’t the same after a certain point in a woman’s life. Not physically, not emotionally, not mentally, not even spiritually as some of us question what relationship with God or the Universe resonates highest with us. We’re busting through barriers of however we — or others — defined us as and shining the light on what we really want from our lives. If this phase of life were a weather system, it’d be a tornado. Lots of swirling, debris by the wayside, sometimes a good ole 2×4 over the head. And let me just say…this is a welcome tornado. It’s a necessary wind. I want the tornado. And what comes after the tornado. Still….right now, it’s a tornado.
At least it is for me. And for my friend.
And I’d be willing to bet for some of you, too.
We should talk about it more.