Have you ever been cracked?
Have you ever been barely able to get out of bed in the morning because... you just can’t?
Can’t live up to the expectations.
Can’t take care of anyone – not even yourself.
Can’t put on pants.
You’re trapped in a million little pieces scattered on the floor. You don’t know if you’re waiting to be put back together again like Humpty Dumpty or if you’re waiting to be tread into tiny grains of sand by the unyielding boots of others.
That photo on your wall from senior year with the wide grin and radiant eyes is an image of a complete stranger.
You’ve rallied so many times; it’s impossible to build up the strength to assault the demons whispering in your ear, hanging onto your pants legs (hence no pants), and shuffling your feet.
I’ve been there. Lord, have I been there.
Here’s how I got out of the wasteland:
No "April Fools".
The seed was planted long before, when I was still the girl in the photos with her arms slung around new friends in new places. A simple song download by an indie band from somewhere in the middle of the country. Not my usual style but I liked it. Even though it was about drag racing, it spoke to me. I listened to it over and over when I felt like my frustration and anxiety needed an outlet.
“Light ‘em up, and watch me go!”
Years later, on the cliff of a failed marriage with a 10 month old child caught in the wreckage, it was me too afraid to sleep at night. Too beaten down to believe that I could be anything good. Ever. Too scared to do anything but focus on my child and getting us on our own.
My big brother stepped in as he had so many other influential nights in my life and took me out to do something I had never done before: drink (legally) at a bar and listen to live metal bands.
At a time in my life when everything was Dave Matthews Band, the music (and alcohol) was bracing. Everyone knew each other and seemed like a family with my brother as a kindly if creepy uncle. Between rounds, I tried to hide away. So scared. So unbelieving that I could find any sense of belonging amongst these people.
And it happened.
One band in particular captured me from the very first note. In the madness, I felt the power of the guitar seep through my pores. The bass and drums rattled my chest cavity. The vocalist’s growls mirrored the pain I felt.
I felt validated.
I felt understood.
I felt an iota of strength that was buried deep inside of me awaken...
One of my tiny pieces began to rumble.
It didn’t happen all in one night.
I looped this music whose roots had been in the song I had downloaded years earlier. Many others found their way into my rotation:
An all female metal band whose songs were brave and daring. They told me that I was beautiful because of what I had been through, not in spite of it.
A country/metal mash-up band who reminded me of days along the river and reminded me that I was a bad mamma-jamma.
Mainstream classic metal bands who taught me that life isn't supposed to go the way you planned.
With each one, they delivered a powerful message:
FIGHT. YOU MATTER.
They gave me the tenacity to completely rebuild myself as someone new.
Made of metal.
So if you are in pieces, take heart. Fortification is coming, and it may come from the most unlikely of places.
Disclaimer: I actually wound up marrying the bassist of that magical band, and we found out that he was ALSO in the band with the drag racing song all those years ago! True story. You can't make that up.
Here's an old band photo: (My very talented husband is on the far left.)
Know what I like?
It's ungodly how much I enjoy doing dishes, shampooing carpets, dusting shelves....not sweeping and mopping. NEVER sweeping and mopping. But almost everything else. I love it. Headphones on my ears and either music I can sing along to or waaaay inappropriate comedy blasting away, I can clean up a storm and have a ball.
Know what I don't like?
A lot of other stuff.
Waking up early.
Going to visit the elderly. (Egads! I know that's a rough one to admit.)
Picking up not-my-underwear off of the bathroom floor when we've been married for 8 years now and can't-you-learn-to-do-this-for-yourself-what-if-I-die-is-there-going-to-be-an-awkward-pile-of-man-panties-in-the-bathroom-during-the-wake?
Trying on clothes that don't fit correctly.
Writing something and feeling like it's not working but IT MUST! IT MUST! (not really)
Giving up valuable reading time for aforementioned cleaning time.
Working when my kiddos have the day off of school and missing that time with them in the morning when they are calm and sweet.
Here's the thing: we all have to do stuff we don't like. It's kind of what makes the world go 'round.
