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This past year has been rough. Sure, life is often tough and there are lots of valleys but for our society, this has been a hard year. Last year saw the fear and grief that the pandemic brought as well as the social and political unrest (including death). Then we slipped into 2021 with more of the same. The grief and fear may not be our primary emotions – we’ve been faced with some of our fears (a global pandemic) and demons (further uncovering racism, bigotry, and violence) and taken some actions to begin mitigating these (or at least bringing them into our collective consciousness that we have a lot of work to do as human beings). But, we are still in the problems—there is still a pandemic and there is still massive inequality and injustice. And, we are tired. The New York Times recently ran an article saying that the predominant emotion for 2021 seems to be languishing. We’re aren’t in fight or flight mode any longer (at least as the pandemic currently is---the larger societal problems may currently be stuck in this place, angry at the fear of injustice) but most of us aren’t in a place of being settled and thriving. The general sense of things right now seems “meh”. It's interesting to collectively experience these emotions. These are feelings that most of us go through solo. As far as languishing, until I started writing again, I felt that sense of blah often. I had spent much of my 20s in problem mode and started my 30s deep in the valley (drinking almost daily to excess is a great way to quickly hit rock bottom). I got sober when I was 30 and have been so for the last 12 years (twice as long as the amount of time I actually drank). Once the chaos of drinking melted into the frustration and freedom of sobriety, I spent my 30s dealing with my anxiety and the unhappiness of my job, another period of being constantly alert. Since my breakdown six years ago, I spent a lot of time curled into myself, healing (and hiding). It’s only been in the last few years that watching Gilmore Girls and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on repeat and memorizing the entire JCrew catalog were no longer comforting, let alone helpful. So, I have been languishing in my own life. There may be a public experience of the “blahs” that we are all going through, but this past year has been hard and different for us all. For some people, this waiting has been curative, a time to rest. Others have found it as an opportunity to really reassess priorities and make changes. For many, it has been a time of upheaval and just managing to hang on. And, then there are those that languish—not inspired or scared but just being. There are no simple answers as to how to make life feel normal again. Like with any great change, the idea of normal just shifts to a new space until it becomes somewhere we are more comfortable (and then the next transformation occurs). While there are myriad ways to muddle through this fallow period, one thing is for certain that life is continuing. No matter how terrifying or boring or inspiring, time moves forward, whether we are in pain or joy or boredom. The price for one is the others and if we are brave, we will make it through and be changed by them all.
One of the newest things I realized is that I take life awfully seriously and without a lot of grace. The combination is suffocating. I am not saying that we shouldn’t measure the choices we are faced with. But, thinking of each one as gravely important is an awful lot of pressure and removes any sense of humanness. I say that I want to talk about the messy human experience but much of me still wants things tied up with a neat bow with little room for error. The reality is that error seems to be a kind of death—finality. There is no flexibility. For instance, l sit thinking I should feel jubilant and inspired and instead, my anxiety is coming like a freight train screeching that I need to get writing. Then the self-doubt kicks in that this won’t be good let alone inspiring. Now, some of this is simply the frustration of the writing process (the stops and starts and more stops) but much of the anxious energy surrounding this entry is that I won’t get it right the first time and that I will feel a sense of shame for publishing indulgent, senseless babble. Like with many aspects of life, I am acting like my life depended upon this one action. Since I was young, I have been told I take things too seriously or that I need to “chill out and calm down”. I still really struggle with this. I realize that my reaction is outsized for what is happening but don’t always know how to “calm it down” and put things in perspective. The thing is that I was raised in an environment that prized hard work and doing well. I am glad that my parents pushed my sister and I to do better and want more than the country life that surrounded us. The truth is that I wouldn’t have done well with that life. I like the buzz of new places and the largeness of city life. But, with the push for doing well and going above and beyond, there wasn’t a lot of space to mess up nor grace when one did. There always felt like there was an air of doom if mistakes