I couldn’t make it all the way down the hall. My bedroom felt too far away. I sunk to the floor with my back against the wall and the sobs shook my shoulders. I didn’t know what was wrong really. I just felt so raw, so on edge, so uncomfortable, but more than anything I felt insecure. Unsure of myself.
Bryan came around the corner followed closely by Thaddeus. My little son wrapped his arms around my neck and crawled into my lap. For once he didn’t wiggle or squirm. He just hugged me.
“What’s wrong, mommy?” he asked. “I… I don’t really know.” I choked out.
I calmed down a little and Thad started asking about the plan for the day. Bryan respond. They joked. I fought back more sobs and started crying a new.
My first day without social media was hard. So much harder than I expected. And it forced me to notice a few things.
The first thing I noticed were the feelings and moments that drove me to my phone.
It wasn’t what I would have expected. It wasn’t really to check the time and it wasn’t just boredom (although I did pick up the phone for those reasons sometimes). It wasn’t primarily a desire to share some great thing that had just happened or some little thing that had just occurred. It was insecurity.
I grabbed for my phone when I started to feel insecure about who I am, when I felt unsure about my actions or how I was doing as a wife, a mom, a friend, a creator, etc.
I reached for my phone when the kids were just “too much” and my nerves felt shot and rubbed wrong.
I grabbed for my phone when Bryan said or did something that hurt my feelings a little bit, or maybe when he didn’t say or do something quite the way I wanted him to.
I reached for my phone at the end of the day when I was frayed and tired and worn through.
On that first day I realized, rather shockingly, that I had started to use Instagram (in particular) as a pacifier, a security blanket, a regulator.
I remember when my son was little and we were dealing with some sensory processing problems he was having, I had a long talk with an occupational therapist about how there were certain things that he wanted to do in very particular ways that were often triggered by particular events. For example there was a season where every time he got really upset or threw a tantrum, afterwards he would want to watch this particular episode of Dora the Explorer and eat apples while watching. We must have watched that episode more times than I could count, and we went through a lot of apples. When I told the therapist about it, she told me, “He’s using it as a regulator, a way of self-soothing.”
That’s exactly what I’ve been doing with Instagram. And you know what, I’m not sure it’s all bad, not really. We all need ways of self-soothing. Figuring out how to calm oneself and regulate one’s nerves and emotions is a big part of learning how to manage life and the world. Especially when we are under stress. But, this self soothing can allow us to avoid and numb and ignore certain things that should make us uncomfortable. That’s when they can run the risk of becoming detrimental to our own growth, that’s when it might do us some good to set down the pacifier, put the security blanket in a drawer, and sit with ourselves and our discomfort for a while.
As I took a massive jump away from one of my primary methods of self-soothing I found myself very uncomfortable. Very raw.
I felt like my words of affirmation quota was far too low. I felt insignificant. I felt no escape from the stresses and fears that weigh heavy in my every day life. I felt confronted in a very heavy way with my own insecurities. I felt undefinable. Like somehow these curated boxes of my life mirrored back to me my own identity, they gave me a feeling of place in the world. They told me that I was a mom (a “good” mom, although an honest and sometimes struggling one), they told me I was a “good” wife with an ideal relationship (apart from my husband having cancer, of course), they told me I was a good yogi (though still very much in process), they told me I had a lot of stress and pain, but that I was dealing with it well and authentically, and they told me I had a strong faith despite my circumstances.
Without that mirroring, without that curating, I found all of that came into question. Not that those things don’t have truth in them, but I suddenly felt the truth also in their incompleteness. I felt unanchored in my identity and unsure where I could put my weight down.
In the afternoon, after many more tears, I laid down on my bed, closed the door, and set a ten minute timer. For ten minutes I focused just on my breath, and tried to meditate. As I lay there one question kept circling around my heart, “What if I was nothing more than this? What if I was nothing more than this breath? What if what I am wasn’t tied to my relationships, my roles, my performance, my dreams, desires, or expectations? What if I could just be?” Oh, the discomfort of that question.
Would I dissolve? Would I be nothing?
Later that night Bryan and I went out to dinner without the kids. I talked his ear off, attempting to process through each raw nerve from the day, and all of my discomfort. We talked about pieces of identity. We processed through my deep seated desire to be significant, capable, seen. We chewed on different hurts from the past.
Then we drove the car up to a hiking trail near our house. We parked and watched the sun set and we tried to dream together, to put words to desires, to put hopes onto paper.
And that’s when all of my raw nerves and discomfort became full on brokenness. Because I can’t look towards the future without being confronted with Bryan’s cancer. And there is an aspect to cancer that shakes at part of my identity and one of my biggest fears.
I had no where to hide from it, no way to ease or soothe the fear of it with supportive friends, pretty pictures, or inspiring words. It was just there. Staring me in the face. Hanging heavy about my shoulders.
The fear of being alone. Utterly alone. Having the one person who truly understands me, sees me, walks through everything with me, knows me better than anyone else…gone.
Facing it made me feel like there was already an impassible distances between us. A distance I couldn’t overcome.
I was overwhelmed and there was no escape.
Seeking escape, I fled the car. I didn’t get more than ten feet before I collapsed in tears again. Deep, angry, ugly, sobs. “FUCK!” was all I could think as I curled my shoulders over. “FUCK!” was all I could say as I clutched at my stomach. I wanted to scream it, but it only came out in course, choked, sobs.
Bryan followed me and wrapped his arms around my waist. I leaned my whole weight into him and we sunk into a squat in the dirt. “It’s ok,” he whispered brushing my hair out of my face.
“But, it’s NOT ok!” I said, finding my voice, “It’s not. Nothing about this is ok. You have cancer and it sucks! Fuck!” My voice broke into sobs again.
Out of the corner of my wet eyes I could see a couple coming down the hiking trail. For a moment I wondered what they thought of us, wondered what I would think myself, if I finished a hike to find a young man and woman squatting in the dirt and rocks, crying as the sun set in the background. The thought made me laugh through my tears, an awkward, uncomfortable laugh, and Bryan did too.
We stood up then and I wiped my tear stained face with back of my hands. Bryan kept one arm around my waist as we turned our backs on the setting sun and walked back to the car.
Rejoicing in the journey,