Everyone Everywhere is Struggling

Everyone here is struggling a little bit, I think. Everyone everywhere is struggling, I suspect.

The big household challenge right now is the kids’ homework. Kevin and I have always taken a pretty laissez-faire approach to homework. In elementary school, we did our best to avoid it entirely, asking that our kids be excused from it whenever possible, because all the research shows that it’s not actually useful at that age, and can actually be counterproductive if it sets the kid up to hate learning.

We had a few teachers who wouldn’t let it go, and in those cases, we just told our kids to do as much as they wanted, and that we didn’t care if their grades dropped as a result. Elementary school grades just aren’t that important.

It’s tougher to avoid now, when they’re older and grades are starting to matter. In 6th grade, Anand really doesn’t have very much homework — weekly reading of any book he’d like (that we sign off on), plus maybe 30 minutes / day of other assignments. The problem with Anand is that he makes SUCH HEAVY WATER of that little bit of work.

And I get it — esp. after 18 months of remote, just being in school and paying sufficient attention to work for six hours / day is a big shift, and takes a lot out of him. He comes home and makes a beeline for his device, and then goes upstairs and hides for an hour or two, recuperating. But we’re hauling him back downstairs at 5 to work on homework with him, and honestly, Kevin and I both hate it. Anand is super-resistant, we have to switch off to keep from losing patience with him, 30 minutes sometimes takes 90 minutes (or more) because of all the pushback.

It’s improving a little, I think. The more we do this, the more Anand is starting to understand that he really will get it through faster if he just does it, rather than spending so much energy on arguing with us, sulking, etc. It’s becoming part of the routine. But it is a hard part of parenting. Not as exhausting as being woken up constantly in the middle of the night when they were little, not as intense as the acute fear when one of them is injured or briefly missing at a mall or some such, but emotionally wearing, requiring reserves that are already feeling pretty depleted by the pandemic.

We’ve all been operating using surge capacity for too long. Vaccines gave a little respite, as did summer break, but deep down, we are desperate for this to be over, so that we finally have the opportunity to truly rest.

Kavi’s situation is different — she’s not as emotionally frustrated by schoolwork as Anand, and will sometimes cheerfully just do it on her own. But she’s clearly having executive functioning issues keeping track of it, and every day, we’re needing to go over the assignments with her, to make sure she’s actually aware of them all.

Again, it’s not necessarily so much work — as a high school freshman, right now she has maybe 1-2 hrs / homework each day. Totally do-able, and still giving her time to rest and hang out with friends. But when she loses track of it, it piles up, and then there are bright red MISSING assignments in the electronic tracker, and then she gets stressed out, and her perfectionist streak kicks in, and the next thing you know, she’s having stress headaches and stomachaches, and then Kavi’s crying over her backpack as she tries to pack it in the morning; it feels cruel to make her go to school, but if she doesn’t, she’ll just fall further behind. (Sometimes she stays home, sometimes she goes in.)

The answer there is to help her track things, and we are, but it all feels harder than it should be. I have trouble parsing their school systems (which are different from each other) and tracking the assignments. They have trouble too, in different ways. And we’re not so much a family where the parents exert a lot of discipline over the kids, so that’s new for us too, and we’re trying to do that while simultaneously preserving our mutually respectful relationships. It’s hard.

Everything feels like it’s taking more mental energy than I actually possess, and in my own life, I’m just missing things, despite all my trackers and reminders and assistants — I completely slept through an early morning U+ board meeting a few weeks ago, and I completely forgot an evening writing workshop was happening.

I’ve started checking and double-checking and triple-checking the calendar, because I HATE missing things and being late on things (yes, I know where Kavi gets that perfectionist streak from, shh….), and nonetheless, I still miss important e-mails and the like.

And there’s no real reason for it — I’m not actually overscheduled at the moment. I’ve BEEN overscheduled, without time to breathe, and I know what that’s like — the amount of work in my days is totally reasonable right now. (Well, most days. There are occasional exceptions when I HAVE to work a long day. But there are also total rest days to compensate, which is a new and good thing in my life.)

I was reading something recently about how the constant shifting and reassessing of COVID protocols is seriously taxing various parts of our brains. Risk assessment, executive function, etc. I believe it. I wish I could take my whole family and dump us on a farm for a month or six, just to recuperate. That’s not feasible or reasonable for us right now.

I guess we’ll just keep trudging on, try to take rest and pleasure when we can, lower expectations as much as possible. I have so many things I want to do, but which are optional — I can still do some of them, but I’m trying to slow the timelines down whenever possible. At least until we’re really through this pandemic, and back to something approaching normal again, which I’m currently estimating for sometime in the spring, fingers crossed.

Take care of the essentials — food and shelter and clothing and health, both physical and mental.

Everything else can wait.

Ridiculously Lovely

Are these spray roses not ridiculously lovely? A friend dropped them off with a get well note after I bashed my tooth.

