It was January 2nd. I surveyed the wreckage that was our house. I tried not to cry. My kids were there, watching me with bright eyes, full of their post-holiday buzz. I don’t want my kids to remember mom crying by the Christmas tree. I pinched the bridge of my nose, took a deep breath, and shut out the mess. I focused on cuddling them, asking my son questions about his new toys, and picking one thing up at a time.
The week before Christmas, my husband came home and went to bed for three days. One family trip to the doctor later, and he and my very small children brought home a diagnosis: mononucleosis. This is also known as mono, aka The Kissing Disease. I got it the good old fashioned way in junior high while on a church ski trip. My husband got it from sharing a very small cubicle with a man named Dan, who got it from a shared water bottle at his second job. My husband unknowingly passed it on to our four-year-old and 4-month-old baby.
Cue my dissent into hell.
Christmas, and all of the things required to make magic for small children, fell entirely on me.
We were hosting our friends for Christmas dinner and had $200 worth of groceries hanging out in the fridge, threatening to go mostly to waste if I didn’t cook them up. I decided to go for it. We had a lovely dinner with all of our friends, (who have all had mono), and even though I was exhausted, I was happy. A week later, though, after out of state guests visiting, a sick baby who also decided to cut her first teeth, a sick preschooler, a sick and completely incapacitated husband, major sleep deprivation, and two weeks of extreme over-functioning, I crashed.
I crashed hard.
I know this kind of depletion. It's the kind that happens when I have over-committed and then something goes wrong and everything else spirals so far beyond my ability to cope that I start seriously contemplating ghosting my entire life. I did that once, in fact. In my 20’s, I lived briefly in Munich. My life was kind of a disaster and my heart was shattered. I hopped a plane to Athens, and from Athens, I took a ferry to Ios, which is a very small island with very poor internet connection. This was during a time when Xanga was more popular than MySpace, and Nokia reigned over cell phones. It was easy to disappear on purpose, and I did.
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I realize now how profoundly irresponsible that was. This wasn’t like leaving a party early, or just passively (and immaturely) not returning phone calls from that guy I went on three dates with. I left my entire life. I wasn’t running away from anything or anyone except myself and my inability to cope with my own ridiculously high expectations of myself. But I took ghosting to a whole other level, and even though it was a relief in a certain way, it only compounded my issues.
That night, holding my children close in the chaos, I felt the detachment slowly pulling me away, across the ocean, looking for an escape.
I involuntarily began the process of proving to myself that I am in fact a total failure and I don’t deserve these precious little people who call me mama, the warm house I own, or the gorgeous group of friends who show up for me when I need them most.
That night, I laid down on my bed, certain I would be up again to nurse a sick, teething baby in an hour. The anxiety and overwhelming desire to leave rose up in my belly, touching my throat in silent sobs.
Instead of planning my escape, though, I planned my pause.
I contacted my doctor. I told her how off I felt, how depleted my reserves were.
I emailed my therapist. I outed myself, my dark desire to leave, and my commitment to stay.
I texted my best friend and processed all of the things because speaking is too hard, and writing feels marginally easier.
I asked my work for some creative support and they came through like the badass babes they are.
I woke up my husband and told him I needed him.
I crawled into my son’s room and kissed his cheek and whispered my commitment to be there in the morning.
I picked up my daughter and fed her and soothed her as I soothed myself.
I have you.
Everything you need right now is right here.
You are safe.
I love you.
And then I intentionally told that beautiful circle of friends that I needed a break. That I loved them. I am probably a shitty friend, and there’s not a lot that I can do about that right now. That I’m beyond spent and and I’m sorry. That I hope they will be there when the dust clears and the sickness subsides and my small children don’t need me as intensely as they do right this minute.
People were amazing. Loving. Understanding. And even if they weren’t, that’s okay. We can choose what we can support, and they have to choose what their own bandwidth can support.
I have what I need, and what I need is a pause. Pulling away with intention, instead of reaction. Saying no. Making my life smaller, not fuller. Outing myself so I can stay.