Avoiding the Personal Meltdown

The impact of a personal meltdown may not be global, but it
sure can shake things up in our own tiny corner of the world. As a mother of
two sons, there are two things I never wanted my kids to see. One doesn’t need
to be mentioned because it would be stating the obvious. The other is a
personal meltdown. I never wanted my kids to see me fall apart or lose control
of myself. A small part of this was based on preserving my personal dignity,
but mostly it was for their sake. I believe a child’s sense of security and
emotional well-being is very delicately hinged on how firmly mom and dad have
their feet planted on the ground. That doesn’t mean I don’t respond to bad
behavior or show my grief when appropriate. To me, keeping my cool under fire
and talking myself down from angry reactions is a parent’s end of the “trust
bargain.” I taught my boys that trust was fragile—one lie can undo a lot, and
it takes years to rebuild it. The same goes for a parental meltdown. A child
sees it once, especially if they’re young and impressionable, and it is
emblazoned in their memory forever. Like a criminal record or a true confession
gone viral. You can’t get away from it, and it might get thrown in your face
for the rest of your life.

How do I know this? I had one of these incidental meltdowns
in the car when my kids were about 8 and 12. It wasn’t a major episode, but I
behaved like an angry teenager and showed them a side that was very out of
character for me. I spouted the “F” word and flipped the bird to someone who
cut me off. Not so bad? It was in front of my mother-in-law. According to my
boys, my fisted hand, with the middle finger thrust upward, was right under Grandma’s
nose. Very nice. And what a good example for young men who were only a few
years away from getting their driver’s license. I gave them a lesson in Road
Rage 101 instead of teaching them how to diffuse it. They laugh about it now,
but they enjoy bringing it up to embarrass me. In other words, that slip off
the “mommy pedestal” is something they will never forget. So they make sure I
don’t forget it either.

If this minor incident had such an impact, imagine how a
daily dose of this “fly-off-the-handle” behavior affects the children we raise.
They are little anarchists at heart.

Anger and fear are the two emotions that we have to deal
with all the time in real life. How we deal with those daily challenges affects
everything. Small glimmers of fear can explode into crippling anxiety when left
unchecked. I’ve seen it happen with people very close to me. Small resentments
morph into bitterness and ruin relationships. Small sparks of anger can fester
into contagion and consume everything in its path.

For me, faith is a grounding rod. I try to see the good in
people (not always easy), and my conscience was formed with the firm belief in
an “All-Seeing Eye.” It gives me the ability to talk myself down when something
ugly threatens to undo me. Some people reserve a sanctuary in their own mind—a
“happy place”—where they mentally escape to avoid a regrettable reaction. Some
may simply count to ten, allowing reason to hold sway over emotion.

The ways we avoid a personal meltdown are as varied as the
individual. Instead of claiming that one way is better than another, I think
it’s better to pose the question and allow people to share their thoughts on
this. You might be helping someone who needs to hear this advice today.

How do you talk
yourself down when you’re on the verge of a meltdown?

Simplify…Are You Kidding Me?

Every New Year’s Day, it’s among my many resolutions. Every season of spiritual renewal I vow to make it my new way of life. Intellectually, I grasp the value of unfettering myself from so many material pursuits. Aesthetically, I recognize when the space around me is balanced—a tended garden or the living room of a friend who knows her feng shui. Lately it is the one goal I find most attractive and…alas…most unattainable.

To simplify my life.

I would believe the whole concept to be a myth if I didn’t actually know people who live in the paradise of simplicity. In my novel, “The Healing,” the character named Grace is such a person, and I created her in the likeness of a dear friend. Yes, people like this actually exist. They are detached from their worldly possessions. Their minds appear to be unclouded. Their lives are in order because their priorities are in order. And they take each day as it comes without dwelling on the past or getting anxious about the future. This is what I envy most—the ability to live in the moment.

Even though I’m not one to make lists, I have this notion that I am unable to relax until I accomplish what I set out to accomplish. “I’ll go for that nice walk, but let me finish this first.” Or, “I’ll sit down to read after I’ve done the bills and cleared off the desk.” That list of mine might not be written down on paper, but it’s branded on my brain. It gets longer as I get older and life gets more complicated. At this rate, I’d have to live three more centuries before I could disentangle myself from my own expectations.

So instead of fantasizing about the end result—A Life of Simplicity for Fran Pergamo—I’ve come up with three rules that I will attempt to impose upon myself:

• Prioritize

Spiritual well-being has to come first. Not only does it set a person on the right path, but it is the source of inner peace and purpose. Human connection is second—family, friends and those with whom we come into contact each day. Everything else is optional, flexible, or downright dispensable. I believe this wholeheartedly. Can I live my life accordingly? I’m working on it.

• Avoid Being Overly Sentimental

This is so hard for me. I have been sentimental about people, places and the objects connected to them ever since I was a toddler. Hubby Jim and I are both the babies in the family, and it’s evident in our attachment to “things” that belonged to parents, “things” we’ve given each other, “things” that remind us of a person or an event we wish to somehow immortalize. Unfortunately, our younger son is the same way, so we preserve everything knowing he’d be willing to keep it all. Now I’m starting to think, why would I do that to him?

We have what matters in our hearts. Yes, keep one or two things. Keep the pictures. Write down the history. But every tool, every kitchen gadget? Even as I write this, I realize it’s like some form of idolatry. Will I be giving away all that stuff? We’ll see.

• Do One Thing At A Time (And Finish It)

I often spin in circles when I have a full day at home. Today I am writing this blog post, and I probably allowed myself to get distracted more than twenty times. I would’ve been done hours ago if I didn’t jump up to “get something else started” every time I had a random thought. This is a matter of discipline, and if this is the path I chose, I can’t keep detouring. I can make excuses about the artistic mind or say that I NEED the distraction, but then I can’t complain when I find myself juggling a dozen unfinished projects and commitments in a day.

So here I am writing instead of cleaning out my closets. Here I am writing instead of visiting an elderly loved one. But I will finish this article and post it today.

I vow to simplify my life…tomorrow.

Are you in?