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?

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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?

Letting Go…The Hardest Part

When my younger son went to Kindergarten, he still looked like a baby. But he sure didn’t act like one. He was at the top of the maturity scale for 5-year-olds. He read The Hobbit in first grade and became a behavioral pawn for the teachers, drawing out the shy kids and calming down the wild ones. I recognized his many gifts and knew he had a lot to offer the world. Even back then, I realized I’d better enjoy the time I had with him because the letting go was going to be relative to the pride I felt in his accomplishments. So when he jumped out of the car on that first day of school, I had a premonition of all that was to come. And I cried. Not because he didn’t turn around to wave, but because I knew he was only mine for a little while.

My older son moved out right after graduating from high school, and the same feelings of separation tore at me. Life would change, he would struggle to find his way, and I couldn’t be home base any more. It was even more painful than his first day of Kindergarten. It still is. As my children venture into a world that is far from fair, they struggle while I can only watch. Suddenly my rose-colored glasses provide no visibility at all. Now I eat antacids and pray very hard because I am no longer holding their hands. I am no longer in control. Worst of all, I can’t make things all better.

As I get older, these occasions of letting go are growing more frequent and more painful. I’ve relocated a few times and felt the separation from familiar faces and friends. I’ve seen the world change drastically from the culture I knew growing up in Queens. And hardest of all, there are the final farewells. To grandparents and their whole generation. To parents and their whole generation. If I live to my life expectancy, I will be letting go of my own peers. Maybe my sister, my best friend. Maybe my husband. Do I dwell on this? No. Do I have to accept it? Yes.

Letting go is vital to wisdom and peace of mind. Very often, letting go is vital to another person’s well-being. And like any other challenge in life, acceptance is the first step. But people deal with the emotional fallout in different ways. For me, faith gives meaning to everything, so no matter how close to the edge I get, I feel like I have a lifeline. That doesn’t mean letting go is easy for me. But I’m learning.

Do you have any insight to share on letting go?

Do You Know Any Everyday Heroes?

We turn on the news and hear about the guy who jumped onto the train tracks to save someone. Or we see the image of a firefighter carrying a baby from a burning building. My own father, a longshoreman on the busy piers of New York City in the 1950’s, got a medal from his shipping company for jumping into the murky waters of the Hudson River to save a co-worker who fell off the dock with his forklift. These are heroic acts that deserve recognition and gratitude.

 But we don’t hear about the grandmother who tries to keep her daughter’s kids off drug-infested streets. Or the husband who cares for his wife who has Alzheimer’s. Or the sister who takes in a mentally challenged sibling when their parents die. And these people are just as heroic. They might even be more heroic because their courage is not an act of impulse or the nature of a job. It is a life choice to do what they feel is right for the ones they love.

 These people are everywhere. They are in our neighborhoods and in our workplace. They are next to us on the bus and in the pews of our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. They don’t need power, fame or even better than average intelligence to do what they do. They don’t get media coverage. Sometimes they don’t even get a pat on the back. The news outlets and cultural trends can keep harping on the same story and glorifying the same celluloid characters, but the everyday heroes are busy enough in their own corner of the world. Whether anyone is conscious of it or not, they offer themselves up daily for someone they love.

 I met a woman at my recent book signing who has progressive multiple sclerosis. She wanted to come out and meet me, even though she could barely walk or talk. Her husband, who obviously loves her very much, suffers from bipolar disorder. I was so honored to meet them, because together they personified the human spirit. They held each other up. Do you know someone like this? Here’s your chance to give them a small tribute.

Welcome to My Blog!

I wrote a story about the importance of the human connection. Call me a dreamer, or better yet, call me old-fashioned, but I believe that love really does conquer all. Not the love of fleeting passions or fickle affections. True love is sacrificial. It sticks around for the “worst” in “for better or for worse.” It focuses more on “other” and less on “self.” Are you blessed enough to know someone who is capable of this kind of love? I am. I know a few of them. And I wanted to tell a story with these kinds of characters because they stoke the heart and ring true to everyone. If I was asked to define a mission for my book, it would be to rekindle what is at the core of human relationships and get back to the basics in life. In the last decade or so, it seems we are more connected to machines and selfish material pursuits than we are to each other. We launch our every thought into cyberspace thinking the whole world is waiting to know our opinion. We play games on the Internet without the laughter and personal interaction. We seek pleasure in simulated worlds. Meanwhile, the people we live with are sitting a few feet away. A lonely neighbor might be right across the street. Maybe the only thing that would make their day worthwhile is a bit of conversation or a shared cup of coffee. Instead, we are more interested in Hollywood celebrities than the real people around us. It makes for a pretty dysfunctional society. One last thought: We take too much for granted. Especially when it comes to the people we love. Every once in a while, tragedies like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina make us pause and take inventory of the things that should be most important to us, but unless we are directly affected, we don’t make an effort to change. Why is that? Why don’t we ever learn? I don’t think it’s morbid to imagine being stripped of your blessings. I think it’s a necessary exercise in appreciation. What would you miss most?