Happy and Hurting

 I suffer with anxiety, but I also suffer from impossible expectations of myself. After hitting an emotional equivalent of rock bottom mere months ago, I am still surprised when I have days where the gravity of it all weighs me down. I tell myself that I should be better and I grow frustrated, angry even, when my healing isn't linear and exponential. Mostly, I am better. But there are wounds that still weep and a sense of shame and guilt that follows me like a shadow. I have never been adept at the concept of self love and now it is even harder to find redeeming qualities within.

Anxiety and trauma and recovery were never supposed to be a part of my narrative. There are times when I simply can not accept the fact that panic attacks are something that, after 35 years of nary a one, I now deal with. When I really stop to think about it, there is a dissonance between who I am supposed to be and who I actually am. I know that acceptance is key for progress, but it is so much easier said than done. 

I feel trapped in my own story, saturated with it. Some days the memories and the fears seem to seep out of my pores and try as I might, I can't wash them away. Memories that I had, at some point, repressed, now just populate my thoughts without invitation or warning. What started a year ago as panic and pain has become a protracted purge of emotional refuse from a lifetime of ignoring my feelings and "pushing through." While I am better, so much better, than when it all began, I am still clinging to a branch of hope that the deluge will slow to a trickle and I can find my way to the other side and begin to dry out in the sun.

I have to start rewriting my narrative, one where I am a survivor and am proud to have made my way back from hell itself, but it's hard to build a shelter when you're standing in the storm. It's hard to plant the seeds of self-esteem where the sun rarely shines. I wasn't confident when I was in the best shape of my life and had a career that was worthy of talking about. How can I be confident now that I am neither fit, nor employed, and saddled with labels like anxiety? How can I emerge victorious when there are times that I feel complete and utter defeat? 

I don't mean to paint a picture of someone who is actively hurting all of the time, because I'm not. I have a beautiful life with my husband and children. We laugh, we love, we have fun. We navigate this pandemic and all of its challenges with relative ease. But I am human, and therefore capable of a staggering level of complexity which allows me to be happy and hurting, simultaneously. I can love my family until my heart will burst and still hate the parts of me that don't jive with the vision I laid out for my life. I never judge anyone who may struggle with their mental health, but stigmatize it unreservedly towards myself. 

I often say that I wish I had a rewind button for life. I would do a thousand things differently if I could go back. At this point, I'd even settle for a fast forward button to skip all of the messy emotional work and get to the glossy, finished version of myself. I guess the fact that I am anticipating a shiny new me represents a sliver of hope that I didn't realize I had. If this year represents the birth of a new version of myself, I have to conclude that I am just in the transition phase of labor where there is blood, sweat, tears, gnashing of teeth, and holding of breaths. Having given birth twice, I know there is pain and suffering during this phase, but it is manageable because the outcome is a beautiful new life, filled with potential. For now I'll cling to that and remember to breathe through the contractions.


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