Home Remedies for Anxiety

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Photo Credit: Robyn Lang (c). Used with permission. 

In some things it turns out that the stereotypes are true.

I have been experiencing a lot of anxiety lately. There is the end of semester build up, compounded with my husband’s new job which has thrown our previous schedule for a loop and for a few weeks in there, our babysitter was in America.

I wanted to share a few things that have been working for me.

  1. Breathing
  2. Sharing “stresses” with my husband
  3. Being really really there when I am spending time with my son.

It turns out, breathing is something you can do everywhere. It’s actually amazing. The trick is, turning off the part of the brain that notices your mind has been wandering away and makes remarks like “oh, I knew you wouldn’t be able to focus on that for more than a minute.” That’s the hard part. I have found that if I can just give myself permission to be kind to myself, and tell those mean brain voices that it’s okay and they can have a hug or whatever it is they need, the breathing really, really helps.

John Gottman in his book Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work  discusses the idea of a stress reducing conversation where couples sit together and take turns for a timed period of time, discussing any and all stressors from outside the marriage. It really works. I recommend the whole book, but this activity in and of itself I find incredibly helpful.

Finally, I get a lot of relief just using play time as a time to let myself be truly present. I think it works especially well because I have son there showing me exactly how it is done! He could be the poster boy for The Power of Now, he’s so in the moment. I find that just letting myself release whatever thoughts I am having and focus on the play and accept whatever feelings I am having without needing to control them is very healing. It also stops me from getting overwhelmed by frustration when I sing Old Macdonald for the twentieth time in a row!

It’s very much a work in progress, just like I am. I wanted to share these ideas because they helped me, but I am equally excited to learn more things that can help one achieve calm during the busy seasons of life.

Baby Life, Toddler Life.

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Photo Credit: Robyn Lang (c). Used with permission. 

I have been musing over the last few months about a particular aspect of my parenting journey. Namely, how difficult it is to spend the day interacting with an adorable, yet volatile toddler who is prone to be a danger to himself and others right at the moment when I am trying to take the pasta off the stove or use the bathroom. My dad told me that this age, around one and a half to two is “kid heaven” and that they never get cuter. I am inclined to agree. Watching my son stomp around the house, declaiming profoundly in his 15-or-so word vocabulary and pulling me over to a chair to nurse is basically adorable.

However, on the other side, I am exhausted and the constant vigilance his care demands (especially now that he has learned to climb!!!) wears me down. It has suddenly hit me that mothering my son at this age is a LOT harder than it ever has been, even when he was a newborn.

I think part of the difficulty has been adjusting my expectations of what it’s possible to do with my son in tow.

A baby, after all , when they are nursed on demand, carried in a baby carrier and nursed in a baby carrier is basically portable. I took my son to university with me throughout the last year of my masters from when he was three weeks old to when he was 9 months or so. It was pretty tricky but mostly because of the long bus rides to get there. Nonetheless, we always had everything he needed (basically just nappies and me and a nursing-friendly top) and if he started disrupting the class I could usually just nurse him. I ended up getting a baby sitter to watch him while I was in class during the second semester, and so long as she pushed him around in the stroller and showed him interesting things and called me to duck out of class whenever he wanted to nurse he was A-OK.

I got used to doing everything with him and I learned to do an amazing number of things with him latched on: cooking dinner, negotiating with the bank, having interviews with potential thesis supervisors, listening to online classes…. and that’s just what I remember.

But now things are different. My little boy has a will of his own and it includes things beyond me. Whilst it’s clear that I am still in a lot of ways the centre of his universe and if possible he’d like to do everything with me close by, he has started needing a lot of time outside and he needs to walk around and explore freely, so going to a shop and expecting him to sit still in the stroller or the carrier isn’t as simple. We need to bring food and water because nursing alone isn’t going to satisfy his hunger these days. He loves playing with little friends (and their stuff!) so we have to find them and go to park days and friends houses. Sitting inside playing with toys or whatever of our household goods I have to hand just wont do it for him anymore.

In short, caring for him has become something that demands a lot more of my creativity and effort than it did previously. He wants things I can’t give him (like huge sharp knives) and those situations need to be defused with cunning political skill. He wants to be involved in what I am doing and I have do devise safe but satisfactory ways for him to do that. He wants to sing Old MacDonald for ten minutes straight and I have to wrack my brain for whatever sound a goose makes – which, for the record, I think is HONK.

