Leaning In… To The Suck

I’m going through a rough patch and it sucks. There, I said it. My life isn’t rainbows and sunshine. Not today, anyway. Right now, I’m not seeing the bright side, and frankly, I haven’t for weeks.

Last month, I hurt my knee under rather mysterious circumstances. “Mysterious,” meaning I have no memory of the injury, and my doctor is not quite sure what is wrong with me. My MRI didn’t reveal much, and the level of swelling I’m experiencing is a bit unusual. Like most of my injuries, this one’s a stumper. So, for the past several weeks, I’ve been in and out of appointments, imaging facilities and physical therapy, all while my condition worsens, rather than getting better. My movement is greatly restricted, and I’ve been advised against doing any of my activities. This is all coming on the tail end of a recovery from another very painful, chronic injury in my foot. The current tally for the past two years: I’ve been injured or otherwise incapacitated 19 months out of last 24. Needless to say, I’m beyond frustrated.

I’ve gone through every possible stage of injury emotion:

Monday: “MY LIFE IS OVER.”

Tuesday: “I will not be defeated. I’m going to beat this thing. Bring. It. ON!”

Wednesday: “Still, you stupid knee? STILL?! You’re still hurting? You’re just going to be the worst forever, aren’t you?”

Thursday: “Not being able to move is ok, I guess. Less time for biking, hiking, running, cycling, swimming and playing sports means more time for writing and banjo… RIGHT?! I’ll just focus on those things. Yay, enlightenment!”

Friday: “OMG now my foot is hurting again too?! Fuck this, I give up! It’s too hard. No matter what I do to prevent it, I always end up injured. Everything is horrible.”

Saturday: “NO. I will not stop working towards my goals. I will not let this deter me, dammit!”

Sunday: “Wow, I feel pretty good today. Maybe I’ll beat this thing after all.”

Rinse. Repeat.

The motivation and inspiration I’ve been feeling so strongly lately have dwindled and I’m tired of playing by all the rules.

I know my knee injury is not the end of the world. Sure, injuries suck, and they happen to the best of us. I’m privy to the fact that it could be much worse and that self-pity is not a super attractive trait. I’ve maybe indulged in it a bit too much since my mother died. But I’ve also put an immense amount of pressure on myself to avoid letting the sadness take me into its tide. I WANT to push through and to stop being so… sad.

But, if I’m being honest, lately I’ve been feeling more emotionally rundown than normal. And to combine that with being essentially couch-ridden and in physical pain nearly 24/7, well, it’s really testing me. Plus, since losing Nance, every little or big thing that goes wrong seems to carry more weight. Or, rather, I’m less able to weather it. I’m drained. I feel like I’m constantly pushing back, trying to remain optimistic, willing the tide to turn; screaming at the top of my lungs to be heard, but only releasing breathy rasps.

Fighting.

The trajectory of my life sometimes feels like one giant fight just to be okay — to heal from one blow only to be hit by the next. All the while, I must constantly police myself; force myself not to go to close to the edge.

The energy it takes to stay in “the good place” is truly exhausting. I was reminded of this by a passage in Cade Leebron’s insanely amazing, well-written and moving essay about rape, Fuck Us Harder (seriously, please go read it).

“I want to ask them to come lie on the floor with me, to feel really low with me, to understand that because of the actions of one boy four years ago I still sometimes stay up until five in the morning doing absolutely nothing other than lying in bed hating myself. I want them to know that he didn’t go to therapy, I did. He didn’t think about dropping out, I did. He didn’t drink himself to sleep for months, I did. Even now I am constantly monitoring myself, interrogating myself, trying to make sure that I don’t fall into those bad habits again, I’m still reminding myself to practice whatever self-care I can manage.” (Bold added for emphasis.)

These crushing, beautiful words brought me right back to feeling like the depressed and frustrated college girl I once was — isolated, enduring the trauma of a rape and an emotionally abusive relationship alone; languishing in a messy, dark room where I never drew the blinds or made the bed, or studied, or cared much about anything but trying to make it through. In those days, I constantly coached myself, worrying if I didn’t stay on top of myself, I might give up or die of pure emotional exhaustion.

While feeling so much empathy for the girl I used to be, I realized that the pressure I am putting on myself now to do all the right things — to will the pain away — is really not much different than the way I constantly berated myself back then.

