A guest post from my wonderful husband, TJ Pancake. You can check out more of his writing by subscribing here.
Let me tell you a story that sounds made up but is not. I, an emotionally competent adult human, was driving my daughter and her two friends to basketball practice in our minivan. They were all three in the very backseat, and we were listening to the soundtrack of a recent Disney movie. While the girls sang loudly, I was forced to angle my face left to hide my silent weeping as I listened to the children’s song. The song was “Surface Pressure” from Encanto, and the words were:
Pressure like a tick, tick, tick 'til it's ready to blow
Give it to your sister, your sister's stronger
See if she can hang on a little longer
Who am I if I can't carry it all?
Earlier, in February, I was standing in my office at work looking at a box that had been in the corner for a year, unopened, unmoved, despite knowing that I needed to handle it. I wasn’t trying to handle the box at that moment, however. I was trying to figure out what I needed to do, but I could not conjure a single task to write down. It wasn’t that there was nothing to do. It was the opposite. It was like a downpour and my brain was trying to catch all the raindrops at once, never securing any. I sat down at my computer and I typed a question into the search bar: how do I know if I have ADHD?
I am like my father in many ways, but this is not one. If Tony Pancake has ever been late to a meeting, paid a bill after the due date, forgotten to get the car serviced, let the yard get out of hand, or failed to clean the grill, I didn’t know about it. On the other hand, my front yard might be described as natural, a safe refuge for weeds of all kinds, who have relegated grass blades to second-class citizens. We have to park our cars in the driveway because our garage is now and has been garbage, littered with cardboard and broken furniture, and trash bags. I missed two deadlines in a row for my son’s sports and he didn’t get to play either season. I want to be a person who has it together, but I do not have it and what I have is not together.
I asked the nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office about ADHD. He was young, probably about my age, and he told me that it’s pretty hard to diagnose in adults, but was willing to give me a referral. I called the referred office and was told that they were booked for the ensuing nine months. I found another place that does testing for the low price of $875. Which is to say that I still don’t know if I have ADHD, but I’ve been working on myself as if I do. I read some books and followed some Instagram accounts with tips and tricks. I re-did my calendar. I downloaded a Pomodoro timer. I bought a tablet. I tried to “organize my physical space so I can organize my mental space.”
Upon reflection, the whole ADHD question is not really the issue; it’s just the part of the issue I think I can control. I started seeing a counselor on Zoom, a kind, bald man with a Sesame Street smile. He asked, “How can I help you?” I thought he was supposed to tell me. I’m not very good at explaining it. My family situation, for one. I was living with four teenagers and a toddler, all of whom experience Big Feelings and are at varying levels of acknowledging, experiencing, and managing those feelings. I told him about my work as a pastor, and the expectations of spiritual, emotional, and practical counseling. About compassion fatigue. And, I told him about the ADHD question, which I guess was really just an attempt to convey my own personal frustrations rooted in inadequacy. He was kind, like I said, but I think I failed to communicate well, and I only saw him a few sessions.
If I could try again, I might say:
My whole life I’ve been told that I’m supposed to be like Jesus, by sacrificing myself, by bearing the cross and other’s burdens. I feel like it’s my job, my responsibility, to handle it, fix it, make it right, no matter what it is. So I walk around with a buzzing ball of anxiety wedged between my stomach and my ribcage and a hot halo of anger resting on my head. Karly always talks to me about the window of tolerance. I feel like all this pressure has compressed my window into a mail slot, and my hard-won long-suffering has shrunk into a candlewick. What if my job, my responsibility is too much for me? What if I can’t carry it all?
Kendrick Lamar wrote in a new song, “The cat is out the bag, I am not your savior,” but most days I’m trying to keep that feline wrapped up and stuffed in the closet.
I held my wife as she sobbed and I didn’t know why. I sat on the bed next to one of the kids, curled in the opposite direction, and tried to lay a healing touch on their shoulder while they pulled away. I sat in the car next to a face dripping tears that I incited. I held the door and clenched and unclenched my fist, opened and closed my mouth as I tried to redirect defensiveness into teamwork. I tried to dodge piercing arrows launched from a pair of angry pupils but took a few hits. I paced on the phone, trying to be the pastor that was expected when I really just wanted to sit on the couch.
The digital sticky note on my computer reads: “Take the FIRST step. You can do it!”
Perhaps the first step is to remind myself that I am not anyone’s savior. It should be obvious, shouldn’t it? I inhibit healing as much as I contribute to it. I will never be able to fully carry the cross of Christ or anyone else. I am listening, but not enough. I am praying, but not enough. I am resting, but not enough. I am, quite simply, not enough. I am reminding myself that there is a savior who is enough, that I can be like him without having to be him, and the pressure has always been his before it was mine. I can accept the broken things of now—the sink, the yard, our budget, my brain, a friend’s heart, my kid’s pasts and presents and potential futures, my wife’s pain—even as I work toward their resolution. Because in the end, fixing everything is not my job. Because, in reality, I’m the wrench, not the plumber.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”