what to ask when you just mother freaking cannot anymore
my roommates at Wofford and I used to do this thing called “honesty hour” during the spring semester of our senior year. We made it up as a way to tell each other ways that things we did were getting on someone else’s nerves in the apartment. Like, I think one of mine was that I was only allowed to put mints in the communal candy jar because Kait would eat all the M&Ms in like a day, and I could only make desserts with fruit in them because the others would take a bowl or Oreo dirt pudding to-go as breakfast on the way to our 9:30am classes, and in return I would only play songs in the car that Megan didn’t know the words to because one of my pet peeves is people singing along to the radio (which for the record, is something I now heavily endorse and support and encourage, and it is also important to note here that senior-year-of-college me had this problem where she did not like to have fun). So what actually happened is that I got mad that I couldn’t bake the things I wanted to bake and we snapped at each other anyway. It just really didn’t work out the way we thought it would – things just bottled up and up and up until it was time for honesty hour.
So then when I lived with a new roommate, Kristin, in grad school and I had to quickly quickly find a way to coexist peacefully, because, to put it super mildly, first-year-of-grad-school Amanda was not exactly…nice, or kind, or patient, or easy to live with…like in zero ways whatsoever. There was a lot of change for me happening all at once – new place to call home, new humans, new career track, there were a lot of Chacos happening instead of Jack Rogers, I was on a whole new like…mental health care crisis with new meds and a new doctor, I had to learn about these things called bills, and parking meters, and bus routes – and I didn’t realize that I was totally not taking care of myself at all until Kristin invited me to go to Mellow Mushroom with her and some of the people from our grad program and I gave her a very passionate speech about how I was “not here to make friends.” That literally came out of my mouth. I know, right?
Things got a lot worse and also a lot better. Boone gave me a lot of gifts, like Maggie, and we quickly learned coping mechanisms, like buying one of everything at J. Crew and going for walks on the Greenway and, ironically enough, eating at Mellow Mushroom on the reg. Boone also taught me a lot about living live slowly, and with intention, and alongside people; about the need to refuel, about grind-your-own peanut butter, about how to do the hard work of figuring out what I needed.
So that is what Kristin and Maggie and everyone and else and I would ask each other.
“What do you need?”
When something hard happened—what did we need?
When we were feeling depleted or run-down or stressed—what did we need?
Kristin and I needed to do Cake Mondays, where we went to McAlister’s every Monday afternoon after class and ate only chocolate cake. Emily and I needed to play with dogs and go to the farmers’ market to buy things like kale flakes (it was a weird time in my life, okay?). Maggie and I needed a lot more things, like a lot of pizza and matching Ralph Lauren hats, and walks to Earth Fare to get macaroons and hydrangeas that would die the next day because we couldn’t keep flowers alive EVER, and spa days, and to just drive to the beach in protest for the part of Boone where it would snow in March.
Fast forward to summer sixteen (Drake song? Anybody?).
I quit the job I went to school for, got a new job that has nothing to do with either of my degrees, completely changed my medications, have en entirely new social circle because of the transitional nature of summer, and let’s just not even talk about my dating life, am supporting a few people through some life changes, sold my house in less than 48 hours, bought another house the next day, have two new roomies in the form of a friend and her sweet toddler, am getting another roommate next month, am working on a new manuscript, am (surprise!) interviewing for new full-time jobs), and start my second Master’s degree in like two weeks. And I got bangs.
I just thought I would change every single thing in my life all at once, you know?
And what I am noticing that I have been so caught up in asking other people, “What do you need, what do you need?” that I haven’t been asking myself that.
I called my mom while I was in the car earlier and the only reason I know all of this is because she totally called me out on it. I hadn’t talked to her in a solid week and started rattling off the list of things to delegate on to her plate, like “call the floor guy for me while I’m at this brunch in ten minutes that I’m too emotionally exhausted to be fully present at but don’t know how to say no to and also I found another teenager that I want to adopt and can you show Lemon and Cricket a picture of me while they’re staying with you so they do not forget what I look like” all in one breath before she said, “Stop. How are you doing?”
Oh, and you guys, I just lost it. I pulled into the parking garage downtown and just started crying and crying and crying.
Instead of calling my family to see how they’re doing, I’ve been treating them like my personal assistants.
Instead of my daily spin classes, I’ve been doing a lot of sleeping and sitting.
