Here I am, showing up today not because I know what to say, but because I want to be here. I don’t know where else to go. I did not know what to write this week. My husband said, why don’t you write about that, about not knowing what to write about, and I thought, what a fantastic idea, I’m sure people would love to read about the blank hollows of my brain.
But here I am.
The last couple days have eked forward, punctuated by naps, trips to the ATM to pay the babysitter (so I can write), and anxiety, which has blown in like a quiet windstorm in my stomach. Have you had anxiety? YOU HAVE??? TELL ME ABOUT IT!!! IS IT LIKE MINE???
This is what I want to say to every single person I see. I want to ask them if they are having anxiety RIGHT NOW ALSO??? ARE YOU??? HOW DOES IT FEEL TO YOU???
I didn’t realize, until this heinous but otherwise banal week began, that I may actually have had anxiety my entire life. I just called it by other names (can-do spirit, wanting to be liked, nervousness around other humans, the ability to blow small things out of proportion for many days in a row). For years, I’d stayed active enough to distract the anxiety away. But I now live in kid-land. It is great here and beautiful and interesting and there are lots of small pieces of mangled food and swapped consonants, but it is also sometimes the equivalent of climbing into an umbrella stroller. I feel too big for it, sometimes. Sometimes, I can squish and it’s cool, the frame won’t break. Sometimes, though, I cannot squish and I see myself from an outsider’s perspective, too big, too full of adult thoughts and ideas to be riding around like a fool in a tiny folding chair with a basket under my butt.
Visuals like these and anxiety, they are symptoms of sleep deprivation. You cannot hide from sleep deprivation. You cannot hide from 5:30 am toddler wake-ups. You cannot hide from the bursting days, the loveliness of them and the way there are moments when you are watching your child, listening to him repeat somebody’s name, handing him a blueberry that he will pop into his mouth with the digital prowess of a teenage flautist, that the entire earth and your entire self is elsewhere and refreshingly unimportant. There are also moments when all I can think about is myself, particularly when the night has not been good to me, and that is when the anxiety barrels in, kidnapping my confidence and my righteousness and my zest for life.
It is then that I become Blank Hollow Mom. You’ve seen her before. From faraway, she seems to have a certain sense of purpose, bustling down the sidewalk, her kid wrapped close on her chest or babbling happily in a stroller out in front. But then you get closer and you see Blank Hollow Mom’s eyes, that they look empty, like she is wearing empty eye contacts, and you see her mouth and it is a straight line, maybe even a bewildered frown, maybe even an open mouth gape, like a frozen Pompeii person, and you can’t provide comfort, you can’t turn that frown upside down because you can’t find a way in to those scary empty eyes. You think, “Oh Jesus, what happened to HER? She must hate being a mom! Or, maybe she’s always been a miserable person. Maybe she’s the kind of person who does the opposite of light up a room. Or, I guess maybe she just lost something important, like her wallet or her sense of self-worth. If it’s the former, that’s a real hassle, especially calling credit card companies with a kid nearby to throw the self-service menu wildly out of whack. And if it’s the latter, goddamnit, get a grip, woman, you MADE A PERSON, BE FUCKING PROUD OF YOURSELF, OKAY???”
Those aren’t the things you are thinking when I walk by you? OK, well, perhaps my sleep-deprivation induced anxiety has morphed into paranoia laced with low self-esteem.
I took two naps yesterday. I passed out cold as soon as my son konked out in the morning and then I did the same thing again three and a half hours later. You’d have thought we were drugged the way we went down. Mothers of slightly older humans don’t tell new mothers that their sleep may, in fact, not improve as time goes on. Why would you want to scare a a newbie whose body has been changed forever and still hurts for it? You don’t so you lie and say, don’t worry, it’ll get easier.
And, I mean, we all know it does get easier (RIGHT???), but, I am coming to understand, using the small patches of still-effective, non-neurotic brain available to me: you have to work harder to take care of yourself. But you do have to take care of yourself. And if you don’t and you’re still OK, that’s WONDERFUL, but keep it to yourself. People like me will find your nonchalant iconoclasm a threat and will lash out at you for it because people like me are tired and not in their right mind.
I want to be in my right mind, though. So I am going to attempt to revive Blank Hollow Mom. I will start going to bed earlier. I will start saying no to things, like, maybe, a career path that isn’t as meaningful to me anymore and may, in fact, summon stress like a dinner bell does farm children. I will start eating lunches that aren’t composed primarily of muffin crumbs, sardines leftover by my child, hand-torn hunks of counter warmed cheddar cheese, and fistfuls of artificially flavored sunflower seed disks, accompanied by random sips of water from random glasses left around the apartment. I will start saying affirmations to myself daily that are too unabashedly hopeful for me to type here with a straight face. But I will say them, I swear I will. I will put my phone somewhere and forget where that place is.
I will not start smiling at construction workers because they ask me to or humoring people who refer to my child as a ladykiller, but I will start smiling to myself, when I find something funny (like THIS BOOK, the one thing that’s given me giggle fits this week, and I’m not discounting these giggles even though they morphed into five minutes of hysterical sobbing).
I will go to sleep early. This is the hardest, particularly when you’re running a roll call on your daily/long-term failures, but I will sleep. I have to sleep. The answer, the light, the way forward, it all lies in bed, underneath a blanket, its peaceful face still flickering slightly, but its ankles unburdened and its eyes relighting themselves in the dark.