You - going to work or school when it's the last thing you want to do is what keeps us as a society going.
You - cleaning when you'd rather personally test an atomic bomb on your house instead is giving yourself, your pets, and your family a safe space they can be proud of.
You - driving to see family that you might not really want to hang out with over your ONLY day off.
You - doing that homework.
You - waking up early to exercise. (More power to you! Do an extra lap for me!)
You are a valuable part of our global society. You can do the difficult/mundane/un-motivated stuff.
YOU contribute more than you know. So keep rocking it.
I spent my day on Saturday with two dear friends, walking through stores, picking out AH-MAY-ZING outfits, dreaming of the organization that comes with the funds and space you must have if you shop at The Container Store, eating ourselves silly on Chinese, and making my maiden voyage by trying something that I've never done before for the first time. After spending this time together, one of my friends said this morning, "I missed you this weekend."
What? We were together the whole time. But I know what she meant.
You see, I haven't been sleeping well, and my whole wellbeing revolves around getting 8-9 hours a night. If I don't, I'm instantly cranky and a general lack of fun. Debbie Downer. A lump. Physically there but mentally in and out.
Obviously, I immediately messaged my girls and said something like, "We need to do this again when I am well rested! I had so much fun!"
I started thinking about the word 'togetherness'. In this instance, we were together but not. So I checked out the info on Google about it. (This is how my brain works!)
Check out the trend of using the word 'togetherness'. It wasn't even a thing until just before the 1900s but look how huge it is now! So, I thought, why is that?
Amongst all the possible reasons, like technology and grouping, I can't help but feel deep inside that it's BECAUSE of all this amazing stuff that we have. Not just because tech makes it easier to stay in touch, but because on the most basic of levels, we humans have a desire to be TOGETHER physically. In a group or with a friend who understands us. Who you can be yourself with, even if it's something not so pleasant. (Like you're too tired to BE there.) Or even if it IS pleasant. (Like belting out Matchbox 20 tunes with your buddies.)
So amidst all of the uncertainty I am seeing on social media right now, please take a moment to log off and hang out with your friends live and in person. It's amazing what togetherness can fix. It fixes darn near everything - if that doesn't work, try more cowbell.
Image taken from: http://www.bathroomreader.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Walken-Cowbell_DS.jpg
Peacefully loading the dishwasher with hamburger browning on the stove next to a sputtering pot of boiling water, a shout of pain pierced my world. Not the kind that means his big sister poked him or he's frustrated with some toy or another. The kind that makes you drop the slippery plate in your hand and run. Lip torn and bleeding, he recounted his tale of how he bit himself. His cries turned to whimpers as the flow slowed to a trickle. My heart ached as he got up and trudged back to his toys, still sniffling with a paper towel clinging to his perfect little mouth. Makeshift first aid for the win! The blood has stopped, but the pain is still there.
Casually texting, a woman who runs the world confides her deepest insecurity. It makes me pause. She's one of those amazing women who hangs the stars, even though she doesn't know it, and she's hurting. Through the phone I feel it too. My heart aches as I type in all caps, shouting her insecure thoughts down like a ruffian taunting a downed opponent. I know the pain is within her still - it's still in me too - but maybe it's quieter or kinder or can't be heard over the laughter.
Because one thing I can't abide by is the people I love being in pain. I become Buffy the Vampire the Slayer - a Terminator - or better yet a Dalek! EX-TER-MIN-ATE! EX-TER-MIN-ATE!
I'm willing to wager a bet: most of you are like that too. Pain assassins. But...deep down, you refuse to acknowledge your own. Push it into a fire-proof safe and lock it tightly away.
Because you can deal with it later.
Maybe you don't feel entitled to it.
Maybe you feel like it's not yours to have or it should be long gone.
But it's not. It revisits in the night when you hear the even breath of the one slumbering next to you. It revisits when you forget to keep your armor on. It picks at the corners of your mind keeping the wound fresh when your inner monologue runs amok.
We've convinced ourselves that we are brave in putting it aside. Strong in refusing to acknowledge our own struggles while accepting little pieces of others' to help them carry the load of life day after day. Are we?