Today (really, every day for the past 11 years), I am constantly propelling myself to do everything in my power possible to not fall apart. To be strong. To fight for my health. To be the inspiration everybody wants me to be. To stop feeling bad for myself. To make Nance proud. To be more like those annoyingly incredible people who overcome truly astronomical difficulties and end up giving TED Talks about how obstacles are life’s way of seeing what we’ve got to give… or whatever.

But I can’t do it right now. I’m emotionally exhausted and I can’t put that immense strain on myself. I’ve got to slow down and take a minute; a breather. I’ve got to give in to the tide a little bit.

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Photo Credit: James Stencilowsky

So what am I going to do? I’m going to lean in to the suck. I’m going to be kind to myself. I’m going to forgive myself if I don’t make my bed, or get out of it until 10, or even if I spend a day binge watching feel-good comedies when I really, really need to be doing other things. You know what else I’m going to do? I’m going to give a mental middle finger to the next well-meaning person who gives me unwanted advice on how to fix myself, rather than beating myself up and feeling the need to explain where I’m coming from.

Call it self-care. Call it being a sad sack. Call it whatever you want. I’m doing it. It’s what I need right now, and I’m embracing it. I’m not making any apologies. This is where I’m at. Sometimes, things just suck. This roadblock just looks like a damn roadblock to me, not an opportunity. Sorry, positivity-pushers. The motivational speaker inside me is on vacation.

I’m sure I’ll be feeling more optimistic again soon. There’s only so long I can be down, really. I always tire of feeling bad for myself… eventually. And if my past is any indicator, I’ll be picking myself up and putting my head back on in no time.

But not today. Today sucks.

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My Heart is Broken: Here’s Why.

Four weeks ago, to the moment, my life was perfect. Everything was falling into place, just like every platitude said it would. Good things were finally coming to me, and I was ready for them. My biggest worry in life was how much money it would cost me to fix my bike after I’d crashed it. Ok, ok. It wasn’t exactly a CRASH . . . more like I ran it into a parked car while not paying attention. That’s right: a month ago, parked cars were the bane of my existence.

That’s kind of funny to me now.

Let’s rewind to Wednesday, May 29th: Nance (my mother and bff, for those of you who aren’t in-the-know) and I were excitedly buzzing over making arrangements for my part-time shore apartment in Asbury Park, New Jersey — a move that would fulfill my lifelong dream of living at the shore. It was Adventures in Decorating all over again; except, with this being a second home, I took on more of the role of budget warden and less of the role of a demanding style control freak. I really let my mother take the reigns on this project, much to her delight. I told her “I trust you,” when what I probably really meant was, “I’m far too exhausted to do this whole decorating process again. Do whatever you want.”

If all had gone according to plan, I would have moved in the weekend of June 14-16. Naturally, Nance had arranged for everything: the truck, the furniture (donated from her own collection), the décor . . . plus, every single thing from a list of “First Apartment Essentials” which she had, of course, printed out and begun checking off, promising me “extra” items she had lying around the house. For the rest? She was scheming ways she could buy it all for me without spoiling me too much. Classic Nance.

Right. Well, as I’m sure you can imagine from my incredible foreshadowing, all did NOT go according to plan. Those plans are another world now; a world I don’t even recognize, let alone live in. On Thursday, May 30th, around noon, I got the call from my father that put my life in a blender: “It’s your mother — she’s very sick — was lifestarred to Hartford Hospital — a stroke, or something.” I could tell by his voice that it was bad.

I wailed in the shower, crying “NO, NO NO, YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME YET. NOT NOW, NOT WHEN I NEED YOU SO.”

I wailed on the way to the hospital, as Dave tried desperately to lead my mind away from the dark place: “People make amazing recoveries all the time. Mostly everyone survives from a stroke.”

I wailed when the doctors led us up to Floor 9, the Neuro-ICU, thinking this is really bad. How could this be so bad? How could I have fallen so quickly from a state of grace into a world of horror? Five hours ago, I was texting my mother pictures of lamps, and now I am drowning in a sea of tears and wondering how I will ever live in a world without my brilliant, generous, well-reasoned and overly-involved mother?

