Sunday, June 25, 2017

Beauty in the Breakdown

     You may or may not have noticed, but I use song titles as the titles of my posts. I usually choose a given title because I think it applies to whatever it is I'm blogging about, though sometimes I choose it because it encapsulates what I'm feeling. This time, though, I chose it because it's a term and a concept that actually drives me crazy. I hate it, the whole idea of "beauty in the breakdown," or a "beautiful disaster." (Thanks for that last one, 311. You guys can quit it with the shitty music any time now, thanks.) Breakdowns and disasters are generally bad things, people, not things to be celebrated. While I understand the idea behind terms like those, I believe they're actually more detrimental than anything else. And yes, this is about to get philosophical, maybe even existential, so, in the immortal words of Samuel L. Jackson in the even more immortal Jurassic Park, hold onto your butts.

     I've been thinking about it since my last post, which generated more response than I anticipated. I think that was equal parts the fact that I hadn't written in awhile, the honesty about our life that I tried to keep front and center, and the fact that I am surrounded with some lovely, lovely human beings. Seriously, my best friend texted me not two hours after I posted - "Are you okay? There are a dozen dive bars between your house and mine, pick one." My initial reaction was confusion, because I've written posts that are, in my opinion, much darker in tone than "Pressure and Time", and they've passed by with little fanfare.

     My husband pointed out that, yeah, actually it did sound a little dire in tone, which I didn't completely realize, probably because the words were those of my own choosing, so there's always a comfort in them for me, no matter the subject matter. I always try to be as honest as possible when I put my thoughts out there, and that's honestly what I was feeling, what's living in the corner of our house. As I turned it over in my mind, I came to the conclusion that the reaction was what it was because we are still, in this age of wild oversharing, trained to believe that we keep the truly ugly to ourselves, and only share that little bit which has a triumphant or inspirational edge to it. Which pisses me off.

     Part of the reason I haven't been posting as much as I was is because I've been struggling with an attack of self-consciousness. No idea where it came from, as that's never been a problem for me when it comes to certain things, and this blog is one of them. Still, it's something I've been wrestling with for months, the idea that if I continue to share my and my husband's day to day as accurately as I possibly can, it's going to rub someone the wrong way. I've been trying to move past that, and apparently still struggling to do it, since I'm sitting here all kinds of anxious, even as I type this.

     I think I realized that my idea of what constitutes a "breakdown" probably differs from a lot of other peoples'. Without taking anything away from the seriousness of my husband's disability (and please spare me the "differently-abled" bullshit; he's disabled, according to him, society, and just about every other measure you want to use, okay?), I feel like I should point out that the badness of it, the black cloud that sometimes obscures our future, can and does exist side by side with the happy, healthy me. They're like fucked up twins that reside in the same room, which is otherwise known as my brain.

     I'm of the opinion that it's like that for many people in my situation, even though I don't have any actual data to back that up, just anecdotal evidence. So many days, we're at work, we're shopping, we're meeting with friends, we're relaxing with a book, and the bad things are there, present, but they're quiet and calm, because they've had their moment at the front of the line, and now they're back where they belong. For me, that's in a corner of my mind that's easily accessible, and just as easily closed off, most of the time. Do I have bummer days? Yeah, I do, because those ugly problems that I have to confront as the spouse of a disabled person have to have their moment in the sun, so I can work on them. That's just part of it, in my opinion.

     Being a happy, healthy, functioning person does not mean that I cannot and do not also have very bad days, where I have no idea how I'm going to keep things from crashing down on us, just like I said. The thing to remember, though, is that those two schools of thought are not mutually exclusive; for me, and, I suspect, many others in my position, they coexist, side by side, peacefully, if not happily. I know that's kind of a weird thing to explain, and I don't know if I'm doing it very well, but attempting to explain how one's head works is always an undertaking and a half, I think.

