For a while I became really still.
“Mommy, do you feel better today?”
I could barely move around the house, only able to get up enough energy to go to the kitchen for a glass of water that I would then take hours to drink, forcing myself to eat a few nibbles of a saltine cracker because my stomach was upset again. Nausea is a terrible thing, but when it spans the course of a few weeks, it takes with it every ounce of energy you have, plus ten pounds.
“Mommy, do you feel better today?”
Voices after a rush of feet coming down the stairs, excited for a new day. I wasn’t better. I had slept on the couch again with that white, overstuffed body pillow enveloping my side, managing to rest a little until the pain medication wore off again.
Weeks ago I had been okay. So okay, in fact, that I had pushed my womanhood beyond limits, something I thought was a good thing. The Executive was stuck in New York on a flight delay due to a snow storm that had wrecked havoc across the states. It plummeted us the day before, the trees heavily laden with ice, causing the top of the old pine tree at the corner of the driveway to moan and lean over heavily to one side. I was afraid it was going to top off, hoping that if it did, it would at least land in a clearing.
Many of the large branches had broken away and fallen, relieving the weight from the tired old tree so that it could stand up straight again, but the branches had fallen behind the van, and the house was getting empty of hot chocolate and other snow day necessities.
Packing myself in layers of clothing–a stocking cap, gloves, and heavy boots–I took to the branches, moving them to the street and sawing the larger ones up into smaller, more-easy-to-manage pieces. Those too I carried, despite the weight being almost unbearable as I trudged through the heavy snow from the back of the house and out to the street over and over again.
I had no idea at the time of the cyst that was forming in my muscle wall right above my c-section scar, but a few days later the pain was unbearable and impossible to ignore as it stretched from my lower abdomen across my oblique, up my back and shooting sharply into my shoulder blade.
The next few weeks of my life would prove to be a breaking point. Three weeks of testing, from ultrasounds to MRIs to CT Scans and a colonoscopy. The doctors had removed the concern from the area I was pointing to, the hard knot I could feel deeply imbedded in tissue below my skin. “But it’s right here,” I would say.
But now they were focusing on other things. Spots found on my liver. Fluid around my appendix. Cysts on my ovaries. I never considered my body so much beneath my skin, organs I figured could just keep operating well on their own despite the stress of pushing myself beyond my limits day after day after day.
“It’s because you have good insurance,” my friends would say. “This is normal procedure. You’ll be fine.”
But I didn’t feel that way. I had never before experienced that much pain–worse than giving birth three times–and it never let up and went away. I could barely sleep and the nausea was excruciating, all of that compiling into the notion that something really wasn’t okay.
What if they missed something?
“Mommy, are you okay?”
Eventually I would end up getting the cyst aspirated, a long needle poked into my stomach and fluid removed while I watched it from the nurse’s screen with myself hooked to monitors with my life on display. They sent it off for testing, and everything was okay.
But still, I had gotten too far. The anxiety and the depression had taken hold, giving me panic attacks up to three times a day, a couple of times landing me in the ER hooked again to machines and filled with medicine, anything to help ease the dismay. The Executive worked from home most days, sitting next to me on the couch because I was certain he could keep me from dying away.
Once the pain eased up a little, he drove me to the coast, which was better than sitting on the back patio where I had put up a new umbrella and planted some flowers, anything to brighten the darkness that had come in so violently and unexpectedly, taking away everything I thought I knew, leaving me barren and wide open, facing things that had happened to get me there, but still wanting everything to go back to being the same.
I didn’t know I had become so vulnerable, and it would take yet another doctor to fully explain.
As I sat in the psychiatrist’s office, the pain in my body getting better by then, but now my body so sensitive to anxiety that the awareness in every nerve was something I couldn’t escape. I could feel my whole left side, different from the right, the most bizarre and upsetting feeling when all I wanted to do was feel normal again. But I knew something had changed, and that it had to happen because I couldn’t go on living the same way.
We went over everything; from my childhood to adulthood; from our daughter’s Aspergers to finances; my marriage and my expectations; my goals for life; regrets and dreams. I felt like I was failing therapy because he said I seemed to handle everything okay, but he couldn’t figure out why I had gotten this way.
“It took just one thing,” he had said, “to set you off on this path. The depression and anxiety you have been holding back for a long time. It took just one thing to make it all give way.”
What do you mean?
“Am I going to be okay?”
“Maybe your marriage isn’t as good as you think it is,” he said. “Let’s bring him in and see what he has to say.”
