It’s been eight weeks since I had surgery to fix two bone spurs and a torn Achilles tendon. It feels like it was years ago and a blink at the same time. It’s been eight weeks of books, bad TV, and sitting around. Getting injured during a pandemic means more time by myself than I’ve ever spent. It’s reassuring that I can do so but makes me fearful to return to work and real life. Because I’ve always been awkward in social situations and tend to avoid them, the pandemic and the injury were not terrible for me.
Two weeks ago, I was cleared to begin putting weight on my foot. After six weeks on crutches, this was a huge step! While I was afraid of overdoing it and causing more damage, my foot is kind enough to let me know exactly when it is done, almost like flipping a switch. Eager to get back to normal, I’ve been doing my exercises every day. Since I’ve been fighting this injury for seven months, I’m familiar with which moves increase strength and flexibility. While being unable to run, I focused on yoga, earning my 200-hour yoga certification. Resuming physical therapy is strange and humbling.
My body can do some things as nothing happens but flat out refuses to do something I never considered difficult. For example, I couldn’t step on my tiptoes. After a few days, I could stand on tiptoes using both feet, but my right foot refused to lift independently.
This week, I attempted a twenty-minute yoga session via the Peloton app. Downward dog, considered a resting pose, made my legs burn. It felt good to stretch. Banjo was disappointed that I laid my mat in his prime morning sunbeam, disrupting peak napping.
Through this entire process, Mike has been patient and amazing. He took care of Michael, me, and the house. He took Michael to practice baseball a few times a week, walked Banjo, and took care of every household chore. As I’m starting to get stronger, our exchange has become a mantra, “Look at me go!” followed by “Look at you go!”
I can stumble to the kitchen to get my own Cheerios. “Look at me go!” “Look at you go!” I can get upstairs to bed on my feet instead of crawling. “Look at me go!” “Look at you go!” I can walk around the block. “Look at me go!” “Look at you go!”
I have big plans as I continue to recover. They begin small, such as walking Banjo. I’m going to complete the virtual Boston Marathon, even if I had to walk it solo as I did for the NYC Marathon. I contacted Rhode Races to get my comp code for volunteering at the Newport Marathon. I will be signing up for next year’s Narragansett Half-Marathon.
Be prepared for many more cries of, “Look at me go!”
I admitted that these past few weeks have been challenging in terms of emotional well-being. Six weeks sitting on my butt is not helpful to someone who stays busy to keep mind and body from getting bored.
If you’re not following Awesomely Luuvie on social media, you need to stop everything and do so right now. She frequently discusses mental health. Her quote about keeping busy as an avoidance technique resonates with me. She understands why I feel like I cannot just sit, which is what I’ve done for the past six weeks.
I have been trying to keep my mind as occupied as possible, reading books and watching so much television. This week, I had the meltdown that has been brewing. While I’ve been watching mindless movies, The Starling came through after a rom-com finished. I got sucked in, resulting in sobs. Between these sobs, I realized that I had not yet received the sign from my mom I usually get whenever I’m having a rough time. This made me feel even more alone.
When Michael came home from school, he was doing something he never does. He was singing commercial jingles. All afternoon, he sang the jingles to Nestle Crunch and a few other products. When Mike asked him why he was doing it, Michael explained that he “just felt like it.” It hit me that my mom used to do this all the time. She’d often do so in public, which embarrassed me to no end. I called my sister, who agreed, “I can hear her saying ‘you wanted a sign. Here’s your sign, asshole.'”
I went to bed assuming that I had my small, passive-aggressive sign that my mom was not going to make me sit on the couch recovering for eight weeks by myself. The following morning, while scrolling Facebook, I noticed something in the background of a post by a local consignment shop. It was a ceramic Christmas tree like the one my mom had when I was growing up. I’ve looked for one for years, able to find one similar, but not exactly like the one of my youth. I immediately called the story, gushing about how much finding this means to me. The owner listened, explaining that she enjoyed this part of the job, and she would put the tree aside until my husband could pick it up that evening. When I called Mike to tell him, he offered to pick it up at lunch.
