By an anonymous mother
“You look like you are handling this very well.”
After months of turning down invitations to go out, I had decided to accept an invitation to connect with a friend I had not seen in a while. Going out with friends within my inner circle – a circle of moms with children at my daughter’s school – was not possible. My daughter, who was struggling with her mental health and was not currently present at her school, had forbade me from telling anyone what was going on with her. This made social interactions complicated. My world had been her school. She was part of an athletic team, she was active in school clubs, she was a dedicated student. And then she disappeared. In the matter of a few short months, our world fell apart.
Over those months, I cannot count the number of times I broke down in tears. There were the many times in the bathroom, stealing an opportunity to cry while having a rare moment of privacy. But there were also the moments I simply fell to floor consumed by tears while trying to cook dinner for my family in the kitchen. There were the panic attacks in the grocery store when I was grateful for social distancing so I could have a tiny bit of space between me and others. Or the many times my facemask turned into a sogging tissue to wipe away my tears, like during our frantic trips to the doctor’s office as we aimed to figure out what was going on and how to help.
But my daughter was now in treatment, and I was being encouraged to find ways as a caregiver to do some self-care. This is not something that came easily to me. Much of my self-worth had always revolved around being the best mom I could be. Volunteering at the school, donating items for the bake sale, advocating for my children and other students for whatever issue was going on in their lives. Self-care was unnecessary in my life before. I felt good just doing what I had to do. I took care of those I loved and that gave me comfort.
At nearly 50, I was truly falling apart for the first time. This was unchartered territory for me. I knew I had to find a way to stay healthy and strong for my daughter, and my family, and myself. So, I finally accepted an invitation to get together with an old friend. I confided in her. She was kind and gracious. She listened and tried to understand. I was grateful. We laughed and joked about the absurdity of the situation. And then she said those dreadful words. “Well, at least you look like you are handling this very well.”
It was meant as a compliment. It was meant as a kindness. It was meant to lighten the mood. Unfortunately, it wasn’t taken that way. In fact, it led me to feel uncomfortable accepting other offers for social activities. Do I share what is going on in hopes of getting a moment of empathy and understanding? Or do I pretend nothing is going on in the hopes of having a “normal” time out?
As time has gone on, I’ve found more ways to navigate this difficult situation and I am working to build a network of people who have lived experiences that allow them to understand a little better what I am going through. I am also trying to listen for the meaning behind the words that can often hurt unintentionally, because very often the intent behind the words is generous – even if their impact doesn’t hit the mark.