Tantrums & Deep Breaths

JabI was getting dressed. It should have been a good day, I’d slept well the night before, I’d been working out, but there it was; a persistent, dull heat and the threat of a tantrum. I was trying to avoid my triggers—don’t grab the top that I haven’t yet donated despite the fact that it always makes me feel hideous. Don’t start my hair or make up before the girls are all set because they’ll interrupt. Don’t decide this is the time to look for the missing necklace.

I kept moving through the morning paces, but my thoughts kept banking into a wall of negativity—what I wasn’t doing, what I wasn’t feeling, what I wasn’t getting, and what I was ceasing to believe could ever be.

It’s the last one that sobered me. Giving up would be scary enough, but losing the last ember of hope, it’s just so final. I wish I knew what tripped the mood, because maybe then I wouldn’t need to keep coming back to the moment of standing before the mirror and giving myself the boxing ring, pep talk.

My face looking battered, my spirit against the ropes, and then eking out that last bit of fight.

“You’ve got this, Amanda. Get back out there, keep your arms up, elbows in, and you duck and weave until you get your moment. When you see it, aim and punch hard.”

Why is it a fight and who am I battling?

The answer comes like a sputter.

“I can’t. I’m afraid of failing again.”

I want so much for it to be as simple as eating right and making time for exercise, but it isn’t. A trip to the gym, while amazing, doesn’t fix the broken thinking or the slipping right back into the ruts of routine and resentment.

Like a moth in the night banging relentlessly against the street light.

Thump.

Thump.

Flutter.

Thump.

Thump.

I heard Sean coming up the stairs when I was half dressed. I pulled a blouse on without unbuttoning the cuffs. The fabric stopped halfway over my hands, I went to take it off and become stuck. My arms out before me like a barking seal, no pants on, I felt panic spread like wild fire.

He walked in and gave me a flirty smile. He opened his mouth to say something playful about catching me like this, but at the same moment we realized I was about to snap. I tried to wrench the blouse off my arms, but it wouldn’t budge. It seems that Murphy’s Law burrows like a tick in these moments of frustration. I hated my hands, felt ashamed of so much skin and failure, I was recoiling against myself which feels like dark, suffocating emptiness.

He paused, I flailed. Our eyes locked and I had a decision to make.

I’d like to write that I made the better decision, that I laughed or that I took a deep breath and confided that I was struggling, but I didn’t. I sneered and spat that I was cracking. He stepped back ever so gently.

“Can I do anything?” He asked honestly and slightly defeated.

“I don’t think so,” I answered back in the same spirit.

His eyes slanted in concern and he took the kind detour that 12 years of marriage have brought. He gave me privacy. Before he left he said softly, “I think you are as beautiful today as you were the day I met you, more so. Crazy about you, Man.”

His hand was gentle on the door as he closed it behind him. I turned to the mirror, disappointment descending like a film, fuzzying my reflection. I walked to the closet. Somehow I managed to remove the blouse without popping the buttons. I  slipped it back onto a wooden hanger. It started to slide off toward the dirty clothes hamper below. I caught it and rehung it. I did this three times before fastening one of the buttons to keep it in place and whispering, “Please, just stay put.”

I waited as the hanger stopped swaying and the black fabric settled into a smooth line between a plaid shirt and a grey blouse. I stared up at the shelf, passing over the stacks as I realized that there was no outfit that was going to change my mood. I had to do that. I slipped into a plain, black tank top.

I walked back to the mirror. I was still there. I squeezed a small amount of lotion from a tube on my dresser and rubbed it in gentle circles on my face. I thought about smiling. I listened to the sounds of the cats sprinting through the house, of the girls getting cereal out of the cabinet, the coffee pot shutting off, and then Sean on the stairs.

I waited. He paused before coming in the room.

“You ok?”

“I don’t know, but I’m trying. Is that ok?” I asked.

“Of course that’s ok.”

“I hate it when this happens and I am really working on it,” I said softly.

“I know. I see it.”

I walked toward him, “Can I have a hug?”

He had me in his arms before I’d finished asking. I had to decide to unlock myself, which isn’t something that I can always do, but I saw my moment and I reached for it.

He held me tight and eventually we tipped back and fell into bed laughing.

 

 

 

I'm not kidding when I ask you to tell me what you think.

  1. Amanda, sweet friend…you inspired me with this unflinchingly honest post. I struggle so much with anger and taking it out on my family. On my husband, who doesn’t deserve it. I’ve been trying harder, too. Xoxo

  2. Nice work. There isn’t failure. There’s just another way, and another way after that. The laughter broke the downward spiral. You are both to be complimented for getting there. Beautiful.

  3. I’ve been there. Maybe I *am* there. I don’t know what to say, but I am glad you turned it into laughter, at least for that moment.

  4. Some of us were born with brains that try to eat themselves from time to time.

    Awareness is good, but sometimes it will club us as hard as the brain-eating incidents. From time to time –as long as we don’t live in that space– it’s okay to just let yourself be in these moments. I give you permission.

    I’m thankful that you have Sean to usher you through them. I have a good one, too, and I know how valuable they are.

  5. I have had a bunch of days like that this past month… and every time I beat myself up, and every time my husband tells me it’s alright, and to not be sorry. It is so hard when we get to that point…. but know you’re not alone. I can’t even tell you how much I was nodding along while reading this, like you just wrote out something that happened this very morning. Kindred spirits, I tell you 🙂 xoxo

    • So many of these things feel like no one else in the world could possibly feel them. Your words are a balm on my soul.

  6. I’m glad you have Sean. It’s beautiful how much he loves and understands you…. and of course it’s obvious why… you are a truly beautiful person. Sending warm thoughts your way.

  7. Every time I come here and read your words, I feel a deep and abiding relief that I am not the only one. Thank you so much. It’s uncanny how I so identified with every bit of this. You could have been writing about me – and you do it with such smooth and evocative prose. The sudden frustration, the ember of hope and the suspicion that the hope might be dangerous, and that beautiful line about the battered face and spirit against the ropes. Yes to all of this, and fists stuck. And despite all of this you unlocked yourself. I am completely undone by this gorgeous essay.

    • I was up with a sick, sick Avery when you left this comment. Its arrival and your name made me smile.

  8. I echo all the comments above, but particularly Pamela’s. Your words, Amanda, they are often like the mirror I need to not only recognize my own reflection, but that faint fog of breath that tells me I am alive, that this is living, stuck hands and all. Beautiful.

    • Thank you, Kristen! The mirror is a bit less frightening when you realize others look into versions of their own as well.

  9. What Pamela said. Tears of recognition, knowing in that burning spot in my chest that resides just below my sternum that you speak such the truth that connects you to me, me to you, and all of us together. Love you.

  10. This is so raw and hard and true, for me anyhow. I have been there, and let’s just say the cuffs didn’t stay intact. I feel like my poor husband is always walking in on me in just the worst moment and me not taking the light/high road. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not alone.

  11. I tantrum. Still. Ashamed, I remember my mother doing the same thing, and how it scared me. So I try to tantrum alone, but don’t always succeed. Thanks for your honesty here.

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  13. Really honest piece. I’ve never read anyone describe how I feel like that sometimes. The frustration mounts, the hopelessness, the lack of control over your situation, your life. It’s really hard to contain the outburst. I admire your self control.

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