My post on Halloween prompted the following response from a fellow blogger, WritingMS: “Why are we humans so compelled to claim the goodness of our lives, in order to try and justify our expression of sorrow or pain? I think it must be our western culture and our adherence to the ‘stiff upper lip” approach. Yes, balance is always healthy……….BUT……expressing pain is not necessarily unbalanced, Laurel. Let’s all just take a communal deep breath and say “My life is good. I have many blessings. AND I have pain. Deep, devastating, gut-wrenching pain. And here, in this forum, I am going to talk about my pain, my sorrow, my confusion. And I will do it unapologetically.” There, how’s that for a disclaimer?Laurel, you know that I am in the same tippy-boat as you are and that this disclaimer is as much for me as it is for you. But how about if we give it a shot??”
The timing of this comment is particularly pertinent in light of a recent email conversation with a friend, who, in response to my expression of pain and anger that friends may have been reading my blog (and I of course have no way of knowing which friends they may be) and yet not been in touch for months, wrote “I have some how taken away from your blog the idea that you were doing OK. It seemed like you were coping.”
This had led to much introspection on my part. There are many things to consider, such as, am I coping? The answer, of course, is yes, though I am not entirely sure I know what ‘not coping’ would entail. I suspect it would involve following some of my (at times overwhelming) impulses to simply run away (though where would I go?), or hide under the duvet and cry all day. Life drags me forward – there are children to love, feed and dress, money to be earned to pay the rent, meals to be cooked and eaten. More than this, I have not stopped appreciating beauty, or joy – in fact, my awareness remains if anything slightly heightened.
None of this, however, takes away from that fact that for months, my husband Clive and I have felt stretched past breaking point. Constantly on the edge of snapping, feeling like the smallest thing will tip us from just-about-barely-managing to simply falling apart, yet each month the pressures only grow. Still we hold on, stubbornly, because we have to. We are coping – but always only just, and sometimes (because of another loss, or another night spent tossing with nightmares, or just because the kids woke up every hour during the night and we still have to be up not long after 6am for work), a little less than that. Being on a different continent to any family support, and having few friends close by, means a very distant support network that is of no practical (though huge emotional) value.
The next topic for consideration is that raised by WritingMS – why do I put a bright spin on things so often, not just in my blog, but in my conversations too? There are numerous factors to take into account here. Firstly I have allowed, to some extent, the pressure to always ‘look on the bright side’ (as people never tire of saying) to influence me, because I know that if I say I’m having a hard time, people’s responses will inevitably be to remember to be grateful for what I have, or look for the silver lining. By doing that myself, I am pre-empting their response, and feel more empowered (and besides, that way I don’t have to simper ‘I’ll try, thank you’ to their well-intentioned but oft-heard advice). I have also for many years worked very hard to always remember the positives in my life, to counteract the intensely negative outlook of my teenage years. It has been an active and conscious process, which has in many ways been a huge benefit to me.
One outcome, however, has clearly been that I have failed to convey the depth of my sorrow, anger, and despair. Another may be that I haven’t given myself enough room to simply be miserable (although not sharing the misery as fully as I had intended doesn’t mean it hasn’t been there). Either way, a new door has been opened, through which I am tentatively poking my head occasionally to get a different perspective on myself. We’ll see how the journey goes from here…