“Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping them all in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls—family, health, friends and integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered. And once you truly understand the lesson of the five balls, you will have the beginnings of balance in your life.”
(Excerpt from Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas by James Patterson)
I once dated a guy who had attended clown school. I know, it sounds funny, but it is a real thing (or so I’ve been told). A professional acrobat, let’s-call-him-Dave could walk on stilts in a tailored three-piece suit, roller-skate on his hands, and delicately balance the weight of a ten-foot buffet table on his handsome chin. No problem. Juggling was almost a joke for Dave, who could easily keep half a dozen balls or more in the air at any given time. I think, if I had to choose out of all the outrageous skills he possessed, and there were quite a few, I admired his ability to juggle most of all. Eye on the ball, always aware of exactly how much he could take, Dave was a Master Juggler. In life and on stage. He made it look effortless.
I, on the other hand, have never been a great juggler. Historically, I have been the polar opposite of that. In fact, if there was an award for Canada’s Worst Juggler, I could probably be a contender. Keeping balls up in the air just doesn’t seem to be something I have a natural affinity for, as odd as that sounds, literally or figuratively. I never seem to know exactly when enough is enough, adding balls—balls, balls and more balls—until they all come crashing down around me. Ka-Boom! I have learned the hard way not to be careless. Some balls truly are made of glass and can’t be put back together. At least not as they were before.
Part of it is solely inexperience. Balance is a lifelong lesson and living in survival mode does not afford too many opportunities for that particular type of education. To be honest, struggling with PTSD, anxiety and depression related to childhood sexual abuse, date rape, and domestic violence takes an awful lot of time and energy and doesn’t leave much left for loftier pursuits. As important as it may be, when you’re living at the bottom, crawling on your belly through the chaos and barely scraping by, maintaining a sense of balance doesn’t typically land at the top of the To Do List. At least it didn’t for me. I suppose it mattered a little bit, but for a long time, I was so preoccupied with keeping just a few precious balls up in the air (family, friends, and um, maybe integrity, although that one seemed to be quite slippery for a while), I don’t think the idea of balance ever actually occurred to me. And even if it had, I’m not really sure I would have been able to do anything about it, anyways.
Family and friends survived the rotations fairly well. As previously mentioned, integrity and I had some issues, but overall, I managed to keep that in the loop, too. Unfortunately, work and health spent a number of years on the sidelines, because no matter how hard I tried, I just simply—could not. I could not adhere to a regular schedule due to triggers and nightmares and hypervigilance which kept me awake all hours of the night. Could not be bothered to care for my body while my head was such a mess. Could not eat, think, or breathe. Could not sleep, could not wake up on time, could not get to my dentist or doctor appointments. Just couldn’t muster enough of a fuck about myself to do anything except get by. The truth is, I still struggle a lot of the time, but I am getting better at respecting my need for time to recover.
If it is true, “Depression is a beast and a liar,” as my dear friend Laura once expressed (here) so articulately, then PTSD is a terrifying monster who lives under the bed and stalks your soul.
As a single mom, I lived (if you can call it living) on Welfare for several years until I was finally diagnosed and approved for Disability related to mental health issues. I have often wondered why women who leave domestic violence shelters aren’t readily encouraged to seek medical attention beyond their initial physical wounds. In my case, it took four years after the final incident before anyone suggested my inability to hold down a job might not necessarily be my fault and may actually be related to the history of trauma I’d survived, and that maybe with some extra assistance I might actually be able to get back on my feet. (Thank you, Dr. K)
What most people don’t realize is that most abused women move on from the shelters into some form of subsidized housing and onto a system that doesn’t provide adequately for their needs, as I did, so the struggle to survive continues long after the abuse and their time in the facility has ended. Long past when people expect that these women’s lives “should have” returned to “normal.” But according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, one cannot even begin to pursue other interests, such as Love & Belonging, Esteem, and Self-actualization, until one’s basic Physiological (food, water, shelter) and Safety needs have been met. So, how does a woman, bone-broken and soul-beaten, find the gumption to not only move forward, but to create a life with meaning and purpose?
First, she has to know she can take care of her children in every regard, afford their groceries and monthly bills (including a phone & internet access), and ultimately, to feel safe in the sanctity of her own home. She needs at least one good friend, a few great books, a solid support network which includes an excellent therapist and medical professionals, and some time to heal without judgement, criticism, or shame. Lots and lot of time. Only then will she be able to begin to actually move forward and start to realize those higher order needs that we all require in order to feel significant. Consequential.
Over the past few years, my life has undergone some major transformations. In a relatively short span of time, I have begun to pursue a university degree, to write and publish my work, and to stretch myself as far as possible in order to explore my own limitations. I have faced countless rejections and celebrated unexpected successes, learning along the way that it is far better to take a leap of faith and risk a potential miss than to sit quietly in a corner, afraid to fail. And while I still have to battle that ugly demon PTSD nearly every single day, as well as its faithful companions, Anxiety and Depression, it seems lately the fights have been a little less traumatic. No longer stuck on survival, scrambling to cover those basic needs, I seem to have more time for healing, more time to nurture healthier relationships, develop better habits, and manifest the secret dreams I’ve carried in my heart for so many years. More time to self-actualize and become who I was truly meant to be.
I’ve finally got all five balls in the air. If not more. I still struggle with balance, knowing how much to add to my load and when but it definitely gets easier with practice. Every now and again, something threatens to slip, but when it does, I try to remember to close my eyes and trust myself—mind, body and soul—to know where I need to be, when I need to go, and how I need to get there. Trust. Let the rubber ball drop and bounce, it always bounces back, as it was meant to. Trust. Protect the fragile glass balls so vital to my very own well-being.