Outside In

Is my smile convincing?

I have worked extraordinarily hard on this grin. I’ve straightened it, polished it, plucked it, and whitened it. I’ve learned how to use it, too. I’ve figured out that as long as you see it, you will not poke and prod me. You won’t look too far past it for anything deeper. If I’m being truly honest, it’s not even that I’m faking. It is more of a survival skill. It keeps me from falling apart just as much as it appeases you.

Does this outfit look okay?

I’m much too careful how I dress. I put a lot of time into this over the years. If my clothes are ironed and modest you won’t look too long. You won’t think I’m stuck-up, or sloppy. You won’t call me a prude or a slut behind my back. If I look good you will think I am doing well and feeling fine. You won’t know I spend days in the same clothes without showering when I’m depressed. As long as I am well put together on the outside, noone bats an eye. These garments, these simple pieces of fabric, are armor to me. They protect me from you. Your eyes, your thoughts and your judgments.

Is the pinterest-worthy organized home doing what its supposed to?

It is supposed to look like I’ve got this. I don’t. I really don’t. But does it look like I do? God I hope so. I wouldn’t want you to think I actually live here alone with a three and five year old. I don’t want anyone to know that I struggle to stay on top of it these days. In the extremely rare event someone comes here I spend hours stashing toys, scrubbing toilets, washing dishes and generally, hiding all evidence of life. You won’t get to see that this is hard for me. I’ll do everything I can to prove I’m just as good at this today as I was a year ago with an extra set of hands.

Does my voice sound right?

If I’m talking to you, I assure you I am working harder at controlling my thoughts and response tone than I am at listening. I don’t want you to hear that today my mind is racing, or maybe that I just finished crying. If I talk too fast, you’ll know. If my voice shakes, you’ll know. If I don’t respond fast enough you might know it’s hard for me to focus. You could figure out that I already forgot part of what you said because some anxiety slipped in and distracted me for just long enough to deafen me.

The effort it takes to project this shield to the outside world is exhausting. I’ve recognized it over the last year. Recently I’ve begun lowering it to some extent. At least with a few close friends.

Most the time, there is something, however small or large, that I do not want you to see. For my own comfort and safety I keep my insides in, and my outsides poised.

Self

I wake up with a spiked paddle in my hand.

From the moment I get up off my knees I silently beat myself with that thing all day.

Yes, I know better. Doesn’t matter. The damn weapon has been attached to me for almost as long as I can remember.

Some days I am distracted long enough to whereas I forget to beat my own self down for a few hours. I can assure you I will pay for it at night, in the dark.

Not sure if there is much difference between this self flagellation and my many former vices.

I’ve put in some work over the last several months to allow myself to lesson the beatings, but they still come.

With all of the added silence that comes with this new isolation, I am finding myself having to constantly put the paddle down. Instead I reach for the phone, or a book, or busy myself with endless cleaning.

I try to remind myself to treat my own self kindly, to use positive words when I talk to and about myself. Sometimes this works, and other times I just tell myself to shut up.

Can we please open the world back up now?

Not Enough

Amidst everything going on right now with current events life as many of us know it has changed drastically. The costs are immeasurable in some ways, but I am taking a shot at trying to put into words how this is feeling.

A paramount part of my mental health has depended on my routine. My world was upended nine months ago and at that time I had to deploy every known resource at my disposal to right the ship. I have had to develop new patterns and relationships that I depend on to be able to keep moving through the day without getting too lost in the gravity of my mind.

In one week those things have been obliterated.

Today I wake up trying to remember what day we are even on. It has become harder again to complete the basic tasks of living. I didn’t see it happening at first, but quickly enough I forgot lunches and showers and connection.

There are indicators for me, for my mental health and well being. Food, showers and sleep are the top three, with isolation coming in a very tight fourth.

First my energy is diverted to the critical: caring for my children. In a typical week this is on auto pilot. It isn’t easy, but it doesn’t typically drain the cup because I am able to fill it simultaneously throughout the day. In these past seven, only seven, days there are more holes in the cup and less resources to patch and fill it.

Next, I have to focus on my job. From home I get the kids settled with breakfast and turn on the computer. I read my emails and make a list of priorities for the day. Then before you know it I’ve spent three hours checking off boxes all while filling sippy cups and snack dishes, finding costumes, breaking up fights and soothing tantrums.

Eleven o’clock comes and I know it’s time to gather up lunch and get the kids settled to eat. I use this moment of time to throw in a load of laundry or sanitize the essentials for the 100th time. I sweep up the cereal or blueberry I just crushed under my toes and try to breathe. I put the dishes in the sink telling myself I’ll get to them later.

By noon I’m trying to get the kids down for a nap so I can get more work done or just a moment to breathe. I try not to fall asleep because I am trying not to fall into depression, but more often than not this week I’ve succumbed to exhaustion.

Some little voice will wake me, or the ring of the phone and it takes me a moment to get my bearings again. Now it’s time for a craft, a game or some other activity. A few times I’ve remembered to put on the music, turn it full blast and dance like a five year old while I can. This adds some to my cup even if just for a few moments.

