Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My brain disorder.

I came home from church today, threw the diaper bag on the floor, curled up in my bed, and sobbed like an overwrought teenager.

Why? Because a lady at church told me I had a tag stuck to my coat.

Yep. That's it. A lady at church told me I had a tag stuck to my coat. And my perfectly reasonable response? Collapsing into a steamy tangle of sheets and hyperventilation.

But let me try to explain. It was one of those perfectly done up women, perfect makeup, perfect hair. I didn't even know the woman, had never seen her before. She made a special graceful trip down the corridor in her perfectly shiny five-inch heels just to pat me on the arm, smile radiantly, and remarked, "You've got a tag under your sleeve. New Christmas coat, huh?"

So of course I went home and cried!

And at this point most of my male readers are all scratching their heads and saying, "Huh?" And most of my female readers are too. (Though I hope there are a few of you out there who understand.)

So let me try to explain a little bit better. I have a special psychological disorder, as yet unrecognized in the DSM. It's called Sabbath-Induced Social Phobia. I start noticing the symptoms Saturday night. It starts with a little finger of dread stroking at the back of my mind. I start to realize that in just a few hours I will have to go to That Place again--that Church Place where there are People Who Might Judge Me. The finger moves to my brain, which immediately releases a flood of chemicals that make me feel overwhelmingly exhausted. I am too tired, I think, to possibly be able to attend church tomorrow. I start to think of ways to get out of my church responsibilities, consider calling people and asking them to substitute. This puts me in a dark spot, however, because calling people and asking them to substitute would involve calling people and asking them for something. Church people, no less. The scariest people on earth.

So obviously calling people is out of the question, which leaves me in a panicked state on Saturday night with two choices: go to church and face the Possibly Judgmental Church People, or flake out of my responsibilities and surely be judged harshly for my irresponsibility. I put off the final decision for as long as possible, often deferring until Sunday morning, telling myself I might be able to magically conjure up the courage to ask someone to substitute for me by then. This never happens, of course, so we all end up at church, usually about fifteen minutes late, and usually with Soren throwing some sort of tantrum as we make our way down the mostly empty hallway towards the chapel.

And that's when the disorder completely seizes my brain and robs me of all reason.

We sit down on the back row and I become keenly aware of the fact that Soren, despite coaching and teaching and prompting and encouragement and sometimes even threatening, still refuses to sit still and fold his arms during prayers. I notice that my children look somewhat disheveled, that I forgot to smooth down Liam's wild crib head, that Soren's vest has some loose threads hanging off it. I become aware of the pieces of lint stuck to Abe's suit. I remember that I wore the same dress last week. I notice that all the other women have perfectly styled hair and fashionable outfits, observe their neatly groomed and reverent children. As I am marveling at the fact that one woman could produce four perfect hairstyles in a single morning, Soren hits his brother, and people turn to look as Liam begins wailing loudly. We do our best to control our children but Liam starts to arch his back and holler while Soren insists on telling me in his loudest voice that he does NOT want to think about Jesus. And truth be told, I don't really want to think about Jesus either (though that's a WHOLE other bag of chips), which is another thing that makes me completely insufficient in that room packed with perfectly attractive devout believers who are capable of keeping their children under control.

So by the time Sacrament Meeting ends, I can barely stand to look anybody in the eye. I have become fully convinced that I am ugly, a horrible mother, irritating, inappropriate, awkward, and completely unlikable. That no one at church likes me, that they are all wishing they could take Soren and train him the way he should be trained, and that, worst of all, they think I smell weird.

I've been working in the nursery for the past year, which is both good and bad for my psychological freakiness. Good because I love little people and enjoy interacting with them. Also good because I know they don't care if I stink. Bad because I only interact with three other adults the entire rest of church, which means that I don't have a chance to interact with the other people and remember that they are neither as superior nor as judgmental as my brain has made them seem. Also bad because Soren is a wretched little brat during nursery. He clings to my legs while I'm leading music, he throws massive fits when I don't let him have his way, he clobbers other kids with toys, he refuses to share. I deal with this the best I can, but all of my own insecurities about my parenting are immediately projected onto the other nursery leaders (lovely, kind women), who must surely be convinced that I'm doing everything wrong. I tell myself that they understand, that they're not judging, that even if they are judging it's okay, no big deal, but the more visceral part of myself wants to throw my body at their feet and beg for mercy, sobbing and telling them that I promise I'm trying my very hardest, that I work really hard at guiding and teaching and disciplining my child, that he's difficult, and maybe someone else could do better, but I really am trying, so to please, please, please, please, please not judge me. Please.

So anyway, it was in this frame of mind that I wandered out into the church corridors, three-year-old in tow, toddler following behind in his uncle's arms, searching for my husband. I had just put on my brand new coat, a beautiful coat that my mom gave me for Christmas, and was feeling some consolation in the fact that, even if I sucked in every other way, at least I was wearing a pretty coat. It was like a shield, protecting me against the judgments of the Church People. It was the only thing keeping me safe while I roamed through halls literally crawling with them.

It was the only thing keeping me safe until The Beautiful Woman came.

But with her single remark, she was able to shatter my shield and leave me completely vulnerable. And it was more than I could take.

So I went home and cried.


Lara said...

Oh, Rachel... it's too bad we're both evil working mothers or we could have lunch together someday and talk about THE EXACT SAME FEELINGS we both have. And the Oxford comma. We could talk about that too.

Becca said...

Don't worry I feel the same way. I walk into church thinking I spent so much time wrestling my kids to get there clothes on that I didn't do makeup, can't remember if I brushed my hair and then I see everyone else and think yes you made it here on time and your kids are sitting quietly and playing with only Jesus related toys or books. I to feel as if every Saturday night I'm coming down with a disease that makes it impossible for me to take 3 kids to church by myself and because my husband works Sundays like an evil heathen the disease often wins.

