We’re living in a new normal.
For me, a new normal has been a long time coming. Before anyone regularly included the terms COVID, social distancing, antibodies, or reopening the economy in their everyday vernacular, I was already in quarantine. Before the first case of coronavirus was reported and the ensuing pandemic declared, I was experiencing my own epidemic. My marriage was fighting a deadly battle and was losing. And, I was hoping to save those more vulnerable around me – my children.
In my earlier blog, Life Stories, I chronicled my long journey from darkness to light. Overcoming the repercussions of childhood abuse and family dysfunction was no easy task. It took the better part of my adult lifetime to come to terms with and successfully move beyond the traumas of my childhood. However, despite my traumatic early years, my story is not about my recovery. It is about owning your story. I never wanted my life to be defined by the adversity experienced but, rather, by my ability to accept the realities of my life and still be fierce and fearless. Sometimes this was a masquerade I wore because I was terrified and still a small child on the inside, unsure of how to make a step forward. I wanted my life to be about being courageous enough to take the road less traveled despite wanting to curl up in a ball, pull the blankets over my head and sleep through my discomfort. Owning my story has been about being uncomfortable a lot only to reap the benefits of euphoric comfort once I have moved through the mire.
Months and months before the pandemic hit, I recognized it was once again time to get back on that road and confront the harsh reality that I was in a marriage that was not destined to survive. After years of looking away rather than staring my marriage in the face, the time had come for me to dig deep, find my strength and fortify myself for the most difficult decision of my life. And I did just that. I bravely stepped into the darkness and fumbled around, disoriented and displaced. It was not elegant nor it was it enlightened. I simply made up my mind, told my husband how I felt and figured it out from there.
Often, we have delayed reactions to events in our lives. We do not always experience the highs or lows in the moments in which they occur. Sometimes, it takes days, weeks, months, or even years before we can come to terms with our feelings or, perhaps, we are lost in swirls of confusion that render us emotionless until some completely unrelated experience uncorks us. I became unglued and unhinged long after I told my husband that I wanted a divorce. It wasn’t until Easter Sunday 2020. On that day, my life nearly ended and it began anew.
When my first child was born in 2000 and I became a mother for the first time, I was transformed. Ironically, I never had the urge to become a mother myself, probably because of the toxic relationship I endured with my narcissistic mother. Nonetheless, I did what many dutiful wives and daughters do, I produced a child. By the time I decided to get pregnant, Mother Nature was at the wheel. My psychological resistance was no match to the hormones surging and screaming for me to procreate. I watched as my female friends and coworkers were popping out babies and relishing in the sensational joy that comes with motherhood. They were now speaking a secret language of which I was not fluent. With every baby I held, the intoxicating scent that comes with a freshly minted person, causing women far and near to feel the stirrings inside of them, overwhelmed me with urges to have one of my own. My head was regularly buried in the soft rolls of an infant’s neck, deeply inhaling the baby narcotic. My limbic system was in overdrive and, every time I walked past a Baby Gap, I yearned to have tiny little t-shirts and sweatshirts and pom-pom-embellished hats littered throughout my laundry.
Several years before my older son was born, my cousin, the same age as me, was expecting his first child. As I sat on my bed wrapping boxes filled with sweet little boy clothing, I had a strange sensation take over me. As I neatly folded the items and placed them into tissue paper, I allowed myself to imagine what it might be like to have these in my home on a regular basis. The stirrings were getting louder and I was beginning to imagine myself as a mother.
In the Fall of 2020, a few short years later, I was sitting on my couch, again neatly folding little baby items. However, now, these were mine and were staying with me. I had recently had my baby shower and had laundered the mountain of onesies, socks, sleepers and other adorable little boy outfits that my friends and family had generously provided. I was now preparing the arrival of my first child with no understanding of the mack truck of emotions that were about to pummel me.