Tooth update — pain is mostly gone, but it’s still a little wiggly and not quite back into place. I had a dentist appointment scheduled for Tuesday already for a routine cleaning, so I guess it’ll become a ‘please x-ray the tooth and tell me if I’m going to need expensive dental work’ appointment instead. Sigh.

On the plus side, we are lucky enough that we can afford it if it turns out to be necessary. Universal health care should be a thing, and dental work should be part of it. So say we all.

I Miss Chewing

Food that doesn’t require chewing that I have consumed today, a list:

• coffee with whole milk and sugar
• uppuma with the last of Roshani‘s shrimp curry sauce (no actual shrimp)
• a strawberry popsicle
• tea with whole milk and sugar
• a soft caramel
• soft white bread (not the edges), soaked in salmon curry sauce (no actual salmon), with hard-boiled duck egg yolk (not the whites)
• chocolate pudding (or more accurately, a little French pot de creme from Whole Foods which was quite delicious)

• a bag of puffy Cheetos, which I walked four blocks to get from the gas station convenience store because I was craving something salty

Still to come if I get hungry before bed:

• cream of mushroom soup
• more tea (decaf)

• maybe another popsicle

I miss chewing.

Faceplant Update:

It’s really just the one tooth at this point — my hands are all better, my knee is a little sore, but not really noticeable.

The tooth is a little better after a night of sleep and not being bothered by my poking at it; shifted somewhat back into place, not all the way yet. Tender if I apply pressure at all, but less wiggly than last night.

The research I looked at suggested avoiding biting with it for three days, so I’ll try to stick to soft foods, although I think now it may be enough into position that I can chew a bit with back teeth without applying pressure to it (impossible yesterday). Maybe I can manage some soft uppuma and egg curry for breakfast; we’ll see.

Ice Cream and Cheetos

I can’t chew anything right now (loose tooth from a fall), so I’m on a semi-liquid diet. By which I mean, dinner was strawberry ice cream and Cheetos. No chewing required!

And for all of you inclined to parent me, please do not fret, we also have plenty of hearty and nourishing soup and yogurt on hand, and Kevin will make me as many smoothies as I want. But right now, I am feeling sorry for myself and indulgent — hence, ice cream and Cheetos.

The Universe Is Telling Me to Rest

Sigh. After yesterday’s really long work day (7 a.m. – 8 p.m.), I was tired and sort of out of it this morning — got the kids off to school, knew I was tired, but it’s been so hot, the garden is desperate for water, so I motivated to go outside and at least get the sprinklers going — which was a mistake.

I missed a step going down the porch stairs and face-planted hard onto my concrete path. Loose front teeth, fat lip, scraped up knees and hands. Was really light-headed coming back into the house, so took some Advil and taking it easy on the couch the rest of the day.

Hoping the teeth settle in and I don’t need dentistry. Anand did this to me once when he was a baby (slammed his very hard skull into my face), and I researched and teeth often just settle back in as the gum heals. They did that time, so fingers crossed.

Guess the universe is telling me to rest today. I kind of knew I needed to. Should have listened. Can’t really chew yet, so I guess I get to have a strawberry smoothie for lunch…

Lexapro

Okay, y’all, so I’m going to talk about Lexapro, but I’m also going to talk about sex drive, so this may be too much information for some of you (such as say, my dad, or my aunties and uncles, or my students) — so I will kindly start with the non-sex parts, and will put a little space before the sex parts, so you can stop reading if you’d prefer. 🙂 Ready? Onwards.

So, I started Lexapro a little over a month ago, 10 mg daily, to hopefully help with mild anxiety. I should emphasize that I don’t think I *needed* to take it, per se — I was just stressed and tense, with my neck and shoulder and upper back muscles really tight by the end of the day. Kevin wondered whether the ADD meds were causing that, but I don’t think so, because they wear off around 5 p.m. (8 hr timed release), and I was still really tense when I was going to bed. And I think I was feeling this way before I started the ADD meds a few years ago.

To recap, I started taking Lexapro in the morning with my other meds (I take Tamoxifen to keep the cancer from coming back, Synthroid supplemental thyroid hormone for my thyroid disase, and Vyvanse for ADD). Lexapro made me crashingly exhausted, so within a few days, I moved to taking it at bedtime, which was better.

It takes your body a while to adapt to Lexapro, so I tried to be patient with it. It immediately and effectively got rid of the tension, so that was good — my muscles stopped knotting up, and I stopped asking Kevin to massage my back every night so I could go to sleep. Good, yes?

However. It made me feel muffled — the best way I can think to describe Lexapro’s effects is that it was like having a thick blanket wrapped around me all the time. In some ways, maybe that made me a little easier to live with, because very little bothered me. I could listen to kids or friends being annoying (as sometimes everyone is, not picking anyone out in particular), without actually getting annoyed, which was nice. I became a more patient person.

But I also just didn’t care as much about getting things done — I completely failed to motivate to exercise, for example, for that entire month, and I’d been used to exercising daily. And while I was able to get my regular work done, I had a really hard time doing anything beyond the minimum necessary. Which is maybe good, in some ways, because I generally try to do too much and I pretty clearly should’ve been resting more previously.

