words: part one.

I’ve spent a lifetime talking about my experiences using the words everyone else uses. Being a mom is hard, frustrating, exhausting. I’m overwhelmed, I can’t get things done. I get mad at my toddler and feel so awful. I struggle to stay present. Everyone I would talk to would empathize. These are universal struggles, aren’t they? And then years earlier, same thing. Being a pubescent tween is hard, frustrating, exhausting. I wish I were prettier, thinner. I want to fit in. I feel like everybody else is cooler or more confident than I am. Everybody feels that way, right?

But here’s the thing, words fail us. Sometimes, hidden in the conversations about normal things with normal people, there are people whose brains are different. Whose experience of life is different. It just is. It doesn’t mean we are worse, or better. It just means we are different. Sometimes, we’re using the same words to describe totally different things.

Being a mom is hard, and overwhelming, and exhausting. But normal moms can feel the good parts, not just the bad parts. If you are only intellectually experiencing the good, and not emotionally feeling it, then something is unbalanced. Everyone feels overwhelmed, nobody can get everything done. But if “everything” feels like a mountain crushing you slowly under its weight, maybe something is wrong. If it feels so hard that you daily wish it could all be over and then remind yourself that you want to be with your family, you don’t want to miss this, then your hard is not the same as other people’s hard. If struggling to stay present means you are detached to the point where you frequently feel like you’re outside of yourself, watching yourself, then you’re talking about something different than everyone else. And it doesn’t have to be normal. It doesn’t have to be your life.

That’s the thing, we’re so obsessed with normalizing the struggle that we can inadvertently make it difficult for people to recognize legitimate problems that need to be addressed. I spent five years thinking how I felt was normal, because everybody’s life is hard. Everybody’s life is hard! I completely validate that, and celebrate the community that can be formed around that solidarity. But I was really hurting, and for much longer than I needed to be. And I missed it because for my entire life, I’ve had this anxiety that makes me either shove down negative feelings or, alternatively, when I can’t shove down or escape them, it makes me freak out far beyond what is warranted by something normal, like being angry with a toddler. And my brain started working this way before I was old enough to have memories. So I’ve grown up using the same words to describe something totally different, and never uncovered it until the bottom fell out.

It is a gift to offer empathy to someone, to let them know they’re not alone. But what we take for empathy sometimes puts assumptions onto what people are feeling or experiencing that do them a disservice. When someone is upset beyond the scope of the words she is using, pay attention. Words are important and empathy is important, but listening is more important. You may be able to hear beyond the words she’s using and help uncover something that needs to be addressed. I’ve had so many people tell me I’m a great mom, that x, y, or z is “totally normal!” But the best gift I was ever given was when a friend told me, “Yes, life is hard, Rebekah. But I just don’t think it has to be this hard for you.”

 

This post is part one of two. Part one focuses on using the same words to talk about different things as it relates to mental health. Part two will focus on the way this happens in christian settings, often inadvertently hurting or alienating people who have had traumatic past experiences.

resurrection.

I am waking up, after years in a constant daze. I’m waking up and suddenly I have this adult life that I have to figure out how to navigate. I’m waking up and the sudden onslaught of emotional intake is exhilarating and exhausting. So I go and I go and I rush and I try and I try until I crash and retreat, for a few days, into my protective shell until I remember what it’s like not to hide. I remember how much better it is, not to hide.

I don’t need to fear this. I don’t need to miss this.

Real life has feelings. They come and they go. They’re just feelings. I don’t have to be afraid.

Any day I’m alive means more time to keep trying. It doesn’t have to happen all at once, this resurrection.

self care.

I am having to learn how to be a person all over again.

Or maybe I’ve never really known how to be a healthy adult. Either way, normal and simple things like showering and cleaning a house, having any kind of normalcy and routine (like when do I wash my face? when do I go to bed? when and what do I eat?), finding out what I like and taking time to myself…all these things feel brand new.

The other day I wearily climbed the stairs after Matthew and the kids sat down to dinner. I needed to shower. It had been five days. In college I happily skipped showers, but my lack of showering as a mother (and therefore an adult) has been different. I don’t know how to fit it into my week. I don’t know how much I want to shower. I only do when it simply can’t be ignored any longer, and I react. As I climbed, I thought about the looming task of putting the kids to bed, and felt like I weighed a million pounds. I saw the years and years full of bedtimes left to go before my kids grow up, and felt like lying down and not ever getting up. But I could shower, first. I knew, somewhere deep down, that I would feel better afterward.

And I did. I literally felt like a different person.

I used to scoff at the idea of self-care making any difference. Little things can’t really help that much! They don’t for me, anyway. When I showered that night, though, I realized that I can’t actually say that, because I’ve never really made a practice of taking care of myself. And the simple act of standing in hot water, washing my face and hair, scrubbing my body, reminded me that I have a body. That caring for myself doesn’t make me a weak person, it actually helps me to be a person.

My entire adult life has been comprised of days, weeks and years in which I do nothing but react. I get up when the kids wake me. I make us all breakfast with whatever we have, washing dishes that I need to put the food in. I leave the house when I am scheduled to. I turn on the tv because I can’t handle the noise or the need, I snuggle with the desperately clingy child to try to stave off a meltdown, I shop for food because we’re out of everything, I wash my face when it feels disgusting, I go to bed when I feel sickeningly tired, I spend time alone once I have actually fallen apart and Matthew takes the kids to his parents. None of this happens in the moment because I have chosen it.

I am now thinking of small ways to be proactive, instead of reactive. They will not be easy for me, but they will be simple things, like choosing when I will wake up, when I will wash my face, when I will go grocery shopping, when it is time for me to be alone.

They will remind me of what I need, and in that way, they will remind me that I am a person.

Day…?

After a particularly rough several days, I just realized I completely forgot about my writing every day in October challenge.

That’s ok.

I’m also thinking about how, even though this election is super intense, in the face of immediate personal sorrow or hardship it can seem trite.

Elections and presidents will come and go, and humanity will still and always face its particular mix of hardship and struggle, triumph and transcendence.

I think that is both encouraging and sad. But I mostly think it’s important: so that we don’t let ourselves get so caught up in heady rhetoric that we forget about the deeply hurting people all around us.

We belong to each other.