It’s fun but it’s tiring and I am beginning to find my previous arrangement as a work at home mum doesn’t seem to be working out. I feel constantly behind on my thesis, even despite my writing productivity boost. I am having a hard time keeping up with my research job. I feel constantly behind and it feeds a gnawing pit of anxiety that makes it hard to be really present with my son.

The reason I thought this was so interesting is that I think that popularly, children are portrayed as beginning life completely dependent and then gradually becoming more and more independent. Whilst a newborn does have intense dependencies, I found them easier to work with. Firstly, I was expecting it and gave myself a long and well planned do-nothing period following my birth. Secondly, the needs of a newborn were in my experience simple. So long as I nursed when he wanted it and carried him around everywhere he seemed completely contented.

I think it’s popular to say, and my experience has taught me that life has seasons, the semester is over in another six weeks and I will have both the opportunity to take a breather and also devote some good thinking and strategising to the question of how I can keep making this work as my little boy needs more and more of me.

 

Happiness and Consumerism – Coming to Terms with my Financial Reality

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Photo Credit: Robyn Lang (c). Used with permission.

Apologies that this post is a little late. It has been a bit of a difficult week. My husband started a new job that has a lot more hours and travel time involved. Whilst this is something that we have both been hoping for, it has called for some big changes in how we organise our days and in particular who is looking after Yitzhak and when. So far the dust hasn’t really settled yet. Right now I have that knotty feeling in my stomach that not enough of anything is getting done and it’s taking all my strength just to try and stay present and breath.

So that’s enough of an update.

I wanted to write about money. I have been listening to the podcast Budgets and Cents with Cait Flanders and Carrie Smith and also checking out Cait Flanders (formerly known as “Blonde on a Budget”)’s blog.

On the blog and in the podcast, Cait raises some really interesting questions about what money means to us in our lives. In particular, what spending means in our lives.

For me this has really been an opportunity to confront some of my issues in this area and unfortunately, it’s just not pretty.

In my family, money seemed to grow somewhere in the backyard behind the bird’s bath. Whilst, especially in my younger childhood, I was aware of times when money was tighter, by the time I was older, money seemed to be something we had and could use whenever the need or desire was pressing enough. If I could characterise the spending ethos in our home it was something like, if you need it, you should buy it. Whilst my parents generally seemed to focus on buying only that which they needed, “need” could be pretty loosely defined and included things like “needing” to go out to dinner to celebrate. They also instilled in me the value of good taste and the idea that it’s better to spend more and buy one item that will last a long time and serve you well, than to buy a cheap version that will invariably have to be replaced. We didn’t seem to spend much time doing consumer research and it didn’t seem like we needed to. This is in no way intended to knock my parents spending style, some of my happiest memories with my parents were in restaurants enjoying luxurious food or going “luxury shopping” at the local mall.

Working in politics, I took this and ran with it. I remember always having a lot of disposable income for whatever I “needed.” What I needed was new designer clothes, petrol for my car, heaps of restaurant or take-out food (I had no time to cook, and besides, there were friends to be won and people to be influenced at the various bars, restaurants and haunts of the Party), rental properties in inner city neighbourhoods, and literally hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars worth of alcohol.. But whenever something happened, like the car insurance was due when I wasn’t expecting it (and I was never expecting it) or I crashed my car (as happened more than once if I remember correctly) – I never had money on hand to deal with it. It was like it had all disappeared.

These days, my financial life couldn’t be more different. The simple fact is, that I am by choice neither a minimalist or frugal, although these are cute labels to help me feel a little more trendy. The fact is that we don’t have a tonne of money. We live in a pretty small place – although as I find out when I listen to American podcasts, “small” is a very relative thing and by some definitions our home is tiny. Luxurious dinners out are distant memories, clothing purchases are always guilty occasions and it seems that because of our budget and the high costs here, everything I buy is so poor quality that it just doesn’t last or look good for more than a few months. We eat a frugal, vegan diet. We often go without things that I didn’t even know it was possible to go without – like moisturising lotion and snack foods. We are absolute pros at making a delicious and interesting range of foods from dried beans, chickpeas and lentils.

There’s a combination of factors at work here that brought about this change. The standard of living is not as high in Israel as it is in Australia. Pay is low and things are expensive. That is just part of life here. Also, I have traded my place as a child of the Australian upper-middle class with cultural capital to spare for that of an immigrant without full language proficiency or family and social networks. Most of the people in my new social networks are also immigrants. I am also a mother now, which has significant financial consequences. Finally, I am a PhD student which seems to basically mean poverty regardless of where you live.

