2:42 am, aka, the time when The Worst Thing That Could Possibly Happens shares airtime with The Meanest Thing I Could Ever Say.
I cannot unwind. I feel broken. My body thrums with unwanted energy, the low-grade adrenaline and anxiety that I’ve grown so tired of this past year, the flooding that seems to have escalated recently. These past two weeks have exposed me as an erratic, volatile freak: impossibly tightly wound and yet completely unhinged all at once. I am a bundle of contradictions; a parade of mixed metaphors.
We are supposed to be happier and more relaxed now that “life is getting back to normal/the world is opening up,” and in some ways, I do feel better. I am moving my body a little more, having returned to teaching music class in person, either masked or outdoors, a few days a week for the past month. Of course, this movement, though happily resulting in a releasing of a few pounds of the pandemic fifteen I’ve accumulated, has also irritated my increasingly sedentary low back.
Yes, I have a purpose again, I smile more—one of my colleagues even noted that I exuded joy, possibly my favorite compliment of all time—and yet I am a frazzled, exhausted wreck. Dropping two children off at two different times, getting myself to work where I remember how to be a music teacher for the first time in fifteen months, retrieving said children at two even less aligning times, and trying to cram 52 tasks into the resulting smattering of 30-45 minute increments has left me, mmm, how shall I say this? Completely fucked. And it’s no wonder.
We let ourselves unspool for over a year (true, we had no choice, but), allowing our fear and messiness to wildly vine around us and force out the roots of our structured, scheduled lives, and now that we are cautiously tiptoeing back into civilization, I feel the whiplash of a pendulum swing I’m not sure I’m ready for. So yes, it makes sense that I’m a disaster, or —to paraphrase the Zoom name of my favorite music class dad before he had time to change it from whatever his previous, clearly more hilarious meeting had been—a “garlic sauce garbage fire.”
But here’s the thing: the era of ten hours of sleep every night, being emotionally and physically splayed out on the living room floor, retreating to Camp Couch, leaving painted rocks by the trail, and 1990s movie marathons has ended. It’s time to rebuild. And it’s not going to happen overnight.
I wrote this Facebook post in early March, during one of the most pivotal pandemic transitions my family has encountered:
I haven’t posted about this yet because it’s been a whirlwind of feelings I’m still processing. On Monday my 4th grader went back to school in the classroom for the first time in 353 days. It was a big deal. And so very complicated. She had been remote for the first two-thirds of the year, which was our choice, as I’m high risk and we just didn’t really know what was going to happen with schools.
By the third trimester, elementary schools have been doing a great job with safety, the data shows that schools haven’t really been spreading the virus due to safety protocol, and also, I’ve had my first vaccine (!!!) and her anxiety was just getting out of control. She wanted to be back at school so very badly. She needed the normalcy, routine, and grounding. So we decided to send her back.I think it was the right move at the right time, but it was a HARD choice and emotional transition. We’ve had this lovely little pod with one other pal for learning this school year– twice a week, switching houses, they do school together. Saying goodbye to that was really sad. It was anxiety provoking for us to have her go back after so much time at home.Last March, we had just come off our own highly stressful year with a house flood and broken arm, and remote school was a trainwreck for my younger daughter. She fell apart every single day and I thought, “You know, maybe being home for a while will give her a chance to let all those feelings out, and give her a safe place to unravel.”In the emotional shitstorm leading up to her return to the classroom Monday (including meltdowns right up until the last minute, despite her avid desire to return to school), I worried she would fall apart at school. But as we watched her walk in a few days ago, my husband reminded me that home is a safe place to be a hot mess; at school she would have to get it together.And so I fervently hoped that, while maybe the last year was a good opportunity for her to unravel, it’s time to freaking RAVEL now. To get it back together. To tiptoe back to normal, cautiously and hopefully.
My daughter spent most of last spring losing her ever-loving bananas. She unraveled like nobody’s business. She needed to. It was time to unravel. And thankfully, going back to school and also working with some really fantastic professionals has helped her slowly spool herself back to center. Meltdowns still happen, but recovery is quicker. She is still emotional, but also more resilient. She’s gained perspective and the ability to regulate herself.
And friends, I think it’s time for me to ravel again, too.
Sometimes we have to give in to the mess of feelings, the internal protests, the flailing about of our stressed-out nervous systems. But I’m ready to find my feet under me again. I’m ready to slow the pulse back down, to breathe more deeply and slowly. Maybe the end of this school year (along with a break from working for a while) will help give my girls and me a chance for a firm reset. (Here’s hoping).
The unraveling served us: to ignore it would have been careless. I’m not sure what the re-raveling will look like, but I know it’s going to take constant flexibility and recalibrations as we try and fail and find the Goldilocks “just right” for our optimal mental health. Saying yes to some things, no to others. Dipping toes in, retreating when it’s appropriate, sleeping, resting, moving, adventuring, processing. (sleeping some more…)
For those of us who are tightly wound, the unraveling can feel violent and jarring, and it’s so easy to go too far. We have never done this before, and the process may be messy, and it may take longer than we’d like. Here’s to finding just the right tension between being too tightly wound, and unraveling altogether. Our kids will get there, and we will, too.