anxiety

  • It’s a beautiful day for reassurance

    It was a sunny August morning, and my husband, son and I were standing inside a giant dome-like structure in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. What were we waiting for? Why a giant stuffed tiger dressed in a red zip-up sweater, of course! You may have heard of him. His name is Daniel Tiger, and we watched him and his fellow costumed character Katarina perform an adorable stage show at Storyland.

    After the performance, children could line up to take photos with the characters. As we waited in the line, an older man – looking like he would feel more at home at a biker bar than a children’s theme park – came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder, as my husband and son continued getting pictures taken with Daniel and friends.

    “I just wanted to say thank you for being such great parents,” the man said, smiling and then walking away.

    I turned back and looked at JB, who is now playing with and gazing in awe at Daniel Tiger. Tears started flowing down my cheeks, and I smiled. This was just another moment of reassurance made possible by Fred Rogers.

    Like most children in the 80s, I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood every day. I learned how people make crayons, music can express feelings, and it’s okay to make mistakes. (I genuinely believe the episode where he shows the book with a typo in it instilled in me my love for proofreading!)

    I moved to Pittsburgh in 2010, and was dreading the transition. Pittsburgh had only four things going for it in my mind: My fiancé, my grad school, the Penguins, and Mister Rogers. (Technically he was from a suburb, Latrobe, but as an adult he relocated to Pittsburgh.)

    Living in Pittsburgh, it seemed everyone had some connection to Mister Rogers. I loved hearing the stories, each reiterating how humble and generous and compassionate he and his wife really were.

    While in grad school, I attended a citywide career fair for students looking at careers in journalism or communications. Imagine my surprise to find one of the speakers was the actor who played Mr. McFeely, David Newell. He was there to discuss careers in public television, obviously, but was also meeting with fans. I told him how I had reservations about moving from New England to Pittsburgh, but knew it couldn’t be that bad if Mister Rogers lived here. He spoke to me for several minutes reassuring me that everyone gets homesick, and I would make this city feel like home soon. I’ll always be grateful for that kindness.

    Mister Rogers’s effect on my parenting life

    The first song I ever sang to JB at the hospital when he was born was “It’s a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood”. I still sing him that song, along with “You Are Special”, “It’s You I Like”, and my all-time favorite “When Your Heart Has Butterflies Inside It”. We watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – and now Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – as a family, and my husband and I sometimes point out places we’ve visited, or our favorite locations in the city. “There’s the Trader Joe’s Mommy always visited on her way home from work!” “That’s Daddy’s barber!”

    When JB returned to school full time last fall, I was a nervous wreck. Would he catch COVID? Was I protecting him enough? One particularly stressful day, as my head filled with worries on the drive to school, a song started playing from the “JB playlist” we were listening to in the car:

    Be brave and then be strong
    Be brave. You’ll not go wrong if you are right
    Keep your chin up tight
    And be brave and then be strong

    Yup, out of all the songs on my phone, at that moment that specific Mister Rogers song played. Sure, it could be a coincidence. After all, JB’s playlist is mostly Mister Rogers and Raffi songs (with some Taylor Swift for good measure). But coincidence or fate or whatever, all I know is that song was exactly what I wanted to hear in that moment of self-doubt.

    This summer has been extremely difficult for me emotionally. Our family’s bout with COVID, JB starting kindergarten, and some other changes have really taken their toll on my spirits. So last month, when I saw JB happily interact with these characters based on Mister Rogers’s work, and then heard someone telling me I was doing a good job? Well, I really needed that. And I think somehow, somewhere, Mister Rogers knew that, too. All I had to do was look for the helpers.

    Favorite books about Mister Rogers

    I’ve acquired quite the collection of Mister Rogers-related books over the years. Here are some of my favorites:

    (Please note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.) 

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  • Twenty years ago

    an american flag at half mast with a blue sky and clouds in background

    I was 15 and sitting in biology class. The vice principal’s voice came across the PA system and told us planes had crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. There was talk of a related plane crash in rural Pennsylvania.

    My first thought was “This is like real-life Independence Day.” Yes, as in the 1996 blockbuster film starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman. The image of a giant menacing spaceship shooting fire or lasers at an exploding White House below was all I could picture as I heard the news.

    Meanwhile back in reality, our teachers wheeled televisions on metal carts into the classrooms, so we could watch the news continue to unfold.

