Healing, Recovery, and What’s Changed

Last weekend (7/23) we hosted a birthday party for Ladybug, which I plan on sharing much more about in depth, but suffice it to say, for now, that it was a huge deal and I’m still incredibly proud, thankful, and overwhelmed by how lovely it was. We have some incredible friends and family who are beyond good to us!

What I’d like to share today is the experience I have had in the past eight days, since our last party guests left to go home, and how that differs from other similar- but smaller- experiences over the past 5-6 years of my struggle with mental health and its physical toll. I’ve had moments of frustration and shame over the past week, thinking, “Was I not ready for this? Why am I still, a week later, feeling like I’ve been run over by a train? Why am I still exhausted and unable to get back into the swing of the things I want to be doing with my days?” There are true and good answers to this, and I recognize that, as much as I might *feel* like I am not rebounding and recovering well, things are actually very much improved.

I’ll use the example of the giant event back in 2017 that was, for various reasons, the first milestone on my healing journey, my youngest sister’s wedding. I’m not going to get into all the reasons- the fact that it was a huge event with tons of feelings and people involved is enough. We got home from that the day before my birthday, and I spent my 35th birthday laying on the couch just paralyzed with exhaustion, fear, sadness, and physical pain. I got up in the early evening to go get a tattoo, to choose some sort of victory, to claim a moment of my own on that day, but I also had no interest in celebrating that day. I remember eating Chipotle alone on the couch because my mood was too foul to subject my family to. I was in that exhausted, anxious, depressed funk for the rest of the month. I only left the house for therapy and a very awkward (due to my anxiety) belated birthday dinner out.

That’s essentially how it went for a long time when I did a “hard thing.” I’d first have to weigh the cost (in being incapacitated) of doing the thing, against the value of having done it. Not many things made it through that test, and when they did, I had to expect that I would be wiped for at least awhile, depending how big the thing was.

Over time, the cost would decrease on some things, but I always needed to be prepared, because there was no way to predict how wiped out I would be, or even when it would hit. But, sometimes I could string a bunch of things together, like a trip to the mall on my own to shop for jeans, getting my eyebrows done, a trip to go apple picking, and a trip to surprise my family at an event at their church- all in three days time- with little to no “hangover” after. I was tired, maybe even a little more than a “normal” person would be, but I was not wiped out. I attribute that to having waited until I was ready to do those things, and not pushing into them too soon. Even so, I continued to be cautious and plan for recovery whenever I did a hard thing.

Hard things that I could do between January 2017 and June 2021 are things like:

  • going to a mostly outdoor place (long before covid was a thing, i was terrified of germs) like Home Depot’s garden center (I first did this in April of 2018) or the blueberry farm
  • going to the small local library
  • going to the tiny local farmer’s market
  • spending Christmas with my family (Christmas 2019 is the only holiday we have celebrated outside our home since 2016)
  • a trip to the mall with a friend in her car (happened once in 2019)
  • going to a park with the kids (happened a handful of times)
  • going to the botanical gardens to look at lights with a new friend I had helped Lexi make online through homeschooling
  • trick or treating every single year, even in 2020

I’m sure there were a few other examples, but for most of those years my (and my kids’) worlds existed in the four walls of our little bitty rented house, our yard, and the neighborhood we walked around a lot. We went out and did (outdoor) things as a family, but we saw very few people during those years. I could list them on one hand, outside of a couple visits with my family listed above. I struggle not to fall into shame for this, but I know I didn’t choose it and there is nothing to be ashamed of.

In late spring of 2021 a lot of change began to happen at once. I was sick and tired of being stuck at home (remember how you felt in spring of 2021 when the pandemic had been going on a WHOLE YEAR? I was, as of June 1 2021, FIVE AND A HALF YEARS into living that exact way) and needed to break free. I needed – we needed- to start a new season in our lives. We started by taking a huge step to look for a home to buy. That’s its own story, but it went very quickly, and the experience we had (I went into other people’s houses on days other people were also touring them!) really empowered me. So we went to church, because the first priority was *always* to get back into community with our people, and it was easy and glorious. I would have an hour or two let down/hangover after, but it was manageable and worth it. That lasted about four weeks, though, because the rise of Delta and the mounting stress of moving prep (and my fearful belief that the house we found was too good to be true- oh, Last Summer, Mae…it’s gonna be more than ok….) just became too much and we returned to virtual church attendance. I still did hard things, though, like going to our closing on the house, handling the movers and other service individuals in my space like a champ, having minimal anxiety about Scott working in the office during various Covid surges, etc. I definitely needed more recovery than I took after the move- which was none, as I launched right into school the day after I finished unpacking- and I paid for it for the entire school year.

I continued doing new and hard things through the fall and winter. I met neighbors, let my kids play outside with other kids, handled recalls of food we had in our house with much less drama than in the past, planned to spend New Year’s with my family, and probably many more things that I can’t think of right now. Much of my therapeutic work during this season was internal, changing thought patterns and making room for messy, and that was exhausting, as was helping the kids with all the transition of the move as I navigated it myself.