were made. I will say that my parents are immensely proud of my sister and me and they have since mellowed a bit on the strictures about messing up (the equalizing force of adulthood). But it is my responsibility to take that early coding and change it. I don’t want to look at every choice as life or death. I want to try my best and let myself even enjoy the outcome. And, if it does go awry, I want to be mature enough to take responsibility, make the necessary adjustments, and move on, embracing that this is what being fully human, and living is. Nick Cave recently wrote about the connection of self-doubt and taking life too seriously. (An aside: In addition to his music, writing, and directing, Cave writes a lovely newsletter called the Red Hand Files. It is filled with inspiration and oddities and is one of the most beautiful examples of connecting to others’ humanity that I have come across). Self-doubt is part of the human condition. Some of it may be humbling and equalizing but often, it’s a sign that we are taking things too seriously and might be forgetting that the world can be a humorous and joyous place. Too much self-doubt and seriousness cause us to fold into ourselves and remain in a little box. It might seem safe but it’s really stultifying. I’m not advocating for throwing care to the wind. We should be cautious at times. We should care how our decisions affect our futures and those that we share this life with. Living is life and will eventually, for us all, be death. There is no reason to intentionally live our lives small and overly calculated, sucking the delight out of our time here for some “right answer or way”. We should dive into being human, cleaning up our messes and catching light when we can.
I never thought I was a true perfectionist. I turned in papers to teachers that were borderline illegible, with smeared pencil and eraser markings. My closet is truly where I hide any messiness that is in my life—there are no color-coded clothes or shoes stacked by type. I hate ironing so much that I would rather look mildly disheveled than try to make my clothes wrinkle-free. But, in a lot of areas I have been terrified to do things imperfectly. Perfect is getting things right the first time. It’s thinking if I make enough plans and contingencies that things will turn out okay and I won’t experience the hot shame of being less than. Perfection is keeping myself in check and safe and making me worthy of others. Working on Living Unglossed has been a challenge in my desire for perfection. I want to write each piece as if it were a final draft. I want people to read and love each blog and share it far and wide. I’m back to wanting to be a success versus a failure. Back to the black and white, instead of allowing for some shades of gray and growth. Perfectionism, like expectations for what success looks like, is a killer of finding unexpected treasures. Anne Lamott* talks about how perfectionism is the ruin of writing, but it also applies to how we experience life. She talks about it being the “voice of the oppressor” that keeps us from “standing back or backing away from life, [from] experiencing life in a naked and immediate way”. Perfectionism keeps us frozen and caged. Jumping in and doing (living) is what makes a life. Writing this blog makes me live in the immediate. No matter how strong the pull is each week to plan and set “goals” (expectations), I am very begrudgingly forced away from that kind of structure and make myself just sit down and write. It’s like walking in the woods at night with a headlamp. While I am doing it, I can see just in front of me. Generally, I’ve uncovered some pleasant findings (i.e. I really like the practice of writing. I am thrilled when people connect to it.) but on occasion I come across something that is unpleasant and needs to be dealt with (i.e. I want to hold onto the outcome and my expectations with an iron grip, and I can be kind of judgmental.). If I tried to force the experience I anticipated in my mind, I would’ve missed out on coming to some deeper understandings of myself and others. I certainly never expected to write so much about learning my writing process. One of the unexpected joys that has come from the last couple of months of this blog has been meeting new people (virtually). I’ve joined a networking group and made some great acquaintances (and found an exercise barre class I actually enjoy), and I began working with a writing collective. I am completely a beginner in this group, and it is humbling at times to listen to women who’ve already published or at the very least, written much, much more than me. Also, the course is all freewriting (which means no editing and just getting words and ideas on paper). This feels like another sign that I need to chill out and see what unfolds as I write (and live). So, this week, I have decided to post the first freewriting exercise I shared with my workshop. It is unpolished and imperfect. But there are still some things in it that I am proud of. I began writing about “best and worst memories” and if I hadn’t just started this piece, seeing where it would take me, it wouldn’t have reminded me of the many experiences that have