Several days ago, I went to see my rolfer for a session. My fifth (?) in the ten series I’m taking. It was pretty unusual for a few different reasons. One–I’d just gotten resolution and a real break from school. Two–it was an evening session on a weekday (not my normal Sunday). And three–we talked. A lot.
It may have been the caffeine from the splurge mocha I had just before. (It was disappointing–sigh). Or maybe I was just decompressing. Finally. After weeks of feeling like a cornered animal on the verge of meltdown.
I don’t normally talk–except to tell her when I’m about to cry out from pain. Rolfing is not exactly relaxing. It’s work–for her and me. I have to be in weird positions at times. She’s all up in my fascia. It’s strange, even with clothes on.
This particular session hurt. A lot. We’d moved to more core things–like my legs–which are particularly troubled due to injuries throughout the years. Your body keeps records, and moving things around? Not a pleasant time. She also did the chest area–which is awkward because: boobs. And holy oww painful. I’ve learned that, while I have okay posture, my natural thing is to kind of hold onto myself. A friend once noticed it in pictures I took of myself. I’m self-contained that way, but it’s because I sort of curl inward. I have a lot of problems with breathing deep, so one thing she’s done involves opening up my chest. It’s amazing when she’s done because I can suddenly breathe like a normal person–instead of like the anxious asthmatic I am. I even sit taller when it’s over. But man, it hurts.
And I talked the entire time.
About life, mostly. Education. A lot of education–and how schools fail to prepare people for their actual lives. How we need better advising and mentoring. It was on my mind, I guess, because of how I’ve felt about school lately. Rolfing brings things out of you–emotional crap just comes out. I’ve never cried before, but some people do. I mostly just feel really happy afterwards–lighter.
My rolfer is awesome because she’s adaptable and a quiet presence. Great for when you just want everyone to shut up. But friendly and interesting to talk to. She indulged my chatter. It was nice. At some point, I asked her about Christmas and her plans. I knew she usually went home to Chicago for holidays. Honestly–as weird as it sounds–I like hearing about other people’s plans. People don’t share these things with me most of the time because they think it upsets me. It doesn’t. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t hate Christmas.
In fact–recently–I’ve come to the conclusion that I like Christmas again. Don’t get me wrong–we’re not besties. I will probably always loathe December 24th and dread its existence–want to fast forward through the whole damn thing. But I’ve found evidence recently that I’m more okay with the holidays now. Funny how that happens when you just accept where you are.
So–I was asking. And she told me about her boyfriend. How he has to work every year. How his company has a party at the end. How she goes and visits and drinks with him. How they tipsily ride bikes home. And then do nothing. And it sounded perfect to me.
It was interesting because–for once–I stopped feeling shame about not celebrating Christmas the way I used to. A subtle shift happened inside me, and I realized something big: The way I celebrate now (or the non-celebrating as I’ve thought of it) is actually completely normal. The stuff from my childhood was fantastic–but many people don’t do that. And I finally stopped judging myself for doing it like I do now. And I shared my plans with her, and we agreed it was exactly as it should be. For who I am now. For what my life is now.
I’ve felt more at peace this year…like the joy I used to have for this season was more accessible. Friends came to my apartment building (unbeknownst to me)–caroling–and I found myself humming along with glee. Completely in the moment and grateful for the seemingly random visit. Later, I found out my friend did it because he knew it’d bring some light to this grief season.
I’ve had these random moments a lot lately. These things that remind me that the girl I used to be didn’t disappear.
Today, I’ve found myself bristling at various things–as I’m apt to do as I search for distractions so I can forget and be anything other than sad. The biggest one has been people complaining about the ways in which they’re lucky. I’d do anything to be that burdened. And I wanted to yell at them–tell them to count their blessings and be grateful.
But I didn’t. I instead realized it was about me and dug deeper. Found compassion.
We all have ideas of what the holidays should be. And this is where we find ourselves in moments of ungratefulness. Where we stop being compassionate. Where we beat ourselves up (and everyone else). Where we focus on things being perfect.
I realized that these people who were aggravating me just a few minutes ago are in pain. Not the pain I have over lost parents, no. But pain, nonetheless. And that pain isn’t all that far from mine. It’s still loss. Loss of what you hope could be.
