I’m not usually one to get burnt out. Or maybe I just deny it to myself, because it goes against my identity: I pride myself on being competent. Together. Unflappable. On. Can you relate? I hear it from my editors all the time: “How do you do so much?” I hear it from friends: “You’re so upbeat!” Well, I’m dropping the rope and admitting it: I’m so done this year. And, if you’re the type of person who prides yourself on being together and upbeat and competent and on, well, I hereby give you permission to let go of the rope, too. Just drop it. Stop it. Be done. At least for this year. At least until 2023.
It’s been an incredibly stressful month. Work-wise, I’m busier than ever—and I’m writing a book—so I can’t complain! It’s everything I wished for and more. But even if you love what you do, you still need to hide every once in a while. I work for myself, so it’s really hard and kind of scary to admit that. The security-driven overachiever in me wonders: What if I say no? What if I’m unavailable? What if people stop hiring me, and I end up going broke and needing to move and disappointing my kids and, and, and…
I absolutely love to catastrophize. Stability is my favorite sensation—and setting boundaries and saying “no” sometimes goes against that concept. I’m great at advocating for myself, showing my worth, asking for more. Asking for less? Not in my DNA.
Meanwhile, I had an ultrasound for some feminine woes (ask me about perimenopause!), an endoscopy for ongoing heartburn (I’m fine!) and then my asthmatic husband got COVID. I have major health anxiety. I have written about mental health on JewishBoston several times, and tons of readers have reached out to me—I still email with a lot of you!—with similar issues. So I’m sure lots of you can relate to the suspense, the wondering, as I waited for radiology reports and biopsy results to come back.
The entire month of November had a grim cast, as if I were just marking time until I knew my fate. I’m being dramatic, but it felt that way, refreshing my charmless patient portal over, and over, and over again, and afraid to bore my friends (need to be upbeat!) or worry my dad with my issues. And when my husband burst in on me in the shower while preparing for a friend’s holiday party to wave his two BINAX lines in my face, well, I just about lost it. I crawled back into bed dripping wet and just cried.
Finally, I’m trying to forget the fact that it’s my first real holiday season without my mother, which adds a slushy layer of melancholy to everything. Last year was my first official mom-less holiday season, but it felt so new, so raw, almost fake—I could pretend it wasn’t happening and it was just a blip. This year, it’s: Nope. Definitely not coming back! A friend who also lost her mom recently posted a slightly poem about being a motherless daughter, and one line resonated with me: “The day she dies, you become an adult. The kind of adult that doesn’t have a mother. That is a different kind of adult than before, trust me.” And it’s absolutely true—and, sometimes, piercingly lonely, the type of loneliness that takes your breath away in the supermarket or while dropping your kids off at a playdate.
I gave myself permission to cry about it to my husband for a few minutes the other day, but then it was time to get to work and pack off the kids to go to school, so I guess I’ll deal with that later, too. It makes me even sadder that they don’t seem to miss her. I’m told this is developmentally normal, and it’s not like I want them to flop on the floor and sob, but: Is this it? She was the one who bought their gifts and asked if they needed haircuts and obsessed over which side dishes to order at Roche Bros. for dinner. That orbital force is just—gone. Poof. Nobody is in charge now. Or maybe it’s me. The other night, the candles on our menorah just wouldn’t light, no matter how hard my brother tried, and I couldn’t help but feel like it was some kind of omen. Or that my mom was laughing at us.
So, next week, I’m taking time for myself. I’m under-scheduling: In fact, I blocked off a couple of days that are non-negotiably empty. I have no plans for them, which doesn’t mean I’m available. I am busy doing nothing. I’ve loaded up a couple Louise Penny mysteries on my Kindle. (Have you read her stuff? So good, especially if you love cozy mysteries.) I am hosting absolutely nobody in my home, which means I won’t need to frantically clean and shove clutter into closets and howl at my kids about the abundance of sneakers in the front hall. I will not answer email, because email doesn’t love me back. I will not scroll Instagram and compare myself to the 20 other authors I follow with bigger careers and fatter bank accounts than mine (at least until I need to start marketing my book), because it makes me feel like a tub of sour milk. I will hide my phone in a sock drawer, watch terrible TV (“Harry & Meghan”) and lick my wounds.
And, most of all, I will give myself space to cry—to sob in a deep, guttural, human, soul-clearing way.
There’s that (now cancelled?) book, “Girl Wash Your Face,” telling women to get on with it and take their lives into their own hands. I say: Girl, let tears stream down your blotchy, tired skin. Let it all out. If you can relate to any of it: the unflappable work persona, the nagging health worries that come with getting older, the sensation that you have to be all things at all times to all people lest your armor crack? Cry, baby, cry.
It’s important to do, but it’s more important to feel.