We are sicker than sick on this day of gratitude. The kitchen is a cluttered and unclean mess. The boy lays low in his tent, entertained by the screen. I'm under an afghan, nursing an earache, waiting to feel better. And we are home. That feels so good to me in a way that all this gooey achey irritating illness cannot touch. Our home. A tiny apartment that holds all of our worldly possessions and we're in it, held by it, resting and relating to each other in our home. I am grateful.
Little N and I have been suffering a terrible cold. It's brutal - coughing up crud, oozing goo out the nose, headache and body aches, firey throat... But let me tell you, I like being sick. Not the sickness part of it so much, but the permission to rest, to detach from the haste and obligations of daily life, to watch the light make its way around our rooms until darkness settles in. The time and space to just be.
That is how we recover from illness - sleep and fluids. It's one way that I recover from life. A little respite from the requirements. A little grace for something more real.
The dissonance is a kind of pressure on me. What is real to me versus what is required. The requirements get so much more time, attention, and money, than what is real. And the pressure makes me so very tired. It's hard to think, hard to make decisions, hard to create anything, to connect with people, hard to find any inspiration.
My younger self, even up to a couple of years ago, rarely got sick but often took mental health days. I would just get so fatigued... I'd check out for a day or a long weekend, recover myself, and return to work. But since starting this job I've seen my sick days increase - to include actual illness. I try to manage it pretty closely so that I'm not penalized for my days off, but between "reactivated mono" last year and this terrible cold this year, my data points aren't looking very good. I care and I don't. Because I know that I need the job to pay for my life. Because the job is so stinking meaningless and gets in the way of what is meaningful to me.
Meaningful is friendship, care-giving and care-receiving. It's creating. It's movement. Thinking. Reading. Sharing ideas, time, creations. Autonomy. Interaction. And in my current configuration of job, commute, parenting, money... I don't get to meaningful as often as I seem to want to... need to. I suspect that if my job offered more meaning, or if my daily routine offered more time for what is meaningful to me, my body would be healthier, my immune system stronger.
So I get sick.
Of course, sickness isn't actually a solution to the problems of meaning. When I'm sick I can't actually do the things that are meaningful to me. Sickness is a limbo space. Where I float between rote obligation and meaningful connection. Where I rest and regain the energy and perspective to continue to live in the tension between what affords my life and the little bit of life that I get to live genuinely.
Ms. G and I have known each other since we were little girls back in Boston. This photo was taken 11 years ago on my wedding day (of my doomed marriage...). Since then we've had children, I've gotten divorced, she beat a rare blood cancer.... It's been months since we had a good long visit and Sunday night she came over and we caught up on everything. (sigh)
I'm grateful for my dear friend who has seen me at my best and worst, ordinary and ornery. I'm grateful for time with her on a given evening and the time she's been in my life. I am grateful.
this has not been my most healthful, most productive week ever. it was largely a week of recovering from the visit with my mom. well... our relationship makes me tired and sad. so much of what is most significant to me seems to be insignificant, or even negative, to her. and, at 43, i still don't have the words to tell her these things.
so i keep the peace. i let the unspoken words collect in my throat. and when the visit is over, and mima has returned to her home, all those thoughts and feelings splutter up and out, sour tasting and slimy.
i document it all in my journal. what i heard from her, how it felt in the moment, what i think about the same topic (which is largely antithetical to her point of view), why i didn't say anything. i notice the shape and weight of what i didn't say. i sketch it out to try and understand the differences between us and the history that keeps me holding my tongue.
my siblings, though more alike to our mother politically and culturally, have had similar challenges expressing their own points of view to her. they get labeled rude or ungrateful or worse when they talk back. even at our adult ages. but then, they tend to lash out in anger. none of us have found a polite respectful way to say what we think and be heard. each of us have experienced the backlash in some form or another.
i believe that my mother loves me. i'm not sure that she likes me very much. her comments tell me that i'm too fat, too grey, my home isn't ordered properly, my boyfriend isn't her type, my city isn't her culture, my beliefs about spirit are wrong, my faith in friendship is misplaced, my dreams are best left in the past.
so what would i tell her? now that she's gone and the words are still with me.
first, these things are my own - my health and appearance, my home and 4 sets of measuring cups, my sweet thoughtful boyfriend, my cosmopolitan liberal city, my spiritual-but-not-religious soul, my steadfast precious friends, my dreams for creativity and vocation.