Eleven years after losing my mom, it does not get easier. I wonder what her relationship with Michael would be like. When I was pregnant, I called her every afternoon to update what he had been doing in my tummy during the day. When he was an infant, she would be perfectly content staying on the phone listening to Michael drink his bottles. Eleven years later, wondering remains between reminders that she will look out for me when I need her.
If I can be honest, I am fully aware of my need to only post positively on social media. I have never mentioned the death of a loved one, accidents, or illnesses. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in delivering such news person to person. That being said, I am always thankful when others post about the passing of people close to them so I can attend arrangements and pay my respects. So this is a weird double standard I’ve created for myself.
Anyway, I’ve been trying to be positive and keep things in perspective, but it is hard. I’ve spent five weeks sitting on my butt, watching documentaries, mind-numbing movies, rewatching my favorite TV series, and reading books. I’ve cleaned the photos from my phone and spent an embarrassing amount of time on my phone. I’ve attempted upper body exercises while watching reruns.
Here are my biggest takeaways:
I need to get dressed each day, which was challenging initially, but I feel better when I do so.
I need to make myself go outside, which is also challenging, but my mental health benefits from sitting outside rather than on the couch in the living room. I ordered an outdoor swing, which Mike put together last weekend, and make myself get out there, even when I think I’m content on the couch watching Friends reruns (again).
People who check in on me are excellent. I fall into a funk, but people reach out, which makes my day.
When I fall into my funks, I genuinely fear that I have forgotten how to be social. I also fear that people have completely forgotten about me. When much of your social interactions involve physical activity, getting injured just as we returned to normal after Covid fosters more loneliness. While I fear that I will never return to the level of activity from which I was once capable, my mind also creates a fear that I will never return to the social interactions that were crucial to achieving milestones pre-injury. (Does that make any sense? TLDR: I’m afraid that my running and NP friends have forgotten me or will not at all care when I can resume activities.)
As the weeks go by, I need to let go of things that used to seem important. Mike and Liam have been amazing. But since everything falls on them, not everything gets done. And that is okay, even if the entertainment stand is covered in dust.
Progress is progress. In the past five weeks, I’ve gone through two casts and a boot. Progress is happening, and it is mine to observe. Seemingly simple tasks, such as taking a shower or going upstairs, are now victories. I need to recognize and celebrate them.
Diet is so important to health. I’d been eating as healthily as I can but miscalculated how many calories sedentary me required by 200 a day, resulting in even more weight gain. I’m up twenty-five pounds from my marathon weight and look forward to being active again and getting rid of the extra weight, which will further aid recovery.
In the past five weeks, I’ve seen a lot of progress, even if it comes in the form of moving my foot side to side. There will be a lot more progress in the next few weeks and months!
Last Friday, I had surgery to repair my foot. The surgeon smoothed out two spots on my bone, removed the compromised parts of my Achilles tendon, and fixed the tear. It was performed at the orthopedic’s facility, which made things more convenient as I avoided the hospital. After dealing with so much discomfort, I was almost eager for the eventual relief surgery promised.
It always amazes me to spend any amount of time in an operating area. For patients and their families, this is a life-changing experience remembered for the rest of their lives. For the staff, it is (usually) just another day at work. That being said, they were fantastic at making me feel safe and welcomed.
The process of getting checked in was easy enough. No one told me that I would be waiting for an operating room to open, so I stayed in the waiting area for over an hour and a half. This is my only complaint about the process; I wish someone had given me the head’s up as the anticipation almost brought me to a panic attack.
The surgery itself took less than an hour. I went into the operating room at 11 and was home before 1. I left groggy but eager to be heading home.
