I am a mess. If I were an artist, and could paint a representation of how I see myself from the inside out I would draw a girl; not the 37 woman that I am, but a child, curled into a ball and crying. An ugly cry at that, not a sweet whimper, but the cry that makes you gasp for air and leaves you with snot running down your face. A complete mess.
I am very aware each day that I am mere moments from losing my shit. From bubbling over, from falling completely apart. And this mess has become my new normal. (A phrase I have come loath by the way). This inner feeling of breaking into a thousand pieces at any given second has become a way of living. Not a pretty one, but one none the less.
However, on the outside I have a pretty sturdy layer covering my mess and helping me to make it through each day. On this layer I am a mom, a wife, a teacher, a friend, a taxi driver, a cheerleader at t-ball games and school concerts. This protective covering doesn’t take away from the mess but it allows me to feel joy, to laugh and smile. This coating of normalcy and of strength is the reason I can get myself out of bed and enjoy my days.
If I had the ability to depict my outer layer in a painting it would be multi-colored and built with images from my childhood, times when I fell down and got back up. When life didn’t work out and I didn’t quit. There would be lots of pictures of my parents. Happy times, memories and events that while maybe not significant as they happened, helped to sculpt me into the woman I am today. My armor is vibrant and built with joy, love, faith and hope.
The problem with this picture is that I am using my armor all wrong. Armor historically is worn to keep the bad out, to protect your most valuable parts from damage. Not to keep the damage in. To those closest to me it has become apparent that my armor is showing signs of wear and tear form the battering ram that is my innermost thoughts. It is starting to splinter, and like light beams pouring down from the breaks in the clouds, or lava oozing up from from the fiery depths of a volcano, my anger, and brokenness are more frequently piercing its way through my once sturdy protective layer of joy, love, faith and hope. These cracks, like any small break in something meant to hold tremendous weight may look like nothing to worry about. But left alone, small cracks become gaping holes which can cause catastrophic disaster, a complete collapse in a structure once built to hold strong against any disaster.
As with any structural damage, an engineer has a decision to make; to mend the crack or mend the cause of the crack? Most of the time the best solution is to do both to ensure the entire problem was fixed and doesn’t happen again. But it is so much easier to fix the crack. It takes less sweat equity, less effort and is so much faster. A little putty makes the armor whole again and you can return to your everyday life. It is faster just to patch the spot that is causing the bad things to seep out. We can deal with the cause when we have more time, more resources, more of everything. For now we patch and move on. I think most of us a just menders of our armor.
For the last five and a half years I have only temporarily mended the weak spots in my armor. I made it my mission to gather as many loving moments and snippets of joy that I can. I savor my children, recognizing their sweetest moments and soaking them up, often bringing me to tears. I cry (out of joy) at school concerts, and even at the boys’ first t-ball parade! I kiss my kids a lot and hug them whenever possible. I hug my husband more. I tell people I love them, and I mean it. I accept hugs from dear friends even though I’m not much of a hugger. I make time for myself, to get together with girl friends and laugh and try to find alone time to be quiet. These moments make my sturdy layer whole again. They add new life and strength to my armor that is keeping me together.
And when I can’t gather any fresh moments of joy, love, faith and hope to mend the cracks I fill my days with “stuff”. I move on from the weak spot, ignore the problem and plow through my day, my week. I busy myself with “stuff” that needs my attention. Papers to grade, kids to transport, dinner to make, laundry to do, errands to run…you know those kind of days. These are the days that my brokenness inevitably bursts out of me in fits of anger, moments I am not proud of when I behave badly and am full of self-righteousness and contempt. Or these are the days that I collapse and cry. Or end up in bed with a debilitating migraine. Or lay on the couch watching episode after episode of mindless t.v. These aren’t my best days, I am not presenting the best version of myself. And they embarrass me. And so, for the past few years, these are the days that I say my apologies, wipe the running mascara from my face, take my migraine medicine, turn off the t.v. and put myself back together to take on life the way I know I should. The cracks haven’t been fixed, and I sure didn’t take the time to address the root of the problem but I am back in the game and back to “being more like myself”.
