When I was in college, training to be a social worker, I remember a professor telling us that you had to learn to mentally compartmentalize the emotional stress that comes with the job. She suggested having a specific routine every night after work to help you mentally "put away" your work (that was pretty heavy emotionally) so you would be yourself for the rest of your day.
It was (and is) wise counsel from an experienced professional who has skillfully helped many people through some very very difficult situations. It helped me--the greenie social worker--to soften some of the emotional turmoil that came with dealing with children who had gone through horrific experiences. It was (and is) a useful skill.
Except when everything comes back out.
Let me back up a bit and explain.
Dr. C and I have had the unusual habit of getting a degree and moving across the country every time we've added a child to our family. With T-Man, we moved from Utah to Missouri when I was 38 weeks pregnant. With Fearless, we moved from Missouri to Nebraska when he was 3 weeks old. With Miss B, we moved from Nebraska to The South when she was about 4 months old--3 weeks after major open heart surgery.
With each move, I compartmentalized the stress that came with place. For example: In Utah--I was working 20 hours a week; taking 22 credits; doing an internship 20 hours a week and was pregnant. Locked that away. In Missouri--being a first time mom, Dr. C in grad school, pregnancy...etc. Close that one up. The feeling were put into a little mental box and closed up until time and distance shrunk them to nothingness. And the compartmentalizing worked out okay because now I remember that there was stress associated with those times...but all I feel when I look back is happiness and fond memories.
But the last year in Nebraska was the most stressful time in my life ever. So when we moved--when we left my beloved Midwest and headed to a state that I'd never even stepped foot into before--I compartmentalized the unknowns in Miss B's pregnancy, the long hours alone with two young boys and a complicated pregnancy while Dr. C finished his PhD, the stress and worry and fear that came with open heart surgery, the emotional turmoil that Miss B's diagnosis threw me into. I guess I thought I could just lock up all those feelings, move across the country, and over time and distance they would be gone.
I was wrong.
A few days ago, for the first time since Miss B's pregnancy, I met a mom, in person, who is pregnant with her third child. A girl. Who will have special needs. Previously, I had only had the privilege of talking with other moms that are expecting children with special needs through email or blogs--but this time, in person, seeing her cute baby bump...it was so much more real and personal. And while the specifics of her pregnancy and the special needs of her child are different from mine--the unknown-ness of the situation is still the same.
And that little compartment where I had stored all those feelings--all the emotions that came with Miss B's pregnancy and heart surgery--came rushing out. So I did what any sensible person would do in the middle of church right before you have to go sing happy songs with 30 children.
I burst into tears.
Perhaps it was a bit of PTSD? or maybe it was just pure empathy that could express itself in no other way. I don't know.
But my compartments failed and I wished with all my heart that I could have taken the stress and worry away from that momma, added it to the suddenly-freed stress and worry that came with Miss B in Nebraska, shove it back into the compartment, slam the door, and never have to see it again--to let it shrink to nothingness without any effort on my part.
But since that meeting...there have been little pricks--a tv show depicting the passing and funeral of a sister with Down syndrome, a talk in church about overcoming trials and another one about the lessons we can learn from children--that have me in tears again when usually I would be fine.
Maybe it's time to purposefully open the compartment and empty it out permanently.
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