The next few days were a blur. I was beyond fortunate to receive a fantastic nerve block. I didn’t begin to feel any pain until the following evening. I spent the time with my “toes above the nose” (as the nurse instructed). Once the pain came, it came on hard. The first few days were spent napping and watching bad TV.
I have a sort of half-cast on that is wrapped in a bandage. I have no clue what my incision looks like. This is unsettling for someone like me, who hates surprises and not knowing as much as possible about something. The cast set my foot facing down, unable to put any weight on it. Currently, this is the most difficult challenge. I cannot do much. Mike bought me a travel coffee mug with a cover and a handle to make my coffee. I use my Hydroflask with a handle to get my water, but beyond yogurt and snacks, there isn’t much I can do to get myself food. Having your eleven-year-old pour milk into your Cheerios and bring it to you on the couch is pretty humbling. Note: Mike adds too much milk for my liking, but Michael’s milk to cereal ratio is important. No one discusses such things, but it is a huge deal.
Once I stopped napping all day, the next challenge involved staying sane during the heatwave. Temperatures reached 104 with the heat index, so sitting outside with a huge cast on was out of the question. Mike put the air conditioner into the living room window. We pulled the light-blocking curtains and sat in the dark, mostly on devices and watching reruns. By Friday, it was affecting Michael. Humans are not meant to live in caves, even ones with AC and Big Bang Theory reruns. Even though we had as many adventures as we could before my surgery, having to sit inside for four days was not at all enjoyable.
Here are my biggest takeaways from the past ten days:
Preparing was a huge help. Having a basket of clothes downstairs made things easier. I packed comfortable clothes but have found I have only wanted to wear cotton clothing, so the workout gear I packed has sat untouched. Also, these are my favorite hang-around shorts. They’re super soft and have pockets. I bought one pair, then ordered two more after they arrived.
Having snacks within made me feel more independent. Mike made me a snack center, which was a huge help.
I need to do as much as I can to ensure that I heal as quickly as possible because I cannot shower or prepare food for myself sticks.
I wish I had purchased shower wipes. I used a wet facecloth, but I wish I had bought actual shower wipes.
My husband is amazing. He’s been working all day and taking care of everything at home. This includes taking care of me, cleaning the house, taking Michael to baseball, taking care of Banjo, and a million other things that come up throughout the day. He hasn’t been sitting down before nine each night.
My friends are amazing. I haven’t talked to many people about getting this done, but those who know have been checking in and helping out more than I ever hoped. I am beyond grateful.
Banjo is beyond happy to have me home for a few more weeks. However, he is pretty confused regarding my refusal to play with him. After trying to engage, he took out all of his toys, made a huge mess, and played with his back to me for a little while.
The following steps involve a lot of feelings of hurry up and wait. I have my follow-up tomorrow and will hopefully exchange my cast for a boot. I will still not be able to do much walking and rely on my crutches; being able to carry my Cheerios to the couch is something I very much look forward to doing. I won’t begin walking or trying to strengthen the foot for another four weeks.
I know that the process will be long and filled with ups and downs. I know that there will be victories as well as setbacks. I’ve already been told that the earliest I can even think about running is next February. I also know that I will complete the goals I had to abandon this year (Boston Marathon and Marine Corps 50k). Most importantly, I know that this journey will be worth it.
After months of trying to fix my foot on my own, it became clear that surgery is the only option to return to regular activity. I still cannot walk normally, only walking with the injured foot out Fred Flintstone style to make it even slightly tolerable. I miss being active; even kayaking hurt because it required resting my heel on the boat’s floor, which caused aching. Being active is a big part of my life; being unable to do so is disheartening. My awkward gait is causing strain on other parts of my body.