In giving away little pieces of our pain, power fills the void. By breaking off a piece of the mass and having someone else there saying, "You just give that to me. You have enough.", you start to feel the ability to breathe - to heal - to be powerful enough to break the whole wall apart brick by brick, claw mark by claw mark, like in Berlin, until it is completely down and you am united again.
I hope you have someone in your life who has their hand out - poised and ready to shout down your pain, to take it from you and let that space be filled with power and love. If you don't, I am here. A stranger, yes. But a stranger who has her hand out. A stranger who is ready to help you rip chunks away and patch the holes with empowerment and encouragement. Simply a keystroke away.
Staring into the middle distance between the book shelves and Utah, it becomes apparent that I am either counting dust particles in the air or daydreaming. I'm doing a lot of daydreaming recently - it may or may not have something to do with the loads of cold and allergy medicines I am pounding just to stay functional. (Aren't head colds and allergies the best?!?) Or it may be that I'm ready for something out of the ordinary.
High school library is surprisingly bustling (so good!). Even when I am not directly helping someone, I usually have a video, audio book ("Denton Little's Death Date" - so good!), or music going on my computer. Something to break the monotony of going through each of over 600 patron records individually, checking all the fields, making corrections, adding, modifying...next record.
Looking forward to the next class to visit or friend to pop in.
On the edge of my seat for lunch, not just because my belly is going to turn on itself, but because we have the BEST conversations full of laughter and tears and frustrations and joys with those three ladies. (And I get to have it every day!!!)
Afterwards, I wrote a book review that uses the phrase 'so good' twice within 4 sentences because word choice is hard right now. I laughed and posted it anyway!
I got to sample YouTube videos from a visionary English teacher who is cool enough to think outside the box. She - like many of my teacher friends - wants to give life experiences like candy. Wants to show them the calm. The gift of the quiet. And it hits me.
That is what I need!
Tonight, I am seeking the quiet. Shutting off my character's voices. Putting aside my to do list. Silencing my audio book, music, or videos. Letting joy simmer (because joy is always richer after it has deglazed - so good!). Making my frustration pause at the door because "it's quiet time".
We all do, right? Sometimes just need complete silence to feel at peace.
To remind yourself of who you are (sans brain sluggishness, grumpiness, and general exhaustion).
To envision your dreams.
To let yourself smile at old memories.
You'll snatch these moments and tuck them into your heart. Use them to fortify yourself. Let them amplify your joys and dull your pains. And maybe, when you feel better, you'll find better words than 'so good!'
Don't forget to give yourself the gift of quiet! It will be so good! :)
"Hi. How are you doing?"
"Fine." Your word oozes through a toothy grin as your feet intently continue running the marathon that is your day.
But are you?
Because the rate at which I am supposed to be performing does not match what I am putting out there. My commitments leave my hands shaking as my best laid plans laugh in my face like a toddler kicking over a mug of hot cocoa his sister carelessly left on the floor. (No judging.) Every single day at least once my lungs scream for air, and even though I am gasping, they are greedy and unsatisfied.
And the nights. Oh the nights! My weary body gratefully lowers itself into my sheltering bed. I sigh with relief. Exhausted, my body relaxes instantly, but my perky mind whirs - making that 'to do' list for tomorrow, mulling over my actions before I even make them. In one moment, it cries to me that sleep is something I don't have time for. In the next, it demands that I fall asleep right away because a tired self isn't her best self.
Put simply: I am drowning.
And let me tell you: this damsel HATES being in distress.
I cling to my life preservers - those people who you can call and apologize profusely for - well - needing them. The lovely coworker who sees the gloss of disappointment coating your eyes when you ask for something you should have arranged long ago. The friend who sees your face dipping under the surface and stands in front of your chair in an awkward but oh-so-needed embrace until you are once again light enough to float. The near stranger who scoops up your problem and solves it with ease, handing back to you a gift. Life preservers.
As I think of them, I realize that this is the time I finally started to see my relationships as they truly are. I see the deep trust I have come to place in those life preservers - not to save my life all of the time but to be there when I need them. Most importantly, to be there and not look down on me for needing them. Because admitting you need people is difficult!