Mother Nature continued to perform her job exceptionally well and oxytocin was surging through my body as I neared the last weeks of pregnancy. This unknown person whose galloping heartbeat I listened to nightly in order to reassure myself that he was still there, still growing, still planning to show himself to me, was nearing his debut, affording me the opportunity to fall madly in love with him. He arrived early on a Wednesday morning. It had been a long night of labor and then a rush into the operating room because my cervix was not cooperating and his health was in danger. A c-section was my worst fear but I was a mother now and I had to do whatever necessary to protect my child. So, when he finally took his first breath punctuated by a robust scream, I was barely conscious. The anesthesia made me nauseous and I was fading when they passed him over the curtain for his dad and I to get a look at him. Hours later, out of recovery, he and I had some time alone in my room. I rested him on the bed, boundaried by my legs, and carefully studied him. Before others arrived to meet him, I needed to investigate this little creature. He squirmed and suckled, innately searching for his fingers to soothe himself. When his eyes finally locked in on mine, my fears that motherhood would be all sizzle and no steak, immediately dissipated. I was in love – a love that I barely understood but it was all-consuming.
Nearly 20 years later, on that Easter Sunday, the power dynamic shifted with my firstborn son. After pouring every ounce of love into him and his younger brother, fiercely protecting them from any undue pain and suffering, I was able to see the fruits of my labor. Motherhood was far more instinctive and innate than I had imagined and it required little thought or intentionality to provide them with the idealized childhood I never experienced. I fervently desired them to be confident, emotionally-secure young men and made it my top priority to manifest that reality for them. But, it came easily. I rarely gave it much thought. Of course there were abundant obstacles that jumped in the way like giant barricades to success but I comfortably negotiated them with and on behalf of my children, ensuring as clear a pathway as I could provide. My ex and I were always fully aligned on everything related to our children and we did our best to absorb their pain as much as, and for as long as we could. Apparently, on Easter Sunday, the statute of limitations had expired and my children were about to experience suffering from the absolute worst source – ME.
On Easter Sunday, 2020, my older son saved me from myself. Months after his father and I separated, dealing with all the myriad challenges that entailed and, after 3 weeks of debilitating illness from COVID-19, I was knocked to my knees by depression. According to my doctor, with whom I discussed this afterwards, depression and anxiety was a common after-effect of the disease. For me, it was quite severe. I woke up the morning after I began my recovery and wouldn’t leave my bed for three days. I lay there, contemplating my death. I reflected on the challenges I was facing with the divorce, with being sick, with the decline in revenue from my business. The world felt dark and bleak and all I could think about was checking out and not having to deal with any of it. The stark shift in my mood took me by surprise and, although I have had minor bouts with depression over the years, this was a different feeling and legitimately scared me. I felt like I was on the precipice of danger. Several months earlier, one of my beloved employees took his own life and it devastated me and my colleagues. At the time, I couldn’t imagine how his brain could allow him to believe that ending his young life was a better option than asking for help. But here I was, staring up from my bed thinking similar thoughts. I had medications on my bedside table to help me sleep, help manage chronic back pain, and I began investigating how many pills would be an overdose. One side of my brain was rationally and logically reminding the other side that this was not a feasible option. The impacts and implications were being processed while the other side was screaming vehemently that it wanted out. Logically, I knew I was depleted and was struggling to find the energy to fight the demonic voices in my head. Emotionally, I was staring down an endless road of quarantine and being alone that left me helpless and seared. The fears of how I would support my kids, the pressures of the responsibilities of my business, the realization of how sick I was from COVID-19 all meshed together making the bottles of pills look like a reasonable solution.
Late in the day on Easter Sunday, my older son texted me from downstairs to tell me he loved me. The door to my bedroom had been closed all day and both he and his brother didn’t dare enter because they recognized that I was not my best self. They were giving me my space to deal with whatever it was I needed to sort out. Of course, they couldn’t possibly comprehend the thoughts raging through my mind and, if they did, they would have stood guard to ensure that I was no danger to myself. My ex was also at the house having Easter dinner with the kids and, at some point, he came into the bedroom to check on me. I was in no condition to deal with him and was filled with rage and resentment towards him because I blamed him for much of my current angst. Having defaulted on his responsibilities meant that the scales weighed heavily in my direction and the imbalance left me with no options but to figure out a strategy to support the kids. The combination of the financial burdens, the lack of emotional support and the steady decline of his own mental health finally took its toll. I had warned him for more than a year that I was going to collapse under the strain and the perfect storm was hitting the shore at the very moment he walked into the bedroom. I blamed him for my state. I felt abandoned by him. I wanted him out of my room. And I told him as much in a voice that illustrated every ounce of disdain, every drop of hurt, every morsel of anger I could summon.
