Fish Tank and the Fear

The first thing I noticed was this very tiny little crab inside his shell. He was moving slowly across the bottom. I could not see very much of him, just a feeler here or there.

I tracked his movement and tried to focus on matching my breath to the rhythm of the water.

“Sheila.”

The only other woman in the room left and I was alone.

My breath quickened and I stood up. My legs and arms were restless and I felt ready to bolt. Walking all around the tank I took in the variety of life contained within the glass walls.

I tracked three blue fish with yellow tails as they chased each other the distance of the tank.

A tiny clownfish skidded out from behind a rock and then disappeared into a green sea anemone.

Two red critters with a handful of long white feelers and two beady black eyes scrambled up and down the rocks. They stayed in constant motion and appeared to be eating the algae.

spikeThen I see him, a big ball of sharp spikes. Very slowly he moves out from behind a rock. He is huge compared to the other life in the tank. His spikes look hard and sharp. Nothing is messing with this guy.

I peer in closer and I’m taken aback by his one orange eye right in the middle of all the spikes. This bulging eye is surrounded by microscopic hairs with a bluish tint. As I watch, he slowly blinks.

“Bridgette.”

My turn.

“Its been a really long time since we’ve seen you.”

“I know. Four years.”

“Well, we are glad your here.”

I sit down in the chair and grip both armrests. As I’m lowered back and I open my mouth for the x-rays, I try not to think all the horrible thoughts that have been swirling in my mind.

This is going to be painful.

I’m sure I have thousands of dollars of work that needs to be done.

We can’t afford this.

What if they have to pull all my teeth out?

They are going to see how badly I have neglected myself.

Embarrassment and fear threaten to overtake me and I try to remember to breathe.

“Are you okay?”

I nod and try to stop shaking.

After the x-rays she starts cleaning my teeth.

My mouth fills with the taste of blood.

The taste of neglect.

The taste of fear.

My mind keeps returning to the Spike Ball in the tank. Is that even an eye? Are his spikes for protection or purely camouflage? Does he have a consciousness?

Scrape. Rinse. Suction. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

At some point it is over and the dentist comes in. I close my eyes as he looks in my mouth and then at my x-rays.

“You OK?”

I nod.

“I know it’s bad,” I say.

I start to say more.

Maybe I should tell him about my depression and the days that I just couldn’t do anything. Should I make excuses about being busy…or being a mother…or…

He chuckles and stands up.

“We are done here. You have no cavities. Your gums are inflamed from lack of flossing, but that’s easily fixed. Floss and they will heal. See you in 6 months.”

He smiles, pats my arm and walks out.

All that fear that I’ve carried.

Four fucking years of it.

Gone.

I’m stuck feeling lucky and unworthy of such good news.

How many hours have I spent in self-loathing and disgust about my mouth?

My body?

My everything.

I know I’m not alone in this crazy, fear-induced way of thinking. This twisted ability to take the worst case scenario and let it keep me from getting the information I need.

I can’t exercise because I’m too fat and out of shape.

I don’t want to see the doctor about that pain, because what if it’s cancer.

I’m not going to see a therapist because what if they want to medicate me.

I’m not going to finish writing my book because nobody will want to read it.

My spikes of fear grow and flourish as I feed them misinformation and lies. They grow and cover me in a grotesque shield that doesn’t protect or hide me, it just traps me.

I make a cleaning appointment for November and silently promise myself to keep it.

Walking out I stop by the tank to check out my spiky friend. I find him near a current of water. He winks his eye at me very slowly. I see that his spikes are moving gently in the water. Maybe they aren’t as hard as I thought.

“See you later friend.”

Just a glimpse out the car window

He was sitting on the top step of the porch. He had no shirt on and his tan skin stood out in contrast to the stark white house. His jeans were dirty and he held a cigarette in one hand. His arms were crossed and he was leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. His blonde hair was sticking up in spots. His bare feet were on the step below him.

The light turned green and I stepped on the gas pedal. I took one last look at him and he lifted his face. Our eyes locked. It was just a second. Just one breath. I could feel tears in my eyes and I suddenly found it hard to breathe. The intensity and sadness of those blue eyes. The pain. The distress. I fought the urge to turn around and go to him.

“Mommy,” my girl said from the backseat.

“What?” I said swallowing hard and trying to concentrate on driving. Just a few more blocks and we would be to school.

“Did you see that man?” she said.

It was then that I looked back at her in the rearview mirror. She was clutching Panda, her protector bear, very tight. Her knees were drawn up and her eyes were wide.

“I did,” I replied trying to sound calm.

“That was so sad,” she said. I could hear the tears threatening to come.

“What man?” my son chimed up cheerfully. He had a bag of his sisters hair bands on his lap and was busy making bracelets for his friends.

“The sad man with no shirt,” my girl answered. “I hope he will be OK.”

