I stood at my back door after a stressful morning drop-off with my kids. I had been 1 minute shy of another tardy slip and so I raced to get my daughter to school on time and she made it. But it was tense. Anxiety seeped out from me; it was palpable. My kids felt it. It wasn’t one of those nice mornings, like yesterday, for instance, where she exhaled upon getting into her booster seat, saying, “I’m so glad that we didn’t have to rush this morning!” We all appreciate those mornings. And this morning should not have been rushed, but at the very end of the routine, after the waking and the dressing and the teeth-brushing and the hair-brushing and the feeding and the lunch-packing and the book-finding, things went awry. We had to write a last minute note. The cool, tree-branch-shaped coat rack in the mudroom toppled over onto my daughter when she tried to grab her winter jacket. My son threw George.
And so when I got home from dropping both kids off, this post percolating in my head, I realized that my house keys were not in my coat pocket. Neither was my phone. I looked through the window in our mudroom door into the kitchen. Breakfast dishes were still on the table, not yet washed and put away. Daniel Tiger had been left on the iPad (thanks, son) which was sitting on the kitchen floor and so I could hear his theme song,
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…”
and yet I could not get in. And I had no way to call anyone. The anxiety that I had been feeling all morning bubbled over and in an uncharacteristic move, I stomped my foot.
I stomped, again.
My keys. I gave my body a pat down and realized that they were in the pocket of my oversized cardigan, under my coat.
I had been given a reprieve. I was home.
Lately, more than ever, I have been acutely aware that I am balancing on a strange tightrope in my life.
Almost every day, in so many different situations, I must walk the line.
There are the obvious times, with things that all parents face. This morning, for instance, I could have stayed very calm, let my daughter write her note slowly, walked her in late, filled out the tardy slip, apologized and validated her need for comfort. But that would have been problematic. She is old enough, now, to recognize that actions have consequences. I don’t want to sign her in late to school and for her to think that it is OK. Do I want her to be earth-shatteringly upset when it happens on the rare occasion? Of course not. We all need to have perspective. But I also want her to know what it means to be accountable; to have grace.
And then there’s the whole honesty thing. I teach my children to tell the truth. Honesty is a most salient value of mine. And I think that I may tell my children more than the average parent because of this. For instance, if I am having a fight with a family member and my daughter overhears, when she asks what was going on, even if I initially try to do so, I cannot lie. I try to say, “Oh, it was someone you don’t know!” but then, inevitably, I fold. What I end up saying is, “I was having a little argument with my mom but you know that everyone has arguments sometimes. We love each other very much so we both get sensitive. We will always love each other. We made up. You have nothing to worry about.” And that is the truth. And perhaps that is too burdensome for a six-year-old, but in my mind I am showing her that problems can exist AND be fixed AND that we will always love her AND that nothing could ever change that. There is no manual for this parenting thing. I am just doing my best.
On the parenting side of things, one of the hardest lines to walk is in regards to my health. What I do not want:
-For my daughter to worry about me
-For my already anxious child to be more anxious
-For my own struggles to make her feel like she has to take care of me
-For her to think that my size is normal
Do you see? Those things are in conflict.
I am raising a daughter and a son in an age when eating disorders are an epidemic (Anorexia Nervosa is the psychiatric disorder with the highest mortality rate) and even in my own family they are exposed to a lot of chatter about weight/food/size/skinny/fat.
I. Hate. It.
You may notice that I rarely bring up the whole “weight” aspect of my health and wellness struggle on this site, the place where I have pledged to write with complete candor. That is not because I have a problem talking about my difficulty gaining weight. It is because I fear deeply that I will trigger someone who is struggling in that way. That my too-low weight will be looked at by someone else as an ideal.
It is not. But can I convince anyone of that? Of course not. So I stay really quiet about my state of clinical malnourishment and focus on anxiety, depression, PTSD…just the nice and light stuff.
Again, I walk the line.
Professionally, I do this all the time. As part of my role here, gatekeeper of my “Land of Mom”, the “Mommy” in “Mommy, Ever After”, facilitator of the #teamMEA group, I love to share my life through social media. I snap photos of shoes and home décor finds and family and pretty scenery…and I take selfies and pose for pictures and although I do keep it real, I also worry immensely. In many of my photos I know that I appear unhealthy.
