“Every day I have a choice; I can sit down and cry, or get up and laugh. I choose to laugh” –me (as far as I know)
This is my basic philosophy, and it generally serves me well. Some days it’s a difficult one to live by, but I do my best. Aside from the stress level that’s the norm for someone caring for a child who has severe multiple disabilities, works a part time job, and living as typical a life as anyone, I’ve entered into a period of chronic pain. I’m hopeful that it won’t always be so, but for now it’s been almost 2 months of back/hip/leg pain, a couple of tests, phone calls, treatments and not sleeping enough. The well of tears that for years I’ve managed to keep from overflowing daily is running a little high. A few days ago the well overflowed, and wouldn’t stop—while I was at work, no less!
I’m employed as a “lunch lady” in our local high school. I work with 9 other ladies who are mostly easy to work with and we have a lot of fun as well—a great mix of personalities. We serve the whole school at the same time, which is a couple of thousand potential customers. Not everyone can fit into the lunchroom at the same time so tables are set up in the gym, and we take 3 serving stations out there every day. For the month of April I was manning the snack kiosk out there.
There’s a team of custodians who help us get all our things out to the gym and back, a process that takes about 10 minutes total to get all three kiosks, snack racks, coolers, and warmers safely moved out of the way before the students are dismissed from lunch. The other day it was getting late and some of the students were dismissed already, and the custodians were short staffed so we were taking a different route back, going through the rows of tables and out the back of the gym rather than down the hallway near where we set up. It’s a bit like a parade when we’re on the move, the big blue kiosk, me with the snack rack, and someone behind me with the pretzel warmer, the big plastic pretzel on top quivering. Rushing to keep up and trying to avoid running into any staff or students on my right, I didn’t realize there was something dangerous on my left until, in what I imagine was a spectacular display, the cart stopped, I didn’t, and the momentum took both the cart and me to the floor with a crash, and a spray of chip bags and cart pieces exploding around me! One moment I was rushing to get back and count my inventory and money, the next I was being helped up by the custodian who had been behind me asking if I was ok as staff and students picked up the cart and chips. All I wanted to do was cry. Crazy emotions! I made it back to the kitchen (almost) without any tears, but once I got to the coat room and restroom they flowed. They flowed and flowed and flowed. No matter how many times I washed my face, took deep breaths, and gulps of water. I almost had it together, I brought back my leftovers and all the sudden there was Linda, the mother of 4, asking if I was ok, saying my pants were ripped, pulling up the leg and telling me I was cut and needed to go to the nurse. Then Anna, asking if I wanted her to sew the rip for me. And I cried, every time one of the ladies asked what happened and was I ok, hugged me, patted me on the back, helped me with my work, gave me a candy bar. Every kindness made me cry more. Honestly, the whole thing was not worth crying over, yet even after I got home, I lay on the bed and cried, got Hillary off the bus and cried. And. I. cried. I finally managed to stop before bed.
Was it the medication that I’ve been taking, or being worn down from chronic pain? Well, probably it was the perfect combination of those things and ignoring what is truly a basic human need—the occasional good cry. I regularly laugh until I cry, sometimes I think I should have been named “Silly” instead of “Susan”, but rarely any more to I allow myself the luxury (yes, LUXURY) of a good cry. It’s an outlet that keeps things on an even keel for me, able to handle most anything thrown at me. Just as laughing releases tension, so does crying, whether it’s from a sad movie, a moving story, or out of frustration, crying acknowledges that not everything is ok, but that’s not a bad thing. Holding it in works in the short term, but those feelings need to be released so they don’t keep collecting, eventually overflowing at an inappropriate time (like at work over an accident). So what have I learned from this incident? I need to slow down a bit and take time to cry occasionally over things that happen, or things that scare or upset me. A few moments of tears helps keep those negative things from collecting so much that a meltdown occurs.
(Oh, and of all those bags of snacks that went everywhere in the gym that day? Not one was missing.)