I am not okay. I look like I am okay. I present great but honestly I am not okay. This is my reality.
I was on the phone with a friend of mine theo other day and she said “You know, it really sucks to be a high functioning depressed person.” She has some big things in her life that are really tough but she gets up everyday, gets the kids to school, goes to work, makes dinners and so on and so on. There is no space to sleep all day. There is not space to just lose your shit. Must.Keep.Going. That, my friends, is the only option.
She and I function in dark humor so my response was listening, holding space for her and then telling her I would find all the memes about high functioning depression to send to her – if you can’t fix it, joke about it. In reality a few days later I just sent her a message that she was on my mind and I see her. She appreciated the gesture.
For years, if I am to look in retrospect I have been walking through the world as a high functioning depressed person. I am the type of person to present to the world “I am okay, all is good.” Even when I am crumbling apart on the inside. Sometimes, but rarely, I would real talk and show some of my crumbled self, but usually with a pollyanna twist.
Even in my writings in my blog I really try to find the upside to tough situations. This is not necessarily a bad trait, to see the silver lining, but the danger is – am I putting frosting on a pile of shit and not just saying its a pile of shit? Coping is a complicated beast. If I am to be vulnerable and open I am angry I got cancer. I feel bad that I made it and others didn’t “win the fight”. I am scared because I don’t understand why it happened. My body feels foreign. I have been stuffing all of this and the problem with stuffing emotions is that they all eventually seep out somehow if not dealt with.
One of the things that is spoken of in cancer circles is that folks either handle treatment like a champ or post treatment like a champ. I fall in the camp of handling treatment like a champ. The post treatment has been confusing and jarring in regards to jumping back into life like nothing happened. Something really big happened but my only response if “I’m fine” as I busy myself to the next task at hand.
Take that and throw in sending my oldest child off to college. I am proud that he has flown the coop and I am excited to see what he does with his life but the other side is that I am heartbroken. I am proud that I have raised an amazing son that is out in the world being his awesome self but there is a 20-something mom in my heart cuddling with my toddler son reading books and going to the park. That part of my life is done for this kid. I have only a couple of years left with my youngest and then she will be out in the world finding her awesomeness. I will be a proud mom but a broken hearted mom as well. This adjustment is so much more difficult than I ever imagined and even if someone tried to tell me how hard it would be I would not have believed them. It is a catch-22 in that I am so happy for him to explore the world and his life but I still wish I could check on him asleep in his room to spend 10 minutes just watching him breathe. A chapter of my life has closed with this guy and that is hard.
If I am to be real, most of my life, I have been ignoring all of the real emotions, stuffing them closing my eyes tight with a smile on my face to get through the day. I feel I have probably been pretty convincing. I have been able to do this well because I have kept most folks at an arm’s distance. Don’t let anyone get too close because they may see what is boiling under the surface. It is easy to look good from afar. So where this fails is with those who are closest to me. Recently this would be my wife especially. I have been leaking miro-agressions at her for months, not totally aware of what I was doing. Usually we hurt those who we love and are closest to us because it is safe. It may not be kind, but it is safe. I am saying all of this now with an awareness I would not admit before. I was hiding my actions even from myself. I am good like that. Have you ever played hide and seek with yourself? It is a game I have unfortunately mastered.
Regarding dealing with and recovering from cancer, this is not unique that couples have difficult adjustments after diagnosis and treatment. Something this huge is bound to change who you are as a couple and who you are as individual people. I was laying on the frosting very thick on this particular pile of shit, my pile of shit. All the unattractive emotions. I must admit though it is a pickle to have the emotions and work through them without it consuming your existence and relationships. How does a person work through something without it becoming all you are? It all seems too big and so much, it is so much easier to ignore it. Easier, at least in the moment but as it starts to be the blob on the floor flowing out from under the overstuffed closet door, then it just becomes a mess.
I am sitting in my mess. The mess I created, not cognitively but maybe just from a lifetime of poor survival and coping skills. I don’t know how to move on from here but my heart was screaming at me this morning to write. To write and send it out into the world. Stop hiding behind the “I’m okay”. Be angry. Be lost. Be sad. Be real. Ask for help. Open to the love that is trying to get in. Stop guarding myself for the next big thing. I have today, not everyone can say that. I am loved. I am not broken, I am just human. I have not been kind but that does not make me a terrible person. It is time for me to clean up my mess and figure out how to move forward.
This is just the surface, the most recent manifestations of stuffing my emotions. This story is very old and there is much for me to look at. I picture a stack of locked suitcases in the corner of the basement of my soul that I have collected for the past 44 years. With kindness and compassion I want to start looking at where I have been and how I packed things away. I do believe that my body has held on to so much which may have become the cancer that grew in my belly. I am done living this way. It scares me to say that mostly because I don’t know how to be any different. This is hard but continuing on the same path feels even harder.
Fellow feelings smothered here. Actively unlearning 34 years of squashing stuff down and burying it with denial, cheerful positivity, food, or exercise. Can relate so much to this post, thanks for sharing. You’re doing important work on yourself, be kind and patient with yourself!
Thank you for sharing. It is almost a relief to talk about it although it is hard to look at. thank you for reading.