I’m going to preface this by saying it has nothing to do with Riley…aside from the fact that it’s written by yours truly…her mother…and that the throwback feature image of me carrying her up the stairs as an infant seemed fitting. Most of the things I share with families in rooms has nothing to do with Riley, most of the questions I get asked through emails and dm’s don’t either. They’re broader…they’re about coping, they’re about trauma, they’re about the processes I use to not lose my damn mind with all I carry. Those families follow along here and I’ve been encouraged more as of late to share stories beyond Riley updates. So…if you’re just here for the Riley stuff…she’s fine and you can stop reading now. 🙂 You wanna hear me ramble…carry on…
I’ve had a week…oh have I had a week. The type of week where the entire stack of my Jenga life started with a single block at the base…teetering from the beginning. I woke up Monday consumed with anxiety and tried really hard to bury the why because the why made me feel weak…the why made me feel guilty. I was short with Chris during a phone conversation in which we were talking over the logistics of attending a friends viewing together. I ended the call quickly…me frustrated, him confused. And then I went into the bathroom and cried so Riley wouldn’t see me.
When I’m in an anxiety spiral I do this thing…it’s kind of silly but it’s helped me so many times so I just don’t care. I take the voice inside my head and give it a body…that’s right, separate entity. I pretend she’s across from me and I listen to her. She even has a name (I call her “McDonald” which is my last name but her first) While still crying, safely locked in the bathroom I let her go on…and on…and on. All the thoughts in my head were now coming from this “real person”…she bounced around with a whole lot of “but you should’s” and “pull it togethers”…she interrupted herself and took both sides of every story she was telling. Turning that inner voice into an outer entity gives me the space to understand what I need…after much babbling with my imaginary friend I had it…I didn’t want to go the viewing, I didn’t want the last time that I saw my friend to be in a casket. The last memory I have of his face months ago while bittersweet is the one I wanted to hold onto. I didn’t want to see his tattooed hands laid across his chest in a box…I have that memory of the brother I lost almost a decade ago and it’s not a memory I wanted to replicate. But I felt I had to…I felt I had to be there for Chris…I felt that my place was to do what was “right”…the problem is that exact thought has guided much of my life and left me resentful of those very same people I’m intending to be there for. I knew I had to try something different, I knew that I couldn’t support him the way I thought I was supposed to and that I had to admit that.
I pulled myself off the bathroom floor and I called him back…I apologized for being short, he responded that he’d thought it was strange and didn’t understand why so I took a deep breath and through tearful broken words explained. I explained how I didn’t want to go, how I knew it wouldn’t be good for me, how I was only going because I thought he needed me to be there with him. I told him I didn’t understand how I could photograph the last breaths of children but couldn’t do this. I told him I felt weak, selfish and guilty for feeling this way…I told him the truth. And you know what. He listened and then he told me it was okay and then he told me he was proud of me. Turns out…he didn’t want to go to the viewing, he wanted to go to the funeral the next day which I couldn’t attend due to shoots I’d had scheduled for weeks. He reminded me my feelings didn’t have to make sense to be valid. He also assured me he didn’t “need” me there, we both understood that was something I had put on myself. Turns out my truth allowed him to voice his. I hung up and thought back to all of the times…too many to count…that I had just done “the thing” whatever thing it was that I didn’t want to do, that I knew to not be good for me instead of taking the time to speak my truth. I wondered how many moments I’d spent resentful of giving something of myself to someone that I wasn’t asked to give. I sat with that. I grieved the person I’ve forced myself to be and the ways I’ve attempted to show up for others now with the knowledge that it was likely not what the other person needed either. How many other situations had I silenced myself thinking I was doing the “right” thing? How many opportunities had I missed to share how I felt and it be okay? A lot. Too many.
My point is…the hard things…the hardest things…that’s where the lessons are. That’s where the opportunity to really connect is…both with yourself and others. With all that Chris and I carry together there is no room for resentment…we can’t show up the way we need to as parents and friends if we don’t make space for each others feelings. I went to bed early Monday night…exhausted from the day, grateful for the lesson and ready to take on Tuesday. I’ll tell you about Tuesday tomorrow because well…like I said, I’ve had a week…Monday was just the beginning.