I realized that there isn’t a typical holiday for anyone, and nothing is perfect. Some people eat Chinese and watch Game of Thrones all day. Some people have big, warm dinners with family. Some have big, arduous dinners with family. Some have two people over. Some have friends. Some are alone. Some have cats.
All perfect and imperfect, all at once. Painful and joyful, all at once.
The only difference really is what we accept.
If you grieve for things and focus on that grief, nothing will feel okay or enough. And it’s so easy to focus on what isn’t rather than what is…to say you’re abnormal. To miss the things that you think will fix it. When the reality is–it can’t be fixed. Just accepted and acknowledged as being the reality you’re in.
And that just takes time. Sometimes, a long time.
For me, ten years. Maybe longer. It’s another thing to feel and release.
I’ll keep trying. But for now, I keep remembering that this is my new normal. Christmas is whatever I want it to be. I’m the one driving what happens here. I don’t have to keep fighting this enemy that doesn’t even know my name.
The last month has been a little bit of a rollercoaster, but–then–December has always been like that for me. This year, however, I sort of feel like a tree standing in the middle of a tornado–still holding on to all its leaves as everything else shifts or blows away. Odd that it’s that image that comes to mind when I consider that I refer to the year of mother’s death as the year of the cyclone and that this week, it’ll be 10 years.
I very much do feel like that lone tree. But despite all the insanity that goes on around me, there is something eternal lasting in me. A strength and resilience I didn’t know I had 10 years ago.
As tornadoes go, this month’s version was tiny…leaving few broken things to clean up. Just a mandate to try something else. Still, tornadoes are unsettling. They change things and make you question what your life has been. Suddenly, certain paths are unpassable. So, you decide if going still is worth it.
I’d share more, but it’s not really my stuff to share so much. And the paths for what’s next are still being forged. In any case, I will keep making plans that still–always–will change. By choice or by fate.
This month has also been interesting because–as always–anniversaries matter too much to me. Dates on calendars, numbers. Completing things and making new beginnings. This year feels more important, somehow, than years past. Maybe because it’s been a decade. Maybe because I’m finally doing the things I set out to do–all without her. Maybe because I’m simply fed up with the status quo–with the ways I still refuse to change–despite all my intentions and best efforts.
I took a workshop the other day with one of my most favorite teachers. I’ve taken things with her before, and it’s always a light bulb sort of feeling. It came at the right time and was exactly what I needed: a kick in the ass with support. It helped me reconcile and understand the reasons I sometimes don’t follow-through. I started looking at the core issues behind my major issues.
The major roadblock for me, in most things, is an inability to let go of things. I have an innate fear of being left behind or forgotten–of not being important. So, I often hold on to absolutely everything–whether it serves me or not. Whether I want it or not. When things are constantly taken away–when you’re struggling to survive–it’s hard to get rid of even the crappiest things. You learn to hold on tight.
There are all kinds of things that behavior does to a life. I won’t go into all of them, but let’s just say I have a lot of stuff in my life that’s holding me down. My wings are too heavy–so no matter how hard I try–I can’t fly. I’m never truly free. Everything is hard work. Everything.
The workshop taught me that it’s not about knowing what you need to do. I’ve known about, and tried to break free of, all of it for years now. Every time, beating myself up for not being successful in following through. I’m clear now that the reason I didn’t follow through had to do with emotions and a lack of skills. I’ve been working on the emotion stuff for a while now. But I’m still lacking the skills. Simply put–I don’t have the tools to let go. I don’t know how. No one taught me how. How do you speak up about things that don’t work? How do you find the courage? How do you deal with fear in healthy, empowering ways?
I still don’t have the skills, but that just means that’s my next step. So, I’m starting with a project. One that won’t kill me. One that can only free me. I can’t disappoint anyone except myself, really, and if I’m successful, it’ll fuel me. It’ll create space in my life so I can tackle the bigger things.
