There are myriad factors contributing to my current state of mind: A combination of missing a dose of my anxiety medication, the beginning of my period, recovering from allergies (or was it a short-lived cold?), it being a Monday, the general state of malaise the whole country has been feeling since Trump became president, having not gotten enough sleep, having spent too much money lately, having eaten too much stuff that I probably shouldn\’t be eating in the first place.
I am normally okay at dealing with all of these conditions on a regular basis, but seldom do they happen all at once, in a psychological storm bearing down on me, distorting the very thoughts I so depend on to keep myself functioning normally.* It occurs to me I rely way too much on my thoughts. My fleeting thoughts! Who flutter into my brain as seemingly harmless entities that will quite literally bring me to my knees. These thoughts, which may or may not at all be based in any bit of reality, but which I adhere to so religiously, you would think they are my God. And maybe they are. I don\’t seem to revere anything quite as much.
So the stage is set. Like flies to honey, my thoughts about myself and my life feed on the circumstances I find myself in. \”What is wrong with me?\” \”I do not have my shit together.\” \”I am not good enough.\” \”I will never be good enough.\” \”What am I even doing here?\” The same old record I have played for years and years plays faithfully in my brain. I am not even creative in my self-depreciation. How many others say these things to themselves on the daily? I am quite certain these are commonplace thoughts in the minds of many women, forged in steel by the patriarchal society we find ourselves in. I would also suspect many men have these records too, although they might be less likely to commiserate about it than my experience with the women in my life. These same worn records, whose words are old and dusty, but truly standing the test of time, repeat over and over and over again until the line of who we are and what we think is blurred and we believe that there is something inherently wrong with us.
And there is and there is not. We are humans. Our brains are capable of complex, philosophical theorems and ideas, yet we are bound by the physical laws of our animal reality. We have these ideas and expectations and longing for something so much more, yet we have to attend to trivial matters such as how to survive in whatever we are going through. In many ways we are too smart for our own good. We can visualize and picture happiness and heaven, but we can never really get there, or if we can, we can never stay there. I once read that one of Kurt Vonnuget\’s rules of writing was that \”every character should want something, even if it is just a glass of water.\” and I was struck by the poignant understanding that statement has on the human condition. We all want something, if only to survive another day.
I went and visited one of my closest friends today, who had a baby exactly 7 days ago. It is hard to complain about such trivial things as your general bad mood to a woman who is adjusting to a completely different life which includes caring for a newborn baby on way less sleep than I have. It is downright wrong for me to even entertain the idea that I could be cranky when I see my friend caring for her newborn 24/7, with barely any time to go to the bathroom or take a nap or eat a good meal. There is no comparison. But feeling bad about feeling bad only makes you feel worse.
My friend is a beautiful and strong mother. I already adore her daughter (in my own way) and I feel so fortunate that I am able to witness such a beautiful life enter the world and presumably be a relatively substantial fixture in this child\’s life. It have so much gratitude for that. However, there is this old and dusty record that plays in my head saying over and over again \”Look at her, she is beautiful and strong and brave and look at you, you are nothing.\” And what is ironic, there might be a record playing in the mind of my friend saying something similar, which is so sad because really, there is no competition here. There needs to be no comparison. We are both beautiful and strong and brave. We just live different lives. We have always lived different lives. It just feels more different than it did a week ago.
I think there is this unspoken game that happens when one friend becomes a mother and one does not. In an effort to preserve the friendship and be considerate of the other, the childfree friend goes out of her way to show how supportive she is of the new addition to the family. She will do her best to assure her friend that it\’s ok to talk about the baby a lot and to show her pictures of the baby sleeping and to have her hold the baby. In turn, in an effort to preserve the friendship and be considerate of the other, the new mother will go out of her way to assure her childfree friend that just because she has a baby doesn\’t mean that their friendship has to change. She will do her best to not impose her baby on her friend who may (or may not) want to hold or play with or talk about they baby as much as they might otherwise. The new mother will also make an effort to specifically talk about non-baby related things, even if they haven\’t done anything non-baby related for days. For what it\’s worth, I think both women are doing their best to navigate a challenging situation. I think both provide an essential service to one another. I think neither are disingenuous. I just wish it didn\’t have to be so forced. I wish my friend knew it was ok with me to dote on her daughter and to ask me to hold her once in a while and I wish I knew that it is ok with her to complain about my bad moods like I might before she gave birth. I would like to think we can still relate to one another, even though on some fundamental level, we won\’t be able to. How do you relate to something so life-changing without experiencing it first hand? The truth is, you just can\’t and, through no fault of either party, you feel a bit alone.
This is where the empathy comes in. I may not have a child, but I know what it feels like to be tired. I might never have given birth, but I know what it feels like to love a child. I might never have become a mother, but I know the tenacity and bravery it takes to have an anxiety disorder and wake up everyday to fight the good fight despite my old and dusty records. We, as people, have much more in common than not. My fears of inadequacy are projected more from my internal insecurities than from any feedback I have ever been given by the external world. No one has ever explicitly told me \”You don\’t understand because you don\’t know what it\’s like.\” They don\’t need to. I tell myself that all the time. My worst fears about myself and my life, projected into the world, come back to rest on my old, rusty records, playing over and over and over.
*I should not that the use of \”normal\” here is subjective. I have a sneaking suspicion that my version of normalcy might not be what other people experience as normal. My quirky weirdness is both my charm and my curse.