The Fox, Chaos, and Owning a Broken Brain

What I made: A Cute But Clumsy Fox

My day began as a normal day, which is to say I slept later than I meant to and then made breakfast, sat down at my computer with a beautiful fried egg over roasted red peppers and a very necessary cup of coffee, and set about to work.

And then, as it happens on every normal day, the interruptions came knocking. I got a text from my daughter: It’s senior night at my game tomorrow, and I have practice and a ton of homework tonight. Can you pull together some photos of me? Like some from when I was a baby, and some of me with my friends, and some of volleyball? And whatever else?

Once upon a time, my former coworker and Generally Amazing Human Liv Lane told me that she rejected the idea that life was a balancing act. In our culture, she suggested, it’s a juggling act, and you’re doing amazingly if you manage not to drop any balls. Sometimes we come close to dropping them, though. It’s inevitable. And when we do, it’s important to remember that success is catching the ball before it hits the ground, no matter how perilous the situation might feel. And hell, even if you do drop a ball, this is a freaking juggling act. The show must go on.

We had that conversation in 2008. I think about it almost every day.

I have built a really big, full life, and I’m proud of that. There are so many balls, and they’re all important–when push comes to shove, I’m unwilling to give any of them up. The rational part of me is grateful for the opportunities I have, and understands all the business about near-catastrophe being different than actual catastrophe. The emotional experience, however, is often clumsy and frightening. I spend a lot of time wondering if everyone else sees what a shitshow I am.

So I had three goals this morning: Get my work done, go to the gym, and make a thing. Mixed in were some side tasks related to transporting a kid and being a generally effective parent and partner. And now, here was another list of tasks. Collect photos. Send them to one hour photo place. Discover that the place’s website isn’t working. Find another place. Send them there. Pick up photos. Deliver to stressed-out kid. I wanted to do these things. It’s important to me that my kid knows I’ll help her when she’s struggling, and she, too, is a Master Juggler. We can’t get through life alone, and I don’t want her to have to try. But suddenly my day went from Mellow to Megachaos. You know. Like normal.

So it was 8pm when I finished at the gym and came home to begin my project. I’d decided on a “simple” sewing project, a cute little stuffed fox pattern I’d picked up while grabbing the photos. IMG-3438

Sewing, and most fibercraft, is something I’ve historically been good at. And like everything I used to be good at, I’m unnervingly out of practice. I experience a good deal of anxiety when I revisit old skills and find them rusty. What happened? I wonder. Did I break?

And this is where the exciting part kicks in. For the past three years, I’ve been working really hard with a therapist to move past a little goblin named PTSD. For me, one of the manifestations of PTSD is that I keep myself safe by trying to get everything right.  Mistakes are unwelcome. You have to dig deep all the time, bring your A-game every minute, because if you screw up, the world could end. It has before, after all.

And while much of my life has improved dramatically, the quiet, focused moments are sometimes the most terrifying, because that’s when there’s time to hear the old voices. No matter how hard you try, you can’t save yourself. Give up. It’s a disaster, anyway. You just can’t see it. 

Even though I know those thoughts are no longer true, they’re compelling as hell sometimes.

So I got out the sewing machine after the kids were asleep, and it wasn’t long before that familiar panic arrived. You’re just doing this to prove something to yourself. It’s a stupid idea to write about this, you navel-gazing weirdo. Have a drink and go to bed.

But something new happened this time. I answered back. It doesn’t matter if anyone thinks this is stupid. This is a commitment I made to myself, to learn about my capabilities and potential. It might be silly, sure, but silly can be really valuable to me, when I let myself be present enough to understand the point of it all. 

And then I cut my little fox shapes, and sewed my little fox together, and when the anxiety howled at me about the places where my stitches were clumsy, I kept sewing anyway. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a fox, and the first thing I’ve made on purpose in a good many months.

An hour and a half later, I handed my dashing partner the fox so he could pose for a photo with it before I delivered it to my sleeping Little Juggler’s room. I tucked the fox under her arm, and whispered a promise to her: “There’s enough of me to be there for you and me. I want to show you that there’s enough of you to be who you want to be, too.”

She stirred a little, muttered a groggy “Yup,” pulled the fox in tight, and went back to sleep.

Today I made a fox. I also made room to sit with my insecurity and fear, and achieve what I want to achieve anyway. 

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