I can honestly say that I feel like I don’t quite fit often. I’m kind of a parent. I’m kind of a spouse. I’m kind of a therapist and I’m kind of doing ok in each of these roles. I can usually talk myself through my insecurities and say “you’re thriving in the best ways you know how to right now”. What I can say is, no matter what role I’m in, I have a way of making it work and ‘getting through it’ in such a way that on-lookers think I’m doing great! I have heard things like, “you’re really handling this well“, and “if there’s anyone that can do it, it’s you!” I mean… it’s true, but as far as I am concerned it is passive praise. I’m convinced that it is what people say so they don’t have to invest their time into experiencing and feeling what I’m going through, and honestly I don’t blame them.
I’m a chronic whiner.
There… I said it! I complain… A LOT!!! I think it’s because of a million reasons, but I think that the number one reason is because I am ALWAYS actually going through a lot and because I am never confident enough in myself, my decisions and my actions so I am looking for praise and reassurance. I’m chronically looking for someone to see the efforts that I’m putting in. I’m chronically looking for people to acknowledge my strengths and abilities. The problem with the praise I get is that it is generic and passive. It’s as if someone opened Google and typed in “what do you say to someone when their spouse is in jail?” or “what do you say to a young step-mom who is trying to co-parent with an angry ex-wife?” I don’t think Google has those answers so they default on “you’re really holding it together, Michelle” and frankly… it’s just not specific enough praise for my needy-ass-self. I have to say though, I think it’s because I brought this upon myself.
When I was in university, my boyfriend and I broke up while I was painting at my best friend’s house about 2 hours away from home. I fell apart, on the floor, in my paint stained clothes. It was really pathetic and really snotty! She found me in the middle of the floor bawling my eyes out and her words to me were “you look like a drowned rat”. At the time I was taken aback, but 16 years later we laugh our butts off thinking about it. She has admitted how mean it was for her to have said that to me, but at the time she was so taken aback by my drowned-rat-snotty-nosed-bawling self. She has said “that was so not even a little bit like you, I didn’t know what to do”. She has said that “you’re never sad and you are always so composed that seeing you in that state made me panic!” That really resonated with me. I will admit that when I am going through something I am not always honest about what I’m thinking and feeling. Maybe because I’m worried about falling apart. Maybe it’s because I’m worried about how uncomfortable other people will feel about my feelings. Maybe it’s because I don’t want others to worry about me in the way that I would worry about them, or take on more for me in the ways that I would for them. Maybe it’s all of the above. I think that the way that I have projected my strength has really confused and even panicked the people around me so much, so that when I have a nervous breakdown they don’t know what to do with me because it’s “just not who you are, Michelle”.
Being a caregiver is so much a part of who I am that I usually think about what I need long after I have committed. I consider the feelings and needs of everyone I meet and I genuinely would hate to place that on anyone else. I hate the idea of other people putting themselves so far on the back burner the way that I do, because though there are moments of reward… it mostly sucks!!!! I think what sucks the most about it is that, I get forgotten about, unless I start to complain about my life. I think that my friends and family are exhausted about hearing about all the ridiculousness that comes with my life. I think the other half of my friends and family are tired of me not having it in me to listen to their trivial crap anymore. I’m sick of so-called friends not showing up for me in way that I have for them. I’m sick of my fiancé not pouring as much of himself into me as I have for him and the people important to him. I’m sick of feeling let down in almost all relationships in my life. See, I told you I complain a lot, but this is the honest to God truth. The other side to this, and honest to God truth is that this is all my fault. I’m terrible with boundaries. I’m terrible at saying no, afraid to let people down. I am terrible with knowing my worth in the moments of having to make decisions. I’m terrible at holding my bottom lines and seeing it through. I’m terrible about being honest with my true feelings and I hold them back so I can preserve the persona I want to project, so people do not think that I am that drowned-rat-snotty-nosed-bawling self that I really am in the middle of something really hard. It’s much easier for other people to think that I’m a poised and composed pillar of strength. Admittedly, I can’t say it’s easier for me though.
Caregivers are the forgotten people of this world. I think we’re easy to forget because “we got it under control”. We don’t really want to rock the boat or cause more for others because we genuinely know what that feels like. We often suffer in silence because it’s uncomfortable to flip the script and ask for help. I have a small group of friends that I feel comfortable enough to ask for help and I have a couple family members too. Reaching out and asking for help is really hard for me though, but I’m really trying to get over myself. I’m really trying to get out of my own way. I’m really trying to get out of my comfort zone and express what I need and want. Whether you’re the primary breadwinner, primary caregiver for an ailing family member, an exhausted parent or a health care worker spread so thin, I hope you hear this loud and clear. You’re only as good to others as you are to yourself. You’re worth every bit of love and attention that you give others. You are worth every opportunity that you work hard at for others. Learn to say no alongside me! Learn to take care of yourself as I navigate it too! Complain if you need to get noticed until you learn that you are enough all on your own; drowned-rat-snotty-nosed-bawling self and all!!!
I am a 33 year old Step-Mom to three kids who would describe me as a dramatic, fun-loving hopeless romantic (insert eyeroll). Transplanted from Pickering, Ontario and currently living in Calgary, Alberta. My friends would describe me as an open-book, a safe space and an ever evolving shoulder to cry on (my friend told me to say that). I work with children with special needs; a career inspired by my involvement with Willowjak. I have been thrown some pretty big curve balls in my short time here on this planet but, have faced them with a good book in hand and a cup of tea on my night stand. My hope is that what I have experienced in my life can be of use to others. Some support to prove that we are not alone; though we may feel like we are, that we are seen; though we feel invisible and that we have a voice; though we may not know we have one yet.
You can hear more about Michelle’s story when she appeared as a guest on Willowjak’s ‘Choose Your Own After’, by listening HERE.