***May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This month is also the two year mark since my son’s graduation from high school. It was a stormy time. He was changing, going through some crises, and caused an awful lot of worry in me. I don’t think I always handled it well. But I am learning and growing, working on my mindset and ways of thinking. I previously wrote this elsewhere, and would like to share. This is my story to tell. One day, he will process the events in his life, and tell his own story.***
~2014~”Nothing is good or bad, but that thinking makes it so.” This quote by Shakespeare sums up a lot of my lessons learned from life. A break-up with a boyfriend, a change of schools, a dad who saw me once a year from age ten on. A mom trying to keep it all together for her two kids and not always hiding it well. An outwardly gregarious husband (now known as “the ex”) who was loved by everyone when he drank, except me.
Yes, so much has made me strong and laid the groundwork for the life of an independent woman. Let’s look at some of these words and how simply the spin we put on them makes the world of difference: strong. Known to some as harsh. Bitter. Tough. I have been called some of those, simply when someone did not like what I was saying. It is all in perception. I have been tired of being strong. It is all in how you see it. Now, independent. Called, by some, lonely. Alone. Self-centered. Sad (well that’s just interpretation). Wait, let me take self-centered and put it in a neutral category. There are sometimes when that is not bad at all! Self-centeredness is only bad if you think it is. Thank you, Shakespeare! Sure, it can be selfish, but other times, it is simply knowing oneself and it is powerful. When you are way too centered on others you cannot know yourself too well. In fact, you can easily lose yourself. This brings me to the subject of WORRYING.
Sure, these events were all only two weeks ago. But a lot has changed since then. I have been given the gift of loneliness, self-reflection, and time to be self-centered since my son went out of state to work for the summer. It was a tough transition at first. Now I feel that I can say I am getting there. It is nice to wake up in the morning and think “What do I want to do today?” Or to know that if I am going to the beach, I will stay as long as I want, and if I want to silently watch the waves and passersby, I will do that as long as I want until I feel hungry or tired. Not until someone else says, “Mom, let’s go. I’m hungry.” So, while there have been more things to worry about, such as, how he gets along with me ex, accidents at his job, his decisions regarding school in the fall, I am learning to worry less.
I have thought a lot about the power and the effects of worrying in the last few months. My son became argumentative, turned 18, didn’t like being told what to do. Got a $200 speeding ticket in MY car, while I was at his side warning him repeatedly. He was starting to hang with the wrong crowd and some bad habits were involved, some flirting with danger, even. He had one crisis that resulted in an ER visit. I did not like comments I found on his instant messages. But I raised him well…..says every good parent. Doesn’t matter. At some point they do things because we told them not to. Turning 18 brought some bad attitudes back in him. Luckily, he did get all his credits and was eligible to graduate. We won’t talk about the dual enrollment class he blew off….because he “didn’t need it to graduate.” He walked away from school and blew off the last day of classes which could have brought up two grades for him. I kept telling him to get a job and he kept saying, “I have a headache,” “I’m too stressed, let me wait until after graduation,” or the best, most annoying: “You can’t push me. It’s not motivating me.” Needless to say I worried a lot. Sometimes in arguments, he would say, “I’m not going to the graduation.” This was after I had sent out invitations and had family members making travel arrangements to be here for the event. Such emotional blackmail. He’d say that because he was tired of me getting after him about a job, cleaning his room, etc. The last few weeks he was here, I disapproved of his laptop addiction, and dropped it off at my boyfriend’s house. That was a little bit of worry off my shoulders. All this worrying was stressful. It made me tightly wound and sometimes I felt ready to explode. But what I did was more like imploding. I made forgetful mistakes, totally air-headed blunders that co-workers noticed (harmless, I swear!). I obviously needed a rest. I was worrying too much about what would happen, based on the things that had gone wrong in the preceding weeks. Yet, all that had gone wrong was a learning experience, and actually could have been good. It all depends on how you looked at it. I saw the negative, and feared more bad things to come.
I knew I would be so much better once the graduation actually happened. Yes, I got sick of my son, leading up to the event, but there was no way we would miss this culmination of so much hard work, frustration, and persistence…..on both our parts. Of course, he did Senior year all on his own. No tutors, no after school sessions. He did it. I always, unfailingly, told him he could do it. I deserved this celebration as much as he did. For him not to go to graduation would have hurt me deeply.
The day of graduation was intense and left lots of doors open for worry and anxiety. My father and brother were on the road and I’d have to meet them an hour before my son was due at the graduation venue, as they did not have the official entrance tickets yet. My ex-husband was here the night before and it was decided he would take my son to the “required” rehearsal that morning, downtown. One less thing off my plate. Instead of showing up at our house at 8 am as requested, he showed at 8:20. Stood outside talking to the neighbor in Spanish for 5-10 minutes. I respect our neighbor and chose not to interrupt. It gave my son time to find his socks and shoes. Still, a nagging worked at the back of my mind. Rehearsal time was 9 am. A graduate memo had stated doors would be locked at 9:20 and no one could enter after that. And this blasted man, that I used to be married to, was taking his sweet time. I finally opened the front door and just stood there. He finally came to the door and collected our son then left. My worry was working up a storm in my mind. Would they make it on time? There was nothing, nothing I could do about it now. So I was worrying. Worrying is probably defined, somewhere, as our attempt to control things or people that we CANNOT control or change. We just don’t want to give it up. Let me tell you, over the years, this inward storm of worry has caused emotional and physical havoc in me. I know this.