Why is that?
Because I am unhealthy.
But this is my reality, and in chronicling my journey I have to show where I am now; where I am today; this place that I am fighting to leave behind.
I spent last week on the island of St. John with my family, just as we have done for the the past decade. It was my favorite trip ever. I now cherish life so much more profoundly. I savor the beauty of the world around me. I rejoice in my children’s joy in being on the beach, surrounded by their favorite people. At night, I would laugh so hard that my belly hurt when the adults gathered around the living room to play a completely inappropriate board game.
Last year in St. John, I was tense. Though my physical health was actually better, I was carrying some toxic baggage with me, much heavier than my huge Kipling duffel bag (and yes, I said Kipling bag. ‘Sup?)
While I have recently faced some very hard life events, I took this opportunity in St. John as a gift. A time to heal in the sunshine. A time to be away.
But there were some sobering reminders of my current “status”. When the family was planning a trip to the other side of the island, the spot where we make our annual and arduous hike up the Ram’s Head mountain, I said that I too wanted to hike.
“I want a tangible accomplishment,” I explained. “I want to do something that shows my strength…”
and with tears in my eyes, I added, “I just want to feel normal.”
I was forbidden from doing the hike, as it would be terribly unsafe for me, and, in fact, the entire family skipped Ram’s Head this year in favor of an outdoor meal with the best “Painkiller” cocktails on the island, some shopping at a mermaid store (yup, that’s right…) and snorkeling through a clear but rocky part of the ocean filled with coral, sea urchin and school after school of fish.
There I was, on a stunning island, with my amazing family–parenting, making people laugh…and being sick.
When people would bring up things like yoga or water aerobics my ears perked up.
I’ve been benched.
And so, I decided to focus all of my energy on a coconut.
My daughter found it on the beach at Hawk’s Nest, and though it was presumably a coconut, it did not look like the kind of coconut that you see in stores. It was ovular and with a hard but smooth shell. I do not know why I did not just Google, “How to open a coconut” or even, “Is this a coconut? What does a coconut look like?” but I made my coconut into my tangible evidence of success; it would be my prize.
It took me two days.
First, I had to crack the hard, shiny outer shell. My family members watched from the private hot tub in our villa as I smashed away at this giant brown object. I think I took out a lot of pent up anger on this sucker, as I pounded it against the concrete, cement, rocks and any other hard object that I could find.
Once I made a little crack I then had the task of peeling away the outer shell and tearing off the incredibly dense web of fibers. This sounds much easier than it was. At one point I lost my way; I got freaked out that this object was not, in fact, a coconut, but really an animal’s nest. I almost gave up.
But I didn’t.
If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you will see that I waged a war against this fruit, and took it down, one battle at a time. At one point, when describing the process, I felt like I was talking about a videogame:
First, I got through the outer layer, but now I am in this dense forest-like fiber part and I have to peel away at it until I can reach the hard inner shell where the next level begins.
And then, finally, this:
The coconut was my marathon.
And I spent the rest of the week drinking the coconut water, shaving fresh pieces of the fruit onto my yogurt, using it to blend in smoothies and possibly even donating some to a family cocktail hour (you’re welcome).
I could not do a normal person’s accomplishment, but I cracked a coconut.
“I carried a watermelon.”
It is hard for me to explain what it is like to walk the line that I do each day.
On one hand, I am functional. I get out of bed each morning, even though some days, for myriad reasons, it is harder or easier than others.
I take care of my children. I pack them lunches with notes. I dress them in cute outfits. 87% of the time those do NOT include the soccer shirt.
I make dinners. I invent recipes. They are good.
I go to work. I work hard, there. I write my blog. I work on the book. I freelance for other publications.
I spend time with friends. I connect over phone and text. I make lunch dates and chai dates and I cherish these times.
I decorate my home, I try my best to pick out cute outfits, I shop for shoes online and I have had my pile of holiday gifts prepared, hidden in my closet, for weeks.
