Anger is Part of the Process

I am really struggling with anger right now. It just seems to be bubbling under the surface, ready to jump out at any minute. I’ve had a lifetime of learning self-control, so I’m not breaking things or saying really mean things, or screaming (too much). But, I hear it in my tone of voice. The impatience, the quick snap backs at my kids. The complete lack of calm. 

 

When I get angry, for some reason or other, I always decide it’s time to clean. I just suddenly can’t handle any more mess or chaos. Then I start passing out jobs left and right and Woe to the child who complains. 

 

Yesterday we cleaned the house and the kids cleaned their bedrooms. After it was all clean, the little kids wanted to have tea in the kitchen. I stood there and watched as they spilled sugar on the table, dropped trash on the floor, spilled ice cubes on the floor from the ice machine. Spilled tea on themselves. 

 

My clean kitchen was no longer clean. I felt like I was about to burst a blood vessel. I retreated to my room. Unfortunately, the children followed me. I explained in a calm voice that I was very angry and that I had come into my room to calm down and I needed them to leave right now. My foster child decided that this was a good time to start a fight with me. Not very good timing. I ended up just leaving the house and taking a power walk around the neighborhood. 

 

And then later, when I had finally calmed down, foster child and I had a long conversation about respecting people’s space when they are angry. Understanding that anger is a normal emotion, it’s ok for people to be angry, but it’s not ok for them to hurt others when they are angry. And that everyone has to develop strategies for how they are going to handle their anger. And we need to respect those strategies. If someone asks to be alone, you let them be alone. 

 

Today, I still find myself on edge. I had the kids clean some more, but I brought a bag of gummy bears. I would give a child two gummy bears and an assignment. Eat the gummy bears and clean. Then when they were done, they would come back for the next two gummy bears and the next assignment. We managed to tidy up all the bookshelves, clean out the hall closet, put away all the winter gear into the hall closet, sort out all of our shoes, sort out all the plastic grocery bags and shopping bags and tupperware in the kitchen, clean out from under the stairs, and sweep the hall and living room. 

 

Then I ran out of gummy bears. 

 

 But then the five year old washed his hands and decided it would be fun to dry his hands on our glass back door. I again almost lost it, but instead handed him glass cleaner and paper towels and told him to get to work cleaning the door. All the little kids thought that looked fun, so they ended up cleaning the back door, then all the other glass doors, and one child even went out and cleaned windows on my van. And while they were all being industrious, I got my room cleaned up. 

 

And I’m sitting in my chair, taking a breather and I am surprised at how angry I am still feeling. 

 

Our school board has decided to start supplying work for the kids to do at home, starting next week. It isn’t mandatory. It’s supposed to be a supplemental, enrichment kind of thing to help your kids not get behind. Great. But all these resources are online. I have one computer for seven kids. Yes, I can pick up paper packets, but then we’re supposed to watch instructional videos on youtube. I have six grades that would have to be sharing our one tv to watch the youtube videos. It’s just not feasible to do this the way the school is suggesting. I will have to be super-flexible and figure out some way to make this work for our family. And I’m kind of angry about it. I don’t want to be a school teacher. 

 

We have been in our house since March 9th. I took the kids to the playground once that first week, but realized there were too many people there. We didn’t go back. The next week I tried to take the kids to a wilderness kind of place we have in town, again there were way too many people there. We didn’t go back. We have taken walks around our neighborhood and walked around a nearby park a couple times, staying away from the playground. And we have been home. I have gone grocery shopping and taken kids to the emergency room twice for genuine medical emergencies. And then one doctor’s visit this week. We go and pick up the free meals that are being passed out at our school and my kids all wave enthusiastically at the teachers and staff that are standing in front of the school. And that’s it. Those are our social interactions. 

 

I miss people. I miss church. I miss hugs from friends. I miss teaching piano lessons. I miss all the self-care rituals I have set up so that I can do this humongous job of having a large family. 

 

And I’m angry that I’m having to completely re-work my life. Come up with completely new rituals. New survival methods. New routines. New schedules. New parenting methods. 

 

And then I have to remember what I told my foster child yesterday. Anger is normal. It’s ok to be angry. It’s something we have to process. If we don’t process it, and instead try to ignore it or stuff it down, it’s just going to pop up again later. We just need to come up with healthy ways of processing it. Make sure that we aren’t hurting others or ourselves with our anger. Find ways to help ourselves calm down. 

 

Me, I need alone space. I need to read scripture and spend time praying. I need music. I need my home to be clean. And mostly, I just need time. Eventually, I hope to be in a place of acceptance. This is the new normal. Accept it, embrace it and start looking at ways to make life good where we are at. Here at home. But, I’m not quite there yet. I’m still simmering a little. And that’s ok. 

Renewing My Mind

It’s been a long day. I’ve been up since 6:30 am. The kids were home today on their fourth day of “flood-cation”. Today we cleaned bedrooms, had devotions, played scrabble, read science books, watched educational tv shows, went to the Children’s museum, did laundry, washed dishes, cleaned up the house, drove my daughter to work,  made supper, cleaned up from supper, finished getting the laundry (including the socks!) folded and put away, dealt with numerous discipline issues, comforted crying babies, resolved fights, and now, I am trying to get everyone to sleep. (Did I mention somewhere in that list, breaking up a spontaneous rollerskating party that occurred inside the house while I was in the shower?)

 

Despite all the chaos and busyness, and despite the fact that there were numerous times when I felt the need to mutter under my breath, “Lord, I can’t do this!!” , it still felt like a good day. I think that has to do with some changes that have been going on in my thought process. 

