I’ve taken it upon myself to tell everyone I encounter that I’m “going through A Time.” I have bored my family/friends/acquaintances/strangers with wild-eyed tales about my mental health. This is a departure from the norm.
The fact that I’m talking isn’t unusual. I’m a talker. I am, in so many ways, an expresser. I journal, I talk, I text, I blog, I email, I organize. I rarely struggle to communicate. I am straightforward and conflict doesn’t intimidate me. For better or worse, one most always knows where I stand.
But I have surprised even myself with the sheer amount of words I’ve applied to my current emotional struggles. It’s a total pain to know me right now.
The long and short of it is that I slipped underwater in the spring and have had a hard time getting above it. I could point to the very real things that added up to my lost grip: grief, a year with long chunks of solo-parenting while my husband was shooting a movie, sleep problems, lifelong anxiety, extended family stresses, but every time I try to give someone an overall picture, it always comes down to two things: rest and expectations.
Rest is an enormous ingredient for my mental acuity. I am the definition of an introvert, major interactions and activities require days of recovery. As I get older, the more quiet I need after the noise. So weeks (years) on end of travel and houseguests and spontaneous schedule changes have taken their toll, slowly chipping away at the door to my panic room.
I’ve remembered that I need more margin in my life than most people. I used to know this about myself. In college, I stayed up into the wee hours of the night, only able to study or write in the dark quiet. I slept under a heap of blankets with a sleep mask to hide from the noonday light. I created all sorts of social boundaries for myself. In effect, I’ve taken the responsibility route backwards. I’ve bowed to pressures as an adult, the younger Laura was wiser about her limits.
With two small children, I mostly must ignore my body clock, but that doesn’t mean I have to throw out the bathwater. It helps me to build in breaks, real times of rest, not just an hour of internet surfing and eating a candy bar. There’s a guilt element now that wasn’t present when I was 20, so rest must come these days from a place of strict and unapologetic discipline.
It is supposed to be noble to have high expectations. Morally, productively, I have always set a sky-high bar for myself and others. I think this is the right thing to do. Everyone plays up. If you expect very little, you’ll probably get it.
And yet, as my life grows in intensity, my level of expectations for myself has grown unattainable. But instead of facing reality, I continued to try and be disappointed by my own efforts. Slowly, without my permission, the refrain in my head has been “you’re failing at this, this, and this” and “you need to focus on getting better at this, this, and this.”
When I got disgusted enough with myself, I turned to others to fill emotional needs. I created this story in my head that this person had let me down. Really, I had let me down, but I was too much of a modern woman to admit such a weakness.
I have known for months that I was flailing. But I was surviving on very little sleep, and my expectation for myself was that I wasn’t allowed to admit such a vulnerability. There are too many blessings to count in my life: my healthy children, my handsome husband, a charmed lifestyle. I am literally surrounded by people facing down disease, divorce, financial collapse, who am I to blather on about my current mental state?
And this is what I told myself until I was so far beneath the surface that even the bubbles slowed.
Recently, I have heard from friends, readers, family, strangers about how they had their own struggle. Often it was around my age, or when their kids were tiny like mine, or when their family was apart for any length of time. Maybe the circumstances had a thread of similarity, or maybe it didn’t, but each re-counting had two women nodding slowly at one another. The talking about it gave a slight ease to both’s burdens.
This is why once I started talking in late July, I couldn’t stop. With every sentence, the dimness lightened. It wasn’t sudden, and I’m far from feeling bathed in light, but naming your pain is so healing.
I am scared to death to press publish on this post. I feel indebted to bloggers I’ve read for years who are unafraid to write about their struggles: The Bloggess, Girls Gone Child, Loralee’s Looney Tunes, and most recently Whoorl and Design Mom. It is my firm belief that women support other women best by sharing. Sharing their stories, sharing of themselves. It’s one thing to believe this is theory and quite another to walk it out. Bless you, the ones who go there.