And, on the other hand, I am a mess.
I am not being vague because I want to, but because I have to.
But on this other hand, I am not OK. I don’t sleep well. I don’t eat well. I go to at least 4 differently therapy appointments each week. I struggle every single day.
I am haunted by ghosts. I hurt. I am mourning.
And the hardest part of all is that I do not know how to be both things.
If I post photos where I am smiling, it is because I am happy, not disingenuous. If I posted photos of me sobbing in my car because a certain song came on the radio and I could not choke back the cries, would people really like to see that? I think not.
I hear, “But it seems like you are doing really well!” and, “You are looking very bad to me. I am scared…” every day, often in the same hour.
To the person who compliments me, I want to thank them. I want to give them the response they are looking for, even if they said it just to be polite. I want to say, “Yes, I am grateful for the support I have in my life. I just had a great trip. 2017 is a new year.” And I want to mean it.
To the person who expresses concern I want to say, “Yes, I am having a hard time. I have lost more weight. I hope that 2017 is a better year.”
And I don’t want to sound like I am asking for pity.
So I walk the line.
I share just enough good, and just enough not-so-good.
I live some really good and some really bad.
I think, in our own ways, we all do.
This morning, when I thought that I was locked out of my house, I cursed my luck. I would have no way of getting in, I would have no way of communicating that to anyone, and I would not know where to go. Though I was not in pajamas, my hair was pulled back in a hasty ponytail and I was in a big sweater, my sister’s old tank top (that literally says, “I woke up like this”) and a pair of “fancy” sweatpants with a pair of “fancy” boots. I was just shy of being coffee-shop- acceptable.
I was prepared to spend a chunk of my morning in my little mudroom, with it’s little space-heater, playing on my phone with the signal from the router that is all the way across the house.
Well, actually, I was prepared to break the glass in the window if I could not break down the door. I was prepared to then run to the alarm system so that the police would not come. I was then prepared to be scolded for this reckless behavior. I should not be breaking glass windows.
(I am only allowed to smash coconuts these days!)
But, then I heard the jingling. I think, now 2 and a half hours later, I have finally exhaled. I am still a bit shaken by the stress of the morning, and feeling guilty that I was not as calm, warm and loving as I would have liked to have been to my daughter. I rushed her, and she does not like to be rushed. I don’t know where the line was, but I don’t think that I walked it gracefully. I lost my footing I fell off of the tightrope.
But today, there was a mat.
Under me, when I fell, there was a mat.
I didn’t plummet to the ground and break my bones. And this metaphor is only slightly hyperbolic as I really was, indeed, gearing up to break the glass of my back door. Who knows how I could have been hurt.
I can hear Johnny Cash in my head now.
I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line
The thing about tightrope walking is this: you can’t walk forever. At some point you fall to either one side or the other.
On one side of the line, I am broken. I am cracked to the point of being unrecognizable. I am too ill to take care of my children, to see my friends, to write.
On the other side of the line, I am mended. I may no longer be the exact same shape that I was before, as I will have been put back together in a new way, but that will reflect my journey and how far I have come. I will not be the same Becca because I should not be the same Becca. I have worked too hard. I have been through too much.
Straddling the line is purgatory. I will not live like that. Not forever, at least.
And so for now I will keep my feet pointed in the direction of the healthy side of the line. I will continue to seek help and to find joy when I can. I will push myself to nourish my body and my brain. I will listen for the Jingle Jingle when I need it most and I will hold those lucky breaks close to me.
I haven’t always been lucky and so they mean a lot.
And when there is a coconut in front of me, no matter how tough the outer shell is to crack, or how tightly woven the fibers are inside, or how incredibly hard it is to break, I will not give up. Because I have done it before. I know that I can do it again.
And the nectar inside is oh so sweet. It makes the battle worth it. It makes the battle a blessing.
Because you’re mine, I walk the line
The “you” in that song is someone different than the person to whom I have sang those words before. It is not to a loved one. It is not to my kids.
It is to myself.
I am going to do this for myself. Because the stronger I can be for me, the better I can be for this world.
With peace, love, promise and an abundance of coconut-flavored treats…