made me who I am—on this imperfect, impossibly messy, delightfully surprising journey of life. (*Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life) Workshop Freewriting Response: Best memory… I really dislike choosing a best or worst of anything. I find it impossible to decide which experience (or film or book or song or item) should be the standard by which I judge all others. There are too many “bests” which depend upon my mood at the time the question is asked. I also, sometimes, just plain forget something that did have an impact but happens to just be jumbled with all the other “bests” and “worsts” in my head. These “bests” are so woven into my mind and behavior—they are part of who I am. I remember, for instance, that my dad on cold nights would put me to bed and babble shushed sounds---saying it was cold and I needed to get warm. It sounds mundane but even 40-some years later, it’s a special language that we can speak –a warm blanket of care and affection. I also recall being in the car. It’s evening and we were just coming from the store. My mom is singing old Girl Scout songs as we weave down the dusty back roads. The songs aren’t silly or fun but melancholy tunes filled with words about betrayal and fights for justice (I suppose this was the Girl Scouts of the 1960s). I feel a tinge of sadness, but the mood envelops the car in a warm hug. We are cozy and together. Remembering childhood is a mixed experience. There are so many bests and worsts that shade the time. There are things that seemed worst and sparked anxiety—fighting, lack of money, fear over the hold of certain vices. But there is also joy. Trips to the store that ended with ice cream or Happy Meals. The walks in the woods where my dad would scope the best places for a fire. We would cook our food (for fun) even in the cold, using the snow to keep our Pepsi chilled. There was blackberry picking in the summer, my sister and I in long pants and shirts to protect us from brambles and jiggers, causing us to sweat in the late July heat while we gorged on more berries than we gathered. It's much too hard to choose one best (or worst) memory. All of them, good and bad, weaved a tapestry that colors my life to this day—a hodgepodge quilt that grows and covers my experiences as I age.
Embracing the Shadow
Photo by Christer Rønning Austad It’s amazing how easily one can fall back into old (unhelpful) ways. Writing feels drab, and Living Unglossed's excitement is less electric and has moved to the daily chores. The first month and a half were so thrilling, feeling that rush of inspiration and the joy of learning that people weren’t just reading my writings but were also connecting to them. The sheen is waning as life rolls on and the initial exhilaration has become intermittent sparks of enjoyment. If ever there was a wonder that I follow feast or famine or think in black and white, this experience with the blog becoming just a part of every day would obliterate that. I can act like a balanced individual if need be, but my automatic desires are usually extreme. Writing and publishing for the public have further shown me that I don’t have balance down yet. I will stubbornly sit for hours—denying myself basic needs (food or the bathroom) to reach a state of completion and comfort. Once the denying of self is over, I luxuriate in too much. Too much lazing. Too much food. Too much drink. It’s no wonder that almost 12 years ago I had to go back to the denial of drinking because it had gotten to be another “too much”. So, in trying to reach for this dream of writing and sharing with others and talking about the things that don’t come up when someone asks us “How are you?”, I’ve found that, yet again, I want it all---or nothing. On our very long adventure to get our COVID vaccine, J. and I were talking about what success means, especially focusing on the adage that humans’ greatest fears aren’t attributed to not being good enough but being too powerful. Neither J. nor I particularly love this saying and I don’t think either of us finds it inspirational but as we discussed where life has brought us to in middle age, I came to deeper insight. It’s not that I am afraid of my power or the opportunity to succeed. Maybe there was a time when this was true but with age (hopefully) comes a chance to care a bit less about drawing those boundaries and more desire to do as one pleases. I think what scares me is that I view success as black or white, feast or famine. There will either be no success and utter desolation, with nothing but hard work, or it will be a hedonist’s delight, with a muse whispering in my ear informing my every move. My idea of success is so irrational and untenable that it keeps me from pursuing new things (at times) or from finding places in my life that might be considered a win. I imagine success as being the bright shiny winner and everything else is losing. How would anyone want to pursue anything new---especially with the supposed wisdom that should come with age—if you knew you wouldn’t be one of the best or be able to do it easily? Redefining success to include learning and honing –with all its stops and starts is terrifying and anxiety-producing. My reaction