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5 Of Us Had A Breakdown Last Week

How I learned to say "No", and start taking care of myself.

Five of us had a breakdown last week. I was one of them. Five women in five cities across America. Filled with rage, frustration, anger, apathy, despair, doubt, and tears. A lot of tears. We shared the seven deadly sins of a breakdown.

The first to go down was Leann. She lives in Norman Rockwell’s America. A one-light town that flashes red after midnight, where the biggest event of the year is the dachshund parade down main street. She’s been widowed two years and still occasionally wakes up in the middle of the night reaching over to quiet, what? His snoring? Maybe it’s her snoring. The bed is cold and crisp. The loneliness doesn’t crash over her anymore, it sort of washes over her heart in a dull ache when she is least expecting it. She keeps it mostly to herself now. Doesn’t want to be a burden.

Next was Ann from The City whose life is filled with events and wine and LBD’s and hired help. She travels with an entire suitcase of shoes, because, well, you just never know. It wouldn’t surprise any of us if we discovered that she jogs in stilettos. Really, how else do you get calf muscles that sculpted? She has two teenagers and a husband who is leaving her for another woman. Probably one with sensible shoes.

The following day it was June. June lives in the south. If it’s after 3pm on a Friday, all 24,000 residents in her town are celebrating. Homecoming week, harvest festival, Fourth of July, and every single hometown game. There’s even a ‘take back our town’ day in September that celebrates the tourists leaving. Originally just an empty day on the calendar, now another reason to reach for a slab of homemade pie chased with bourbon, thank you very much. Hundreds of friends who know her each and every move, but don’t know that she cries herself to sleep at night because she feels stuck in the golden handcuffs of success.

Three days later, my west coast bestie pulled me aside at the annual ugly sweater party. She’s in cashmere. She has the kind of figure that turns an ugly sweater into a fashion statement. I try not to stand too close to her in photographs because, who needs that kind of pressure? She wants to be married and her family is pressing her to settle. Not settle down, just ‘settle’. She wonders if they are right. She just turned 29.

And me. I was the last to go down. I’m in sunny LA, living where I’ve always wanted to live. Married to the man of my dreams, kids grown up with lives of their own. I moved here to get out of the rat race and catch some long overdue vitamin D. And, because I’m an idiot, I created my own brand new rat race, this time with tanned California rats instead of the old pasty sun-deprived northern ones. Pressured by the very turmoil I caused. Because you can move away to LA, but you end up taking yourself along for the ride.

Each of us successful, each of us surrounded by family and friends, each of us careening cliff-ward. We knew we were running out of road. Like Thelma and Louise, we just kept barreling toward the canyon. With our frustrations building, we each kept our foot pressed hard on the gas. Tight lipped smiles and polite “I’m fine, how are you?” responses while quietly dying on the inside.

The looming horizon was screaming at us to wake up from our stupor. It’s not like we didn’t warn each other, too. “Why aren’t you taking care of yourself? Why are you letting your life spiral out of control? Don’t you see how valuable and worthy you are?”

But we didn’t listen. Asleep at the wheel, one by one, we went over the chasm. Each of us imploding so as not to make a mess and inconvenience anyone. We weren’t exercising, we weren’t reading, we weren’t pausing to breathe. Half empty and not taking care of our mental or physical health. With nothing left to give, we broke.

Over the following days, spent from the aftermath of our rage and our tears, we opened up to each other. Tears pouring down our faces, we got real. We put on sweats and t-shirts and shared. We burdened each other.

Five of us learned the God-awful truth. That not one of us valued ourselves enough to take five minutes to fill up our own tanks. That the way we talk inside our own heads is not the way we would talk to our deepest enemy. That when we don’t pay attention to the warning signs, we will crash and burn. It doesn’t matter how together we are, how successful, or how gorgeous, we are cracked and dented human beings. Perfect pair of heels aside, that’s all any of us are.

Five of us had a breakdown last week. And I was lucky enough to be one of them.

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