This isn’t a post written in any sort of academic style wherein I cite important sources. It may not be empowering in any way, but it will be truthful.
My husband has been gone since Sunday. Away on business. I looked forward to his leaving simply for a bit of space. He works from home now, and I’m never alone. I’m an introvert. Never having any personal space or time alone has done something to me. I live with a ceaseless sense that the walls are closing in on me. Twenty minutes alone while showering and drying off isn’t cutting it. Going to the grocery store alone, if that ever happens, isn’t enough. That’s not being alone. It’s been over two years since I’ve had any meaningful time by myself.
I thought that his temporary absence would be a relief, but it hasn’t been. As soon as I came home from taking everyone to school on Monday, I felt pain. I started crying. I couldn’t stop. I have cried for three days. I tried to stop, but I just started again. It’s not an easy sort of cry either. It’s that awful wrenching sort of crying that feels closer to a heave. It racks the body. It leaves one feeling completely raw and exhausted. Excised. Almost out of body and depersonalized.
I began to wonder if this was a purgative experience. Is this something cathartic? Catharsis. I hear people use that word as if it’s something we should seek out. “You should do that! It would be cathartic!” Like it will be pleasurable. The body holds memories, stress, and emotional pain as easily as our hearts do. We stuff it all down to get through seasons of life. What does it feel like to allow it all to come forward and out?
It feels horrible. It’s like emotional and psychic vomiting. For days. I would say that I don’t recommend this, but, then again, it’s probably purposeful. Necessary even. When the buck stops with you, as it does with me, and almost everyone around you looks to you to be the problem solver, the resource, the source of comfort, and the mom even if you aren’t their mother, it becomes vital to compartmentalize personal pain and stress. I have mastered that skill. The problem with relying on this strategy repeatedly is that all my available compartments seem to have overflowed. I never had a chance to go back and check out exactly what I had put in them. I had no time. It wasn’t even a matter of time management. It was simply the season of life in which I have been.
When my husband left, every overstuffed and overflowing compartment presented itself and dissolved: “DEAL WITH ME NOW!” I was inundated with two years worth of pain, grief, sorrow, disappointment, and fear. It felt as if I had nowhere to turn. No one to talk to. No one would understand. Who wants to get that call? “So…uh…I’m freaking out. Do you have three days?”
I’m not the only person who experiences this. Is there a better way to deal with pain and suffering as we go? Compartmentalization is necessary. It’s a very useful skill, but we have to be able to go back and take a look at what we set aside and deal with it in a better way. Clearly, stuffing every painful moment into a box and saying, “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me,” isn’t the best way to go. It doesn’t go away. It stays right where you put it, and, eventually, it comes back up when you are emotionally too full up, too stressed, and overwhelmed–like emotional acid reflux. How convenient.
I can only speak for myself in this, but I think that we need people in our lives with whom we can be truly vulnerable. That thought terrifies me. Truthfully, I’d rather have a pelvic exam. So, hear me out.
We need at least one person who we can let go in front of, shed all our many personae in front of, cry in front of. I don’t cry in front of people. I’m afraid of being judged, and I’m very afraid that once I start crying I won’t be able to stop. I don’t want to go that low, but that is what is necessary. We need a safe person who will go low with us. Someone who will go into our mess and not try to clean it up. Someone who won’t even comment on our mess. That used to be my husband ages ago, but he’s part of my mess now. I think that if everyone had just one person whom they could count on to enter into their messiness knowing that they wouldn’t be judged, shamed, or told what to do to get their act together, then there would be a decrease in mental illness diagnoses and autoimmune disorder diagnoses. If we knew that we could stop carrying around all our burdens and honestly share them with just one other person while authentically doing the same for them, we would get better in ways we couldn’t anticipate.
For many people, this person is a therapist, but therapists don’t come to your house and watch movies with you. They don’t eat too much chocolate with you. They don’t have fun with you, and they don’t give you the chance to be a friend in return. We climb out of our messiness and pain and leave our shit behind for a while when we climb into someone else’s life and go low with them. We expand and learn in ways that we simply cannot in therapy. This is where we really start learning to trust people, and I hate learning to trust people. I really do. Every major figure in my life whom I’ve ever trusted has betrayed my trust. That’s true for a lot of people. We become like emotional hedgehogs. We quill up quickly when we feel threatened and make hissing noises warning people to keep away. The world is full of emotional hedgehogs.
There is no other way around it. Humans were made to change, and we’re made for relationships. This tells me that we have to figure out a better way to heal faster, and we have to figure out how to live from a place of authenticity and willingness without feeling that our hearts are under threat.
Do I know how to do that? Uh…no. But, I see that it’s necessary and important. I see that there are necessary risks to be taken if we want to be happy, and those risks don’t have to come at the expense of our dignity, our identity, or our hearts. In fact, we take those risks to ensure that those very things flourish.
I have no idea how to implement this, but at least I can conceptualize it.
That’s a starting point.
I understand, I really do. My week mirrored yours, not in that I finally had some alone time after years of having to be on for everyone in my life. No, I think I’ve had far too much time alone lately and could no longer hold back everything I’ve been holding back from fear I would sink deep and never be able to rise up again.
Vulnerability is painfully difficult. I feel the layers of defense mechanisms between myself and vulnerability being stripped away. And it’s painful! I have to believe there is something worth this pain.
Something worth the pain. Exactly.
Courageously and beautifully written…you speak for so many of us who provide 24/7 care through severe mental illness. Thank you.
Thanks for commenting and reading as always.
I’m sorry that your relationship hasn’t been nourishing you. I hope that your insight does lead to progress in forging a different cycle of emotional release. I know exactly what you mean, and I thank you for sharing this. I have a long history of holding things in, waiting for the moment when I’m alone again to let them out–but what if…if my life isn’t built around that need, what do I do? This is very timely for me as well, since my partner of seven years died two weeks ago, and his relatives just left this morning, a day I was waiting for… Thankfully these past two weeks have been a lesson in really reaching out to my support system of friends, showing me that my healing has made some progress, even if my life hadn’t changed very much before this point.
anyway, take care, I wish you the best in your journey.
Caden, I am so sorry for your loss. Truly. I hope that you have supportive people around you and that you feel loved and cared for as you enter into your grieving process. Shalom to you…MJ