Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Veneer

Something happened the other day, something that made me feel intensely vulnerable. I can't go into specifics, but the incident fits neatly into the "worlds colliding" category. There was a misunderstanding, and it's been resolved: apologies issued and received, warm feelings restored or at least on the way to being so.

But I am not restored, not yet, anyway. Generally I walk around feeling psychologically healthy. Yet it takes so little before my strength is revealed as the illusion it is. So little before I worry away the late night and early morning hours. So little before my stomach seizes with anxiety. So little before I am reevaluating everything I believed about myself and other people. So little before in a panic I delete a Twitter account, Facebook updates, even a blog.

I've realized that I go through life blithely expecting the best and wholly unprepared for anything else. Do we all? Attribute our smooth sailing to good planning or constitutional fortitude when it's really just stupid luck that has us floating along, marveling at the sight of those ducks of ours, all in a row?

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When my oldest son was nine months old, he started vomiting. He vomited relentlessly throughout the night. He was little enough that our doctor advised us to bring him to the ER for fluid replacement. So at two am, we did just that. In the triage room he threw up in the sink. A resident placed an IV and drew blood. He told us that we'd stay for a couple of hours, just long enough for my son to be rehydrated.

Twenty minutes passed. The resident had closed the privacy curtain to allow us all to rest. Worried that my baby was going to roll off the bed, I was circling his waist with one of my arms. He was looking better by the minute when I heard the resident's voice on the other side of the curtain. "We've got a very sick kid here," he said. My husband and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised. "His blood levels are completely out of whack. I've never seen anything like it. He's being admitted."

My heart made to jump out of my body. My husband and I stared at each other, equally panic-stricken. Everything had changed.

The resident opened the curtain and told us a kinder version of what we had already heard. He added that his supervisor would be in soon to talk with us, and then he left us alone.

I remember calling my brother, waking him up, sobbing, "Something's wrong with the baby." I remember him trying in vain to calm me down. I remember making note of the time - 2:50am - and thinking, This moment marks the divide between one kind of life and another.

When the doctor showed up, thirty agonizing minutes later, she took one look at our son and smiled. "He's not sick," she said. "He's just fine." A few minutes of poking and prodding, and she'd figured out the source of the anomalous test results. The resident hadn't done the blood work properly. Apparently getting a reliable blood sample from a little person takes a bit of skill and finesse. We listened, my husband and I, while the doctor yelled at the resident, and we grinned. We could have kissed that hapless resident.

Our world had shifted back on its axis, and gratefully we settled into the old and familiar.

++++++++++++++

Last night I found that I could sleep again, and I didn't end up deleting my blog (this time). But I remain conscious of how thin the membrane is between fine and not fine at all, and I wonder: Is it as thin for you as it is for me?

14 comments:

Stu said...

Listen, this is just my opinion, and I'm no expert, just a guy with an opinion.

There are two universes. One is your children. The other universe is everything else. When it comes to your kids, keeping on guard for any possible tragedy is par for the course. But for the rest of the world, it's a path we choose that is absolutely unnecessary. We should just be who we are, trust that our hearts are pure, and stop caring so much about how other people experience us. As my sister so wisely states, "I'm responsible for my actions, not others' reactions." So my opinion is this: Stop yourself from worrying about how you might come across to people. Just be who you want to be, let your true voice rise full-throated and whole. If someone doesn't dig it, they'll either talk to you about it like a friend, or they'll flip out. If they flip out, you can decide whether you want to be friends with someone like that or not. If they react like a child, treat them as you would any of the kids you encounter in your day-to-day activities. But don't choose to turn your stomach into knots over it. Stand tall and proud of who you are.

Like I said, it's just my opinion.

And another opinion I have? It's my opinion that you are awesome, universally awesome.

Sarah said...

Stu:

Best comment ever. And not just because you called me "universally awesome." Though that helped. ;)

Tara R. said...

Where my kids are concerned, it doesn't take much for me to shut down into psycho mommy mode. Not just a thin line, an practically non-existent one.

Liz said...

What can be added to Stu's excellent input apart from to say: please always let a couple of suns set on your anxiety before pressing 'delete' on your writing!!!

Christine said...

Yes, for me, it is paper thin. haven't seen a post from me in a while, huh? Well there is a reason for that. My thin skin is sometimes just too fragile.

Emily said...

It's only with extreme effort that I keep that membrane strong. But when my family pops up, everything crumbles.

alejna said...

I think I've been working on building up my own membrane, but I fear to test it too aggressively. Just now, my life seems to be remarkably crisis-free, so the membrane feels thicker. But I am a worrier at heart.

I agree that Stu's comment is the best ever. I may have to revisit it next time I find myself beating myself up over something I've said or done.

I also agree with Stu about your universal awesomeness. And I'm so glad you didn't delete your blog!

Amy said...

Paper thin. Love you, Sarah. Please don't delete your blog. I agree with Stu. But I also really understand.

sullimaybe said...

"Civilization is a thin veneer."
~ Freud

Agree with Stu!

FS Mom said...

Funny, but as often, I have the opposite experience (except with my kids which is its own realm, as your "stu" said.). I nearly always expect that horrible things are forthcoming and am at times pleased when they don't or at least justified that whatever steps I took to keep things on keel worked for a while. Less so today then previously. My amazingly calm husband has showed me the way of waiting to see what happens next before rushing to intercept. I hold my cards close, and in that short change possibility. Your delicacy is a beauty, and so real.

Laurie Sigel said...

yeah, that veneer is pretty thin over hear. We need to let each other know that we are in fact, just not dandy when we see each other at Target...Thanks for your vulnerability..

ozma said...

I also like Stu's advice. But it's so hard to follow.

People wouldn't go out of their way to hurt us if almost all of us weren't hurtable.

Don't delete though--they can't really hurt you. REALLY. Stu's right about that. Also about your awesomeness.

Stu said...

Allow me to validate several points -

Yes, this stuff happens, and the initial feelings are powerful and deep and very legitimate.

Yes, stopping these feelings is not easy.

I'm no expert, but allow me to speak from my own experience. - I utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a model for managing my emotions. I find that it just plain works. It's not overly complex. For example, let's say someone slags me off on FaceBook. If I start to notice a psychic wound, before it becomes a big deal, before I start to spiral into anxiety or sadness or anger, I say to myself, "I am fine with what they said. It's no big deal." Now, that may not actually be true in the moment, but the idea here is to make it true by saying it until it is true, thus declaring my feelings into a state of being.

And it really works. Sometimes it takes a while, maybe even a few days. But eventually, I find that I really am ok with whatever happened. Again, I'm just relating my own experience, not in any way claiming authority. It's my own path and I find it works for me. Your mileage may vary.

Candygirlflies said...

My all-too-thin skin was punctured recently, too... with post traumatic stress symptoms that sound exactly like the ones you experienced.

People tell me that my life experiences are supposed to help me to develop a thicker hide.

(Who knew that when I went back to university to become a teacher, I'd start to morph into a rhinoceros?)

Lovely to have you back!

xoxo CGF