second, i am enough and whole as i am. i don't need or want the persistent comments and critique as if i don't measure up to some ideal that i don't even subscribe to. i don't need to be saved. i don't need correction, lectures, exhortations. i'm not interested and the constant comparison is distracting and draining as hell. i am enough.
third, accept me as i am today. see me. value me. let me be. encourage me in the things that are important to me.
fourth, give me space to speak my words. please, pause the monologue. grant me the room, the airtime, to speak up with a clear head and open heart.
it's pretty common to have a challenging relationship with one's family of origin. it's a familiar phenomenon to all get together and start acting out the roles we had in the family back when we all lived together. when we were children. i think maybe my mother is stuck at a particular point in time, which i have grown past. like, maybe she doesn't recognize me now because i'm not the same girl i was back then. mom has often said that she has to be mother and father now that my dad's passed. but i don't really need that kind of parenting. i'm looking to be seen and heard as the adult me, who i am, enough and whole, today.
My mother was in town for a week-long visit to take care of Little N during his midwinter break from school. Kiddo thoroughly enjoyed his Mima! He laughed out loud every day. They read a book together and he illustrated part of it (see below). Mima shared Black Beauty and Pink Panther movies with him. They made mini snowmen. He absolutely shone in her attention.
I'm grateful for the time they had together. For his laughter and delight. For her example of giving him lots of good attention.
I haven't been writing here in a regular way for ages. Real life occupies my mind, time, and energy so much. Here's what I'm doing now:
My mother is visiting from North Carolina, so I thought we'd do a hike that's been on my list for a year. Ebey's Landing on Whidbey Island. It was gorgeous! Totally worth it, to me. For mom... a little too strenuous and brisk. I'm sympathetic. I find that much of my life, these days, is a little too strenuous and brisk. My days are exhausting and I experience physical and emotional pain regularly. But on this hike - I felt free. Little N and I took the lead on a narrow, muddy trail along the bluff and down to the ocean. The views were bright and expansive. The air was fresh and blustery. The sun and sea gleamed. Sigh.
What is my problem!? I wondered, from the midst of a low day. I scribbled my way through it, through the lens of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
My "problem" isn't my brain - at least, not in the same way as - my emotions. Big. Overwhelming. In-My-Body feelings. And in response to those big feelings I do something. Usually something unhealthy, or in DBT-speak, something Ineffective.
It's Ineffective because it blocks my route to my Goals. My Goals come from my Values. Although... these days it feels like my Goals are being adopted and incorporated from the naturopath and my dismal health numbers. It feels a little backwards. My Goals are actually determining my Values. They're good Values - Health, Longevity, Fitness. They just didn't start in me.
Priorities and Values can change with time and circumstances and new or renewed insights. For a long time, with L, my Value was survival. While at my last job it became Interpersonal Effectiveness. That continues in my current position, though I have some mastery of it now, relying on my good manners plus prompt response time. But the Naturopath and my numbers indicate that my Value needs to be Physical Health.
I've never been an athlete. And it's a very long time - 15 years or more? - since I felt strongly connected to my body. I do experience my strong emotions in my body. But then I tend to do something external to try and change how I feel emotionally. Eat. Smoke. Watch TV.
Mindfulness, I guess, is the tool or skill for acknowledging the big emotions in my body, then letting them pass, while I remain present in my body. In my senses and physical sensations. The Wise Mind process is how I sort out what's going on and choose actions that are Effective for body and emotions. Effective for my Value of physical health.
And... this scribble suggests... my Value of Emotional Integrity...
Some people surround themselves with things that are pleasing to the eye. People like my mother prefer matching colors and complete sets. Furniture. Window dressings. Appliances and silverware. I appreciate that life when i visit but it doesn’t feel like home to me. My biota is much more a random collage of select things that inspire and move me, planted in the practical stuff of getting through each day. I’d like to call it an authentic life but really it’s me clinging to any meaning and vitality I can find.
My bedroom houses a collection of books, stacked on narrow shelves and teetering along the edges of rare flat surfaces. Not because I’ve read all the books but because the books tell me, just by being there, that someone has made some sense of some particular topic that means something to me. They hold the promise of meaning. They offer a glimmer of inspiration
Today, i sit in doldrums. Winter in seattle is a palette of grey-sky days and early deep dark nights. Daily life is a trudge through obligations and responsibilities. Structures that I must abide like rent and bills, grocery shopping, social etiquette and deference to authority. My office job is mundane and riddled with “powers that be” who must be pleased and satisfied. My body is fat and sedentary. The little time that is mine is so often lost to sleep. Recover from the work-week. Not because it engaged me but because i endured it.
