I’m Maintaining . . . If Nothing Else Breaks

“I’m maintaining . . . if nothing else breaks.”

I heard a friend say this on his podcast the other day, and the truth in this statement hit hard. In the isolation of 2020, some of us found solace in slowing down, turning inward, focusing on what matters. But many others discovered just how much human contact they require. And the Zoom calls simply haven’t cut it. For a lot of us, this year has pushed us right up to the edge. Many of us are maintaining our physical health, our mental health, our relationships, our jobs, and all of life’s responsibilities–but, you know what, if one more thing breaks . . .

If one more family member is hospitalized with COVID.

If one more innocent Black man is killed by the police.

If one more friend doesn’t text back.

If Donald Trump tweets one more time.

If one more thing breaks, I just might break too.

I was one of the introvert-nerds who thrived during the first half of 2020. I retreated to my attic (converted into a wfh office) with my new ergonomic chair, two monitors, and Bose speakers, and settled into a new routine. A smirk found its way to my face every morning, like I was getting away with something, as I turned up my music and considered just how lucky I was to be young, healthy, and gainfully employed–from home, nonetheless (which had been a dream of mine).

My biggest struggle with corporate life has always been the meetings. However, with Zoom, no one lingers after a meeting is finished. And no one really wants to schedule the meeting in the first place. Therefore, often, they simply don’t. Meetings turn into emails and phone calls, what they should have been in the first place.

I also get to eat snacks all day with no one to judge me but myself.

Work from home. What a life.

So here I was, thriving. The election was winding down, and it was becoming clear we wouldn’t have to endure four more years of Donald Trump, and I was l-i-v-i-n-g. I was spending all day every day alone, sure. And I didn’t actually talk to any of my friends anymore. And, yeah, my hair and my beard were also getting long in a sad, not ironic way. But my anxiety was essentially non-existent. What was there to be anxious about when I spent all day hitting rocks together in my safe, dark cave? Life was good.

Until it wasn’t. Until one more thing.

Emily and I had just finished an Imago relationship workshop, which is a weekend of extensive marriage therapy and communication training taught in the style of Harville Hendrix, author of “Getting The Love You Want.” It sounds cheesy, Getting The Love You Want, but it was one of the most impactful experiences of our lives.

We learned about each other’s upbringing. We learned that everyone assumes the love we long for will be fulfilled when we say “I do,” but of course it isn’t, because we all long for different things and rarely tell each other what those things are. We developed healthier expectations and talked about ways we can help each other thrive.

We learned why I am so insecure about household chores and why Emily bottles up her emotions. We took leaps in the direction of each other, and we found ourselves holding hands a little tighter when we left the building Sunday night. In a week and a half, we would meet our little girl, Genevieve May, and we’ll get to hold her for the first time with clearer eyes and more stability.

Em was eight and a half months pregnant, and I know this sounds crazy, but I was just beginning to let this information into my sphere of awareness. I knew she had a large, round belly, and I knew she had possessed this large, round belly for a substantial amount of time, but I didn’t think about it much, didn’t picture what our house would look like with two kids running around, didn’t dream up visions of tea parties and Barbie dolls and pink onesies (if that’s the sort of thing she’s into).

I didn’t think about any of it. I was protecting myself because I didn’t feel ready. If I thought about it for too long, I felt restless and my vision went a little blurry, so I just didn’t think about it. I wasn’t even prepared in a practical sense: I hadn’t packed a hospital bag or set aside snacks or even typed the address to the hospital into my phone to see how long it would take us to get there.

This, my friends, is what you could call one more thing.

After leaving the final day of the workshop, we sat down to dinner on the patio at M.L. Rose and I marveled at how wonderful I felt. Then I proceeded to have a full-blown, body-shaking, vision-blurring, chest-aching panic attack.

I kid you not–I was in the middle of telling my wife how at peace I felt, how blessed I felt to be working from home, how my anxiety was at an all-time low, and how I felt more connected to her and our family than I ever have in my life, and my brain decided it was suddenly time to throw me into a storm of impending doom.

I picked a spot on the fence behind her right shoulder and stared at it while we finished eating. My hands and feet went numb. My head spun. My heart raced. I felt a sudden, intense urge to run away. But from what? And to where? “Are you okay?” Em asked. “You look terrible.” I assured her I was fine, because I didn’t know what was happening to me, and I felt like I had to be, as I literally just finished telling her how very fine I was.

One more thing could be stubbing your toe on the bedpost in the middle of the night. It could be getting news that your grandmother has tested positive for COVID. It could be a bad test score or a performance review gone sour or an in-depth look at your childhood and marriage mere days before you’re scheduled to become a father of two. It’s almost like a choose your own adventure (but without the part where you get to choose).

The last few months were filled with more fear, anxiety, pain, beauty, joy, and peace than I’ve ever experienced in a three month period. I think a lot of people are experiencing these intense emotions in day-to-day swings right now. Genevieve is here. Three of the four of us have been in and out of the hospital for various health scares, yet we’re all still here. One more thing has broken, and another, and another, and you know what? We’re still here, still maintaining, still l-i-v-i-n-g.

2020 is over, but we’re still seeing headlines about white supremacists and Trump is still tweeting and, what’s that, they’ve stormed the capitol building?

But the beautiful thing about existing is that it continues to happen until it doesn’t. And for now, it does.

As Rob Bell put it in How to Be Here, “Before anything else can be said about you, you have received a gift . . .

Are you breathing?
Are you here?
Did you just take a breath?
Are you about to take another?
Do you have a habit of doing this regularly?
Gift.
Gift.
Gift.”

Here’s to a better 2021 *knocks on wood*.

3 thoughts on “I’m Maintaining . . . If Nothing Else Breaks”

  1. Goodness I needed this. Thank you for putting to words what many of us have felt and experienced. And the reminder to keep breathing and to keep living Keep it up.

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