is always split---I hate to muddle through the messy process but at the same time, I long for the ambiguity and want to accept that this tangled gray area is part of the success---not some golden final win. The issue with a shiny success is that it’s the false promise of finality---that you have arrived. But, life’s journey isn’t so much about arrivals (unless you are fixated on the final arrival—death). Instead, it’s the starts and stops, wins and misses in between. I won’t wax too poetic about the journey of life but constantly checking to see if you’ve arrived means missing the messy and exhilarating and mundane along the way (i.e. the main chunk of a life). So, we learn to live in the in-between. We accept that nothing will be just right and that there will never be an ultimate winner (and those that strive for that are chasing illusions that will be of cold comfort when the bottom drops or the end is near---which, as part of our humanness, will inevitably happen). T.S. Eliot explains that “Between the idea /And the reality/ Between the motion/ And the act/ Lies the shadow”. To be human is to live in the dusky middle. When we are lucky, we will get glimpses of something bigger and something glimmering but that can never be our final place in this life. Inevitably, things will unravel (or at the very least, be tedious) so we would do well to recognize beauty in the mundane and even in pain. Our success at living isn’t a golden crown but learning, however slowly for some of us, to endure and delight in the shadow.
Photo by Monto Fotografia via Unsplash In response to discussions on the walls we build and the people we attract. We are all just looking for connection and compassion. I tend to stay to myself. It’s not just that I like alone time (I do). It’s that it is easier to maintain emotional equilibrium—alone. I’ve spent a lot of years in my own company but, despite being often on my own, I’ve had little patience for my own foibles. If I can’t really accept myself, how will I let another in? I am often ashamed of the walls that I put around myself—which is why I experience surges of excitement and dread when someone approaches me. Sometimes, I will let a kindred spirit in, and then we will be bound forever. Typically, these walls keep people away, though. That is, unless, they are (emotionally) hungry for connection. I have collected the stories and bits of spirits of so many who just want connection. On the train, waiting in line, on the street—these malnourished souls find me. I hear about the pain of an ended relationship, financial problems, or the memories of a partner who’s passed. I meet these exchanges with a mix of impatience at disrupting my solitary self and awe at the privilege of seeing someone so intimately. Maybe I mirror their deep insecurities and fears. I may not share these, but, somehow, they have intuitively sensed— “You are like me.” They may seem careless to share so much with a stranger, but they are braver. They are seen with dignity as I take their truths behind my walls
More Than Words
Photo courtesy of Wix Just three months in and this year has already been jarring — the chaos of COVID, the storming of the Capitol, and continued violence against minority groups (particularly Asian-Americans). Yet, the last couple of months (since the Inauguration) have been hushed. Sure, we are still slogging through a pandemic, but things are a lot quieter. We have whiplashed from anger, hatred, and powerlessness to a clarion call for hope and unity with a touch of light at the end of the tunnel. But can anything or anyone experience metanoia so swiftly? Where will all the anger and fear go? I have spent the past four years with the anger fueling a lot of my actions — self-righteous indignation that “I am right.” or “My people are the just ones.” And now, in less than eight weeks, we lose the exhausting energy of a failed autocrat and are being asked to find hope and start anew…unified. There is no way this can happen immediately. We’ve had a steady diet of bile and the trauma we have all experienced won’t go away because some inspiring words have been spoken. Healing not only takes time, but the sickness needs to be removed at the root. The kind words can be a balm but actual health will come in fits and probably be painful, at times. Outside of our collective pain, I am learning this in my own healing. Part of continuing with The Unglossed as Living Unglossed is that I am not finished. The pain that is part of my life — the anxiety, panic, self-imposed loneliness, and my judgmental nature — might be less palpable in my daily existence. I might sometimes have a better handle on how to manage the impulses but there is still so much work to do. There is compassion to grow for myself and others. If I am honest, part of me has enjoyed being the judge and jury against what I deem to be hateful or ignorant or just plain wrong. I want to believe I am right because then I can say that I am good and that I am okay. But this self-consciousness never convinces anyone, and it splits me, and the anger and division win (to keep out others and self-flagellate myself). There is no compassion for the complexity of our humanness-the