Then… it was spring, and time for me to begin blooming again. We built my garden beds and I connected with a neighbor who has come to be a friend over that, as well as with others, and in early April- We went back to church, and we haven’t stopped. I still have a short hangover each week about germs, but it’s minimal. Other things that have been impossible for six years are no big deal now.

  • Scott takes the kids with him on errands now, even ones that require going indoors- without me there. until a few months ago, i could count on one hand EVER the times I had let him take my babies somewhere without me. (I have a huge fear of a car accident taking them all from me, and I’m finally able to, most of the time, not let that make choices for me.)
  • I have gone inside a few stores with little to no anxiety- before April of this year I had not been inside a store since October 2019, and before that, Thanksgiving 2018.)
  • I talk to neighbors all the time, and even watch their houses while they are gone and accept packages on their behalf
  • We have had folks over to our home for lunch after church-we had had nobody but our dear friend Max over since Covid started, and before then, i can again count on one hand the number of people we had had over since my mind broke in fall 2016.
  • We had my parents come stay a night and visit!
  • Tons of little things like being less weird about how groceries are packed, about how sanitary our takeout food is, etc

Which brings me to last weekend. We had planned this party, because i knew from when my mind broke in 2016 that the first thing i would do when i was “better” was to host a big ol birthday party for my girl, who loves people so very much and has been so very patient the past 6 years. She deserves to be celebrated. Late in the evening of July 15, eight days before the party, seven days before i was to see my best friend in person for the first time in 22 years and Lexi was to meet her daughter, a sweet friend who has become extremely dear to her, someone from work texted Scott to say they were Covid positive. Understand that this is only our second (known) covid exposure ever period, And it could destroy this plan that was years in the making. I. Was. A. Mess. I’ll write more about this when I write about the party, but the short version is that nobody here got Covid, the visit and the party went forward as planned, and it was all wonderful.

That week of waiting and tensions and many covid tests took a heavy toll on me, though. It definitely lessened my ability to mentally prepare for the party, which included having many bodies in my home (with no awareness or control of the possible germs), risking judgement for any number of things (I’m especially self conscious about dog smell and try to minimize it all I can and I think I did well!) about my housekeeping and food choices, would the dog handle all these people well, what would it be like seeing people I hadn’t seen in years, having to pivot on food choices because it was going to be too hot to grill, and more. I was just wired on stress and fear all week leading up to Kristine and V’s arrival and then the party, and although I had planned on taking the following week to rest, I was just not prepared for the tidal wave that took me down hard between Sunday afternoon and when I woke Monday morning.

It’s been eight days now since Kristine and V left, and I have been battling to keep my eyes open and the room from spinning the entire past hour i’ve been writing this even though it’s almost eleven in the morning, because I am still exhausted. Every muscle in my body hurts, I am lightheaded, my jaw and teeth are sore from unconsciously setting my jaw, and all I want to do physically is sleep. I could be, and have felt, defeated by this. But then I step back and reflect, and realize, no, this is different. It’s different because what I did in having the party was the biggest thing I’ve done as a hostess in my life and I rocked it! We had hosted a few parties before but never so many people and NEVER in our home! I had a lularoe party once, days before my mind broke but that was very very different and much smaller. So, just the party in and of itself was huge, and like I said, more on that another day. But to layer on top of that all the stress of the week leading to it- it makes perfect sense that I would be wiped and utterly useless. As Scott says, I essentially ran two marathons back to back. Except, I haven’t been.

Even though I was exhausted in every way all last week, I made time to connect with my kids and their interests every single day . It would have been easier to just hide in my room. I made sure we all ate every meal all week, even though when my mental wellness is in a slump, food is really hard for me to think about, let alone put together. I always have taken care of my kids, even at my worst, but last week I even fed myself. I also knew that vitamin D and recreation are a big part of healing for me, so I went out in my garden for at least 20-30 minutes every day even though it was ridiculously hot, because I needed it. Then, this weekend, I did things. Not many things, and not big scary new things, overall, but I kept momentum going. I let Scott take D with him to go get breakfast. Scott, Declan, and I went to Home Depot to look for some garden stuff- which they didn’t have, so we went to Walmart. Now, I had not been inside Walmart since thanksgiving 2018, because, in my mind, it’s the second most germy public place after Chuck E Cheese and no thank you I do not like it. But I went in, and walked around, and only had a mild panic attack when we got back in the car. Scott had no idea until then how I felt about walmart, or he wouldn’t have had me do it in my state. This was also the first time we had ever left Lexi home alone, and that was a huge way I stretched myself too. I was wiped for the rest of the day after that, but still nudged myself to go for another car ride with Scott and D for grocery pickups, leaving Lexi home again. We did stay home from church yesterday, and I was bummed we needed to, but I recognize that I am not going to feel better unless i do choose rest some of the time, at least.

So, yes, I am still exhausted, and still recovering, but am also still moving forward. I am not stuck, not set back. I am moving forward and continuing to heal at the rate I am able and leaning into the wisdom my body is speaking about my need to rest. I really want to get back to exercise and writing and sharing yoga practices, but today, I need to rest. So I will.

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