The other morning, around 2am, after several nights of not sleeping at all, I pitched a hissy fit. The hubs was up late working when – after I had laid in bed with my eyes wide for three hours – I got up and started pacing. He asked why I wasn’t in bed, to which I snarled, “Because I CAN’T… SLEEP.” And then the tantrum ensued. FYI: if you’ve never experienced days-upon-days of insomnia, it can make you delirious. And if you’re me, it can make you rage. So, feeling altogether hopeless, I raged. I punched a few walls, I tore apart the bed, and I slammed my hands down so hard on a bedroom shelf that it pulled away from the sheetrock. The shelf (pictured here) now hovers between anchored-to-the-wall stability and a splintering bust on the floor below. And that…THAT…describes ME at the moment.
Along with recent insomnia, I also struggle with massive – sometimes debilitating – anxiety. I have periods of it so overwhelming it affects me physically. Anxiety has been pressing into me for years, but at present, due to some discouraging and semi-scary health issues, it’s bordering on terror. So…combine sleeplessness with anxiety with health concerns with hopelessness, and let’s just say my discussions with health-care professionals in these last few weeks have included phrases like “Xanax” and “psychiatric care”. (Do those words make anyone else shift around in their seats…or is that just me?)
Aside from these present acute issues of insomnia and anxiety, there’s also the everyday work of caring for three children with varying personalities and needs. It’s a busy, demanding, rewarding, intense 24/7 job. And then there’s all the – let’s call it SHTUFF – tumbling around my mind on a daily basis. Jealousy is always loitering, looking to take knock-out swings at my spirit. I get my feelings hurt easily. I feel insecure about the appearance of my postpartum body. I overthink. I second-guess. I have recurring doubts about God. Forgiving those who’ve marked my heart with arrows? Forgiving MYSELF? Playing hopscotch on lava might prove easier. Someone else is always funnier, prettier, a better writer, a better mother…and I can’t compete. I want desperately to be bold and unafraid, but I typically feel quite the opposite. Sometimes I’m so tense I find myself unable to catch my breath, like I’m just on the verge of a scream. Sometimes my rage and frustration with all the above funnels out of me via yelling at the family and cursing at the universe…and shame follows closely behind. I want to be able to extend grace to myself, to practice compassion with my SELF and – intellectually – I know that doing so benefits not only me but everyone with whom I interact. But it turns out loving yourself as you are – just as you are in your own beautifully broken-down way – is HARD. And sometimes all that HARD piles up, weighs you down and you’re sliding south on your rope, suddenly face-to-face with the end of it. Not a hopeful place to be. But it’s where I am right now.
Much of the above I jotted down a couple weeks ago, trying to cobble together a blog post. I sent the post to two friends for their input; they both agreed my words were tipping towards despair. In an effort to saturate my words with more hope, they suggested I sleep on it. (And my insomniac self groused an internal “I WISH.”) Because I appreciate how other writers’ words instill hope in ME, I too want to pass along that same sort of encouragement to anyone who wanders here. The thing is…it’s hard to infuse one’s words with hope WHEN YOU’RE NOT FEELING IT. The other thing is…SOMETIMES YOU’RE NOT FEELING IT. And you can’t fake Hope. I refuse to fill my words here (or anywhere, for that matter) with inauthentic platitudes. So I took my friends’ advice and let the post lie still for several days. I also silently, repeatedly questioned myself about where I find the Hope to keep plugging away at life when my circumstances promote despair. As my friend Jen asked, “Sometimes when people feel hopeless, they hurt themselves and end things. They go off the deep end. You are not off the deep end. So what keeps you off of there? What is it that you hang onto?”
There are times in life – for some of us – when the despair is so thick, you can hardly breathe. It’s terrifying…to be in that place where you see no way out from the disheartening circumstances or your own inner warfare. To be in a place where it feels like THINGS WILL NEVER BE BETTER. Like your health will keep deteriorating. Or your mind will keep imploding. Or your heart will keep plummeting. But if you’re still HERE, in this life, reading this post, SOMETHING has kept you hanging on. Maybe it’s the simple fact that you woke up this morning. Maybe it’s the most basic reality that you’re ALIVE. You haven’t been destroyed by your circumstances. You may have been pounded on by a set of angry hands, your anchors nearly torn from the wall, at a slant and thus unable to function in your healthiest capacity, but by golly, you are HANGING ON.
I’m still ruminating on the “what gives me hope?” question, but a few things have bubbled up. Quiet things. Hidden things. Things like…crossing paths with an acquaintance and having him tell you he said a prayer for you in the middle of the night. Someone squeezing your hand or your shoulders, looking you in the eye and saying, “You can do this. You’re not alone. I’m here. Always.” Other genuinely hopeful people, especially those who have suffered deep loss. Something as simple as temperate weather, be it sunshine or gentle rains. Laughter. Children. The laughter of children.
This is what I’ve noticed too: Life…is always present, even when we can’t see it. It may take years for a sliver of green to grow up through a charred forest or a concrete street. But it always does. Eventually. Light…is always there. Shining above inky clouds that separate us from its rays on occasion. Even when the threat of those clouds forces us to seek shelter underground in the dark of earth, the Light remains. We can’t see it, but it’s THERE. And Love…it too seems to always show up, usually in quiet and unassuming ways…like a blade of grass through a crack in cement…like sunshine blazing silently across the top of a cloud bank.
It can seem like so long to wait – way, way too long – when you’re at the bottom of your rope or dangling unanchored from the wall…when you’re so desperate to once again feel Hope. Some circumstances…I just don’t know…I think about the hands dealt to some folks, and I wonder how they keep playing the game. How to carry hope while experiencing intense suffering – separation from your people, dealing with chronic physical pain, living under constant threat of violence (in home or country), figuring out how to live life after momentous loss – for that I have no answer.
But I am, as President Teddy suggested, tying a knot in my rope. In the midst of sleep-deprived, anxious, unsettling circumstances, I’m holding on. Scared almost out of mind, trying not to panic, and – no joke – considering an inpatient stay at a behavioral clinic but…holding on. Dangling precariously from a wall, out of sorts, wondering if my destruction is imminent but…not yet destroyed. I’ve felt the Hope brought by Life and Light and Love before; maybe – just maybe – it’ll make another appearance. I look around and squint my eyes and see it pushing through in her life, breaking through in his. And I think…maybe it’ll show up back here in my own journey somehow, somewhere.
This essay is part of Momastery.com’s Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the NY Times bestselling memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, CLICK HERE!