For the last few months, I’ve noticed people hugging me differently. It’s like they’re afraid that if they get too good of a grip on me or pull me in a little too tight, I might just crumble right there on their shoes. You see, word on the street is that I’ve lost my shit. I am here to set the record straight:
Friends, I lost my shit.
I suppose most suspect it was the night I had a line of mini-vans parked in front of our house while legging-clad moms marched like ants in and out packing the essentials: Books, art and throw pillows. I followed behind with a five-by-eight Kilim rug rolled and thrown over my shoulder and tried to make light of it all by quoting The Jerk (“All I need is this shibori pillow…and this thermos!”) The truth is, the overall mood was: Holy shit. This happens. Marriages fail. Sweet Baby Jesus, don’t let this happen to me.
I have to say that if your life is going to fall apart in an epic way, you best do it with a team of mom-friends on speed dial. They showed up, brought snacks, made sure I drank plenty of water and even made my bed, which we had to set up in the living room of my 100-year-old apartment instead of the tiny bedroom because if my life was going to fall apart, my goodness I would be sleeping in the middle of a king size bed like I was doing snow angels.
Yes, I’m sure that seemed like the night my cheese slipped off the cracker. In fact, that was me at my most put-together. I was strong and deliberate and for the first time in my adult life, being unapologetically authentic.
The undoing of Amanda Hervey was a gradual thing that started long before that night. As is the tradition of women born below the Mason-Dixon line, I eased myself into madness like I was getting into a bath that was run too hot.
If I had to put a pin in a moment and call it the beginning of the unraveling, it was a week and a half after Eli was born. I was sitting in a lawn chair under the deck, watching Travis play with our three-year-old in the pool.
To fully understand this moment, you need to know how much I love the water. I am most alive when I am at the bottom of the pool, tracing my fingers over the sun crinkles. Every summer since I was a kid, I’ve painted my fingers and toes bright red because I love the way that red pops against that azure floor. I do my best soul-work somewhere between the surface and that place where I’ve gone too deep and my ears start to pop.
That winter had been particularly grueling. At the time, I was staying home with Ada. It seems like it snowed every day, the sky was always dryer lint gray, and my dog, Scout, who often felt like the only one in the house who liked me, went into sudden seizures at the foot of my bed. I held her on the bathroom floor, her tiny body convulsing so hard against my pregnant belly that the baby inside kicked back at the outside world in what quite literally was a fight against life and death right there in my flannel-covered lap. The ground was too frozen to bury my dog so we paid for her cremation with a credit card. In the six months that followed, I would experience Eli’s natural childbirth and hold my grandma as she died in a hospital bed we set up in the living room. Somehow I spent that year lingering at the gate, holding hands (or paws) as folks passed from world to world and it did things to my heart.
I needed that summer in the worst way. Instead, I was in the shadows holding a baby I wasn’t planning on and feeling like a total asshole for having the audacity to crawl through the soul-pit that is infertility and then be anything less than celebratory over just getting pregnant without trying the second time around. But instead of the feeling of elation I had during my first tour of motherhood, that tiny baby felt like an anchor in my lap.
It was depression first. A deep sadness I had never experienced before. I didn’t want to eat even when I was hungry. I hid when people came to the door. I stopped writing. I looked like a lactating Howard Hughes.
The anxiety came next. It was like a ringing in my ear; always there but sometimes deafening. At its worse, I’d sit up all night long holding Ada while she slept because I convinced myself that she wouldn’t live until her fifth birthday. At times, her limp sleepy body looked dead and I’d cry harder. I started locking myself in my closet to escape Eli’s crying.
There were good days when I got ahead of it. I convinced myself that if I just ate better, cut out sugar and exercised I could be me again. Isn’t that how we women think? It’s my fault I’m depressed, anxious and falling apart at the seams. I should Paleo more. I’m not trying hard enough. But there was a deeper problem, I’d learn: I couldn’t get back to Me because I had never been Me in the first place.
