Fine.

You ask how I am and you probably don’t know that this is a hard question. Possibly the hardest.

So I say I’m fine.

Fine I say, fine. I’m fine the kids are fine everything’s fine.

This is not the truth but how do I say the truth, which is that I am so acutely not fine? That the pain is back and it feels almost worse now because why is the pain back after all this time? The pain and the shame and the sadness and the grief, all of these things are supposed to be going away.

It’s been too long and I should be fine and who wants to even hear that I am not fine? I certainly don’t. I am so sick of not being fine.

Because I SHOULD be fine. I want to be done with this and I want to be fine.

I shouldn’t have hit another wall and I shouldn’t be having so much trouble getting out of bed every morning and I shouldn’t be preferring dark rooms to sun again and I shouldn’t have to take NyQuil to fall asleep every night and then struggle to wake up every morning while my husband gets the kids off to school and they come and kiss me goodbye in my bed like I’m some kind of invalid.

I shouldn’t be holding back tears for so many moments of the day.

I shouldn’t have to view getting dressed as a major life accomplishment for which I congratulate myself daily.

I should be fine. And I don’t know why I’m not.

But yes I’m fine, I say to you when you ask how I am, fine.

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But no I am not really fine.

Instead of fine I feel crazy, bipolar, one week feeling the joy of summer and light and laughter and the next week struggling to keep up with all the commitments a normal person might make and look like a normal person while doing them even though nearly every moment there is anxiety and dread and fear and I am struggling.

Struggling to be a functional mom, wife, employee, friend, human.

Every moment feels like a struggle and the work is so hard.

I work hard to use my regular voice, not the flat dead voice that I had for three months last summer. That voice, that voice of despair wants to come back and be heard again.

But it shouldn’t be around anymore, that voice. It’s been too long and I am sure everyone is just sick of hearing that voice and what it has to say and I shouldn’t feel this awful again so there must be something terribly wrong with me so I am fine, I tell you, fine.

I can fake my regular voice now and I couldn’t fake it this time last year so that’s good right?

See, I told you I am fine. I smiled at you too and that wasn’t so hard, now was it? You made a joke and I laughed and so that is good because it’s not too hard to behave like a normal person, right?

Yes, yes it is so hard and it takes so much energy. And now I have to sit down again, retreat to one of my safe places.

It shouldn’t be such hard work to smile at you.

It shouldn’t feel, every minute, that I am fighting to break the surface of the water while I have a cinder block chained to my ankle, and the struggle is mighty to just stay where I am and not be dragged down deeper. Even though I want, so very desperately, to come to shore.

There are people on shore, you know. Smiling, laughing people. They look a little distorted through the water but I think some of them are waving at me. One or two of them might have said something like, “Gosh, that looks hard. That cinder block seems heavy. I’m sorry it’s so hard for you.”

It shouldn’t be such hard work to just stay where I am and not be dragged down further toward the murky depths. I should actually be able to unchain the cinder block and come on shore and be smiling and laughing with the normal people while I dry off in the sun.

I must not be doing this right.

I must not be doing this right because when I look back to two or three years ago (thanks, Facebook Memories) I see that I wasn’t always drowning.

I was on the shore with the people then! I was laughing with friends and being fit and having fun with my family and I just felt like a normal person and I was happy, wasn’t I?

So why this, now, still?

I want to go back to being that person again because she really was fine and this new person, this not-fine-but-pretend-fine-me feels wrong.

Being pretend fine is not what I am supposed to be. I have been fighting against being pretend fine, because that’s what I was for so many years and I know it is wrong.

It is wrong to be drowning and at the same time waving back at people and smiling and say, I’m fine! Hope the party is fun! I’ll be there soon, just give me a hot minute!

But this is too hard and I don’t even really have a good reason to be not fine anymore because it’s been too long and I should be fine for real by now and pretend fine is something I’m good at and I definitely should be way beyond not fine by now, right?

I should have been able to unburden myself of this cinder block by now.

Isn’t there an expression that says fake it til you make it? I have the faking it part down. So why isn’t the make it part happening?

It’s me, it’s definitely me. I am doing something wrong.

So you ask how I am and I smile and say fine, I am fine.

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On Telling True Stories

This week, I made a commitment to write every day, and I did. Some of what I’m writing goes into my personal journal and some is for sharing on the blog.

