Ugly honesty is hard for me.
I like funny honesty and pretty honesty and loyal honesty. But I don’t like the ugly stuff.
I don’t like talking about moments in my life when I’m unhappy or devastated or angry– especially on this blog. I always cling dearly to my mission of bringing positivity into the world, and one of the ways I do that is by not airing my dirty laundry. I try to keep it “real” enough that all of my readers can relate to the imperfections of life, but that’s about the extent of it.
I know what you’re thinking: Today is the day that I let it all out.
Well, yes and no.
Yes, I’m going to share some not-so-great feels on the blog today, but you’re not going to get an easy pass to avoid a good ole life lesson. This is Generation grannY, after all. Everything needs to tie together with a positive spin at the end, because if it doesn’t, then I’m doing a disservice to my abilities, and also to my heart.
Alright, here we go.
Especially since getting married, I’ve noticed a huge influx of texts or Facebook posts/messages expressing how happy people are to see me so happy. And it’s true– I’m incredibly happy to be married to my husband, and lead a pretty charmed life at the moment. I won’t deny that having a life partner certainly makes the days a lot easier to handle (at least when he’s not deployed). I love having someone who laughs with me, takes long walks with me, keeps me company on family vacations, and wakes me up with a kiss every morning (no, seriously, he does).
But– as I’ve written about time and time again– social media portrays only the good stuff. Given the choice, I’m going to share the picture of us next to a glacier, not a snapshot of me crying in my state room because I felt incredibly insecure about my career, and wondered if my parents like me as much as they like my brother. Nobody wants to see a picture of that mess.
You guys, I’m serious, though. As ridiculous as it sounds, that was a real scenario that happened on the Alaska cruise last week.
Despite the fact that my brother and his wife are my best friends, despite the fact that I’m insanely close to my dad and stepmom, and despite the fact that neither my husband nor I are offensive people, I reverted back to my pre-teen self and was convinced that everyone in my family thought I was a failure, annoying, and stupid. The non-golden child.
Even while I was crying to Aaron (who handled it like a champ), I was very aware that the whole thing was a non-issue, and most likely just an emotional phase. Sure, my brother is pretty darn perfect, but that has nothing to do with my parents’ love for me or any sort of issue with my personality. Logically, I know that my family (and friends, and everyone!) makes fun of me because my humorous, and at times erratic, energy lends itself to easy jokes. And they’re made completely out of love. I very rarely take things seriously– if anything, being “made fun of” or comedically mocked makes me feel special, because it’s very clearly done with affection.
For whatever reason on this cruise, however, I began to read into every little thing my family said or did.
Do they think my blogging career is stupid? Logic: No, because they read it and support it and constantly encourage me with ideas, praise, edits, and questions. Emotional me: Yes, because my brother and his wife have very cool, thriving careers in New York City, while I work out of Starbucks every day with the hopes of “making it.”
Do they think I’m self-absorbed because I like to take pictures? Logic: No, I just happen to be the only one in my family who likes taking pictures. Emotional me: Yes, they think I’m an annoying, immature millennial.
Do they feel bad for my husband because he’s married to me? Logic: No, actually, just last week my stepmom told me that Aaron and Jim (my brother) are the lucky ones for finding girls like me and Lindsay, and she hopes Drew (my little brother) ends up with a girl like us. Emotional me: Yes, my family must think Aaron is a God for putting up with me.
There I was, surrounded by family members who I know cherish me as much as I cherish them, laying in a king size bed in a gorgeous cruise ship cabin with a giant balcony that my parents generously bought for Aaron and me, IN ALASKA, and I was crying because I didn’t have the strength to let logic win my internal battle.
As I talked through my feelings with Aaron (okay, fine, he IS a God for putting up with me), a lot of signs simply pointed to displaced emotion. I was missing my mom.
This family vacation to Alaska was the week of my 28th birthday, which means it’s been nearly 4 years since she died. My mom, like me, never really valued the fancy things in life (Name brands? What are those?), and never had the means to take Jim and me on extravagaant vacations. I don’t think she even wanted to, because she would’ve felt really out of place, but I couldn’t help but think of A) how much she loved outdoorsy places like Alaska, and B) my underlying guilt.
A few weeks before we found out she only had 3-8 weeks left (and died 2 1/2 weeks later), she and I were chatting about the holidays. She knew she would probably lose her life to cancer at this point, but I didn’t. Or if I did, I refused to process it. Either way, I think my mom figured she at least had a couple of months, or perhaps a few years. I casually said, “Oh, I think we’re going to do a Christmas cruise with Dad this year!”
We usually split Thanksgiving and Christmas between my Mom and my Dad. No big deal, I thought.
I will never, ever forget the hurt in her eyes, as she quietly piped, “Oh, you’re doing Christmas with Dad this year?”
Whew, it’s hard for me to even type this without losing it a bit.
I quickly back pedaled when I realized that her question revealed that she believed this could be our last Christmas together, or that she may have thought I was implying that she’d be gone by then, so I was making plans without her.
I did my best to assure her that nothing was set in stone, and that I probably wouldn’t go anyway.
A month or two later, she was gone. About 3 1/2 months before Christmas.
This story is incredibly hard for me to share and to type without drawing attention to my teary self in Starbucks, because I think of it often. It haunts me. I still have dreams about my mom being sick, and forgetting to call or visit her for months at a time. Not loving her well enough, or accidentally making her feel abandoned. I always wake up crying, and it usually takes a full day for me to recover.