    After two more class periods, I couldn’t take anymore. At lunchtime, I said I had a stomachache and waited for my mom to pick me up and bring me home. (By that point, I wasn’t even faking it. I think we all were sick to our stomachs by the unfolding events.) When we arrived home, I curled up in my bed and listened to Backstreet Boys’ Millennium album on repeat.

    The next few weeks blur together in my memory. I remember random little things here and there like the following:

    • A classmate telling everyone her mom said they would move to Canada so her brother wouldn’t get drafted;
    • Every TV station transforming into a 24-hour news channel, even MTV;
    • A slew of “We Are the World”-esque songs and telethon fundraisers;
    • A 9/11 Beanie Baby; yes, really;
    • The sudden ubiquity of patriotic clothing and American flag bumper stickers;
    • A loved one saying, “I might as well let myself have a cinnamon bun. After all, who knows how long we all have left!”

    I also can recall going through a period where I’d panic whenever something reminded me of the morning of 9/11. I couldn’t wear a certain blue headband ever again because I was wearing it when I heard about the attacks. If it was a Tuesday or the 11th of a month, and there was a clear blue sky, my heart would start racing and I’d feel nauseated, convinced it was a sign from God that something bad would happen that day.

    In addition, for the next few years whenever I heard the telltale buzzing and clicking of the school’s ancient PA system switching on, I’d feel a lump in my throat, and I’d begin steeling myself for an announcement that something bad had happened. To this day, I feel the same way whenever there’s a “breaking news special report” on TV.

    One of my former teachers used to remind us that sophomore means “wise fool” – and honestly I think that phrase sums up that year pretty well for my peers and me. We entered our sophomore year of high school thinking this was when we started to feel grown up: We were no longer the “babies” of the school, and many of us would be turning 16 and starting to drive. We were foolish enough to think we were wiser than everyone else. Fifteen is a rollercoaster of an age, filled with equal parts bravado, rage, fear, panic, loyalty, vulnerability, passion, camaraderie and self-doubt. And I think we all felt those things as a country at one point or another in the days following 9/11.

    What would I tell that 15-year-old girl sitting in biology class if I could go back in time? I’d tell her it’s okay to be scared and anxious, but don’t let it define every decision you make. I’d tell her to trust her heart that the terrible, hate-filled things she’d hear grown-ups and classmates alike say about certain groups in response to 9/11 were coming from places of ignorance and fear, not truth. I’d tell her that scary, uncertain times happen, and sometimes things are never the same again, but that doesn’t mean they are never good again, just different. And finally, I’d tell her that the freshman boy in choir named Chris – the one with the Marvin the Martian backpack –  may not be so bad after all, and she should probably give him a chance. He’ll make a great husband and father someday.

    There’s really no overarching theme or point to be made with this blog post. I just needed to get these memories out into the world. Thanks for reading.

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  • Acknowledging what we’ve lost this past year

    I know it’s been quiet around here the past two months.

    I’ve had a million article ideas buzzing around in my mind, including:

    • A Dose of Awesome focused on recent TV/movie reboots I’m loving;
    • Post-vaccine life so far;
    • My husband and my decision to leave the Catholic Church;
    • JB is learning to ride a tricycle!

    I’m still going to address some of these topics in the coming weeks, but today I’m going to discuss something no one wants to have to talk about – grief. (It’s not very joyful, brave or awesome, but whatever.)

    My grandmother passed away two weeks ago. It’s still not sinking in yet; I told my husband it feels like I’m in a foggy alternate universe. I’ve spent the past few days going through the motions, but feeling completely exhausted and emotionally drained.

    I’ve inherited a lot from my grandmother – my eyes, my love of Nutella and Italian cheeses (not together, as that would be disgusting), my love of libraries and reading, and my impatience and inability to keep opinions to myself! I hope I’ve also inherited her strong will and sheer determination.