Slowing down a bit was good. But it felt like too much. I was also just tired all the time — bludgeoned with it at the beginning at the month, but still there at the end. Lethargic all day long.

By the end of the month, my body had adapted somewhat, and instead of feeling like a heavy blanket wrapped around me, it felt more like a light one. But that really was still more than I wanted. I asked my doc when we spoke on Friday about cutting the dose in half for the next month, and she agreed that was worth trying. So starting on Saturday, I’ve been using the little pill cutter to cut my dose in half, taking 5 mg at night.

(She also emphasized that we could try different meds that had a similar action to Lexapro to see if they suited me better, or even different meds that functioned very differently — I wanted to try the half-dose, so we’ll hold those options for the future.)

I felt the effects pretty much immediately (I don’t know if that’s common, or if some of this is placebo effect; it feels like changes to this med hit me very clearly and directly). I felt more like myself this weekend, more energetic. Still feeling the Lexapro a bit, but more like a cozy light cardigan than a muffling blanket. The tension did come back somewhat in my shoulders, which wasn’t fun, but not being tired all the time is, I think, a worthwhile tradeoff, if that ends up being the necessary tradeoff. I could live with this.

I’m going to stick with this half-dose for a month, then re-evaluate. So we could stop right there, but I do want to talk about the sex part, so here’s the promised space break:

So, I’d been warned that Lexapro might affect sex drive. It doesn’t for everyone, to be clear. I know people who take it, and they don’t have any sexual issues as a result.

For me, initially, I didn’t think it was affecting sex drive at all. I had sex in the first week after I started it, and it was fun and fine per usual, so if anyone had asked me then, I would’ve said it wasn’t having any effect.

I realized as the month went on, though, that that wasn’t actually the case. I’d say for the entire month I was on it, I didn’t initiate sex at all, and had no interest in sex. Sex didn’t sound particularly fun — I was more interested in watching a murder mystery, having some ice cream, etc. I think I had sex maybe once or twice in that month at most? For me, 2-3 times / week is more typical these days, as a point of reference. And this wasn’t about partner sex; I also had no interest in solo sex, which is also atypical for me.

When I mentioned this to my doctor, she got a little embarrassed, which was honestly sort of cute, but she powered through to ask me relevant questions. She first asked if I was having trouble with orgasms (no) or with wanting to have sex (yes).

Once we’d clarified where the issue lay, she then had two things to offer:

a) if I typically had ‘relations,’ as she put it, before bed, have ‘relations’ first, and then take the Lexapro afterwards

b) think of it like a train — ‘you might not feel like getting on the train, but once you’re on it, you might still find yourself really enjoying the ride’

I am still amused by her ‘relations’ and train metaphor. But I think she’s basically right about the latter — once I was on the train, I did enjoy the ride.

That’s a tricky thing, though — in the context of the almost-30-year relationship I have with Kevin, we’ve been through lowered sex drive due to pregnancy / small child exhaustion, plus chemo and post-surgery/radiation/cancer body dysphoria, etc., and we’ve figured out how to talk about that and be okay with sometimes long stretches without much sex, without taking it personally as a rejection.

We are long past needing to worry about consent issues between us. If Kev’s feeling like sex and I’m not particularly into it, but I know I’ll enjoy it fine once I’m ‘on the train,’ as it were, we’re both fine with starting that way. I can even keep watching my murder mystery for a while, if I want. (Too much information? Sorry, I warned you….)

Those dynamics are trickier to manage without that kind of solid relationship history, though. And it all makes me feel like our society is really TERRIBLE at talking about sex drive — what it is, why it might go away, how to manage it.

We’re particularly bad at the gendered aspects of it. Our society is terrible at talking about how that might play out in a heterosexual marriage, especially if both people are actually committed to joint pleasure and not inclined to subscribe to the ‘close your eyes and think of England’ plan for the wife…

So, anyway. I’m not sure I have any conclusions here. I can tell you that I noticed a clear uptick in interest on my part with the drop to 5 mg dosage, which is very nice to feel. I don’t like not having much (or any) sex drive; it doesn’t feel like me. (Says the woman who spent her 20s writing erotica. The hormones were raging back then…)

I wonder if people handled this better when we all lived in small communities and had trusted village religious leaders to talk to about how to sustain a marriage for the long haul. A celibate Catholic priest? Maybe not…

Mostly, I think we need to talk about this all more. How to do this, how to do it better in a long relationship, with all the expected ups and downs (that maybe aren’t expected if no one has ever talked to you honestly about them, and if you’ve been raised on a diet of Hollywood heat).

How to not be embarrassed when talking about sex, how to treat healthy sexual function as a priority in healthcare, and now I’m wondering if sex therapists are even covered by health insurance in America…

Anywhere, there we are. Hopefully this is helpful to some of you. If you have questions, ask. I’m no expert, but I’ll do my best to answer.