I went through that night in a fog. I was self-medicating enough to keep me relatively incoherent yet safe from needing my stomach pumped. All the while, my mind wandered back through my mental memory album, recalling the times I sat as a young child in the ER of local hospitals after my mother tried to overdose. There were at least two occasions that I can recall and, frankly, there might have been others from which I was happily shielded. My intention for so many years was to not follow in any of my mother’s footsteps and here I was about to dive off the same dock into the same muck that traumatized me as a child.
Monday morning I awoke to a string of text and voicemail messages. Friends had been checking in on me for the past several weeks to monitor my health status and I was typically quick to respond. On Sunday, I threw my phone across the room so I would not have to endure the self-inflicted guilt, knowing that I was ignoring their support and succumbing to my worst thoughts. Since Monday was a workday, I knew I had to check in with my partner who, by now, was deeply concerned from the radio silence of the previous day. I got up to get my phone, texted him a dark and desperate message about my state of mind and apologized for my inability to work that day. In retrospect, my concern over missing a day of work was a gross misalignment of priorities. I intentionally withheld the demonic voices and my contemplations of death and, instead, characterized myself as a toxic wasteland that wasn’t worth the investment of concern from anyone. My partner, who knows me very well, sensed the intensity level of my words and knew there was trouble afoot. Unbeknownst to me, he reached out to my older son to enlist his help in keeping me safe.
And then the tables turned. For the first time in my tenure as a mother, I began to understand what happens when your children grow up and the roles begin to reverse. I witnessed how a child begins to transition to caregiver for their parent. The result was a cocktail of pride and shame and as much resistance as I could muster in my weakened state. My son came into my bedroom to comfort and console me. He sat on the bed, held my hand and reassured me that I was loved and needed. He acknowledged the difficulties I was experiencing, tactfully expressing his awareness that he couldn’t possibly understand them to the degree that I did but, all the while, making sure to lower the volume of the voices set out to destroy me.
Throughout the day, he brought me food and water and encouraged me to eat and drink. I had not put anything in my mouth since Saturday and it was now midday on Monday. I had not used the bathroom or cleaned myself up. I was molting in my bed. He left me to sleep more and, by mid afternoon, the shame and despair were taking over. My head was screaming for me to swallow all the pills available to me. The night before, in my paranoid state, it occurred to me that someone in my house would realize that I had enough pills at my bedside to kill a pack of animals and would come to apprehend them. I decided to hide the most potent pills where no one would find them, securing my options should I choose to take the dark path. On Monday, I retrieved the bottle from its hiding spot and rolled it around in my hands, debating my options. The noise was getting louder and, for the first time, I believed that I would take action. Trying to be my own savior, I did what I believed to be the best alternative. I called my partner and told him that I was going to die. I sobbed into the phone, terrified by my thoughts. He calmly tried to make sense of my words and, out of frustration and despair, I hung up on him, now hysterically and uncontrollably crying. Moments later, my son entered my room and moved close to me on the bed. My support chain was in full effect and my unlikely hero was there to rescue me. He talked and talked, not knowing what the right words were but implicitly understanding that the longer he stayed, the less likely I was to do anything to hurt myself. And, his strategy worked. In the next half hour, I released all the guilt I had been feeling about breaking up the family. I allowed my now-adult child to look into some of the dark recesses of my mind and invited him to understand some of my pain. My maternal instinct kicked in at some point, trying to protect him from any collateral damage and slowly the fog lifted. The clouds in my brain started to part, revealing a bright glowing orb of sunshine and I felt safe and protected by my child. My son saved me.
I got out of bed and walked to the bathroom, my son following close behind. He stood outside the door until I emerged and he escorted me back into my bedroom. He once again asked me about food and drink and insisted that I sip some water before he would leave my bedside. I complied and he retreated. As he walked through the doorway, about to pull the door closed behind me, I told him to leave it open. “I’m good,” I said. “Thank you.” He looked back at me with his killer smile and stared at me for an extra few seconds trying to read in my eyes if I was telling him the truth or placating him once again. He and I both knew that I was better and everything would be ok.
And it was. My son saved me and I hope he never knows what he did.