I keep feeling like I need to write a new blog post, like I need to shift my last one down the page a bit so it’s not the very first thing you see, but I don’t know where to start. It’d be great to write something bright and cheerful saying, “Wow, I did this brave thing and spoke my truth and it was hard but it released all this shame and now I’ve dealt with it and I’m ready to soar so here’s my online store!” That’s what part of me (the deeply-ingrained, people-pleasing, "It's fine, it's fine, it's fine" part) wants to able to say. I’d love to wrap it all up with a bow, but I can’t. I’m still in the middle of it. I might be juuuuuuuust at the beginning, actually.
When I hit ‘publish’ on that post, I felt a bit numb (this was my go-to state for 33 years so I’m really, really good at it hashtag humblebrag). I texted my three best friends from university, because they felt safe, then took a bath -- insanely long, emotionally cathartic baths are kind of my new weird thing right now -- and didn’t let myself look at my phone for a good two hours. When I finally screwed up the courage to look at my Facebook page, where I had shared the link to the blog as a ‘public’ post, the expressions of love and support I received were (and, two weeks later, still are) overwhelming. I went to bed that night feeling so many things, among them pride at having spoken from my heart, mounting rage and shock at the prevalence of sexual violence among all women, and anxiety about knowing that there was no going back, that I had just ripped the bandaid off a long-festering wound in the most public way, and that everyone would now know this thing about me that I had kept private for so long. I was feeling a lot of feelings, but they were at least a complex and somewhat varied mix. This carried me through the next day, but by Wednesday -- the date I had set to launch my shop -- things were going south fast. Sona was sick and had missed three days of daycare, and Mark and I were splitting up our workdays to care for her. I started to do my anxiety spiral, the one where normal everyday things become huge. I got super twitchy about surface clutter. The thought of cooking anything for anyone became insurmountable to me, so I just didn’t (despite the fact that I also had my cousin and her boyfriend staying with me; worst host ever). I made Sona give away half of her stuffed animals on Wednesday, and although I have been feeling lately that we both have way too much stuff , I also know that making her do that didn’t come from a place of thoughtful intent but rather one of, anxiety displacement (I just made that up but doesn’t it sound super legit?), and, let’s be real, taking my own shit out on her. I didn’t launch the shop that day.
By Thursday, it was bad. By Thursday, I was right on the edge of rage and hopelessness, wheels spinning with constant thoughts of “WHAT DID I JUST DO”, ”I can’t launch my shop now because I’m stupid/I’ve put myself too out there/if people buy stuff it’s because they pity me/I’m an imposter/I’m too fundamentally lazy to succeed at anything/etc. etc.”, “Everyone is looking at you differently now”, and the loudest voice of all, the one that came from the deepest, most vulnerable place inside me: “Who the hell do you think you are? Why did you feel the need to post that so publicly? What if people think that you think that you’re special?” I didn’t know what to do with all of those thoughts and feelings, so I both imploded and exploded.
Thursday afternoon culminated in me locking myself inside my bedroom so I could scream into a pillow while Sona banged on the door outside. Just typing that, I immediately fear judgment from others and feel intense shame about how out of control I felt, but it’s also the truth of what happened. Even just a few hours later I was able to apply a bit of perspective to this, but in the moment, I felt flooded with emotional pain. I felt unglued. I felt broken.
But. Here -- and this is something I could only see after a few days (and, uh, two therapy sessions) -- is the miracle: I asked for help. I removed myself from Sona, I made us both safe. I expressed my anger by screaming, yes, but not at her (well, mostly not at her. The complete truth is that I did direct some of it towards her before removing myself). I did punch something, but it was only a pillow. I sent this text to Mark, even though I didn’t want to bother him at work, even though I thought I should be able to handle this myself.
He was so patient and understanding in that moment. He made me take some breaths and he offered to come home from work. Just saying it out loud to someone and receiving a gentle response made an immediate difference. We made a plan: put a movie on for Sona, try to find a sitter for the next day, text my counsellor and see if she could fit me in. I opened my door to find that my cousin and her boyfriend were already home and playing with Sona. They took care of her while I sent my emails and texts, and then sent me to bed for a nap (I haven’t really slept in the past few months? If you know me in real life, you’ll realize that this is the most shocking sentence in this post). I took a break, then got up and made some dinner for us all, and went to bed early.
Here, again, is where I want to wrap things up and tell you what I’ve learned, but the thing is that I’m still learning it -- whatever it is -- every day. Even writing this out, I feel such strong resistance to talking about it, because I worry that it makes me seem so fragile and the association with fragileness is helplessness, or at least that’s the connection I assume others will make, and that I used to make about myself. I don’t even know what I’m trying to say, but I think it has something to do (actually I think it has everything to do) with truth and trust. The truth is that I was violated in a horrible way at an age when I was forming the majority of my opinions about people and the world, and that I grew up in a family where emotional well-being was not prioritized at all (which I know is is not at all uncommon among many of my friends). It makes complete and total sense that I would react by growing up with suspicion about people, even as I placed great value and importance on being cheerfully accommodating because I didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. As my therapist would gently remind me, that reaction served a purpose: it helped me grow up and learn to navigate the world without completely falling apart from trauma. I didn’t talk about it for decades, and that’s okay -- I didn’t feel safe to. No, I didn’t expect to start processing this stuff so abruptly -- I had adorably been like, “Yup, there’s some shit there that I have to deal with, but I’ll do it in like three months once the shop is up and more of my life is figured out!” -- but I know there’s yet another lesson in that: Life isn’t convenient. You don’t get to pick what external triggers you might be exposed to, or even what may come up out of seemingly nowhere, you just do the best you can with what they are. Perhaps as I grew up, I was doing that very thing -- taking care of myself the best way I knew how in the situation I was in. A lot of my trust shit, especially my lack of self-trust, comes from that. And yet! Look at what I’m doing now: I’m doing the work. I’m going to the really hard places. I’m letting myself feel it. I’m asking for help. I’m doing it for Sona, yes, because I can see so clearly now that what you are exposed to can’t help but form your thoughts and feelings about yourself, but I’m also doing it for me, because I matter too. It’s not at all straightforward. It’s more like one giant leap forward --> doubt/anxiety/doubt/anxiety --> forgetting everything I know --> sort of starting to remember it again --> major freakout (see above) --> total moment of clarity during an hour-long bath --> “oops I just ate six cookies” --> "hey, I kind of vaguely remember what I’m learning to be true for me” -- and then, with luck, I end up slightly ahead of where I was before.
In my head, I keep going back to why I’m putting this stuff out here, despite my persistent fears of being labelled as ‘showy’ or ‘dramatic’. I know it’s probably a fucking terrible idea in regards to marketing and my business. I know I should be trying to ‘cultivate a brand’, or at least not splashing very personal information all over the internet. Part of me wonders if it’s some sort of overreaction to having kept it quiet for so long, and there very well could be some truth to that. But even if that’s the case, I guess what I’m trying to let myself believe is the knowledge that, well, that’s a valid reaction too. I’m trying to believe that I don’t need any other reason than wanting to connect with people; that the wanting is a pure, universal desire. I’m still struggling with that very basic idea, but I’m still just so glad I’m even receptive to it now.
I finally opened the shop today and at the end of the Facebook post announcing the launch, this is what I wrote:
“I keep thinking about how grateful and excited and, yes, vulnerable I feel, but I also think that's how I want to live my life, so here I go! [...] Sona often wanders around the house warbling "I love the whole woooooooooo-ooooooorld!" and sometimes I know exactly what she means.”