I initially hurt my foot in March. I wore a boot for two weeks and did everything I could to get better. I attended physical therapy. I carried a resistance band with me and used it during virtual classes and my preps. I even earned my yoga instructor certification! I worked on getting stronger but re-injured it anyway. The weekend before the second injury, I ran twelve slow miles, getting back on track for 50K training. I did everything I was supposed to, only to begin right back where I started. An X-ray confirmed that there was no improvement. An MRI confirmed an Achilles debridement was my only chance of getting back to normal. I have to accept that I will not not be completing the Marine Corps 50K or the Boston Marathon (both virtually) this year.
So my surgery is scheduled for this Friday. My orthopedic offered to follow probable timeline:
Two weeks: no walking/ weight
Six weeks: boot/ begin PT
Eight weeks: no driving (mid-October)
Ten weeks: maybe start riding a bike (early November)
It will be six to nine months before I can even consider running, which brings me to next spring.
I learned that I would need surgery ten days before it was scheduled, which was perfect. This gives me enough time to get stuff done as I won’t be able to drive for eight weeks but not enough time to get nervous and freak out truly. Honestly, it hurts so much that I would have had it done the following day if that were an option. Having ten days to prep gave me time to take care of things I wouldn’t be able to do after the surgery.
Take the car in for maintenance and a recall
Get Michael school shoes, which was so much fun as he hasn’t had to wear dress shoes since March 13, 2020
Get Michael the last of his school supplies
Stop into my school to put away my materials and belongings
Stock up on household goods since I am unable to drive. (I did this as if we live in a world without online shopping, and everything would fall apart if we ran low on dish soap, but it makes me feel like I’m helping during a time when I will feel useless.)
This also gave me time to plan out modifications to my life that will be required while I cannot put any weight on my foot. Because we live in a cape, we live between three floors. Mike and I were able to figure out how to make this work:
Contact school and make sure I was okay to take time off and had everything submitted for approval
I will take a downstairs bedroom
I made myself a laundry basket of clothes to live out of so I don’t have to go upstairs or rely on the boys to bring me clothes
We put a folding chair in the outdoor shower, so I don’t have to try to and stand in our slippery bathtub.
This timeline also allowed eight days to get in the last of the doable summer activities. They include:
Taking Michael to Salem to visit Fun Chicken, only to discover that Kiddie Land is closed on Mondays
Going to see the Lake Monsters one last time
Last pizza on the beach trip
Visiting observatory during the meteor shower.
The window of time when Michael wants to do cool stuff with his mom is closing, so we want to do as much as possible
The surgeon’s office called this morning as we were finishing breakfast at our favorite little diner- the one that still has RC Cola from the fountain. It’s pouring today, and Michael has baseball tryouts tonight, so this isn’t much more to do than wait around until things get hectic for a little while.
** I apologize in advance for this being one of the most long-winded stories to date**
When Mike and I were trying to conceive, I found the two-week wait- the time between when you ovulated and when you wait for your menstrual cycle to be an excruciating time. You analyze every out-of-the-ordinary feeling. We are very fortunate that it did not take us long to conceive, and my heart breaks for anyone who has to go through this process for an extended time. Recent experiences brought forth those memories.
I recently decided to follow up with genetic testing offered through my doctor and called the local Breast Health Center at the hospital. If I am honest, I had been keeping up with mammograms but have been sitting on this referral for two years. It was only my cousin’s diagnosis that made me take the time to call. The specialist explained that I am eligible for MRI screening, which I agreed to do, even though they often lead to suspicious findings.
I was able to schedule the MRI and a dentist appointment to get fitted for a crown on the same day and took the day off from work. I wasn’t nervous going into the appointment, and I felt like a champ for going face-first into the MRI machine and remaining there for the duration of the test. I left feeling fine and a little bad-ass.