And the cycle repeats. And repeats. I thought after my mom died I had a pretty good handle on the mending and the repairing of the armor I had come to rely on. And then the boys were born, and my insides took another blow needing my armor to be stronger. And then I lost my dad. I lost him to cancer – a horribly tragic way to watch someone die. This loss is the one that really put my armor to the test as I felt my insides crumble. But I had a funeral to plan, an estate to manage, properties to sell, houses to pack up, a school year to see through…I needed my armor to hold strong. To keep me together. Just as a highway superintendent chooses to patch the road rather than rip up the whole broken mess and fix it the right way due to lack of time, money, resources I chose to patch and hope it would hold for another season.
I know this metaphor I am painting with my armor and my little girl crying in a ball is all really just a poetic way of saying I am depressed. I know this. I’ve known this. I have felt this depression before, it runs in my family, its not new to me or those that love me. It is something I have always been acutely aware of as I made my way through college and later in life. I have written this blog post many times before and never hit “publish”. I kept my words to myself, too embarrassed to admit defeat or weakness. To prideful to admit that my armor was failing me, that I was not the put-together woman I try to portray. Even as I type this my hands shake because I know that people I work with may read this, and I like to keep it together at work. I know that acquaintances will now see that I do not have it all together. Pity is something that I detest. I hate being pitied, and even though well meaning – I cringe when I read words of encouragement from “friends” on social media. It is just how I am wired. But I know that in bearing my sole on this platform will invite well-meaning loving people to leave me heartfelt words to cheer me up. Thanks, but no thanks. Even though I know these words are coming I am publishing this post anyway.
So why, after many attempts at publishing this post I am I finally hitting the “publish” button today? Number one, because it is time for me to rip up the whole road. Time to roll up my sleeves, put on my work clothes and get dirty fixing the heart of the problem. Patching is no longer an option.
But I could do the hard work it takes to really fix a problem without broadcasting my issues to the whole world. I am publishing this today because I know there are others like me. Whose inner child is wrapped in a ball, whimpering, crying, screaming. Others who have spent countless hours mending their armor, putting off the real work until a more convenient time. A “mom friend” of mine recently told me during a casual conversation that she struggles with depression and that she “feels suffocated in her own body”. Friends of mine just started therapy to help cope with their lives at the moment. I am watching others that I love mend their armor with temporary and unreliable materials. I want them to know I get it.
Someone recently told me that while complaining about their day and struggling to see the positive in their life that they felt was falling apart they looked to me for inspiration. Tongue and cheek they remarked, “but I thought about you, and how bad you have had it and reminded myself that if you can get through all that you have been given I shouldn’t complain about my small problems.” This wasn’t the first time someone told me something like this. While I am happy that I can be an inspiration, and I always laugh and tell them I’m happy to help, if only through my tragedy. What I should have said to them – what I should have screamed is; You don’t have to smile!! You can fall apart, I’m barely making it. It is totally okay to loose your shit! I won’t think less of you. To my friend who told me she was suffocating, I simply replied, I totally get it. And internally wished I was as strong as her for being so open and honest about her struggles. To my friends in therapy I tell them I am proud of their step to do the hard work of really fixing the problem. And then I remind myself to call a therapist of my own. I am posting this because I know so many who are menders like me and I am doing them a disservice by setting the example that it is sustainable option to simply keep on mending, ignoring and filling the gaps. Because at some point you have to fix the problem or the structural integrity of your armor will be lost. When that happens not only will all of your bad “stuff” burst out onto the people you love most but you will have nothing left to protect you from having more bad things break in to your most valuable parts. And the joy, love, faith and hope that helped to build you in the first place will be lost. And that can damage can be catastrophic.
No more small repairs. No more easy fixes. Time to heal from within.