Instead of my usual trips to The Fresh Market, I’ve been stopping by McDonald’s and whatever else is on my way to the next thing on my schedule.
Instead of scheduling time for rest, I’ve been filling up my days with back-to-back meetings with contractors and house showings and picking up shifts at work.
Instead of being present with the person in front of me, I’ve been half-listening and multi-tasking, coffee in one hand and phone in the other, texting and multi-tasking and “I’m sorry, what did you say again?”-ing.
And things that I love are getting lost in the process. Instead of words of love coming out of my mouth, I’m hearing a lot of frustration and criticism and snapping, and I love speaking love. One of my good friends got engaged and I haven’t done anything to celebrate her, and I love to celebrate people. Another one of my friends wants me to be her church buddy and all of a sudden I notice that I’ve not made room for that in three weeks, and I love being a buddy.
None of this is the woman I want to be. I can chalk it up to all the change, or to summertime, or to certain expectations not being met. I can make a lot of excuses, but it’s Colleen who told me the other day that “You need to make sure you’re getting what you need out of this,” and my mother who told me this morning, “You only have one you,” and myself who now realizes that I cannot, cannot, cannot keep going at this pace. I kind of woman I want to be, and heart I want to have, and soul I want to foster – they’re all wonderful callings and gifts from God, but they all require a lot of upkeep. I can’t speak love to people if I’m not listening for the love that people are speaking to me because I’m texting four other people about nine other things. I can’t celebrate other people well if I’m not slowing down enough to notice all the wonderful, beautiful things in my own life that are worth celebrating – the house, the book, the community, the relationships. I can’t give any help if I’m not getting any help. I can’t pour anything out if my cup is empty, and that is a hard lesson for me, because I am always tempted to give away my last drop of water, because I feel so selfish if I don’t.
But the thing about self-care is that it is not selfish; it’s responsible. The way I have been going without it is simply not sustainable, and I have to realize that I am not the only one who will be affected if I run myself into a place of depletion.
And so, the time has come to ask, “What do you need, Amanda?”
I need to see my family members face-to-face. They’re all at least three hours away, and a rushed phone call to ask them to pay a landscaping invoice or rattle off some commands are just not at all ways to make them feel loved.
I need to call the friends I haven’t seen literally all summer and get in some good life chats. It has been a busy season for all of us, and it is time we were all gathered around a table again.
I need to change some things about a few of my relationships. This is a hard one for me. I’m a giver, sometimes to a fault, and there are some people I need to restore more of a balance with.
I need more water and less Diet Coke. I need more nutritious food and fewer chicken nuggets that are probably not made out of actual chicken. I need spin class and Pilates and a new running playlist. I need to stop body-shaming myself because I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror when I tried on new jeans at Anthro yesterday. I need to eat and live in a way that makes me feel fueled and full and good.
I need to stop looking at the world around me to tell me about my worth. I used to be very intentional about getting feedback on that from God, but recently I have been getting it from publishing companies and blog metrics and likes on Instagram, so much so that the other day other day I totally relapsed in my sobriety, which was only two weeks old, and drank a bottle of Chardonnay and deactivated all of my social media, which literally sent people into a panic because I am probably more dependent on social media than I am on alcohol.
I need to ask people to hold me accountable, and for so many things. Am I feeding myself well, food-wise? Spirituality-wise? Am I hiding behind my busyness? Am I looking for my identity in what so-and-so says about me? From the Lord? At the bottom of a bottle? (Note: I have never found it in that third one).
I need this new house to be a safe space for people. As soon as those closing papers are signed, I intend to drive straight to Bluffton Circle and walk through that front door and walk through that place, praying that it would be a safe haven for me, and for my people. That it would be a home where people feel welcome and loved. That there will be many Wednesday night dinner parties. That we will always be tired from staying awake in the living room until 2am sharing life together. That the chalkboard wall I am painting in the foyer will always be full of words of love and kindness. That I will actually get to know my neighbors this time. That when Lemon and Cricket join me there, they will not ruin the hardwood floors (again) because potty training was just really hard, okay?
I need hugs. I need reminders that I am loved. I need confirmation that my dreams are not far-fetched and crazy.
What do you need?
I just want us all to really think about that.
Do the hard work of figuring out what you need, and learn how to ask for it.
Don’t just have honesty hour – create an environment of openness, so that we can always express our needs to each other.