thoughts, feelings, experiences of a person shaped by their own pains and sorrows. There is a difference between standing for truth and crowning one’s self as the only omnipotent and self-righteous being devoid of any compassion and sowing more discord. None of us has a corner on what is best and good. It might sound trite but most of us, though incredibly flawed, just want to feel safe and secure in ourselves and with the people and things that we cherish. And, I understand that this sentiment is of no comfort when we, personally or societally, experience a painful violation of our right to just be-to safely live our daily lives. The injustices and sorrows that we have faced or watched our fellow humans experience in the name of hate and greed can cause such pain that the only solution can seem to be to lash out with fiery anger and meet out justice on our own. But then we become no better than the perpetrators and the entire cycle continues-an eye for an eye. But, as Trappist monk Thomas Merton writes, “We never see the one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggression and hypocrisy.” None of this has a simple formula or answer (how I wished it did). This isn’t to say that we allow ourselves to be used and abused. Having compassion in our lives flows into working toward righting the injustices. With compassion, we get curious about the hows and whys of the situation, while we stand for what’s right and still hold hard lines when things are harmful and immoral. We can and should champion our boundaries of honesty, equity, and justice but these must be born out of and delivered with compassion for the other-who has their own story of losses and hopes- and for ourselves-who do not own rightness and need some understanding, too. And, we learn to be with the discomfort of the messiness and incompleteness of being human-together.
Addendum #2: No More Bricks in the Wall
I wished I could firmly state that I am as brave as I expressed in my last post. The truth is, I have always thought I was vulnerable but it’s just recently that I’ve come to understand that I am not. It is easy for me to be open about facts—even the really difficult things that I have faced. I can tell you that anxiety and intrusive thoughts and compulsions have taken months away from me. I can talk about the fact that I got sober almost 12 years ago. I’m more than adept at expressing my myriad shortcomings (I can be impatient and judgmental and critical). But, listing these challenges is hardly being vulnerable. I might be oversharing but am I truly allowing myself to really connect to another and become (in the words of David Whyte) “larger and more courageous and more compassionate”? The reality is that to connect with another can bring the tightest ball in the center of my chest that threatens to choke me. I can feel the resistance against touching another soul. If only this ball would loosen and break apart, I would feel so much more freedom to love and be loved. Allowing ourselves to be seen and loved for all that we are will be a life-long process for most of us. If we’re honest, we are afraid to let our deepest desires known and have learned to hold them close, lest we are rejected or told we are too much—that we should be different than we really are. The converse of this is that in order to be open and connect, we must let others in and be open to their whole selves. As a wise reader of the blog pointed out, our vulnerability isn’t only about our being seen and heard but that we are also called to hold space for others to be seen and heard. None of my fears of vulnerability or the desire to wall up against it are that unusual. I do feel fortunate that years of therapy and my major mental health reckoning have forced me to not just acknowledge these fears of openness and longings to get truly closer to others. I have started to take the messy, arduous actions that allow me to see buds of possibility. The vulnerability is wildly uncomfortable, and ideally, I’d like to live on a linear path of black and white--all to a defined end. But I have come to recognize that the calculated and curated will never make me content nor will it ever permit me to tear down these walls that allow for the electricity of connection. I do want to be seen and heard, even if it all feels so messy and naked. Maybe, more importantly, I am finally ready to see and hear others and hold space for their pains and joys. Whether exhilarating or maddening (or both), our deep desire for connection is a lifeblood that energizes us and I hope that we will all experience that spark and take the risk to stand before and with another who also hopes to see and be seen. I started these posts as an offshoot of The Unglossed podcast, which was born out of wanting to hear the real and messy stories of how to live, even when life knocks you flat and it all makes no sense. I worry that it is indulgent to share my musings with the world, but at this point, I don’t care (mostly). I feel such a pull to learn how to love myself and others and break down these walls of fear. I hope my writing is a conduit to reach another person and be recognized and if I am fortunate, be able to know another. .
