I didn't look at the receipt at the check-out. I swiped my card and stared longingly at the Starbucks a few feet away. I smiled at everyone that passed me, their plastic red carts filled to the brim with reusable grocery bags and abnormally obedient children, slurping on Icee's. I pretended to care about what the cashier was saying. He's my favorite cashier, after all, the one who scans all my coupons correctly and tells me about his dietary habits. I really do enjoy our chats.
The day we picked up our daughter from the hospital - the mental hospital, adjacent to a drug & alcohol rehabilitation center - I was smiling. I smiled at all those parents and children and friendly, geriatric Target cashiers so no one would ask me what was wrong. I smiled because my perception of humanity is that no one really cares what you're going through. I smiled to keep the screams locked tightly behind straight teeth and bright eyes.
It's been a little over one year since that first trip to and from the hospital. She had others in the weeks to follow, each one worse than its predecessor. I felt like I was failing as a mother. Or, I was failing at Google searches. Wasn't there some natural, folk remedy online? A handy, printable pdf from webMD would have sufficed.
There was a breaking point where I couldn't think straight, and I needed help. Keeping up the illusion that everything was "fine" was exhausting. Swallowing my pride, I reached out to new friends and neighbors. I spoke up during bible study and asked, begged, for prayers. I put our family on prayer lists. Old friends were pulled closer, and heavily leaned into.
I didn't expect the response that I received, in negative and positive ways.
People I didn't expect to care about our family reached out and sat with us in the hospital. They visited my daughter. They contacted patient advocates. They walked me through the rough process of understanding what our new "normal" was going to look like from now on. Those people were few and far between in comparison to the dozens that shut us out. A new reality enveloped us like fog, changing my perception of ... well, everything.
We are nowhere near out of the woods. I would love to report to you that everything is fine, we haven't had any hiccups along the way and we are surrounded by angels who fart $100 bills.
We're not fine.
We're tired and broken and healing and sleep deprived.
We're resentful, we're cautious, we're hopeful, we're determined to get through this as a family.
This is what they don't tell you when you're signing the release papers, or shifting in your seat in the psychologist's office:
People want you to keep up appearances. They rely on you to maintain their picture of who you are. You are not allowed to break character. You are not allowed to throw up any flares. If you need help, it must be delegated to a community service organization. When you run into your people at Target - SMILE. Keep up the illusion that everything is fine.
... because then they can keep up their own illusion.
It's all bullshit, and I'm not doing it anymore.