If I had to describe my current mood to an innocent bystander, I would call it drunk guy on a roller coaster. I’ve been up and down, back and forth, on many things in recent months. I’m not the kind of person who looks forward to change or thinks a fresh start is anything close to positive. I am that girl who stays at the same desk in the same class every day of the year, and if a new kid comes in and unknowingly usurps my assigned seat, I will smile and nod as I take a different chair that one time, but inside I will be seething and resentful and arrive 20 minutes early for class every single day for the rest of the year just to make sure it never happens again.
Unfortunately, there are many things in life that one cannot control by arriving to class 20 minutes early. There are unforeseen circumstances that pop up when they are least expected and least desirable; unwanted events who clothe themselves in wigs and fun skirts so they can parade around as “challenges” and “obstacles to be overcome” when what they actually are under all the make-up and wardrobe is walking, talking middle fingers.
Rachel Hollis writes that one of the issues we have in dealing with painful situations is that, once we are on the other side of a trauma, we can never go back again to being the same person we were before the traumatic event occurred. There will never again be a time when you can un-know the things you have learned or un-experience the things you’ve been through. You are forever marked by the events of your life, for better or worse, til death do you part.
Last year, I became a girl without a mom. That is a fact. I can never go back again to being who I was before that time. Before that, I had no idea what that felt like, or how psychologically damaging it could be. Now, I can never un-know that. And so moving forward, every step I take is shaped by that knowledge.
When I make decisions at work, I now make them as the daughter of someone who died from a medical mistake. When I interact with my children, the interactions are marked now in a different way than they were before. The way I approach caring for my dad is different now because I’m not who I was before. I know there are so many people who lose parents at a much younger age, or in a more traumatic way. There are people who survive and thrive and, at least from the outside looking in, their pain and grief appear to be a footnote. For me, this has not been the case. For me, the experience is front and center, ever present, splashed on everything I touch.
Then other situations arose after that. Issues at work. Issues with friends. Issues with family dynamics. I feel like I’ve been running on a hamster wheel, trying to survive, and now I am exhausted and I’ve decided to jump off the wheel altogether. Reinvent myself. Try to remodel my life. At first I was pretty enthusiastic about it. It seemed exciting and full of limitless possibilities. Now, I think those were just lies I told myself to make all this change an easier pill to swallow. Because here’s the honest truth: I hate all of this. I hate that life has unfolded in such a way that I was forced to make any of these decisions. I am not excited, or happy, or full of hope or excitement. I am terrified and I am angry and I am tired.
So as I fell off the mountain of contentment into the ravine of despair that Christina Yang predicted, I asked myself, “What would make you happy right now?” The knee-jerk response that immediately came to mind was, “To have my old life back.” So I started to think about this and pick it apart a little more. I tried to picture my life with my mom still here, my dad not sick, my professional life not in complete chaos, my kids still naive and protected, my family life stable, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get the scene to form itself. The reason for this is that I am mourning something that no longer exists. I can never again be content with the life I had before because I am not the same person now that I was a year ago. The things I’ve experienced and felt and cried over have made their marks on me, and I can never go back.
When you suffer, you learn things. You notice behaviors and patterns in yourself and in others. You see what your real motivations and priorities are. You discover what things you like about yourself, and which traits you loathe. This exercise in articulating your identity is costly and time-consuming and lonely, and once the work has started it cannot be reversed. If I had back all of the individual pieces of the puzzle which seem to be causing me pain at this moment, and I was able to arrange them in the exact pattern that they were before— at a time when I was content with my lot in life— I would still be unhappy. The things that made me happy before can never make me happy again because I am not that person anymore, and I never will be again.
I discovered that what is actually bothering me is not just all the physical changes in my life, it’s the person I used to be who was untainted by the pain and grief. The person who could laugh easily and make inappropriate jokes out of thin air. The person who found joy in buying expensive shoes and purses and eating cheap Mexican food. None of these things matter to me anymore.
What motivates me now, what brings me contentment now, is so much more complex and at the same time so very simple. I value talking with my 2 friends, the ones who don’t let me hide behind the lies I tell myself. I value hearing Mary Ann’s version of events when we review what happened during the week. I value Benjamin Button’s terrible dance moves and infectious laugh. Writing down my thoughts and reading those of others who somehow make me feel less alone. I value figuring out my faith— and you know what? It has nothing to do with the list of rules I was raised to believe and everything to do with exploring the scriptures for myself to work out my own salvation. Reading thoughts of people who are different than me and trying to understand their point of view so that I raise children who aren’t narrow-minded or afraid of embracing those who are different from them.
So if these are the things I value, and these are the things I have, then why am I not happy? Why am I drunk guy on a roller coaster? It’s because the thing that I really miss is the old me. The innocent one. And she is lost, and I don’t think she’s ever coming back. There are so many things on the horizon that are positive. Hopefully, one day very soon, my dad will have a transplant. I’ll start a new job. My life will look completely different. But today is not that day. Today is a day of introspection, and realizing that while yes, I miss my mom and I miss certain parts of how life used to be, what I actually miss the most is me.
There are things that, once seen, cannot be unseen. I am not the same person I was six months ago. I can never again be content in the environments, organizations, and relationships that were once so comfortable to me because I have uncovered them down to their basest parts and discovered that the comfort I felt was due to the layers and layers of disguise they wore.
It’s also true though, that I would not trade them. If I had not been in certain places at certain times, I would have missed out on making some of the greatest friendships I have ever known. I would have missed out on the training and experience that makes me so good at my job. I would have been shielded from hurts that sparked in me a desire to write and share and communicate with other people so that they would feel less alone. And even more than that, I am proud of myself for refusing to tolerate and live with things that go against my conscience. In all honesty, although I miss the more innocent version of me, I don’t want her back because ignorance might be bliss, but who wants bliss at the expense of integrity? I would rather have me as I am now, a little wiser and better informed, even if my outlook isn’t so sunny.
And two weeks ago, I knew this. But yesterday? It was back to drunk guy on the roller coaster. Dread and puking and screaming. Unable to see what’s coming around the next bend and therefore allowing myself to be consumed with what I can see now in this moment which looks like death and destruction.
Here’s what I’m saying to you— I don’t want to be this person, this drunk guy on a roller coaster. I don’t even like this person. But I have to say that right now, I’m so very thankful for the people in my life who I trust to see the real me, and I applaud them for their stamina in dealing with me as I flail around like a lunatic. I hope someday I can pay you back. I know it has cost you to help carry the burden of my pain, and I am incredibly thankful that you counted the cost, and still did it anyway. It’s more than I deserve. One day, six months from now, when life has settled into another version of another new normal, I hope to look back on days like I’ve had this week and say that I’m stronger now and I’m proud of myself. Right now though? All I can say is that life sucks sometimes, but maybe not forever. And it sucks infinitely less when you have the right people in it.