 

As God has walked me through a healing process over the last couple years, I have been noticing the difference that it has had on how I think and what I think about. When I try to revisit old thought patterns, I find that they no longer satisfy me, they no longer hold my attention. When I try to revisit old stories that I used to weave in my mind, I now find that these stories no longer hold any interest for me. It’s like, they served a purpose, that purpose is no longer needed, and so they are useless. It’s almost been a bit comical. I will be sitting quietly and my thoughts will start to wander and then suddenly it’s like I’ve hit a brick wall. I don’t know what to think about. While it’s bewildering, it’s also freeing. Looking back, I can see how the things I used to occupy my mind with were simply coping mechanisms for dealing with deep wounds. As those wounds have been exposed to light and have begun healing instead of festering, those coping mechanisms no longer have a hold on me either. 

 

And I have literally had to ask God, Ok, what do you want me to think about now? And he was faithful to answer. I mentioned in my last blog that I have been thinking about heaven. I’ve read several books about heaven (I forgot to mention in the last blog that I also read “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis). And now, when I find my mind at rest for a moment, my thoughts wandering, I find myself settling into curiosity. Curiosity about heaven and Jesus and the scriptures I’ve been reading. 

 

It has been a true “Renewing of the Mind”. And the awesome part is, I know that it’s not me that has been doing it. It’s been all God. I don’t have the power in myself to break off these old patterns. I don’t have the power to heal myself. I don’t have the power to change lifetime habits of thought overnight. It has truly been a miracle to watch what God has been doing in my life and my mind. 

 

All of this to say, when I have crazy days that push me to my Patience Limit and wear me out from rushing from one thing to the next, it’s still a good day. A day of thinking about God, pondering his word, feeling his presence as I go about the day. Romans 12:2 says:

 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

 

I am basking in the wonder of being transformed by the renewing of my mind. 

 

And that’s made it a good day. 

 

The Art of Mental Health

I’ve been thinking some about mental health. Our family has been going through a lot of big transitions these last couple weeks as my kids have all started back to school. My oldest son is getting ready to head off to Montana for a year, my oldest daughter is home for a quick visit after her summer in Alaska and then she heads back to Alaska for another year. 

Trying to adjust to a new schedule, new routines, new family dynamics, has been exhausting. My body’s response to lots of stress and change is to kick in the insomnia. So, lately, somewhere around 3am, I wake up and can’t go back to sleep for hours. I think I probably could go back to sleep easier if my thoughts would just stop. Racing thoughts. Anxious thoughts. Little worries that quickly turn into life-threatening tragedies. And I’m laying there just wishing my brain would shut up and go to sleep. 

I have been fighting anxiety and panic attacks since I was nineteen years old. I’ve learned some things over the years. When I’m in a full-blown panic attack I find that reciting my Creed of Beliefs out loud helps things to calm down. Writing down all the things I’m afraid of and then writing on top of those things scriptures where God has promised to take care of these particular worries is also a big thing I can do. But usually my anxiety doesn’t reach those levels. Usually I can keep it under control. 

It was only this week that I connected some dots with my behavior. I suddenly realized that some of my life-long habits are actually ways of controlling anxiety. This week I have been carrying around a book of Sudoku puzzles (very fun math puzzles!). When I’m sitting in a room with all my kids clamoring around me, telling me about their days at school, playing with each other, asking for me to watch them do a trick or look at this picture they colored, I sit there and work on my Sudoku puzzles. Whenever they want my attention I look up and give it to them, but as soon as they’ve moved on, I go back to my puzzle. So, this week, I suddenly realized that when I’m doing Sudoku all my racing thoughts go on pause. It’s like, somehow, doing Sudoku uses enough brain power that it distracts those thoughts, but I can still listen to the conversations around me. 

After this major AH-HAH moment, I started wondering what else I do that has the same effect. Playing the piano definitely does that, though it takes too much brain power to be able to still listen to other people in the room. But playing Bach is kind of like pouring soothing oil on a raw wound. It creates order out of chaos. 

Reading books is also a huge one. I have been a bookworm since I was in Second Grade. But, I can read a book in the room with my family and still hear what’s going on around me, and stop reading and engage and then go back to reading. 

Then there are the times when I can’t do these activities because I’m driving or in a meeting or some other place where those things would be frowned upon. Well, then I usually have some story that I’m creating in my head and I run the story in my mind, kind of like a movie, making it up as I go along. 

I’ve always thought I was a little weird. Why do I do these things? I have to admit, realizing that these habits are actually ways that I manage anxiety is actually a bit of a relief. I feel like instead of being a bit weird and anti-social, I have actually just stumbled on ways of being a bit more mentally healthy. And it didn’t involve any illegal substances or harmful practices. Yay! 

Of course, it would be nice if those racing thoughts would just stop. And I find that I engage less in my Habits when I’m doing well spiritually, physically, mentally. But, I’ve also discovered that I can’t control everything that happens in life. Sometimes I have lots of time and energy to focus on being healthy. But other times life starts throwing a bunch of curve balls and instead of “living victoriously” it’s more like holding on to the roller coaster with an icy grip and just waiting for those big flips and turns to be over before you hit another straight stretch. 

I thank God for his mercy and grace that helps me to soar high, living the Great Life. And I thank God for his mercy and grace that helps me to just hang on and survive when life is hard. And I’m thankful for the coping mechanisms he’s helped me to find without my even realizing it.