There’s been some things happening around here. I’m not going to go into much of it because it’s primarily Sean’s story to tell, or not, as he sees fit. Astute readers can probably piece together the basics. Right now we’re both emotionally raw, exhausted, and overwhelmed but in different ways, which makes for some totally reasonable marital communication. And as there’s no rest for the wicked, we’re also moving in a matter of weeks. Yeah, again. If I had known there wasn’t gonna be rest, I wouldn’t have majored in Wicked. Who gets rest? Cats? How do I get to be a cat? Are there night classes?
The move is hopefully going to put us in a position to get life on track, I hope, but what I really want to do right now is crawl into a bed and sleep for six months. Instead, I’m trying to see if my insurance has providers anywhere in our new area (and if not looking up places who will offer a sliding rate until I can get new insurance); avoiding packing; trying not to be crushed by gratitude and guilt as a few very generous people have offered amazing help; being generally awkward in my last few weeks of work; scrambling for some financial assistance; and, of course, freaking the f**k out.
None of this puts me at my best to be a good supporter, so I’m also either tangling myself up with feelings or trying to talk myself back down about them.
Friends with whom I’ve talked, as well as my counselor have been a lot of help. They’ve made suggestions, offered support for me, and even volunteered some of their own resources to help me make things happen as painlessly as possible. They’ve been wonderful.
And yet, of course, I can’t leave well enough alone. Oh no, I had to notice something.
I am, apparently, “strong.” Sometimes it goes so far as “very strong,” and I don’t know what to do with that.
I’m not trying to be the word police, or even complain. This is a supportive and complimentary thing to offer to a friend who’s having a hard time. This has even come from my counselor, whose entire job is to say healthy and supportive things to me. Some of my problem can be traced back to my overall difficulty with compliments, which I mostly handle either by shrugging them off or crying. Also, I don’t feel strong. I am acutely aware of the many minor failures I make each day as a partner and supporter, and as a person who’s trying to be something vaguely approaching a functional adult. But my rational mind is aware that I am way more likely to notice the negative about me. I try to make allowance for that.
Those things are pretty routine and I’m used to dealing with their ilk. The problem that keeps sticking with me when I’m told I’m strong is that it is in direct opposition to a piece of support I have relied on for years.
I don’t remember now which book I got it from, but somewhere in my eating disorder recovery I came across this gem: It’s the job of a workhorse to be strong. You are not a workhorse. You are a human being and your job is to be you, to approach your life and your problems with your own perceptions and virtues. I’m paraphrasing, so apologies to the lifesaver who originally penned this.
The point of it is to dismantle the perfectionism that usually plagues people with ED’s. (That’s eating disorders, not erectile dysfunction, just so we’re clear.) Often we’ll tell ourselves we can’t be weak, we have to be strong or else (it feels) THE WORLD WILL END and also everyone will hate us. So, “you are not a workhorse” became shorthand for me that I don’t have to be perfect because nobody is and that’s not the point anyway. I really internalized this. It’s something I rely on.
So everyone telling me I’m being really strong puts me in a damned if I don’t and damned if I do scenario; either I’m not accepting praise and support which is offered in a healthy way when one of my goals is to get better at doing that, or I am accepting that strong is a good thing to strive for, which leads right to weak is a bad thing and it all goes downhill from there rather starkly.
Because trust me, I’m being plenty weak and will probably continue. I’ve done stupid things like punch the wall or blow off half a day of work (or a couple) even though I could have gone in. I’ve been clumsy with Sean’s feelings. I’ve been hasty, or too hesitant with fairly important decisions. You see my jokey blog and my FaceBook and I try to be fun to talk to with the couple people I’m willing to talk on the phone with, but you don’t see the whole picture. Trust me, the ugly crying and the b***hface are there too.
I don’t know what to do with this contrast of ideas. For now I think I’m just going to sit with it. Sitting with my feelings is always good practice, and as far as discomforts in my life go this is a small one. Maybe one day I’ll just wake up ok with the cognitive dissonance, or with a strong preference one way or the other.
Other than that I’m going to hang on to a quote from John Green, which I know I’ve got right because it is much shorter: “Context is everything.”
In the context of “Boy, you sure aren’t losing your s**t as much as you could, even if you are losing it a little. Maybe more than a little,” strong is probably an acceptable thing to be. Whereas in the context of “I have to be strong. Flaws are intolerable,” strong is toxic. This seems like a reasonable way to think, so I’m going to aim for that and we’ll see how it goes.
For f***k’s sake don’t feel guilty if you told me I’m strong. Yes I’m looking at you,