    For some weird reason, I usually don’t cry at funerals. Rather, I’m exactly like Robin Scherbatsky in How I Met Your Mother, with wisecracks and a Mary Poppins-esque purse full of vices, ready to help comfort others. (I cannot find a clip of this scene of the HIMYM episode Last Words but trust me, it is wonderful.) At my grandmother’s funeral, however, I couldn’t stop crying. I was upset because my grandmother was gone, yes, but it was more than that. I was grieving many things from the past year:

    • I hadn’t seen most of my family (my grandmother, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc.) since Christmas 2019, and I was upset this was how we were reunited.
    • I was bitter about how much has been taken from us  – all because world leaders were reckless and incompetent and didn’t take the pandemic seriously during the first days of its spreading.
    • I hated how much the pandemic has messed with my mental health. Sometimes I tell myself I don’t have the “right” to be depressed or anxious anymore because everyone else is, too. This just makes the distorted thoughts and negative thinking spiral further and further out of control.
    • I worried that JB would be forever scarred because he’s already attended two funerals in his four years.
    • I was infuriated – that between pews being “roped off” for social-distancing requirements and the layout of the church, we had to position JB’s wheelchair right near the casket.
    • I panicked about the millions of “what-ifs” regarding my son possibly catching COVID while inside the church.  I was so scared in fact, I had my husband leave with JB halfway through the service. Would this be my new normal, constantly anxious and vigilant that until JB is vaccinated, every person out there is a possible threat?

    It has taken me a week to write this post because I feel guilty complaining about these things when I know so many people in this world have faced far more over the past year. More than half a million lives have been lost in the U.S. alone due to COVID-19, and each of those people leaves behind people mourning their loss.

    If you – like me – are feeling overwhelmed by what you can do to help people get through a second year of this pandemic, I encourage you to view this list of donation opportunities from CNN. Sometimes, I feel like looking outside myself and helping others is the best way to help alleviate my own grief, as cheesy as that sounds.

    As Michael Gary Scott, the wise former Dunder Mifflin Regional Manager, Scranton Branch, once so eloquently put it:

    Society teaches us that having feelings and crying is bad and wrong. Well, that’s baloney, because grief isn’t wrong. There’s such a thing as good grief. Just ask Charlie Brown.

    What have you been grieving lately, COVID-related or otherwise?

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  • Back to school . . . in March?

     

    Okay, have we got JB’s backpack? Check.
    AAC device? Check.
    Glasses? Check.
    Leg braces? Check.
    Feeding tube emergency kit? Check.
    Jacket? Check
    Face mask? Check.
    Additional face mask? Check.

    I am reviewing everything one last time in preparation for tomorrow. It’s JB’s first day of school: Well, his first day attending school in person in 2021. This week, he will begin attending some of his therapy sessions in person, along with outdoor recess with his classmates. We are finally allowing him out of his pandemic bubble, and I’m not sure if I’m excited or if I want to keep him in this protected cocoon a little while longer.

    Almost all parents have had to grapple with decisions like this over the past year. Is it safe for my child to return to school or daycare? Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? Should we wait until there’s a vaccine approved for kids? Can we buy enough sanitizing spray for me to sleep at night? Will the other kids be good about handwashing? Should I maybe go to class with him to make sure he doesn’t lick anything? (Pretty sure this last one is specific to me, but figured I’d keep it in here just in case anyone else relates!)

    I don’t know if this hesitation is because I’m a parent of a child with complex medical needs, because I’m a parent in the midst of a pandemic, or because I’m a parent. What I do know is JB needs to be in school again, even if it is only for a few hours a week at first. He needs to have therapists and teachers who are not his parents. He needs a classroom outside of our house. He needs to grow, and explore, and cause (good-natured) mischief, and see friends in person and not only on a screen. He needs to listen to music other than the “Agatha All Along” theme song I seem to be humming ALL THE TIME.
    And yet, right now I am literally drumming my fingernails on my keyboard – sitcom secretary style – because of all my anxiety. What if it is too soon? What if JB gets sick, whether it’s from COVID-19 or a cold or some other type of bug? I’m trying not to let my thoughts spiral out of control, but that’s easier said than done.

    Deep breath. 

    I’ve double-checked the backpack, and I think we are as ready as we’ll ever be for school tomorrow.

    Oh, and I asked my science-teacher husband; He can’t invent a Wandavision-like force field to protect JB from coronavirus because apparently “that’s not how science (or the Marvel universe) works.” Whatever.

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  • Dear JB, it’s been quite a year!

    Dear JB,

    Do you remember where we were a year ago this week? I do.

    This was the week everyone realized it wouldn’t be a matter of if, but when a pandemic would be declared.

    We were hearing more and more about COVID-19, and everyone was worried about what this meant. We were debating whether or not to send you to school. It didn’t matter, though, because by Thursday afternoon, all schools had closed indefinitely.

