“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
We’ve all heard the saying. Some swear by it, some think it’s total crap, and some just say it to give purpose to senseless tragedies and unfortunate circumstances.
No stranger to hard times, I’ve often found myself muttering those words….at 5 am when it was time to get up and get ready for work after staying up all night with a sick baby; when I was balancing my checkbook and realized that it would take a second, if not a third, job to actually pay all of my bills on time and have money left over for luxuries like groceries and gas; when it seemed like there was never enough time in a day, never enough money in the bank, and never enough of me to go around.
But the “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” mentality has never had more prevalence in my life than it did last year. There was no other way for me to reconcile the fact that after a lifetime, I’d finally found my soul mate, my other half, only to have to send him off to war two months after our wedding. I had to believe that his deployment would make us stronger as a couple and as individuals.
And after he returned from
, when things should have gotten better, but instead got worse with the return of our oldest son’s epilepsy after two years seizure free, I struggled to find a purpose in it all. I tried so hard to convince myself that there had to be a reason why our family was thrust into yet another life threatening situation so quickly. But there wasn’t one. The idea that my children, my husband, and myself had been burdened with so much in such a short amount of time just so we would grow stronger as people was ludicrous to me. Iraq
What hadn’t killed me wasn’t making me stronger. It was….well….killing me, just slowly. It had already broken me emotionally. About halfway through my husband’s deployment, I came dangerously close to having a nervous breakdown. With both my physical and mental health failing me miserably, my doctor took me off work and did what American doctors do best….threw drug after drug after drug at me, trying to fix my problem.
The thing was, there was no cure for what was wrong with me. There was no pill that could take away, or even dull, the constant state of fear I lived in while my husband was in
. The only thing that would “fix” me would be the end of his deployment. Iraq
By the time he came home, it wasn’t just him I missed. I missed myself too. I had lost my fire, my energy, my strength, my….sparkle. I had lost countless nights of sleep, and probably 90% of my water weight in tears. And at times, I was quite sure I had completely lost my mind. But with him back, things would get better. I could breathe again and sleep again and would eventually start feeling like myself again.
I hadn’t even had time to emotionally process what my husband’s homecoming meant before my world was shattered again, this time in the form of my 12 year old’s first grand mal seizure in over two years. There are no words to describe how absolutely terrifying and heartbreaking it is to watch your child go through something like that, especially when he thought he’d won that battle years ago.
That was it. If my husband’s deployment was the straw that broke the camel’s back, my son’s epilepsy was the mack truck that ran over the camel while it was struggling to drag it’s broken body to the side of the road. I knew, without question, that there was no way I was going to recover from 2011. Ever. I didn’t cry…well, not much anyway. I didn’t scream or curse the heavens. I just accepted the fact that at least one person whose existence was essential to my own was going to be in physical danger, fighting for their life, at all times. And I was going to be a mentally unstable hot mess for the rest of my life.
So when my psychiatrist (yes, I had to start seeing a psychiatrist as part of my employer’s requirements) decided last week that I was ready to go back to work, I was convinced that she was the crazy one. There was no way. My husband was gone again, back to Texas, and although he’s still my biggest support and very involved in our family and our lives, not having him physically here has made everything that much harder. I still wasn’t sleeping at night. I was incapable of productivity and concentration and any form of rational thought. I would get the kids off to school in the morning with all of these plans and intentions for the day, then find myself spending the entire day on the couch, staring out the window, thinking about all the ways that life has completely kicked my ass over the years and trying to figure out why.
And that, according to my shrink, was the exact reason I needed to go back to work. Because the “mental break” I had needed so badly had turned into “too much free time” at some point over the past three months. She thought getting back into a routine would be good for me. I thought she needed a shrink of her own. There was no way I was ready to go back to work. I wasn’t strong enough.
But since I don’t have a PhD in psychiatry, I wasn’t qualified to gauge the status of my own mental health in my employer’s eyes. (Pssshhhttt….whatever.) So, on Tuesday, kicking and screaming silently inside my head, I returned to work. I got up when my alarm went off, let the dog out, took a shower, got ready, packed my lunch, and set off on what was sure to be a disastrous day. The boys were with their dad, so I wouldn’t have to worry about getting all three of us out the door until the next day.
On my way to work, (in between yawns, of course), I tried to sing along to the radio. It had been so long since I’d listened to the morning radio, I barely knew any of the songs that were being played. I stopped at the convenience store right near my office, the one I used to stop at every morning, and didn’t recognize any of the employees behind the counter. I stocked up on caffeine and healthy snacks in an effort to be able to stay awake throughout the day, and then pulled into my work parking lot a good fifteen minutes early, which is unheard of for me. (Seriously….I’m going to be late to my own funeral.) I pulled down the visor to do a mirror check before I got out of the car and to my own surprise, I was smiling. Smiling?
I was wearing makeup for the first time in weeks. It had been so long since I’d done my hair, I hadn’t even noticed how much it grew. I was wearing clothes I hadn’t worn in months, and was pleased that they seemed to be a little baggier than I remembered. I took a deep breath, got out of the car, and returned to the real world.
It’s been a long week. I’ve been struggling to stay awake long enough to talk to my husband on Skype once I get the kids in bed. I’m exhausted. I’m a little more irritable than usual. At times, I feel completely overwhelmed. But you know what? I’m doing it. I’m getting up every morning and packing backpacks and lunches and making sure the kids and pets and I all have everything we need, because once we leave the house, it will be a good eleven hours before we come back. I’ve been running early morning errands, to the bank and the grocery store and City Hall. I’ve been getting to work on time, and been staying focused and on task for most of the day. I’ve been using my lunch hour to catch up on emails and clean out my purse and pay bills over the phone. I’ve been coming home and making dinner and helping with homework and cleaning the house and doing laundry. And most importantly….I’ve been sleeping all night long. I can’t remember the last time I slept for more than an hour or two at a time.
My life went from 10 mph to about 100 mph overnight. I don’t have time to overanalyze or dwell on things. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself or be sad. I’m too busy living. I think I’ve gotten more done this week than I did the entire three months I was off (barring my insanely busy trip to
, of course). Texas
Every day is still a struggle, not just for me, but for all of us. We still miss my husband like crazy, and he wants nothing more than to be home. We still worry that
will have another seizure, and about where he might be when it happens and how we’re going to keep him safe. We’re all still struggling emotionally with everything that has happened over the past year or so. My kids are both seeing their school counselors regularly, I’m still being drugged daily per the orders of my psychiatrist, and my husband is still readjusting to civilian life. Austin
But every day that passes is also a step toward a brighter future for our family, and I know we’re all more than ready for that. I thought 2011 was literally going to kill me. But it didn’t. And I’m finally starting to see that even against seemingly insurmountable odds, not only did this past year not kill me, it really has made me stronger.