I spent hours and hours working on a post this week. I couldn’t get it right. I worked it, I revised it, I edited it…I revised it some more and realized that I hated the post. HATED it.

I gave it some space and waited a day then came back to it.

I hated it even more.

As anyone who writes knows, this happens at times. Sometimes writing is just work; it doesn’t always flow out like a waterfall of magical pearls of beautiful and meaningful language. Some days, it’s an ugly brick of concrete that you slap onto the ground, accidentally (or purposely?) let dry, and then earnestly work to chip and sculpt into something more pleasing from its hardened and unattractive form.

I did the work on that post, but it didn’t help this time. I had a paragraph that was a gem, but everything else was so bad that it made me question all my life choices. I was bored re-reading it myself.

Here’s the problem with this post: I had decided that I (and probably you, reader) needed a break from writing about IT.

And by IT I mean, me, my survivor-ism, my healing process, my sad/happy/angry/miserable by turns day-to-day existence as I figure out how to make peace with the past, be present in the now, and move forward into a future I claim as my own.

(First the letting go, then the rising up.)

I wanted to write about something else. Scratch that–I felt like I should write about something else.

And that, my friends, is why the post I worked so hard on just flat out sucked.

It wasn’t true. It wasn’t real. So I finally said, enough.

I’ll keep that one shining nugget of a paragraph and try to find a place for it at some point. But I have to focus on what is most real. I have to keep telling this story. My story.

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I loved reading this quote–and ordered Brene Brown’s book–because it hit such a note with what I’ve been grappling with lately, and it helped me realize that what I’ve been grappling with is the truth.

What is true? Are truth and perspective different? These are the questions that haunt me.

One of the things I have been working on in therapy is letting go of my over-compensation for those who have hurt me. Not just the abusers, but more importantly those who should have taken care of me, made me safe, and didn’t.

I tend to take more than my share of responsibility for things. I tend to give these people a pass, or at the least wonder what I might have done differently to lessen the impact of the harm others inflicted on me, either by their direct actions or their abandonment of me in my time of need.

I tend, too often, to try and see the perspective of these people to understand how I could have behaved in another way to make them behave better…or at the very least to make them feel ok about how badly they were treating me.

I tend to paint my own experience as “my perspective” instead of “the truth,” and do you see what that does? It makes it subjective and therefore open to interpretation and criticism. “My perspective” is vulnerable to being revised by those who are uncomfortable with what happened, with what they did or what they failed to do.

Even as I type these words I see the dysfunctional thinking that informs these beliefs, but they are hardwired and so incredibly hard to overcome.

These beliefs keep me thinking that I am somehow responsible not only for their behavior, but for fixing it for them so I won’t be hurt by their continued harm, leaving them free to go on hurting me.

Really it’s the result of years of manipulation as a child that created these pathways in my brain that their hurtful actions (or non-actions, as the case may be) were not the cause of my pain. That instead, I was the cause of my own pain for allowing myself to be hurt by them. I was too weak. I felt too much. My feelings were my own fault, my own weakness.

Because that’s a totally reasonable way to deal with a child, right? Well no, no it’s not. It’s sick and it’s twisted.

This is what happens when you grow up in the midst of people who manipulate reality–who manipulate the story–to meet their own needs and then call it truth and share it with others as such.

The hardwiring is so embedded that even at 42, and after all I’ve learned in the past year, I still wonder if I have done enough for these harmful, toxic people that I have since removed from my life.

No wonder my therapist yelled at me when one day I said, “Should I be trying harder to maintain a relationship with these people?”

She yelled emphatically and quite unexpectedly, “NO YOU SHOULD NOT!!!”

And then we laughed, because she had never done that before…even though we had been having the same version of this conversation for months, with my obsessing over whether severing these toxic connections was the right thing to do.

She had never answered this question so directly before, but I was so grateful that she did. It gave me the permission I needed–the permission she knew I couldn’t grant myself–to believe the truth of what was done to me not only by those who abused me directly, but by those who left me to suffer the abuse when they should have been the ones keeping me safe.

It’s not my “perspective;” it is the truth. It is what happened–or, better stated, it’s what was done to me. It didn’t “happen,” it was done. Perpetrated. Both the abuse and the abandonment. They are equally as bad. (Actually, the abandonment is probably worse but that’s a story for another day.)

But even as I acknowledge this truth, I still worry, have fear and anxiety about the story I know these people to be telling.

