Walking in the Rain

I've started this blog post so many times, but just can't seem to finish it. I've actually started several different versions of it, each version trying to take a different path to its final destination...only there never seems to be finality. I have so much that I want, no, need to get off my chest but the words either dry up or, conversely, pour out of me at a rate too fast to capture meaning. I promised myself that this time, I would finish regardless of what it looked like. So, uh, buckle up because it may be a wild ride.

When I think about it, we've all been on a wild ride for quite some time, haven't we? I feel like we have all spiraled into this pandemic-mired "normal" that's always shifting, never comfortable, and ever-present. No matter what is going on in your personal life, the pandemic has added logistical, mental, and emotional baggage to every decision we must make. Now that the safety felt from vaccinations and masks is being called into question, it feels like the proverbial noose is being slowly tightened again. As COVID numbers creep up, so too does uncertainty about where to go from here. Most people (especially the anxious ones) just LOVE not knowing, amIright? 

I am starting to spin my pandemic wheels in a way that I didn't initially. When the pandemic began, I was still trying to bring myself out of my own personal hell, so the world falling to shit didn't take up much real estate in my head. Now though, having been through the swamp of virtual school and dealing with the aftermath of it still, I am absolutely terrified of it happening again. I am also, because I am me, starting to really fear sending the kids back full-time. The inevitable back-to-school illnesses will now carry the weight of what I like to call the "what-if's." "What if it's COVID? What if it's bad? What if they have to isolate for two weeks every time they sneeze? What if I lose my mind trying to keep them healthy AND happy during another COVID year?"

Happy and healthy during a pandemic is a tall order. The ramifications of virtual school for a year and a half are really starting to show now, at least in my kids. I can say that living with anxiety myself has prepared me to walk my children through their own feelings and while I hate the idea of my having been broken by anxiety, I can find comfort in the fact that the subsequent work to fix myself has made me a better mother. It has also, however, planted seeds of fear for my children in my mind. I never want my kids to go through what I did, ever. I shudder thinking that they have any of me in them at all. I wish they were all their father, who is strong, resilient, and not plagued with the same fears and insecurities as I. I would remove myself from my children to save them the heartache of having these traits. Since I am not all-powerful nor well-versed in genetic engineering, I must constantly work to normalize asking for help when needed and model unconditional love. I love them for who they are and who they are not and will until I take my last breath.

I'm still trying to learn how to love myself, though. If I am being honest, I'd settle for even liking myself a few days a week to start. Right now, I am not there...I'm not even close. I can't muster up any self-worth or self-esteem, which makes it impossible to foster self-love. When I was hit with panic in the fall of 2019, I was in the best shape of my life. I had a nice job and felt pretty good about myself because I could show the world I was fit and I could tell them that I was gainfully employed. Then I got hit with a painful physical ailment that ultimately revealed my life-long yet unrecognized struggle with anxiety. I was unable to workout and I started a medication that caused me to gain weight. Then COVID shut everything down and I was not able to go to the gym. I also had to take leave from work, which lead to staying home full time with schools being closed. Now that I am healthy again and medication free, I have lost a good bit of weight, but have now fallen back into the clutches of feeling like a dependent and engaging in disordered eating (or on a bad day, an eating disorder.) I tell myself often that "this is not who I am supposed to be." 

While I have gotten a little better at not comparing who I am now to who I was before, it is a hard habit to kick. I can't not berate myself for being the way I am now, physically, knowing where I was. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was only in the best shape of my life two years ago because I was using the gym as a coping mechanism for the overwhelming amount of stress that was building in my nervous system. I had also replaced throwing up my meals with exercising for almost two hours every night. Shockingly, there is a large part of me misses that. At least it was consistent, which is the opposite of what I'm doing now. I go through cycles of intense motivation followed by periods of overwhelm and finally a case of the "why bothers?" The yo-yo-ing has made it hard to make progress, recognize milestones, and feel good about who I am. When you're always starting over, it feels like you live at the bottom and slide down whenever you try to climb a few feet.

