I find myself thinking those words more often than not in the last few weeks. I’ve always been the bad@$$ in the herd. The black sheep with the bandana, playing the metal music and not bending to the judgement of others. I didn’t cry for anything, ever. I didn’t cry when I moved away from home. I didn’t cry for stubbed toes or lost job opportunities or forgotten or faded dreams. I hiked up my big girl panties and move on. It took a cancer diagnosis to get me to cry (or weird fertility drugs, but I don’t count drug induced crying…), so I am so freaked out by my sudden teary-eyed-self recently. In the span of 10 years, the cancer diagnosis and the death of my mother’s dad were the two times I really cried, so this wreck of a woman is not me.
I work in an environment where work is temporary HIGH-stress, and we are in the high-stress season right now. I like what I do and don’t have a real problem with the stress load most of the time since it’s rather short lived and the work is otherwise fulfilling and the people I work with are incredible. But I do find that I have more sensitive triggers for little mini-PTSD attacks when under stress then at other times.
So I hear voice in my head saying, “Please don’t think I’m weak” or “Please don’t judge my crazy” when one of those mini-attacks get me all teary eyed because I just took my daughter to sleep-over camp for the first time or because I am worried about what her next scan will say about the state of her liver or about how shes getting along with the bully at school or how much I love my husband and children. I’m under a lot of stress and like 20% of parents of children with chronic illnesses, I have PTSD. Granted it’s rather mild, but still… it’s there. This woman who has tears just underneath her smile is the result.
I often describe myself as broken. I say it jokingly, in that I don’t fit in a mold. but sometimes I feel like I mean it. And I don’t think that everyone understands what I mean when I say “broken.” I’m not talking about being some object that’s lost a part of itself. I’m not saying I’m mentally unhinged, though during my bad panic attacks, it sometimes feels like it. I picture myself as broken quite literally. Before I had kids, I was this strong, powerful rock, impervious to fear or pain or hardship. A soft squishy inside that only I and those closest to me knew about, surrounded by an impervious solid shell. When bad stuff happened, I just tucked my head and pushed through the bad, and the shell kept all the crap off of me.
And while I went to my standard “tuck head and push through” method when helping to fight my little girl’s cancer back, I think that fight actually broke me. The cancer and the horrors I witnessed my daughter go through made its way through my outside hardness to the interior. It broke the skin. It cut in like spike through an egg shell, and exposed the parts that matter, the parts of me that hold my family close, the parts of me that you aren’t supposed to know about.
I’m supposed to be this ambitious, intelligent, hard working, driven woman who puts her family first, work second, and myself last. And for the most part, I can pull that off. I still more than carry my weight at work, and I’m good at what I do. I’m a good mom and the house doesn’t always look like a bomb went off. But I find myself leaning more and more on a facade of strength. I find myself repeating Plato… “Be as you wish to seem… be as you wish to seem… be as you wish to seem,” straightening my spine and pushing forward, but usually that’s after the weakness has seeped out and my vulnerability has been exposed. I know a couple of my coworkers have seen me slip these past few months, even if it’s just to see me a little teary eyed 9n a hard day when I got no sleep or after a panic attack on my drive into work. And all I can think of is “please don’t think I’m weak. Please don’t judge me.”
What I have left over now is this hard, impervious shell over most of me, with some broken, cracked parts where the soft gooey side of me is exposed. Where the fear and hurt and pain that I sometimes feel unintentionally shows. So please understand. I am still the bad@$$ chick that I was, I just have some weak spots. Please don’t poke the weak spots. Or if something else pokes them, understand I didn’t make those cracks in my facade and I can’t help them. They are too big to band-aid over, I’ve tried. Just give me a minute and I’ll be back to the tattooed, bad@$$ chemo mom that I was before you found my weakness.
And please don’t think me weak for some tears.