I feel like new thinking takes my older ideas to task. In my last post, I talked about rebuilding from a bottom and the worthiness for love and life that we all deserve. Of course, we'll all need to rebuild and of course that rebuilding will be hard. And yes, these fallow times may make it feel like we will never be okay, but we're worthy no matter what. None of these are easy beliefs to fully absorb into our way of being. I am sure there are people out there who recognize their worth and believe in it during times of change and pain. For those of you who do feel this deeply, any insights about your journey to this place are welcome, for certain! I still believe that at our core we are worthy of offering and receiving love and goodness. We can use that belief as fuel in a difficult time. The issue I face (and I suspect, based on the state of our world, many others experience) is that what seems right in principle is often much harder to deeply experience. It is scary to hold our most fragile thoughts and feelings out to others—we are sharing the most vulnerable part of who we are in hopes of a genuine connection with others. Being vulnerable seems wonderful in theory but in practice can feel squishy and nerve-wracking.
I don’t at all regret sharing my struggles with mental health. The more we normalize the hard stuff in life, the better we will be, individually and together. Glossing over or pushing aside the deep pains and struggles we all have does nothing more than overprotect a fragile heart. With these barriers, we can never really get close to another or in touch with ourselves. As sociologist Brene Brown explains in her assessment of vulnerability, this “protection” might come across as brave but actually becomes a liability in that we will never learn that we are worthy and be less likely to experience being fully loved and accepted in our most tender parts. I know that discomfort. The only way to living courageously, which includes loving and being loved, is through the terrifying feeling of having shared something central to who we are (Brown calls this the vulnerability hangover and says it’s to be expected). When I shared my mental health and mid-life rebuilding story, I definitely felt that struggle. I began worrying about making people uncomfortable or that I focused too much on my struggle without getting the message out that we are all worthy and that rebuilding can bring new life. I was doubting myself. Then, I got a message. The message was from someone I know but wasn’t aware of how much I had struggled. They ended the message by letting me know that they, too, had had some hard times with their mental health, where they had been laid flat and had to claw back to a new normal. In the end, my vulnerability allowed them to be vulnerable, as well. I would love to say that being vulnerable here made me braver, but I was initially seized with the desire to wall up. After some reflecting on my potential double-standard and talking with my therapist, I decided to take a different approach than I'm used to and reached back out to this person. I was able to see their message as an opportunity to offer a loving connection and accept one in return. I was able to dig a little deeper for worthiness. In the words of poet David Whyte: “The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inherit vulnerability, as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully…” *Brene Brown, The Power of Vulnerability (TED Talk, 2010): https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability/transcript?language=en *David Whyte, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, “Vulnerability” (2018)
February 26, 2015, has been a reminder of how fragile and unexpected life is. It was on this date that I was anxious and obsessing (all with a nice gloss of depression), and I couldn’t manage it any longer. So, I decided to voluntarily check myself into a psychiatric hospital, which changed my life in ways I never expected. I’ve always been anxious. As a kid, I was terrified of being left at dance class or a friend’s house for a sleepover. It went beyond the normal skittishness that all kids feel in trying something new. Even in elementary school, I was planning ways to get out of moving away from my home and all that felt safe. And, this anxiety (often terror) followed me through my teens and into college. It was in college where it really became strange and was coupled with obsessive thoughts (What if God doesn’t exist? What if I fail my classes? What if I can’t find a job and become homeless? What if I turn into a murderer?). I knew my reaction of terror and ruminating wasn’t normal, but the fears felt so real that I had to spend as much time as I could