Get Your Act Together: How I Avoid the Abyss

The most common observation I received this summer was “You have a lot on your plate” and "I don't know how you do it." What, fly with five children by myself?  Got it. Get everybody everywhere?  Trying.  Turn my van into a home on wheels?  Worked.  Run a summer camp?  Yes.  Backpacking with toddlers?  Sure.  Five kids at a theme park?  Let's do it.  These things aren't easy, but we are doing them regardless.  And I'm still standing.

 Yes, I have a lot of stressors. We all do. My chemical makeup includes a hefty helping of rage brought on by lack of sleep.  Pair that with heavy responsibility and non-stop chaos and you've got a recipe for short circuiting.

Does everything about this make me look crazy?

I have a lot of things I’m apparently still, though pushing 40 with a short stick, I'm learning how to manage.  My particular stressors are:
  1. Managing five children by (mostly) myself
  2. Without support in any form from one ex-father
  3. Which lends itself to unstable or dependent finances 
  4. which leads to feeling either like a burden on sponsors or a less capable single mother who hasn’t effectively picked up the pieces and found a good way to support my own family
  5. which lowers confidence in that area 
  6. And harbors major resentments
  7. and feelings of less-than or special case status
  8. Oh, and occasional chemical imbalances.
Those are the underlying stressors, here are the regular ones we all may experience:
  1. Toddlers.
  2. Challenging intimate relationships 
  3. Challenging interfaces with friends/ex's/boyfriends
  4. Worrying about screwing up my kids
  5. Complicated feelings about religion
  6. An 11 year old girl ch-ch-ch-changing
  7. Two boys with underlying father issues
  8. And Trump.

I’m sure your list, if you itemized it, is just as long.
My list of blessings is much longer than my list of stressors. I am blessed beyond measure.

But right now, I am learning to manage my stressors.  Speaking from the position of someone who has been in and out of therapy since my twenties to deal with these issues, and someone raised with an excellent parentage and family, and incredible higher education, and all the privileges afforded me as a white female, AND someone given all the life tools inherent in religion, I still felt like I was barely scraping by for years.  Regardless of your background, do you feel the same way? Life is hard and it seems so much easier for everybody else?

I needed something more. 

"Often [crisis or mental illness or divorce or major change] can be a precursor to a new kind of perspective . . . particularly if you've been in a position of privilege and none of those things seem to work for you, you start to question, well what is it then?  This game that I'm playing?  Why is it that I was so willing to ascribe to this belief system?" The tools I was given aren't resulting in a managed life.  I needed more help.

And so I started on a quest for peace. With the aid of Hush, who remarkably aspires to personal betterment daily, I began a "managing life" pathway.  Obviously, I am far FAR from effectively using these tools all the time. I fail constantly. I am frequently tempted to scream in people's faces and then burst into tears.  But putting energy into educating myself on the following path has kept me from the abyss.

I am of the mind that "Self Help" books are lame.  Perhaps this list will seem to you Self Help New Age garbage.  I hate the book covers and the music, but I believe they are packaged that way because Mindfulness doesn't have its own section at the nearly extinct Barnes and Noble.  I've made a public Amazon List with texts I've found useful; I typically listen to these books and my children do too by default.  More on the effects on my children later.  Hold judgment until you read some of these books.  They're about leveling up and figuring out the path to peace.

If the abyss of fear, rage, and despair is threatening to consume, start here:

1:   My first step on this path was finding Michael Singer’s book “The Untethered Soul.”  This book is a breath of fresh air. I wish it was the first book I’d read so that my paradigm for interpreting the world, right or wrong, good and bad, was filtered through this first.  The great majority of us are raised in particular worldviews that effect every single choice we make and how we value ourselves in relationship to that worldview.  Such an external barometer can make us feel alternatively successful and like complete failures.  We inherit the program that works for our progenitors, and, if employed, can lead to peace and success. I laud those who find that their initial programmed worldview is the right and true one, requiring no major supplements. But, when life goes off script, sometimes you need a bit of extra perspective. Enter “Untethered Soul.”  This book is not contrary to any religion, it is a tutorial on how to view your relationship with the ego and the self. Religion and relationships can be hard on egos and the self. This helped me a ton. But it is just the entry point.