I started having suicidal thoughts. It wasn’t that I ever wanted to die. I wanted quiet. My goodness, if I am anything, it’s someone who lives vibrantly. I always dance, I drink too much wine with friends, I befriend strangers at the grocery store, I will never turn down a brownie and I’ve run into the ocean in a cocktail dress just because I couldn’t stand one more second without the water on my skin. To get to a place where Out felt like the only option for a girl who says yes more than no, it was pretty damn dark in my world.
Somewhere in the middle of this, Robin Williams died and it hit me in a profound way. When his picture flashed across the TV as I sat there in hour eleven of my twelve-hour-days of nursing a newborn, I saw another creative with a lot of light that got snuffed out. Frankly, it scared the shit out of me. I had enough wits about myself to ask for help. The mistake I made was asking my inner circle for help. In my experience, sitting down at the kitchen table with the people you are closest with and saying, “So, I’ve been thinking about calling it quits on this whole life gig,” doesn’t play out like the after-school specials. In my life, at our house, my undoing got stacked up right alongside the other undone things: dishes, laundry and bills.
Thankfully, my midwife was more receptive. I started taking medicine, doing yoga, journaling. Little by little, I got put back together. I put MYSELF back together. Here’s the thing, though: I wasn’t the same shape.
Our marriage has endured a lot of stress in the last decade; things most couples nibble on over a lifetime, we were force-fed in a handful of years. We were a crumbling house done up in a lot of chalk paint, which as you know, will adhere to and cover anything. Trust me on this. I’ve been blogging about it for years.
So why did I leave? Would you believe me if I said that it was to save our love?
There was a moment when we were sitting on the sofa together. I looked at him and loved him. I had loved him from that day we stood side-by-side as kids in my papaw’s backyard, four knees and elbows in bathing suits. I had rode shot-gun in his first car, posed with him in JC Penny formals at high school dances, wore his fraternity letters in college, fought with him over where soup cans should go in our first apartment and lingered in doorways watching sleeping babies. I loved this man deeply but in my heart, I knew that I wouldn’t in another decade. There would be too much unsaid. Too many critical differences in personality and heart. Too many hurts. I didn’t think I could protect our couplehood anymore but I sure as hell would protect our family.
So. That’s what we did. We protected our family.
I got a tiny apartment with good bones that is doing a mighty fine job of holding me up. And my bathroom is wall-to-wall subway tile with charcoal grout so, you know, that helps shake off the blues a bit. I have stripped my life way down. I know how many cups I have. I don’t have more than I need. The kids are happy to greet the stray cat we named White Socks each morning and even Eli, my two-year-old, helps carry and put away groceries. Travis is present with the kids in a way that has given him new light. It has been good for all of us I think. Hard but so, so good.
Sometimes on the nights the kids are with their dad, I sip champagne in a bubble bath because…I’m alive. I lived through that! I live in such a way now that I’m able to focus my attention and energy outward instead of always fussing with the details of a house that looks awful pretty in a magazine but tends to be too cold, despite all the love and warmth I tried to nail to those walls.
Since I live in the Bible belt, I’ve heard whispers of “…but love never fails.” And I’d agree to that wholeheartedly. I’d add though, that it does evolve. It shows up dressed for work in whatever that day calls for and if we’re wise, we won’t force it into high heels when it’s clearly a day for steel-toe boots.
So, friends, this blog can’t be about slapping a $35 can of paint on fundamentally broken things to make them look good propped up in the corner anymore. No. We’re all better than that. What will you find here, now? Honesty. Belly laughs. A lot of light. Tales of me trying to make a go at running two businesses with my best friend and soul-sister, Stacey. More than anything, I hope you find a refuge. It’s tough out there. I don’t have my white slip-covered sofa anymore but I do have a king size bed in a living room, a bag of popcorn and maybe enough champagne for us to toast this crazy, stupid-beautiful life.
And if you go to hug my neck, don’t be afraid of breaking me. Lord, friend. If I’m not broken by now, I think I’m in it for the long haul.