However, regardless of the causes, the simple fact is that in my life in Israel I just don’t have the options for consumer fun that I had when I was in Australia. When I first got to Israel, ablaze with spiritual fire and having just finished an honours thesis on the evils of consumerism, the opportunity to live a simple life dedicated to the important things like the pursuit of meaning, relationship with the Divine and growing a family, really appealed to me and I thought that I would never need anything more than a black skirt and a couple of polo shirts again. But slowly the enthusiasm faded.

Over the last year or so, I started shopping for clothes again and became more and more concerned with my appearance. Having a home – a “grown up” married people home – led me into all kinds of pressure to furnish it with respectable pieces that would demonstrate my class, taste and having-it-togetherness to all-comers. I began to think that I need to have coffee when I go to University because it makes me happy and reminds me of home. I got increasingly emotionally connected to these kinds of material things. What made it worse is that as our financial situation became more and more difficult and we didn’t have enough money sometimes even for things that I thought were absolute essentials, this was all experienced by me as an emotional blow. I lamented our situation. I blamed everything. I was in general, pretty bummed out about the whole thing.

I have come to the conclusion that what is really going on has less to do with being poor and more to do with not having learned ways of caring for myself that do not involve spending money. My idea of self care is going and sitting in a cafe or restaurant, extra points if it is one of those cafe-restaurant-bookshop places and spending a lot of money on yummy food. Or going to the mall and buying myself new things. And if I look back, that is essentially how I learned to relax and kick back in both my family and culture of origin.

Now that those options aren’t so readily available, I feel like I am living in a permanent state of deprivation. I miss those comfortable material aspects of my old life, although I know that if I was jettisoned back there, sooner or later I would have had to come to terms with my financial issues as well. I assume my parents wouldn’t have continued cleaning up my traffic fines for ever…

I guess the point of this somewhat rambly post is that I need to find new ways of relating to money.

I am considering trying a shopping ban, Cait Flanders style. I can imagine there being tremendous comfort in knowing that no matter what, anything that isn’t essential just can’t be bought. Stay tuned. I’m still thinking this one through.

A room of one’s own or, getting sick.

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Photo Credit: Robyn Lang (c). Used with permission. 

I apologise that there was no blog post last week. Once again I was stuck in bed, sick with a tonsil infection that knocked me out for a week.

Sickness is an especial time of strife in our home as my poor husband usually scrambles around trying to do the job of two parents. Sickness really reminds us we are quite alone, and that even the best friends and community in the world are no replacement for your own mummy and her “headache stories” and confident remedies. I find that times of sickness are the absolute hardest to be so far away from my family.

I imagine the ease of being able to call my mother from the same country , and ask her to pick up my son, or come spend time with us while I lay in bed.  I imagine asking my cousins for favours and knowing that they won’t judge me as needy and “not-together.” I at least won’t jeopardise my new relationship with them, I have known them all my life.

And then I wonder how much of this is fantasy. My mother is a busy deputy principal, not the full time nurse-maid of my dreams. And my cousins are probably all just as busy as I am. I am sure that life closer to my family would find a way to be just as filled with challenges, new challenges and different challenges.

It makes me realise though, the real price we pay for this millennial life where the world is so tiny and we can spread out all over it, and make new friends and live in interesting places and Skype back home like it’s nothing. I like it. In many ways, it works brilliantly for us. We have an independence here that is really splendid. We choose our friends, we make our life, we set out schedules and plans – how we want it. It sounds bratty as I write it, but for both of us this freedom has catalysed such intense inner searching and work that I can’t but think it is a very meaningful and good thing. I don’t necessarily want to live in a world where freedom is limited. I read a tonne of historical novels over the week I was sick, and in ages past, big, close families were very in and self-determination was decidedly out. In many ways, and I think of this often as I navigate my religious observance, the price of being part of a tradition and a community is giving up some of your choices together. Every real community I have been part of, even the political party I was a member of, was forged on that idea, that we are in this together because we are giving up the alternative together. Without that, it’s really just a interest-based swarm.

In my independent life, I have the convenience of not answering to my whole family for my choices, but I also have the inconvenience of often finding for myself that the price of having a room of one’s own is being alone in it.