Nearly two years ago, my life took a painfully dramatic turn. My primary focus for nine years had been creating and maintaining a stable marriage and family and I’d poured everything I had into it. But suddenly I was faced with the reality that this life I’d been building was based on an illusion and not sustainable anymore. My world pretty much shattered at that point. But I needed to pick myself up and go back to full time work so I could support myself. Then I could start patching myself back together, while still being a stable and loving presence for my boys. It seemed impossible at the time, but somehow I got lucky and found a steady job in my field with benefits for me and my kids. It was a huge break and I am very thankful for it.
It’s definitely not ideal to be learning a new job and meeting new people when your life is falling apart. It makes small talk excruciating. You don’t want to be the freak who unloads all kinds of weird personal information onto your new coworkers during month one. Or ever, really. So I mostly kept to myself. Now I’ve been at my job over a year and have a pleasant relationships with my coworkers, but I don’t know any of them very well. It was too much of a minefield to talk about anything personal, especially at first. I never knew when I’d just burst into tears. But it turns out you can actually cry discreetly at work or pretty much anywhere in Austin, because there are always allergens in the air to explain away your red watery eyes and the way you go through a box of tissues a day. I learned to carry big sunglasses, eye drops, mascara and tissues with me at all times and I would head out for a walk if I felt like I was going to burst into tears. I think it’s pretty hard to tell if someone is crying when they are walking at a steady pace and wearing big sunglasses. You can run and cry as well, because sweat obscures the teariness, but eventually it is hard to breathe, so I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. Crying in the car is a bad idea, but who can help it? Use caution. Luckily this phase does not last forever.
Sometimes I feel like I feel like I am doing really well and have my life back together. But so far it hasn’t seemed to last for very long. I fall into tailspins where I’m filled with self-doubt and I don’t feel strong anymore. Last week was a rough one: my ex acted weirdly and put me in an uncomfortable situation, my children were angry and sad and I didn’t know how to help them, some guy I don’t know very well said something rude and careless to me. All of a sudden I felt every crack in my broken teacup of a life. And everything felt wrong again. So that’s where I am right now. In a slump, I guess. I’ve been here before, so it’s not like it’s unfamiliar territory. All I know to do is keep moving. I’ll take walks at lunch. I’ll run when I can. I’ll try not to dwell on the feeling of things being wrong. I’ll move my thoughts to something else when I get too focused on sadness. I’ll throw myself into work. I’ll try to write, though as you see, nothing funny comes out. But I’ll do it anyway. I’m writing this now, on my lunch break because it feels like I’m doing something productive to get it out. And I know a lot of you have been here, too. Maybe you’re in a slump right now. If so, I’m with you. We’ll just keep moving forward.
I’ll see and talk to the people I trust. The ones who know that this is where I am sometimes and they still accept and love me. The ones who help me see that I’m not doing everything wrong. That I am moving forward. It’s just taking the time it is taking. I am incredibly lucky to have a group of these people who help pull me up when I am falling down.
My kids’ hard time is the roughest thing for me. I want to make it better, but I want to give them the space to move through what they are moving through. My middle son is the one who is most obviously struggling these days. Last week he said he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be happy again. He’s eight. He reminds me that I can’t sink into any of this, because I have to show him how to pull himself up. I remembered an article I read that suggested that you can find “thin slices of joy” every day if you look for them. You can notice how nice the breeze feels on a walk or savor the first bite of something delicious or hear the beginning of a song you love or really notice how cute that goofy pug in a sweater is in the Facebook video your friend posted. Maybe you aren’t going to be happy all the time, but there are always little joys you can notice and that may help you get to a better place. I talked about this with my son and we’ve started trying to notice the little happy things in our lives. He’s been mentioning to me when he notices something good and I’m trying to do the same. We all got excited about the big full moon the other night. Maybe it will just become second nature to us. We’ll start automatically noticing all the little joys we are so lucky to encounter and things won’t seem as wrong anymore. We’ll learn how to be happy again. Maybe this is the beginning of the next phase.