The conversation was hard, but it was necessary. “Emotionally absent” was what he called it, when you leave another person to handle the hardships and the triumphs of a life supposed to be lived together, but making one person carry it alone day after day. Eventually, I was bound to break under the weight that never would ease up, no matter how hard I tried; the books I had put on nightstands that were never read; the love taken yet never fully reciprocated; the absence of a mutual working together on the vitality of a relationship between two people to stay strong and survive.
I had tried to hold it all together all by myself, emotionally feeling the weight of two people through a lot of hardship and change. Schools and a diagnosis of Aspergers; homeschooling on top of the laundry and the house and everything in between. Managing driving from event to event, filling in the gaps of a home education with art classes and music, PE and extracurricular activities.
Family didn’t help much either. I never understood the negativity and pessimism in his family, but I adopted it and breathed it every day. It was something I had assumed was normal because I assumed that there was something wrong with me, not the other way around.
After a few months I had started to feel like myself again; although, life had permanently altered me in a drastic and necessary way.
I came into the house ferociously after another session with my doctor. “For YEARS I have taken on the weight of negativity. The worry, the frustration, the busyness of every single day. And I did that all alone, assuming that was okay. All of this time I have been loving and giving, encouraging and uplifting, believing in you when you never believed in me, draining myself of everything!”
I’m partly to blame. I assumed this role myself, fully a grown woman when I accepted what we have come to refer to as “the cycle”, when he is fully present and then he is not, but the cycles come closer and closer together, eventually contracting violently until the weight has to finally give way.
“The cycle” has been there for nearly 15 years, possibly longer considering the time before that we had been dating. Looking back, I see it now. The blank stares and the stillness. The inability to communicate and express feelings. The lack of back and forth, reciprocating love instead of taking it all and then selfishly tucking it all away. It had made it hard to breathe, but I accepted it and lived with it, catching my breath between each ebb and flow, until they came so close that I was gasping for air over and over again. I was drowning…slowly…and I knew how it would kill me if I didn’t make it all go away.
An entire year has passed.
Here I am, standing in the water, looking beneath my feet as the current is building up again. There are stones I had implanted into the earth so long ago, placed just far enough apart to where I can hop carefully from one to the next, moving in circles amongst branches shooting out sideways from the ground which I have used for years as a crutch to hold onto until the waters would settle down again.
As time has moved on, my arms have become weak and my feet have slowly started slipping away. Before the fear of losing control would paralyze me, but something has drastically changed. I’m not scared anymore and the fear has become the drive for necessary change.
I am better now.
“That smile,” I always hear people say these days. “You have the best smile!”
And I know I do. I did. I always have. My sense of humor and my ease, my tenacity to take life and live it with optimism and hope; these are things born into my chemical make-up, part of my genetic code coupled with the things I have seen and the places I have been. I have held little hands through turbulent waters, kissing little heads and telling them that everything would always be okay. And, it will. I’m full of love and laughter and hope and joy again. But I know that in order to keep it safe, I have to guard that light with all of my being, never letting anyone put it out again.
Mommy is better!
We are told as women that we need to give ourselves over in a type of sacrificial love which makes us work so hard while giving lots of excuses for things which slowly kill us as they chip small pieces of us away. A certain body we must obtain, a certain attitude we must possess. To be pretty and happy all of the time, while taking care of cleaning up everyone else’s messes and barely having enough time left over for our own. It’s okay. I get it. So many others are able to make this all work, but I’m okay admitting that I’m not able to do the same.
I know what I need, and that is a person to live life with. To laugh and to see me standing there instead of staring right through me like I’m no different than the walls; assuming I will always be there the same, year after year, like the carpet and the closets and the curtains. But I am a person, too, with deep-rooted desires and passions, intellect and dreams. I need to be built up and held gently, someone to believe that I can do just about anything.
I have come to accept that life will always be full of transforming lessons with the dawn of the awakening of brand new things. Before I would hold on tightly to those strong branches, hopping between stones, even as I was pulled to the ground with the water threatening to wash me away. Like that tired old pine tree in the back yard, something had to give. I couldn’t keep creaking and swaying in the breeze, threatening to collapse and hoping I would at least land safely in a clearing. I grew tired of that, my legs became weak, but after years, thank God, something inside of me has changed.
Instead of holding on, I have decided to let go. And for the first time in a really long time, I feel a sense of overwhelming peace.
I am able to move freely again.