All of the work to get to the big day was worth it.
Our new office Open House was a great success. All of that pre-party angst was over and things fell into place nicely. The last minute construction issues that had been keeping me up at night, actually got completed. Almost every single thing was done. The office looked fantastic.
People came. Lots of people came! And it looked like they were having fun.
We had many guests in from the home office for the event since we were also having an agency-wide Town Hall meeting live from our new offices earlier in the day. I was the keynote speaker. I worked on my deck for days. I had such a great story to tell! It was a great celebration of everything we’ve done in our little office over the last almost 14 years and I was awash in the glow of finally, finally having the chance to talk about how we did it.
And it was possibly the worst presentation I’ve ever given in my life.
We had technical difficulties. The slides weren’t showing me my notes at all. I kept losing my train of thought. Then more technical difficulties made me lose it again. Even that was ok! People were super nice about it. It sucks to present to people via video conference in the first place let alone when your feed keeps going in and out and you’re not seeing your damn notes. I let myself off the hook (sort of). But I wasn’t happy. I moved on.
At the end of the Town Hall meeting, my boss made an announcement about my recent promotion while a slide on the screen showed a picture of Gal Gidot in Wonder Woman. I was beyond embarrassed. A little touched. And awash in irony.
Wonder Woman, indeed. I could barely stay on my feet. After the presentation debacle, I still had one more goal: Survive the party.
Surviving the party meant the following to me: Stay on my feet. Look like I was having fun. Walk and talk to folks around the office who were in visiting. Sneak out when it was technically over at 7PM without making a scene. Go home. Crash.
But when I woke up Thursday morning, I knew it was going to be one of those days (again). I was struggling. Pain. Unsteady legs. Lots of things going on probably brought on by stress, a long, long day ahead of me and a few too many long days behind me in the last week. There were a few other factors I cannot get into in a public forum but suffice to say I made things extra hard on myself. By accident. But still. I was a mess.
I had a plan. I was wearing something easy and comfortable (black of course) with flat shoes. I showered the day before so I didn’t have to exhaust myself getting clean right before the long day began. I had stacked the invitation list with people I’ve been dying to see but hadn’t seen in a long while because I’ve just not been up to socializing much.
This was one party I wouldn’t be able to cancel out of! I kind of had to be there.
My friends and co-workers took their turns holding me up, walking me to the bathroom, propping me up in handy corners and on available chairs. I didn’t eat much because I was so unsteady I couldn’t eat, socialize and stay vertical all at the same time. I had to pick two, like on the value menu at Panera.
When I have to be somewhere, doing something that looks totally normal to regular people for a perfectly normal amount of time, it’s not normal to me. My body goes into some kind of weird shut down mode. It starts to feel like that second picture above. My legs get super stiff and heavy. My knees ache and my back throbs. The pain tingling throughout my body is almost like a buzzing, like a constant backing track. My eyes go glassy and I start using the wrong words for the wrong thing in casual conversation.
My body doesn’t always feel like this, I promise you. Sometimes it’s merely a mild annoyance. Sometimes I just blow it off and take that day as a work from home day and move on. Sometimes they happen when you have life to live. Like last night. And you can’t avoid trying to play the game.
When this happens, you feel like a failure. You feel pathetic and sad. I mean, what it must have looked like! Me, being dragged around by my elbow, from spot to spot, looking like death warmed over and about to fall over.
People kept telling me how great I looked. I know I don’t look great. I look like a swollen, bloated Ursula the Sea Witch who’s been on steroids for a while and can’t stop eating and bloating like a giant water balloon that it takes parade handlers to keep on the ground. I know I do. I can see the pictures. I have actual mirrors in my home, people. I know what I see.
But someone not very close to me, said something very wise and surprising to me last night. She said…Only to you, Beth. You look sad, pathetic and busted up but ONLY TO YOU. Nobody else looks at you that way. It’s in your head. To the outside world, you’re killing this. Just accept that.
That made me think of cognitive restructuring and my last meeting with my precious therapist, Cheryl.
I was telling her how lately I can barely leave the house. I feel fat. Old. Ugly. I feel like a house frau who only wears yoga pants and baggy tank tops (because most of the time I am a house frau who only wears yoga pants and baggy tank tops). I looked in the mirror last week and thought to myself, “Well, my face being all distorted and puffy actually isn’t so bad because my wrinkles are barely visible! Winning!”
I was telling Cheryl that our decade long attempt to get me to deal with this failing in my sanity, was also failing miserably. My inner voices were louder than ever and even more hatefully aggressive. I had a new therapeutic request! A challenge if she chose to accept it, you might say.
