Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dear Adulthood...You Suck

Dear Adulthood,

I'm sorry to have to say this (actually I'm not really) but I don't like you very much today.

I know we've had a rocky relationship over the past decade. While things have been a lot better in the last few years, and I was even starting to love you a little, today I just have to say it: Adulthood, you suck!

I resent the fact that you are always hovering over me. Every time I turn around, you're nagging at me that there's something responsible that I should be doing. Can't I get some space here? You always put your needs first, and I am the afterthought. Its always bills, work, laundry, errands. What about my needs? When do we get to drop everything on a Monday, play hooky from school, and gorge on ice-cream while watching cartoons? Why is it that we need to go to the store for toilet paper and cat food when I have a very real and very pressing need to go to the mall for a new pair of shoes? It's not fair. You're mean, and no fun.

Today, you made me do stuff all day long I didn't want to do. Did you ask me before you decided I would walk the dog, do the laundry, clean the bedroom, do schoolwork, do work-work, make dinner? No. Do you think I wanted to apply for that job you spent an hour working on an email response for? No again. You've been making me work for quite a while, and I have to say, I'd really rather just go back to the time when food just magically appeared in the cabinets and utilities were something in Monopoly.

You never listen to me. I can cry, whine, and scream waaahhhh as loud as I can and you just want to talk about your feelings. You make me eat vegetables. And exercise, which in case you didn't know, I really hate doing.

I also hate your stupid family. Your sister talks all day long about nothing, and your nephew is an obnoxious brat. I don't see why we have to do family stuff all the time like eat dinner together. I just wanna play with my friends. Plus, didn't anyone ever tell you we're supposed to get paid for babysitting? It's not supposed to be free, DUH. Your family is stupid. You are stupid. I would be a much happier person if we just cut this off and you got out of my life. Then I could finally do whatever I want, whenever I want, ALL THE TIME.

Maybe I'll like you again tomorrow. I usually do. See, I don't bother trying to be all "consistent" and "rational" like you. So we'll see. But for today, I don't like you. I will not be your facebook friend. If you had a dislike button, I would push it. So go screw yourself, cause I'm gonna go eat chocolate cake.


Anaya's Inner Child

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) In Remission: P.T.S.A.D.?

I think I just might have Post-Traumatic Seasonal-Affective-Disorder. If there is such a thing.

I lived most of my life in a certain gloomy and cloud-covered upstate New York city. Second only to Seattle in lack of sunlight hours, in my hometown Seasonal-Affective-Disorder wasn't an illness but a way of life.

Christmas tree in the city square during a storm.
October was a cold month. By the time Halloween came around, winter jackets, hats and gloves were already a wardrobe staple. I have many fond memories of trick-or-treating in the snow, my costume hidden under a parka. By November, the trees were bare, the wind was strong, and it was dark out by four o'clock. Christmas meant below-zero windchills and blizzards, with more of the same for the January, February, March, and April. Yes, April. The cold was bitter, the snow never-ending, but the worst was the sky. Day in and day out, it was overcast and gray. The local newspaper kept a running tally of the amount of days the sun managed to come out. One April, we had four days of sunlight, in the whole month.

One winter, I'd had a couple friends sleep over. Suddenly, mid-morning, the sun came out. No one was expecting it, it hadn't been in the forecast we watched religiously every night. The three of us were upstairs, when we heard a shout. "The sun! The sun!" Rushing over to the hall window, we pulled the curtain back, and stood there, basking in the weak, watery rays that managed to filter through the frosted glass. Immobilized, we just stood, feeling the faint promise of warmth on our skin, holding our hands up as if it was somehow possible to catch the rays between our fingers.
Winter work break.

Living in this type of climate, your body just shuts down during the winter months. Winter means hibernation, limited outings, social events, activity in general. Often I wouldn't see friends or neighbors all winter long, in the spring we'd emerge from our cocoons and ask each other how we'd fared the winter. Through a combination of old, poorly insulated houses and an incredibly greedy regional power company, no one could afford their heating bill. Turning a thermostat above 69 was sacrilege in most homes. My parents kept their heat at 65 during the day, 55 at night. Winter was cold, both outside and in. Winter was dark, and winter meant an endless succession of coughs, colds and flues.

