I have been swung by my moods ever since I can remember. Even as a child I was struck by the infrequent highs and the more common lows. Each mood pinched me like a currently popular article of clothing. A pretty shirt that everybody coveted but somehow mine was the wrong material and size.
Not quite right.
I learned to wait out the lows by anticipating the highs, knowing I was going to feel so much better soon. Unlike the highs, being down was easier to accept. I felt warm and safe and could relax and feel comfortable within my discomfort. My bad moods surrounded me like a protective blanket while the good times were actually physically painful. I could not control my movements or focus my energy. Of course, I couldn’t recognize those elated times without the down times, much less appreciate them. And I did value those states of euphoria, being sure not to take them for granted. I knew I didn’t want to feel that good all of the time because I couldn’t handle the pressure; attempting to sustain that intensity would just lead to a higher level of anxiety. The low times have always felt like a welcomed shift from the high times.
This cycle has guided me my entire life. I would describe my internal roller coaster as like being stuck on your favorite ride at the amusement park. You love to ride it but after too long that it makes you throw up.
After an unforeseeable amount of self-reflection I always find myself jolted back to reality. The inevitable break in the cycle brings a release to the tension, but it is not always welcome; it feels more like an intrusion. Reality has been intruding my whole life. Contrary to wanting to fit in with everybody else I have always preferred my internal world to the one I saw. I believe we are all living in our own worlds and it is when these worlds overlap and a gap is exposed that things begin to fall apart. It is when I begin to fall apart. I become painfully aware that the real world is not how I see it.
As a child I was aware that others were not having the same life experiences as I was. I knew that there were lots of differences between people and the lives they were living and that there were reasons for those differences. I knew that there were things you could control and things you could not. I put my moods in the same category as the weather. Certainly there must be a scientific explanation but I could never understand it let alone control it.
My family was no help since, of course, they were a large part of the problem. I never fit in with my family and still cling to a hope that I was switched at birth and someday this will all make sense. I see now my mother’s helplessness. Perhaps she related too well to my turmoil and by ignoring it couldn’t relate to me at all. Could she have been struck by the recognition of herself in me? Did she have the same fear when my brother or I overreacted to some slight or inconvenience. Do we all share this same mis-proportion of moods? Too much of this, not enough of that? Partial ingredients for an untested recipe. Improvising on a recipe is sort of faking it. I have tried so hard to fake it my entire life. I would reason that if only I knew what to do, I could do it and be happy. If only I knew what those missing ingredients were I could succeed.
And so I used my moods to protect myself from that harsh outside world. My manic energy allowed me to get work done and accomplish necessary tasks and then the dark side took over so I could retreat and rejuvenate myself. Like a tetherball I would swing out only so far before snapping back. With or without an outside push I would eventually alter and then head the opposite way.
I simply learned to cope. Looking back, I can see how my moods were a major factor in every relationship I ever had. And then didn’t have. It was my built in excuse. A opposed to one size fits all for me it was many moods fit none. I never fit in. I learned trying didn’t help and therefore I worked hard at trying not to try.
Making friends as a child did not come easily. I was more concerned with people thinking I had friends than I was with actually having any. I found that I preferred imaginary ones since they never disappointed me. I wish I could say that about myself.
Parenting with this particular brain chemistry is especially challenging. It is not just that I have no patience. It is that I do not understand patience. I share my children’s demand for instant gratification and truly relate to their pain. But I do not know how to guide them through by showing them a better way. I feel unable to set a better example because I do not know what that would be. How can I teach what I never learned?
I fear that my children are destined to suffer as I have. I want to protect them from everything. I want to shield them from the judgments of others and of themselves. How can I help them to succeed where I have consistently failed? I watch for signs of trouble. I try to be supportive and provide them with outlets for their frustration.
I try to be the parent I want instead of the parent I am afraid I am.
When I was on my own and responsible only for myself self-medicating took the edge off. A steady diet of marijuana and non-fat mochas helped to keep the pendulum’s momentum for years. But now it is not just about me. I am a mom and an upstanding member of the PTA.
The pressures I feel as a mother are huge and I often feel as if I am looking for something to justify the rage and frustration that I already feel. Complete contrast to the helpless overwhelmed feeling I shoulder the rest of the time.
Every once in a while I am aware that I am in a good place. I feel confident but not manic. Content but not dissatisfied. Not too happy just right. But I never feel this way for long. I can feel myself shift. It could be that I realize I am running out of time or there is an errand I forgot to do and then all of a sudden I think of all the things I still need to do. And how I will never, ever be able to complete every task so why even bother. Without leaving my reading spot I can go from full-blown anxiety attack to feeling so drained that my strongest impulse is to curl up into a ball under my desk.
But I have responsibilities I cannot ignore. There are children to pick up and chores to complete. And so I breathe deeply and wait.
Things will be better soon.