My husband has a chronic health condition. He picked it up last June, and despite the good chance it would go away, it just … didn’t. He’s always in pain. Some days it’s manageable. Other days it leaves him gasping and makes him irritable. He yells at me, at the dogs, at the kids. You can’t blame him. His nerves are on fire, and there’s nothing to fix it — not lying down, not pain pills, not anything.
Because of his pain, and my full-time stay-at-home job, plus homeschooling, our house is generally we-can’t-have-visitors destroyed. It makes us both feel guilty. Between the pain and the messy house, we become more isolated. Money’s really tight too, which leads to bad arguments. Like so many families, we struggle. We struggle hard.
Add some sons whose ADHD is becoming progressively worse, a kid moving swiftly into tweenhood, your standard parental battles over TV time and media use and whose turn it is to let out the dogs, and we struggle even harder.
Our friends have no idea.
They don’t know, of course, because we don’t tell them. And we don’t tell them because we don’t know what to say. As Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike, and each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Like so many other parents, I wouldn’t venture to say that we’re unhappy. We’re not happy, certainly. But we’re not … unhappy. It’s just really, really hard right now, the same as it is in so many other households, for so many other families who struggle. And we don’t know how to tell anyone.
We know we should reach out. It would ease the burden of our struggle, maybe, if I vented a little. But I don’t have many friends to vent to. Many have moved away, and I don’t get out as much as before. I struggle to pick up slack with my job, or with the house, or with simple childcare, since my husband’s sick. I should make new friends, but I don’t have the mental stamina, the time, or the energy necessary to do it. I’m working too hard, like so many others, to keep my head above water.
How can we reach out and make new buddies when we worry so much? One mother spent ten minutes the other day lamenting to me that her parents wanted to take her daughter to Disney. I struggle to maintain a clear path through my living room. We live on frozen food sometimes because we’re too worn out to make anything else.
But with the idea of reaching out comes the bafflement of how. What do you say? Where do you start? You don’t want to sound like you’re whining. There’s food on the table. The kids aren’t suffering. You have clothes on your back and your electricity bill’s paid. No one’s coming to repo the car. You can make it. You just struggle, but the struggle is hard, and the struggle wears on you — a physical, mental, and spiritual erosion. How do you say: some days I want to cry in the corner. Some days I break down because the TV is too loud and the kid talks back and it’s the one more thing I can’t take. Some days I go to bed early not because I’m tired, but because I can’t stand to be awake. My nerves jangle at the sound of my own children’s voices.
And if you tell people you struggle, what then? What are you seeking? What purpose will it serve? It won’t change anything. I can tell my friends exactly how bad my husband’s chronic pain is, but they can’t change it, or help it, or fix it — the same as they can’t do anything for other families who struggle. We worry we could come off as whiny, or attention-seeking, or just as downers no one else wants to be around. So we stay quiet. We listen to people talk instead of talking ourselves, because we don’t know what to say. We might have something to add. But we don’t want to add it.
Maybe, deep down, we worry that you don’t want to hear it.
My husband asked me once what kind of help I would want. My mouth opened. It shut. It opened again, and I blurted, “Anything.” The struggle seems so enormous, so all-encompassing, but so mundane all at once, and anyway, like most people who struggle, I feel: who am I to ask for help, anyway? I didn’t just have a baby. No one in the house is dying. What, should someone bring me a pity casserole? Pick up my living room? Watch my kids? I wouldn’t turn it down. In fact, I’d probably break down because someone cared enough to offer. But it wouldn’t really make a dent.
In the end, though, maybe it would help. If we talked about our struggle, we’d feel less isolated. We could say: we’re having a bad time right now in our family. It’s hard for us. Things aren’t going great right now. Fuck you if you think we’re whining. Then maybe someone else would say: we struggle, too. And another person: we struggle. It’s not easy around here. Maybe we could move past the Instagrammed versions of our lives to the real ones. Maybe we could bond over that instead of baby barf or poop. Kids grow. Kids change. But friends who help us when we struggle — we don’t forget them.
I suppose this is my SOS, then. Hello, world. Right now, life is a struggle.
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