I have had a number of people applaud the honesty of my blog posts, my willingness to be completely open and vulnerable about very personal experiences and struggles.
First, sharing my unfiltered self on social media hasn’t been too scary and doesn’t feel very brave. Talking to the people I love face-to-face about these issues is the much more difficult but also more important task that I continue to struggle with. I am getting better but I think that part will always be a work in progress and that’s okay.
Second, being honest and open and vulnerable is unbelievably freeing. I have received so many supportive messages from friends and strangers and people I used to know in what feels like another life. The sister/brother/parenthood is alive and well and, thanks to all of you, I now know there is not a single thought, word or deed in which I am alone, no matter how shameful it may seem to me.
Because you and I have shined a light on things I am most ashamed of, they no longer feel so shameful. I have been a secret-keeper my whole life until recently. Never again. I know you will help me carry my burdens now and forever. And I will help carry yours, happily and with all my heart. Just tell me.
Nearly one year ago now, I fell into a deep, dark hole of depression and anxiety. I have spent the days since sometimes working to climb back out, sometimes knocking over my own ladder.
Most days I want desperately to feel better, but some days it feels so impossible that even the thought of trying breaks my heart. On those days, I try to convince myself that the hole is not so bad. There is still some light here; I am still me here; and I can wife and mother from in here (in a distant but also protected sort of way).
Except that is a lie, that last part.
There is nothing distant or protected about being a wife or a mother (or a daughter or a sister or a good friend). Living your life from inside a hole (of mental illness, substance abuse, perfectionism, whatever) is a lie. It makes you feel separate, removed, apart, but you are not any of those things. It feels that way, but none of those feelings are true. Like a mime in her invisible glass box, I spend my days acting as though I am separated from my life and the people in it by my sadness, but I am not. Nobody is fooled but me.
I have been tricked by my own mind into thinking it is safer down here. That my shield of unhappiness and refusal to be fully present will protect me when something (inevitably) goes wrong.
Because, dear god, if I allow myself to feel nothing but unmitigated joy and love and awe in the presence of my three small children and the lovely home life my husband and I have made together, surely something terrible will happen. Someone or something (a new acquaintance, an accident, an illness) will come, swiftly and without mercy, and tear it all to pieces. And I will die.
So, instead, I have chosen to kill myself, in little ways, everyday; to deprieve myself, undermine myself, remind myself, and prepare myself by inflicting, in small, mostly bearable ways, the pain of a loss yet to come (which may never come).
I have lived my life convinced that at some point, by some means, I would lose everyone I love. Because I am not worthy, and sooner or later the unworthy are found out and left behind.
What a fearful, wasteful way to live.
Nothing is inevitable or pre-ordained in life: not happiness or sadness, comedy or tragedy, health or sickness, love that grows with time or love that fades to something different, growing old in a life tangled up with your spouse and children or passing the years of adulthood taking comfort in your own company.
I am standing a the edge of an era. My youngest and last babies are nearly a year old. I sit with them now, I watch and I play a bit. But mostly I sit and I think:
What if there is no hole, no ladder, no box? What if, instead, there is just this life, for me and my family, with nothing keeping us apart, expect false barriers of fear and anxiety that exist in my mind but nowhere else.
Given what I now know to be true (and not just real (to me)), the choice seems absurdly simple, although not necessarily easy. I can choose to be present, to be in it with my loved ones, now and for the long haul, or I can choose to be lost — to them and myself.
This is my life. I am in charge. And I choose them. Everyday in ever way.
We will bear each other up and let each other down. We will give each other great joy and great sadness. The kids will steal my sleep and my heart. In exchange, I will help them learn to be — to be patient, kind, funny, and forgiving (towards themselves and others); to keep their hearts and minds and bodies safe, but not isolated or hidden away out of fear of being hurt. To be brave, whatever brave means to them under the circumstances. To ask big questions and have high expectations, for themselves and the people they choose to spend their time with. And to never, ever forget that there is nothing — not one thing — that could ever make me stop loving them with my whole heart.
That there is no hole, no dark place you can climb (or fall down) into that will separate or protect you from your life and the people in it. You are here. Be here. I will do my best to be here, too.
I was going to write everyday; be a poet; leave my little town and never look back; fall in love again and again because the beginning is always the best; read all of the books; learn French and live in Paris; never stop being friends with my girl E.
Two decades later:
I have started to write again but seldom is it poetry; haven’t been home in years; fall in love with my children all over again each morning; read despite the need for sleep; barely remember my college French and have spent only three days in Paris (so far). And E is “friend” in cyberspace — the opposite of what we once were.