Hope

I’m wearing red lipstick and my boots with the high heels and the zippers up the back, and I am stuck in a bathroom. Not just any bathroom — a fancy bathroom in a trendy restaurant in a corner of the city where I don’t belong. I’ve curled my hair and twisted my face into a hostess’ mask and I’m ready to fake-it-til-I-make-it but instead I am locked in a bathroom. 

I have this tendency to go from “fine” straight to THE WORLD IS ENDING with no stops in between. I’m not stuck and then I’m stuck, and instead of stopping to think my situation through to try to find a solution, I charge ahead as though I can become unstuck by sheer force of will. It’s why I don’t do well with revolving doors or turnstiles. I’m incapable of taking a step back and reassessing. You don’t reassess when the world is ending. You plow forward and hope to survive. It doesn’t matter that sitting in an uncomfortable situation for a minute often helps me figure it out (for example, panicking when you try to squeeze through a too-tight spot between the sink and the door opening, instead of taking a step back to give the door room to open fully, sometimes results in you hitting the lock while you flail, ending in panic that could have been avoided with fifteen seconds of thinking.)

Later, after I’ve freed myself from my tiled prison and had a lovely evening celebrating the season with fizzy drinks and too much food, I drive home. It’s pouring rain and it’s late (or rather, it’s early, technically) so I’m paying more attention to the road signs than I usually do. I get on the highway and point my car toward Hope. I’ve read these signs my whole life. I’ve driven through Hope hundreds of times on the way to summers at the lake or baseball tournaments in the interior. Hope is just a place on the map but it makes me want to cry when I consider not exiting the highway and driving straight to Hope. What would happen if I charged ahead and literally and figuratively drove to Hope?

What would happen is I would end up in Hope, stuck between the side of a mountain and the river, on a strip of fast food restaurants and gas stations. Physically arriving in Hope will not make the heaviness I feel lately any lighter. Being in Hope will not change the sad to hopeful. I need to take a step back and reassess instead of plowing ahead and trying to force myself to feel happy. Fortunately, in the meantime, I’ve got good friends and red lipstick and just enough holiday joy to make the season bright. 

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Boundaries

I’m a big fan of boundaries. Learning to say no, not right now, not that much, that’s not for me, that’s not right, that doesn’t work for me, is an ongoing struggle for me, but one that is so important. Hello, my name is Hillary, and I am a recovering people pleaser. 

Figuring out what your personal boundaries are, and then implementing them and sticking with them, is a form of radical self-care. Putting ourself over others isn’t something we’ve been raised to do. We’ve been taught to share and be polite and be kind, and those are extremely important skills to master. But somewhere along the way the lines got blurred and we started putting the comfort and happiness of others ahead of our own. 

So! Boundaries! Big fan. Love them. Nothing bad to say about boundaries.  

But it’s difficult to love boundaries when someone says no to you. When someone decides that you’re too much, not right for them, not right right now, too strong, too weak, too something , it stings. It really hurts when someone’s personal boundaries means limiting contact, unfollowing, unfriending, pulling away, ending communication, breaking up, shutting down, etc. It’s hard and it hurts. 

And there’s nothing to be done except sitting in the pain and acknowledging the hurt. Respecting boundaries the way you expect others to respect yours means you can’t try to change someone’s mind. You can’t convince someone to change how they feel. That’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to you. Because you deserve more than that. You deserve to be surrounded by people who choose to be in your life, not people you have to chase or manipulate.  

Sometimes respecting someone’s boundaries means saying goodbye. It’s painful and sometimes it doesn’t make any sense but in the end, walking away from a situation that no longer works can be the best way to take care of ourselves. It doesn’t feel good when people grow in different directions and we lose people we thought could never be consciously lost to us, but the end right now doesn’t have to mean it’s the end forever. 

I’m doing my best to respect my own boundaries and the boundaries of others, even when they’re confusing and uncomfortable for me. I don’t always succeed but I always try. 

 

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Anxious

My skin is flushed and feels like I've been in the sun for too long. I'm shedding layers and taking my temperature and cursing the damn thermometer when it reads normal. My mind crackles with electricity and long before I manage to complete a thought it jumps to the next, and the next, and the next until I end up exhausted and confused, with no idea where I started. My heartbeat sounds like the ominous tones in a scary movie when some misguided soul is about to go down to the basement or enter the water or open the door: deep and jagged and unpredictable. My breath is shallow and fast; it feels like I've never actually breathed a full breath before, just tiny, unsatisfying mini-breaths strung together in an unhappy row. 

I feel not quite right.  

The tears and my anger are quick to appear. I'm apologizing all over the place because snippy-snappy seems to be my new default setting. I don't feel like myself. I don't feel like a good wife or good mom or good friend.  

I feel anxious. And I'm not sure how to fix it. 

Unsteady*

My grandma and grandpa had a Chinese Lantern plant that was covered in gorgeous, burnt orange pods. When we were little, my siblings and I would admire the plant and surreptitiously crush the papery husks when no one was looking. They were surprisingly delicate for such a vibrant plant, and it was deliciously satisfying to flatten them and feel the air rush out with a muffled pop. 

* * *  

The public health nurse who has been assigned to me tells me that birth trauma is something that shouldn't be ignored. It can affect how I feel about myself and how I feel about my baby. She directs me to various resources and leaves me encouraging voicemails when I don't answer her calls. I'm given an appointment with a reproductive psychiatrist. The soonest she can see me is the end of August. 

* * * 

Poppy doesn't sleep. Newborns aren't supposed to sleep for long stretches, I know, but unless she's being held, our lady baby sleeps in angry 15-minute bursts and then wakes up furiously voicing her objection at top volume. 

* * * 

On day four, I text my sister and tell her the baby doesn't like me. And I believe it wholeheartedly. On day nine, I throw a block of cheddar cheese at the window and it leaves a vile smear on the glass and a dent in my heart. I spend a lot of time apologizing. I feel like an ungrateful brat but am completely incapable at stopping the hormonal rollercoaster I've trapped us on. 

* * * 

I feel like a pod on my grandparents' Chinese Lantern plant. My skin is paper-thin and the slightest pressure forces the air out of me with a sad whoosh. I'm crushed. It is day 22 and I don't remember what it feels like to be me. Six straight hours of sleep is a foreign concept. I can't picture what it would feel like to make it through an entire day without crying or using my snippy snappy voice. I know I used to be a happy person but I can't figure out how to get it back. I am deliriously in love with my baby and my family, and I know I'm incredibly lucky to have what I have, but still, I am deflated. 

 

* From this song that has been on repeat for months because it helps me feel my feels and makes me think I'm not alone.