I know they are not telling the same story as me, even though I know the truth. They are telling a false truth to others who I imagine now have a negative opinion of me.

They are painting themselves as the victim of my “drama,” blaming others and/or blaming me, and I know that some people are accepting their stories as the truth.

This is so, so very hard on me. Even though none of these people has contacted or confronted me directly, there have been some subtle things that have happened to indicate their disapproval of my story and their acceptance of the other stories.

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Knowing these false stories are being told and believed impacts me more than I want it to. I have to acknowledge that. Anger and indignation can’t mask that there is a deep hurt that these people, who should love me and accept me and be walking in this painful journey with me, have not only turned away but have thrown lighter fluid on the fire by spreading a false story.

I have been abandoned again when I needed help the most. Again and again and again and again because they can’t face their own culpability. They have to tell themselves and others a different story to preserve themselves, while I stand alone and abandoned once more.

I want to let go of how much I care about what people think of my story–of whether they believe me or not. But I know that getting to a place where I can walk confidently with my story, with the truth, is part of the process. I am not there yet. I will be someday.

(First the letting go, then the rising up.)

In my finer moments I know that this thing, the truth, is a hard thing. It has sharp cutting edges sometimes. It is uncomfortable. It is not for the faint of heart.

Not everyone can walk in the truth, even when they haven’t been told a false story. There are definitely people who have walked away from me–or at least looked away–because this truth is too much for them to see and acknowledge.

I get it. I understand how difficult a hard truth is to swallow. It has literally taken me decades to acknowledge my own truth!

But it still hurts when I see people walk away because of my story and my choice to tell it. It still makes me wonder if, because my story is too much, am I too much? Which in turn pushes me to try to play smaller and write a shitty, lame post that I hate.

Making that connection this week has been a huge win for me. I can’t back away from my story. I won’t.

My story is the truth. I am learning to walk in it without shame or hesitation or fear of how it will be received. And once I do that, I kinda feel like I’m going to be unstoppable.

 

 

 

Ebbs and Flows

I have started this blog like four times…deleted, restarted, deleted again.

I have so much to say and I just don’t know how to start. It keeps feeling like everything I’m writing is like the blah blah blah drone of the Peanuts teacher.

So I feel like the easiest thing to say is, I am sort of living my life again. I have a life to be lived, and it’s high time I started living it somehow.

This pain, this healing process is a part of my life. And I suspect that it will forever be a key turning point for me.

But it’s put me in a state of suspended animation for the last 10 months. That’s almost a full year! It’s almost been a year. Holy shit.

This trauma and healing has disconnected me from people and activities and laughter and love and joy. This is what pain, trauma, deep depression does.

It took me on a turbulence-filled ride of ups and downs and sometimes the bumps are endurable and other times I am frantically looking for the barf bag and not necessarily finding it in time.

The only feelings I could feel were the ones related to the healing. In almost all other ways I became robotic, shell-like, almost inhuman, because there was just no room or energy for anything but pain, anger, sadness, grief.

It has changed over the last couple of months, though.

You know what? In that last sentence, I started to write “Luckily, it has changed over the last couple of months…” But then I deleted it, because it is not changing by luck or happenstance, it is changing through hard work and effort on my part.

It is changing through my (metaphorical) sweat and (real) tears and earnest intention to get to the other side of this ocean of grief from my old life and move forward to be me, living my life. Whatever “me” looks like beyond this grief.

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In therapy a couple of weeks ago, I expressed serious frustration at this ebb and flow effect. Like, WHY DOES THE DEPRESSION/PAIN/ANGER KEEP COMING BACK JUST WHEN I START TO FEEL OKAY? I could not understand why I wasn’t making progress…but my therapist assured me I was. Recognizing that there was an ebb and flow, in fact just experiencing an ebb and flow instead of all pain/anger/sadness/depression all the time, showed my progress.