researching them and doing the mental gymnastics to make sure something awful didn’t happen. The pattern of my brain on fire and skipping like a record kept up in cycles until six years ago. At least twice a year, I could plan on losing a month or two to anxiety, panic, ruminations, and hopelessness, struggling just to seem normal in daily interactions at work and shutting myself out from others to get through my evening and night just to wake up and do it all over. Decades of struggling led me to February 26, 2015. The previous year I had decided to quit teaching religion and decided to go back to school for another teaching subject. Despite detailed planning for each of these decisions, nothing was working out. So, I gave up. I asked for help and let someone else sort out what I needed to do to get healthy. And, what I learned was more than some psychological tools to cope or what medicine would work best with my diagnosis (it only took 20 years to get the diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I’ve always known I was stubborn and think I often know what’s best, but I was holding so tightly to such a strict way of being (“Don’t mess up and if you do self-flagellate and fold into yourself.”) and planning for every possible mistake or potential pain that I had become so desperately unhappy and bound up by unrealistic expectations that I didn’t know what I wanted or deserved. I kept up with the “good girl” act through the hospital and outpatient, trying to prove that I was the best patient. I did all the homework, followed a schedule, was honest with doctors and counselors but my nerves were still glowing. Despite all my effort didn't seem to be enough to help my bruised brain feel free. One of the head doctors in the program, Dr. M, pulled me aside one day and told me he saw how hard I was working but that it didn’t have to be such a Sisyphean effort. Here was a man who only knew me in the context of a hospital and seeing me at my most vulnerable and his advice to me was to stop and rest. And, most profound was that I was loved and worthwhile and would get better. This little kernel of hope became my mantra through the rest of the spring and into the new life that I had to create. I was no longer just defined by terms of being a good student, attentive daughter, thoughtful teacher, or caring girlfriend. I (fortunately) had a place to live and would have to make a new way for myself—and I could because I was worthy and loved and would be okay. That summer I took part-time work at a card shop. Then, I worked as a nanny and tutor. A year later, I re-entered corporate work. Rebuilding a life is nothing new. We all must do it at some point—a relationship ends, we lose a job, we move, get married, have kids, experience the passing of loved ones—all of life is rebuilding in small and sometimes big ways. We muddle through and hopefully, don’t make it harder than it already is. And, with time and gradual acceptance, we learn that we are still worthy and loved and will (eventually) be okay again (even if it looks different). Life six years later is so much bigger and nothing that I would have imagined. I still have episodes, but they are less intense and blips in a year. I am better able to shore up the quiet times to use as fuel for the expected tumult in life. And, if I can get out of my wonky brain and be present for a moment, I might catch a bit of happiness and remember that I am worthy and loved. We all deserve to hear that, and I hope that I can pay forward that nugget of hope from Dr. M to all of you.
So Many Thanks!
I know I just wrote something but if I am keeping my promise to share in (more or less) realtime, I needed to offer this post. Now, nothing major has changed. I am still struggling with self-doubt and some deeper-rooted self-esteem issues. But, there has been the most minor of shifts and that is gratitude. I'll write more about gratitude later (because we could all use some more) but I will admit that being grateful is not a natural state for me. I am skeptical and often looking for flaws. I can make a list of things I am thankful for but it never feels as natural as judging. But, in diving into this blogging experience, I've opened up some, and for that I am grateful. Thank you to everyone who has read these pieces and shared them and sent encouraging words. Writing and sharing aren't about notoriety or praise but I have always hoped it would be about connecting to others. Being heard and listening to what you are saying. So, for all the support, when I am muddling through this messily, thank you!
Right after I wrote my first post, I got some encouraging feedback, and it felt great! I walked around feeling proud I had taken those first steps.