So, for the next few weeks, I’m going through my home. I’m getting rid of anything that I don’t love, need, or cherish. Whether it’s food, clothing, toys, old pictures (so hard), boxes…all of it. Gone. I’m giving it away to people who need it far more than me or I’m selling it or I’m burning it. I started yesterday, and while it wasn’t the most fun thing ever, it feels good to have a little bit less. I’m even going to do it with my digital life. I plan to pare down things everywhere. Every day, I will tackle a little piece of it. No matter what.
I’m excited to see where this challenge leads and how it’ll support me in the near future.
The hardest times, I find, are the quiet ones. As an introvert, quiet is my best friend. Those moments when everyone just goes away, and I’m alone with all my thoughts and random whatever. I cherish these times, but sometimes, I also dread them.
Because that’s when it’s most likely to suckerpunch me. Those thoughts I hate acknowledging. The ones that race through my mind and won’t leave. The ones that–when uttered to someone, finally–cause instant tears. Because–yes–that’s it exactly.
Yesterday marked another milestone. One I’ve looked forward to for four years–one that represented so much. It came and went like all the winter snows we’ve ever had here in Denver. Blink and it’s gone. I barely acknowledged it myself–and yet–it was this date that’s controlled so many hours of my life for four crazy years. It was this date that caused me months of anxiety and doubt about myself. In the end, it didn’t go as it should have been. I took yet another interesting detour. This one surprised me, but also–as much as it felt like giving up–it was actually reaching out. Because I didn’t have it in me to do what needed to be done. What I got–by being vulnerable and admitting the truth about all of it–was breathing room. Time. I’ve always thought of time as the ultimate gift. And while I was so grateful, yesterday felt unearned–despite four long years of all of that. I kept telling myself I needed to give myself credit for all of that and just keep going.
It’s not really that simple. The time also comes with me deciding to change everything. Again. Which is not really unusual for this. In fact, it may just be typical. It’s just not good enough as it is. I can do better, and I won’t settle for something less than what I’m capable of. Those four years taught me to have higher standards, but to also reign myself in. I simply can’t do everything. I’m learning this more and more, every day, and that might be the most difficult lesson of all. I’ve always learned the hard way–on tight deadlines with high stakes. And many concussions.
While I’m absolutely grateful, I feel like I need to kill what was–that thing inside me that got in my own way these past few weeks. That feeling of overwhelm. That dread. That lack of belief–in me. Mostly because it has nothing to do with what I’m capable of and everything to do with why I started to begin with–and tackling that might be my next step toward the life I need.
I didn’t expect it–didn’t see it coming–but–now? It’s brought the grief back–during a quiet year of calm. It’s made the wounds fresh again in new, exquisitely painful, ways. And I’m learning there’s no end to this heartbreak–that it moves with you as you heal and grows arms to remind you it’s there with it’s strangle. And yet–I’m grateful for it, too. Because I know it’s the next leg. And I know I’m stronger than it is. That it is only temporary. That I need only witness it–acknowledge it–and let it go.
Easier said than done.
My mother is always on my mind. But, more so, especially, during December. Especially when I need a hug or a pep talk. Especially when I’m unsure. Tomorrow is her birthday. I can’t remember how old she’d be now, but it’s impossibly old. That’s all I really know. And she never got a chance to be that. It’ll be ten years of her not being here nine days from tomorrow. That number makes my brain hurt. I still can’t believe how old I am. And I refuse to accept that almost one third of my life has been without her.
I randomly watched an interview Cheryl Strayed gave about her new film, Wild, after rolfing yesterday. I’ve loved her since her Dear Sugar days. I remember crying when she wrote about loss in her column. I’ve read the book and was struck by the parallels between her life and mine. And how her discussions about grief mirrored my own. The book–her life–has inspired me to think about doing my own crazy trek. My own, possibly for my PhD project. An idea I’ve had for a while, but couldn’t really do because of the pesky money thing. But the PhD would give me an excuse to do just that–without worrying about those pesky things. If, of course, I got in and was good enough.
During her interview, Strayed said something that gutted me. It haunted me and inspired a mini-breakdown out of nowhere. I’d forgotten I was still capable of that kind of brokenness anymore. She said something about how, when her mother died, she couldn’t imagine a world without her mother in it. And now, 20+ years later, she can’t imagine a world with her mother in it.
