I'm grateful for the time they had together. For his laughter and delight. For her example of giving him lots of good attention.
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.
I thought about calling this post "part 1... of infinity" because I think that there are that many opportunities to catch a glimpse of and understand self-care. Because I think that there is that great of a spectrum of what self-care means. For now, I'm starting with what I'm learning in therapy sessions, naturopath visits, and my inconsistent, fumbling practice to take care of myself.
For a long time, I believed that this is what self-care looked like - the gentle drowsing in a hammock. Decompression. Rest. Recovery from the work-week or workday. Checking out from responsibilities, roles, and relationships.
I still maintain that going slow, for me, is part of self-care. And... my work with the naturopath tuned my ears to hear something else. Self-care is also doing the good, even challenging, stuff that I don't feel like doing. It's taking action now, and again, and keeping it up, using my calendar, smartphone, gold star stickers, rewards-along-the-way, falling-off-the-wagon-&-getting-up-again to develop the healthy habits that care for my body, mind, and heart.
Weekly sessions with my new counselor harmonized with the naturopath's voice in my head. My counselor calls it, "a life worth living." It's a concept I've been toying with for years. I even own a book titled Creating a Life Worth Living. I've been moving this book into every new apartment, setting it on the shelf, staring at the title, and not reading it. I so want a life worth living. I haven't any faith that I can have it nor imagination of what it looks like.
Until, maybe, now.
When my counselor talks about a "life worth living" he's referring to a life that embodies my values. He points to "self-validating" actions that make me feel good just for doing something that embodies or reinforces one of my values. Then he requires that I get concrete in my answers as to what those values and actions are.
For example, I was recently diagnosed with "metabolic syndrome." It's the All-American coexistence of truncal obesity, high cholesterol, borderline high blood pressure, and pre-diabetic levels of blood sugar. I'm a stroke waiting to happen. It's discouraging. But! I value health, vitality, active longevity. So! I commit to and practice the new habits that align my body with my value. That means taking on some challenging and occasionally boring new behaviors that I don't always (or maybe ever) feel like doing. In fact, right now, at the starting point, they feel like more work and not like the lounge-y self-care of my daydreams.
Fortunately, I have a smart, supportive care team - the naturopath, the counselor, a nutritionist, and even my son and my ex-husband. Together, these folks provide me with the information, accountability, and motivation to get my actions in line with my value. With their help, I'm exercising to a sweaty degree, refining my diet to cut sugar and increase fiber and nutrition, drinking gallons of water, and generally incorporating daily habits that demonstrate and embody the value of my health.
Today, it's a heavy lift. Change is hard. Change that requires me to plan and adopt new activities within my limited schedule - feels impossible. I'm already worn out, how can I possibly be expected to plan meals, cook new recipes, log a food diary, work out... and not reward/appease myself with sweet treats and vegging out! How can I truly care for myself and inhabit a life worth living if I don't make these changes? I dust off my calendar and find the time to take care of myself in new ways. I practice mindful breathing during my bus commute. I prepare and pack healthy meals to eat at the office. I pull on my gym clothes as soon as I get home and start moving along to the work-out video that makes me sweat heavily and laugh at myself, too.
Change isn't just repopulating my schedule with healthy activities. It's also reassigning value to different things in my mind. What's a sweet treat in the post-sugar lifestyle? What's relaxing after raising my heart rate to a beet-red-face level? These are new delights to discover and enjoy. Even the idea of work as self-care is a new idea for me to unpack and understand. And that illuminates other areas of my life and other values I say are important to me: creativity and play, connection and compassion, community and service...
I still love the feeling of being held in a gently swaying hammock. Maybe in six months (or two years...) I'll love the feeling of a hot work-out after a day at the office. For now, I'm clumsily, reluctantly, grateful to my care providers for the gift of a new-to-me way of doing self-care.
Since I started feeling sick a couple of months ago I've been wishing for my mommy.
I don't actually have a mommy. Maybe no one has a mommy and no one ever did. Maybe she's an imaginary character in a fairytale. An archetype we dream about taking care of us, kissing boo-boos all better, snuggling us in her arms, unconditional and expansive. An unattainable standard I subconsciously compare and contrast both myself and my mother to.
Oh, but I want my mommy, right now.
I'm so very tired and there's always so much to do - for my son, for my boss, for my home - for me. I come last, every single time, and I want - so badly it feels like a need - someone to take care of me for a little while. Not only the pressing physical and financial needs, but also the emotional and mental needs for comfort, reassurance, vision, hope.
