I thought I was falling apart, but really I was just tangled up
“Mom, look what the cats did!” I awoke this morning to my son thrusting a ball of tangled yarn in my face. I groaned. Their most recent excursion into my craft room had turned a skein into an irreversible mess of knots, and the cheap, acrylic box store yarn was definitely not worth the time and sanity to even attempt to save it.
But this time was different. Today they had gotten into my beautiful, soft, hand-dyed wool that I was saving for future inspiration. It could be turned into anything. A beautiful scarf for a gift, a slouchy hat for me, maybe those socks I had been meaning to learn how to knit. But now it had no potential. It was just a disaster.
After venting my anger, I resigned myself to the situation. I could either throw it away or try to save it. I turned the tangled mess over in my hands, trying to make sense of it. As I attempted to pull it apart I saw knots forming and tightening. I knew if I forced it there would be no saving it.
I sat back and assessed the situation. I needed to find the end. I started pulling it through the first several knots but soon realized that the loose end was becoming entangled into new knots. So, I started wrapping it into a ball. Small and hard to grasp at first, but more manageable as I kept winding. When I came to a knot, I gently teased it loose and passed the growing ball through.
As I worked, I realized this stupid disaster created by my cats was a metaphor for my life right now. I’m a mess. The last several years had culminated in a debilitating depression that sent me to the brink of insanity. I almost lost my marriage, my kids, my career and my life. I was at a point where I was resigned to these losses and felt there was no way I would ever make it back.
I used to be strong. I have had my issues throughout my life, but I was a survivor. I survived an abusive childhood. I survived sexual abuse. I survived the teasing and torture that came from being obese from the time I was in jr. high. I had friends, I had a loving husband, I had two amazing children and a wonderful relationship with my siblings and mother. I was the friend everyone could count on to be there when they needed me. I was the support who people called when they were in crisis. Yes, I have always had my periods of depression, but I seemed to always manage to keep a smile on my face.
About two years ago, a series of events started cascading and life finally broke me. I realized that so much of what I considered to be my strengths was a facade. I had survived, but only by stuffing my feelings away. I survived by focusing on everyone else in my life and ignoring my own pain. I survived by looking to others to tell me how much I was worth.
My father’s death one year ago was life-changing for me. I had been estranged from him for over 20 years and had only seen him once in that time. I didn’t know what to expect when he passed, but I certainly didn’t expect to feel…nothing. I was numb, and I think that was a huge sign that I wasn’t in touch with what was going on inside. Over the last year, I have had feelings and memories resurface that I had no idea were hiding in the dark recesses of my mind. The more issues I dealt with, the more seemed to emerge. Inside, I felt as twisted and knotted as the pile of yarn in front of me.
But I’ve learned to be gentle with myself. I didn’t cause this mess, but I had to decide if I was going to accept responsibility for untangling it. It has felt overwhelming at times, to the point of wanting to give up. It has seemed insurmountable and futile. I felt as if I would never get this untangled, let alone be able to make something from it. But as I’ve sat back and viewed my entwined and jumbled mess with compassion, patience, and curiosity, the knots have been teased apart and progress has been made.
I like to think that the mess is getting smaller and my neatly wound ball is getting bigger. There is still a lot more to do, but I’m not in a hurry. A little at a time. And in the meantime, I look forward to the day when my strength has returned. Not just a survivor's strength, but a phoenix’s strength. A strength that comes from going through the fire and coming out the other side. Maybe for my next project, I’ll learn how to knit that.