The past six months have been almost impossibly hard. I lost two good friends and a much-loved brother, dealt with bleeding so severe I needed a blood transfusion, and lived through yet another surgery with a much longer (and more painful) recovery than I was prepared for. Oh, and we moved into a new house 10 days before my surgery, so that wasn’t stressful or anything!
My girls have also been going through a rough patch. Getting ready for school every morning and bedtime every night have turned into a shitshow of epic proportions. I have had one particular battle more times than I can count. In this showdown (which has no winners) one of my daughters throws herself on the ground because her shoes and/or socks “feel funny.” If I gently suggest that she change her shoes, socks, or both, I am met with screaming in my face “NO! I WANT TO WEAR THESE!! MAKE THEM NOT FEEL FUNNY!!!” I have yet to figure out how to do that so we just went to Target and let her pick out all new footwear to save the last shred of my sanity.
And this has been an extremely busy season for my husband as well. We know he would rather be home with us, but he is working on a project that requires late nights and at least a portion of each weekend. As hard as that has been, I am fiercely proud of him and I want to support him in this job he enjoys and is good at. He is smart, and valued at his company, and I know that all he does is for the long-term good of our family. Because he has not been able to be around as much as he would like (and he understands that things are not easy for me right now) he is making sure to spend quality alone time with the girls and give me a break whenever he can. He also encouraged me to get babysitters as often as I need to help. But the girls just want me. If I am in the house, having a babysitter there sometimes makes it worse.
And I totally get it. They are six and in their short lifetimes they have seen their mommy sick and in the hospital and weak from surgeries, AND have learned what it is like to have a close family member die. And not a great-grandparent or someone whose death could be easily explained as a part of the circle of life.
I have had to tell my girls that their 28-year-old uncle who seemed to be healthy and strong died suddenly and very unexpectedly. And although I like to think I have modeled healthy grieving to them, there has also been more than one occasion when I have picked them up from school while unable to stop crying. They are not fooled by my brushed away tears and dark sunglasses and will loudly say “Mommy why are you crying!” in front of all the other parents and teachers. I have chosen to be honest and just say that I miss my brother, but I know that seeing their mom so sad is confusing and upsetting for them.
And in my “Just Keep Swimming” method of survival, I have powered through all of this and still managed to throw back-to-back fundraising events for Mommies In Need while expanding our services significantly– we just accepted our 32nd family! Last Saturday we had a very successful auction, but it was a ton of work and a lot of stress. As just one example, my Board Chair, Auction Chair and myself stayed at the office until almost 1am the night before the event organizing all the donations for the auction!
As I pushed myself through the week of the auction, I started to feel like I was nearing my breaking point. I figured out I was close when I started googling where celebrities go when they have a nervous breakdown. My clue wasn’t just the impulse to look up nervous exhaustion treatment programs, but the fact that I was reading descriptions and fantasizing about how wonderful it sounded to take a few weeks of complete rest from life.
It’s not that I haven’t had moments of joy. In fact there are times that the weight of so many lost lives makes me profoundly grateful for the laughter and the happy moments that I am able to experience. For what a gift it is to watch my girls grow up, to be held by my husband, to share tears and memories with dear friends and family.
I have loved seeing the kids settling into the new house. There is so much more space for them to play! I am thrilled to watch them explore and come up with creative games – the most popular one right now is for them to pretend they are building elaborate tunnels under the house. They will emerge from under a bed and report to me that their robots have made a swimming pool under there or that they are raising a herd of pet chinchillas.
But overall, life has just been hard lately. I have been sick and tired and in pain and short-tempered and depressed and grieving and hurting emotionally and physically.
Last week I made a conscious decision right after coming dangerously close to a panic attack that I needed to give myself a break. That practicing some real self-care was no longer optional. Because if I didn’t start taking care of me, I would reach a point when I couldn’t take care of anyone else either. And because I am (and want to be) the CEO of a growing non-profit, wife to a husband who needs support at home, and mom to very active twin six-year-olds, hitting that breaking point is just not an option.
Which brings me to this week. Which has been good! The best I have had in quite a long time.
Sure I had to fast for a day and get a scope (colonoscopy for people with no colons,) but I got to hear a huge answered prayer in the words of my surgeon when he said that I am healing well and unless I start having problems again he doesn’t need to scope me again for a year!!! I’ve had 4 scopes, a surgery, and countless office visits and calls with him in the past year so the idea of getting such a long break is amazing! Plus I have been extremely worried that this surgery wouldn’t work and I would just start bleeding again. There is no guarantee that won’t happen, but all signs right now look good for my health to start to stabilize.
And in a search for relief from the back and neck pain that has been a constant for me in these last few months, I found a medical massage place where I can get two sixty minute massages A WEEK for free (well charged to my insurance and I’ve met my out-of-pocket maximum – so free to me!)
I also had 2 therapy sessions, and the most amazing cranio-sacral massage/ reiki session which gave me not only physical relief of what I have taken to calling my “grief knots,” but also a safe space to release some emotions that I have been holding on to physically. I know many people probably think this a bunch of BS, but I feel better. Placebo or not, it worked for me. I left the session having processed some anger and sadness that I had been holding onto for far too long. And when I walked out I felt lighter and not so frightened.
Because I had been scared. I had been swallowing back the yuckiest parts of my grief because I worried that the pit of sadness and anger and loss was just too big. I had been using all of my very developed coping mechanisms to avoid trudging through those feelings. I was frightened that if I really let myself do the work of grieving it might be so hard and so sad that I would never stop crying.
But this week I allowed myself space to work on my grief. Because there is a part of grieving that doesn’t just happen (at least for me.) There is a part that you have to intentionally give yourself space to deal with. And I had been putting that off for far too long. I even refused to answer my therapist when she asked something like, “When do you want to talk about how angry you are about your brother?” My answer would be “Never,” or “I don’t wanna,” or asking if we could just fast-forward this part.
In my reiki/massage session the therapist worked on some of my scar tissue, of which I have quite a lot. And as she was working and talking to me I said something along the lines of, “Sometimes I feel like my whole body is made of scar tissue.”
It surprised me because I didn’t realize until I said it how true that felt. And she told me that scar tissue is beautiful.
And as I left her office, having let go of some of the things I had been hanging onto so tightly for so long, I started to understand what she meant.
My scar tissue, both physical and emotional, is beautiful because it demonstrates my ability to heal and move forward. It also serves to remind me of the things in my life that have worked together to make me who I am.
And for the first time in a long time, I am starting to remember and re-discover who that is. I am just beginning to be able to see that this season, this hard and heartbreaking season, will end. It will have changed me forever, but I think I am going to like the person who comes out on the other side.