I wanted to walk away from it. I don’t want to rationalize, know why or what for…I want it to be OVER. I don’t have time for it. It’s dumb. It’s wasteful and ungrateful and immature. It’s actually more than a little bit pathetic. How many REAL problems do I need to have, I asked Cheryl, before I can walk away from the imaginary ones? Who the hell cares what I LOOK LIKE? WHY DO I EVEN CARE???
Here’s the reality, folks.
My list of things that mattered in a day was quite long before this whole MS thing started. I had an official Persona. A thing to protect. I had to dress the part, act the part, and expertly play the part. My daily list of things to think about before getting out of bed and unleashing myself upon the world used to include things like:
- what kind of mood am I in?
- dress or jeans or something fun?
- what kind of jewelry?
- what shoes? high, higher or really high?
- should I do elaborate make-up or keep it simple?
- Who am I going to see today?
- Am I going out after work?
- how hot is it going to be today?
About 18 months ago, my list of things that matter in one day got strangely very short, very fast:
- can I move?
- am I in pain?
- can I walk far enough to leave the house today?
- can I get appropriate clothes on my body for going outside?
- how hot is it outside?
- (some things never change)
As Cheryl and I talked more about Public Beth, my well curated persona perfected over a course of 45 years or so, we started to realize something pretty obvious. I put the pressure on myself to create Public Beth. I thought she was what the world wanted. I thought being Public Beth was the path to happiness and eventual success. People seemed to love Public Beth and I fed off of that positive reinforcement like food from the gods. I really liked Public Beth. The mountains of selfies I used to post are all out there to prove it. I took serious pride in Public Beth.
I used to try really, really hard at all times. I was never not trying. Never. As I got older, I maybe pulled back on some things and simplified some routines, but I was a person who couldn’t not try. It is ingrained into who I am. I think I thought it was who I am, which in and of itself is a bit horrifying. But there you have it.
I felt like I had to adhere to these insane standards. I had to be the prettiest, the most stylish, the most successful and the most creative, the very most fun and delightful at all times. I had to be an “It” girl or I was nothing. Like I said, I did mellow out around 45 but I never really gave it up. I just changed the definition.
It’s too hard, now.
Now, I’m 50. I’m relatively newly diagnosed with a chronic degenerative disease. I often have little control over my limbs, so exercise is tough. I take drugs, many of them not just steroids, that make me bloat and gain weight. I am so tired all of the time that sometimes eating ice cream for dinner is less taxing than making a nice fresh kale salad.
Sometimes, at the end of the day I can’t lift my actual legs to take my pants off. It’s like they’re dead. When I get tired, it feels like lights in the rooms in the house of my body are shutting down one by one, room by room, until the house is totally dark and not a flicker of light can be seen. Maybe a tiny one in the attic. The one for my brain that can never turn completely off.
I know I don’t really look like Ursula the Sea Witch (much), but after years of telling myself horrible things every time I get a glimpse of myself in a plate glass window or god-forbid a photograph, it’s what I see. Sitting in the chair at the hair salon before the cape is on is my very own personal hell.
So after the 5000th discussion about this issue, Cheryl taught me techniques for literally re-wiring my brain. She told me all about cognitive restructuring. I’ve been using my techniques so diligently! I believe they will work. I want to put Public Beth away. Just be regular old me. And worry about important things. Like my health and being happy more of the time and stop being so hateful to my broken, imperfect, not very reliable body.
It made me think of the party again and how having a public persona is what most people do. It’s how you play the game of life. Small talk is bearable for public personas. You laugh and say witty things and your eyes dart around the room looking for the person you’re supposed to be talking to next before you actually walk away from the person you’re currently talking to. I saw so many people’s eyes doing this last evening it almost made me kind of sad. Even when not constantly looking at our phones, human beings still have such a hard time focusing on what they’re actually doing at any given time.
Public Beth isn’t compatible with the real me. I might try to look like her on rare occasions (not all that easy with this moon face but hell, I like a challenge). I still try to use her to protect me even now. But she fails because she quite literally doesn’t matter anymore. She has ceased to exist. I miss her. I can’t lie. But it was probably time for her to move on.
I have more important things to care about. The public clash of Public Beth and Real Beth made it feel like there were actually two of me at the office party. The one outside that was trying so very hard to hold it together, just until 7PM and the one inside, the real one, who needed two friends to walk her to her car, one at each elbow, because at the end of that night I was broken. Legs turned off. Done.
It was a really awesome party. I did enjoy it. But I also hated it. I think I have a bit more time to figure out what I really feel about things that are really important. I have my internal mantra for my program of cognitive restructuring to kill that hateful inner voice I have, but I may need to move on to the physical snap of the rubber band on my wrist.
I wasn’t supposed to refer to myself as Ursula the Sea Witch ever again. I was doing so well! Cognitive restructuring ain’t easy.