I did something about a year ago, and I didn’t talk about it much at the time. I had my reasons for keeping mum, but given a few conversations I’ve had lately, I decided to talk about it now.
Last year, at the end of the summer, I was a mess. My temper was on a hair trigger, I had what Paul calls “the crazy eyes” for a startling percentage of the day, and I was liable to burst into tears if, say, I tried to get a piece of tape from the roll and it tore, because that is a serious tragedy, yes? MESS.
A lot of what I had going came from grief. My mom died last June, Paul’s dad died last September. When there’s a death in the family, it can ripple out in odd and unexpected ways. Elias was having a pretty hard time with both losses and making a run to unseat me as Chief Family Lunatic. It was a lovely time.
At some point I went to Paul and said (this is an approximation), “I feel bad for asking this. But I am so tired I don’t know what to do with myself. I am so bone-deep sad that I’m afraid I’ll never really feel happy again. I feel like I have been a daughter and a mom and a wife and an employee and a volunteer and I don’t even know what else and there is a piece of me at my core that is just me and it is withering and dying. I am going crazy, and I need to go away. Alone. Just for a little while.”
And he said, “GO. Soon. Now, even.”
It wasn’t quite that fast. But I booked a room at a B&B on one of the Lake Erie islands for a weekend and when that Friday came, I took my bike and a couple of bags and I got on the ferry.
Mostly when you take a trip, people ask you if you had a good time. I’m not sure I can say that I did. I barely spoke to anyone for three days and two nights. I rode my bike around the island. I read an entire book, an actual print one with pages and ink. I listened to music. I prayed. I sat out on the porch and looked at the water. A couple of times, I stretched out across the bed and cried until I was done, which was, in fact, quite a relief. And I woke to this out my bedroom window for two sunrises.
I didn’t have a good time, exactly, but I had a peaceful time. I didn’t come back happy. But I came back better. I came back okay.
So why am I telling you this mundane story about the time when I didn’t (quite) have a nervous breakdown?
Because I was having A Thing again the other day and I posted about it on Facebook. And there were lots of comments, but there were also a fair amount of private messages. I was, as predicted, not the only passenger on the struggle bus. And a lot of us are schlepping a lot of baggage on the bus that’s labeled GUILT.
You know why I didn’t talk about my little trip when I did it? A little bit because I have a tortured history with vacations and getaways and I was afraid to jinx it. (There’s usually vomiting involved. I’m starting to get really superstitious and weird about it.) And some because I don’t like revealing how much of a mess I am, and how much of the time. I mean, sure, the funny stuff, but not the really scary messy stuff. BUT MOSTLY because I felt guilty about it. I felt guilty that I really, desperately needed some alone time, and that I was going to spend money getting it, and that I was going to leave my family on their own to do it. Because I shouldn’t need that to remain sane. Because I shouldn’t be so selfish. Because other people manage just fine without it. Because somewhere there is someone who has it worse so buck up, camper.
Sitting here at my kitchen table, not in crisis, I can tell you that is crap. Of course not every other person needs to go away by themselves for a weekend. I may never need to do that exact thing again. I may. I don’t know. But if I do need to, I hope I don’t guilt myself out of it for stupid reasons. And so everything I say from here on out is at least as much for the future me as it is for anyone else.
It is okay to take care of yourself. It is okay to figure out what you really, really need in your crisis, and ask someone to help you make it happen. It is okay to affix your own oxygen mask first.
Do it. If you need to go cry until you are done, without worrying about upsetting your children or your mom or whoever, go find a place to cry. If you need to train for a marathon so you can outrun your demons, figure out how to get in your training time. If you need to disappear to an island for a weekend, go. Your house will not fall down. Your family will survive. They don’t need you to be there for their every breath.
They just need you to come back okay.