The video below is the author Michael Singer talking to Oprah.  There are some versions of the audiobook on YouTube, but the Audible version or a hardcopy I think are preferable.

2:  Having let that book simmer, I then was passed Thich Nhat Hanh’s seminal text “Peace is Every Step” (pronounced teek not han). Why isn’t this part of standardized education? This book functions more like a manual. Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk whose voice lead the counter movement to the silly Vietnam War. It functions for me as a fear, rage, despair neutralizer. It teaches the tools of meditation and mindfulness. I’d put Hanh up there as one of the leaders of the mindfulness movement that I’m sure you’ve heard about.  Of course, I was taught through our cultural milieu to degrade these types of practices (meditation, mindfulness, recentering, the chi) as New Age bullshit. In reality, they are both supplemental and foundational to discovering how to find peace and how to use the breath to fill that hole inside us, the void of which we typically fill with social media, texting, tv, books, anything external so that we don’t have to be by ourselves. Doing nothing. When was the last time you did absolutely nothing but breathe? Can you even do that — absent of thought — for more than 10 seconds? 
Peace is Every Step was my intro to Hanh, but as I've continued my study I discovered "True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart."  I suggest starting with True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh because it is simple, starts quickly, easily applicable, and profound.  

Start at 14:35, after the intro.

3:   Which leads me to the Calm app. I believe in guided meditation because the research behind it shows mindfulness meditation switches your brain from one part to another. Scientific studies show that “as the popularity of mindfulness grows, brain imaging techniques are revealing that this ancient practice can profoundly change the way different regions of the brain communicate with each other – and therefore how we think – permanently.”  I use mindfulness in the classroom when I’m teaching. I consider the 5-10 minutes of breathing meditation to be necessary to transition (I was teaching middle schoolers) from the outside world to the academic environment.  I use this app to meditate every day. I do the breathing exercises and put in the ten minutes of trying to completely clear my brain of thoughts. Download the Calm app.  More on how this app has changed my family dynamic in a later post.

4:  I’d dipped my toes in Buddhist meditation practice with Thich Nhat Hanh, then I leveled up.  Eckert Tolle’s “A New Earth” was the next mind blowing text that fell into my head.  At first, everything about this book irritated me. His voice is weird. It’s dense shit. It seemed more theoretical than practical. But I pushed onward and I am so glad that I did.  Eckert Tolle was a regular dude who, at one point, decided life was pointless and he felt so ambivalent about it he planned to kill himself.  Ever hit that depth? I have. Caused by chemicals or life overwhelming, I have touched that darkness. (And btw, if you do too and we know each other even vaguely, hit me up shame and fear free. I have been there.)  Anyway, Tolle’s touching that depth led him on a journey from which we can all benefit deeply.  His analysis of the world as it is rings deeply truthful, and his solution to the darkness is profound. Spoiler, as with all the other books, the solution is going inward to find peace.

5:  Having delved deeply into these texts, I went looking for other people who had experienced them too.  Here is where I found one of my favorite gurus Russell Brand.   Brand, a recovering addict, traveled with his addictions to great heights of money and fame. But it didn’t work. You know what I mean? Your life is a success by all accounts and yet still, inside you, there is that hole of fear, anger or despair? Contentment is fleeting? Brand’s work starts at the angle of rethinking addiction and the war on drugs, from which point he found all of these building blocks to filling the void within.  He’s a madman still and he is doing the good work. He’s the guy making sense of this post-truth world. I highly recommend his book Recovery.  Cheers to him for creating a universal program through which we all can manage our negative impulses to shout, shop, text, eat, check our phones at stoplights, scroll, mindlessly take our adderal, opiates and ambien, all of it. Spoiler: peace is within.
If you have five minutes watch this video of Brand (on his YouTube channel the Trews) analyzing the emergent awareness of Kanye West.  Also, I am mildly in love with Russell Brand and could listen to him all day long.  Remarkable human.

