Last week after finishing my coveted therapist appointment, I reached my car and took a deep breath.  The drive to and from therapy has become the one and only place I can be alone. As an introvert at heart with two small children, this new normal of COVID life has really taken its toll on my mental health.

Starting my car, I set in the driver’s seat putting my foot on the brake preparing to shift into drive. But I could muster up the energy, so there I sat there, staring out the window. While my mind wondered, I sent the following text to a few friends: 

Public service announcement… I’m sitting in my car in the therapist’s parking lot.. totally finished with my appointment. I used to haul ass home to get back to Michael and the kids, feeling guilty that I left him by himself…

Today I sit staring into space by myself in the car… lavishing this quiet moment and wondering how long I can sit here before he texts to see if I’m on my way… if only I had a bottle of vino – I would never leave this parking spot. 

Parking lot alone time… this is what COVID has brought me to.

We are in extremely uneasy times with the Coronavirus pandemic, Black Lives Matter, and the impending elections just to name a few issues. The highs and lows are like the roller coasters at Carowinds that no one has ridden this season – thanks COVID.  Our families are struggling with childcare. Many of us have lost our jobs. Much of the country is starting the school year remotely, adding even more chaos and anxiety to already stressed parents who not only have been working full-time but now must continue to monitor their children’s education. 

In the Spring, our motto was to “make it work” and “this is only temporary.” But now we are well into the Summer and Fall is approaching, forcing us to admit, this is the “new normal.”  And for most of us, our families, spouses, and each other are not equipped to deal with it.

One of the first lessons I learned, and by far the most important after Charlie died, was to feel what I was feeling, sit with it and own it.  The feelings of grief are strong but fluid, changing from moment to moment, day by day.  Owning my truth and where I am is a necessity, not just as a bereaved mother but for all of us. Unfortunately, it just took me losing my son to realize that.

So, what the hell does that mean? I’m sure you are wondering…

Offering pleasantries is socially acceptable and if living in the South, an expectation when you are in public. You say “Hello, how are you?” as you pass an acquaintance on the sidewalk or as you walk by someone in the grocery store.  The reality is when we offer those pleasantries, we rarely, if ever are expecting any other response than “I’m fine, and yourself?” Oftentimes we don’t even wait for the person’s response.  It is simply something that society obligates us to do, so we do it.  

I am the exception to the rule.  Consider yourself warned if you see me in passing.  After Charlie’s death, owning my truth became the only way I could keep my emotions in check. Again seems odd, to keep your emotions in check by expressing them, instead of putting them in a box.  Read “the grief box” if you are confused by this. But the concept is if you don’t share your emotions and simply hold them in, at some point you will explode.  Holding on isn’t healthy. 

So when the cashier or bagger at Publix asks me “How are you ma’am” (side note: I hate to be called ma’am- but typically don’t pile that grievance on), they rarely get the “I’m fine, thank you and yourself.”  I own the truth, “Well, I’m pretty crappy today actually.  I’m really missing Charlie. I feel like a shitty mom and this is the one outing I’ve had in the last two weeks… So there’s that too.”  Then of course, as society dictates, and my southerner upbringing, I offer the same pleasantries in response, “And how are you today?”  

Now there has been a number of times when “owning my truth” has been met with blank stares, especially in the checkout line when I’m talking to a complete stranger.  But other times, it has started an open dialogue, dialogues that have been mutually beneficial. For example, in one particular interaction, the cashier responded with “I hear you. We are all struggling right now.  I’m thankful I have a job. Others aren’t so lucky. But I worry about my kids and how this is affecting them.”  

I’m not saying that owning your truth with a checkout person or the mailman is in everyone’s wheelhouse.  But my point is, owning your truth not only helps you process your feelings, but it offers others the permission to do the same.  And in this crazy time we are living in, we all need to be willing to listen and support one another.  We all need to own our truth.

I believe if we were all willing and able to own our truth while being open to our neighbors, friends and even stranger’s feelings, we would find so much more commonality among each other.  We would find that we are all struggling right now, in so many ways.  We would gain perspective, learn empathy, and be kinder to one another.  We also wouldn’t be sitting in our therapist’s parking lot, day drinking… just sayin’.

But here is the catch, owning our truth makes us vulnerable, and that’s hard.  The silver lining of losing Charlie is that the outer shell of protection for my feelings was ripped from me.  I have emotional Tourettes now, for sure.  

While most of us view that as a negative, I see it as a positive.  It allows me to say how I am feeling, acknowledge when my feelings change, and be open to hearing how others feel.  It is especially helpful when my emotions are in constant limbo, which is where I find myself mostly these days.  I can be confident in the morning that I’m going to be a kick-ass parent, despite the fact I never wanted to be a stay-at-home, teacher, camp counselor, friend, and everything else to my children mom.  And by the end of the day, be depleted, feel useless, shitty, and want to give up, cursing everyone who posts something amazing they did with their child on Facebook.  That’s owning my truth. 

As we continue to trudge through this journey of uncertainty, I challenge you to own your truth, share it with those around you, encourage your peers to share theirs, and then be opened to listen.  Ask for help, try not to judge and accept and share when your truth fluctuates as it will, inevitably. 

Sitting in my car, outside my therapist’s office,  just moments after sending the public service announcement text, I thought to myself. “I’m so lucky.  It could be far worse.  I know there is so much suffering and so many people suffering that don’t have the resources to support them in the way we do.  Just take some deep breaths and sit for a few moments.  It’s ok to rest. It’s ok not to have the answers. It’s ok to need a break,” And I closed my eyes.

It took exactly 10 minutes for Michael to text: “Call me when you leave please!” 

Catapulting me back to reality, I audibly said “F_@$!” dropping my head on the steering wheel.  10 minutes, 10 minutes, and no wine… (just a girl owning her truth!)

I savored each and every minute of my drive home, letting my mind wander from memories of Charlie, the hurts and the pains, to the hopes of the future. I thought about Ellie and Causby, worried how the school year would look for them, praying I was making the right choices, whatever those were. Then I arrived in my driveway and took a few more deep breaths preparing to walk back into the “new normal.”  

As I opened the door,  the “mommys!” started, Michael smiled and made a beeline straight for a bottle of wine.