Sunday, April 27, 2014

HELLO, MY NAME IS

"Comparison is the thief of joy." - Theodore Roosevelt

“That loss was my name…. I liked the idea that you have a secret name. … And that’s a name that no one can ever really pronounce, you know, because it’s who you are. There’s a magic to your secret name.” - Stephen Colbert

It has been well over a year since I have found the [ _______ ] to write…(time, courage, peace, clarity?). Having moved us far from home in search of stability in all forms, I have been focusing every cell of my body on establishing the necessary foundation for us to receive whatever return is possible on a leap of faith like that. There have been many upgrades to our lives and there has also been a great deal to process.  Two years ago, I started opening up about our lives in a way that flowed for me, and somehow since we moved I have managed to crawl further back into my private little bubble than ever. Much of that comes with meeting many new people, determining who I can and cannot trust with our very particular genre of life stress, and returning to a more self-conscious approach to life. With every hand I shake and every small-talk conversation comes the risk of having to dance around truths that are common but not commonly discussed. With every new introduction or deepening friendship, I have to decide who has the depth and compassion to understand all of it. To be truthful, I have even gotten bad about sharing with those closest to me through no fault of theirs. It's all on me. 

Within three weeks of our move, I landed a fantastic job with an easy 20 minute commute and my daughter was enrolled at a brand new high school in what Wikipedia tells me is an affluent suburb. I tend to agree, given the 20:1 ratio that can be applied on any given Spring morning to the Publix customer base: Decked out luxury vehicles to base models, tan housewives in tennis skirts to harried office-job moms in sweatpants and no makeup. In any case, headquarters is a nice apartment one mile from my oldest sister and her family where we now enjoy frequent dinners and general goofing around. I can sit on my porch in any of the four distinct seasons and watch airplanes blink on their way to and from nearby ATL. I am no longer geographically isolated from an airport, a healthy job market, or family. Basically, though, I traded living down the street from my dearest friends for access to some tools of survival. There is a hole where my super-fun social life used to be, my rent has doubled, and it may be a little while until I graduate from worrying about money, but decent health insurance and a break from subzero temperatures are luxuries I can now claim. 

Life - whenever asked - will sarcastically remind you with a condescending pat on the head that you will never have everything at once. I did not have any idealistic expectations for the first 12 months here, but I did believe progress in certain areas would happen more quickly and hoped that the amount of cortisol flooding my bloodstream for the past ten years would taper to healthier levels. Instead, we have continued to play hide and go seek with doctors, diagnoses, and pharmaceuticals, trying to find the antidote to my daughter's anxiety, insomnia, and roller coaster of depression that continue to hijack what should have been - at the very least - an adequately pleasant childhood. 

Though finishing high school will now mean passing a GED test, she has already received high honors in courage and compliance, reciting her own history repeatedly for strangers in all types of offices: medical, academic, cluttered, sterile, judgmental, and zen. I, also, have found myself forced by necessity to divulge our medical battle to school nurses, teachers, coworkers, and bosses while simultaneously resisting the urge to hide under my bed. Dust bunnies don't judge, stare blankly, or ask seemingly reasonable questions that are actually quite inane. "Are you sure this isn't just normal teenage moodiness?" is a favorite. "Well," I often reply silently, "normal teenage moodiness does not leave you wondering if it is safe to go soundly to sleep and not wake up to a parent's worst nightmare in the morning. Please, what else would you like to know?"  

Since this situation does not allow the luxury of denial and we are forced to think and talk about it SO MUCH, the last thing I have felt like doing is sharing it on here. Yet again, it feels like there is value in picking apart the raw spots we like so much to cover up. So here I am. The thought that crossed my mind so many times in recent months is that despite the universality of human struggle, so many of us are quick to glaze over our own. We all want public "Have My Shit Together" status. In fact, if you could pay a few bucks extra at the DMV, many of us would apply for a special seal on our license plates to put word on the street that we are thumbs-up, society-approved. Flip that one over, and I could just about jump up and down with gratitude that we are not openly flagged - for all to see - with the names of our lives' imperfections. Unless they were on the benign side, like "shameless farting uncle", "drunken dance freak at weddings", or "her potato salad is inedible".  Then I'm all for it. 

The First of July…

I kept thinking over and over as I sat in heavy traffic about how no one close to me (other than family) had any idea what I was dealing with at that very moment.  I hated it but had accepted that it was not something you can share by quick voicemail, text, or Facebook message. There are simply some situations in life that I believe are designed for us to walk alone, as if there is a velvet rope where we must stop and say, "Stay right here. I have to go the rest of the way by myself, but I'll be back. Wait for me?"

