The Mask of “I’m Fine”

When this blog began I decided to only write that which is true.  Truth as it applies to my life and my circumstances.  I wanted transparency instead of platitudes or cliché.  To approach topics without shying away from painful admissions, if relevant, and to hopefully inspire others (and maybe inspire myself) to be brave.

Perhaps I was overreaching and the loftiness of the goal set me up for failure.  Part of the reason my posts have been few and the time between each long is because life has been more lemons than lemonade of late.  That is not to say that there are no silver linings!  There are lots of things to be thankful for – I am full of gratitude and completely aware of the blessings in the life I lead… However, heavy clouds sometimes take a while to dissipate or can randomly scuttle across the sun in the midst of a bright day.  This year has brought a great deal of darkness and days I feel unable to reach the light no matter how brightly it shines.

Sun hidden by clouds
… clouds sometimes take a while to dissipate or can randomly scuttle across the sun in the midst of a bright day.

Although I don’t mean to resort to acting the hermit, it happens at times.  Those who know me well are aware of the health challenges I face and (hopefully) understand that any given day can bring physical challenges that make it easier to remain in one place and try to recover or conserve energy as needed.  While that is the single biggest reason I fall off the grid for days at a time, it isn’t the only challenge that prevents me from being a social butterfly, unfortunately, and lately I’m more hermit than human.  Let me first apologize for my absence – I miss you all dearly – and second, let me attempt to explain.

Chronic illness can help a person master the skill of deception – wear the mask of “I’m fine”.  Ask anyone you know that endures continual pain or physical ailment and they will probably tell you that dealing with those issues helped them, at least at some point, become more adept at “I’m fine”.  When I have to go somewhere on a less than wonderful day, I will usually try to act livelier than I really feel.  Admittedly, it is a risk… The energy necessary to pull off “I’m fine” will often significantly reduce the duration of my outing, but it keeps uncomfortable questions at bay.  The more recent weight on my shoulders and in my heart is not as easily masked, to my chagrin, and necessitates that I stay away from people in any capacity or be willing to deal with those questions firsthand.  It doesn’t allow for masks and hides from no one.  The face it wears is evident no matter how much makeup applied, how expertly crafted the smile put on, or how clever the tactical diversions I employ.  It is the face of a woman who has no children of her own.  The face of a woman who grew up in a large family, dreamed of sharing one with her husband, and wakes up every morning alone.  One who goes to bed without having kissed tiny hands and feet or listened, exhausted, for plaintive cries in the middle of the darkest night.  I am that woman, this is the reality I have come face to face with this year, and the revelation has broken something within me that I fear will never be whole again.

There is no way to tell people you can’t leave the house because you cry each day.  Heck – my family and friends know I cry about everything anyway, so it would hardly be a reason to stay home.  It’s just who I am!  It’s so much a part of me that each time I work a wedding I manage to get choked up standing behind a camera while doing my job… even though they are people I didn’t meet before that day!  lol!  More sensitive than just about any person I know, it’s not unusual for me to get teary over things that others dismiss without a second glance.  Yet, those are tears, no matter how embarrassing, that I don’t mind sharing with the public eye.  Sure, it’s not always socially acceptable, and yes – I definitely receive strange looks sometimes… but knowing the sensitivity is there, unavoidable, also lends me a certain kind of strength.  Will I cry about things no one will understand?  Yes, but it has been happening my whole life and is expected under a certain set of circumstances, so I just accept it and go on.  The recurring nature of it has built its own layer of callus as a type of self-preservation.  The crying I’ve been doing lately is different.  It’s not sensitivity crying and it’s not to share.  It’s the kind of crying that can only occur alone, where no one can hear the anguish in choking sobs that happen at the drop of a hat, while watching a diaper commercial on television or looking at someone’s family pictures on social media… Alone – where no one else has to see the ugliness of it.  And it IS ugly.  This isn’t a lovely, lone tear rolling down my cheek calling to mind comparisons to Demi Moore à la Ghost.  These kind of tears require solitude.  The type only attainable while heartbroken in my pajamas at noon I can thrash and wail and no one is uncomfortably waiting out the emotional display to hear “I’m fine”…  Because I’m not.

So please understand that I didn’t want to miss your baby shower… Please know I really did want to come see you in the hospital after you welcomed a beautiful bundle of joy to the world.  My heart is full of happiness for you and your family!!  I mean that with all sincerity!  But please know that simultaneously, my heart is breaking.  And that can, at times, prevent me from sharing these moments with you while maintaining any sort of grace or showing courtesy.  There is a hole in my life that nothing else will ever be able to fill.  Not the all-encompassing love I feel for my husband, not the joy I receive for working hard for an achievement, not material possession or adventurous experience.  Some things allow for substitution with others, but this is an exchange rate that will never balance in my favor.

In my heart I hope you understand that for each time your bladder felt ready to burst or your pants wouldn’t fit, I have placed my hand upon my tummy and tried to accept that it will never feel a baby’s kick…  For every feeding when you dragged yourself awake, I was also probably awake, lying in the black of night listening to the silence of my house.  Sure, I’ll never have to worry about childproofing and vaccines and choosing the best childcare, but I will also never feel the joy of having a small child cling to my leg and call me mommy.  Never feel soft, chubby hands pat my face with utter devotion, never kiss boo-boos or sing “ABC’s”,  never rejoice and cry and worry for a child of my own.  I will never hear a toddler’s laughter or see a teenager’s angst between these walls, and this year has been about coming to terms with that.  Sometimes I have to think, if being a parent is the hardest job in the world… being a mother without a child must rank right up there.

So, if I have seemed distant or missed an important milestone in your life, please be patient with me.  I’m working on a new face that is quite a bit more difficult than the last and I don’t have a template to go from.  Nothing I have experienced has prepared me to wear something like this and nothing in my closet seems to match… It’s transparent, you see, and makes no apologies for things that cannot be changed and hurts I cannot hide.  This mask is merely my face as I learn to live with this new view for the future.  And although I’m not fine right now, I hope some day I will be….

Hope
The mask is merely my face, and although I’m not fine right now, I hope some day I will be….