“You are not weak
just because your heart feels so heavy.
I have never met a heavy heart that wasn’t a phone booth
with a red cape inside.
Some people will never understand
the kind of superpower it takes for some people
to just walk outside some days.”
(Andrea Gibson: Madness Vase)
What is it like to walk this life journey with anxiety and depression and PTSD? How do you perfect such a dance so you can still function and appear “normal”?
Come, take my hand and follow me. Let me show you what MY normal looks like.
I dress Lucy in the cutests, sweetest, frilliest outfit I can find on her shelf every day. And as I dress her I think to myself “What if THIS is her last outfit? What if THIS is the one she dies in?” I brace myself at least a dozen times a day when I check on her while she sleeps, sure beyond a doubt that she has stopped breathing. I am both thankful and sad for all the cute clothes she has on her shelves because what if she dies before she gets to wear them all? What will I do with those rows of pink then? What will I bury her in? What will it be like to dress her stiff, cold body? Sometimes I shake her awake at 3 a.m. because I cannot tell if she is for sure breathing or not. She is a feather that can fly away from me at any moment.
I make sure to kiss Justin goodbye everytime he leaves the house. Because today might be the day they peel his bloody battered body off of the highway while I am at home unaware and baking cookies. I am so sure it will happen. I will lose this treasure I spent so long looking for.Nothing gold can stay.
My children come up behind me when I am washing dishes and speak and I gasp, jump, startle as if they poked me with a burning hot branding iron. I cannot bear to be approached from behind. I know what happens when my back is turned.I am shoved down, punched, my head slammed into a wall or the oven door. Not now. No. In the past. But my brain is wired to expect it, to fight or flight. Fear. Terror. Back in that moment. So the kids learn to sidle sideways around me so I can see them before they speak. Justin learns to call out “Hi baby.” the minute he gets home and walks in the door so I don’t jump straight out of my skin if he appears without me expecting him. At night, one tiny sound has me gasping, sitting bolt upright like a bomb just went off, heart racing, adrenaline pumping and then I am wide awake for an hour after. Because I have been dragged out of bed from a deep sleep by my hair, punched in the head, raped. I know what happens when I sleep. And I cannot convince my brain that it is safe now. That the man beside me in this bed is gentle and kind and will never do that. My brain says ‘be prepared’.
Some days I don’t even want to get out of the damn bed. Some days the world is very very dark and heavy and it’s on my shoulders and I cannot muster the energy it takes to even brush my teeth or wash yesterdays makeup from my face, never mind carry the heavy world around. Some days I snap at the kids and feed them cereal for dinner and cry in the bathroom over nothing and everything. Somedays I am such a failure. Some days I am a waste of space, I am so ashamed of my mistakes, my setbacks, my weaknesses. Some days the girl in the mirror is so ugly. She is fat and has scars from pimples and she looks old and tired. Somedays I say wearily to Justin “WHY are you even HERE?” Somedays I think I am just fucking up this motherhood gig and that my kids will grow up to blame me and hate me and need therapy to undo the damage from all my flubs and screw ups and fumbles. Somedays people say what a great mom I am and all I can think is “If they only knew.”
Everyone out in public is so put together Sure of themselves. Strong and brave and confident. I am a nervous, awkward mess with sunglasses on at 11 p.m. in walmart buying groceries. I avoid that aisle because a guy is stocking shelves and I cannot muster the courage , the insurmountable amount of COURAGE it would take to say “Excuse me” to him and reach around to grab the jelly. I NEED the jelly. We have none at home and my kids want it for lunch tomorrow. The simple act of jelly becomes impossible. I find Justin across the store and ask HIM to get the jelly with tears of anger at myself shimmering in my eyes behind my stupid sunglasses because I am 34 years old and I cannot get jelly at a store. I use the self-checkout to avoid small talk with a cashier. I come across as an antisocial bitch but really I am just scared. It’s the same reason I have no friends in real life. I am resentful of Justin who HAS friends here. But I do not want to nor can I even imagine being able to, put myself out there to meet people. Holy shit, I just can’t. What a ridiculous suggestion. Don’t you GET it? I get out to the car after shopping and light up a cigarette to calm my nerves. It’s a shitty habit. But I take no medications, only a handful of daily vitamins and herbal supplements. I walk out each day brimming overflowing with anxiety, darkness, fear, paranoia. It’s fucking exhausting. Not just me, but I live with 8 other people, 7 of whom are small people I am responsible for caring for and raising. It’s a daunting task somedays, easier on others. But I do it all while dancing with the devil so don’t get on me about a few cigarettes a day and a couple tokes of marijuana at the end of the day to soothe the beast and calm the noise and help me sleep. Sometimes I don’t and I can go days on almost no sleep. Wired and jumpy jittery like a bug at 3 a.m. , my brain racing with every worst case scenario possible.
My brain is ALWAYS there. We walk into a new church or a restaurant and I play out in my mind what I would do if a fire broke out or a madman with a gun came busting in and started shooting everyone. How would I save all of my children? Where are the exits? What could I hide behind? The world is a threat. The world is terrifying. The world is loud and angry and scary. And I am very very very exhausted.
This is every day. Not 24-7, mind you. I have plenty of peace and joy and love and laughter. I revel in how beautiful living truly is at times. But my brain never shuts off. This dance is always going on. Somedays I am just better at stepping on the devils toes while I dance and other days he steps on mine.
“You, you stay here with me, okay?
You stay here with me.
Raising your bite against the bitter dark,
your bright longing,
your brilliant fists of loss.
Friend, if the only thing we have to gain in staying is each other,
my god that is plenty
my god that is enough
my god that is so so much for the light to give
each of us at each other’s backs
whispering over and over and over,
“Live. Live. Live.”
(Andrea Gibson: The Madness Vase)