Before I know it, it’s time for dinner and tubbies and stories and bed. I lay there with my son while my mind is racing and he puts his hand over my chest or neck and this reminds me to breathe. While I’d love nothing more than to succumb to sleep just then and there I am reminded that there is a war zone downstairs that needs to be tended to and there is no one else here to do it.

I swing my legs softly off the bed as not to wake my sleeping babies, and with another deep breath I open the door back to reality.

More laundry, those dishes, maybe something to eat, and I’m spent. I sit down, turn on the tv only not to have enough focus to watch it. I start to drift and somehow find the energy to get up to my room. It’s empty, its quiet and it’s dark. I lay there playing the day over and worrying that I am not living up to the ideals I have set for myself.

I am not enough, but I will have to be, because tomorrow will be another day and there is nobody else to do this.

Fog

I look forward to this day all week.

It is set aside as this special time when I can finally breathe. Feel moderately comfortable. Completely and fully exhale.

This time it was different.

There is something dark and heavy in the air. I could tell myself I’m just imagining it. I know how to do that. But I’ve done that for too long.

I’ve ignored this exact feeling many times over, and eventually it comes back to haunt me. It rears it’s nasty two pronged head another day while I’m kicking myself, wishing I’d have headed the warning.

This fog is coming from one of two places. The traditional answer is that it’s emanating from within me. And only me. That’s the script that I’ve been trained to read. It says I messed up or missed something. I can correct it and clear the air.

The other, less palpable answer, is that it isn’t just me. I won’t be able to fix it. I can’t flip a switch and vanquish this darkness. It’s not mine to eradicate. This is the narrative I despise. In this version of the story I have to rely on faith.

Faith that somehow, some way, something else can mend this brokenness.

Hands in the air, no driving with my knees. Just allowing something else to take the wheel.

Perfection

I am far from perfect, I know that.

What is not as easy to acquiesce though, is that I do not have to be perfect.

Day in and day out my mind is telling me that if I don’t complete each item on the to-do-list with impeccability, I am nothing. Zero. Might as well go back to bed and not show my face today at all.

Not worth the air I breathe.

I make it to the bottom of the stairs and realize I forgot to pray:

“Well wow, what a piece of shit. When are you ever going to get this right?”

Didn’t set the coffee pot up last night:

“Seriously, it takes one minute to do, get it together!”

Not to work by 8am on-the-dot:

“It’s just two kids, plenty of women do plenty more, there is no excuse.”

You had also better believe that I am not asking for help along the way. That is the ultimate sign of weakness. If you see me as needing help then I’m not picture perfect, and again, who the hell am I.

I am worthless.

I don’t need help, what are you going to do? Something that I can very well do for myself? Why? I just can’t wrap my brain around that concept. If I’m not doing it all then you will think that I can’t, and you will know I am really nothing.

If I am not perfectly poised in polished perfection, then what and who am I?

I am unexceptional.

I am just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill human being.

Why is that so hard?

Wouldn’t it be easier to just relinquish control of it all?

If I were to let go, it will look like I dropped it.

We just can’t have that.

Or can we?

 

Don’t

Don’t tell me not to cry.

I’ve spent my whole day, my whole week not crying.

I can’t cry in front of my son.

I can’t cry at work.

I can’t cry in public.

I’m pretty sure my wife takes enough.

So if you are one of the ones the tears come crashing down around, please do not tell me not to cry.

I know it’s instinctive, but don’t.

Ask me what’s going on in my head.

Even though the answer may be “everything”.

Ask me what you can do to help.

Even though the answer may be “nothing”.

Don’t tell me what to do and what to try.

You can’t possibly know how hard I try, and how much I blame myself.

I’m my worst judge, my own harshest jury.

The last thing I need is one more judgmental sentence to wrack around in my brain.

Don’t forget, when I’m done letting it all out, I have to pick myself back up and get on with the show.

So take a moment, let me feel the feels, and maybe help me plug it all back up again for another day.

Filters

Filters can’t hide this.

They can’t cover the circles under my eyes, or the red puffiness from crying.

Not one of them can put the normal sparkle in my smile.

Maybe you can’t see it, but I do.

I’ve gotten real good at not letting on in public. Wouldn’t want to be a downer.

I keep pushing through, because I know that one of these days I’m going to wake up and feel like myself, who ever that is.

I know that if I continue to do the things I’ve always done I’ll be okay again.

It’s been a while. It’s been over a year now since I’ve felt like me.

I have moments and days that feel better than others, but it’s been a struggle.

Before you judge me, you should know I’m not new to this.

I do my mindfulness exercises, my gratitude journal. I go to the doctors. I help others first. I feed my body and my soul. I cut out the things that I know bring me down.

I pray. Shit, I beg at night in my bed. Silently.

I’m still waiting.

He Saves Me

He saves me.

He saves me from myself when I am at my lowest.

When I can barely wake up, let alone do anything else.

He is there.

With his early morning, big- as-ever smile.

With his first little kiss of the day.

With his soft request for something eat.

Reminding me that I can’t quit. Not right now.

First I have to take care of him.

And today, that pulls me out of the dark just enough to get in the shower and get us both dressed and out the door.

He saved me today.

 

(Originally written 9-7-2018

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