I thought about it. About my father–who has been gone 30 of my 36 years as of last week. My idea of him shifted radically this year–because of therapy–and I feel like that shard is less sharp lately. I can’t imagine a world with him in it. It’s true. But–Mama? Every day I see something, and I say to myself, “Oh, she would love that.” Every day, I know exactly what she would think about things. Every day, I am sorta grateful she isn’t here to witness the sad world we live in. That she was, at least, spared that.
My mother is still very much in my world. In everything. And it’s been 10 years. I wondered if there’d ever come a time when that would change. I wondered when the shift happened with my father. Or if I never could imagine him in this world because he was so removed from mine.
These thoughts devastated me. I realized why–very quickly. It connected directly to what I’ve been feeling lately–that nagging sense that I’m changing too much–that my mother wouldn’t recognize me now. That somehow, as I get happier, I lose more and more of her–until she’s something less tangible. Less mine.
I don’t know how to let that go.
It’s been a kinda nice, easy day for me so far. We wrapped up a never-die project on Friday, so I was aware I’d be moving on to something new today. My boss emailed me last night with a 911 thing for me to do this morning, and I dunked it in the first hour or so. This is rare. It was really fun to talk to a great guy who was full of entertaining stories. Even better, that I could help him reach a goal. It reminded me of how much I really do like being able to chat with all kinds of people I’d never get to meet otherwise. From there, I went back to what we call The Bench. AKA the place where you wait for the new thing that will determine your work happiness for however long it lasts. I knew it could be a while before I heard anything. I’m still waiting, and it may not be till tomorrow at this point. And while I probably should have been writing and perfecting my thesis, I decided to just chill out today and not worry about it. (Well, as I handled various fires and responded to the email that never stops).
Part of me felt mega-guilty for taking a break, and part of me felt righteously deserving of such things. But a conversation I had with my thesis advisor yesterday helped me feel better. She liked my draft and thinks I have something meaningful on my hands–but it needs a stronger focus. I hate it. The draft she has was from a couple weeks ago, and I’ve made major decisions since then. Namely, that–instead of just making blind recommendations–I’m going to use a filter organization to illustrate how people will use this thing I’m creating. This means a lot of extra work I don’t have to do–but that I think will tie everything together pretty well and will also be something I can actually give the nonprofit in question–that will immediately help them solve something I witnessed while working with them in the past. The decision to do this was what got me wanting to quit last week. Because how the hell am I going to get all of that done before xyz? My prof is an amazing woman who tells it like it is, so I trust her. She told me I’m too colloquial and need to take out all my chit-chatty whatever (which I totally am aware of). But she also recognized how much work is left–that it’s all really done, but needing some digesting and organizing and polishing. So, she offered me something that I never considered before and that instantly took all the pressure off. I have options that mean more time–if I need it–but whether I choose that route or not is entirely up to me. We’ll see where I am on Sunday. For now, I’m committed to putting my head down and doing what I can as quickly as I can. But I’m not going to kill myself to do it. Still, more time–for me–is not always a good thing. I work better under pressure. I focus better and the gremlins in my head have less of a chance to take over. Besides, I CAN get this done if I just decide to do it and then–well–do it.
Besides, if I have any more time, I’ll probably scrap it all and decide on a completely different topic!
Meanwhile, one of my classmates just turned hers in today. She didn’t want to look at it anymore and just decided she had to finish. So she did. It’s inspiring and terrifying. And makes me feel like a loser because I am always the first done. Heh.
It’s really rare for me to have a crisis of confidence, honestly. Or at least, consciously. My confidence problems are usually more subtle–not paralyzing. Either that, or I’ve learned to cope with it in ways that allow me to function. It’s even more unusual for me to feel this way about an academic thing–especially one involving work I’ve done for almost 15 years now. I know this stuff. I do this stuff all day, every day, so that’s how I knew it was about more than the writing and the research. It was about letting go of a life that used to be mine and accepting the one I have + the one I want.
I didn’t expect it to ring such a chord with people, but–apparently–it did. It reminded me that vulnerability is a good thing, and that what I have to say still matters.
