Better late than never–here is my own response to last week’s prompt; if you’d like to see the previous posts, I’ll include links at the end of this post. Now–go write something!
Prompt: Describe a presence in your house (childhood home/current place of residence)—a person, a pet, a piece of furniture, an illness, a secret. Use all five senses. Be as detailed as possible.
Before I started taking drugs, Disney movies saved me from going insane.
That sounds bad—I know. I don’t mean drugs like heroin or Oxycontin or anything like that. When my two kids were small, I found myself constantly swinging between frantic bouts of extreme irritation, and days of immobilizing bleakness; my dark days were a constant presence in our home, either wreaking havoc with my daily round, or just hovering on the periphery, waiting to drop over me like a funnel cloud from a stormy sky. I was eventually diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder—along with a pinch of depression, just to flavor the pot—and the solution to said diagnosis was medication. After a few rounds of trial and error over the course of a year or two, the correct balance of anti-anxiety and antidepressant was found…and I could function normally again.
I still take those meds, 20 some-odd years later. Two years ago, in preparation for our move from Massachusetts to Maine, I decided to clean out our basement game cabinets. I ran my finger down the dusty spines of our sizeable collection of Disney VHS tapes and pondered the task ahead; I had decided to purge all the forgotten games, incomplete puzzles and outgrown movies. Instead, as I gazed into Simba’s chocolate brown eyes, I found myself remembering the precious blocks of peace that those movies afforded me during my difficult times as a young mother.
When I made the decision to be a full-time, at-home mom, I knew it would involve certain sacrifices. I assumed those sacrifices would consist of leaving my career, and perhaps the loss of “my professional self” as well. Both true. I was fine with all of that, because I knew with all my heart that I wanted to be home with my kids. What I didn’t know—and couldn’t have known, really—was that other things were sacrificed, as well. Collateral damage, one might say. Depending on your professional skillset, you may become obsolete in the time that you spend out of the workforce. Your social life changes drastically—both in who you spend time with, and how much time you are even able to spend with anyone other than your family. The emotional stress and mental drain can be far more drastic and impactful when spending every waking hour—and usually, several non-waking hours–with multiple toddlers, as opposed to spending your days dealing with the average problems of the average person’s workday.
Believe it or not, this will all come full circle, back to the Disney movies.
Three years or so into motherhood, I found myself spending my days mostly at floor level: playing with blocks, reading books aloud, coloring, lining up cars, having tea parties. All good. These are the things that come with the territory of parenthood; everyone always tells you to “enjoy it while you can,” and I did, for the most part. But what nobody can really prepare you for is the level at which you are constantly needed. All the time. Right away. Now, Now, NOW! Usually by more than one child at a time. For different things. In different rooms. And if I could not answer right away because I was eating/brushing my teeth/talking on the phone/choking to death on a chicken bone, I was treated to a monotonous mantra of “Mum?” (pause) “Mum?” (pause) “Mum?” (pause) “M-U-U-U-M?” (pause) “M-U-U-u-u-U-U-u-u-U-U-m?” You get the picture. Those were the moments that I truly began to feel insanity creeping in through the cracks in my psyche. (I use that word, “insanity,” as a rather drastic replacement for a state of mind that I don’t think there is actually a real word for. Is there a single word for “at-the-end-of-my-rope-and-frazzled-and-irritable-and-exhausted?” Oh, wait—that’s motherhood.) Other causes of my mercurial mood swings were the whining, bickering, and otherwise completely normal behaviors of young siblings; I was simply finding myself less and less able to handle these situations in a calm, adult manner.
It was at these times, when I found myself just shy of locking myself in the bathroom with my two screaming toddlers stationed outside the door (I actually did this once; it didn’t resolve much of anything other than keeping me from tossing them out the front door), I would pull out my ace in the hole: a Disney videotape (cue angels singing on high). The magic of Mickey and friends would provide me with up to 90 minutes of blessed peace, relative quiet, and semi-solitude…as well as a bit of escapism if I chose to snuggle up and watch as well. Pongo and Perdita, Ariel, Belle, Aladdin, Mulan, Nemo…just some of my closest friends during those difficult years. I could nap. I could clean. I could fold clothes. I could…breathe. The kids would be “away” just long enough for me to find my happy place again, and garner the ability to smile at them, play with them, be loving with them.
Of course, there’s only so much peace of mind a videotape can provide; as you now know, my mental well-being required a bit of chemical assistance to be balanced properly. I have no regrets about that fact, other than wishing I did it sooner. Sitting in my basement two years ago, clutching “Fantasia” in my dusty hands, it occurred to me that what I would regret was throwing away those friendly faces from my past. Cinderella danced in her glass slippers so I could catch my breath; Simba braved the hyena’s lair so I could catch a nap; Mulan fought the Huns so I could catch up on ironing.
And while it is a wise and healthy practice today to limit our children’s screen time and allow for them to become otherwise engaged, I for one am still a staunch believer in the fact that there is a time and place for the sanity-saving magic of the Mouse.