That night, I registered for my first ultra-marathon, committing myself to get back into running and excited joining a friend on her goal to run fifty kilometers during the year she turns fifty. The following day, I went to school to prepare for my classroom to return to in-person learning. After a year of distance learning, I was excited to see my kids and wanted to be as ready as possible. That night, I joined our neighbors for pizza and a fire. We played kickball with the kids, kids versus adults. As they’re getting older, we actually have to try to win these days. I managed to run past Liam and get home, jumping on the plate. I felt something snap but didn’t think much of it. I’m in my mid-forties; things are always popping and snapping. The next morning, I could not put any weight on my foot. Once I realized something was wrong, I made an appointment at the local urgent care, where I realized I had no range of motion in my foot. An X-Ray confirmed I had chipped the heel and needed to follow up with my orthopedic Monday. Ortho confirmed the urgent care findings and told me no driving and minimum walking for two weeks. The best news was that it would heal without surgery.
The following Friday, while working from home, I received a letter informing me that my MRI findings required further viewings. I’d been through this before and honestly didn’t worry at all. I’d make an appointment for additional views and be on my way. Me, the one who always worries, was not worried. During my prep, I left a message with the breast health center and went back to teaching. During lunch, the doctor called me back, letting me know that the MRI had found a lump, and she wanted me to schedule a biopsy. “Do not worry about this right now,” she assured me. “I just want to make sure everything is okay.” When I asked if the results could have been affected by my first Covid vaccine, which I had received four days prior, she assured me that only the second vaccine was affecting results and they were affecting readings in the lymph nodes, mine of which were clear- more good news for me.
See what happened?! As an extreme worrier, the one time I didn’t worry about something, it was something I needed to worry about. This is part of my worrying ritual- convincing myself that things will be okay simply because I put in the effort to worry. (Am I the only person who does this?)
Since I could not drive, Mike took me to my hair appointment. While my roots were cooking, I went to work searching through Dr. Google
“MRI false positive”
I wrote down some notes and, for what might be the first time in history, Dr. Google actually made me feel better. According to my searches, while MRIs provide a false positive 10% of the time, my lump, if malignant, was small enough that it would be easily treated. An appointment a few days later with my OB confirmed that even my worst-case scenario was not a worst-case scenario.
I dedicated a little bit of time each day, learning that I did not know a lot about breast cancer and hoping that I wouldn’t have to. I did learn that my lump was very small, too small to feel. I looked at the beads on the bracelet I wear daily. A quick search of the Tiffany website revealed them to be 10mm beads- a little less than half the size of my lump.
A Google search suggested I add “forum” after the searched terms, which lead me to lots of people sharing their own experiences and asking for advice. This catapulted my Googling to an entirely new level.
Through all of this worry, I kept waiting for a sign from my mom. Whenever there is trauma happening in my life, I usually get some sort of sign from my mom that things will be okay. My next-door neighbors, who are family to us, sent Liam home with a bag of my mom’s favorite Brach’s jellybeans. There was my sign!
Keeping my mind busy has been excruciating. Worrying about everything what the “what ifs” to how much it will hurt laying face-down in the MRI tube while nursing a fractured foot.
Mike and my sister both offered to drive me to the biopsy. Since they cannot come and would have to wait in the parking lot, I’ve declined the offer. I planned to ask where the lump is, partially because it never crossed my mind to ask but also so I know exactly where and how deep the biopsy will dig.
When the date came, I tried my best to hold it together. I went through motions similar to my first MRI. Because I’d been told that the test would take between forty-five minutes and an hour and a half, I didn’t drink any water due to fear of needing to pee during the test. Because I didn’t drink water, it took four attempts to get the IV. The nurses felt terrible and offered me a pillow so that laying face down while sporting a fractured heel would be less excruciating. I accepted headphones, partly to drown the noise but mostly so I could count songs that passed and have some sense of time.
After five songs, the nurses stopped the machine and let me out of the tube.
“You’re all set. The lump didn’t show enhancement this time, which happens occasionally but not very often.”
I worried for two weeks that I might have breast cancer. While I tried my hardest not to go down the rabbit hole of “what ifs” and remind myself that my worst-case scenario offered a 99% ten-year survival rate, it was still an emotional stretch of time.
