Author: Melinda Goedeke
When my beautiful daughter was 23, she was asked to be in one of her best friend’s wedding. Running towards me with her infectious smile, she shared the news with me talking so quickly I barely understood. What I did understand is that she was thrilled. Laura did happy like no one else. Her one worry, however, was the bridesmaid dress. She had recently been in her brother’s wedding and knew that being sized for a dress was a nightmare for her. Remarkably, she silently navigated through that nightmare because Paul was her brother, her secret idol. But going through this a 2nd time was going to be too much. Trying to be supportive, I said, “Just try to relax. We’ll work through this together. I know you can do it.”
“Just try to relax.” Those seemingly simple words were said in our household more times than I can count and ironically with fantastic emphasis. It is sound advice – advice that many of us may need reminding of during these stressful times full of unknowns and angst. Truth be told, I don’t know anything about relaxing, but that would be an entirely different blog. We all probably should slow down, breathe (even if it is frantic in a paper bag) and just relax. The problem, however, is not really the relaxing; it is the justing.
It is not that we can’t define just; it is rather that we don’t understand the emotional wreckage that often unintentionally accompanies that word. Used in this way, it seems to suggest that relaxing is easy and the least one can do. You don’t have to do anything else except relax. Look out a window and watch the clouds turn into animals only you can see. Read a spy novel with a great twist. Eat cookie dough ice-cream directly out of the carton in heaping spoonfuls. Where is the wreckage in that type of relaxing? It is there.
I watched as my daughter repeatedly snapped a rubberband on her wrist trying to escape her deeply-rooted inner pain; trying to feel and trying not to cut. “Just go for a walk,” I said matter-of-factly thinking this would redirect her mind outside herself. Those words were said with love, support and absolute good intentions as were many of the other suggestions I gave. Just get out of bed. Just take a shower. Just try one bite. Just try the meds for a week. But to Laura and others struggling with mental illness (myself included), this was the same as saying just walk on water. Just find one unicorn. Just cure cancer. Just be someone else. And because we can’t just, we have yet again failed. We have shown you that we are incapable of doing even the most basic tasks – tasks that seem easy and manageable to you. Sometimes, we are incapable of doing those tasks because they are not basic, easy or manageable to us. You are trying to show support, but we are hearing disappointment. The truth is, however, my justs are not your justs. What I am literally able to do or not do is directly related to my mental health. Of course my daughter wanted to sleep after being awake 36 hours writing by hand letters to every friend she ever had, cleaning her girlfriend’s entire house and running 10 miles. Of course she wanted to control her rage so she wouldn’t have broken her hand for the 3rd time after punching a two by four because she ended a relationship she wasn’t sure should be ended. Of course, she wanted to shower. Though she could care less about make up and outer beauty, she didn’t delight in looking and smelling like she had spent the week dancing in a sewer. What she wanted didn’t affect what she could do. It wasn’t about willpower; it was about mental illness. Asking Laura to just try to get some sleep would be like her asking to perform heart surgery. The word just always left my brain and mouth with love and comfort and entered her brain and ears with failure and shame. I justed frequently even knowing how badly it made me feel in my own dark days. Intentions matter, indeed, and removing just from my vocabulary when offering support might just be impossible. I will try.
Unfortunately, Laura did not live long enough to attend the wedding (a wedding she was probably as excited for as the bride), but she did make it through the dress sizing. She did just relax. What I didn’t realize at the time is that I thought I was asking her to climb a molehill, but I was actually asking her to climb a mountain. I knew she could do it. I knew she’d look beautiful no matter how she felt. Just did not cause Laura to end her life, but it probably contributed to how she felt about herself. I just didn’t understand.
And I just miss her, and that is so incredibly difficult.