About eight years ago, I started a blog that helped me work through some very personal issues including coming to accept myself, dealing with the deaths of both of my parents from whom I had been estranged, and sorting through the ups and downs of my marriage. There are hundreds of posts that deeply explore the inner workings of my psyche and how I managed to process through some very dark moments in my life. It was truly a healing process. And, when I decided to start this blog, I had the same goal in mind.
The difference now is that I’m less emotionally lost than I was with my first blog. Then, I was sharing my stories to bring my truth to light and allow the writing process guide me to some healing. I also felt the need to lift a veil of secrecy in which I had been draped for most of my life, trying to pretend the demons who regularly possessed me were not real. Well, they were so real and the more I wrote about them, the more I could tame them. And, for that, I was grateful. A day came when I ran out of things to say, no longer needed that community of support and felt like I had revealed myself in such a vulnerable way that I could safely re-enter life without my blog as an emotional support blanket.
That familiar urge did not strike me again until a month ago when I realized that the experience of divorce had some of the same challenges as my previous journey. Not only is it important for me to endure these challenges but it’s also important for me to share. For, there are others – so many others – that struggle silently and feel a wee bit safer when they can read or see something that makes them realize there is someone out there sharing similar painful and overwhelming feelings and experiences. It’s a support mechanism. And, I know there are also wonderful people in my own life that read my blog to get a deeper understanding of who I am and the dance I am doing to get through each day. Sometimes it is the only time they can get a read on where I’m at. They can consider this my ongoing holiday greeting letter, providing the highs and lows of my days.
My blog has always served as a resource for me to provide myself with emotional help and receive a wonderful outpouring of support. But one of the challenges I continuously confront is my ability to ask others for help. As a professional coach, my job is to help others. I remind them that they can always reach out to me when they need support and I encourage them to be open to both asking and receiving support from those around them. Writing my blog is often an extension of this, as I always consider how my words might extend an invitation to other people, making them aware that I am on a journey that might be helpful to them. Ironically, however, I often find myself confronting my own barriers for reaching out for support. Despite all I know and all that I offer, I can get trapped behind an invisible curtain, creating distance between myself and those I trust, fearing that my appeal for support is somehow too daunting for others to bear. The logical part of my brain challenges these thoughts while the emotional and irrational sphere far too often wins out.
Since my ex and I split, I have been more vulnerable and have needed help in areas of my life I had never before considered. With that, I have had to expand my support network to ensure I have the resources I need to get the help I need. But it doesn’t come easily to me. Often, I find myself sitting in my home, scared and alone, wondering how I will handle simple tasks that would otherwise never overwhelm me. I have had more than my normal share of evenings of anxiety where I have called a friend in tears, sobbing about irrational yet exponentially threatening fears. Then I feel helpless and ashamed because I hate needing to be unfurled from the fetal position when I am hiding under the covers, trying to escape the demons that creep into my head when I am alone and afraid. Again, my irrational mind imagines that every time I ask for help, those around me are rolling their eyes wondering when the requests will stop. I know, certainly with my core group of friends, that is not the case, but the anxiety about it doesn’t alleviate. I recently watched a wonderful TED talk by Michelle Sullivan about how asking for help is a strength versus a weakness, a philosophy that I clearly share when it comes to others but struggle with for myself. In the video, she points out that we’re all part of each other’s support systems. “The only shoes you can walk in are your own,” she says. “With compassion, courage and understanding, we can walk together, side by side.”
As with most marriages, my ex and I played out different roles in the relationship. From early on, I was the nurturer and the more organized of the two. I planned most of our social events and had a stronger network of friends. I cleaned, did some cooking, and worked a lot. Work was always a dominant aspect of my life and my role in my marriage. When I met my ex, I had foolishly made the decision that I would never get married or have kids. It just didn’t seem like a thing for me. Both of my parents had been divorced multiple times, my sister had three marriages, and I was not prepared to subject myself to what I believed to be my birthright of multiple failed marriages. I suppose the reason why my marriage lasted as long as it did was because I was relentless about not falling into the same trap as the rest of my family. When I met my ex, he opened up my eyes to a different outcome. I was so convinced that he was the perfect man for me and that we could endure any trials we might be faced with. My ex complemented me well. He was more mechanical and handy with his hands. He scientific skills balanced my mastery of logic and language. As such, he took care of most of the repairs around the house, the landscaping, and managed the issues with our cars. And then all this abruptly ended when I asked for a divorce. Perhaps out of spite, or as a way to distance himself from me, my ex became less and less of a resource to me. Despite the fact that I was continuing to play my role in the family as a financial provider and sole custodian of our children, my ex determined that it was less his responsibility to support us in the ways he previously had. So, suddenly, I had to figure out how to do things that, in my adult life, I never gave a second thought about. I have had to learn how to do simple things like change the propane on my gas grill, get my oil changed, manage the landscaping (with the help of my kids), do minor repairs around the house. These seem so unextraordinary to many but, for me, were as overwhelming as brain surgery because they were piled upon all the other things I was already managing. And, many seemed so foreign as well. I truly had no idea how one went about getting an oil change and what to expect or what to agree to when at the service station. I worried about being taken advantage of – something that rarely concerns me because I am pretty savvy about most things. Certainly, after doing it once, I figured it out and it seemed les threatening to me. But, on a daily basis, a new dilemma arises (calling a plumber as a single woman is perhaps the single most vulnerable position I have been in). I’m far too often flummoxed with problems that seem basic and sometimes it challenges my confidence in myself.
When I left my marriage, I knew there would be days with hurdles that might require very high jumps. But, I always assumed that I would figure it all out myself. I suppose, one of the underappreciated gifts of being solo is being forced to recognize that I have to build a tribe to help me. I recognize the value in this and the importance of needing other people. Like me, many of those around me are happy to provide support in any way they can. And, it has been a wonderful feeling when others can help me learn new things or figure out solutions to my benign problems. But, as I stand today, I am often balancing on one foot and trying to remember that there is a different option than simply toppling over. The challenges will become greater, some days will be more difficult, I will cry at the most unexpected times and I will need to be blanketed with love and support. I know all of that is out there for me. And I will keep learning how to ask for help, knowing that, in the end, I will be better off than am I today. I will allow myself to be more vulnerable, more open and more accepting of the love and support that others continue to offer.
And, I will be ok saying that I am not ok. Today, I am not so ok.