Holly said...

Wish we were in the same ward (or even the same state). Our families could share a long bench.

P.S. My word verification for this comment is haterice. I, in fact, quite love rice.

breckster said...

I had those feelings, and then I changed wards and those feelings went away and were replaced with different desire-to-go-to-church erasers.

It's cruel, isn't it, that the commandment that seems pretty simple obey is SO hard.

Anonymous said...

It's all very strange to me that good, beautiful, talented women feel so insufficient. How does this happen?

Nick Wheeler said...

I feel the same way when I come home from the gay club. :)

Pamela said...

Hey, I do this all the time! exept for the church stuff, I too have the crazy notions that others around me are better than myself. So sometime a simple comment, sends me into a teary fit.

Leslie said...

You're definitely not alone in this, Rachel. I think most women can relate on some level. Thanks for sharing your feelings in a way that validates so many other people.

Oh, and I wore a cute new jacket for a whole day--including to my daughter's well-check visit and several other errands--only to come home, glance at myself in the mirror, and see a humongous tag hanging under my left armpit. I was mortified, and, yes--tears of humiliation pricked at my eyes. I was tempted to throw the stupid jacket in the garbage can. And to change pediatricians.

heidi said...

Oh, RachK. I COMPLETELY UTTERLY ABSOLUTELY GET THIS. And not as a once-in-awhile "whoops!" but as an f'ing monkey on the back... a teeny tiny monkey like a tiny baby kangaroo--you know, all slimy and small... small enough to climb into my ear and into my brain if I don't notice in time. You get me? And, like, take over the whole show with its crazy-but-compelling fear logic?

Merry Xmas, Love... You're pretty much the darlingest mommy ever but I'm glad you're human too. Otherwise I might worry you were some kind of too-good-to-be-true bot.


p.s. The above comments made the Sesame Street song sing out in my head... Which of these things is not like the other??! The gay club comment was the BEST MORMON MOMMY BLOG COMMENT EVER. And I completely get THAT, too! I'm in SF right now for the holidays and my gay sis-in-law and I were in the Castro last night (where a lovely young gay man working at Orphan Annie's called me HONEY!) and I learned about the "twink" phenomenon. Because it just seemed so strange that so many of the very, very lovely boys around were so bizarrely skinny!

I like natural, healthy bodies that stink occasionally and shred dandruff and the occasional tag or two. Because then you know they're not plastic and they can LOVE you, back. Not toys or untouchable objects but warm, feeling, animal presences that can see and be seen with the heart. I want, too, so badly to present myself in the bestest most polished light and I'm constantly being told by others that I'm most lovable and knowable in my silly animated heidi flawedness. (However, the monkey on my back lets me know not to believe such nonsense.)

There. The End.

heidi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristy Skoy said...

You can come and talk to me anytime. I wish I would have know you were having a hard day when i cornered you Sunday. I so would have listened to you. There are many people in our ward that LOOK like they have perfect families but you have no idea what is going on at home! I try and look my best but I have had the same 3 skirts for 6 years. I feel ugly at church and I cant do anything about it. I cant afford the clothes that the "pretty" people wear. But my family is happy! And as for Soren and Nursery, we all know he is hard and it has to be harder for his mother. I am so proud of you for sticking with Nursery. Most moms would just stop comming if they had to be in nursery with their own child. The other Nursery leaders have told me they want to help with him but dont know what to do. I am so sorry it has to be so hard for you. Please call me if you need to talk.

Rachel said...

Lara, I feel that we should have lunch together someday anyway. Perhaps on a Saturday. And the kids could come and throw food on the floor.

Holly, Me too!

Becca,Breckster, Pam, Leslie, & Heidi. I'm glad you all relate. When I made Abe read this b/f I posted he was all, "this is kind of personal, wouldn't you say?" and I was like, "yeah. but if there are others out there I want them to know they're not alone!"

Nick, I second Heidi's appreciative motion.

Kristy, Thanks for your kindness and reassurance. I think you always look very beautiful at church.

Kate said...

"I have become fully convinced that I am ugly, a horrible mother, irritating, inappropriate, awkward, and completely unlikable."

I feel like this very frequently, and not just at church, but yes, at church too. Even though we are currently in a very, super wonderful ward where it would be ridiculous for anyone to ever feel judged. I still feel like I stand out as an obnoxious, unlikable freak.

But I think these feelings are really, really widespread. Likely, many of the people we feel must be judging us don't have any time to judge us because they're wrapped up in their own feelings of inadequacy. Or maybe they do judge us--perhaps some do think you have unruly kids, but then they worry over other things--their own screaming imperfections.

What I'm trying to say (in a very I-haven't-slept-nearly-enough sort of way) is: If this is a true brain disorder, I can't think of many women I know who DON'T have it.

And it totally makes sense to me why you dissolved into a puddle of tears after such a remark!

Natalya said...

I also admire you for sticking with nursery. I just learned the other day that several people had turned down our bishop when he called them to nursery. He's having a terrible time keeping it staffed. The stake president got up last week and gave a wonderful little talk filled with fun stories about accepting callings. So I think I would count you as one of the Chosen Few. ESPECIALLY because you have Soren in there with you (though he's a Sunbeam now?). Having family with you (difficult family) during church for some reason is not as enjoyable as church without family. Which is odd, because isn't it all about family. Hmm, must be my natural man speaking here. Anyway, the summun bonum of my comment is that you're on a pedestal in heaven.


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