And then, something strange occurred. I was so jazzed that I decided to treat myself to a virtual musical theater dance class (these exist!). I finished the class, showered, and suddenly felt panic rising in my chest. Soon afterwards I was crying while trying to get in some deep breaths. I eventually calmed down (and had thwarted a too-familiar panic attack and anxiety spiral) and went about my evening, periodically relaxing but also trying to figure out what would have brought on such overwhelmingly bad feelings after what was mostly a great day. Nothing made sense for such a strong reaction, so I brushed it off as the faulty wiring of an anxious brain.
That night, as I was falling asleep, I was seized by an icy feeling that wouldn’t let go. People had been so nice, so encouraging and enthusiastic about my first post—even people that I only knew virtually. But it was my first post—they must have been just being polite. Readers would quickly move onto something else and I would be left posting thoughts into a void or—worse—be thought of as a social media nuisance when I announced, “New post!”. Who needed or even wanted to hear what I had to say? Wasn’t this just a vanity project and some self-serving navel-gazing? I pushed the thoughts out of my mind—not the last time I did so over the next few days.
After several days of increasing anxiety and obsessiveness (more on these topics to come!), I finally broke down and talked to my partner, Jonathan. He let me ruminate on my self-doubt for a few moments but finally stopped me, which is good because I can go farther and farther down the rabbit hole until I disappear. He suggested something I thought was ingenious. Why not show the real-time struggle of building Living Unglossed and all the messiness and magic that it entails, right there on the screen? If I want to encourage others to honestly talk about the challenges and changes in their lives, I should take the lead.
The truth is, I want to curate my insecurities and issues. I want them to be the right amount of messy and have just enough control over them---not too depressing or chaotic but not non-existent. I want to be self-effacing enough that it’s funny and not sad. But the unglossed reality is that it is kind of sad, sometimes. There are times when I want to stop doing much of anything. I want to stay closed in my little cocoon rather than break out and see what might be. Because what ‘might be’ could look self-indulgent or pitiable or incapable. It’s no wonder that with (just barely) underlying beliefs like these I went from a happy place after my first post to a familiar place of fear and self-flagellation. Luckily, I know that the only way to a healthier space is going through the tough and discouraging ones. And, my “through” in this instance is total transparency with anyone who reads this.
I Just Can't Get Started...
This is the part I have been dreading, sitting down and trying to write something that was inspiring and profound. After months of researching other blogs (procrastinating), perfecting the website (procrastinating), reading authors I admire (more procrastinating), I have finally decided to do something and it feels like the words that I am typing are literally being dragged from my fingers. So, here we are with my first blog post (hopefully of many). When I thought about what I wanted to write in my first post, I was going for something really thoughtful---something that would pull at your guts and give you that warm wash of insight. I toyed with discussing empathy (something I desperately need for myself and others). Why not talk about how we should all try a little harder to recognize our shared humanity? Things are volatile and people are divided (we’re less than a month out from an insurrection and still fighting about masks and safety protocols, of all things). We are also entering a year of pandemic living and all the fears (social, health, and economic) that have come with it. But, talking about compassion for your neighbor is awfully hard when the inside job of having some grace with yourself often seems untenable. But, fear not. I’ll eventually talk about all these hard things that we grapple with as humans. Living Unglossed is about these messy processes and hard conversations and living with incomplete answers. And, some of the things that are hard about life are how we get started and slip and slide until we might get a little footing on the journey (at least until the terrain changes, again). I wished I could say that I have formula for how I started all of this, but I don’t. No amount of culling other’s blogs, (endlessly) talking about best practices for getting started, or times of meditation and reflection were the final answer that gave me that jolt of inspiration. I am sure they helped but eventually you just have to dive into whatever it is you want and muddle your way to a clearer path. This isn’t a rah-rah just get started and you’ll feel just fine cheer. It’s real time in showing how hard the getting started can be but that messiness and discomfort doesn’t have to be the end. A little understanding with yourself that starting anything is scary and uncertain is the softness that cushions the hard. And, with that, I guess I did learn a little about having empathy for myself (and hopefully some to share with others).