I know this will be very difficult to believe, but when I was a child, I was often grounded.
For the most part, these punishments were not warranted for anything I actually did. I was an honor roll earning, rule-following, teacher-pleasing, National Honor Society card carrying, Div I-bound swimming, “good girl”, who did not touch her first drop of alcohol until after high school graduation. I made good choices.
What came out of my mouth, however, was not always … agreeable. Cooperative. Pleasant. Again, I know this is difficult to believe.
And so, I often found myself stuck in my room, disallowed from television, then Atari and Nintendo and the phone, and later, Friday and Saturday social events, As this was before the advent of the internet and cell phones, it was very isolating. Not long into my childhood, my mother discovered a personality trait that enabled her to make my punishments that much more
She wouldn’t tell me how long I was grounded for.
You see, my mother realized that it wasn’t so much the actual punishment that could get under my skin (although I didn’t enjoy it), rather what made me absolutely lose my shit was the limbo of not knowing how long the winter of my discontent would last.
It was not only the loss of control and power in my life (the restricted activities and social life), but the ignorance of not knowing when it would end. I walked around daily in a heightened state of misery and anxiety, not only from the dearth of pleasurable pursuits, but without the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
It was equal parts brilliant and evil. Nicely played, mom. Well done.
I did not outgrow this mindset in adulthood, and it was one of many contributing factors to the onset of my PTSD. The combination of a (perceived) complete loss of control over nearly all facets of my life, with the uncertainty of when and how it would all be resolved, was crippling for me. I worked on this issue for a couple years in therapy: the roots of the tendencies, the manifestations of the emotions, and coping strategies for how to gracefully navigate future situations that might elicit or trigger these reactions.
I’m a lot better. I’m also still very much a work in progress.
Which brings me to this year. This year has been tough. I have told many people in my life over the past few months that, for the first time since the early days of 3 children under the age of 5, I feel like I just. can’t. do. it. I thought by year 18 as a working mom, I would be somewhat immune to the tidal waves of stress. Not that I thought I wouldn’t still be exhausted and busy and stressed out, but that I wouldn’t have those days upon days of feeling like, as my mom used to say, “I want to get in the car and drive down 95. And just keep going.”
I’m trying to reflect on why I’m feeling so strung out. Yes, I have 3 teenagers to parent on top of a very busy and demanding full time job. So I’m busy. But I also have a fantastic marriage, wonderful friends, a stable financial situation (I don’t worry about basic necessities, so #blessed), a job that I actually enjoy and find fulfilling 90% of the time, and last but not least, my physical health.
Life should be good. Life is good. Except…
What I have realized is that there is a cosmic convergence this year of several life situations that are both 1. completely outside my control and 2. I have no idea how and when they will be resolved. They are not insignificant issues, and some of the most important people in my life are grappling with them. In short, there is a huge amount of uncertainty and distress for several members of my most inner and cherished circle, and I have no idea where to go with all of that.
Loss of control. Lack of clarity as to what I’m dealing with. No idea as to when it will be resolved. My 4-decades-long potent cocktail for despair.
I’m working on it. I’m practicing my self-talk, and mantras, and gratitude. I’m running. I’m seeing my therapist. I’m reminding myself that I have been through far, far worse, and my batting average of survival is 100%, and so is that of everyone on my team, for that matter. I’m telling myself that in the grand scheme of the beautiful, miserable, heartbreaking, terrifying and ecstatic joy ride that is existence, my problems are not that big.
I’m trying not to complain. I don’t always succeed. But I’m trying.