As I wandered through life with this constantly on my mind, I was reminded that other people are going through similar situations. It was one more reminder of the importance of sympathy and kindness.
We are all, to some extent, always in constant battle. We are all facing obstacles and worries. These concerns are not always front and center for everyone to see.
Last month, I had my final wisdom tooth removed. The procedure also included a bone graph and an abutment. During the consultation, the oral surgeon offered me the option of getting knocked out, but I chose to not only remain awake but only to receive Novocaine so I could drive myself back and forth. That afternoon, while trying my best to get through the discomfort, I explained to Mike that doing this made me feel pretty badass.
This part of the quarantine seems more challenging than the original round. Liam has no interest in going for walks. When cases were declining, he was able to play baseball and tennis. His school is trying its best to remain in-person, but positive cases in his class have him quarantining, which removes the routine he needs to thrive.
He’s done with this but trying his best. He’s putting so much pressure on himself to get perfect grades. In trying to wrap my finger around why this is his new obsession, it reminds me of my go-to method of dealing with stress: cleaning. Both are ways of controlling our environment. Despite always telling him that we want him to try his best, he has been putting so much pressure on himself, asking multiple times if we are disappointed if he earns below an “A.” I keep reminding him that his goal for this year is to get through it.
In the meantime, I feel like I am barely treading water. My knee is progressing, but I keep having moments of overdoing it and not doing enough. When I can practice yoga and go for two-mile walks a few times a week, it feels almost fine. Being up five to eight pounds- a result of not running juxtaposed with being on a soft-food diet while my mouth heals- is not helping my knee. After weeks of ten to twelve-hour days, I’ve made myself back away from school and search for a sense of balance between home and work. The afternoon of my appointment with the oral surgeon, Liam brought me a small Post-It note. AS he handed it to me, he explained, “I know I’m not supposed to say it, but I think you are.” This is the note he gave me:
When I feel like I’m failing at everything, I think about the fact that Liam believes I’m doing okay. When Liam feels like he is failing, I remind him that our current goal is to get through. I may not feel like a “Bad Ass Brave Mom.” I’ve been up since 2:30 am. I couldn’t tell you the last time that I did my hair. I never made it to the grocery store last week, which led to us eating chicken nuggets, ramen, and cereal more times than I would normally admit. But we finally finished The Good Place, I ran for the first time in ten weeks, and I played catch with Liam every afternoon this week. To Liam, that is pretty badass.
Last year at this time, I was training for my first marathon and completing twenty-mile runs. Now, I can’t even walk around the block.
I have one half remaining to complete this year’s Rhode Masters series. I know that I couldn’t even walk it.
I need to accept that the New York City Marathon is not going to happen. They’re (maybe) going to send a medal I never got close to earning. And that sucks.
Remember that time in 1998 when you tried to go tanning in a tanning bed, freaked out, and pulled the emergency stop after three minutes? Yeah, you can’t do that this time.
How can I possibly stay still for thirty minutes?
Will I have to take out my nose ring? I hope I don’t have to take out my nose ring. I can’t get it back in by myself.
What if my running and November Project friends forget about me?
What if they find something terrible?
What if they can’t find anything wrong with my knee and cannot find a reason why my kneecap moves in all directions, and I can barely walk Banjo around the block?
My knee has popped every time I’ve bent it for the past two weeks; why did it stop popping the day of my MRI?
What if I can’t work out for months, and I gain weight?
If I need to have surgery, Mike will have to do so much around the house, and he already does so much. This is going to suck for him.
Will I ever be able to run again?
Will I ever be able to work out again?
At least I have an excuse to skip PR day when November Project resumes.
If I need surgery, I hope I can get it done soon. I know Covid is backing up non-emergency procedures.
At least this is happening during Covid, so I can teach from home and not have to worry about being out of work for four-twelve weeks. There’s no way I could trek up and down three flights of stairs multiple times a day!