So here's to life preservers! I hope in your time of need that I keep you afloat.
Creative Commons Image provided by "The Jamoker" of Flickr. Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Life_preserver.jpg
I'm a big fan of being true to yourself.
You like chocolate ice cream with coconut chips? You go, girl.
You want to wear a bikini? More power to you.
You need to cut loose on the dance floor to "Fishin' in the Dark" and electric slide your heart out? Have at it!
Of course, this doesn't necessarily apply to everything. There are things about myself that I don't like and that I need to change to be a better human. A few days ago, some things slapped me in the face. Time to change, they said.
And I basically yawned, "Okay. I'll get to it later."
Then, the daughter broke down in tears today because her first day of middle school is this week. Elementary school was less than kind to her, and she has a mom with high expectations who wants her to be a strong woman. So how do I help her go from victim to victor?
I sat there and thought of 6th grade Mandy. What I wish I had told her. What would have made a difference at that age? I leaned into my sobbing child, grabbed her hands tightly, leveled my eyes with hers, and fiercely proclaimed, "Take the power back."
She was startled.
"See this?" I brushed a tear from her eyes. "This is power. You've given them power over you. In 7 years, you're going to graduate and these things won't matter at all. I know it feels like it is the whole world right now. Believe me, it's not."
She's heard this before. But we keep at it. We keep digging down deep. We talk about confidence. We talk about handling people the way we wish we would and how hard it is! We talk about our weaknesses and how attitude affects all of it. She asks how to make herself into a confident person. So I tell her what works for me: Fake it until you make it.
For me, confidence is a lot of self talk. I am my biggest enemy. I say things to myself in my head that are so brutal - I would never say them to my worst enemy but I berate myself without the slightest hesitation. How have I changed that in the past? Positive self talk. Even if I didn't mean it. Replacing my inner voice with something kinder. It's so easy for me to do for others but so hard to do for myself.
Slowly, I began to believe the positive things about myself. "And you will too." I told her. "You're going to have to work, but tell yourself that you're getting it. It takes time and, if you keep trying, it will happen."
She agrees to try, and her tears have long since dried.
The advice I am giving her is exactly what I need to do myself - again.
Maybe you do too. Maybe you're downtrodden about forgetting a commitment. Perhaps you don't fit into those clothes you fit into a few months ago. It could be something as little as letting a coworker have power over you - power they don't deserve. Take it back - all of it!
Tell yourself that it's okay to forget something once in awhile, but you're going to try to be better about writing it down.
Remind yourself that you are beautiful and lovable and worthwhile no matter what the tag on your pants happens to read. If you want to, commit to drinking more water or adopting other healthy habits again.
Remember the hot tears rolling down your cheeks but make them a promise that you're taking the power back and you're going to forgive the person who tried to steal it in the first place.
Because you're pretty fabulous just as you are.
Even if you have to fake it 'til you make it.
(What did Daughter decide to do? We researched colleges and contacted them for brochures and Admissions packets. She's working on a plan to fulfill admissions requirements and try a variety of things in middle school to find what she loves and is good at. Today she's looking 8 years ahead to the adult she wants to be.)
I am not proud of what I am about to tell you, but it does have a good ending. When I first wrote book reviews, I WAS BRUTAL. Then, something funny happened. I started emailing with one of the authors I had reviewed about her newest series. She helped me remember that authors are people on a journey. While all of her books are good, the Saven series is remarkable - the best she has written yet. Seriously, I don't know how she'll get better, but I know she will and I am excited to be around for that.
Since I can't meet every one of you in real life, I kept my readers in mind when I wrote my acknowledgements. See, there you are. Last but never least. Because you are the ones starting with me at the beginning of this journey. You are the people taking a gamble on the unknown. You will always have a special place in my heart and a permanent reservation in my acknowledgements.
Mandy Peterson is the author of "Before I Shatter". She is also a mother, wife, librarian, book reviewer, and self-proclaimed chocolate connoisseur.