Monthly Archives: November 2015

Soothing the Monster

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As soon as I got in the car this morning, my anxiety monster shifted to my chest and poured itself over my sternum, changing into a cold, dull weight.

I reached up and pressed my warm palm into my chest, hoping pressure and heat would soothe it, help it release its tentacles from my lungs.

It felt like it was working… until I took my hand away.

Cold, it clung tighter, twining itself around, so I quickly put my hand back. I kneaded my chest with my fingertips, trying to release the tension.

Once at work, I tried to hide my anxiety, walking quickly to stow my lunch and get my day started. The little tasks helped, but it was still there, pressing, gripping. I wanted to tell someone, but I didn’t want to sound like I was whining. I just wanted someone I trusted to know I was having an attack, but I chickened out at the last minute.

Walking down the hall, the back of my ribs ached, just like I’d gotten punched in the kidneys. Each breath was torture.

All I felt was despair. Would I have to endure this all day just to get my job done? Was today another day I’d have to leave and burn a sick day?

And then, miraculously, the anxiety monster shrank and softened and crept back up to my shoulder when I saw a friend and coworker who wanted to collaborate on today’s activity.

The pain was gone. I could breathe. Nothing was pressing on my chest. I was a little fatigued from the attack, but I was able to get my day started and get through the first few trials with no hassles and no recurrence… yet.

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My Anxiety Monster

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There’s this little ball of fluff, soft as sheep’s wool, a wisp of fur with sleepy eyes. It rides lightly on my shoulder, quietly watching, absorbing the world around it. It’s small, nearly weightless, but I feel it in the tenseness of my shoulders, the tendons in my neck. It’s riding there.

And then, for no good reason at all, it crawls around to my chest and sits, gently at first, gradually solidifying. It’s no longer soft and cuddly. It’s a rock, slightly pressing into my sternum, increasing its pressure down, down, down, now a solid weight on my chest.

I’m afraid to breathe deeply because I don’t want to feel its weight. I take shallow breaths so I don’t disturb it. Each lung-filling breath expands its reach, like pressing it into a pancake over my ribs, a rock-heavy pancake. Then each breath needs to be bigger and bigger just to push it up, just to give my lungs room to get air. So, if I don’t breathe deeply, I don’t feel it expand.

It stays there, pressing down. Big or small, it’s there, pushing against my chest.

The worst part is when it transforms again, growing long, spidery arms that envelop my chest, that grip with razor-sharp pain along my ribs, that seek a way in, ready to squeeze and puncture my beating heart. Now, in fear, my heart is racing, my face is flushed, my skin is overly sensitive, my palms are sweating, and I don’t feel as though any breath actually gives me oxygen; it’s all being squeezed out of me.

The anxiety monster, once a little harmless bit of fluff, is now a hard-shelled crab-like spider with gnashing knives for teeth, ripping, shredding, rending my chest, compressing my lungs, killing me, killing me.

And no one can see it. No one else can feel it.

They tell me to take deep breaths (Ha!).

They tell me to visualize something peaceful.

They tell me to use a catch-phrase.

They want me to appease it, to calm it, to shrink the anxiety monster back down, to stroke it and soothe it until it climbs back up to sit quiescent on my shoulder.

I know they’re right, but all I want to do is shoot it dead. I want to kill it so it doesn’t come back. I don’t want this invisible fiend to dictate my days.

But I listen. I take slow, easy, deep breaths and ignore the claws.

I visualize a painting with the tree of life and push away the picture of the gloating monster on my chest.

I tell myself, “Through God, all things are possible,” instead of listening to the monster’s chuckle.

Slowly, slowly, slowly.

It shrinks. It draws back its claws. It softens.

Finally, it leaves my chest.

It snuggles on my shoulder, curls up against my neck, and sleepily watches the world.

And I am left with the aftermath. I am left with a body worn out from the physical fight. My cheeks are still warm; my fingers are still frozen. I am exhausted by the mental gymnastics. I am sickened by the lingering throb in my chest.

I warm my hands on a cup of coffee.

I breathe, experimenting, looking to see if it’s painless yet.