I did go on the Christmas cruise with my dad that year. I’d blocked that conversation with my mom out of my head, plus I was pretty much still in shock over her death by the time the cruise rolled around, so I wasn’t on the brink of a meltdown or anything. I was at a point where I tried not to think about her too much– just trying to get my life back to normal. It wasn’t until almost a year later that I started truly dealing with the pain of her absence.
Despite purposefully not keeping her at the front of my mind, I had the one and only panic attack I’ve ever experienced while I was on that Christmas cruise. I wasn’t actively thinking about her, so I have no clue what triggered it, but I guess that’s how grief and anxiety work– they just pop up out of nowhere. I was sitting around the large circular table in the dining room of the ship, waiting for the first course with my family, when all of a sudden I couldn’t breathe. My soup was set down in front of me, and I tried to pick up my spoon, but my hands were shaking so uncontrollably that I couldn’t grip the silverware.
Thank goodness I was sitting next to my stepmom, who recognized the signs of what was happening, and didn’t make a scene. I certainly didn’t want my family to all stop and stare at me. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew I just needed to take deep breaths and try not to cry. She simply grabbed my hands on my lap to silently steady them until the whole thing passed.
You see, when someone you love dies, lots of weird things happen to your emotions. Perhaps it’s a random panic attack 3 1/2 months down the road. Perhaps it’s guilt that manifests in weird insecurities on a similar family vacation 4 years later.
While talking through my worries with Aaron in that cruise cabin in Alaska last week, everything led back to the conclusion that I simply miss my mom. I hope she never felt like we preferred one parent over the other simply because we did more “exciting” things with my dad. I hope she knows I would’ve spent Christmas with her that year.
(For the record, my dad and stepmom are the most down-to-earth, opposite-of-entitled beings on the planet, and worked very hard to be able to make my brother and me feel as loved as we do, including their generosity with bringing us on amazing family vacations. Neither one of them grew up with those sorts of means, so it’s very special that they get to share such beautiful experiences with us kids. I am in no way comparing the ways I spent time with my mom vs. ways I spend time with my dad in a better or worse kind of way.)
In Alaska, the guilt and fear that I didn’t do everything possible in my life to make sure my mom knew how appreciative I was of her hit me like a ton of bricks. My mother and I had a beautiful relationship, and we were closer and more functional in our relationship than I could’ve ever wished, so I know she knew how much I adored her. Still, when you lose someone, it’s easy to be plagued by those moments that you made the wrong choice or said the wrong thing. I guess the cruise just triggered some of those memories.
This whole “Am I as good as my brother?” or “Does my family dislike me?” ordeal all pointed back to wanting to talk to my mom. I wanted to hear from her that she is proud of my writing. Heck, she never even knew I was Miss New York. (Well, hopefully she does from Heaven.) I wanted her to talk me through my insecurities like she did on the phone every day in my young adulthood. I wanted to hear her say, “Oh Jim!” like she used to when he was lovingly mocking me. I wanted her to tell me I’m going to be just fine.
I was always, always, always good enough to my mom. So when I had doubts about myself, she pulled me back together. It’s not that my dad doesn’t think I’m good enough, or that my family doesn’t encourage me, but that mother-daughter relationship was unique. And I sorely miss it.
I’m okay, for the record. I got over my stupid emotions on the cruise, and I’m still best friends with my brother and sister-in-law, and still love being around my dad and stepmom. I’m not worried about my place in the family anymore. It was just a quick phase, just like I logically knew it was at the time. But an ugly, sad night happened on that cruise ship, and I wanted to share it with you.
Why did I want to share it? Well, because when you’re in a young, happy marriage, taking gorgeous vacations to Alaska, and writing a humor blog for a living, people are going to assume that you’re perfectly happy. Perhaps they’ll assume that your life is better than theirs. Perhaps they’ll feel like something is wrong with them.
Nothing is wrong with you.
I’m so grateful for everyone who has reached out to say that they’re so happy I’m happy– because yes, I am. And I’m beyond lucky to be surrounded with friends, acquaintances, and even strangers who feel joy on my behalf. That’s absolutely wonderful.
However, social media isn’t everything. I choose to share the happy moments and the good parts of life with the world, but that doesn’t mean everything is always perfect. I get frustrated with myself. I get angry at my husband. I get sad about my mom. I question my career, feel guilty for not being a better friend or family member, and sometimes get bitter, jealous, and irrational.
I’m sure all of you know those things. We *logically* know that no one’s life is perfect, but given how easily we compare our lives to others online, I felt the need to give some specifics about how my own life might look a little glossier on the internet than it does in reality.
Don’t get me wrong– I am strikingly, undoubtedly fortunate for the people and experiences in my life. And I am happy. I really am. I get to write every day, which I love. I get to be married to my soulmate, which I love. I get to enjoy a family who loves me unconditionally, and adores me enough to have memorized all the silly nuances of my character and reenact them perfectly. I get to find comfort in God, no matter how far I stray from Him at times. I get a body that transports me from A-Z, and the way my skin stretches over the bones on my face sometimes even gets called “pretty.” I didn’t do anything to deserve those things. Life is good at the moment. Truly. I’m grateful.
Still, I hope this post helps bring you a little comfort in knowing that behind the smiling, skinny, curvy, tan, romantic, friend-filled, and career-driven faces you see all over your screen, those people all have internal battles. Perhaps some of those battles are harder than others, and maybe some people have to face them less often than others, but they’re there. They’re everywhere. Don’t find joy in other people’s pain, but find solace in knowing that we’re all figuring out this weird little existence together, and our commonalities are endless– including those unwelcome waves of negative emotion.
Remember: Life is good. But it isn’t perfect. And that’s A-okay.