In my imagination, my mommy is good company. She is present with me saying, "This is hard, and you feel crummy. That's ok. And, we're going to get through this together." When I'm feeling fatigue or despair, she wraps me in a firm hug, "It sucks right now. I see you struggling and doing your best." Then she provides me with creature comforts - runs a hot bath or tucks me into my covers for a nap. "Let's take good care of you." Her compassionate presence and practical support remind me that I'm valuable, provide me a bridge or some internal elasticity to get over the hard parts, and give me a little more energy to keep going.
My mommy gives me a reprieve from the all the aspects of "adulting" that are bearing down on me and wearing me out. She pays the bills, brings home the groceries, cooks us a healthy and yummy dinner, and puts the laundry away. When the day's work is done, we sit together in quiet companionship, reading or watching tv or whatever it is that mommies like to do when they get to rest with their loved ones. And I'm bundled up in my p.j.s and a blanket with my head on her shoulder.
There's no one in my real life to care about and take care of me the way my mommy does. Most days this occurs to me as a fact and with a feeling of isolation and scarcity. My life is hard and no one is coming to help me. Until recently, there was judgment caught up in that, too. Something like, "My life is hard, because I make poor choices and generally suck at being an adult, and no one is coming to help me, because I'm not worth anything nevermind the resources and effort of helping." But the diagnosis of Mono stripped away the judgment, at least for a moment - the reprieve I've been pleading for. Now, right now, there is room for my mommy to slip in to how I care about and take care of myself.
I can be my mommy. A slightly less idealized version of her, since I am an in-real-life-human and not an archetype, but her nonetheless. I can remain present with myself when I'm exhausted and hopeless - feeling the feelings, jotting them down if that helps me to recognize and experience them and let them be. I can literally, sincerely, hug myself. I can draw that bath or snuggle down into those covers to give myself good care. I can practice compassion for myself. I can follow through on practical remedies with faith in my goodness, significance, and value.
There's no pause, really, in the tasks and responsibility of being an adult, especially as a divorced single mother. The reprieve is in my mind and heart. It is my mommy's compassion extended to myself. I forgot about compassion as life got harder and I got harder with it. But compassion was once my most closely held value and it's been remembered to me, first for others and now for myself.
Being my mommy to myself doesn't change the quantity of stuff I need to do to maintain my son, my job, my home, my health... It changes the qualities with which I approach and engage in each of those things. I may move more slowly, allowing myself rest. I may enjoy more comforts, like a hot bath. But in addition to those tangible actions there's the intangible grace that my mommy grants me and that's what I'm learning to give to myself. It's a practice; it's not automatic or immediate. It's good work that renders greater compassion in my life.
It’s been a long season of doldrums, for me. I keep waiting to feel differently, better, engaged, inspired… but I can’t wait any longer. I’ve started making decisions to do the good stuff that I want to do but don’t feel like doing.
I started, like I always have, with lists. Intentions and goals for how I want to live this year. Changes where I’d like to develop momentum until they become just how I live, just my life. A new day-planner for 2017 helped by providing prompts to think about and a place to jot it all down. That spurred me into creating my own little curriculum or syllabus for self-care. Recipes, movement goals, books to read, practices to adopt into habits.
It still feels like work, right now. I am making progress, in a staggering, uphill, pause-out-of-breath kind of way. I’m starting a new yoga class. I’ve cooked two new recipes. I’m writing again.
Writing. That revealing, self-discovery, expressive, often creative craft that I’ve always turned to and returned to over the years. Creating and expression are things (“things”?) that I’m missing in this season of doldrums. So this evening I chose to write. Regardless of how I feel about writing, right now. To sit with a blank page and meet myself in my own words.
"Hold your heart in all tenderness. Something healing this way comes."
- Jen Lemen
These words have been on my heart a lot lately. Because they are beautiful and hopeful. Because there's so much that needs healing - in my body and my heart, in the bodies and hearts of people I care about, in this country, in the world...
To me, these words are an invitation to be softer, compassionate, unguarded and vulnerable. Open to pain, my own and others'. Faithful to myself and others in the midst of severe trials. To accept hope and healing, to believe that it is coming. To carry hope and healing into my relationships. To be one who bears hope and tends others as they heal.
It's been a long time since I've felt myself to be an open, compassionate person. Post partum depression and the end of my marriage rendered me harder, less emotional, disconnected from other people and myself. The last couple of years, and moving forward, have been about my healing in terms of reconnecting and re-membering myself to those parts and practices and tending their life and expression. Lately, I find myself invited to engage with others, beloved friends, with depth of feeling and healing presence. These invitations challenge me to be the best version of who I am today and to keep growing into someone tender, attentive, and tending.
My dear friend's health crisis is one of the invitations I'm accepting right now. Losing faith in those dark hours last week is probably what rose this quote to my mind. It reminded me of how to show up and who to be when life is so very hard. It reminded me of who I am.
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: