A few weeks ago, my best friend Meaghan came to visit for Sienna’s first communion. I haven’t seen Meg in five years. They live in Virginia and also have four small kids and a dog, and it’s just not that easy to fly halfway across the country when you’re in a seemingly endless cycle of pregnancy/breastfeeding/weaning/pregnancy, etc. But she promised Sienna she would come for her first communion, and she did.
She brought her baby Benji and my darling little goddaughter Ella along with her. I’ve never even met Ella, since the Ogre and I were unable to go to Virginia for her baptism (*sob*), but I’ve seen thousands of adorable pictures and sent her little gifts and she’s written me cards. I was a little anxious about meeting her, because Meg had told me how excited she was to meet me and how she had been telling everyone all week that she was “going to see my godmudda”. I was worried she’d be disappointed to find that I didn’t live up to the hype.
Meg told me later that she was anxious about the trip, too — not that Ella would be disappointed, but that we’d find, after the passage of five years, that our friendship was different, or maybe gone, and we’d spend four days fumbling around each other awkwardly.
When I pulled up to the curb at the airport to pick them up, I saw Meg and Benji, and Ella’s little head bobbing around with her enormous backpack bouncing behind it. I got out of the car, ran around the back, and immediately saw this tiny blur of curls and cheeks and sparkly eyes and backpack catapult herself toward me. I caught her, of course, because what else are godmothers for? Then I stood there and hugged her for as long as I could get away with. I only reluctantly pried an arm away when I realized that Meg was standing there trying to say hi and hug me as well, and I was all “sorry dude, you got nothin’ on my goddaughter”.
But I eventually shifted Ella to one side, hugged Meg and Benji, drank in all three of their adorable Flood family cheeks. (Seriously, you can identify a Flood a mile away by those cheeks, and know immediately that you’re gonna have a really good time as long as they’re around, because no one can be unhappy in the presence of those cheeks.)
We piled everyone and everything into the car, and Meg and I immediately started talking. At the same time. About everything.
We spent the hour drive home having exactly the same kind of conversations that we had for four years at UD and two years after…she’d start a story, I’d interrupt, she’d interrupt, I’d interrupt, we’d laugh, agree, disagree, interrupt each other some more, and eventually realize an hour later that we never finished that first thing we were talking about. Then we’d go back through the threads of the conversation, trying to tie off loose ends but really just running off on tangents and interrupting each other some more.
It’s the best kind of conversation to have with a friend, because it’s the kind you can only have with a really good friend. Even just that first hour was like a balm to my soul. I knew I missed Meg, and I knew I missed her a lot, but I didn’t quite realize how much I had been storing up five years of everything in the hopes of talking over it all with her, one day.
The week that Meg came to visit, I was in a bad way. There were some issues with my meds, I hadn’t gotten the house in shape the way I’d wanted to, and I had dropped the ball on first communion gifts for Sienna. The stress of attempting to navigate the spiritual and physical complexities of my first first communion, while I was barely managing to accomplish the bare minimum necessary to keep six lives more-or-less puttering along, had gotten me down. Or, well, I’ll just stop trying to say this delicately and be honest: I felt like I was a total, complete, colossal failure, and I hated myself for it. I was furious with myself, mentally self-lacerating at every turn, and as a result, emotionally unstable and explosive with the kids.
Usually when we have house-guests, I at least attempt to be more patient and less Hulkish. It’s not comfortable to stay in another person’s house period, and it’s significantly less comfortable when they’re stressed and yelling and angsty all the time. Normally I try to take into account the comfort of my guests, but this time, that was so far off the radar of things I was mentally capable of considering that I don’t think I even realized how uncomfortable it might have been for Meg until she had left.
This is what Meg did: she watched, listened, and then took over.
It was less than a day before she was handling the cooking, the kids, keeping the laundry going, and reminding me of what I had been doing before my brain short-circuited and I started doing dishes as a default. That’s my default setting, dishes. When I get confused about what I’m supposed to be doing, I just start washing dishes, because I know how to do that. If there are no dishes, sometimes I’ll cook something just so I have some dishes to wash. She picked that up the first day, and every time I wandered over toward the sink (which was about one an hour) she’d be like, “Hey, Cay, you were looking for shoes/chopping an onion/putting away laundry/changing a diaper” and I’d be like, “oh yeah, thanks dude!” and then drift back toward what I’d been doing in the first place.
Of all the things that have been mystifying to me since I had that whole breakdown, none have come close to being as confusing as this phenomenon. I can hardly complete a sentence, let alone a task, let alone a blog post…it’s like all the synapses in my brain have fallen apart and are all randomly misfiring into the void of my consciousness. So instead of identifying what needs to be done first and then completing it, my brain is like, “laundry! Internet! Dinner! Laundry! Kid! Dog! Brush teeth! Text message! Shower! Clear clutter! Laundry! Vacuum! Sweep! Blog!” all at the same time, all day long. I’ll walk into a room intending to get something or put something away, and become overwhelmed by the clutter in that room, start cleaning, go to put something away in the room it belongs in, become overwhelmed by the clutter in that room, start cleaning, ad nauseum.
You know, I’m crying while I’m typing, because I’m so grateful that I have this friend. It’s really easy, when most of your closest friends live really far away and you can only communicate via phone or facebook, to start changing your own internal narrative. It’s easy to convince yourself that certain patterns of behavior are normal and acceptable, and that others mean you’re basically the devil. Moreover, it’s not easy for other people to identify that you’re doing that, or why, and it’s even more difficult for them to get you to see it. It takes total friendship, kind of analogous to total war, to be the kind of friend who can do that, especially in the span of a few days.
That’s what Meg did. She called me out on something that was seriously messed up the first night she was here. She didn’t do it in a nasty way, or in a condescending way, she was just like, “really, Cay? You can’t do that, and you know it, and I know you know it.” And all my internal justifications collapsed, right then and there.
But she was totally unfazed when I had a complete anxiety attack while we were all rushing to get to 10 a.m. Mass, and I ended up crying hysterically on the floor of my room, surrounded by clothes that didn’t fit, furious with myself for everything I was doing but wholly incapable of getting a grip. She just came in, sat with me for a minute, and then said in her best friend-ey way, “you know, I think you have some social anxiety. You have a mental illness, and you have to learn to manage it.”
At the time, I was like, I know! I know I have social anxiety! But hearing her say mental illness the way she did, like it was just a thing I had that I would have to learn to manage, made me realize that I had been beating myself up for having a mental illness in the first place, kicking my own ass for being so pathetic, despising myself for not just getting over it, and thus exacerbating my anxiety until it became completely debilitating.
The day before she left, she told me that she was praying that I would find some kind of hope. I didn’t even realize that hope was something I was in need of until then, but it made sense. I had been saying to the Ogre, and to myself, that I just couldn’t see any way out, but when he asked what I was trying to find a way out of, I didn’t have an answer.
The answer was actually just me. I spent months trying to find some way out of being myself, or at least the self I had become, trying to find a way to make everything — my breakdown, my anxiety, my depression, everything that was wrong about me, everything that was broken — just go away. I kept waiting for the day when I would wake up and things would be back to normal, or as normal as they had been, and I wouldn’t feel like such freak show, such a mentally ill person. They were almost dirty words, mental illness. I didn’t want them to be true about me, because they made me feel like a pariah.
But Meg didn’t act like I was a pariah. She didn’t berate me for my erratic behavior. Even though she hasn’t seen me in five years, she still knows me well enough to tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear, but she loves me enough to limit it to what I can hear. And I trust her enough to listen.
That last day, I was driving home with Lincoln and Liam in the car while Meg made dinner with the girls. I rounded the corner and saw a huge double rainbow, stretching right over Ave.
This is Florida, and it rains a lot here, and I guess I’ve kind of gotten used to rainbows and forgotten why they’re so spectacular. But when I saw that rainbow, I felt hopeful, for the first time in a long time. Not hopeful that I would find a way out of being me, or hopeful that somehow life would magically become sorted out and neat and all my mental issues would just disappear. I felt hopeful about my life, myself, right then and there, even with all my anxiety and tears and fear and mental illness. I felt like it was okay to be me, like I was okay, even all messed up, because I have a great husband and kids who love me, because I have a friend like Meaghan, and because even though it’s an awful cliché, it’s still true that there are rainbows after the rain.