There is a writer I have just started reading; his name is Greg Braden, who writes about God, spirituality, and Science. The book is called The Divine Matrix. In the first chapter, he discusses other researchers and scientists and their theory that consciousness works on the ebb and flow of the whole universe and nature. Not that humans control it all, but we are part of it, as we have consciousness. So do animals, plants, all living things. He also says we are all part of one ebb and flow. Amazing, huh? In addition, he says that our consciousness causes living things to respond. I am seriously buying into this. Here is the problem I see. They do not always respond as we want them to. Hence, the destructive property of worry. Worry is so repetitive and seems to pick up power the more you entertain it. It has turned inward on me and caused anxiety, digestive issues, back and neck pain, etc., etc. Do you know how many illnesses are stress-related? If you are a teacher I am sure you have a good idea…..
So if our consciousness causes other people or living things to respond, and they do not respond as we wished, this can be very dangerous. Worrying never changed how another person reacted in my life. It only turned my intense concentration inward, and therein lies the power of negative thinking. Telling my teenager that he worried me only made him more intent on getting out of my house, finding his freedom, oh, and on not listening to me. Teens don’t like guilt. Who does, anyway? I have developed a theory ( probably already proposed by someone more important), that intense worry, when you really focus on it and give in to it, can really cause damage. It may not make the thing happen that you worried over, but it is going to damage the thinker. That is one disastrous possibility. And a part of me thinks that this storm in my mind may cause something else undesirable to happen. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies. But if damaging my mental state is the only negative outcome, that is still bad enough. As the writer says, consciousness affects the world around us. Our consciousness,is in many ways, our perception of the things around us. Which reminds me of perceiving the proverbial glass as either half-empty, or half-full. I’ve lived with worry all my life. When I was 20, my dad went in to AA for a drinking problem I only remembered when looking back. He took me to some meetings. I learned a lot from that. I also learned that worrying over someone else’s problem isn’t good for anyone, nor will it solve it. It interferes with your own growth as a person. I have known this a long time. Yet I still worry, and I constantly fight against it.
So there I was, 9 am the day of the graduation. Lying still on the floor. Taking deep breaths. I was incapable of doing anything else. I had to calm down. I knew I was too worried. Got a call from my ex. “Traffic is really bad. What time did you say they lock the doors?”
“At 9:20. Just GET him there! And call me when you all are there.” That gave me twenty more minutes to worry about this one little start of the day. Or to work on not worrying. Without rehearsal he could not attend graduation. But I had to stop thinking about that. Deep breaths, some stretching. I also said a few prayers…for them to get there safely, for my sanity. I had so many things to do that day. Looked out the window at the plants outside. Did NOT look at the clock. (That was hard). Lots of deep breaths. Never did I holler “Serenity Now!” In hindsight, that may have helped. 🙂 I did not want to go crazy with worry. I wanted the strength and clarity to face my day.
I finally got the call that they had made it! I was so relieved. So glad I had relaxed, and ready to go conquer the first thing on my to-do list. The day continued to test me. My ex called about the hotel he wanted to stay in, the same hotel my dad had made reservations at. It was closed due to water damage. My dad was still on the road and when he tried to call, they did not answer. I went and got my hair done anyway, then swung over there to see them personally. I put them on the phone with him and they arranged something at another hotel. I did not lose my temper with them. Maybe he did; I actually hope so. Then, I was informed my son needed a black tie 10 minutes before time to leave and get him to the Veteran’s Arena. I was not going to the mall. “A Goodwill tie will have to be good enough,” I said. (Thanks for telling me at the last minute!) Well, Goodwill saved the day for $3.20! We made it, a little late, but he wasn’t the latest. All of my son’s and my loved ones made it there eventually; at least I was on time. Giddy with excitement, I made my dad and my boyfriend laugh at me. Mom was giddy too, so we tried sign language instead of our loud, nervous, geeky excitement. My son got his diploma, wearing the ROTC stole and a cord indicating “College Ready.” This moment, all two hours of the program, was nothing but good, and it was worth all the hassle of the day. All of which I could handle only because I started the day by letting the worry go. I later told my dad what a stressful day it was. In typical form, he says, “What was so stressful?” I wanted to feel frustrated at that, you know, the lack of empathy, but I wasn’t going to let that upset my day. So I changed my stance. It had been a wonderful day; my son had graduated and we were surrounded by family. I smiled, and said, “Dad, today I solved every problem that came across my plate.” You see, it truly was a wonderful day.