    Your birthday party was supposed to be that Saturday, as we had decided March would be far less hectic than the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. (We thought we were sooooo clever!) So, as everything shut down, we spread the word that the party would be held once this whole thing was over. (I wanted to keep our order for two-dozen cupcakes, but realized it may not be the best decision health-wise.) We figured it would be a few months, at most.

    We had no idea what to expect when this started. As I wrote in a blog post during that time, “It feels like we are all preparing for some big storm, but without a definite ‘start’ and ‘stop’ time. We all bought the bread and milk. Schools are closed. So when is the snow day getting here? Is it coming in a day, week, month, year?”

    We tried to keep our family as busy as possible during those first few weeks. We watched a LOT of animal-related educational videos on YouTube, taking advantage of the fact that your dad is a science teacher! You and I made loads of art projects, like the hands pictured above. I took on additional freelance writing assignments, as I found writing about “the helpers” was the best way to ease my anxiety during this uncertain time. And we spent as much time as we possibly could in our backyard, hoping the fresh air would boost our spirits.

    I don’t know what you will remember about these strange past 12 months. Will you recall all of the Zoom classes and family get-togethers? Will you tell people how unbelievably cluttered our house was once it also became a 24/7 preschool/therapy room/high school science classroom/office/restaurant/movie theater/concert venue/doctor’s office/summer camp? Will you look back longingly on the small, quiet at-home celebrations we had for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas? Will you one day tell people about how your crazy parents went through all sorts of “phases” during this time at home, including (but not limited to) sourdough, model building, succulents, painting, and Tiger King phases?

    Friday, one of your school therapists said to me excitedly, “Megan, I hope you see that there is a light at the end of this tunnel,” as she and I discussed plans for you to return to some in-person classes. I am still afraid to “jinx” anything, but I am once again starting to have hope.

    One of my favorite writers, Emily P. Freeman, said the following in a recent episode of her podcast The Next Right Thing:

    When I look back to this time one year ago, one thing that stands out was how impossible it became to make any plans at all. We were at the beginning of the great pause, but we didn’t fully know it yet . . . . So much felt impossible for so long, and some things still do, if I’m honest, but one question is rising up in me . . . . Is it time to dream again?

    JB, I have no idea what this next year will bring. I know there are positive signs, such as the vaccines, new national leadership, and the reopening of schools. Is it time to dream again, though? You bet it is! We may have to wait another year before we take that trip to Sesame Place, but nothing could postpone your strength, resolve and sense of humor. Kid, you’ll move mountains!

    Love,
    Mom

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  • Using milestones to measure our children and ourselves

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    When I was little, I loved looking through my baby book. As the firstborn child, my book was obviously meticulously filled out with each and every detail about my first year or so. (#SorryNotSorry, dearest younger siblings!) I couldn’t believe I was ever that tiny, or my parents were so young, or hairstyles and eyeglasses were so big – long live the 1980s!

    When I was pregnant with JB, my husband and I purchased a baby book called When We Became Three. It had all sorts of cute prompts about how we met, what our first date was like, who attended our wedding, what my pregnancy cravings were, etc., all the way up to the baby’s second or third year.

    I stopped filling the book out when JB was about four months old. It was clear that the categories and questions no longer applied to the “Three” that “We” had become.

    From the moment they are born, our kids are literally measured against other children, as we are given not just their height and weight in inches and pounds, respectfully, but also as percentages compared to other children their age.

    Then the developmental milestone questions start. Each pediatrician appointment those first few months (and years) is filled with questions like “Is s/he grasping toys?” or “Is s/he making consonant and vowel sounds?”.

    If a child doesn’t meet certain milestones, additional assessments may be made, including a variety of formal tests that literally break down the child’s emotional, intellectual, social, physical and developmental progress in terms of age. Imagine getting an official medical document saying your several-year-old child has the social skills of a several-month-old infant, for example. Guess what? It feels like a slap in the face, and a giant F written in red pen across your forehead. “YOU HAVE FAILED AS A PARENT,” that document screams, no matter how many times doctors, therapists, and loved ones tell you “it’s just how they have to write it” or “it needs to be an objective assessment”.