I give myself a little pat on the back for having survived it once again.

The Capacity of Hurt

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It’s amazing how I can still be hurt.

The bizarre thing is that I can take the hits. I can take someone not liking me, someone being ugly to me.

Bring my kids into it? Yeah, it’s a whole ‘nother ballpark.

So I thought I was pretty immune to being hurt by the ex. Really, I just am numb toward him.

It’s just that I feel hurt when I realize he does nothing to meet the needs of the children – my children. Well, perhaps “nothing” is too strong. But it’s when I think about what  would do for my children and I build any expectation for what they should be getting from him, I open myself up to being hurt.

It’s stupid.

I know it’s stupid.

I still do it.

I think I would have gotten a second job to be able to send child support and gifts. I would have stayed in touch, writing letters or emails as well as calling. I would have pursued a relationship with my children if I were separated from them. I would send them stickers and books and cards and Skyped and done everything I could to be present in their lives if I were living in another state.

Basically, I would fight for my children.

And seeing that they are just not that important to their own biological father hurts me.

What has he done?

  • He sent a couple letters.
  • He sent a few emails.
  • He sent a couple of birthday presents.
  • He sent a couple of Christmas presents.
  • He said he wanted to call on Christmas last year.
  • He sent the paperwork for the girls to get their passports.
  • He flew in for his mother’s birthday party and saw the girls three times over the weekend.
  • His paycheck gets docked automatically for about 1/4 of the child support he owes each month.

So, it’s not as though he’s truly done nothing; it’s that he doesn’t do enough.

I need to let go of expectation. I need to free myself from thinking about his actions as any reflection of my own value system. I need to pray. I need to continue to facilitate any reasonable interaction the girls want to have with him. And I need to put this all out of my mind and focus on the good things in my life. It’s just hard to keep it out of your mind when the time rolls around to inform him about medical support reimbursements that he owes. So I need to just quickly do it and then put it out of my mind again. Like a colonoscopy.

What kind of a man?

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I now have the answer.

It’s been the question (other than my favorite: What was he thinking?) that everyone’s asked me over the past two years.

What kind of a man abandons his wife and children?

And now I have the answer: a coward.

I didn’t know this, know this, deep down in a visceral way until I saw him this weekend.

I had been dreading this visit for almost two months. He had moved out of the state, he had stopped all communication except occasional responses to my emails, and he hadn’t visited for 13 months. But then his mother had to go and have an 80th birthday. And want a big party. With all her kids. And grandkids. And she asked me, specifically, in person, to be there.

I didn’t want to go. I don’t like any of his family. I don’t particularly like his mother. But part of me really wants to be a “nice” person. “Nice” people show up when they are invited, bring food and a gift, are pleasant, and stay an appropriate amount of time. Part of me really, really didn’t want to be nice.

So I started by emailing Robert to ask if he was going to be there.

And that’s when the typical shitstorm hit.

Why? Would you let me take the girls?

Um. No.

Not only no, but hell no.

You see, he disappeared on me, abandoned me and two little girls under the age of ten, didn’t write, call, or try to contact us. Took his money and ran with no warning. You think I’d let him have access to those same two little girls without me being there, watching like a hawk?

But, if you are a rational-minded person, you would deduce that I asked because I was interested in arranging visitation on the chance that he would make an effort to be at his mother’s milestone event.

Turns out, he wasn’t planning on being there at all. Not until I rattled his cage by asking him if he was going.

But he couldn’t straight-up tell me that. Instead, he answered with questions, went on a tirade, call me names, and was yellling in email. Yeah, that’s the way to score points with the mother of your children.

Anyhow, push came to shove, and he finally decided to buy tickets and fly down. In his emails (he only ever emails, by the way), he expressed that he wanted to spend as much time as possible with the girls, and that he would be in town through Tuesday. I let him know that taking so long to tell me his plans meant that I’d already made some plans – it was Halloween weekend, after all – and so we could swing the birthday party and maybe lunch on Sunday. After that, we’d play it by ear.