Is it me? Is there something wrong with me? That my daily life, and thus the span of my days alive, is so… meh. Where do other people find the spark of life?
I think that’s why we hear so much about gratitude and the “little things.” i think that’s why so much emphasis is placed on family, in this culture. To the point of declaring “friends are family,” as if friends weren’t precious enough on their own. These things are where we, as a culture, have assigned meaning. Are they not meaningful to me? Are they not enough?
I think it’s also the contrast of “Zowie! Pow! Kazaam! I’ve figured out some big things!,” in my twenties versus “I’ve got to figure out how to make ends meet and parent my son,” in my forties. Those twenty-something big things are barely relevant to my daily life now. And they were big significant things like feminism and social justice and life-giving theology. But how to build a daily life, that pays the rent and raises the child, and embodies those big things, today?
So I look for inspiration, capture it in a word or image, tack it up on the wall, return to it, again and again, like worship. Photos of my son. Images cut from magazines. Poems and quotes. Cards from friends. All stuck onto the wall together.
This collection of artifacts tells a story. Once upon a time there was a woman who felt her life didn’t matter. So she drew close to herself things that signified mattering. She stood before them, imagining they made a mirror, reflecting what mattered in her life. Rather, they were a projection, like movies cast from film and light, issuing the promise of meaning into her and her days. She could live the life depicted in the pictures. The answers were right in front of her.
Really? Can I really live a more vital and meaningful life - beyond the to-do lists and the collage on the wall? Are the answers right in front of me?
I've been in therapy for the last seven years. And I think I'm burned out on it. I'm tired of talking about myself. I'm tired of listening to a therapist's perspective, questions, and suggestions. I want some quiet in my mind. I want some time to synthesize what I've heard; practice what I've learned. I want a pause from all the chatter.
This is a tricky decision to make, because I'm just coming out of a funk and still really struggling to do the daily self-care that my body needs. But that's just what I want to do - the doing part of these years of learning.
I expect that my therapist won't be keen on the idea. Maybe the naturopath won't be either. I believe that they see their work, together, as support for me to do the doing and since I haven't been consistently doing it maybe that looks like I need more support.
But it doesn't feel like support, these days. It feels distracting and disrupting. It feels like one more thing I have to do for someone else - keep an appointment. It feels inconvenient and, due to a billing error, suddenly expensive. A break, a pause, looks so freeing and open.
So what do I want to do with this pause that will make it worth the risk of declining my practitioner's support? How will I make this work for me? I'm drafting a routine for myself to include the daily practices necessary to heal my body and sustain my emotions and mind. Here's some of what that entails:
Tangled up in all this striving for good health and self care is something about my beliefs about myself and my life. Am I worth taking good care of? Do I want to be alive and for a long time? Is my life worth living and my work worth doing? Depression says, No. And again, no. Over and over until I'm too tired to resist and I yield to believing that the answer is always no.
It requires a vivid imagination and a good sense of humor to say, Yes.
The world is a big and chaotic place and I am small and, yes, meaningful, in the midst of it. My work as a secretary and as a mother is repetitive and mundane, and yes, it's worth doing well. My body is temporary, already bearing the toll of the years and, yes, it warrants persistent care and tending. Yes, because my tiny life touches other tiny lives and we matter to each other. Yes, because good is worth doing and being for each other. Yes, for laughter. Yes, for beauty. Yes, for comfort, sanctuary, and justice. Yes, for remembering important things and returning to them with the passion of awakening for the first time. Yes, because connection is real. Yes, because where there's a breath there's a hope. Yes, because I am here, now.
I don't and probably won't always remember to say, Yes. My imagination falters and my humor is pretty dark. But deep in my gut, where intuition and faith reside, yes simmers and bubbles up to my memory. I make a fresh list, again, of how I choose to live. I start to practice, again, the routine that heals me. And I look for the reminders of yes.
Those reminders, for me, right now, aren't revealing themselves in my therapy appointments. That might be the biggest reason to take a pause from sessions. And seek new places and people who say yes.
Out of the Attic
This blog started in 2006
on Blogger as
Out of the Attic.
I began posting here in April 2014. Please visit the original site for the rest of the story on topics like: