Friday, January 21, 2011

A Monolithic Fear

During the long (long!) year-and-a-half (winter 2009 to summer 2010) when Carter was dangerously unstable, I ran.

I ran to appointments with therapists, psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians, and assorted other healthcare professionals. I ran to put out fires (metaphorical, except that one time). I ran to meetings at the school. I ran to pull Carter off of children/dogs/furniture he was trying to hurt. I ran to prevent Carter from hurting himself. I ran to keep up with the basic necessities of ordinary life in the in-between-crises times.

There wasn't much opportunity, with all that running, to think about how I was feeling. Not to say that I was OK; I most decidedly was not, and I knew it. I just didn't have the space to get all introspective about it.

In fall, 2010, when Carter began to stabilize (and that stability proved not to be of the short-lived, false-alarm sort), I was nearly overwhelmed with feelings that were jockeying to be acknowledged, understood, and felt.

Chief among those feelings? Fear.

Huge, hulking fear. Monolithic, oppressive, and relentless.

During my many sleepless nights in October, November, and into December, my thoughts ran on a loop, from fears about Carter's stability collapsing, to our financial future, to our ability to continue accessing appropriate health care and education, to whether or not the relationship and personal damage our family has sustained in the past few years will ever be healed.

Around and around I went, in a kind of a thought-rut, until I felt like I would never get a rest from my own thoughts.

Almost worse was the guilt I felt. How could I get lost in myself like that, when there was so much to be done? There were two years of neglected issues - the other kids, my marriage, the house, my medical needs - to face and wrestle to the ground. How could I collapse inward in the face of the one thing I had been working toward and dreaming of for so long: Carter's stability. How could I?

And you know what? I just did.

I just fell apart.

The harder I abused myself over falling apart, the worse it got, until the depression seemed impenetrable.

I think that, sometimes, I try to put on a brave front. Not because I'm noble or strong, and not even because I'm a private person (I am definitely not that), but because I am working so hard to avoid other people's pity. I say it's fine, we're fine, I'm fine, because I don't want people to make that face.

Somewhere in there, I started to pretend, not just for other people, but for myself. I forgot to acknowledge that this is seriously, massively difficult.

Because it is.

When I gave myself permission to stop trying to pretend I was OK, I started to be more OK. Sometime around Christmas, I got my feet under me again, and I've been slowly recovering ever since.

Sometimes I worry that I'll frustrate people with my frequent writing about this notion that we can't be OK until we acknowledge our decidedly not-OK feelings. After all, aren't we admonished, and often, to have a positive attitude? To look on the bright side? To keep our chins up?

Over and over again, I find myself stuck, and over and over again, I realize that I'm stuck because I'm trying not to feel what I'm feeling. Why? I don't know; maybe it's my nature, or my upbringing, or our culture. Probably a combination of all of those things. Whatever the cause, I have to acknowledge the dark and ugly feelings or I get stuck in them.

It was a long depression and I have aways to go before I am recovered, but I'm getting better. This afternoon, Carter interrupted me while I was reading to him. "Mommy? I think you're happier now. Your voice sounds happier when you read." I couldn't force that to happen. I had to breathe deep and wait for the waves of fear to crash over me.

And like magic, the tide went out and left me, shaken but whole, still myself, but wiser.


  1. Thanks for the insight into what could happen if the other shoe DOESN'T drop. Congratulations on your recovery. I'm not there yet I don't think. I'm happy with my life but it doesn't seem like I'm functioning properly unless I'm overwhelmed...

  2. Hi, Adrienne.
    No, I'm not at all tired of you writing about this stuff because it is good and important and true. I will read anything you write, and was waiting with 'bated breath for you to come out of your darkness and back into the world. Glad to have you back.
    And when one person ended her comment on a post of mine that I had whined a little on with "chin up"? I really had to resist the urge to throat punch her. Chin f-ing up? Really?

  3. Thank you for writing this. This is one of the first posts I have read all the way of the first posts I have had time to read.
    The post was timely for my life. I am one of those who has been taught to "fake it till you make it" when it comes to feelings. Basically suck it up and don't bring others down around you. So, I do the same thing. I don't acknowledge my feelings and I don't admit them and I am getting overwhelmed.
    It takes a storm sometimes for us to be able to be wiser and share that wisdom. Thanks for sharing!

  4. yes yes yes! I completely understand and agree with you! I have walked a somewhat similar path to yours including the falling apart AND the wanting to avoid THAT look from others that I always interpreted as pity. at one point my younger son had asked me "Mom why does your mouth smile when your eyes look so sad?". The past year for me has been about feeling the feelings and the past few months for me have all been about learning how to function at a state other than overwhelmed and frantic. I have lived in that state for so long it is hard to find my feet. Thanks for sharing this and I don't think "chin up" is all it's cracked up to be.

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  6. O.M.G. It's like you've been living in my head these past 6 months. Seriously. We've been dealing with ongoing issues for years and keep getting blindsided by some new development or other; it's like the ground keeps shifting beneath my feet while I'm standing at the edge of a cliff. I think I am still in the running stage. But I occasionally slip into the falling-apart stage until I scare myself.
    I'm curious, did you get professional help or did you find something which helped you turn things around?

  7. Adrienne
    Those people who discount the emotions of others are probably the same people that act like that douchecanoe. But at least the douchecanoe just throws up his own frustration.
    What I find difficult, as well as you it seems, is the people who come from the "Are you ok?" group.
    This comment made to me when I am upset and barely holding it together, can trigger a massive melting of my own defenses that I am already terrified of.
    Things I would like to respond with:
    --No I am not ok, and I might not ever be OK again
    --I don't even know what OK should look like at this point in my life
    --If you ask me if I am ok again? I might resort to violence, so let's rethink that questions, mmmk?
    --Obviously I am not OK, thanks for pointing it out to me, much love MORON
    --You questions implies that I am somehow flawed and therefore not OK

    I have tried to think of better responses so that I never fall into the --"Are you OK?" group
    --Hey, I am here for you if you want to talk
    --What tasks can I take off your hands to make this day a bit better?
    --I care about you, and I am willing to support you in any way you need
    --I am happy to see you today
    --Wanna go to the batting cages and beat the hell out of some balls?
    I don't know if any of that actually makes sense. I guess I am just venting here--sorry
    There is one little thing a friend said that helped me once:
    "A true friend is someone that knows the song of your soul, and
    sings it back to you when you have forgotten the words."

  8. Thank you for being brave enough to share your feelings. You are not alone. I often feel alone myself and I have to remind myself that I am not. When our children make strides that fear does set it. When will the other shoe drop? We punish ourselves when sometimes hope is the only thing that will keep us going. I hate those looks from people that ask what is wrong with your child? Being a working mom with a demanding schedule and employer makes it even harder and the guilt sets in very easily. I really try to fight away that fear and enjoy the moments when things to right and they do more than we realize. We will always be in this journey. There will always be a step forward and two steps back. Sometimes we are able to make peace with it. And sometimes we need to sob, scream and rage against the pain of it all.

  9. Still running with no end in sightJanuary 21, 2011 at 12:45 PM

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. So many, as I too, can relate fully to all of your feelings. I'm happy that you're feeling better.
    I love your responses. I plan to use them myself. ;-)

  10. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the stresses of life sometimes but it is important to sometimes to take a deep breathe and take it day by day so you don't stress yourself out too much.

  11. Wow -- this is beautiful and I am sure captures the experiences/feelings of many of us.
    Have you read Pema Chodron's work (she's a Buddhist nun). She talks about holding those 'unwanted' emotions in a cradle of lovingkindness and using them to develop greater compassion for ourselves and others.
    I know just what you mean about how we run from, and resist, those painful feelings. What a wonderful recognition of how far you have come with the quote you leave us with from Carter.
    Congratulations. One day at a time!

  12. Sigh. Thank you all for sharing your own experiences. There is nothing more helpful than to know that I'm not alone!

  13. thank you so much for opening up and writing all this. as you *may or may not* know, i'm not a parent, yet, but my partner sustained a spinal cord injury in a wreck we were in august of '09. so that thought rut? those feelings of losing it all? that fear? i know all those things. it's amazing to me that in my excitement over starting our family i ran to read up on "mommy blogs" and found real people who had real feelings about a million other things than just mommy stuff that i could relate to.
    you know i wish you so much peace and love and support and anything else good i can wish you. your writing is a gift to so many.
    also...amylynn's comment above? LOVE that! why is it that people find it so hard to respond from something in the second list, but always want to know if "you're ok"??? hell yes, i'm OK...there isn't a thing wrong with any of us. i'm "ok" if i'm in my damn pj's for the 15th day in a row and haven't left the house. because there's nothing wrong with that. but am i grieving? am i tired? do i need a hand? yes.

  14. Appreciate the post and the comments, and the quote that AmyLynn used at the end of her excellent lists. Though most readers and participants here don't know each other personally, exchanges like this nevertheless carry a bit of that definition of a true friend, somehow. Emphasis on true. And yeah, still in pajamas.

  15. Everyone goes through life making mistakes. But you no longer call them mistakes when you have learned from them. Then in turn, they're what you called lessons.