Many of you know me from my daily blog & business Blue Egg Brown Nest where I document my process of refinishing vintage pieces of furniture and write about design and decor. I am also a 37 year old mom of three small kids, a wife, a sister and one of the millions of women struggling with depression and functioning anxiety.
I have talked a bit about my therapy, struggles and process of trying to feel, well, good. It is an every day, every minute kind of struggle that never seems to fully move from the center of my mind. I work on it in a very intentional way. I practice thinking about things differently, breathing and trying to carve different loops in my frontal cortex – says my Dear Therapist.
I have struggled with anxiety from the early age of 8 when I used to throw up every day before going to school. I went to a conservative, Christian elementary school where they would tie kids to chairs with duck tape and paddle kids that talked out of turn with a wooden paddle at the front of the class. Hands on the teacher’s desk, bum facing the class. Whap!
My home life was not a safe nest either. I grew up with a mother that did not know how to emotionally meet my needs. I was met daily with a stern face and cold Bible verses. There was an overall sense of disapproval towards me and this resulted in extreme shame, embarrassment and fear. My natural emotions were met with disgust. I tried many ways to navigate my home life and ultimately came to the conclusion of literally locking myself in my room and trying to be a really, really good girl when I had to come downstairs. I learned that I received love when I concerned myself with my mother’s temperament, which was often unpredictable and ranged from anger to excitability – but always in a controlled and serious manner.
My father is the sweetest man alive, but struggles with extreme anxiety and trama from his stressful childhood. I witnessed his anxiety that acted like a vice on his mood and outlook of the future. It made me fearful of my own safety and future and morality.
Volleying between these two dysfunctions, I did my best to navigate life under their roof. It was not until my escape to college and independent living that I realized more and more that something was terribly wrong with the environment I grew up in. I began to pull away when I got married and this resulted in many painful fights with my mother who insisted on trying to control me and my husband. When my first baby was born it was like the world changed from black and white to color. My biggest realization? Tending to the needs of a child is not difficult. Why had it been so hard for my mom? What was so wrong with me that she was so cold and hurtful? Why could she not see me? And was I still going to let her be mean to me as an adult?
I entered therapy once again, this time to focus on the pain of the past and the anxiety & depression that resulted in my present day life. I learned that many of my stories were actually tramas that occurred. My anxiety often manifested in panic, bouts of crying and thoughts of suicide. I went on anti-depressants after my third child.
I have built any safety that I feel all by myself. I fight for this sense of safety every single day. I feel safe with my Dear Husband and with my children. I feel safe in my home and in my bed at night. But, I don’t always feel safe in my own head. I don’t feel safe when I leave my nest and go out into the world. It is work to stay in my own skin; to feel like a whole & worthy person. The fear can be gripping and many days I crash into my bed. I try every day though to feel good.
I don’t expect life to be easy. I know it’s not. I do want to learn how to make being me easier and that means learning….well…a lot. The Safe Nest is as much for me as it is for you. I hope we can find a sense of release as we discuss real life here. There is commonality in our pain and in our quest for health. We are joined by our pain, but can support one another with care and love that can surpass devastation.
For as long as I can remember, the theme that has run through my head is a paradox—“You’re not enough”—and “you’re too intense (too much).”
It’s hard to know where to start the story that has grown into thousands of stories in my 37 years. I was always a curious and smart little girl, often preferring to read one book after the next instead of going to sleepovers or playing with Barbies. I can remember the feeling of loneliness before any other emotion. I felt constantly criticized by my mother—I was big boned, solid, with a large nose. My mother also has generalized anxiety mostly related to health, so by the time I was 18, I was convinced I had cancer, HIV, grievous Vitamin D deficiencies, and that doom and gloom was just a part of life, which has contributed to major anxiety. These types of messages relate to what I still struggle with—body image and control. I remember around age 20, I realized how powerful I could feel by depriving myself of food and calories and counting the ones I did consume—if I was thin, I was ok. I was definitely not ok, but the control felt empowering, like I could send my mother and the whole world the message that I was worthy because I was thin.
Worthiness. Every chapter of my life goes back to this word. I didn’t feel worthy most of my life to be loved just as I am—I was too loud, too different, some kids even said “weird.” The first boyfriend I ever had who was older, mysterious, experienced, became the absentee father of my newborn baby boy, born a week after I turned 18, my body shaking as I held him on the curb of the hospital, waiting for my parents to pick me up and take me home.
Living in your parents’ basement with a baby was nothing like the life I imagined. My girlfriends were off pledging at sorority houses, and I was learning how to breastfeed. A different kind of lonely was feeling like the whole world was doing what they were supposed to be doing, and I was the one who had screwed up, gotten pregnant at 17 and graduated high school with a pregnant belly pressing up against my graduation gown.
At twenty-four, I married a man with two kids.
I had no idea of all the things a life could hold when I was twenty-four. I just knew I thought I was ready to take it on: marriage, being a step mom, loving my people with everything I had. Looking back, it seems so young and silly, but I know many young and silly twenty-somethings who are still married. Young? Yes. Silly? Maybe.