Poor Liam already does so much; he’s going to have to do even more.
Poor Banjo misses long walks. I miss long walks, too.
It is the first full week of summer, which is usually filled with all sorts of excitement and possibility. Boundless possibilities and talk of adventure often fill this week, discussion of new places to visit and promises to improve our running and maybe plant some vegetables. This year is so different.
Distance Learning was challenging, but it may have been one of the best things for you. While I jokingly call you Old Man Liam, distance learning afforded you opportunities to become much more independent and self-reliant. You had to check in to Google Classroom each morning, making a list of assignments before joining three Google Hangouts. You learned how to cook a bunch of meals, informing me at the end of some days that you made your own breakfast, lunch and dinner. You learned that you had to ask for help and find answers when things were confusing, relying on teacher emails and Google Hangout office hours, group class chats, and even YouTube for clarification.
While you were doing this, I was in the midst of my own distance learning experience. While parents applauded me, I realized how easy I had it, spending my days wearing sweats and talking to kids about The Outsiders, relating the problems of Johnny and PonyBoy to current events in attempts to make sense of both COVID and civil unrest affecting our country. I had it much more comfortable than most.
Although you excelled at distance learning, you also counted down to the last day of school. An hour after school ended, your eyes filled with tears. “This isn’t how I wanted my year to end! I love my teacher and I wish I had more time with her. It isn’t fair.” You wanted the hugs and high fives that usually accompany the last day of school.
We did this in our house that is small yet big enough to take breaks from each other. Sometimes, we did our distance learning in our backyard, enjoying the sunshine and warm spring air. Banjo thought this was the greatest thing to ever happen to him- his people were home all day!
Two days later, I suggested driving to Newport and walking the Cliff Walk. You asked if we could instead walk Thames Street and downtown. It was the first time we had to wear our masks for any length of time, which was horrible and leaves me so concerned for the fall when I will wear one all day at school. We bought cookies, watched the water, and browsed the stores a bit. It was time to go home, and as we drove over the Newport Bridge, talking about the time we ran over it and wondering if life will be normal enough to do so this October, you burst into tears, the feelings you had been suppressing coming up and out.
Too many times during this breakdown, I heard you apologize. “I’m so sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry. I know that other people have it so much worse than we do.” We talked about summer, how it usually means endless possibilities and new adventures. “But this summer will be different. I’m tired of walks and bike rides. And hikes are nothing more than walks in the woods.” (Dammit, you figured that out!)
During this past month, we’ve had other stuff going on. Banjo got hurt and required two surgeries. While we tried not to talk about it within your earshot, we whispered about how much pet insurance would cover and where that left us. You toured the new school you’ll be attending in the fall because your school eliminated morning care. You helped me honor my mom on the tenth anniversary of her passing, making you realize that you do not know this woman everyone says loved you so much. We’ve somehow managed to fit years of terrible events into a very short amount of time. And while you are the kindest, most compassionate kid I have ever met, you have not had to experience any real trauma, so this is new to you.
So here’s what you need to know:
It is okay to be sad about the summer. You’re right- it won’t be as much fun as it usually is for us.
You are learning about social justice, reading New Kid and They Called Us Enemy and learning about Pride and Black Lives Matter. We are teaching you that the world you have experienced is not the same world everyone experiences. You have been so open to learning about injustice, and discussing what we can do to be a part of the solution, which is a lot of new information. While it is tough to hear, you need to learn things that other mothers do have the luxury of deciding when and what life lessons they teach their children.
So while we keep teaching you that other people are affected by COVID by a much higher extent than you are, you are still allowed to be sad. We can play in our yard with our friends, take Banjo for walks, and feel safe and without fear of paying bills on time. We will not visit the Baseball Hall of Fame as we talked about after watching A League of Their Own. Nor will we take the train to New York City, visit the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, or sing “Sweet Caroline” at Fenway. But we will read books and go for bike rides. We not take random trips to the zoo, but we will eat ice cream and Del’s lemonade. You and Dad will relearn how to play Magic the Gathering. We are going to master making friendship bracelets. We will complete socially distanced November Project workouts stay active at home.
