Most of the time, I love my life. I love the adventure, my family, my friends, and all the new and exciting things that come my way. But sometimes, I crash.
I’ve probably crashed from time to time my entire life, but it wasn’t until much later in life that I was conscious of it. Sometimes, I wonder if I crash because of the lifestyle I live. It’s dynamic. It’s unsettling. It has highs and lows. It’s strange. It’s familiar. It’s stimulating. It’s overwhelming.
In the space of the last seventeen years, I’ve moved 7 times, had two children, six pregnancies, finished graduate school, worked at my dream job until it became my nightmare job, ran an NGO, lived on four continents, had two dogs, a kitten, a pair of turtles and numerous fish, and two security clearances. I’ve passed two bar exams on the first try.
I’ve read a few hundred books (probably three-quarters of them were complete drivel), met a few hundred people, made good friends and lost them, watched my parents get old(ish), seen my brother and sister get married and have kids, and move onto lives and careers of their own. I’ve been through biopsies, food poisoning, a beef ban, bleached a truckload of fruits and vegetables, and baked more cakes that I want to think about. The amount of butter and powdered sugar I have been through would probably stretch to the moon and back.
I’ve been on a school board, gotten certified to teach yoga, reorganized the embassy association’s documents, and had a couple EFM jobs that paid me way less than I ever thought I’d accept. I’ve drafted a few legal documents, hired and fired 11 household staff, and survived four rainy seasons and a monsoon. I’ve visited 14 countries and lived in 6.
I’ve been the guest of the Sultan of Bamoun, attended the largest Indian wedding at the Taj Hotel in the past year, been interviewed by media, danced with pygmies in the rainforest, canoed in a dugout pirogue, hiked the MacLehose Trail, closed several billion dollar deals, run four half marathons, and been in two fender benders. I’ve gone from not ever checking my checking account balance to checking it every few days and back again. I’ve celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, breastfed for 31 months, and found a few wrinkles on my face and grey hairs on my head. I don’t even want to think of how many pounds I’ve gained and then lost and then gained back.
I know other people lead a dynamic life. Some have crazy lives and schedules that would bring me to my knees. I know so many of the things I’ve listed above other people have done, and perhaps in even a shorter amount of time.
I seem, however, to be more fragile than they are in some respects, I guess, and so I crash. Or maybe I am stronger, and I actually face my dark side instead of ignoring it. Could be either. I’m not really sure. I do think that happiness is not necessarily the natural state of man, and that for every happy experience, there are a couple of average ones, and at least one sad one. I think I’ve gotten more than my share of happy. I’m lucky.
It usually starts out after a peak of giddiness, when I feel like life is perfect and things are falling into place. Then, suddenly, I am on thin ice, and I can see the water swirling underneath my feet, and I know that if I take even one deep breath, the ice under me will crack, and I’ll be plunged into the cold, dark water. So I tread carefully. I look for the sunny side. I amp up my exercise and take more vitamins. I say yes more and try more new things and pack more into my life so I don’t have to dwell on the dark cloud that is hovering over me. It doesn’t work sometimes. Something, generally something over which I have no control, and over which I will never have control, will knock me off balance, and I’ll put a foot out of step and the ice shatters into a million tiny pieces.
So I drink an extra glass of wine, made myself heady with the warmth and scent of a longer and longer bubble bath, or try to soothe my soul with chocolate. It never works, but it seems inevitable in the steps down the ladder to where I crouch in the darkness, under the stairs of my psyche, waiting for the Boogeyman to leave. The Boogeyman comes in many forms: self-doubt, guilt, and the worst of all: self-pity.
For some reason, the crash often comes around the time the HU does some kind of brownbag or seminar or whatever on depression, culture shock, or fitting in. It’s eerie. Am I a stereotype? Or do they just see the crazy starting to leak out all over the place? Maybe it’s the power of suggestion?
It’s hard to feel bad as an expat. Especially in a developing country where you just want to tell yourself to suck it up, complete with the whole #firstworldproblems. The Bubble coddles you a lot, but brings its own challenges. Isolation. Displacement. Just different things to deal with that I’m really not certain anyone has ever been able to completely address, no matter how they try. You really do have to sort so much of it out yourself, I’ve found.
When the HU brings a local shrink to come talk to us, my first thought usually is, “Oh, she’s so cute”. What could she possibly know about me? About my life? About what makes me tick? I’m usually right about this, and within the first ten minutes of observing his/her defensiveness about the country I’m posted in, I’ve resolved to file the business card that was passed out into the rubbish bin. For the simple reason that everything is different, adequate “help” isn’t always available. Even if we need it, and I’m not always certain we do.
I’d like to think I hide it well, this self-unconfidence and fragility. Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. My immediate family knows, my mother probably suspects, and it’s likely they think it’s inconvenient. God forbid DiploMom is too paralyzed to plan weekends, remind the driver to take the DBs to Tae Kwon Do, or get a shopping list together so everyone has juice, bread, milk, and eggs. But it happens, and I snarl at them, and they deal with it and realize that maybe they can drink orange juice instead of apple juice or that they can buy cookies for the class party because I am not in the mood to bake them, and why the Hell didn’t you tell me you had a reception tonight before I made reservations and got excited about date night? When I move towards testiness and uncertainty, any change in anything is not a new fun adventure, but someone tracking mud on my freshly-scrubbed floor.
As much as I know that I should be able to occasionally drop the ball, I hate to do it, even on the littlest things. I feel the pressure to be perfect, as unrealistic as it is, and sometimes I can’t reach that, or my life just isn’t what I think perfect should be (except for probably perfectly messy).
So, crash it is.
A few days of feeling like Annie is a total jerk and a fraud, and the sun will not come out tomorrow. A few days of dragging myself only to where I absolutely have to be and cutting out of everywhere else. A few days of reading absolute garbage, letting my house slide into slovenliness (even if I DO have a maid or two floating around here somewhere), and a few days of letting everyone eat Cheerios for dinner. Sometimes, I’ll just sleep for hours, even days. Maybe fake a migraine or two. Or maybe have a real one. A few days of indulging in everything but enjoying nothing.
Perhaps I am trying to hide from the overstimulation that is the modern world. Just rebooting the mental computer after an overload or power surge. There’s so much that flies at me at warp speed, and so much of it for me isn’t autopilot because it’s still new. I cannot fall back on the examples from my childhood, my mother, or my American neighbors, because they don’t work or apply to what I’m dealing with.
Maybe I am trying to hide from grief I’ve never dealt with because it happened at an inconvenient time, people that are difficult, and situations that need to be absorbed over time, bit by bit instead of all at once as I often have to do. Perhaps I am hiding from myself when I ask myself why I have done certain things or made certain choices and I just really don’t want to know the answer.
So I do it every now and then. Crash. I indulge in the darkness, sort it out, piece by piece and put it up to the light to bring clarity to it and banish it from my psyche until the vessel of my mind overflows again. The world will still turn, my kids will still be alive, and my husband’s shirts will still be pressed (thank you, V and L) in the meantime, and I’ll be fine in a few days.
I have my time for introspection, a staff who knows I get moody, a husband who sees it coming (I think), kids who are happy if I back off a little and let the video babysitter mother them for a while, and the unconditional love of an idiot dog. And I have hope that I will feel better eventually, because I always do. Don’t worry. I’ve done this. I’ve got this. I’ll be “back” in a few days and life will be “perfect” again. As only my life can be.