    Yes, I get that they need to use consistent measurements in these reports. That’s how science works; I am aware of this. It is not some big conspiracy to make us millennial parents feel triggered. But I also get that it’s pretty likely the medical professional who came up with these reports, just like the professional who coined the term “failure to thrive”, wasn’t an insecure new parent already trying to keep their head above water during this terrifying new chapter of their life.

    Every time I need to fill out new patient forms for JB, I’m faced with pages of these same milestone questions: “Can your child speak in complete sentences? When did your child first smile? At what age did your child begin eating solid foods? When did your child quote The Office for the first time?” (Okay, that last one was obviously made up, but I definitely WILL be returning to JB’s baby book to mark that momentous occasion when it happens!)

    Some parents of disabled kids like using the term “inchstones” – as opposed to “milestones” – to describe the small but significant steps of progress their children make. I don’t personally use this word, because I feel like it unintentionally does the opposite and minimizes disabled kids’ efforts under the guise of being “cutesy”.

    I do, however love the idea of celebrating a child’s individual achievements and timelines. For our family, that meant texting family, friends and former therapists when JB showed us he could identify animals and colors. It meant taking photos and cheering when he started bearing weight on his legs without trunk support. It means telling him every day how proud we are of his hard work and determination.

    We have made it a priority to fill JB’s bookcase with stories of characters accomplishing things at their own pace through perseverance. Here are a few of our family’s favorite picture books on this topic:


    Well, that’s my rant about milestones. I completely understand that none of the above scenarios are intended to shame parents. However, realizing something is not meant to be taken personally, and not actually taking it personally, are two very different things. So I guess one of my 2021 resolutions is going to be not seeing “FAILURE AS A PARENT” whenever I fill out forms or answer physicians’ questions. Because “learning to give myself some credit” is one milestone I’ve been meaning to check off in my own baby book for almost 35 years now!

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  • M is for mask, R is for resilience

     

    Last month we had JB’s first in-person medical appointment since quarantine began in March. JB needed to be re-fitted for leg braces, as he’s (thankfully) grown a lot in the past year.

    “We thought we were just going to postpone this meeting for a few weeks until this whole pandemic blew over,” I said to the technician as he measured JB’s shins.

    “Didn’t we all!” he replied, chuckling.

    I think it’s safe to assume no one accurately predicted we’d be spending these past few months the way we have been.

    I often wonder what JB will remember about this time in his life. One day in May in his virtual preschool class, each child was asked to bring something starting with the letter “M” for show-and-tell. One boy brought a mask. As the students continued their “presentations” with as much focus as three-to-five year olds can muster, I had to turn away and take a deep breath. They are already unfazed by this, I thought. Kids are so freaking resilient! Why can’t we stay that way as adults?

    A few days later, I visited the local coffee shop for a much-needed Nutella iced latte. (Fun fact: If you get it with skim milk, it’s basically a health food.) This was my first time going out since my state required masks to be worn in public. As I put on my mask for the first time, I got a weird squirmy feeling in my gut. “This is the new normal,” I thought. I took a selfie before getting in my car, so I’d remember the moment.

    Fast forward to July, when – long story short – I found myself in the emergency room with JB as doctors did every test imaginable to figure out why he was inconsolable and had a fever. (Basically, since JB can’t tell us what hurts, the doctors have to run a bunch of tests to rule out anything super serious. This was the second time this year we’ve been in this situation.) Due to coronavirus restrictions, my husband, Chris, wasn’t allowed to be in the hospital with us, as there was a one-parent-per-patient rule. (We traded places the next morning.)

    I won’t say much about the ER visit or subsequent overnight hospital stay, out of respect for JB’s privacy. What I will say, though, is that fortunately JB was discharged the next afternoon with a clean bill of health and a new Star Wars “Rey” teddy bear. (Did he orchestrate this whole visit solely for that bear? We may never know!)

    During those 24-or-so hours I was at the hospital, though, surrounded by all sorts of unknowns, I tried to stay focused on the present. That beeping is just because JB wiggled his blood oxygen monitor off again, I’d tell myself. The nurse isn’t coming right back because it’s close to shift change, not because she found something bad in JB’s test results.

    Was I completely successful in staying calm? HELL NO! I got through it, though, with the help of friends and family texting me encouraging messages throughout the day.