     Not gonna lie, though, I wish it was more socially acceptable to have blue days on the semi-regular without feeling like the weird goth girl crying into her book of shitty poetry. Of, more accurately, feeling like a burden. Since meeting my husband, I've developed various coping mechanisms for the additional amounts of stress and sadness that I experience in my dual roles as his caretaker and his wife. I have a fantastic network of friends, family, and co-workers, and that right there goes further than anything in helping me get through when it feels like everything is on fire and there's no way out.

     I can also disappear into a book and completely forget about reality until I surface, and that's something I've been able to do for as long as I can remember. The other major coping mechanism is my journaling and blogging, which, while some consider to be synonymous, are decidedly different things for me. I've kept a journal since I was fourteen, and those little books have been instrumental in my ability to handle all the extras that come with my husband's disorder. Like this past Friday, when I had to call into work because he woke me up at 5 am to tell me I needed to get him to the hospital, because he was having trouble breathing, and could barely walk. Okay, grab his shoes, grab his cane, and sit by his side in the ER while they ran tests and he dozed off and on for twelve hours. I had a book and my journal with me, and it was just another day. That's how we do that, mostly.

     My greatest hope at the moment is that we can move towards having what I refer to as bummer days without it being a thing. I myself have felt pressure to keep the worst edge of what I'm feeling to myself, to break down whatever our current situation is into bite-size pieces. Over time, you develop a sense of when someone's asking to be polite, and you know immediately not to go too deep, to just skim the surface, and end the update on a mildly upbeat note - "But, you know, it's nothing we can't handle. And it really just brings us closer together!" I do not need to be any closer to my husband; I feel like if we were close enough to decide to spend the rest of our lives together, that should suffice.

     It's not exclusive to people in my position, either; widows, widowers, parents who've lost children. In my experience, it's like there's this unspoken rule that you only get a set amount of time in which to discuss your grief/stress/fear, and then we're moving on to the next subject. And I don't think that comes from a place of meanness. Rather, I believe it comes from a place of discomfort, and people as a whole deeply dislike finding themselves in a situation in which they do not know what to say or how to react. I've seen that face on people, even members of our own families, that clearly conveys they are on what is for them boggy ground, and they want nothing more than to flee to the safety of talks about the weather, or even politics.

     What I want is to not have that expiration date, and for the sadness, the grief, the stress that we all have to deal with, to varying degrees, to not be something that's scary. I think that's where phrases like beauty in the breakdown come from, and why I hate them so much. There's no beauty in breaking down, physically or emotionally, and that's an okay thing! Or it should be, in my opinion. We keep trying to convince ourselves that these terrible things happen because we're going to get something wonderful out of it, like strength, or resilience, or, fuck, I don't know. Appreciation for sunsets? Sometimes, terrible things happen because terrible things happen, and life is harder than it should be.

     While I can understand the lemons-from-lemonades mentality, and the role it plays in helping some people get through, I am on the opposite end of the spectrum. It's actually done me a lot more harm than good, and I eventually had to come around to, "No, there's probably not some great revelation to be found at the end of this suffering; you're just going to have to make the best of a bad situation," before I started to really get a handle on how to cope with each new setback.

     Can't get your head around why your friend is afraid the sky is falling? That's fine, just ask if they could use a night out to go get a drink. And then, if they say yes, follow through. Just sit, for however long they need. Don't be afraid to ask questions, even if you're not sure they're the right ones; just the fact that someone's asking goes a long, long way towards feeling like even if the sky does fall, you can make it to shelter. And though I've seen it elsewhere that people shouldn't try to compare something they've been through or are going through to anyone else's personal crisis, I disagree, somewhat.

     I've always been a firm believer that there will always be someone somewhere who is in a worse situation than you, so playing that game of comparisons doesn't get anybody anywhere; other peoples' struggles do not negate my own, no matter the level of severity. (Within reason, of course. If you tell me you know what kind of pain my husband is on a daily basis because you sprained your back once during gym class in 6th grade, I'm gonna tell you to fuck off with that nonsense.) So if, during the course of the evening, you want to offer your own battle stories, please do. I think that's a great way for people to bridge distances, and help begin to understand one another's struggles. There's a whole lot of relief and comfort to be found in find even the tiniest bit of common ground with my fellow human beings.



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