I will spare most of the grizzly details, but the gist is that Nance had a very severe and rare stroke which left much of the left side of her brain damaged, and some parts of the right. She had two major brain surgeries in less than 48 hours — one to save what they could of her brain (a feat which proved to be impossible once they got in there for the surgery), and the other, to save her life. Once the doctors were finished doing everything possible in their capacity to save her, we were told we would have to wait to see the extent of the damage. The results might run the gamut from moderate to severe disability, or worse: the unthinkable.

In the days that followed the initial surgeries and news, I will admit, I was a mess. I held it together in emails to friends and colleagues, but inside I silently screamed: I want my mommy. Yes, at 27-years-old, I am still crying for my mommy. To be fair, she is also my best friend, whom I call/text at my every compulsion (or, in the spirit of honesty, any time I have to walk for longer than 10 minutes in the city). She is my go-to; my roll-dog. My voice of reason. My everything.

For weeks, my family waited on news with hushed words and baited breath, wondering if she would survive; and if she did, to what extent we would get her back. We knew that even the best case scenario would mean disability, but we had hope in our hearts and the firmly-held belief that the woman we knew and loved was damn near invincible in her strength. How could she succumb? It was unfathomable.

Yet there was my invincible mother, in a coma, fighting for her life. And I sat looking on, helplessly, not knowing when or if she would get better. The days crawled by, as we exhaustedly lived in limbo. It was the worst kind of hell I can imagine, one I couldn’t have imagined, even in my darkest nightmares of losing her. I’d never felt that kind of pain in my life — the pain of the unknown… my life and my heart were hanging in the balance of something so incredibly fragile; something I couldn’t understand, let alone solve with logic or reason.

It all changed in a moment. A phone call. A word: stroke.

Even through the worst of it, there were beautiful moments, too.

…the first time my mother opened her eyes and looked at me after the stroke, grabbing for my hand and squeezing as I said “I love you, I love you, I love you” through my tears…

…strangers on the brink of collapse in the ICU waiting room, still finding it in their hearts to mouth “good luck” as we would leave to meet with the doctors…

…friends, colleagues, community members and co-workers rallying around my family to provide us comfort, hope, support, meals, flowers, groceries, gift baskets and much-needed distractions during the hardest times…

…somberly celebrating Father’s Day over Mexican food, and still finding a way to laugh boisterously while reminiscing over our favorite family vacation Mom-memories…

…and sitting on a blanket next to beautiful, supportive Bonnie, with the sun shining on my face and the whole park empty except for us, feeling for the first time like some day I’m going to be ok.

Last week, we moved my mother to Palliative (end-of-life) Care. Too much damage was done to her brain; too much functionality lost. She wouldn’t want to live the life she would have been left with. The stroke left her a shell of the woman who taught me the strength I harbor today.

So here I sit in a hospital, watching my mother slowly die an unexpected death. I knew this day would come, eventually. It is the way of the world; of life. Children are supposed to outlive their parents. But nothing could have prepared me for this. Nothing could have readied me for this broken heart, scattered haphazardly in my chest. From the 9th floor window of the hospital, I watch the first nice days of summer disappear over what little skyline Hartford has, and hope deeply that she doesn’t feel too much pain.

I hold her hand and sing softly to calm her, replaying in my mind every moment between us that I can remember, so she still feels close. My mind leads me to this one moment, the day Nance’s mom died. I was 6 or 7 at the time. I was crying in my room, feeling sorry for myself for losing my grandmother. But then it dawned on me that whatever my feelings of loss, there was somebody else in  far more need. I trudged through the house and found my mother, in the kitchen, on the old spiral cord phone, bravely making arrangements for the wake and funeral through her tears. When she hung up, and looked at me, I said “it’s gonna be okay, Momma. You have me.” She pulled me into her, both of us sobbing, and said, “I know honey, I know.” And she did.  Always. I’m proud to say I never faltered in my devotion to her.

I haven’t heard her voice in nearly 4 weeks (the stroke took away her ability to speak), but I can hear her in my head telling me I will be fine, eventually. That it’s going to be hard, but that I am more than capable of absorbing the pain and undertaking the struggles and responsibilities that lie ahead. And there are many. She would remind me that I am a badass survivor; a warrior woman with an endless bastion of heart and strength.

I am my mother’s daughter, after all.