The Dark Middle

I recently had to fill out a form and list my occupation and I sat there, completely horrified and frozen, trying not to cry. It’s these little unexpected moments that stick the knife in deep. What am I? I’ve had an occupation for forever and now, at least for the moment, I don’t.

I was so proud of it. I was so proud of what I was doing and how hard I worked to get there. I was so proud of being a #girlboss and being able to offer flexible and fulfilling jobs to other mothers. I was so proud of my own paycheck that I earned, even if it was just $17/hour. Plus, the issue was so close to my heart and the impact we were making was astounding.

And this week I’m in a waiting room filling out a form and … Occupation: __________________________.  [blink, blink]

I’m at a loss as to what to put there, which is actually more about what’s going on with me right now than what word to write in a blank.  I’m at a loss about everything. I’m not doing work I thought I’d be doing, was SURE I’d be doing, to help mothers until I retired at some ripe old age. There are people out there who believe things about me that are unequivocally untrue. There are people who have sat in comfortable and righteous judgment about something they know almost nothing about. I am at a loss about the behavior of humanity. I see people who used to talk to me on social media all the time who don’t say a peep now and I sit and grapple with whether:

a) They believe I’m a terrible person. Or;

b) They don’t want to be seen talking to me for fear it will hurt their own reputation, even though they actually know I’m a good person. (So page views in the end may be more important than people?)

The person I always was before all this happened is the exact same person I am now, and yet I’m supposed to prove I am actually that person? The person I still am and always was? The one you used to know, who is still me?

I’m in bizarro world.

Still, I’ve been reflecting a lot and looking inward and the funny thing about all of this is that there are a lot of mistakes people think I made but didn’t, and yet other mistakes I’m now so clear I made that had not one thing to do with the whole kerfuffle. And yet time and change and pain all lead you to sit and examine and see where you could have done better.

I was a good leader. There’s no question about that. I created and led a movement and that’s a fact and I’ll never not be proud of it. NEVER. At the same time, I can see I wasn’t the best manager. I can look back and identify things I should have done differently. One key one being not to manage out of fear. There are some decisions I should have made early on and I didn’t make them because I was afraid. Of what people would say, of what people might think, of what I’d have to deal with after the fact. I regret that. Deeply. I should have listened to my gut. I should have listened to what other people were trying to tell me. You can’t manage out of fear and succeed in the long run.  Sometimes the wolf outside the fence is better than the one inside.

I also didn’t realize how balls-to-the-wall hard I was working all the time and I mean ALL. THE. TIME. You get so used to it you don’t even notice. Thirteen years of it. Now that I have all the time in the world to garden and relax and read books and cook and take care of my family and hang with my kids I can see it very clearly. My excuse was, “The mission is everything. This has to get done.” It was a good one because preventing suffering and loss from maternal mental illness is so important. At the same time, it was too much. It wasn’t good for me and it definitely wasn’t good for the PPI team. Many of our staff were working equally as hard as I was and I was overwhelmed and they were overwhelmed and I should have recognized that. I could have slowed things down. We kept growing and growing and I was afraid … there’s that fear again … of losing momentum and I should have decided that we didn’t need to do everything all at once. Some things could wait.

Sometimes you don’t learn a thing, as Brene Brown explains in her book “Rising Strong,” until you’re face down in the arena. I’m here. Face down, bruised, had the crap beat out of me. The things that got me here today, at this moment, are things that have very little to do with me and a lot to do with other people and their own issues. I get that. I accept that. And yet I’m here now so I’m trying to use the time to learn because there’s always something you can learn. No one is perfect. We’ve gotten to a place in our society, especially in social media right now, where we expect perfection. If someone screws up, or even if we think they’ve screwed up but don’t know for sure, we don’t even consider all the moments they didn’t. All the millions of actions strung together that were done right; only the mistake. Every single day on social media someone anew is being ripped to merciless shreds. I don’t know what happened to grace. At Postpartum Progress we always encouraged mothers to be gentle with themselves and others because we recognized that everyone is struggling in some way. No one is perfect.

I’m sure upon continued reflection I’ll find more things that I need to learn. Of course I will. I might have learned them without all of this happening. But I might not have. So … bright side.

Meantime, I don’t know what my occupation is. Or where I’m headed.

Dark middle. Dark middle. Dark middle. Dark middle. Ugh. Patience. Faith. Patience. Yes. Okay. I’m trying.