    I often think back to the time we went to the same hospital for a maternity-ward tour as part of our child-birthing classes. I could not stop shaking with fear as we pulled into the parking lot. “I can’t go in,” I told Chris. “I’m too afraid. I hate hospitals!” With Chris’s support, I did muster the courage to go in, and seeing that the hospital did not, in fact, look like the constant-dome-of-terror known as Grey Sloan Memorial, I felt relieved.

    Now JB has to visit the hospital several times a year for procedures, tests, and the occasional overnight stay. He’s already used to seeing his “helpers” wearing masks. It’s a normal part of his life, of so many other kids’ lives, and of so many other parents’ lives.

    Now that I think about it, maybe JB isn’t the only one who’s grown.

    Maybe us adults can be pretty resilient, after all.

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  • This virus has changed everything

    Have these past two weeks been real?

    Take a moment to think about how crazy the things we’ve seen and done lately would seem even a month ago:

    • Fighting with complete strangers over toilet paper and hand sanitizer;
    • Singing aloud while we wash our hands;
    • Checking online for updates on Tom Hanks’ and Idris Elba’s health;
    • Using phrases like “hunker down”, “quarantine,” “social distancing,” and “flatten the curve” not only frequently, but also in an un-ironic fashion;
    • Watching talk-show hosts broadcast from their homes;
    • Having every family, not just those who have chosen to homeschool, suddenly conducting class in their homes for weeks, frantically searching online for lesson plans and craft ideas;

    Let me put this into perspective another way. Guys, I live in Massachusetts. Tom Brady left the New England Patriots last week, and it wasn’t even that day’s biggest news story. He’s been with them for 19 seasons. Heck, he’s a football player that I actually know the name of – that’s how you know he’s a cultural icon!

    Kidding aside, though, I won’t lie – this has been a frightening time. It feels like we are all preparing for some big storm, but without a definite “start” and “stop” time. We all bought the bread and milk. Schools are closed. So when is the snow day getting here? Is it coming in a day, week, month, year?

    In many ways, it feels like 9/11: The unknowing, the eerie absence of live TV shows and sporting events, few if any planes flying overhead, and the sense that everything has changed forever, while things may immediately look the same.

    There’s a difference though – when 9/11 occurred I was a teen, a student, “protected” by a force field of teachers and parents and other adults. Now I am the adult, and a parent to a child with complex medical needs who is especially vulnerable to getting sick.

    I’m trying to stay levelheaded, vigilant and prepared without sliding into hysteria. The anxiety I’ve lived with most of my life is still there, only now others seem to have these fears, too. (Don’t these other people know I’m supposed to be able to lean on them for reassurance? How can I do that if they are also scared or vulnerable? How rude!)

    There are a few things I’ve been doing to stay somewhat calmer over the past week. I wanted to share with you, as I know it’s a difficult time for everyone right now.

    • I’ve been talking to friends and family more over the phone and via FaceTime, rather than relying solely on texting. Folks, we need all the human connection we can get right now (WHILE MAINTAINING SOCIAL DISTANCING), and hearing a voice or seeing a face of someone you care about can make a real difference.
    • Coffee makes everything better. I’ve been making and drinking more coffee at home now, and I purchased a gift card to my favorite local coffee shop to support them now when they need it.
    • Never underestimate the power of a sheet mask for your face. Seriously, they cost under $4, they are mess-free, they are individually sealed and packaged, and you can put one on and feel pampered for 20 minutes. Pro tip: When you wear glasses over your sheet mask, you can recreate the Mr. Napkinhead scene from The Holiday. Or not. Your choice.
    • Now is the time for comfort TV. If you need to take a break and watch three hours (or three seasons) of The Office to calm your nerves, this is the perfect time to do so. I personally have been feeling a bit stir crazy, so I’m watching travel shows on Netflix when I need a break from my pals at Dunder Mifflin.
    • I’ve been keeping busy by taking on extra freelance writing assignments. I found that I can manage my anxiety a bit better by choosing what news topics I want to know more about, such as individuals and organizations helping others during this crisis. Mister Rogers said, “Look for the helpers,” so that’s what I’m doing.

    If you have any ideas for staying calm right now, feel free to share in comments or on Facebook!

    Image credit: Pexels 

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  • Where the heck have I been?

    I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog lately. I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been vacationing somewhere tropical, or traveling the country as a professional “90’s boy band trivia” expert. Alas, the real reason is not that exciting.

    I said from the start of this website that I’m not going to go into detail about JB’s diagnoses and health history, as that’s his story to tell (or not tell). But my story? I’m finally ready to share a bit of that.