In this kind of climate, Seasonal Affective Disorder was a joke. It was so much a way of life to become run-down and depressed in the winter, that classifying it as a disorder was like saying feeling tired when you hadn't slept was a disorder.

Eventually I broke. I just couldn't take it anymore. It wasn't so much the snow, but the oppressive cold, with no relief until spring. Once fall hit, I was just never warm. The cold would just sink into my bones, and only a really really hot shower could temporarily relieve it. It wasn't that I missed the sun, it was that I started to forget what it was like.

Typical late-afternoon street view in Central New York.
I moved down to North Carolina last November. Between the fantastic climate and the excitement of living in a new place I didn't have time for winter blues. When spring came, in MARCH of all months, I remember feeling giddy to the point of ecstatic just from walking outdoors. Finally, for the first time in my life, I was warm. My brain must have been overdosing on vitamin D, because even summer in upstate NY didn't bring that kind of sun and blue skies.

I considered myself lucky that I'd never have to go through another horrible northern winter, never have to sink under that weight of frigid despair again. So imagine my surprise when my body decided it would get ready for this upcoming winter by shutting down. Not as badly as in the old days. My mood is okay, none of that hopeless feeling that I don't know if I'll make it out the other side of winter-- just a complete physical shutdown.

It started with a cold. I was sick for almost a week, then got better. The next day, a new cold. This went on for a month, with varying symptoms, just to assure me that it was different colds, not the same one. Runny nose, stuffy nose, sinus congestion, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, fevers, nausea, migraines. Ugh. Then the fatigue settled in. Not only was I sleeping ten to twelve hours a day, but I needed naps on top of that. After just a few hours of being awake, I'd start to feel fatigue, especially in my legs, which would cramp up. The only relief came from laying on the couch with my feet elevated. I started feeling cold all the time, wrapping up in blankets all the time and wearing a winter parka outside to walk the dog, even in 40 or 50 degree weather. And the most frustrating thing was that there was nothing wrong with me besides a couple upper respiratory infections that my nephew brought home from daycare.

November in North Carolina.
Though I'm always loathe to admit it's all in my head, in this case it was, and is. After so many years of living with seasonal depression, and often the really bad kind, where I could barely function except to drag myself in to work, my body/head seems to have just gotten into the routine of it. While my spirits are still up this year, physically I'm so used to an annual shut-down that that's exactly what my body did as soon as the daylight hours began to shorten. And unlike in New York, where I was used to it, and prepared to fight it off as hard as humanly possible, here it just caught me unaware.

The irritating thing about SAD isn't just that it makes you feel "sad," it causes physical lethargy, weakness, and compromises the immune system. I guess I'm thankful to be done with the "sad" part of it, but I'd been really happy at the prospect of not having to suffer through another winter feeling physically dragged down. I guess that's just the way it goes though. And I supposed I've learned a lesson-- it seems that while our conscious minds are more than ready to forget the past, bodies are stubborn and uncooperative creatures of habit. It also is a relief to finally understand what is going on, it can be a bit scary to feel so tired and sick all the time with no discernible medical reason. There's also ways of treating SAD, that is, when you recognize that's whats getting you! So I'll be bringing on the sun therapy, vitamins, and exercise.

Well, that's a maybe on the exercise. And I'm tired of writing now. I think it's time to go put my feet up...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gender Roles in the 21st Century

Gender roles in families have been on my mind a lot lately. What does it mean to be a woman in a modern family, or a man? While it's safe to say that a lot has changed, women are no longer expected to be homemakers, and men do not have to take on the tough guy role, I don't know that we have all the answers worked out yet.

