All the straws and the broken camel

“The straw that broke the camel’s back”, is trite, and in my experience, highly inaccurate. I discuss this periodically with my therapist and I think I’ve swayed her to my thinking. I believe that the straws hang out on the side somewhere, waiting for their other straw friends to show up, and when there’s a bunch of straws, they all jump on at once.

Recently, I went through a period of anniversaries. Not the good kind, not the cake and balloons and go out for a fancy dinner kind. These were definitely the, “oh shit today is that day” kind. I hate to admit that it caught me surprise. I tend to be a planner but had been in head down, running straight ahead, get ‘er done mode so had not been paying attention to the calendar other than to show up for meetings when the little Outlook “pling” told me where and when I needed to be.

I did notice, however, that I was not feeling great. Marginally ill-tempered, impatient, and physically exhausted, I was craving anything with salt or sugar and harboring a number of gastrointestinal maladies which I will NOT describe.

I work in higher education. The start of the academic year usually brings a burst of energy and excitement, greeting new students who infuse life into our campus which had seemed all but drained by the restrictions set upon us by COVID. This year, however, I entered with caution, afraid that if I were too enthusiastic, too optimistic, that something would snatch it away, and crush my soul. Hypervigilance is exhausting.

I had been looking forward to my upcoming visit with friends to spend some desparately needed time at the beach. Unfortunately, one of them was quite ill and my travel plans were thwarted. I was so disappointed and really feeling quite sorry for myself. I did eventually remember that my friend was sick so reshuffled my priorities, and my sympathies, in the appropriate order.

Last Friday, September 10th, I wrote my bi-weekly missive to my staff reflecting on the 20th anniversary of September 11th, and the loss of my high school friend and fellow theatre nerd Paul Keating, a NYC firefighter who went into work on his day off and lost his life saving others. I thought about his family and how difficult a day it must be for them. I was definitely in my feelings at this point.

After hitting send, I checked Facebook and those feelings were shattered into a million shards of pain and shame. One of my sisters posted a memorial for the anniversary of my mother’s death that day, 8 years earlier. I felt the sting of embarrassment that I had not remembered unbidden by the cue, and the pain of the loss. The date also drew my thoughts to the anniversary of my final divorce decree, which was 5 days prior to my mother’s death; those dates linked by sheer happenstance.

Did I mention a recent medication change that was not working out well for me?

So there they are, the straws. And they did not come one-by-one. They ganged up on me and BOOM! – broken camel! We can manage life’s challenges in small doses, one straw at a time, but life doesn’t always work that way. So how did I help the camel recover?

I found the courage to ask for the help I needed.I shared my straws, my pain, with friends who listen without judgement, without the need to fix me, or tell me what to do, but just sit with me in my pain, to be with me until I feel better. I am also fortunate to have resources, health insurance, and the good sense to use them.

May your straws be few and well-spaced.