On the other hand, part of me felt weird about it–in a way that isn’t usual for me. I’ve been vulnerable on the Internet for a long time. It usually doesn’t faze me. But having people respond to it felt like too much in a way. I was glad I shared it–because it helped people, and I needed to–but something in me wanted to hold some things back.
That feeling has been coming and going for a while now, I guess–if I really think about it. Sometimes, I feel like I erect walls or like–as hard as I try–I can’t say what’s really in my heart…what I want to say. Maybe because I think someone who shouldn’t be reading is or because I don’t really enjoy being vulnerable in the crowded…yet often silent…room that is the Internet. I’ve held various opinions throughout my time blogging. Which has led me to zip things up every so often.
I’ve realized that a lot of this is me struggling with boundaries–as I always have–and that this is yet another version of it. I want to share–need to share–but sometimes, it recreates the patterns of abandonment and love addiction that come from parts of me I still don’t understand. Sometimes, it still feels inappropriately intimate. And while I know, for me, connecting with people is a necessary thing–it’s hard because the venue is kinda not. I try to filter things and edit myself in ways that make sense–but sometimes–like yesterday–I say things out loud and then doubt why I did that. Even if the net effect is ultimately good. I’m still figuring it out.
For a while now, I’ve been wanting to change how I blog–with varying degrees of success. Now that school is almost over, and I’m taking a break from academia for a little while, I’ve decided to make something new for myself. I’ve been vaguely studying UX design, and I’ve had an idea for a long time for a new Web site that’s more true to who I am. It’d be a chance to practice my skills and really just start over when it comes to my writing online. So, once I’m done with the thesis, I’m going to start building the site and making the writing part more prominent in my life.
The only problem is that I don’t know where my personal life fits in. If it should at all–or if I should keep this site going just for those things. I feel like this part tends to take over and tends to distract me from what I really want to share–openly and healthily. Things like the stuff I studied in school. Real discussions about things happening in the world. Things that make me happy and things that matter to me, essentially. Instead of me just writing to cope. My feeling is that these types of things belong off-line more than they do online. But I dunno. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t share my stories–just maybe only the stories that don’t hurt so much. Maybe the things I’m ready to share without wincing when I realize someone actually read it–and that it affected them enough to say so.
I guess I just want to take what I do here more seriously and hold myself more accountable for the way I process my life rather than relying on public discussions to do the heavy lifting.
Thanks for reading so far. Stay tuned for whatever comes next.
That date’s important to me for two reasons. It’s my mother’s birthday. This year, she would have been 77. (On December 24th, she’ll have been gone for 10 years–an entire decade). It’s also the drop-dead date for my graduate thesis. (The complete draft was due yesterday, but my professor gave us a reprieve and decided to give us some extra days to do the final final draft since we all had really challenging times during this ordeal).
I’m trying very hard to finish before then–because I just need it to be done–but it feels appropriate.
After all, I did this for her. Well, for me–but with her in mind. With my healing about her in mind.
Four years ago, I made a pretty drastic decision. I had just finished a Master’s in Corporate Training and was pursuing the last few classes that would give me an Ed S. Except I realized I didn’t really want to be a trainer, and I didn’t need that Ed S to do it. I wasn’t happy with the school I was attending, and I needed a big change. At the time, I was going through a major transition. Work-wise, I had stumbled and wasn’t sure where I was going to land. I was reeling from a string of romantic ups and downs that–while tremendously important to my inner healing–made me a bit sad and bitter. I’d come to a place where I realized the life I’d lived for the last few years was basically one tailspin after another. I’d faced the absolute worst fears I’d ever had, and things were finally starting to move up. But I was still at the bottom of the well–and there wasn’t a ladder in sight. I was going to have to crawl out of this mess.
I got real clear about my life–what I actually wanted from it. And I acted. I decided to quit my Ed S program and start a brand new Master’s. It was crazy. I had a Master’s. Why do it all again? What was the point? Was I just stalling again–trying to figure it out? Nope–I had a game plan. One that–if it worked–would give me absolutely everything I’d ever wanted. One that made sense–complete and utter sense–almost too much sense–and would allow me to finally use all of the things I thought I’d never use.