I think that maybe I am just in a transition period and the inconsistency is coming from some confusion born from my past self warring with the person I am trying to become. My past self wants to be a drill sergeant and work my ass into the ground. It tells me I'm a piece of shit and the only way to not be a piece of shit is to prove it through pain and sweat. The person I'm trying to be is focused on giving myself some grace and not needing to put myself through hell just to feel valid in my own existence. The person I want to be can take rest days when sick or tired, can have food without labeling it as good or bad. I don't know which version is right or if there is some compromise I can find moving forward. I just know that right now, I can't find balance and the battle is tiresome. 

Tired is the one thing I can say with certainty that I am. I am so weary of trying to work on myself, trying to fix all of the damage from a lifetime of denial and repression. I am tired of carrying these burdens that make me feel somehow less than everyone who doesn't have to carry them. I have looked all of my demons in the face these past months. I've faced grief and betrayal from people I gave my heart to without reservation. I've lost key members of my inner circle to death or distance and so I feel lonely much of the time. When you spend so much time in your head, the isolation of your own thoughts can be suffocating. I've also been spending a lot of time on my phone, which is equally, if not more, isolating. I know I've been on social media too much, watching the curated highlight reels of everyone else's lives that seem so much more glamorous than my own. Loneliness breeds the desire for connection, so I reach for my phone, but the internet only provides a bastardization of that connection. In the end, mindless scrolling only breeds more loneliness and feelings of inadequacy. 

I am always happier when I focus on what's right in front of me - the family I've created. The family that is everything I've ever needed or wanted - open, accepting, supportive, affectionate, and cohesive. I don't know how I can take this family for granted when I know without a shred of doubt that I would be a lost cause without them. They are the scaffolding of my heart and my life, adding strength to my weakest parts. Perhaps it's just human nature to want more of the good stuff - more people to love you without judgement, more family to fill your house and your time, more friends to walk through life with. After much observation, I don't think that humans are wired to feel content, which seems like a shit trait. From an evolutionary standpoint I suppose I have to admit that it makes sense, but from an emotional perspective it feels awfully cruel. We are pushed by our own biology to constantly elevate our positions, instead of being able to marinate in our own successes. I fall victim to this a lot, spending a good bit of time wishing things could be different, when I should be recognizing how wonderful they actually are. As dark as I paint this picture, it is also filled with brilliant sources of light. 

I talk a lot about my fears and pitfalls, my struggles and stagnation on this blog. I cleanse my wounds here with the hope that they can begin to heal. I don't know that I share the other side of the coin enough, though. Because I have healed. I have grown. I have shown incredible strength in pulling myself out of the pit of misery. Admittedly, I feel uncomfortable writing about my triumphs as it feels self-indulgent, but I am trying to move beyond my comfort zone these days because as they say, nothing grows there. I have to share my victories to remind myself that I have won some of these battles, and to show others that you can hit a wall and dig your way through to the other side. It's not easy, nor is it pretty, but it is possible.

I went from avoiding anything uncomfortable for 34 years to being able to sit with it quite a lot by the time I hit 36. I crumbled and hit my rock bottom, emerged with the attitude that I would never feel powerless again. I am not running from myself anymore. I am not trying to put band-aids on bullet holes. I am not locking anything away or deciding to ignore my feelings. There are times when choosing authenticity over avoidance feels like being surrounded by enemies. When you have a complicated past, it can feel like there's a trigger around every turn but I am getting better at navigating the turbulence and though I am exhausted, I am still afloat. I've worked very hard to remove "I can't" from my vocabulary. I said it over and over for months when I was really struggling, it became a horrible mantra that haunted me day in and day out. I didn't think I could ever move forward from that place and yet here I am. 

I am not perfect, but I am beginning to cling less to the idea that I need to be. When I can't love myself, I try to wear the love I get from the people around me. Like a raincoat, it keeps me warm and protected from the harsh realities of the world. There will always be storms, be it global like a pandemic, or personal like an illness, but storms do pass eventually. I'm so ready for the rainbow, but will continue to walk in the rain for as long as it takes. 


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