“He will,” I told her.

“Good,” she said loosening her grip on Panda. Her head slumped to the side of her car seat.

“I’m tired now,” she said and yawned.

“Me too,” I said and reached for my coffee cup.

“What man?” my son said again and strained his neck to try to look behind us. Of course we were several blocks away now and almost to school.

“He’s gone,” my daughter replied. “But he will be OK.”

The rest of the ride to school was silent. We parked on the street and walked brother to class. After saying our good-byes and giving kisses we walked back to the car. Her kindergarten is at another school a few minutes drive away.

“Why do you think that man was sad?” my daughter asked as I started to drive.

“I have no idea,” I said.

“I think someone died,” she said. “But it will be OK. That person is in heaven and he will see them again.”

“Yes, that’s true,” I said.

“I love you mommy,” she said.

“I love you.”

We parked at her school and held hands as we walked to the play structure. She ran around happily showing Panda all the things she can do now.

Her teacher played the flute and she ran off. Panda and I both waved good-bye.

She is going to be OK.

I’m going to be OK.

Stupid, bad mommy

Holding her hands back as she attempts to punch me, I forget about her feet and one connects with my side. Hard. All of her limbs are in motion with the intent on doing damage. She is still small and I can handle her blows.

It’s what is coming out of her mouth that feels like I’m being repeatedly stabbed with a rusty knife blade soaked in poison.

“I hate you!”

“Your a bad mommy!”

“I wish I’d never been born because your so bad!”

“Your a stupid, ugly mommy!”

Each hurtful phrase is followed by a scream that comes from deep inside. It shakes her whole body and seems painful. I hold back my tears and try to remember…she is only 6. She is in pain.

But it hurts.

It feels like I’ve failed at the most important job in the world, being her mother. I’ve failed to give her the tools to handle things.

My poor sweet, sensitive girl.

From the time she started talking it was clear she has strong feelings and emotions. She thinks about things little ones should not and comes up with phrases that often leave me speechless. She is always concerned with how people feel and is often brought to tears when hearing a story about someone sad.

For those reasons, and many others, I have to be careful of what she is exposed to. We limit media and she attends a Waldorf school. But I can’t shield her from every hurt and, truthfully, I don’t want to.

This “I hate you” stuff is new. This is the first full week of school and 3 out of the 4 evenings have ended with an outburst (each getting progressively longer and meaner). After the rage comes the real tears and we get to the hurt and pain. Then, most horribly, it ends with guilt.

“I’m a bad kid.”

“Your a good mommy and I’m just awful to you.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Those words twist the knife and I want to run out of the room sobbing.

The truth behind all this pain is that my girl wants a best friend. She is obsessed with the idea of having someone she can count on. Someone she can trust. I’ve explained that it takes time to build friendships and that she just needs to play with everyone right now.

“Time is all you need.”

“Just keep being yourself and people will line up to be your friend.”

“You are awesome. You are amazing. Give people time to see that.”

I even brought out the old Girl Scout song:

“Make new friends

But keep the old

One is silver

And the others gold”

She wants it so bad that every interaction becomes “is she my best friend or not?” Then she decides the answer is no and is as heartbroken as she will be when her first boyfriend dumps her.

I’m not stupid and can see the correlation between her pain and my own. I know that even at age 6 she can feel her mothers depression. I am not whole right now. I’m broken and I can’t help but feel that she senses it.

How can I expect her to be strong, resilient and confident when I am not?

I hate this.

I want to give her skills that help her find meaning and love.

I want her to feel whole and confident.

I want her to stop freaking out and saying mean things, because this mom can’t take much more. Words freaking hurt.

How can I do all that? I have no clue.

I know some of the answers can be found by seeking Gods help. It keeps coming back to that. We read her book about guardian angels last night and she found some comfort in that. I’m talking to her more about prayer and we are going to start praying together.

My daughter is amazing. I am certain she is destined to do something great with her life.

I only wish I could fast forward through this hard stuff. But, of course, this is the stuff parenting is made of. The hard stuff.

I just hope I survive.

Waving the white flag

I want off.

This summer has been the craziest of my life. Up. Down. Up. Down. Happy. Sad. Love. Death.

I want off.

Yesterday I almost gave up. As I curled up and cried I wished for an escape pod. Just push the button and it all ends. I surrender. Stop the pain. I’m done.

Even my beautiful children’s faces were not enough. I still wanted out.

As I type those words my gut clenches at the ugly reality of that. I’m weak and broken. It’s embarrassing, self-imposed and a result of choices I’ve made.

I am a free person. Every choice I have made in my life has been my own. That is something that I’m ungrateful for. Not worthy of.

That’s the gift of God right? Free will. The ability to walk our own path. And I live in a country where I have that right afforded to me by law. Nobody is forcing anything on me. It’s all me.

