The Monday after Mother’s Day, I posted something on my instagram story. I can’t tell you exactly what it said because instastories, by nature, disappear after 24 hours and I didn’t screenshot it and it came from me kind of stream-of-conscious-like so it wasn’t really curated in my brain. But it was a repost of a cutsie message board someone had shared that read “take a deep breath”, with a message to my friends struggling with the post Mother’s Day hangover feels to remember to breathe through their Monday. Breathe out the unexpected onslaught of emotions and remember that Tuesday will come. The day doesn’t last forever. Just breathe.
Personally, I had a hard day on that Monday, but it wasn’t as tough as past years. I made it through the weekend with a breezy heart, generally unaffected by a day that had typically crushed my soul in the past. No, this Monday was pretty different, because 2019 has been a pretty different year. I’ve hesitated to write about it because it’s deeply spiritual, and while I’m not ashamed of that, I realize that not all my readers are quite as woo-woo as me, and because the deeply spiritual parts of me are also deeply personal. So with all the clarity I can muster, let me try to explain that 2019 has me feeling freer than I have in years. I described it to a friend in this way: grief takes many shapes and forms, but for me in recent years it has felt like lugging a giant suitcase around. I used to travel a lot and lugging suitcases through the airport was by far the worst part. I was petite and not at all strong, with no upper body strength to get carry ons into the overhead compartment and much too shy to ask someone to help me, so stepping onto an airplane caused much anxiety and a weird combination of awkward embarrassment as I was determined to fit this dadgum suitcase into it’s spot while avoiding eye contact with all the strong men and women who probably would have gladly assisted me if I hadn’t been emitting such defiant independence. I was also pretty dramatic, clearly. But what I learned from being in airports all the time was that after a few months of traveling nonstop you start to forget how heavy the suitcase is. You just adapt. I don’t think I ever got stronger or less awkward, I just adapted to this new way of life. My grief journey has been similar. I felt like I was lugging around a suitcase full of weights, and over time I just adjusted to carrying it. So when the grief lifted in a sudden and spiritual way, I was confused because I couldn’t name what felt different about my heart. It felt lighter. I was smiling more, at nothing in particular. I was sleeping better. I had more energy. I was rarely thinking about children, and when I did there was no sorrow attached. It was weird. It wasn’t until someone at church came up to me out of the blue and said something so specific for me that I realized what was happening. She said “sometimes healing comes in the form of freedom from the burden of grief, rather than physical healing” (or something like that – sorry if I butchered it). And then it just clicked – the burden was gone. It was no longer holding me down or pulling me back. I had grown so numb to the weight that I couldn’t remember what it felt like to live without it.
Flash forward five months to Mother’s Day and I wasn’t surprised that I made it through the weekend so well. I was proud, even, that I had actually enjoyed it instead of being in my feelings the whole time. So when I started to feel grief kicking up dust in my soul that Monday morning, I was surprised. And confused. And terrified. Terrified because once you’ve lost that burden of grief, your worst fear is that you had only faked your way out of it and it’s going to come back. Confused because while I have gotten real good at identifying my emotions and labeling them fact or fake (salute, therapy), there was a jumble of things going on in my heart and I wasn’t able to separate them well. I was scrolling through Instagram on my lunch break when I saw that message board and told myself “take a deep breath.”. As I did I realized the grief wasn’t flooding me. I wasn’t having a panic attack or overwhelmed by my emotions. I was thinking of the women who were experiencing the Mother’s Day hangover I have felt for the past few years. I was thinking of the women who were pulling the suitcase of grief I had pulled for many years. I was sad. But I was light. This is my least favorite part of grief: the duality. I need to be either all in my feels or all the way out. While I pride myself on understanding the healthy gray of life, I need my feelings to be black and white. Grief doesn’t do that. As I sat there on my couch, I held both sorrow and joy in my hands, intermingling. Neither fighting for more space or the upper hand, both content to coexist and respect each other’s perspective.
And so I posted the cute picture to my instastory with my note for the women experiencing what I had experienced multiple years before, and a bit this year, A few friends reached out to check on me – because they are wise and loving – and I couldn’t explain everything I just told you. That I was better than years before, but experiencing a mix of sorrow and joy that felt strange. I didn’t know how to explain that I was both deeply sad and still free in my bones, because I couldn’t explain it to myself yet. So I gave them the answer I could: that I was trying. And spent the following hours and days experiencing a deep vulnerability shame for speaking up. Because I didn’t mean to post it in an attempt to garner sympathy for myself. I was truly speaking to the women in this posse of fertility misfits who I knew were having a hard day because I’ve had both the misfortune and pleasure to have gone before them. But my words were also for me, because I was hurting a bit too. And so I started to cave to this shame creeping up in me that says the only reason to speak out on this thing called social media, that we love to hate, is to receive love and affection.
This is where vulnerability gets tricky. I haven’t been writing much over the past several months, for a few reasons. Grad school is harder than I anticipated (eye rolls welcome), life has been busier than we thought it would be, I’ve largely been uninspired, and these pieces of me that are changing just didn’t have words to go with them yet. So I largely stayed silent while I processed. But the danger with staying silent is that you lose the habit of vulnerability. You grow out of practice. And I, certainly, need the practice and habit of vulnerability in order to engage well. Left to my own devices I stay bottled up instead of welcoming people into my suck. So when I spoke out this week, after months of not so much, I was immediately flooded with deep shame. Shame for being so open with The Internet. Shame for baring an unflattering piece of my heart. Shame for speaking.
I’ve become a big podcast listener over the past year, and today I listened to a host explain why they talk about themselves so much and tell such degrading stories about themselves when they know the public probably thinks they’re being self indulgent and narcissistic. This host said, the guest will only ever be as vulnerable as the host, so they’re willing to get deep in the muck first. I could feel my heart cracking as I sat at my desk. How beautifully true. Most people don’t show up in our lives ready and willing to bare the deepest parts of their souls, the good, bad, and gross. But it’s in all of us. If I want my table to be open to everyone and welcome to authentic, vulnerable, broken people, I have to be willing to be the first one to get down in the dirt and share my brokenness. And I’ve decided I will.
I don’t want to ever stop speaking loudly about the pain I’ve gone through if I think it will help someone else, because the voices of other women who have gone before me were some of the only things that got me through those early years. I don’t want to ever cower to vulnerability shame that tells me I speak out for attention or the words I speak have no power, because the words spoken TO me have more power than those people realize. Because God speaks to me through his word and through other people. And I don’t ever want to quit speaking out because I don’t think anyone needs to hear it or no one will get it. We are given voices that carry power, and refusing to use that power is disobedience. Refusing to speak up for and speak life into other people is what we’re made to do, but it starts with being honest about ourselves.
So here’s to getting back into the habit of writing and the habit of vulnerability. Here’s to saying no to shame.