Last year, 2018, was a challenge for me.
I had a difficult time with some changes in my life, and my coping skills were not keeping up. I quit facebook, twitter, just about everything. I stopped calling, texting, talking. And when I tried to recover, to regain my footing, again and again, there was some set back I felt I couldn't handle.
When a friend asked me why I stopped posting, I told her that I just felt like I was so angry, and I didn't like being that person. I don't want to be so negative all the time. She said that I hadn't seemed that way in posts and comments I had made, and that made me realize even more that I was hiding my feelings of frustration and inadequacy, and doing a passing job of it, even though it was a struggle. Even though most of that was silence.
Looking back through my journal from last year is painful. I would find a step that felt like it was in the right direction, only to stumble. I felt ashamed that I couldn't feel comfortable confiding in anyone. I knew it was my fault. I had dug this pit for myself.
I allowed stress to become distress, and relied on coping mechanisms that might have worked for a minute, but didn't address my true needs. Feelings lead to thoughts that lead to behaviors, and when those feelings were overwhelming, my thoughts would spiral, and my behavior became irrational or hidden. There's a note I wrote that says, "I can pretend it's okay for at least four hours." This is difficult to admit.
I would break in February, only to flourish in March, slip in April, struggle in June, and quit in July. I don't even have journal entries from August to November.
It had to end.
Admitting when I'm struggling with my emotional well-being is frightening for me. In the past I've felt devalued or misunderstood when I opened up, vulnerable. Part of that is that I really didn't know how to process and express things that bothered me, or worried me, or pained me. Smiles, sarcasm, and glibness are my favorite masks, except they are true too. I struggle with accepting my own feelings as valid, and the result is that my feelings fought back.
A few years ago a co-worker remarked to me, "Stephanie, you're always just smiling so big, so happy!" It was a very nice comment from a wonderfully kind person, and I wish that my smile had been genuine. I wish I could have accepted that compliment, but I knew it wasn't true and in a moment of me being me, I replied, "It's only to hide a deep personal hell that is nearly impossible to live in." That day, at that moment, I was packaging up the last picture I knew I would ever find of my daughter, to send to a friend of a friend who said she would be willing to restore it for me, and I was sending a box of chocolates along with those last two precious photographs that I had discovered quite by accident when looking for some old Christmas cards a few days before. Because that year for the first time in ten years, I felt enough joy to send cards for the holidays. Brecken's last school picture, taken at Christmas in 2005, was there in the box of cards, just the proofs. I hadn't ordered copies back then, and I had no recollection of ever even seeing the pictures. The shock hit my grief like a wrecking ball and crumbled every single bit of okayness I thought I had made since her death. Everyone says you never get over the death of a child, and that is true. However, I thought I had gotten used to her absence, her loss. That moment, finding a forgotten picture destroyed me. The guilt, how in the hell could I have a piece of her that I forgot about? The sadness, she was so amazing and gone so soon after that moment had been captured. The frantic search for the origins of the portrait, could I possibly get a copy that wasn't a faded proof? The loss, the absolute vast never-get-it back loss that we would never, ever again see another new picture of this child who was so precious. Then guilt again... I couldn't even think all of those thoughts at the moment. I howled hysterically, sobbing until I couldn't speak. It was days before I could function again, and when I nearly could is when I was at the counter at my place of work, shipping the pictures, and trying to pretend to be okay for a few hours.
My co-worker didn't hear me, my answer wasn't "normal" but my words were actually true. I was still smiling, then laughed it off, you can fake irony as well, and sent the package off. (That friend of a friend did restore the pictures, beautifully, sent digital copies, a thumb drive, and the originals back. It was a beautiful gift, and meant so much to me.)
After the holidays I hopped right back into what I thought was doing really well, as my methods of coping with problems large and small failed one by one. I'm not sure, but I don't think anyone, not even my husband knew how I was crumbling. Not for a very long time. I didn't even realize.
Two years later they all failed me. I told Dave I wasn't just at the end of my rope, I said I didn't even have any rope, couldn't see the rope, and my toes couldn't even touch the ground.
So I withdrew as much as I could. I pulled back and away from all but the smallest things. Dinner with a couple of friends. Basic appointments I had to keep. Revving up for a trip out of town, or a gathering with a group, or even taking the dog to the vet exhausted me emotionally.
And the anger I felt, the grief I felt, every inconvenience became more and more consuming. The personal hell became everything.
Sharing this now feels strange and sad, but I refuse to feel pathetic about this struggle anymore, and I will not be ashamed of my failings. Although typing this out and thinking about anyone reading this makes me feel shaky. I also feel relief. I own this.
Last summer Dave and I lost a dear friend to suicide. I can't talk about his struggle or his problems or his pain. That event shut me down in one way and opened my eyes in another manner.
After the visitation/memorial, we spent the night with one of my oldest and dearest friends. The next morning I woke up and spent some quiet time with my friend on her back porch with a cup of coffee, no one else was up yet. In the wake of grief for Stephan, and empathy for his life, I finally began opening up about my feelings. She shared with me how she handled her own challenges. It was a relief to feel her acceptance, understanding, and her love.
I realized that what I had been doing to myself was just unacceptable and unsustainable, I began to look for help. I began to reach out more. My friend shared a book she was reading, and we started texting specifically about that and sharing support. It helped me began to realize that I had to fight those awful feelings myself, and build a ladder to climb out of that pit, even though I'm afraid of heights...and I might fall again. And I needed to learn how to reach out again.
I approach 2019 with more understanding of myself and better tools to cope with distress.
I have decided to be a genuinely me Stephanie, and in 2019, I will be. Even though I will probably still be afraid of heights, I will climb.
Now comes the responsibility part. I was not a good friend to many people I care deeply about. I shirked responsibilities and ignored obligations. I didn't call back or respond to texts from people who matter. I felt like I was a toxic friend, but I didn't share that, which made it true, and it was unfair. I am sorry.
My theme for 2019 is Intention. (I like themes) I intend to interact with more emotional intelligence, including ... more alliterations to come.
I will probably always be sarcastic, irreverent, quirky, that's just me. I hope I can embrace all of what I love about myself while developing and accepting positive ways of experiencing my own emotional well-being. I will say what I mean and trust my friends to accept me. I will be there for others. And if google grammar check is any indication, apparently, I will stop using so many commas, even though they're like hugs for phrases.