I think I have anger issues.
Mundane, daily happenings with two young children are mentally taxing. Leaving the house without at least one tear or emotional outburst is nearly impossible.
And the children aren’t much better.
I think sleep deprivation is to blame. We are awakened from REM sleep, torture-style, for years on end, and expected to carry on without a hitch, maintaining our calmness, our laid-backness, our you-only-live-once-ness.
A couple weeks ago, I caught myself yelling, “You slow down!” at the speedometer sign by the park. It was then that I realized I am, unequivocally, lacking chill.
So I started a seven-day trial of a mindfulness app. This was well-timed because we’re also doing a seven-day trial of “potty training a toddler” alongside a seven-day trial of “getting the five-year-old to eat cooked things.”
I made it through Days 1 and 2 and convinced my husband to join me for Day 3, ignoring his total disinterest and emphatic protests. He didn’t love the serenity oil I sneak-attacked onto his neck, nor did he “sit up tall” like the narrator suggested.
I, however, sat up as tall as I could, legs crossed. Within 2.5 minutes I regretted everything. My low back was screaming. My left butt cheek was sinking farther into the bed than my right and the throw pillow behind me offered -37 units of lumbar support. I was envious of my husband’s nonchalance and the fact that he was, for sure, asleep.
Advised to remain still, I was guided through a body awareness scan starting with the scalp. I immediately felt like I was crawling with head lice.
Breathe through it.
As the narrator shifted focus to different areas of the body, her voice was pouring ants over me. I was trying to breathe through it all — the slow, lumbar disc herniations and what felt like a sudden onslaught of bedbugs.
Inhale, exhale, her voice reminded me.
I would not move. I would simply ignore everything but my breath — and the eyelash piercing my right cornea. I momentarily caved, frantically smash-rubbing my tortured eye with my serenity oil-application fingers.
As I wept silently, Skye (of course her name is Skye) reminded me, “If your mind starts to wander, say the words ‘inhale’ and ‘exhale’ in your head to mark each phase of your breath. Inhale. Exhale …”
Just breathe. Think about breathing.
Have you ever thought about breathing, though? I mean, really thought about what you need to do to make it happen and truly considered that forgetting to do so would result in death?
I have, most recently whilst my retina bathed in peace acid and a lady named Skye waxed tranquil over a soundtrack of angels playing only the high notes on a piano. I was forcefully puffing out my abdomen at irregular, frantic intervals in my suddenly infantile attempts to acquire oxygen.
I somehow drifted to sleep in a stormy sea of neglected pain and confusing, unnatural respiration efforts.
The next day, life happened again. The five-year-old used every piece of printer paper in the house, drawing a single squiggle on each and then discarding it. We ran out of diapers mid-poo-change. I thought we bought milk? Don’t put that in your mouth! Everyone put your boots on! Where’s the baby? No, you don’t need a band-aid. Bus stops. Daycare. Work. Repeat, but in reverse.
That evening, slumped over a mountain of paperwork, I was fairly confident I was having a heart attack (another fun side-effect of parenting, for me, is crippling hypochondria). The logical part of my brain told me that my chest and back pains likely had musculoskeletal origins. But even after my husband gave me a heartfelt massage (held his phone out so I could desperately lean my throbbing shoulder blade into its corner) I was still having chest pain.
Mindfulness, Heather. Get mindful.
Lying on a heating pad, taking my pulse and planning my funeral soundtrack, I fell asleep.
The next day was Friday. Hubby would be going for a beer after work with a coworker, so I was going to have happy hour with a friend at home — just what the doctor ordered.
And it was so easy to accomplish; she just had to stall while I raced across town to cheerfully greet my five-year-old at the bus stop.
As I stood in the freezing rain, my friend called. Was I ready yet? Not quite, I just had to dart home to get my five-year-old a snack for his Defcon 2, after-school hunger, then pop back across town whence my journey began to pick up the two-year old from daycare.
At daycare, my two-year-old initiated this adorable ritual he does upon my arrival where he feigns devastation, yells, “No mommy!” and hides under the dining room table. So fun.
For the sake of my friend, probably sitting in her car somewhere, I coaxed him out of there with the promise of a Happy Meal.
Back on the road, I realized it was after 4 p.m. — my friend had been killing time since 3 p.m. The gas tank was empty. McDonald’s is on the polar opposite side of town.
My friend called. She was, indeed, standing at my front door. No problem, I just have to coast to a gas station, then hit the ring road and ride the entire perimeter of the city to grab two Happy Meals.
Once on the ring road, I floored it. I don’t use the ring road often, so I assumed I was highway-free until McDonald's.
I was accelerating when I saw the police car in the opposing lane. And through the grey and the sleet and the wipers set to “panic attack,” I saw the flashing lights.
I parked so instantaneously he barely had room to pull a U-turn behind me.
The officer — let's call him Officer Gough (because I'm pretty sure that's what his badge said) — processed my licence and gave me my first-ever speeding ticket. I found myself thanking him repeatedly.
“Slow down,” were his parting words to me.
That's it! Slow down.
Slow, the f**k, down.
All this time I’ve been racing to figure it out, rushing to be still, stressing to be calm. When all I really had to do was slow down.
It’s a simple concept but one I just wasn’t absorbing during my forced sessions with Skye.
Happy hour was rain-checked.
Mindfulness may still be an elusive concept for some of us. I’ll keep working on it. And, in the meantime, I’m slowing way down.
Maybe next time, I’ll join the toddler under the dining room table. It might be nice.
Heather Huybregts is a mother, physiotherapist, blogger (www.heatheronarock.com), wine advocate and puffin whisperer from Corner Brook. Her column appears monthly.