Once upon a time.
Words that start fairy tales. Stories that we all heard and believed at one time. Words that began journeys that, no matter what hardships, always had a happy ending. Words that I would hear when I was a little girl and they would take me away to places filled with magic and castles and wishes that came true. Words I used today that made me sad.
Once upon a time life was different. It was full and warm and just so much that I can’t find words to capture just how much it was. My house was loud and busy and I loved it. My boys were everything. My calendar was bursting with a schedule that was work and play and friends and obligations and so much that I look back and don’t know how it all worked. But it did work, wonderfully. Not always, but mostly…and I never thought it would change. But it did change.
Long before that though, once upon a time, life was different. It was hard and painful and sad. It was also happy and full of smiles and little boy kisses and hugs that made me forget about the horrible day-to-day of the marriage I was in then. My days were full of juggling diapers and breast-feeding and pregnancies and work and I loved it. My nights were full of fights and tears and pain that tore me apart and made me scared for what was ahead. I never thought it would change. But it did change.
Many years before that, once upon a time, life was different. I was young and tormented by my thoughts and feelings. I was too young to have the memories of hurt that I did and I didn’t want those memories. So I pretended they didn’t exist. I pushed away and I fought with myself and I tried everything I could to feel anything other than what I was feeling already. I didn’t see how things would ever be any different from how they were. But things did change.
Once upon a time life was different. It wasn’t how it is now. I’m too old and I have seen too much of life to believe anymore in fairy tales and happy endings. I’ve also been here, in some manner or another, enough times to know that even when it feels like things will never change, they do. There are days, like today, when that is the only thing helping me keep it together when all I want is to let it all fall apart.
I see the posts online. They are sometimes from friends and other times they are from people that I don’t know personally. A friend of a friend and their post pops up on my social media feed.
They always make my heart jump a bit and cause my stomach to do a little flip. The posts that ask for help or understanding or thoughts of peace or just simply anything that might make a difference. It’s the sharing of “I need help” that I can feel and understand.
I read the postings of desperation and frustration. Someone this person loves and cares so deeply for is hurting. They’re struggling and many times fighting for their life within the hell of mental illness.
I read the words and I remember that feeling. I can remember how badly it hurt to watch someone you love and feel helpless to do anything. To feel alone. To want to reach out, knowing you need to but not knowing how. Or not being able to for so many reasons that make sense inside the vastness of your own turmoil.
So I read these posts and I am silently applauding that this person has taken this step because I know how massive it is to do that.
I read, and I want to reach and hold out my hand and connect. To say I know, I’ve been there. It’s hell and it feels insurmountable but there ARE people who will be there to support you while you are there for your loved one. There are people who can be there for you, to hold space for you. I want to tell them that they are never the burden they might think they will be. I want to say that even if I don’t know them personally, I know them in a way because of this shared experience. That even if all I can offer is a shoulder to lean on in the virtual world, I’m there and so are others. Or to help them see that someone is there to listen if they want to say the things that are inside of them that are eating them up and that those demons are quieted – even if only for a bit – when they are let out into the light of day.
But I don’t reach out. Why? Because although I can offer understanding or support, I feel like I can’t offer the hope this person needs. When someone is looking for “it’s going to be okay ” I can’t give that. I can’t say that the fear that is so huge that they can’t or won’t even admit it to themselves, is unfounded. I am aware that the ending to my son’s story embodies the very thing they are trying to ensure won’t happen in their loved ones life.
I’ve sat before with other mothers going through this journey and have reached out – and seen the look on their faces the question of how my son is doing now came up and I answered. When I had to tell the truth that he didn’t make it. That despite everything, he still chose to end his life and that he’s gone.
So I stop myself when I want to connect and support and offer understanding. And I don’t know if that’s the right choice or not.
My local gym that I attend is undergoing some renovations in the change rooms this week. The “Women’s Plus” change room is off limits, so those of us who use that are now moved to the standard Women’s change room. Not a huge difference and really not that big of an issue except for a couple of things that we have in the “Plus” that there isn’t in the standard. Most notably, the small room in that area that is for stretching and light resistance exercise etc. A room only accessible in the “Plus” change room and one of the draws for women who like to have a separate space for abs and stretching essentially. Having worked for many years in the fitness industry, I have heard many times from women who want to work out in a female only space for a myriad of reasons.
So the conversation I wander into today goes something like what I’ve heard for a lot of years… “I hate having to workout and stretch in front of guys. I’m really missing a safe space to do that in…It’s uncomfortable to have to get into certain positions and to feel objectified and ogled by someone who’s looking at you that way… that’s why I love the women’s only area – there’s no one who is interested in me sexually or thinking thoughts like that!”
I’m smiling to myself and thinking how often I’ve heard some variation of this conversation. I completely see the validity in their statements by the way. Absolutely. I have felt uncomfortable in gyms myself – and I’m someone who is very comfortable in gyms usually. I’ve had encounters of feeling creeped on by someone looking a little too long or a little too closely. I’ve actually confronted someone who was staring. I get it. But to insinuate and believe that a women’s only area means that no one is going to look or have “those thoughts”, wrong.
Here’s a shocking fact… gay and bisexual women use women’s change rooms too. Yup. And you know what? When the woman you are naked next to, in your “safe space”, is gay, you probably have no idea. Why is that? Quite simply, we don’t all “look” gay. Which is where we come back to that conversation this afternoon that I wandered into.
I usually don’t invite myself into other people’s conversations but when the one woman said to the other that she was a little uncomfortable changing when she saw a lesbian in the room, I couldn’t take it anymore. I excused myself for interrupting and asked her how she could tell when a lesbian was around. She told me, easy, they have “a look”… you know, not like “us” and she made a sweeping gesture with her hand over her friend and herself and to include me. For the first time ever, I told a complete stranger, who had no business knowing, what my sexual orientation is. Why? To make a point that she had – very wrongly – made an assumption of me based solely on my appearance. I don’t look gay according to her narrowly defined guidelines of what that looks like, so I must not be. She was knocked for a loop and apologized if she offended me and I could hear the beeping as she tried to back out of what she had said. I asked her if she was sexually attracted to, and interested in sleeping with every man that she saw, because after all, that’s the same logic she’s applying here to men and gay women. Of course not, she said. Her friend laughed and pointed out that she never thought of it that way. A few smiles exchanged and I was ready to not have this conversation anymore so on my merry way I went, shaking my head and thinking to myself that it feels like nothing ever changes sometimes.