By chance I ran into a schoolmate today as I walked around the park. I hadn’t seen her for months and assumed she graduated and went happily off to where ever with her new husband.
She hand gone off, but was still working on her dissertation, and it had not been very happily.
Over coffee she shared her experiences and confessed her new found belief that mental health issues are more prevalent than people believe and that it’s not some mythical fiction in people’s heads that they make up.
She and her entire family were hoodwinked by an unstable, abusive man, to the point that her folks initially believed she was the one that needed treatment. She spoke of her fear, the panic, the confusion and while her situation was unique to her, it was also a very familiar story.
“He hasn’t hit me, so he can’t be abusing me.”
I remember having that exact same thought, and he twisted all my thoughts to support that. I’ve heard variations from family members, friends, and I lived my own version. Abuse can happen to anyone. The perpetrator isn’t always the male either, so that’s another fiction that needs to be erased. Whether fueled by past traumas or mental illness, it can come in many forms, and yet be so hard to recognize.
She ran. I’m glad she did, because the behavior she described indicated a man on the edge of sanity and dangerous. She talked of the fear, that ever present anxiety that he might show up anywhere at anytime. I told her how I used to be, that dealing with my ex sent me into an adrenaline fueled state of anxiety so extreme I trembled uncontrollably. I felt so cold I had to climb into a shower or use a heating pad to re-regulate my body temperature. My intestines knew no calm. I knew exactly the feelings she described. I confessed playing out possible confrontations in my head, figuring out how to defend myself if the need ever arose. The next step was to appear unafraid. In time I gained the courage I pretended to have.
Courage is not lack of fear, but facing that which terrifies you and not letting it win.
She’s already healing, and I’m proud of her. She’s a sweet, quiet, intelligent woman and I’m glad she listened to her gut when it said, “You aren’t safe.”
We agreed that the scary part is the fact that person can pull off “normal” so well, fool so many people, that outsiders don’t believe what you say.
“I’m sure all your ex’s friends, thought you were the crazy white chic.” She paused. “Actually, I know they did. The Indian community here is rather tight-knit and I heard if from one I knew.”
She dropped a name, but I’m terrible with names. I could have shared the same classes with the guy all through college and still not have recognized the name. While I wasn’t surprised, it was a bit disconcerting to realize my ex’s vitriolic lies had managed to reach farther than I imagined, but so be it. I know the truth and that is all that matters. People who know me also know the truth.
As we prepared to say our good-byes she said, “You know, I thought of you. I remembered the craziness you dealt with and that here you are still in grad school, with three kids and doing so well. I said to myself that if she can do all that, I can pull myself together and keep going. You were an inspiration.”
I told her I had a bit of a meltdown, because everyone has limits, but then I dived back in. My ex hadn’t broken me with his threats, his anger, or his ridicule during eleven years of marriage, so he certainly wouldn’t succeed now.
I thanked her and gave her a hug and I told myself that there would be no crying. It’s funny, because most days I’m just winging it. I tackle each day without thinking too much about all the days yet to come. I plan, but try to live as much in the now as I can, otherwise, yes, life would be insanely overwhelming. She, like many others, said, “I don’t know how you do it.” It isn’t on the how, one should focus, but on the doing.
I don’t particularly feel inspirational. I see so many of my balls that get dropped. Some I pick up again and others get left to collect dust bunnies, like washing baseboards. On my list of forgotten tasks, that one is pretty low on the priority list.
Then for a minute someone like her thanks me just for being me and my view shifts for an instant. Instead of the stacks of unfolded laundry, the weeds in the garden, and unwritten papers I see a strong woman with a will of iron and tenacity to match and realize that one of the reasons I try so hard is so that others can see it can be done.
You CAN get up even when you want more than anything to curl up in a ball and just hide. Not only can you get up, you can do whatever you set your mind to do.