So I started to think about this last near-year, and how it has all played out for me. I wanted to see it all laid out so I could chart my progress and not feel all my work was in vain, and it has helped. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Everything is fine! Nothing to see here! (early to mid May, memories resurface)
    • I am in a place of shock, with no grasp of HOW BIG THIS WAS.
    • My motto: Let’s just tuck this in with all the other dark things of which we never, ever speak and carry on. (Because carrying on with a smile is always the most important thing.)
    • The armor is cracked, but I am determined to keep wearing it.
    • Seriously, you guys, I can totally walk this thing off! Just give me a hot second.
  • Wait. Something feels…off. (mid to late May)
    • I start to feel a seeping sense of HOW BIG THIS WAS.
    • I have a vague idea that this might not just go down with a hard swallow like a cut-slightly-too-big piece of steak.
    • A bit of a panic creeps in–like maybe I have an entire steak stuck in my throat and I am completely unable to breathe. I think I might not be able to simply carry on.
    • OH MY GOD I MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO CARRY ON! This is a worst case scenario for me, and the panic grows.
    • I become desperate to keep up appearances–it’s what I have spent my entire life doing and I am really, REALLY good at it–and fail.
    • HOLY SHIT I HAVE FAILED AT THIS THING THAT I AM SUPPOSED TO BE REALLY GOOD AT.
  • Implosion/All is Lost (Memorial Day-rest of summer)
  • Phew! Glad that’s over! (late August-September)
    • I decide that the advent of fall, a new season, is my motivation to move forward and leave this behind.
    • I enjoy some time off with my family, I start exercising again, I begin to feel like I am successfully working my way out of the hole.
    • Look at me go! I CAN overachieve at healing from my traumatic past.
  • NOPE, everything is still terrible. I fail again. (October-November)
    • Cue sound of universe laughing at my arrogance in thinking I was all set with this.
    • Cue ill-timed recurrence of toe problems, one of several catalysts sending me back into another version of the black hole.
    • Cue new hole that is not quite as black and all consuming as the original hole, but still…it’s more of like a shallow, gray hole from which I can see the rest of the world but, like, through a weird sheer curtain like the one Sirius Black falls through in Order of the Phoenix (moment of silence for Sirius Black).
    • Cue me returning to a blob-like state of inertia and deep sadness, certain I will never be able to overcome the trauma of my past.
  • EVERYONE MUST DIE. (late November, early to mid December)
    • So much rage. I hated everyone and everything, so I hope no one took it personally.
    • Anger is my best friend, a comforting companion that I indulge in many ways.
  • CHRISTMAS! NEW YEARS! SHINY OBJECTS! AND SADNESS… (December-Jan 1)
    • I refuse to deny my family a happy holiday because of my own misery.
    • We made a perfect plan to escape for the holidays, and we rented a beautiful cabin in the Smokies in North Carolina, just the four of us and our dog.
    • I poignantly realize that the reason we have to flee for the holidays is so that I won’t be faced with the reality that we have no family to spend the holidays with. Because of me and my terrible life choices.
    • I am obviously the worst at everything. Sadness and self-loathing return.
  • It is a new year and I commit to being awesome again! (first 2 weeks of January)
    • I meal plan! I cook! I make a schedule!
    • My family seems more like themselves because I am back into my old role of steering the ship.
    • YAY! I did it!
  • Shit. That didn’t last long. (late January-February)
    • Seasonal depression.
    • More toe problems (I just can’t even with this fucking toe) that leave me heavily reliant on painkillers and unable to walk like a normal person. For two weeks.
    • I am the worst kind of failure and will obviously never be successful at getting my life back together. If it was ever really “together” in the first place.

So….

If you stuck with me through all of that, you can see what I mean by ebb and flow.

Today, in March, on this day and in this moment, I am trying to realize the hard truth: this isn’t just going to “happen.” I have to decide. I have to make it happen. I have to consciously say, today I will move forward in any small way I can.

There won’t be a morning when I awake to hear the birds singing and say, “Today is the day I am normal again! All of the sad things are over!”

There won’t be a moment in the therapists’ office in which I shout, “Eureka! I am healed! Thank you, doctor!” and skip out into the sunlight, never to return.

There will only be more ebbing and flowing, and me, deciding every day to choose my life. To choose the people I love today over a past I can’t change. To choose to actively become the person I was meant to be, whoever that person is, despite the challenges I have faced. Despite the challenges I continue to face.

I have to do it. I have to keep doing it. Every day.

I have to keep looking in the mirror and telling myself I am good, kind, smart person who is worthy of love and respect.

I don’t get to take a break from the motion of life to heal. I have to keep choosing to heal and grow every day, keeping time as best I can with the rhythm of this life I love so dearly. This life I have created for myself and for which I am incredibly grateful. I have to keep living it as best I can amidst the ebb and flow of grief and healing.

It’s not my fault, but it is my responsibility.

Son of a bitch.