I have been trying to hop into a shower for nearly an hour at this point, but I cannot pull myself away from the mirror. I am staring, running my index finger over the two dime-size patches of smooth skin at the tip of my widow’s peak where, just weeks ago, I had hair. I am inspecting it over and over again through eyes glassy with tears that want to come out, but remain in an uncertain state on the tear line between utter breakdown and stoic persistence. It was in this very moment that I called to my eldest daughter to fetch my computer.
I’ve been stuck on a blog topic for a while. Life is busy, right? In May, I actually work longer hours than usual, for the bonus income and to prepare for the Fall semester. This summer I am doing so while recovering from ankle reconstruction surgery, so that is adding a level of difficulty and seemingly unmanageable pain to every daily task. But, like always, I soldier on with a smile.
Soldiering on is easy when everyone around you is patting you on the back. Days filled with proclamations such as, “Of course you are up and about already! You are a rock star!” “You are Superwoman!,” and social media comments extolling you as #momgoals will have you believing that you can do everything.
But, the jarring truth is that I am balding from the stress of it all. Yep, you read that right: I. Am. Balding. I have stress-induced Alopecia Areata. I still have to let that sink in… And, it is pretty ridiculous that THAT is what shook me so deeply. I also have hypertension - at a healthy weight with an active lifestyle, at age 38. My body is quite literally rejecting doing everything.
I am not sharing this for sympathy. In fact, the prospect of someone reading this and then asking to see the patches that I so carefully tuck away with strategic parting, is terrifying. The thought, even in this moment, that someone would offer to help me accomplish even menial tasks, reeks of humiliation. It makes me want to hide away on my couch for eternity. I am only sharing this, because I am certain I am not alone. And, I want someone else to hear that they are not alone.
The truth is, being a single parent is unfathomably difficult. Yet, we are yoked with feelings of shame that come from asking for help. It is a difficult line to walk for friends and family, between recognizing the hard work and accomplishments of a single parent, and making that parent feel as if they must maintain that perfect balance in order to be worthy of such praise. The people in our lives don’t realize that they are helping to construct that albatross of expectation and potential shame, when they are so quick to recognize what we are doing right but fear offending us by offering help.
We need help. I need help. To hold down a full-time job with any degree of success and raise happy humans as a single parent is overwhelming. It is a constant tension between feeling like more of a parent and somehow less of a parent than our partnered household counterparts. It is wanting to prove to ourselves that we can do it (anything, that is), while knowing that, in reality, it is physically impossible. But, who would ever want to stop trying? Once you fall into the glow of sentiments being thrown your way, how do you acknowledge your real limitations without losing the community of affirmation that keeps you going?
I don’t know these answers yet. All I know is that, in my life, God has been screaming at me. I have been sent message after message that I need to make changes, but I have not listened. I arrived at a point where the fear of not exceeding expectations (of not being admired) outweighed my concern for my own health…my own life. And that is the only thing more embarrassing than the balding.
You are not alone. I want to make sure you hear that. You are not alone. God loves you. God roots for you. Perhaps more importantly in this moment, God knows that physical limitations are not illusions as so many Instagram motivation posts try to have us believe; nor are they arbitrary. God sets limits (Genesis 2:3) and He created us to work within them (Genesis 2:7). Limits protect your well-being and you need to find a way to respect them. I need to find a way to respect them. Together, by joining hands in the reality that we are falling apart from pushing past our limits, I hope that we can find a way through the noise of expectations and back to God’s vision for our lives.
By A. Smith