As a kid, I had all types of ailments. Now I know that I hold my emotions in my body, but then I didn’t know that. I just knew that I hurt.
Some things were completely internal. During my teen years I had a perpetual stomachache due to influences inside and out. My back ached, and I thought it was because I worked on my feet after school. I had awful heartburn, to the point that, before I knew what it was, I was convinced I was having a heart attack, night after night. My head hurt so bad.
Other things were objectively external. I fell off my bike, with bruises and bleeding every where. My ear was singed by the hot comb. The clothesline jumprope hit me in the face. The belt caused welts.
Often I heard, you’ll live. And it was true. I did. I’m here. But I’m not sure that I really lived.
I survived. The bruises healed. The blisters broke. The welts went down.
I learned something about pain. I learned to keep it to myself. To not let people know I was hurting, even the people who were supposed to love me the most. To keep it in in in in so far in that it became me, a walking statute of pain with the pain inside contained in a plaster outside.
My plaster was like most, however: it sucked. I oozed pain. I cried all the time. And I felt so guilty with each tear. Like, you’re not dying. That should be enough.
Until I was dying. Until I couldn’t escape the thoughts to drive my car into a tree. Until I couldn’t stop the urge to take all the meds I had in my house. Until I had to go to a friend’s house so I wouldn’t sit in my car, garage door closed, engine running.
And it wasn’t until I was hospitalized with debilitating depression that I realized that living wasn’t the goal. That survival wasn’t the only thing to work toward. But I was glad to at least reach that.
Every year, though, around this time, I feel like surviving is my goal. To get through this week. This month. This semester. This calendar year. In this time of COVID, that goal feels both more elusive and more attainable. Elusive as I’m unable to touch and feel my people. Unable to see my family in Philly, my friends in Chicago. Attainable as I’m surrounded by my faves, including my spouse who is a gem of a person. On balance, I’m ahead.
Every year, I’m moving toward doing more than living, more than surviving. I’ve filled my house with plants, a true testament to life. My children are here, and I’m learning more about them, living as their mother. My spouse is here, and I like him. I really like him. My students, though never having met them in person, I feel connected to. I’m moving in my roles completely, as mother, wife, teacher.
But am I moving in my role as me? Being, not living or surviving. Inhabiting my space, my body, with love and grace and compassion and longing to be alive. That’s a lot harder than surviving.