Last week I dreamed about my kittens. (Yes, I know, despite my formative years as a “dog person”, I have become a “cat lady” in my middle age.) My kittens are litter mates, brother and sister, both with pure black coats.
In my dream, they were conjoined twins. People looked at them and remarked, “Oh, look at the cute kitties!” Then the heads of the kitties started looking in different directions and the front right and left feet did the same. The kitties looked distressed. They were not working as a team.
When I awoke from the dream, I thought, “I need to use this image in a blog post.” Yes, really I did. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am not someone who makes fancy dream interpretations. But I do think about my dreams, especially when I think they signal distress. At the time I was having the dream, I was concerned that John and I were not parenting as a team as well as usual and that we were having trouble communicating about the logistics of our lives. I think that is probably what the dream was about.
I have been pretty stressed during the last couple of weeks. I am an energetic extrovert. Nonetheless, I don’t function well if I am pulled in a hundred directions, living a fragmented life. I am not good at perpetually switching gears. That’s one of the reasons I was attracted to pursuing a research career rather than a career as a clinician. Clinical work means switching gears between people, situations, and goals, quite frequently. When I did research, I worked on one or two projects for years at a time. But I ended up being a clinician and thank goodness, I learned how to switch gears much better than I did previously.
Right now my workdays consist of switching constantly among work, driving my daughter around, getting to my healthcare appointments. My daughter has needed to be driven to one to three locations all around Seattle, every day, starting in the middle of the day. She takes the bus when she can but there are logistics to be worked there there, too.
Yesterday, I reminded her of what time she needed to be home from school (she is volunteering each morning to help with a band program for younger kids) so that I could take her to an activity at 2:00 pm in northeast Seattle. (We live in southwest Seattle.) The original plan had been for her to take the bus downtown and then take a transfer to get to the office. However, we’d tried that the day before and she missed the bus. Since it was mid-day, there was not another bus for an hour. I cancelled my annual physical so that I could come home from work and drive her. Seattle is not an easy city in which to get around. It is long, narrow, surrounded by water, and hilly, for starters. This means that there are a rather limited number of highways and streets available to get from one place to another.
As I complain frequently, I find driving to be taxing and stressful. I am a good driver and it is not that I feel really anxious when I am driving. It’s mostly that I have to think so hard. And it’s not that figuring out bus schedules and directions is that hard, especially with the Internet. It’s hard to remember to do it and to make sure my daughter has the information she needs and understands where she is supposed to be at what time and how to get there. (This is one time when I kind of wish we’d allow her to have a smartphone, but I digress.) Riding the bus involves a surprising number of steps and also, some background knowledge that a non-driver doesn’t necessarily know. Consequently, I need to break it down in my mind and then make sure she knows things I would otherwise take for granted. For example, “You have a parade after your appointment. It is north of where you will be. Do you know what side of the street to be on to take a northbound bus?” The answer is “no”. And she does not yet know north, south, east, and west. When I was her age, I didn’t either. Then there are the fragmented questions I throw out, “Remember your bus pass!” “Remember to pack a lunch!” “Remember your phone!” “Remember your band uniform. You’re not going to have a chance to come back home before the parade!”
If you are a long reader of this blog, you will know that I live with some rather forgetful people who actually need frequent reminders, even if they are not always happy to receive them, in the moment. And by the way, it is not enabling if your child is actually getting better at remembering these things on her own, which is the case for her. But she is only up to remembering these things about 50% of the time. Think about what your daily life would be like if you were not where you were supposed to be with the what you needed, half of the time. Also, you carry your bus pass in an old eyeglass case and your money in a ring box. And this is a major improvement in organization from years past. Finally, you don’t drive. See, having a nagging mom would be annoying but handy.
About two paragraphs, I was telling you about one example day. Then I veered off course. What you don’t know if that while I’ve been writing this post, I’ve stopped and started it many times. I actually wanted to write it last week when I had the dream. Right at this moment, I am fighting the impulse to walk out and investigate the bird sounds I am hearing.
When I am switching gears too much, coordinating multiple goals, I find that it is hard to stop switching gears. I find even more goals and they aren’t priority either. Instead of being a two-headed cat, I turn into a creature with an ever changing number of heads, all on one body. There is effort to do things but none of the cohesion required to get things done in an efficient way.
The first thing that happens to me is that I start getting forgetful. Then I start making mistakes. Then I start getting anxious that I am making a lot of mistakes and I am so distracted that my level of self-awareness waxes and wanes. Then I make more mistakes. Then I start a flurry of unecessary reassurance seeking. “Are you sure you have the bus pass?” “Hey, friend, did I just treat you badly?”
There is an expression that people use referring to feeling “centered”. It is a positive thing but honestly I can’t exactly articulate what it is. But what I can tell you that at this time, I don’t feel centered or “grounded”, another common description that people use to refer to a state of balance.
I don’t feel centered. I don’t feel grounded. I feel like I have an infinite number of heads and none of them contain good working brains. Now, these are subjective feelings. In reality, I am functioning. I am carrying out my life with competence. But I feel icky in the process.
My natural inclination is to think of the happy, balanced, reasonable, bright, organized, empathetic, and energetic version of myself as “the real me” and the other times are aberrant.
I am becoming increasingly, aware, however of how unreasonable this belief really is. I am always me. Who else would I be? The person who gets irritable with her husband because she is overwhelmed and fragmented? That’s me. The person who asked her husband to take care of a responsibility this morning because she was exhausted, even though she’s been irritable with him? That’s me. The real me is not that perfect and it is unhealthy for me to maintain a vision of myself as needing to meet that standard in order to be “real”.
The person who is feeling a little more grounded and centered after having sorted through her thoughts and feelings while writing this post?
That’s me, too.
I have goals in my life. Some day, my life will end. But my life, itself, is not a goal or an end point.
My life is an experience, with lines of continuity as well as flux.
What else would it be?