It starts with something small-- even something that is not directly in your control.
Small, but, still relevant.
You get a flat tire, your toilet overflows, an unexpected bill slides into your mailbox and so on and so on. Usually, you would just chalk this up to a bump in the road of your otherwise pretty great life. But with the delivery of this particularly unpleasant present also comes a slight shift in the air. It's subtle but palpable and that inner voice that we all try to hush whispers, "A storm is coming."
Oh shit. Grab your umbrella.
The next few days are filled with all kinds of fun. You get to work just in time to be blindsided by your boss who wants to discuss why you have been doing a crap job lately when, all along, you thought you were doing just fine. Then your boss proceeds to praise your least favorite coworker right in front of you. Really? You're doing worse than 'Pervert Pat'? Crap this is gonna be a bad day.
So you take a coffee break to shake off the frustration and just as soon as you get that latte out the door, it decides to make it's new home on your cream colored cardigan instead of your mouth.
This is about the time you realize that your inner voice can be a real bitch. An honest one, but still a bitch.
You deal with a full week of these joyful events and, at the end of it, you have never been so happy to see a Monday morning in your life. You are ready for a new and immensely improved week.
For whatever ingenious reason, you decide to start this new and improved Monday by stepping on the scale.
I mean, you have been eating leaves with every meal, drinking so much water that every bathroom attend in town is now invited to your birthday party and devouring such large amounts of chicken breast that you now cluck in your sleep. So the proof has to be in the non-dairy pudding you've been choking down on your "special treat" nights.
You confidently hop on the devil we all know is disguised as a cold plastic appliance and wait for validation. You've gained 3.9 pounds. You immediately round that up to 19 pounds. Yes, you have managed to gain 19 pounds in 7 days all while gnawing on a bush like Bambi and avoiding anything that looks like bread could be in it and your beloved nightly beer(s) or glass(es) of wine.
What in the full-fat-fudge kind of sick joke is this?!
Then you remember you were warned that a storm was coming, not just a light sprinkle. So you decide that if you are going to endure this shit storm, you aren't going to do it alone. Tortilla chips and booze get to come along for the ride too. Self control can suck it for all you care.
Before you can even register what is happening, you find yourself sitting on the couch a bottle and a half of wine deep, with a judgmental bag of almost empty Hot Cheetos and you are using the neon bikini bottoms you wore in 2009 to dry your tears.
To put it mildly, things aren't going well.
This is what my life has felt like for the last few weeks. What can go wrong, will go really wrong. The worst thing about these times in our lives is that we never see them coming. And as soon as our physical world begins to crumble, our emotional world quickly catches the scent.
The universe decides this would be a great time to send people your way with all the wrong questions you just can't wait to answer. So when are you getting married? Do you plan on getting engaged? Have you bought a house? Are you going to rent forever? How old are you now? Do you even want kids? Are you going to go back to school? Is "waitressing" considered a career nowadays?
Not only to they have these awesome questions but they also have a personal arsenal of back-handed compliments. At least it's cool in Hollywood to never get married. I guess it's nice to have so little to clean when you live in an apartment. You look great!.. I can't believe your going to be 30 soon. How fun to be a waitress! It must suck to know you will be working every weekend for the rest of your life. Don't worry, lots of women are "old" moms these days. You know I have a friend who has a friend who had a perfectly healthy baby at forty-seven.
Oh lands. Lord help me now. I really don't want to have to strangle this person.
Sadly, it isn't always someone else asking you these brain-teasers. Oftentimes we decided that it's a grand idea to drill ourselves on where the hell our lives are going. To make it even better, we think that the perfect time to ask them is around 2 o'clock in the morning. Yep. You are definitely going to solve all of life's riddles on a Tuesday night when you need to be up in 5 hours. Albert Einstein, step aside, because 'E' obviously equals 'M'erciless 'C'ontemplation at '2' in the morning.
Now, not only are you wearing your fat pants to work, you are also running on 3 hours of sleep with an extra helping of nightmares. Way to go, genius.
So, how do you get out of this rut?
Some people don't. For some it is easier to continue to soak in the rain because life's storms are easier to blame than admitting you are drowning in areas of your life.
Even if the rain is depressing, it at least waters a garden of problems that are familiar. Letting that garden run dry will mean having to plant a new one with foreign seeds. And that will take a strength from a faucet that we all have the ability to access, but for some reason prefer to keep it untapped for the sake of being comfortable. We are somehow comfortable in our personal misery.
