As I mentioned earlier, I've had some issues around breathing. Specifically, what was very mild and intermittent asthma suddenly blossomed into something much uglier and more persistent. We're still working on the what and the why, but in the meantime the doctors figured we should probably stabilize my breathing and get my lungs working again. Enter the steroid, a common treatment for asthma (among other things). It worked just like they hoped! Breathing is no longer a struggle for me, and my chest doesn't sound like a rusty carberator. So that part is great. Wonderful, even.
However, sometimes steroids can have side effects. (As do many medications, obviously. To be clear, this isn't about taking them or not--that's a conversation between you and your doctor.) The jitters are one, as are mood swings. And while I've heard about "Roid Rage," it usually applied to folks taking steroids to increase athletic prowess, not folks taking steroids for asthma.
I'd been on the medication for a few days, and my breath was still short but stabilizing. It was time to clean up the Christmas decorations, and I was home with both kids and the goal of clearing out the living room. The kids were not that into cleaning up (shocking). My daughter, in particular, was spending her time in her room getting lost in one thing after another instead of focusing on putting away her things. I mean, how dare she act like a 6-year-old, right? Out of nowhere something inside me snapped and my mouth erupted into less-than-kind words, at a very loud volume. And they kept pouring out. My son shrank back, with this look of shock on his face. My daughter dissolved into tears. And I kept going. I yelled at her. I yelled at him. I yelled at the dogs and the cat. A random box invoked my wrath and became the recipient of more yelling and even a vicious kick or two.
Eventually, I sat down, still very angry (but able to recognize this was NOT normal for me), with my computer. I looked up the medication and side effects. I realized what was happening. And here's the thing--knowing that my brain chemistry had been hijacked did not lessen that anger in any way. It was almost like watching it happen to someone else. But it did help me stop the behavior. I couldn't make the feeling go away, but I could recognize it for what it was. I was able to stop yelling and try to be the mom I wanted to be.
So I called the kids in. I took a few breaths and told them I had been unkind that morning. I explained that I was taking some medicine that can make me feel really angry for no reason, and then I apologized. I apologized up one side and down the other. I asked for forgiveness, and then I told them in the future I was going to try really hard not to yell like that.
And here was the moment of grace, that moment when, as a parent, it's all worth it. Not only did both kids instantly forgive me, they comforted me. Each of them recognized the behavior was totally out of character, and they told me they would help me when I started to have the mood swings again. They were the embodiment of compassionate, caring individuals.
They've been as good as their word. I've been on this medication for a few weeks now (I'm doing a very slow taper), and there have been many incidents when I would suddenly fly into anger (sometimes it's tears or abject depression--never unbridled joy, though, which seems unfair...but I digress). When that happened, I might start to yell but so far have been able to scale it back quickly. I'll say, "I'm sorry I snapped at you. That was not very reasonable of me." And the kids will say, "Yeah, that was your angry medicine." "Yeah," I reply, "I think so." "But it wasn't as bad as that first time!" my son will say. "No, not nearly as bad as that. That was pretty crazy, huh?" "Yeah," they both laugh. They laugh! I find myself thankful each day that they were able to recover from that and now respond with love and laughter.
I've been out of the habit of meditating the last few weeks, focusing more on simply getting better and trying to sleep as much as possible. But here is what I have concluded: that regular practice served me well, even when I wasn't doing it daily. That practice is what let me recognize the emotion of anger, and get out from drowning in it. Being able to label the feeling and engage my pre-frontal cortex shifted me over into a mindset where I was able to make choices and not simply become lost in the hormones flooding my brain and body. The anger was still there, yes. I wasn't able to make it magically go away. What I was able to do was decide in that moment what kind of parent/person I wanted to be and change my behavior accordingly.
I have not enjoyed the ride of the last few weeks. It's been really rough. But I'm in a place now where I can start to look at where the lessons were. And this particular one seemed worth sharing.
Blessings and a very healthy new year to you all!
Telling Your Brain the Truth (or, I Guess They DO Listen!)