If you’ve been reading my blog since its inception, you might know that my husband’s family is from El Salvador and that every year in August or September, his mom and sister come to stay with us for several weeks.
You might also know that while I love them both dearly, there is always a lot of stress for me when they are here.
To say my anxiety levels skyrocket is an understatement. For several weeks, my life is not in my control as usual, and it throws me for a loop.
In fact, last year my chewing/spitting was at its peak when they visited. (I certainly don’t blame them for it; how I react to stress/anxiety is what I was working on in therapy at the time.)
Well, this coming weekend, we will go pick them up for their three-week visit.
And so I am mentally preparing myself now — not dwelling, not projecting … but mentally gearing up because I don’t want to see shades of last year’s visit once again; I pretty much hated myself for a long time after that visit. In addition to the language barrier and our very, very different ways of doing things, it’s difficult for anyone having two people living in your home in such tight confines for so long.
In-laws are the butt of many jokes, but in my case, I honestly don’t dislike mine; I just have very unique circumstances that make it difficult for me at times.
My mother-in-law is almost 72. She’s a very strong, single mother (now retired) who spends her days taking care of my sister-in-law, who is sweet as can be, but severely mentally challenged. (At 37, she has the mental capacity of a four-year-old, which presents a host of challenges outside her control).
They live in El Salvador, so visits here to visit my husband and I are very special for them, and I do realize that.
My husband is pretty Americanized and there’s often a tacit struggle in how we do things as a couple compared to how his mom would do them; he seems torn between the two worlds sometimes, torn between the two women in his life. And I try to be cognizant of that.
So unlike last year, where the circumstance of their visit were less than ideal for both he and I, (detailed here), this year, we tried to take the proactive route, by booking their tickets ourselves and doing it for a finite period of three weeks (versus five) like last year. (We actually tried to do it for August when he had a break from his MBA but tickets were 4 times more expensive then).
Last year I had therapy as a crutch during their visit, and I’m hoping I have enough coping mechanisms now to keep me positive as possible. I don’t want this to be a miserable experience but maybe a redeeming one.
Looking back, I realize that last year I said I wanted things to be OK for the sake of my husband and our relationship — but the truth is, I was still so focused on “me” and how I was doing that I lost sight of a lot of that and it made for a very unpleasant experience for all of us. I don’t want to see that happen again. I don’t want to hurt him; this is his family we’re talking about.
I’ve been chew/spit free since March, and do NOT want to go down that ugly path again. I’m sharing all this today because I know myself, and I know it’s up to me to choose Pride over Guilt yet again. I don’t mean in terms of food; I mean in terms of how I handle my anxiety.
If things feel challenging, I’ll just need to cope in my own ways: making lunch dates with my husband, finding quiet time/alone time, throwing myself into work (I’m planning a large event in Chicago for October anyway), phone dates with friends, girls’ night dinner, working out in the mornings most days so I can have evenings free to spend with them … I can do it.
Food won’t solve my anxieties; over-exercising won’t solve my anxieties. Facing them head-on will. So this time, I hope to manage my anxiety a little better.
Dr. G. promised me that each time they visit, it will get easier and easier because I’ll have learned how to deal with it better and better (systematic desensitization, she called it in therapist (CBT) terms).
I hope she’s right. She didn’t help me overcome disordered eating issues, but she did teach me a lot about my hard-wiring and my anxiety.
When I say goodbye to them at the end of three weeks, I want to feel Pride, not Guilt. And so I’m willing to put those coping mechanisms to the test. For the sake of myself, my husband, and (most precious of all) our relationship.
How about you? How do you handle stress and anxiety when it’s something you can’t control?