You’re in the muck. Maybe you’re trudging through a tiny little mud puddle—having a bad day or a tough week, a disagreement with a friend, a difficult boss, or a sick kid.
Maybe you are knee-deep in the muckiest muck than you could ever imagine, and just when it seems like things couldn’t get any worse, like the muck couldn’t get any deeper, it does.
Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle.
Whatever the situation, if you are in the muck, these words are for you.
You might feel compelled to minimize your pain, silence yourself, or stoically muscle through the muck on your own. This is completely understandable. We live in a world that values independence, self-sufficiency and privacy. We live in a world that idolizes mothers, puts us on pedestals, and tells us we should be martyrs to our children.
This is, quite frankly, bullshit. Mothers are not idols or superhuman or martyrs. We are human and sometimes life just sucks. Being a mom is sometimes really hard. Motherhood is always a lot of work.
But some of the most meaningful things in life are a lot of work, and some of the most beautiful things in life carry a tremendous amount grittiness. In other words, life involves a certain amount of muck. And it does no one any good to pretend that it doesn’t.
Maybe you’re angry and tired. I mean, how could you not be angry and tired when you’re slogging through the muck? You might be throwing your fists up in the air at the absurdity of it all, giving life the middle finger.
Or maybe you’re rationalizing the muck with some kind of divine purpose. The muck tends to bring out lots of well-intentioned clichés after all. Things like, It could be worse, or God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle. Heck, I’m sure that I’ve uttered those words from time to time.
But you know what? That’s bullshit. God doesn’t dole out hard things based on who can handle what—at least not any God I believe in. Life isn’t a spiritual boot camp, for heaven’s sake. The universe doesn’t say, “That woman over there, she’s one tough cookie; let’s give her cancer. And that one over there, let’s go easy on her. But that guy over there, he’s pretty strong so let’s throw everything we can at him and see how much he can handle.” Sometimes horrible-makes-no-sense things happen, and sometimes wonderful-makes-no-sense things happen too. There are no do-overs, no loopholes, no mulligans.
And of course, it could be worse. Things could always be worse, but there is no getting out of the muck by denying that you’re in it or minimizing your pain. Comparing your muck, your experience of motherhood, to someone else’s doesn’t make the hard things any less hard. Muck is muck, and hard is hard. You don’t get through it by pretending that it isn’t dirty and heavy and gross. The muck doesn’t suddenly turn into soft beach sand simply by calling it a “blessing in disguise.” And you don’t sidestep the mucky-ness by walking through it alone.
The only way you get through the muck is, well, through it. You slog, and you fight. You walk through the muck by doing the next good thing, putting one heavy foot in front of the other. You walk through by looking for hope and love and light anywhere you might find them, even in the dark corners and under the rubble. You scream for help until your throat burns, and you grab at every outstretched hand you can find.
Because there are people—your people—who will run when they hear you call. There are people who will jump on planes and in cars to get to you. People who will watch your kids and fold your laundry and cook you dinner. People who will hold you when you cry and say, “What the fuck!” when the muck gets deeper. People who will listen to you talk when you want to talk, and sit quietly when you don’t. People who will hold out a hand to you every single day. People who will throw you lifelines and ropes when your hands aren’t enough. And there are people—your people—who will jump into the muck with you.
Because that is what you do when someone you love is in the muck. Because that is what you do for us when we are in it.
I know what it feels like to be in the muck. You are dirty and battered and bruised. Each footstep feels heavy. Your legs hurt. Your back hurts. Your heart hurts. You feel like you’ll never emerge from this slop, like you will slog in the muck forever.
Of course, I don’t know what it feels like to walk in your shoes or slog through your muck, but I have walked through my own mud puddles and mucky tar pits. And while I will stop short of calling them “blessings in disguise,” I can tell you that beauty does indeed find a way to bloom even in the most unlikely of situations, even in the muck.
Sometimes it takes time and a magnifying glass to see it, but it’s there. And it takes truth-telling and hand-holding to make it through, because there are outstretched hands waiting for you if you just reach out your own hand or lift up your head to look for them.
You might be down in the muck, but know this: You are never, ever alone.