Sometimes, out of nowhere, I feel… icky. Being the overly analytical person that I am, I don’t usually accept that feeling, but instead try to attribute it to something. “Oh, I’m sick!” I’ll think, feeling relieved. Because “icky” without a source, is bad news. If I’m not careful, I open a vortex of insecurity for myself by questioning what makes me me, in my hunt for the source of the icky. I break myself into pieces and examine them for problems.
I think my structure, the bones of myself or my crunchy outer shell, is made up of the things I do every day and the people I’m with when I do them. Career: I am a writer. Home: I am a wife and mother. Socially: I am a hermit, with a small group of really good friends.
I try to do these things well. I want to do them well. Especially the home things, which are the most important. I try to be a good partner to my wonderful and supportive husband, and a good mother to the adorable small man we made. I am earnest about these things, but I’m also sometimes messy and inconsistent, tired and distracted. Like everything else I do, I am uneven, lots of heart, not that much energy. I round everything off with cookies and coffee.
Inside my crunchy shell, I’m a squishy gel of potential reactions to things. Add some coffee at just the right time, and I am inspiration for a bunch of heartfelt, smart-assy thoughts. Say something mean to me, and I am a puddle of hurt and tears. Say something mean about someone I love, and I am an inferno of outrage.
Apply no outside stimulus, and I am quiet and still.
If I stay that way long enough, my brain provides a stimulus for me – a thin black smoke that settles over parts of me. It solidifies and contracts. As it draws in on itself, it drags and scrapes, and it sounds like scratchy whispers: “You call yourself a mother? A mother wouldn’t feed her child that garbage.” “When you said what you said, you were hurtful, and now everyone knows how horrible you are.” “It’s funny you think you are a good person. Look at all these terrible things you’ve done. Kneel on these stones while I read you the list.”
I know, I say. I should do better. I should be better.
Sometimes, I jump up and push my way through it, and it dissipates. I can look back and see its shadow reaching for me, disappointed and waiting. Sometimes I stand and lean forward and pull it with me. Over time and with effort, I peel it away. And sometimes it holds me in place, contracting and whispering. It gets under my skin and displaces my structure, and I am none of those things I thought I was before. Instead, I am what it says I am, until it feels like I’m nothing.
I am fortunate. The black mist hasn’t won for a really long time. It used to be constant, a relentless blanket of darkness, thickest around my heart and lungs. But it withdrew. I don’t know why. I don’t know how, so I am vigilant, and I don’t underestimate it. I look around and realize I wasn’t alone, even though I felt that way, and I memorize the people nearby so I can find them through the mist. I say sweeter things to myself the rest of the time, and I let myself rest, and I try to cut myself some slack. When I can’t, I know it’s time to jump up and try to outrun it, like I had to today.
I know what it looks like, and if I see it settling on you, I’ll say something. I know I can’t fix it. I’ll just try to remind you that the whisper is lying, and you aren’t alone. I know from the other side of it, you’ll do the same for me. The mist is humbling and an equalizer.