Last week was brutal.
And there was no warning.
In fact, I thought that with my birthday, things would be great. I LOVE my birthday. But it somehow set off something in me that sent me on a downward spiral. Maybe it was the realization that I was entering a new decade, and I was doing it without Shawn. Maybe it was being overwhelmed with the many demands of childcare and work that somehow really piled up at that moment. Maybe it was the fact that late at night, I started to feel really, really lonely.
Regardless, I hit a bottom like I haven’t hit in a number of months. I guess that’s to be expected sometimes, but it’s never easy. Here’s an excerpt from a text I sent a couple of friends from deep in that moment:
I’m not doing well. Low point here. Nothing to be done, really, but I wanted someone to know. It’s turning 40, I guess, but it’s also knowing that no matter how much I am trying to make my situation palatable, it still sucks. I may write something really good and raise these three awesome kids, but no one will ever adore me like Shawn. I hate my life. I love my kids and I have happy moments but everything else sucks. I’d trade with any of you in a heartbeat.
Of course, my friends worried about me after that text. Every reply was a hopeful and encouraging one….but they helped very little, to be honest.
Because, really, they don’t get it. Thank GOD they don’t get it. But they don’t.
My friend Kelly (who’s a therapist) may have had the best response. In addition to reminding me that nothing is permanent (which I’m still having a hard time believing) she also reminded me of this: “We can’t predict the future. It’s one thing to live your life day to day and it’s entirely another (and harder) enterprise to live your life AND ALL THE REST OF YOUR LIFE in one day believing you will live THIS sucky (to use your word) life forever.”
She wrote more ideas about how I might try and reframe my mindset. And then, at the end, she wrote this:
There’s one more thing I want you to think about:
Who do you want to be?
I stopped and stared at that text for a long time.
Who do you want to be without Shawn? I know you don’t want to be without Shawn and yet….you are without Shawn. So from that place: who do you want to be?
She reiterated that she was talking about values – being kind, honest, or funny. But that question was really hard for me to look at for a few days.
Who do you want to be?
Initially, I just cried whenever I’d look at the text. “I don’t know!” I actually said out loud, and then texted her the same thing. Of course, she said I didn’t need to know at that moment. But she told me that it was a good thing to start pondering.
(This is why it’s really helpful to have a best friend who is also a therapist. Especially because my own therapist does not take my new health insurance, so as of January I am therapist-less. Yes, I’m trying to find a new one, but that’s easier said than done. I run instead. It’s not the same as therapy, but I do always feel more centered afterwards. The worse I feel, the more I run. I’m in great shape right now. I could probably run a half marathon. Read into that what you will.)
Anyway, I thought about what Kelly said for a few terrible days. I was so down that I couldn’t even really pull it together at work and I was crawling into bed in the early evening in order to shut out the world with some Netflix and my noise-cancelling headphones.
But I couldn’t avoid everyone, and Wednesday I had to attend an event for Shawn. I wrote a little about this on my Facebook page, but to summarize, there was a ceremony at the congressional office of Elissa Slotkin and I took all three of my kids down there for it. She’s an old friend of mine who recently won a house seat in Michigan, and she told me a few weeks ago that she wanted to set up a fellowship in Shawn’s name. The award went to one of my former students who now works for Elissa, and it was a huge honor.
It was also exhausting. Toting three kids down and back on the metro, standing in 3-inch heels all night, chatting with lots of people I don’t know well and listening to amazing stories of Shawn is all wonderful but wow, it was a lot. At one point, I told a few friends there how down I’d felt over the past few days. “Can you take a day off?” one of them asked.
I wasn’t sure I could. I thought about it that night as I collapsed into bed.
The next morning started way too early, but I knew that I needed to run or else I was going to feel terrible. Still, it felt really early to be in my basement garage running faster than my legs could really handle at 5 am.
Then I did what parents do everywhere and got my kids ready for school, while reading about the current politics of the day so I could be ready for my classes. I ran out the door after I kissed my kids goodbye and I got myself to school almost an hour before my classes started. I knew there was so much work to be done.
But I took a few minutes in the parking garage of my school, turned up the music really loud, and sat with my eyes closed in my car. “You can do this,” I said out loud.
God, I thought, I had actually done a lot in the past 24 hours. For a second – really just a passing second – I felt proud of the daily victories of my life. I thought about Kelly’s question: Who do you want to be?
And for once, I had an answer: A survivor.
So I sent this text to my friends from the parking lot:
Well, I know one thing I am lately: a fucking lesson in perseverance. Took the metro down and back to Capitol Hill at rush hour yesterday, spoke to untold numbers of people at the event for Shawn, got my kids home at 10:30 at night and managed to not only get them all in bed for the latest bedtime ever but I also got them up this morning and dressed and ready to go after I finished an early morning run. And now I’m going to go and teach all my classes about Russian politics. I’m so close to breaking. But I’m still fucking DOING today and that gives me some measure of faith in myself.
I read the text to my friend Julie at work. “I’m still fucking doing today!” she said, smiling. “We should get that etched on a plaque and pass it around the department to whomever needs it on a particular day.”
I laughed. But I think this might be my new mantra. And maybe my new vantage point.
I’m not 100% sure who I am in every aspect of my life, but I know this: I am a survivor.
I know this for a few reasons, but mostly for this one:
I’m fucking DOING today.