Playing dress-up. I did like the outfit!
In my own house, there are no clearly defined roles as to what is "female" and "male," especially as far as housework goes. I'm a lousy cook. Luckily my fiancee excels in the kitchen. He also takes care of the dishes, the sweeping and the mopping. I'm messy, untidy, and, I'll admit it, a bit of a slob. So my fiancee tends to do most of the general organizing and tidying up around the house. To make up for my lack of culinary ability and clutter-prone nature, I compensate by taking on the gross stuff-- I clean the cat litter boxes, clean the bathtubs, unblock drains, and do the heavy-duty vacuuming. I go on a monthly house-cleaning rampage, scrubbing all the places he misses, behind the sink drains, the baseboards, smudges on the walls, you name it.

Just to make things clear, my fiancee is every bit a "manly man." He's into cars, football, and golf. He eats red meat, and does all the stuff around the house related to tools. He is very confident in his masculinity, comfortable enough that he doesn't feel threatened by wearing the cook's apron. He also always takes out the trash. And I do the laundry.

The division of housework we've somehow fallen into works out pretty well for us. My fiancee doesn't feel in anyway emasculated by doing the dishes and the cooking, a well-ordered kitchen is something he takes pride in. I take a strange satisfaction pulling globs of hair from uncooperating drains, and none of our friends or family members seem to think that this sort of division is in any way strange. We're a modern family, I guess you could say.

The Boys, making turkey ruebens with homemade dressing.
When it comes to our two-and-a-half-year old nephew, who is practically our adopted child, my fiancee is the primary caregiver. Because my nephew does not have a father figure in his life, he gravitates to my fiancee, who showers him with love and affection. Yes, affection. My nephew is far more likely to come to my fiancee for a hug, to kiss a boo-boo, or a cuddle with a story. When we put my nephew to bed, he snuggles in with my fiancee every time, and usually requests a backrub or bellyrub.

Because of our home dynamic, my fiancee and I have decided that when we have a child, (which is still a few years off) he will be a stay-at-home dad. I don't feel that I have it in me to be the stay-at-home mom type, I'm afraid I'd go stir-crazy. I know that while I'd likely be able to do a passable job at full-time parenting and keeping a house, my fiancee would be far, far better at it. Being a stay-home dad is something my fiancee is genuinely excited about, while to me it feels like kind of a chore. And we are very happy with our decision.

So imagine my surprise when I started telling people about our plan. Reactions ranged from condescending to pity to shock. I was told by one friend that maybe I shouldn't have children if that was how I felt. "Some people just aren't cut out to have kids, maybe you're just one of those." I was told that men lack the innate ability to nurture a child the way a mother can. People questioned both my mothering instinct, and my fiancee's masculinity. Somehow I was less of a woman, and he was less of a man. I was very surprised, especially since I thought that it was now considered to be socially acceptable to have a working mom or a stay-home dad. Families are doing it every day, all across America.

What I finally realized, was that it is okay to do things this way, but not by choice. Men are only supposed to be the ones to stay home with the kids if that's just the way things worked out. Unemployment, finances, a career that is impossible to break from for the wife. Women are allowed to go to work, but there has to be the same justification. Then it's okay, because everyone knows that in a perfect world things wouldn't have to be this way. People are less likely to look down on you when they feel free to pity you. The problem with the scenario my fiancee and I have dreamed up in other people's eyes is that we're happy about it. We are choosing this way of child-rearing, and strategically planning to make it a reality.

It's not that I am uninterested in my home, or the prospect of raising a child. I'm very home-oriented and family oriented. I do take a lot of pride in our house, it has been a labor of love over the past year. I absolutely love being second mom to my nephew, he brings so much joy into my life. When my fiancee and I do have a baby, I'd like to take about a year of maternity leave, if we can swing it. I just don't want to have to feel tied into the homemaker role, especially when I am lucky enough to have found a man who is not only willing to do it, but excited.

It's still a ways away. I have to finish grad school, we have to do that whole wedding thing, and we'll likely take a few years for ourselves. I'd like to think that maybe by then, when my husband is pushing little Charlotte or Jacob on the swings at the park and I'm sitting on a bench making last-minute revisions to a proposal, the other parents will not look over and say "poor man, poor child, bad mother," but rather "they look so happy..."