While surfing the Internet last week, my daughter asked me why Britney Spears shaved her head a few years back.
"She was having a nervous breakdown," I explained.
My daughter looked at me thoughtfully. "Isn't that what you have sometimes?" she asked.
I am famous for my meltdowns. Once or twice a year I completely lose it. When I speak of "losing it," I am not talking one or two lamentable sobs plus the half-hearted toss of a hairbrush across the living room. I mean REALLY losing it. The drop-down-on-the-floor-howling-like-a-wounded-deer-limbs-flailing-tongue-wagging kind of losing it.
I am not proud of this failing of mine, namely my inability to maintain composure under pressure. It is probably my greatest character flaw. On the other hand, I have, through these bimonthly meltdowns, found a way to offload my stress. After my meltdowns I feel lighter of spirit. No one can ever accuse me of holding my feelings inside! I am an emotional open book. Still, I would like to learn to be more in control of my temper.
I consider myself, on the whole, to be incredibly resilient. I really do love my life, but sometimes it all becomes a bit much for me, and this is when I break. I suppose you could calI me the "Britney Spears of Special Needs Parenting," except that I am way too vain to ever consider shaving my head; my husband, after all, teases me about my conspicuously flat head.
Special needs parenting is like regular parenting on steroids. When you enter our home, it often feels like you are entering an IMAX version of the kind of bland "familial cinema verité" that unfolds in most "normal" households. OCD, sleep deprivation, the misreading of social cues, severe exam anxiety; these are just a few of the different psychosocial ingredients that contribute to the rich and fragrant brew that, when combined with the raging hormones and ordinary angst of being a teenager, flavors our household.
I want to learn to control my temper better. Despite the fact that I recently turned 50, I have not become complacent, and am still bent on self-improvement. Here are some of the healthy things that I am finding help me to some extent to manage the stress that comes from the intense interactions and dynamics of our special needs household:
Books are the most wonderful escape. I hate people who say they have no time to read. I read on the bus, while waiting for the next free teller at the bank and by the stove as I am stirring my husband's morning porridge. There is ALWAYS time to read. I particularly like grotesque and apocalyptic fiction that makes my own life seem seamless and humdrum.
My four weekly visits to the gym are great for stress reduction. I can feel my serotonin levels surge as I navigate my way through a punishing hour of planks, cross training, spinning and leg extensions. I love the camaraderie at my gym, the steady flow of light-hearted banter among gym members and trainers alike. I always leave the gym with a smile on my face.
Writing is cathartic. It is reflective, solitary and creative. When I sit down at my computer screen with a cup of Earl Grey I feel serene and in control.
My mother long ago taught me the benefits of the nightly tipple. I no longer drink red wine as it transforms me into an uncanny hybrid of Courtney Love and Charlie Sheen.
Life without humur would be a very dark place. Nothing is sacred in our household. Toilet talk, off-color jokes, acerbic imitations and affectionate teasing--all of these are useful vehicles for stress diffusion. Respectful irreverence is our modus operandi.
My friends uplift me and nourish me with their wit, intelligence and constancy. My husband's complete understanding of me, his acceptance of my many flaws and embracing of my virtues sustains me. And my children? I hope they will forgive me for my shortcomings, my temper tantrums and door slamming. Thank God I'm a good cook.