It may not be the summer we usually have, but I promise it to be great as it safely and possibly can be, and we will count our blessings.
When teaching The Catcher in the Rye, I ask my students to write an essay about explaining that Holden was either psychologically damaged or just a kid going through a tough time. While debating the character, a student, one who suffered from bouts of mania, said one of the most profound observations:
“Everyone is psychologically damaged. What makes some people seem insane is their inability to hide it.”
I’ve carried his words with me for over a decade, reminding myself to “hide my insanity” when it might be showing.
I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I remember creating escape plans to get out of my classroom if various catastrophes arose. It has taken me over forty years, but I have learned to live with and manage my anxiety. I do not talk about it; talking about it makes it available to creep into my head. I greatly admire people who are open with their struggles, but my journey just isn’t something I am comfortable sharing with the world.
The silver lining to managing my own anxiety is that I am equipped to help Liam manage his anxiety. He’s learned breathing and grounding techniques and I encourage him to talk about things that worry him. We create plans to help him cope and discuss strategies to keep his anxiety from taking over his mind.
For the past few weeks, my anxiety has been creeping back onto the scene. We’ve had a bunch of small, first-world type issues come up that have required hours of attention at a time. It started around Christmas, when my car broke down, forcing me to purchase a new one on Christmas Eve. This spiraled into me not being at all ready for the holiday, a holiday I wanted to be as great as possible since it was most likely the last Christmas that Liam will believe.
Those few days reminded me of my need to be a “precrastinator,” or someone who gets things done early. Interestingly, Liam follows this trait, getting his homework done immediately after school. I have suggested that he spend time at afterschool care playing with his friends. He explains that his brain won’t let him do that; he cannot relax and play until he knows his homework is completed. Since his mom has lesson plans done at least six weeks ahead of time, I totally understand where that comes from. If skipping an after school round of four square is what he needs, then I support that.
I’ve been focusing on helping Liam learn to live in his head.
I try to pretend that my head is perfectly fine. I try to pretend I have it all together. My need to keep everything organized and orderly may seem like my perfectionism at play, but it is something my mind needs to stay calm.
Yesterday, after a few weeks of first-world problems eating a lot of my energy, I felt a panic attack coming on. It has been years since one managed to surface. I was supposed to stay after school for curriculum building, but I canceled, explaining that I needed to leave for my own well-being. (I am beyond blessed to work with people who understand this is important.)
Here’s what I did to get myself back on track:
Picked Liam up earlier than usual from afterschool care
Played with he and Banjo until Banjo was too tired to chase the ball
Made dinner with Liam- and let him make garlic bread
Went for a run while listening to Mumford and Sons
Put together my new lid organizer, which will help me avoid frustration every time I go into that cabinet
Checked to see how many animal crackers Banjo could catch in a row
Watched the latest Young Sheldon with Liam
After he went to bed, Banjo and I watched This is Us
Tried to put my thoughts into words
I’ve worked so hard to manage it, but my anxiety is not something I should feel I have to hide. As someone who tries to look like I have everything together, this is sometimes hard to accept. The truth is, my need to have everything organized and prepared is a small part of my plan to keep my mind at bay. Running and staying active is another piece of the puzzle. The best I can do is try to better myself, allow myself to struggle and do things that scare me, continue the quirky habits that keep my mind calm, and try to make others feel loved and supported.
Keise Laymon said it best in his memoir Heavy:
“Some broken folk do whatever they can to break other folk. If we’re gon be broken, I wonder if we can be those other kind of broken folk from now on. I think it’s possible to be broken and ask for help without breaking other people.”