6:  My mind was next blown by Joseph Campbell. I am still caught up in the brilliance of this guy’s work, though dead in 1987.  Thanks to the Hippie for this intro. As I traveled reluctantly into the post-Mormon world I became fearful that I would alienate my family. I did not want to do that. I love and respect my family, I did not want to find myself permanently on the outside looking in at the Church and it’s influence on my family’s culture.  It hurt. My dear friends and I, and apparently a giant movement of members who learn something that seriously rocks their faith, have been struggling and hurting. We want the Church and our families and we need to find a way to make peace with it.  We want to be with our community but going back would require a completely different mental approach.  I think Joseph Campbell might be the door back in. I’m not sure yet.  I’m currently making my way through his series of interviews with Bill Moyer which were aired in the mid 1980’s and are now available on Netflix.  His life work has been dedicated to figuring out how cultures around the world understand God.  I trust his guile-free, searching, sincere, inclusive research and conclusions.  As far as I can tell this far, he knows where Nirvana and the Kingdom of God is. And his conclusions might be the key to reconciliation between mindfulness, Mormonism, God, Buddhism, Gaia and inner peace.

I’ve been moderately absent from blogging because of my chaos and confusion, and because of the void.  I felt sad and stupid that I couldn't keep up with my family in so many ways; I was ashamed to look outside of my religion for a more helpful way.  But my life is different because, I guess, I am a little bit different.  What had happened in your life by the time you were mid thirties?  Did anything force you to deep vulnerability?
To write about ones life requires a great deal of vulnerability and exposure, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Brene Brown here. I have shared my journey and made myself vulnerable to you: my readers, my friends, my family in order to share what light and goodness I can find, hoping it might light another's path or keep them from despair.  I do not deign to think my pathway is better than yours, nor that I am in any way superior or wiser. My life experience, however, has forced me to find some extra tools to manage the really hard parts. I am so very grateful for the people who have offered guidance, help, support, understanding, patience, love and forgiveness along the way.

I’ve been on a journey of, for lack of a better phrase, educated enlightenment and emerged just as flawed on the other side but now buoyed up with tools that work to keep the wolves at bay.  I am trying (and often failing) to employ them.

 I want you to have those tools too, if you want them.


Sarah said...

I completely understand this. My story line is very similar, but I love how you keep the kids fun in your life. I enjoy how you are not afraid of adventure. How you travel overseas with your five kids, and don't sit huddled in a corner crying. I am doing so much better mentally, from all the freaking therapy. :) I find that therapy, along with neurofeedback, and cbd oil has really helped me. I'm at the stage of putting religion back together in my mind and I can't tell you what it looks like, but I can tell you it can no longer be what I grew up with. I've been enjoying Phil Drysdale (you tube), but still, it's a mess. The nice thing is, if we keep muddling forward things keep clicking together, making it less messy.... hopefully.

Nicku Bruce said...

I wish we lived closer and face to face and talk through allll of this. But the short answer is YES. All of this resonates, minus the Mormonism because I went the non-denominational Christian route (very freeing), LOL! But so much of the struggle is inheirant with motherhood and is magnified with each additional child I feel like, much of it is just inheirant to being human and an intelligent human at that, wishing for more peace, less stress and a longing to be the person God uniquely created us to be, thriving in our purpose. All that to say, this is great, your not alone, you’re doing better than you think. Give yourself credit. Also add Girl Wash your face to your reading list.

Dorothy Highsmith said...

Right now I feel like I'm living in some sort of Twilight Zone. I don't even understand how this is actually my life. I've been really struggling these last couple months, in particular, and haven't figured out how best to manage my...out-of-body-experience-ness. Yesterday, my therapist asked me to begin meditating for at least 20 minutes every day. Honestly, and to my embarrassment, I asked her how that would look. I'm not in the habit of meditating and haven't a clue where to even begin. I don't think it's by coincidence that I stumbled upon your post today. I'm really looking forward to checking out Thich Nhat Hanh’s books and feel confident that they will give me the direction I seek. I'm hoping that this will give me a few more tricks in my bag to help me navigate what little is left to control in my life. Thanks for all you continue to contribute to my efforts, Lenore!

the wrath of khandrea said...

As always, you are crazy, brilliant and a true force. Life took me down the shithole this past year. I just added a few new books to my shelf, thankyouverymuch. I recommend “A Severe Mercy” by sheldon Vanauken. Right up your alley...and kept me from throwing significant portions of my life into the trash.