We are bombarded daily—hourly even—by images of our friends, family and neighbors’ happy vacations, accomplishments, perfect meals, perfect children and perfect lives. Glaringly absent is the daily grind and real-life struggles that I know people are experiencing, but not discussing.
Recently I have felt pulled to share my own issues but have been a big fat coward about TMI and judgment. Now that I can see light at the end of the proverbial tunnel of my own odyssey, I’m ready to share, with the hope that my experience will help another’s journey be just a little shorter.
In 2006 I had a miscarriage that set off a series of weird events that set the tone for the next nine years of my life. Exactly one month after the miscarriage, I found myself hospitalized for ventricular tachycardia—a heart arrhythmia that popped up from seemingly nowhere and rocked my world. Heart monitors, cardiologists and ER visits became my new normal. But I slapped a happy face on, as I do, and thought: I can handle this.
Then, a call from my OB revealed that there was suspicious tissue during the post-miscarriage DNC—could be a weird form of cancer. Say what? Six months of regular blood tests would show if that’s what it was. Passing anxiety. I can handle this. PS-no cancer.
Time passed with financial struggles, but life was good. However, I was not. I had allowed insecurity to take up permanent residence inside of me. I was too afraid that the real me wasn’t enough, so I was a version of myself that I thought would be acceptable to others. I found that I didn’t know who the hell I was anymore. Like a ship without a sail, I was a woman without any rudders. Directionless, I spent hours pondering my purpose. As demonstrated though, I’m a scaredy-cat, and a life with purpose is one that includes risks. Risks that I wasn’t brave enough to take. It made me sad that no one really knew the real me. But I put on a happy face. I had passing anxiety. I was getting by.
Hubby took a job out of state, started commuting during the workweek. He became distant at home as work pressures pushed him to his absolute limits. This meant that I did life alone with our two kids for a year or so. That I could handle. What was hard was the distance between hubs and me even when we were in the same room. I was lonely and sad. I was invisible and taken for granted. I wondered if it would be better to not be married to him anymore. Lingering anxiety, but I kept going. Happy faces are my specialty, after all.
Job blew up and hubby came back literally and figuratively. We were working on us. There was light.
Our annoying and beloved and stinky lab, Elvis, got sick on a Sunday and by Thursday I found myself alone at my vet, petting that dog who loved me, until he took his last breath. I was shattered by that loss and that’s when all the hairline cracks that had been quietly forming inside of me, broke from the pressure. I was broken.
And then, that’s when things got really bad. Migraines led to an MRI for hubs and a Sunday afternoon house call made by a very kind doctor taught us what a subependymoma was.
A brain tumor.
I was brave on the outside and hollow everywhere else. But like it does, life went on. Turns out, a subependymoma is the best kind of tumor to have. The kids named it Stanley, several months of follow up MRIs showed no growth, which means it doesn’t have to come out. Stanley looks to be a boring tumor and we fully expect him to stay that way.
But the dam had broken and there was no way to stop the flow. ANXIETY times infinity.
Then, I decided to write a devotional of sorts, for teens. I never set out to do it, it just sort of happened. I’m the unlikeliest of people to write a book like this, but it was something I knew I was supposed to do. I was nervous that the churchy people wouldn’t think I was churchy enough and that the non-churchy people would think I’d gone overboard. More ANXIETY.
And the cracks. They were wide open. I was wide open, but closed off at the same time.
I mistakenly thought that keeping all my lovely reality inside made me strong. Really, it just showed how stupid I was. It’s ironic because Glennon Melton is a hero of mine (read her book, Carry On Warrior, it will tear you up and put you back together in one sitting), and she openly shares her bad choices and wrong turns. I never once judged her…actually, her bravery made me love her more.
So I carried around this mental roadblock that wouldn’t let me be vulnerable, and I missed out on getting carried by those around me. My people would have been excellent at it too. I’m sorry now that I robbed them of the opportunity to hold me up.
My doc, after a year, convinced me to see a therapist, and to take something for my anxiety. I sat on that therapist’s couch and cried. And cried some more. I felt like I should be able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and shake it off, but that wasn’t happening, so I agreed to take some anti-anxiety medication. After a week of walking around like a dazed junkie, I decided I’d rather feel the anxiety than feel drugged. My doc prescribed a low dose of something else and then the hallelujah chorus began singing and the world got lifted off my shoulders. I found myself after all those years. I am finally, freaking me.
Hubs asked me the other day how I felt and I said, “I’m so happy. I’m laughing at things.” I’m generally not a laugher. But maybe I am and I just haven’t for so damn long that I forgot I was.
So, today. Today is the day I share because I want everyone to know—it’s not weakness, but an act of sheer bravery to admit that your reality is hard. Asking someone for help is a badge of honor you give them. Let your people be there for you. I have a feeling they are up for it.
As for me, I’m taking some risks with my writing and making conscious efforts to put myself out there. It’s scary, but exhilarating too. Hubs is taking his twists and turns and is teaching transparency to business leaders. He’s using all the things that broke him down to build others up. It’s a beautiful thing.
So many of us assume we are the only ones who feel alone in the world and that everyone else has their stuff together, but really, most of us feel this way! Let’s be there and be real with one another. We all have things that make us crack. Those cracks make us into who we are supposed to be, and without them, the light wouldn’t shine through.
It’s the combination of vulnerability and getting back up when I’ve fallen that has taught me that I’m strong. If I never fell I’d always wonder if I could handle things. Now I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am someone who gets back up. Me. I do. I get back up. Because I have help.