On Being a Witness

I’m living an introvert’s dream right now. I quit my job, moved a million miles from home, and interact with people mostly at predetermined times via video chat or text. In some ways it’s great, because all of my anxiety about getting kids out the door and to a place on time has disappeared overnight. Nobody needs to wear pants for Gchat, you know? One of my biggest flaws-of which there are many, trust me- is letting people down. I can’t let you down if you can’t find me! 

Of course, that’s a candy coated version of things. As annoying as unannounced visits are, I wouldn’t totally mind one right now from a familiar face. It was really nice to be able to go home and visit for a few weeks- definitely an unexpected vacation and exactly what I needed. I drive myself a little crazy if left to my own devices for too long., 

People kept remarking on my calmness when I was home- this is not something that’s ever happened to me. I’m never calm. I may be quiet, especially in larger groups, but I’m never actually calm. I think all this time away from my (former) everyday life, and the stressors that came with it, has done some good for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still raise my voice with my kids way more than I’d like to admit, but I’m no longer seconds away from imploding every waking moment. Thoughts like, “What will they think?” or “God this is so embarrassing” don’t really cross my mind anymore when my kids are, well, behaving like kids. This is mainly because there’s nobody around to “mold” my children for. When there are people around, like when we’re in the grocery store or if a relative of Rob’s is over our house (which to be honest has only happened three times total) I’ve found that I’m more able to roll with it and see these little moments in our day as part of something larger. 

When I was working full time I tried to squeeze as much as I could into the last hours of the day- all the bonding, parenting, disciplining, crafting, teaching and snuggling that I felt I was missing out on during the rest of the day. I was really only setting myself up to fail. Even while I was unemployed and still living in Massachusetts, before we moved, I was still a ball of stress- trying to figure out our days and plan everything in a way that would somehow make everything feel right. I looked at being a stay-at-home-mom as a job, with measurable results and a task list that I measured myself against. Once again, setting myself up to fail. We were constantly stressed about money, Rob was still working most of the day and late into the night. I had no idea what to do with myself and my kids and would waste so much time preparing activities and cleaning and cooking “for fun” and trying to force…something. 

We moved here to Texas just as summer was starting. I found out I was pregnant again. I was nauseated and groggy and homesick and trying to put a house together and get my bearings and something had to give. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to consciously hold your breath, your body will take over and force itself to breathe. Much in the same way, my mind took me over and forced me into stillness. I’ve always struggled with anxiety, and anyone with anxiety will tell you that depression lurks beneath that. With all the drastic changes in my life, both the chaos that comes with a cross country move and the hormonal roller coaster of pregnancy, I easily slipped into a bout of depression that I’m still working my way out of. It certainly didn’t help matters that I stopped taking my daily medication for depression and ADD- due in part to the pregnancy and in part to health insurance issues. It was the imperfect storm.

So I’ve spent these past months in near solitude, thinking, thinking, thinking. Sometimes wallowing, sometimes reflecting, sometimes raging. Sometimes nothing. It would be irresponsible to label mental illness as a good thing, but the perspective one can gain when one is slowly emerging from a rabbit hole can be beneficial. It has been in the past for me, and this time around it’s happened again. I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be, but I’m getting better. I’m gentler with myself, with my kids, with my life. I’m realizing that doing things doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve accomplished anything, and at the same time that by not doing things I can accomplish a whole lot. 

I’ve spent a good bit of time trolling around the internet during this quiet summer. There’s never any shortage of news or outrage or tragedy, lately it seems like the world is barreling toward something more awful than we can imagine at a breakneck pace. Have things always been this bad? Is it just that we know more now because of the internet? Isn’t it worse then, that we are so connected and aware and still totally incapable of saving humanity from itself? All summer I’ve been reading articles and commentary and “liking” things (as if that’s an action in itself?) and I’ve been doing the strangest thing- I’ll start writing a comment or response or even a blog post, paragraphs of text even, and then I just delete it and close my computer and walk away. There’s a voice inside inside of me that stops me in my Clever Internet Commentator tracks and just quiets my mind again. ‘Shush now’ I seem to be telling myself ‘You’re still observing. You’re still in hiding.’

Even if I were to just write whatever the hell on a random think piece on Ferguson, or respond to a fellow mom’s questions about breastfeeding in public, or craft some clever response to an article about climate change it wouldn’t actually do anything or mean anything. I knew that already, but it never stopped me before when I had something to say. I still have plenty to say, but I’m a weird new place where my only job is listening and learning. 

In one conversation, or maybe it was something she wrote down and I read once, a friend told me that there is something powerful in bearing witness. I heard what she said at the time, thinking she was being kind and letting me off the hook for some inaction or inability to speak, but I never really let it resonate with me until recently. There is something powerful in bearing witness. I have not escaped the feeling that I ought to be doing more, whether it’s more for social justice or more cooking from scratch or more to end (me, personally!) global warming and the crisis in Iraq and Gaza or more crafts and lesson plans for my kids who just want to play. No, I have not escaped that feeling, I don’t think I ever will. I don’t think that’s really a bad thing either. 

I’ve just made room for bearing witness. I’ve let myself see, and only see, the world unfolding around me. Instead of being paralyzed by my guilt and inaction, I’m just letting my role be that of a quiet observer. I’ve learned more about myself in these past few months than I ever have by reading self help books or parenting blogs or signing petitions or lending my voice to a cacophony of other voices with smarter and more eloquent things to say than I ever did. There is more to be accomplished by sitting still and listening, more forgiveness and compassion in that small action, both for myself and for everyone else, than I ever knew. 

If you have the time, I really recommend sitting on your couch and doing nothing for a few weeks. It might feel terrible at first but that gives way to some pretty OK feelings. And then magically your writer’s block might be lifted. I don’t want to scare it back into hiding by saying anything more, but you may have noticed that I’ve just written quite a few words and only deleted a quarter of what I wanted to say. 


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