It occurs to me that I mainly tend to write posts here when things are going wrong and I’m feeling low. It’s a coping mechanism that “vomits” out the bad feelings so I can get back to feeling all right a bit quicker. Then when I feel pretty good again, I usually don’t feel like writing anymore, just enjoying life.
So these habits probably end up giving a skewed idea of my average mental state.
For the record, when I’m in a hole, I usually know, deep down, that I will get out of it, one way or another. I’ll scrabble back onto solid ground before too long and keep on truckin’ toward the promised land. Sometimes the hole is deeper than others, and sometimes it takes longer than others, but by now I know it’s a process. I’ve developed all kinds of coping mechanisms, and one of them is throwing little tantrums on the relatively anonymous space of the internet. (I don’t share this blog with almost anyone from my “real” life. Most of those suckas don’t get it — just like I didn’t get it until I was in it — and thank God for them they never will.)
Also for the record, when I’m in a hole and vomiting rage, I usually don’t want advice. I don’t want to be told everything will work out in the end, because no one knows that. And I sure as hell don’t want to be told that I should just calm down, because this is a marathon, not a sprint, and there are no guarantees. (Yeah, someone from a forum that should know better laid that one on me recently.)
Believe me, after four years, I am very well aware that there are no guarantees (and that this ain’t a sprint), and I’ve already been given every kind of advice you can imagine — some asked for, some good, mostly ill-informed and idiotic. Fellow sufferers of this scourge usually give better advice, but it’s rarely news to me.
I know I don’t have any right to demand things from the people who are kind enough to read and comment on my blog. I guess this is more like my own advice (ha) when dealing with anyone who’s in a deep hole, especially someone who’s been in many deep holes before, especially on an ongoing basis for years at a time.
What those people want, in my experience, is to be seen, even for a moment. What they want is for someone — ideally someone who’s gone through something similar, but not necessarily — to sit with them for half a second and acknowledge that what they are going through is really hard, and they aren’t crazy to feel crazy sometimes. The world is crazy sometimes. It’s goddamned mean sometimes. And when you feel deeply wounded, a part of you goes back to a more childlike state, I think. And what do children want when they are hurting? They don’t want advice! They don’t even want a band-aid, at least not right away. They want a hug.
Once that is done, then perhaps a piece of gentle advice, a book of wisdom (someone gave me The Prophet by Khalil Gibran when I was having a really tough time, and it helped), or a more positive / probable vision of the future than the doom and gloom in someone’s mind might be in order.
But advice without empathy feels like a slap in the face. Like, “Oh, your problem is easy to solve. Next.” Like, “What are you blubbering about? Just fix it!” It’s deeply alienating.
I know that is not intended, and God knows I’ve done it myself in the past. It’s funny that such a natural human response — “If you have a problem, here’s a way to address it” — is so inappropriate sometimes. Hell, if we were more rational creatures, it would be the best response. (Unless the advice is blithe dumbassery, as it often is with this particular issue.) But we are not rational creatures, at least not as much as we like to think we are. We carry scars, wounds, expectations, beliefs, narratives. And when those are poked at or violated, we feel defensive and frightened. We want a warm hand on our back, not (just) words casually thrown into our hole from the cozier world up above.
And honestly, I think most people feel that way when they are really hurting, whatever the cause.
Now, on to the next question: Shouldn’t I have learned a little bit more grace by now? Knowing all of this is a process, knowing there are no guarantees, knowing the future is usually brighter than we imagine in our dark fears, should I still be falling into holes and throwing internet tantrums after all this time?
There are many things to unpack with regard to this question.
First, actually, the future isn’t always brighter than we imagine in our dark fears. I could never have imagined it taking us more than four years and draining every drop of our savings to have our first child. It was the stuff of nightmares. And for all I know, it might take four more years. It might put us deeply into debt. It might never happen.
Meanwhile, everyone in our life is getting older as the years wear on. Some have already died, and more may die and never get to meet our kids. Hell, one of us might die before we ever have kids. These are real possibilities, and every time there’s a setback, these possibilities loom yet larger. How can your heart not quake in the face of that?
(I guess we all have to deal with mortality in general in our own ways. But when it comes to thinking of my children growing up without X or Y, it somehow makes it that much more visceral and sad.)
Their cousins and the children of our friends are also getting older, so our kid(s), even if born right now, are already aged out of what should be their cousin / friend’s kids cohort. The oldest is in college and the youngest is about to start walking. One was born just before our wedding, and she’s almost four now. She and our kid(s) should have been playmates! Now we’ll be lucky if there’s a five-year gap between them.
OK, but that’s just a subset of life being unpredictable and sometimes cruelly random, which is something adults just have to learn to deal with. And who knows, maybe when they are born they’ll be the babies, the darlings, doted on by adoring older cousins. (My youngest cousin was kind of like this, but he also wasn’t as close to us as the rest of us were.) Maybe by being born a bit later, they’ll see more of the world’s story and maybe be present at just the right time in history to make a difference. Maybe whoever end up being their age-mates will be just the right ones.
I guess speculation can go both ways.
But back to the main point: We are adults. We’ve had enough scraped knees by now, heard enough advice, read enough books, been through enough that maybe this shouldn’t be as hard as it is. Part of growing up is learning to have perspective. I’ve lived in Palestine under military occupation. I’ve seen how bad the world can get. And believe me, I count my blessings in a million ways.
But at the same time, I’ve known so many parents who would give up EVERYTHING for their children. Who love their children more than life. Whose well-raised children are such a joy, such a comfort even in times of loss or tragedy. Who risk their lives to get their children out of bad situations. And I feel like I’m perpetually on the ouside looking in at this miraculous and yet totally fundamental human experience. It makes me feel like a huge piece of my heart and soul is missing, all the time. I never could have understood what this felt like until I felt it.
But is raging on the internet really the best way to deal with that? Shouldn’t I sit in quiet contemplation, or do something good for someone else, or drink some wine, or get a hobby?
Well, first of all, I’VE DONE ALL THOSE THINGS. Multiple times. For years. Yet my emotions still sometimes get the better of me.
OK, so when that happens, should I keep it to myself? Maintain at least some level of dignity and decorum?
Here’s the thing: I didn’t get a lot of emotional support growing up. When I was hurting, basically no one cared, or they just didn’t know what to do about it. To be fair, I wasn’t good at communicating my feelings, either. Sometimes I sulked, occasionally I blew up, but mainly I just pretended like nothing was wrong. Swallowed my feelings. Tried to maintain at least some level of dignity and decorum.
So there’s a part of me that revels in the fact that finally, after all these years, when I’m hurting, I finally have a place to spew those feelings, and sometimes even get a comforting hand from people who’ve been through similar things. It’s not pretty, it’s not always dignified, but it’s honest.
And yes, I’m working on not letting myself get into such deep holes in the first place. But that’s a process, too. A meta-process. And I think all my emotion-swallowing when I was younger contributed to how hard things are now. So it’s a whole lifelong thing I’m dealing with, and going through reproductive issues has been a masterclass in learning to deal with hard shit.
And for the most part I’m doing OK. But this shit is hard.
I thank you all for being there for the times when it beats me down a little.