If you were to formulate an opinion of me based on social media, you would see a strong, positive-thinking, widowed mom, kicking the world’s ass and taking names. It’s not that I’m deliberately presenting this confident woman to the world — it’s simply in those moments when I’m lying in bed in a fetal position, the last thing I want to do is reach for the keyboard.
There are times when stress sends me into a spiral of self-doubt.
I grew up with a perfectionist, over-the-top mom. She was gorgeous. Put together. She had one of those floors off which you could eat. I was the screw-up. Not smart enough. Depressed. Overweight (compared to her). Perpetually sloppy. She was the one who would come in and sweep up the debris of my life.
When I went to college and failed miserably at adulting, it was my mom who was there to tidy things up. I got hammered on vodka at a frat party once and fell into a window. My mom paid for the repairs, most likely using the stash of secret money she never told my step-dad about.
After that dark episode of my life, my husband came to rescue me. He literally worked in search and rescue, and while I was wildly in love, it’s fitting he swooped in to pull me from the wreckage of my life. I was twenty years old and slipped directly into the role of wife (and three years later mother) and learned how to do it well, within the regulated laws of Christianity and guidance of my decade-older husband.
The dependency on Jesus and my husband lasted twenty years, and when things went wrong in both relationships, I found myself helpless. No career. No personal bank account. No way to fight the fires licking my heels. The only time I felt self-confident was at the gym or finishing a marathon.
For most of my life, I’ve had some kind of governing body telling me what to do: and now I am free to do anything. But what do I want? What is best for the family? When I have my stormy days, it is a struggle to wrest the controls from the forces that would have me plummet headlong into the ground.
I lived in Bavaria 14 years, and the move to Sachsen has been more emotional than anticipated. I’ve been unpacking boxes that haven’t been opened in five years. I am sorting through my past lives and figuring out what I want on the shelves. The move is outside my comfort zone, though I know stepping out of my cage is a good thing. However, when a group of mansplainers stands around telling me my couch won’t fit through the window because they brought the wrong lift, I want nothing more than a pararescuemen to drop from the sky and take over.
Dependency blasts through like a derecho and makes me question every choice I’ve made since puberty. Standing there with the movers, staring up at the windows of my new apartment, I never felt more alone. I became detached. Numb. I wasn’t upset or angry. I felt nothing. It is a weird place to be. A twisted sort of zen.
Sometimes it takes years to teach a captive mammal how to survive in the wild. And maybe I expect too much of myself. I want to do this life perfectly, but the fact is I have been in a cage for a very long time. I have to learn how to do things that most 47 year-olds already know how to do (like read water meters or manage an IRA). I’m in the process of rehabilitation, and I have to fight the urge to scamper back into the enclosure. Sure, I had food and water there, but I couldn’t be my natural self. I was completely dependent on the humans around me.
This is my struggle: to discover that strong, capable person inside. It is fucking hard to find her sometimes.
Mike used to say if you’re in a nose-dive, pull up.
That sounds easier to do than it actually is. In worst cases, the high acceleration and g-forces cause you to black out. But if you’re lucky enough to regain consciousness as the earth looms large in the cockpit window, you can fight the controls to level out.
If I find I’m in a nosedive, here are some things I do to point back to the horizon:
Talk about it?
My first instinct is to talk to someone. This is usually wrong. It puts me in danger of becoming an emotional vampire — and I like the sunshine too much to be a creature of darkness. I have to learn how to be honest with my friends without emotionally draining them. My life can be turbulent as I work through my issues. But to become the woman I know I am, I have to fight that first instinct to look for someone to save me. My friends are not therapists. They are not gods. And while I know it’s fine to share with them, I have a tendency to freak out about things and then resolve them in a flash. Instead of reaching for the tornado siren, I am working on practical things I can do to weather the storm.
I have a checklist:
Am I tired? If yes, go take a nap.
Am I hungry? If yes, cook yourself a damn meal.
Have I eaten healthy food? If no, make a salad or crunch on some red peppers or other raw veggies.
Have I had enough water? If I don’t drink enough water, my body starts cramping up. My stomach hurts so much I can’t stand up. If this happens, I need to start chugging water. I need about 3 liters a day.
Have I gotten enough exercise or outdoor time? With the move, I haven’t been running. I’ve been physically and mentally engaged with so much cardboard I can’t even think about exercise. However, just a few minutes to sit outside (without a phone in hand) tends to rejuvinate me. I listen to the birds or admire the sky, It’s a sort of meditation.
Am I drowning in thoughts? Sometimes my head spins with my to-do list (which is also my “worry” list). I have to think of my happy place and go there for while mentally. Everyone should have a happy place. Whether it’s the ocean or a campfire or the arms of someone around you: close your eyes and let yourself sit there for a while. For me, my entire body will relax when I do this (and I usually fall asleep).
Ask for help for practical things
I’m lucky to have two teenagers in the house. I don’t have to do everything myself. Whether it’s taking out garbage or washing dishes or even cooking dinner, whenever I ask they’re there. It seems like a simple thing, but it can be hard for me to do. But maybe Supermom is a person who doesn’t do everything alone (like my mom did) — maybe Supermom is someone who acknowledges she can’t do everything herself.
When I have a problem, I ask myself, “What is one thing you can do that will make you feel better?”
Because I’ve just moved, I have boxes stacked everywhere. So, yesterday, I set the goal of setting up the living room, sans sofa. I didn’t look at the huge stack of boxes along the wall. I simply opened them one by one and put things in their place. At the end of the day, I could admire the beauty and homeyness of the space. I love walking into one room of the house that is chaos-free.
My history, with all the grit, can’t be made squeaky clean— and it shouldn’t be. The photo albums have been taken out of the boxes destined for the basement and placed on the living room shelf. I can look through them and remember those happy highlights. Marie Kondo would be proud the things on my shelves do spark joy.
Once I’ve accepted my past (the good and the bad), I can look at my sudden drops in altitude with a little more grace. I don’t have to feel like a shitty person just because I got sad and took a nap at 3pm.
Listen to your instinct
Never in my life have I been more aware of my gut instinct. Even though my head can cast shadows on my illuminated path, making the trees look like goblins, I am learning to trust what my instinct tells me. Part of this struggle is due to my former biblical life, where trusting in your own instinct was considered bad. I’ve had to deprogram that way of thinking — to really implement the belief I can make good choices.
Look at what you’ve accomplished
This move is a good thing for me and for the family. I know this. I trust this. But I still fight those naysaying voices from the past, telling me I can’t do something. Sometimes they speak so loudly I feel like I’m drowning in them.
I have to remind myself I’ve proven those voices wrong on many occasions. I have stayed in Germany. I have run ten marathons. I have trekked the Himalayas. I have (at one time) deadlifted 110kg. I have completed a manuscript. These are all things someone (either real or imagined) told me I could not do.
Look to future goals…and how you get there
I will have a tranquil home. A successful career. A happy life.
It won’t happen all at once, and it will be messy. Yet, I have to keep opening the boxes and putting things in place, reminiscing over the happy and the sad.
The nostalgia will be put in place, and some items will be discarded to make space for the things to come.
It is a scary time. An exciting time. An emotional time, as I level out and point back towards the horizon.