Reality Mom: Couch Mania
Once or twice a year I lose my mind. Well, I lose my mind daily, but I’m referring to a heightened energetic, variably irrational state that lasts for a week or so. I believe the term is called mania and it involves insomnia and scattered thinking, but tons and tons of energy.
I used to enjoy this state and it was with reluctance that I asked a therapist years ago whether or not she thought I was manic-depressive. If she said yes, I was afraid she would medicate my high away. If she said no, I wouldn’t have the reassurance of a label to understand my neurosis. She said no, leaving me to continue to self diagnose and treat myself in perhaps non-useful ways. “The four rounds of acupuncture sort of helped or was it merely the melatonin I started taking as well?” “Going to visit Jill and talking incessantly for forty eight hours seemed to help, maybe I just need to do that every year.” And the most recent reassurance, “Well, at least I’ll never be a meth addict, I like sleeping too much.”
The most recent episode began around the solstice and was well received along with the long days and sunshine. I’d wake after a mere four hours of sleep feeling alert and excited about all I was going to accomplish that day. But manic highs, similarly to caffeine, give me the impression that I’m being very productive, but in actuality I am only moving and talking very quickly in ways that complicate my life. If I could spend even five of my vertical twenty hours writing, I could live with the insomnia. But what really happened was I’d wake up at 5, deny this for an hour of two, finally get up to write for an hour or until the kids woke up and found me, tend to them and get them to their respective camps, start writing again while also checking emails, calls for submissions, the weather, reading client’s work, and then the black hole of them all: craigslist.
There is usually an area of my life that I fixate on during these episodes, the most recent being my mothering skills. My relationship with my kids is ever present in my mind, but during my high-energy mode, incongruous connections and solutions were made to what may or may not have been a problem. I convinced myself that if I bought a large sectional couch, I would be a better parent. And craigslist was the portal to the solution.
I became enraptured with all of the cuddling and bonding that would occur while viewing mother improving couch after couch. My main incentive was to try to recapture the “being under a tree” feeling I had in Puerto Rico while being here with my kids. The grand dream was for us to cohabitate the living room together in a peaceful relaxing way. I wouldn’t need to tend to them or any other household chore, they wouldn’t jump on me or ask me a thousand questions, nor would they fight with one another. We would all lounge together quietly and peacefully on the couch reading our respective books or, I’m really delusional here, just sit together doing nothing. And this was all magically going to occur regularly and easily once I found the right couch.
But first, I had to sell all of my bad parenting furniture. A couple of years earlier I had organized my living room to be suitable for teaching writing classes. I had at least half a dozen individual chairs to sit in, none of which required anyone to touch or be too close to the person next to them. This is great for a room full of strangers, but not so great for a family who will surely one day all sit harmoniously all.
Before I could sell my furniture, I had to have it cleaned. And then I had to take pictures of it, post the pictures on the web, field phone calls and emails about it, keep the now clean furniture clean, rearrange the room repeatedly to make room for our new salvation…you get the idea. I stopped short of repainting the living room a “Mother improving” color, when I recalled how last summer I painted it “my house is a warm and welcoming place for friends” blue.
The good thing about couch mania is it can be tended to at any time. I searched craigslist at two a.m, I rearranged furniture at six a.m, and I measured and re-measured the room at noon. The bad thing about couch mania is I couldn’t escape it. It felt akin to trying to live, work, and sleep with a tornado in the center of my house. When I left home, a calm overtook me, but as soon as I opened the door to return, 80 mph gusts of wind knocked me off course again.
By day four of this, I grew weary of both couches and mania. I gave up on virtual couches and went to fee Frank, the man responsible for pulling me out of many other manic tornadoes. His consignment shop almost always has the exact solution to my problem; therefore my house is increasingly filled with his furniture.
The kids bounced from couch to couch, claiming all of them as perfect, while I took pictures. I know my episodes well enough to know they do not produce clear and concise decision making skills. In risk of producing more insomnia, I only let myself “research” this day. I left Frank’s shop with many pictures and ideas and visited another consignment shop.
“It’s just like Value Village!” my son squealed as he sat on a worn, threadbare sofa. I was thinking the same exact thought, but with less enthusiasm. Not that I have anything against Value Village, we buy almost all of our clothes there and many household appliances, but I draw the line at anything that I’ll continually rest my head on.
On our way home from the pseudo-Value Village, my five-year-old daughter asked why we were looking at couches.
“I want a big comfortable couch that we can all lie on together,” I replied.
“We have that in the TV room,” she responded. “But you never sit on it with us.”
I stopped myself from saying, “That’s because I don’t watch TV,” and instead took in the wisdom of her words. I already had what I needed and I didn’t need to waste any more time, energy, or money looking for it elsewhere. A sectional couch wasn’t going to make my life better; being relaxed around my kids was. Manically searching for couches wasn’t going to relax me, nor make me a better parent.
Rather than stopping at another store, I took us home to our couchless, almost bare living room. I turned on our new $5 Value Village lamp and we all lay on the floor together. As the kids discussed Frank’s dogs, I thought, “This could work. It’s simple and minimalist. Kind of like sitting under a tree.”
Corbin Lewars is the author of Creating a Life: The memoir of a writer and mom in the making, which was nominated for the 2011 PNBA and Washington State book awards. Her essays have been featured in over twenty-five publications including Mothering and Hip Mama. She has been a writing coach and instructor for over fifteen years and currently sees clients in the old Carnegie Library Building in Ballard. Contact her for details.