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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Memory # 5,892

Note: The Memory Series is made up of entries that are my attempt to puzzle together so many disjointed and out of context memories and pieces of memories that float around in my brain. Most of these are memories I’ve always had, but even though I remembered these events, I never really examined or understood them. They are now critical memories to revisit as I work through my healing process. The numbers attached to each memory aren’t that important; they’re mostly random but the do indicate their order in my life.

From my journal on July 11, 2015

It’s been two months, and this is the loneliest place I have ever been.

Sometimes my chest feels like it is going to explode with rage and sadness. Sometimes I want to scream, “Somebody DO SOMETHING!” Sometimes I do scream it. Sometimes I scream for help.

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No one helps.

Because no one can.

My good friends, who are wonderful people, don’t understand, and I know it’s not their fault, because no one understands. I am glad that they don’t understand, because it means they did not have to go through what I have.

Where I am, no one can help. Because what is there to be done, anyway?

No one can help me.

No one.

It doesn’t matter that some of my other “friends” heard my story and then disappeared, while other “friends” barely noticed when I fell into this abyss two months ago and disappeared from all the regular places they would have seen me otherwise.

Because even if these “friends” were present, what could they do?

It occurs to me that my entire life through I’ve never had that one person, a best friend, a best BEST friend. One that I could show every part of me and not be afraid. I suppose a lot of that is my own fault.

But if I did have a real best friend, I imagine that she would come over in her sweatpants with her hair in a messy ponytail and bring me some sweets and plunk her ass down on the couch next to me.

And just be there with me. In this black hole of tears and screams and quiet or not so quiet sadness in front of a stupid sappy television show or another raunchy comedy.

This best friend, I imagine, will bring a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and eat it with me while we watch American Ninja Warrior, and listen as I fantasize that I will RISE ABOVE THESE CHALLENGES and create a backyard training facility and lose a hundred pounds and become THE NEXT AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR and show them all that I am stronger than what they did to me.

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Well, I am not going to be the next American Ninja Warrior. And I don’t have any friends like that. And there are no pints of Ben and Jerry’s in sight. And I can barely walk a half mile without my tendinitis acting up much less run up a vertical wall and everything just fucking sucks anyway and I am sitting here alone.

Because, even for the real friends, good friends, true friends, life goes on. I am stuck here, in this place, and everyone else’s life goes on and I don’t have a bestie best friend who will bring the Oreo brownies from my favorite bakery and sit next to me and say, “What shitty romantic comedy are we watching next?”

Maybe then I wouldn’t feel so alone.

Maybe there are friends in my handful of good ones that would do these things if I asked them.

But I won’t ask. I can’t. It’s not who I am today. I don’t want to be a bother. I know they have lives to live and their own kids to tend to while my two kids wonder what is wrong with Mommy, why she is always sitting on the couch crying or laying in bed crying or standing in the kitchen crying. Because usually Mom cooks when she’s in the kitchen but now she just cries everywhere.

So, anyway, people must live their lives and I am alone.

My husband has been a champ, but he has to keep the family trains running. Keep the kids moving to school, camp, etc. Do the grocery shopping, make the dinners, wash the dishes. While I am sitting or laying or standing and crying.

This has been a huge burden for him and he is rising to the occasion, mightily. But it doesn’t give him the room to sit down next to me, and he doesn’t really like brownies or ice cream and frankly I think that he, like others who love and care for me, is a bit bewildered and at a loss of what to do for me.

Because really, what can anyone do?

So I’m still alone.

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.