A reader writes:
Hello I’m a fellow Buddhist, I do have a temper and stress problem and always have and have tried to work on it. I have suffered from anxiety since young adulthood, but recently after giving birth to my son have been affected with what doctors think is stress induced IBS. It causes me great pain when under stress (something inevitable with a toddler) and causes a handful of other problems. I can’t just leave to meditate, and I rarely get a minute alone time with the baby, and it’s becoming very confusing, stressful, and devastating to deal with. I know I can not control situations, only my reaction and response to them, but with the daily and constant pain I become unable to cope. I end up yelling or crying, getting upset at my husband when he gets home, or (as I am ashamed to admit) I get upset at my young son, who only does what he does out of pure innocence.
I am very torn, I’ve gone to many doctors, had many surgeries and tests, taken many pills and tried many diet changes. We have found nothing except the guess that it’s stress induced. I’m lost and not sure how to cope with this. I meditate at least once a day, but having to watch a toddler all day means I don’t get much time to relax my body to help with the pain. I was wondering if there is some sort of meditation I can do while still able to watch him, I practice walking meditation when my son is outside walking around, but inside (like cooking for example) I can not cope with tripping over a baby following me, chopping food, handling hot food, watching my feet for toys and brooms he’s gotten out, and trying to get the table set. The accumulative just kills my stomach, causes me to stress more, and gets me upset at someone in the house. I’m not sure how to handle this in an efficient way, and the only thing I really haven’t tried is coping with my sudden stress because I’m not sure how.
Meditation has helped with a lot of issues, but there is no kind that I’m aware of that I can do on the fly, while watching a baby, and doing whatever it is I have to do. I hope maybe you can give me some insight to what to do when this sudden pain causes me to become blind with anger and overwhelmed.
My response to this comes in three parts:
1) The first thing that popped into my mind had nothing to do with Buddhism. When I was little, my parents put me in a thing called a “playpen.” It was essentially a soft, safe “cage” for a child. It seems to me that these have gone out of fashion in modern times, as parents seem to have some aversion to not giving their child infinite freedom. If your son is continually under your feet and leaving toys around while you’re trying to work, then put him in the playpen for a few hours. Once it becomes part of the routine, he’ll come to enjoy it.
2) Another issue I see here is that you are never alone. Everyone needs some “me” time. Maybe it’s used for meditation. Maybe it’s to read a book. Maybe it’s to catch a nap, or a movie, or just to take a walk at the mall. You need time away from your children (and husband too) sometimes. This doesn’t make you a bad mother, it makes you human. The best solution is to get a babysitter to watch your child for a few hours a week. You don’t always have to get a sitter just for special events; get one to watch your child while you go for a walk. If money is tight, try to get a family member to help. You didn’t say anything about your husband trying to help; perhaps he needs to step up a little more. The important thing is to get away.
But since this is a Buddhist site, and not one on parenting advice, I’ll get onto the topic of pain:
3) IBS is a complex condition that has many potential causes and remedies, none of which are perfectly effective. From your letter, I assume you’ve tried various medications without success. That does leave various non-medicinal treatments that may help.
Exercise in general may help with IBS. More specifically to this site, you may want to look into Yoga. I’m told that the various positions, stretches, and exercises have been known to help in the affected areas. Again, this requires some free time on a regular basis.
Personally, I’m not big on pushing meditation as a way to manage pain. Various psychogenic maladies (those caused by the mind or stress) can be reduced through meditation, but for pain caused by actual physical problems, I’d prefer to be under a doctor’s care. The problem with IBS is that the causes are not entirely understood. You say in your letter that you think it’s stress related, so we can work with that.
The first thing I would do is work to get rid of so much stress. Meditation is well and good, but reducing your existing stress is far easier and faster, and probably more important at this stage. My first two points above address that issue to some extent. I get the impression that you want to take up meditation in order to allow you to deal with the growing stress in your life. It seems to me that you’re just trying to dig a bigger hole to fit more stress in. Your goal should be eliminating stress, not enabling yourself to deal with more of it.