    I’ve been dealing with my anxiety and depression these past few months.

    OK, technically I’ve been dealing with anxiety and depression for more than half of my life. But lately, it has been a far greater struggle.

    I feel like most of the depictions of parents are one of two things: Either they are flawless superheroes, or they are ungrateful whiny monsters. However, I think most of us, at least in my experience, fall somewhere in the middle. We all have our own baggage from before becoming parents, and that doesn’t magically disappear the moment we become “Mom” or “Dad”.

    My mental health issues were not caused by becoming a parent. I want to make that clear. Certain factors – lack of sleep, isolation, transitions, time and financial constraints, hypervigilance, frequent medical uncertainty, etc. – have made existing issues harder to deal with on a daily basis, however.

    That’s where my amazing support system has come in. I am fortunate enough to have an incredible group of both loved ones and professionals looking out for me.

    I am relieved that there is far less of a stigma now than there was even a decade ago. Celebrities from Kristen Bell to Lizzo to Selena Gomez have publicly shared their experiences with depression and/or anxiety. Heck, this year’s Emmy for Outstanding Choreography in a Scripted Series went to a song-and-dance number from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend entitled “Antidepressants Are So Not a Big Deal!” (Side note: I miss this show so much.)

    I’m feeling “better” (which I define as “feeling more like myself”) now, but I know there’s still a ways to go. I’m nowhere near joyful, brave or awesome at the moment, but I’m sure trying.

    So why am I telling you all this today?

    Next week is Thanksgiving here in the U.S. (Sorry, Canada, I’m too late for yours!) The holidays are crazy stressful as it is; mental health issues or extenuating circumstances (loss of a loved one, change in employment, health crisis, etc.) can make this time even more challenging. If someone seems a little “off” during this time, give them the benefit of the doubt instead of talking about them behind their back when they go to grab seconds. They may be going through something – whether big or small.

    Little acts of kindness can go even further this time of year. Surprise the person behind you in the drive-thru by paying for their order. Send a funny .gif to your college roommate. Fill a teapot with sentimental stuff like a tiny pencil and a high school photo of yourself and give it to the receptionist at your Office. (Then again, do not do this. You are not Jim Halpert, and you never will be. Accept this.)

    Finally, I’m obviously not a medical expert of any kind. But if you aren’t feeling like yourself, please let someone know and ask for help. There are people out there who genuinely want to help.

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  • ‘The Boy Who Wiggled’

    Since the day JB was born, we’ve immersed him in the world of Harry Potter. We started reading him the first book in the hospital nursery; and since then have finished the first two books, Fantastic Beasts #1, and are currently working through Tales of Beedle the Bard.

    In October, JB got his first pair of glasses. With the round frames, his bright eyes, and his father’s 20-year history of being told he looked like the famous wizard, it was inevitable that JB start being told he looked like Harry Potter, as well.

    Apparently that wasn’t enough, though, so last week, JB decided to go for the lightning bolt scar on his forehead, as well.

    He was dancing and wiggling around on his changing table while I was getting him ready for bed. And he wiggled right off the changing pad and onto the rug below, cutting his head on the way down.

    As the emergency room staff was giving him stitches (sure enough – in a lightning bolt pattern on his forehead), it took all my strength not to shout something like “Be careful – I made him! He’s fragile!”

    But he’s not. He’s resilient, and fearless, and conniving, and clever and a million other things. He’s a person all his own: A person who communicates a bit differently, and moves in his own way.

    There are several things he can’t currently do. But there are so many more things that he does with ease, and that others may not be able to do. He can smile, laugh, pet his dog, kick, dance, communicate, see, hear, snuggle and more.

    I was never an adventurous kid. I was super cautious and afraid of everything – monkey bars, water slides, thunderstorms (still hate these), etc. JB doesn’t have that caution or fear, though, and while that can obviously be dangerous, it’s a bit nice, too. Nothing is holding him back, not other people’s opinions, not his physical or medical limitations, and, as of last week, not his changing table anymore.

    Get ready for many more adventures from The Boy Who Wiggled. I have a feeling he’s going to give J.K. Rowling’s books a run for their money.

    Photo by Rae Tian on Unsplash.

    Thanks for the title suggestion, Jen!

    (Please note: this post includes Amazon affiliate links.) 

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