It’s so much messier trying to date now–it’s like taking lots of different people, the bigs and the littles, with all of their baggage and dysfunction and trying to give it a go. It’s harder, like running a marathon is harder than a jog to the mail box–but just like a marathon you’re much more prepared for it, which makes it easier in some ways. My girlfriends joke that everyone needs a “trial marriage,” but isn’t that what every marriage is?
What might scare me the most, even more than the ebola virus (and that scares the bajeezus out of me)–there is no certain thing–except for God and the smell of newborn babies, which doesn’t really say much about marriage, but it does give me comfort to know there are beautiful and certain things in this world. I’m just not sure marriage is one of them.
It’s funny to me now, the things I vowed and thought I could keep. “I won’t let the sun go down on my anger.” This is lovely in an inspirational Hallmark card kind of way, but so unrealistic. I only went to bed angry a bazillion times (and that’s just counting my first marriage.)
I should tell you now, I almost killed my first husband–if slapping his arm over and over again in my car in the Starbucks parking lot after he told me he cheated on me can count as attempted murder. Lord have mercy if I had something sharp or painful to drive into his cheating lying man parts. Another vow broken: I will be faithful to you, only with you, body, soul, spirit.
Up until that point in my life, including teenage pregnancy and community college night classes with “adult learners,” I had thought I could get through some definite curveballs, some thrown to me on my own and others hurled by life’s circumstances.
Cheating was a different story. It broke something inside me, just for a while, something I had never felt before. It was like all the air had left my chest and I was gasping, choking, on the thoughts that were on a permanent loop–him with her, him with her getting drunk, him with her getting naked. Who texted who first? What did they have for dinner? Were her breasts lovely and perky and the opposite of my own? Of course they were, as I was a milk maiden at the time for our 11 month old daughter, Juliet Rose. Juliet woke up that night, the night I found out, just like every other, wanting to be nursed and held, and as she latched onto me, I remember telling her in my insides, but not aloud, that she should never, ever, be with a man who would sit in a car and have to say those awful words.
The unraveling of a marriage doesn’t happen overnight, or in a car, or because of a new job with attractive co-workers. It is the slow death of something sacred–two words that we never say otherwise–“I do.” A call to action, to doing. One of my favorite authors wrote a book, “Love Does,” and it’s so simple but when I heard it I wanted to shout, “yes yes yes!” Love does, doesn’t it? It does the tireless work of showing up, whether weary or broke or scared. It says YES I’ll be kind and do the right thing even when the wrong thing is easier and quicker and did I mention so, so much easier? It says “I do” uncomfortable and hard things because I love and because love is more important to me than the hurt and shattering of another’s broken heart.
Somewhere after lots of fights and that horrid, awful news of betrayal, the “I do” had turned into “why not” and I’m looking at apartments and going to the doctor to get tested for STDs and looking into plastic surgery to at least fix the breast situation, holding silicone cups up to my bra and asking a doctor meekly if it would help? I knew from the beginning that it wasn’t about my breasts or my exhaustion at caring for a toddler and a baby. I was loveable and worth being faithful to. It was about him.
I do! I do take this man for all his junk and I will love him up to the best of my ability–which sometimes is weak and little and puny–and sometimes it’s brave and strong and fierce. I do take this man for his insecurities, his lack of motivation, his ever so slight cruelty when things didn’t go his way and he would pout and sulk. I do take this man for his incessant talking and his peeing into a bed pan after knee surgery while binge watching the Sopranos for days on end in a Vicodin induced haziness while I cared for the littles and then my beloved grandpa died and I was sad and cried alone.
But, if it’s late on a dark New York City night, and there’s a pretty and single female co-worker who goes to a party with him, and there’s partying and drinking and pretending, then I just don’t. That’s not about me and my loud laugh and my big nose. That’s about him. It’s freeing and still just a tiny bit depressing, because we all secretly want it to be about us. We want to be so great and so amazing that no one would ever dare chase the path of anyone other than us. Here’s where it gets so tricky for me to wrap my head around–WE ARE SO GREAT AND SO AMAZING…but people are people and they’re far from perfect and sometimes in the moment, a family and a future can fade away and someone else’s flesh and voice and laugh is all that matters. Vows become murky and the right here and right now becomes all about them or him or her–because they’re the ones in the right here and right now–and you’re somewhere far, far away.
Realizing this is a whole game changer. It’s the Ace card on the last hand. It’s easy to miss but it’s there. It’s like the tiny box under the Christmas tree that everyone almost overlooks, but that often has the most special thing inside. It’s the gift of betrayal, a tightly-wrapped little box. Once open, the gift of mercy squeaks “hello” and you know that nothing will ever be the same again.
I don’t claim to know what anyone should do when they feel that same choking and gasping for air. When they feel the life drain out of them and they wonder how something so awful could ever be a gift, a sign of goodness that love and truth are intertwined and that freedom lives with both. I know that for me, cheating and betrayal was the beginning of seeing suffering as more than a gut-punch in the stomach, it was God telling me that sometimes it’s about me and sometimes it’s just not, and all I needed to know was that He loves me no matter how much I think life can’t possibly ever be the same again. Because it can’t.
It can be so much better.