I am pretty sure somewhere between Macy's, where we had been happily shopping with my sister the afternoon before, and where I found myself after work a mere 24 hours later, was my velvet rope. This new venue was a meeting room full of oddly familiar strangers at a residential treatment facility. My daughter had asked to be admitted for more focused treatment for the fallout of unlucky genetics and some very private childhood traumas. Late, out of breath, and sweating from the humidity of the lush Georgia woods where the cottages were tucked in the late 70s, I hesitated to bust into a session in progress. But the required educational meeting was my ticket to visit my daughter in the eating disorders unit where she chose to go because it had the only available female bed on the entire campus. ('Atta girl.) The door creaked open to reveal a bright yellow room filled with four or five couples, flushing me with an annoying feeling that I recognized from every school play, teacher's conference, daycare pickup, lacrosse game, and birthday party, where being a single parent is pronounced. 

As I settled into a chair, surreal moments from the night before flew around my head. The inspection of belongings, the surrendering of anything that could be used to self-harm, our hushed tones as we checked in just feet from the young woman sleeping in a hallway bed (suicide watch) while clutching a carnival-sized stuffed animal. Then there was the unnatural mother-without-child drive home at 2 am on an empty highway after I honored her need to walk her path alone. Sitting in a room full of people who shared some part of my experiences, I was still struggling with how I would later explain it to my closest confidantes, nevermind her father. Our children were not interning somewhere, or taking riding lessons, or having a blast at summer camp. They were in the hospital - not on ventilators or chemotherapy - definitely, however, in closed-session negotiations with Death. So eloquently stated by another parent, "you don't talk about this stuff at weddings". 

Maybe it was the fatigue from a very late night or maybe I was just tripping from the overload, but I am telling you the people in the room that night were not completely unknown to me.  There was such a distinct sense of "you are exactly where you are supposed to be" that every Monday night since then prompts a small pang of nostalgia for that 90-minute slice of time when I felt - for the first time ever - among people who could truly understand my reality down to the last terrified molecule.  From the elephant sculpture greeting us in the dark garden the night before to the architecture that somehow reminded me of my grandparents, it all had an air of pre-destiny to it. Among the families was a sour-faced woman who turned out to be bitingly funny, her laid back husband, and two couples closer to my parents' age. It was the woman who could be a Diane Keaton impersonator that confirmed my life had legitimately become a Woody Allen movie.  It all got eery a few days later in my doctor's waiting room when I looked up at a TV to see one of the fathers being interviewed by the local news about city planning.  Everyone but everyone has a secret name. 

This blog was meant to combat a compulsive yearning to look good and be comfortable in conversation and on paper. It was my hope that talking about the taboo would help subdue the stigma and inexplicable shame of brain and mood disorders, but it is a struggle sometimes. I did humbly stop wishing my kid had something more socially acceptable like diabetes when my best childhood friend's son was diagnosed with Type I recently and I realized she, also, wears the Queen of the Midnight Fear crown while struggling to keep all her hard-earned successes going. I stopped envying the nuclear families in my life when another girlfriend had to divulge, friend by friend, colleague by colleague, that everybody's favorite fun couple was struggling and might not make it. I am guessing I will find more peace by living somewhere in the middle of what I thought my life would be and the reality that even gold can be dented and exquisite pearls form in reaction to irritants and parasites. And if a handsome, good man happens to recognize that I don't need a problem-fixer or a platinum card, just someone who learns my name and makes me laugh through the ugly stuff, then hey - I'll think about letting my guard down. I might even cancel my subscription to Cat Ladies' Home Journal.

Eighteen+ months in our new home and a crapload of heartburn later, this is how I see things. When we were little kids, the big thing was to swim to a big rock in the middle of the river, or to the floating dock covered in soggy astroturf. Varying levels of swimming skills and the hyped up threat of snapping turtles made it a somewhat daunting task, but you did it against all internal urges to stay in the shallows. The shore was safe but lonely so making it out there was one of those little childhood victories, like popping a wheely or flying off a swing mid-arc without breaking something. I am rarely going to have the company of those in similar situations, stating our names and current low-glory statuses to each other like the Yellow Room Parents' Club. Yet, the next time I am balancing on a slippery rock or a bobbing platform mid-river, I will remind myself there are many others strewn about the map, waking up every day knowing they might have to fight to keep something or someone alive - a child, a marriage, faith maybe. Some I know, and some I don't but they, too, are quietly whispering to themselves, "Good job, buckshot. Now take a deep breath. You still have to swim back."

Shit. 


3 comments:

  1. Shit yeah sweetie - I'm all ears if you're all ears. hug

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  2. I can relate to all that you type. Love how you translate it . Perfect. Xo

    ReplyDelete