I just wanna be okay, be okay, be okay. I just wanna be okay today… Ingrid Michaelson
So, my last few posts have been a little dismal, a little desperate, a little depressing even. I felt very awkward putting them out into the digital universe when who knows who might read them. Of course, and this is the case when you open up to others, I was met by messages and texts and phone calls from people who know me personally. I appreciate the check-ins, the compassion, and I suppose the advice, yet the outpouring of concern also left me feeling embarrassed and possibly a little ashamed. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so honest after all. Still, the truth is that lately, at times, I have been in a somewhat of a dark place. Don’t we all have to travel over that painful speedbump from time to time?
Yet, it is valued in our society to put your best foot forward. To present a pretty face to the world.
This idea that we should slap on some rouge and fake it til we make it seems both like sound advice and unsettling bull shit. Yes, we shouldn’t wallow in our own emotional filth for too long. Getting out of bed and brushing our teeth and facing the world is important. Of course it is. Still, must we always keep our darkness buried deep inside us only to fester and gangrene?
I am, in pondering this question, reminded of a night 15 years ago around this time of year. I was down and out and in the thick of it. I was drinking and feeling hopeless and self-harming and I didn’t think I’d make it through the night. I was so beat up and desperate that I called a suicide hotline. I don’t remember the voice on the other end of the line. I have no idea what words of wisdom she or he imparted. Yet, I am still here. I am still alive. I must have more to give.
But, the fact that one night I thought I might actually kill myself and reached out for help is not my story. My story is this: I had a job interview the following morning. The interview was early, and I had been up late. I got myself out of bed, brushed my teeth, slapped on some mascara (I don’t actually wear rouge), put on a skirt and blouse, and walked out to my car to face the daylight. With cuts running all up and down my thighs and a sense that I no longer belonged on this earth, I went to the interview, put on a smile, answered questions with a straight back and a load of confidence, and landed a job.
Some people may question if I was, then, actually depressed. “You reached out so you weren’t really serious,” they might say. “People who are truly depressed don’t get out of bed,” they might add. I was, at least in my mind, deadly serious and truly depressed. Yet, this was my modus operandi: to be tiptoeing on the ledge and pretending that everything was just hunky dory.
I imagine that I operated this way out of the necessity to self-preserve. Like I said, we can’t wallow in our emotional filth for too long. That’s some really frightening territory. But, it is additionally frightening to admit that we are going crazy. Even if for a short time. There is the stigma, sure, but there is also the fear that if we admit we are going crazy that solidifies that we actually are going crazy and no one wants to go crazy. At least that is the way that it is for me.
I have learned, however, that at least some of my inner turmoil needs to ooze out if only to keep my little (or not so little) slips into insanity from becoming something bigger than a slip, from becoming my day-to-day reality. I have learned, or am learning, to lean even if it is uncomfortable. This means, at least for me, to share my insecurities, fears, and weirdo thoughts as they come up rather than to wait for the inferno of crisis to swallow me up and in turn singe or even burn those that are trying to pull me out of that blazing mess. I guess I used to ask for the assistance of family and friends when it was almost too late. Instead of leaning, I would fall head-over-heels into my psychic hell and scream for people to pick me up. This wasn’t fair—not to them, not to me.
I have been told, in recent times, that I don’t mask my feelings very well. Perhaps, instead of a weakness, this is a sort of victory. Wearing an honest expression– of sadness, anxiety, or deep contemplation– comes from a place of healing for me. I must, if I want to survive myself, be raw and real. Maybe that means saying “eh” when someone asks me how I am doing. Maybe that means posting a piece on my blog that casts me in a less than flattering light. It is only, I believe, when I am raw and real about my feelings that I can walk through them and, with the help of my tribe and with my higher power, return to that state of serenity and joy that I feel like I now spend a lot of my time in.
I remember another morning, a few years back, when I first separated from my ex-husband and funds were at an all-time low. I was trying to manage the house—mortgage, maintenance, month-to-month bills—on my own and during the thick of winter I ran out of propane. I stayed a few days at my sister’s house so that my then five-year-old son wouldn’t suffer, but when he went to his father’s house for a few days, I returned to my frigid home. I wanted to be alone and it was quite a commute to work from my sister’s warm abode.
We had electricity, so I holed up in the bedroom with a space heater—the remainder of the house was an uncomfortable 40 degrees– and tried not to think about my woes. I was thankful for the space heater, but with all of the emotional jesters already juggling their bowling pins of fear and sadness in my head, I was a bit agitated. One morning, I remember being asked “How are you?” as I entered my place of employment. “I could be better,” I said. “Money’s tight and I’ve been out of heat and hot water for six days. I had to shower at a friend’s on the way to work.” Bam! I’m sure that this was not the response that my co-worker was expecting, but for me it was strangely liberating. I was being real. I did ask about her morning, but I did not apologize for my honest response. Life isn’t always peaches and cream. (On a side note, that same co-worker and I have become closer over the years. She has since praised me for my ability to be truthful and real and has said that she feels more comfortable sharing her own struggles with me. Win-win!)
So, back to this business of me openly, through the written word, testifying to my own insecurities, my fears of co-dependency and of being “addicted to love”. Gosh, how personal! One of my greatest fears is that I am a sick, unstable person that cannot forge and maintain healthy relationships be it is a romantic partner, a mother, or a friend. Honestly, aside from visions of unexpected tragedy, this may be my deepest seeded fear, and here I am shouting it out from the rooftops. Look everybody! I am scared out of my mind! I don’t know if I’m good enough! Because of this, I experience a shit ton of anxiety. And then I am afraid, whether I am asking for space or being clingy, that I am screwing it all up!!!
Perhaps that is brave. Perhaps that is just smearing my own negative energy all over everyone’s party balloons. I don’t know. I guess it is both.
But, I must say this, after writing those last posts, after exposing my bellyful of fear to whomever chose to read about it, I did, consequently, feel better. My depression was like a fever and with the cold-compress and the Tylenol of actually letting that anxiety and sadness outside of myself, of admitting to it and voicing it, the fever broke. Writing a little exposure piece on my blog was not the only step I took to keep from being engulfed, but it was one of many and I feel so, so much better. I am back in the saddle of feeling like I do have something to contribute—to my son, to my partner, to this world even.
I do not expect to be anxiety free every day for all of my days. I do not expect to always feel my feet planted on the ground and to just breathe in the peace of the present moment. But, I am getting better and better at that whole being present in the moment thing, that serenity thing, and that being honest thing. I know, for me, it is toxic to hold all of that dark, icky stuff in, to keep it from the air and the sun and from my loved ones. I find that if I can expose it, I can push through it. If I can push through it, then my panic at not being enough dissipates. Without all that negative mumbo jumbo piling up in my mind, I can be a giver, a listener, a source of support and joy. I can be the woman that I want to be. At least, most of the time.