My faith is shaken so much that I have been doubting that God is even real. I’ve been feeling ignored, unloved and forgotten.

How can we all just keep doing this? How can we walk around in pain with our fake smiles? What am I missing?

I keep having moments of clarity where I think I’ve made progress. I find the puzzle piece that will make it all fit together. These moments are happening more and more. Its like God is gently whispering truth into my ear, but I’m not listening.

I’m making the choice to be unhappy.

It keeps coming back to my core belief that I am unworthy of happiness and not deserving of love.

I’ve been combating that belief, but it’s still holding on. It’s controlling my behavior and thoughts.

I am craving attention. I’m like a toddler begging for everyone to hold me. I want to be looked at, touched, admired and loved. I want to be thought of as someone fun to be around. I want to make others smile. I want to take all my friends pain away and make them happy.

My cup has giant holes in it and it’s never going to be filled up.

It has to come back to faith. To God. To surrendering and allowing myself to believe again. I don’t have the answers and never will. Happiness is not something I can get or understand. There is no magic formula.

All summer I have been dancing on the rim of a cliff. I teeter and then catch myself. Yesterday I fell. Hard. It’s time to surrender and put things in His hands. Stop trying to make my own choices or even understand.

So I will pray. I will be silent and sit still. I will listen and stop questioning.

I have no illusions of it being easy. Rebuilding faith, one that was never really strong, is not going to be easy. But it is the only way for me.

I need love. Please be generous with it when you see me and I will repay you with all I have. I will pray for us all.

May God help me, for I cannot do this alone anymore.

Don’t you dare take that mask off

maskEven from ten people behind in the line, I could see her pain. It was all over her. I could see the struggle in her body. She had that tired, forced smile. Her shoulders were slumped and her voice was meek.

When it was our turn to get onto the ride, she measured my girl for height, as she had the previous hundreds of kids that day. “Go ahead.”

I looked her in the eyes and put my hand on her shoulder. “It will be OK,” I said.

“Will it?” she said and looked at me with such intensity I almost cried. The pain was all over her face. Her mask was off.

“It will,” I said.

“Thanks,” she said. “It has to.”

She straightened up a bit and the mask returned. We boarded the swings and my sweet darling and I laughed and laughed as we went around. We kicked our feet in the air and allowed ourselves to be swept up into the joy and feeling of flying.

When we got off the ride, I locked eyes with her again and she smiled. I don’t know her or her story, but I can recognize pain.

Lately I have been acutely aware of the immense sorrow and pain in the world. It doesn’t even have to be something big, but sometimes it can feel like your world is closing in.

We all walk around carrying these things. We have to put forth our fake faces and walk about our day like nothing is wrong. We order coffee. Pump our gas. Buy our groceries. Make small talk. Play with our kids at the park. Fake a smile. Tuck our kids into bed and tell them everything is OK.

We might be dying to scream “I’m in freakin pain here!” But we don’t. It’s not the right time. Never.

I know this isn’t an original thought our idea, but I’ve just been struck hard lately by this reality of life. So much is going on all around us, yet we can’t just walk around with our stories hanging out. We can’t let our sadness or anger effect our daily lives. Shit has to get done.

So, we put on our masks. We bottle it up and push it down for the greater good. If we are lucky we have a friend or spouse we can share our real selves with, but often the time isn’t right. We can’t fall apart now. Not now. The time isn’t now. It’s NEVER now.

That same day at the amusement park, Lola kept riding a small boat ride over and over. We were the only ones in the line and I said to the teenage girl working the ride, “saying that safety speech over and over must get old.”

“I don’t mind,” she said, “it’s a good job for someone my age.”

We talked for about five minutes more as Lola rode the ride a few more times. I was floored by this girl’s story and the candor and poise with which she shared it. She had a baby at 15. She was 16 now. The job had no medical, but she had a plan. She smiled the entire time. Beaming as she told me about her beautiful girl and her plans to be a nurse someday and be a role model for her daughter. I have no doubts that will happen. It has to.

As I was about to walk away she said, “No one has ever asked about my life before. Thanks for talking to me. It felt good to talk to someone.”

Stories. Stories. Stories.

I wish I could take a day and just walk around and ask people their stories. Tell me something. No. Tell me something real. Take off the mask for a minute. I want to see you. The real you.

I realize that we are designed to push emotions aside and function. We cannot and should not walk around with all our stuff hanging out. Gross. But I love stories and I love people.

So I will step out into the world like I do everyday, with my mask on. I will smile at people and make small talk. I will chase my kids around and fill our day with errands and, if lucky, see a friend or two.

If I know you, please know that I’m happy to see you anyway you need to be – mask on or off. I promise to never try to pry off your mask. I know you need it. Just know that I like what’s underneath too and it’s OK to share it with me.