Step one was applying to my old college–the place that crafted the thinker I am today…the place that taught me about community and service. One of the few places that always felt like home. I always knew I’d be back, and somehow, I always knew this program would be part of it. It was almost too easy. Everything slipped into place. I did my interview with the faculty chair, and I just remembered feeling humbled–talking to this man who’d fought to help Africans get clean water. I told him about my dreams–about why I wanted to do this–about my vision for myself. About redeeming my mother’s tragic end. I got in and tackled each class like I did back when I had motivation. I fell in love with many of my professors and sank deep into the ideas I only knew about superficially.
But–then–like any good program–the work I was doing sank in…made me think more about what I was doing and why. What I wanted to do. Suddenly, all my ideas transformed into gigantic ideas–things that would mobilize communities and redefine how we deal with major issues. I fell into a massive love affair with the idea of social enterprise and started questioning why I was studying this if that was a better fit. And then, I started doubting how one person could do this….it was so large and daunting. And then I started wondering if–like always–I’d bitten off more than I could chew. And then, I started wondering if I was the right person for this job.
I mostly kept my doubts to myself and a few friends as I plodded along. Slowly, all that was left to take was the classes I had zero interest in–finance and marketing and others that made my eyes glaze over. Life happened and I decided to take breaks here and there. At one point, I maxed out student loans and financial aid. So, I quit. I’d lost my passion, and if it meant making huge financial sacrifices to finish, I wasn’t sure it was worth it. I took almost a year off, and then that drive came back. I had four classes left. So, I took them–one by one–with big breaks in between.
I’ve been in this program–which is normally completed in two years–for the last four years of my life. This is my second time taking this thesis course. I started this before and then got overwhelmed with life and had to put it off. So, I signed up again and have been knee deep in it since October.
This class has illuminated all the doubts I have about myself. It’s made me feel like I know nothing and am the laziest person ever. I’ve gotten in my own way pretty much all the time. I’ve felt constantly disappointed in myself. I’ve started over about four times now–completely dismantling work I’d worked hard on–just because it wasn’t right. I’ve been incredibly hard on myself–terrified–confused–and just plain apathetic. Last weekend, I thought about quitting again…because I can’t do this. I’m not good enough. I have nothing to say. No one will care.
Except I do. Probably too much.
I whined and bitched and moaned. I got angry when people suggested things because I didn’t need their perfect offerings. I didn’t need advice or fixing. I just needed to rage against myself and all my good intentions. I just needed to complain about how I didn’t have anything left to give. I just needed to fall down that well and sit there again.
It’s part of who I am. To start over, again and again, and fall down–again and again. Not because I can’t do it, but because–in order to do it–I have to know I want to.
I don’t know what the value of this is. I don’t know what I’ll do with it–if I’ll do anything at all. That master plan has changed, and what started as the heart of it is now just another option. That feels right.
But I do know that education is the one thing they can never take from you, and nothing is wasted.
And I do know this thing is hard for me because it’s the first real thing I’ve done–start to finish–that my mother didn’t know about…that I didn’t tell her about–that she didn’t give the thumbs up to. It’s the first thing that makes me someone who is not exactly her daughter. That person who watched her die. That 26 year old me. The girl who almost died with her. Some part of me will always be afraid to not be known by her. If, in some crazy magic world, she’d come back to this life and find me changed. Not exactly hers.
And I did it for her. In her honor. To make all of it matter, somehow. To reclaim the wreckage of that life and make it something more than that. But mostly for me, to heal the part of me that’s always broken–that wants nothing more than to heal and heal others.
If I do this–I can do all those other things that terrify me–and I have no excuses. No outs. I will prove I absolutely am worthy. That I know enough to be taken seriously. That I can work hard and pay for it–that no one can take any of it away. That I did this alone, without her. That I have nothing to prove.
That, in one decade, I created a life where she doesn’t have to exist. My life.
It’s hard. Not the research. Not the writing. But accepting that this motherless life is mine, and I deserve it. That I want it. It’s letting her–and all the dreams we dreamed together–go. That I have something more to give than my broken heart.
This is me choosing joy. This is me choosing not to be known by her. This is me choosing to be me. This is me, still: scared.