The birthday party rolls around. On the way there, I tell the girls that Robert will be there. I had saved that tidbit of information so that they didn’t build anything up in their heads about seeing him again. I let them know that I had contacted him a few weeks previously to find outif he’d be there so that they could see them. My older daughter took that with a nod. My younger daughter put two and two together and said, “Is he the one you were emailing who made you so mad and sent you mean emails?”

Oops.

“I’m sorry. You weren’t supposed to know about that.”

“It’s okay, Mommy. I’m glad I know.”

I set down some ground rules: You can say whatever you want. You can ask whatever you want. You get to choose the level of interaction you are comfortable with. You are in control of you. You must remain within five feet of me so that I can overhear conversations and simply know what was said. (I had to put in that last one because Robert takes the truth and twists it to his ends, bless his little sociopathic heart.)

We got there, and it went smoothly. I didn’t even feel the least bit violent toward him. I realized that I could avoid almost all need to have conversation by the simple expedient of not making eye contact with anyone but my kids and my husband, my wonderful husband who went with me to support me seeing this enclave of lunatics. As we left, I confirmed a lunch with Robert the following day.

We show up at the McDonald’s at the appointed time, and the same ground rules are in effect. Lunch proceeds smoothly, and the girls run off to get ice cream, and then play in the play area. My husband goes to supervise.

Robert and I sit there across the table from each other, me cocked back, relaxed, staring into his face.

And he can’t make eye contact.

All his bravado, all his bluster, gone.

And he cannot bring himself to hold any real conversation with me.

And he gets up and leaves to go watch the girls in the play area.

And it hits me: he is a coward.

Here he has this one perfect chance, this one quiet moment that he can say anything, and he slinks off. He chickens out and runs away.

Now it also struck me listening to the girls try to talk to him that he had no idea how to really talk to the girls any more. He was so wrapped up in his own sociopathic self that he missed all the verbal cues the girls were giving him, all the conversational bait that they were proffering to try to get him to show a genuine interest in their lives. He just glossed over the things that they were sharing, the things that were profoundly important to them there, that day. And instead, he talked about his “invention,” an aluminum fire fighting suit that is just another of his crazy crackpot ideas. Last year it was flying cars and jet packs. And he talked to them about getting to spend the night in hotels in Las Vegas because the rental truck company he works for flies him out to drive the trucks back to Utah. But did he ask about anything my girls were trying to get him interested in?

For that matter, did he offer to buy them ice cream? Did he offer to buy them lunch? Did he bring them anything? Any token? Any trinket? Anything?

No.

We met again for dinner Monday night, an hour drive for me, Fifteen minutes for him. I picked the place; I wanted to go somewhere I’d never want to go again, and this place was pretty close to my husband’s brother’s house, so it was more convenient to ask him to come since my husband was out of town on business.

Again, things went smoothly. The girls were entertained by their nephew, and Robert was entertained by my brother-in-law. And it was fine. Fine until Robert started talking about the new math curriculum in schools and had the temerity to say that was why he was no longer teaching. My bullshit meter fell off the wall, screaming a bloody death. I don’t remember exaclty how I reacted. I just know that I ended by saying, “I get about a hundred million points just now for not saying anything.” And I was gratified to see the look in Robert’s eyes. The look like I’d just shown him a ghost, punched him in the gut, and yanked the rug out from underneath him. Because the truth of the matter is he was no longer teaching because he walked away from his jobs, all of his teaching jobs, the moment he was expected to work hard to actually teach. Well, except for the teaching job he lost because he was ticketed for drug paraphrenalia possession. I at least did not call him out in front of my kids for being a dirty, rotten liar.

Before that, he dropped the bombshell that he wasn’t going to be available Tuesday after all. I guess seeing his kids three times was enough for him. I guess that made up for thirteen months of absence in his world. Because the rotten thing is that they knew, they knew, that he was in town, not leaving until Wednesday. That if he wanted to make it a priority to see them, I would have brought them. And he pulled out. A coward and a cheapskate liar.

So, what kind of a man abandons his children? A coward. A yellow-bellied coward with fear in his eyes and lies in his teeth.