It's like laying your pillow over a bed of rocks. A part of you says, let's move this damn pillow, while the other part keeps saying But at least we have a bed!
My advice? Move the damn pillow. It's not easy, but you've got to do it.
I can honestly say that I try to be grateful for these dark periods in my life. Having the clouds hang over you for that long makes you forget just how good it feels to have the sun warm your skin. I know there will be more, and more turbulent, storms to come. But that's OK. It's OK to not be OK.
I think so many of us are afraid of letting it be known that things aren't perfect. But why?
For example: You see a friend's facebook post that shows how they are getting incredible results at the gym after 3 days of working out, they tweet that their kid just won 'Best Child Ever' award at the school your child attends and then instagrams the bubble bath her amazzzzing husband ran for her when he got home from his job that makes a big enough salary for her to be able to stay home. (Not that staying home with kids is easy, it's the toughest job out there. But some moms don't have the luxury of choosing between the two.) Her life is just as peachy as the peach cobbler that she found and baked on pinterest. Who actually bakes the things they pin on pinterest?! Oh yeah, she does.
It's hard not to compare your own life. Comparison is the thief of joy, so why steal from yourself? It is your conscious decision to compare yourself to someone else. It just doesn't make any sense. Stop it.
You don't know what problems are really soaking in that bubble bath she's so proud of and, frankly, it's not you're business either. So give her bubbles a thumbs up (or don't) and move on. Know that life hands out plenty of rain clouds and, just because she doesn't choose highlight them on social media, doesn't mean they are currently standing in the rain too.
I obviously don't always welcome these storms with arms wide open that randomly pop up in life, but they do remind me that there was a definite reason that the umbrella was invented. Think about it.
There had to be someone who looked outside and saw the storm threatening their doorstep and decided that they wanted to take on the day regardless. Voila. The umbrella is invented.
That person decided that they were going to do the things they needed to do and the rain had no business stopping them.
It was invented so we could literally weather the storm.
Umbrellas don't just come in one shape either. They can be built out of things that are not tangible or able to be seen by the naked eye. These are what I'd like to think of as life's umbrellas.
They provide a small but vital shield of comfort when the bullshit in life's clouds begin to pour. You can build them yourself with affirmations or someone can let you borrow theirs. But the best kind is when they're built together.
You never know when you are going to receive a great foundation for a life umbrella. I surely didn't.
My previous protection had obviously been torn by the events I mention earlier and, everyday, it seemed that more and more rain would seep through. The first patch to mend what was torn came from a visit to my sister's house.
I walked in toting my now familiar personal gloomy rain cloud and plopped on a chair. I might as well have been wearing an Eeyore t-shirt--that's how much sunshine I was exuding. I sat in my chair and soaked in my sorrow.
Let's be honest, I was one sprinkled donut away from getting a depressing quote tattooed on my ribs.
And then it happened.
My niece, who is not even old enough to speak in full sentences, crawled in my lap, pinched my nose and laughed hysterically.
And just like that, I had a foundation for a new umbrella in life.
How could I be upset in a world that allowed this beautiful little being to exist?
To top it off, that night my nephew only wanted 'Aunt Char' to put him to bed. After bedtime stories about whimsical and strangely remorseful dinosaurs, it was time to turn off the lights. I waited just outside his door because I know this is his favorite time to pray and what is more adorable than a four-year-old talking to God?
As I'm listening to him talk about his day and the moon and the stars, the time comes for who/what he would like Jesus to protect. And guess who was at the top of that sweet and innocent list? Aunt Char. Followed by tractors, his Spider-man bike, the dogs, Mickey Mouse and his parents, of course, but I was number one that night. He must have seen the dark clouds that seemed to be following me around. He just knew I needed it the most.
BOOM. Instant life umbrella.
What more could I possibly ask for? I had every tool that I could ever need in the three tiny beating and breathing bodies that rested under that one roof. And I needed to be working on building a shield for their future storms that was big enough and sturdy enough to fit all three of them underneath it with me. Not relying on them to fix old tears that should have never ripped again in the first place.
So what do you need to survive the next downpour life decides to dump on your parade? A lot of strength? Self control? A stiff drink? Self-help books? Liposuction? A trip to the salon? I'm not exactly sure of the answer. I don't know what formula will work for everyone. To each their own, I suppose.
As for me, I just needed a little boy to tell me that I was more valuable than Spider-man, to let a little hand grab me by the nose and lead me to where the sun still shined in her world and know that her laughter was the truest forecast of clear skies to come.
So, with them on my side, bring on the rain.