Monthly Archives: March 2017

I Get It, I Understand

You know who’s the best? You guys. After my last post I had so many people reach out to me, by email, text, comment, phone, Facebook message, husband, currier pigeon, pony express, smoke signal, morse code, and, dangnabbit, even in person. And just about everyone was saying, “Yes, I hear you, I’m in this place too.” or “I was in this place.” or “I think I’m headed for this place.” I’m humbled and honored by those of you who opened up to me about your own struggles and I’m buoyed by the love and kindness sent my way. And of course it has gotten me thinking a lot.

Why, if so many of us are burdened and struggling with one thing or another, is it so hard for us to talk about it? If there is a wealth of understanding and support out there, why can’t we just be honest with where we are at from day to day? Are we really going to be social lepers if we quit pretending that we aren’t a wreck when we actually are? Maybe. I don’t know. But I suspect not. I think we all crave intimate connection but most of us are well trained to keep our less pretty emotions tucked away. My Norwegian ancestors keep a close eye on me and they don’t mind shaming me from the grave for crossing the line of what’s appropriate. “Stop making a scene,” they say tersely, “and don’t embarrass anyone.”

I’m actually terrified of embarrassment, mine and other people’s. Once I was at the dentist and the hygienist thought I was pregnant when I wasn’t. It was like being thrown into a humiliation casserole. I was embarrassed, of course, over my size and shape, but also embarrassed for her for making such an ostentatious social gaff. I was full of guilt that my own body could cause such awkwardness between people and ashamed that I had no snappy comeback, just hot, red cheeks and sweaty armpits in an office full of other embarrassed people. While that experience had nothing to do with emotional openness, it had the result of everyone feeling mortified and I never want to be the cause of that. Still though, I know that the subjects that sometimes make people uncomfortable are the ones we need to share the most. I want to be bold and open and real, but I’m a wuss when it comes right down to it. I find it easier to share my inner workings in writing, here and in less public settings, because I can avoid seeing the reaction on someone’s face and if people disapprove or find me immodest, chances are they won’t tell me about it.

A friend recommended a podcast called ‘Terrible, Thanks For Asking‘. I’ve only listened to the first few installments, but I really like the concept. The idea is that every episode is an interview with someone who has experienced something hard (or awful in some cases) and the difficult emotional recovery that comes with it. It’s people who are unapologetically honest with their pain and shortcomings, even if it causes some discomfort. Some of the stories are hard to listen to, but it’s a refreshing look at how the dark sides of life make us who we are. Obviously, it’s right up my alley.

That podcast, combined with the feedback I’ve gotten on my last post has made me wish we had a different way to communicate with each other about how we really are from day to day. Of course it’s going to be hard to be totally honest when you see an acquaintance at the kid’s swimming lessons or while meeting a potential client or waiting in line to buy tampons, but what if there was another way? Humor me for a minute and just imagine:

Every morning after we get up and start the day we put on a name tag. But instead of writing our name, we write how we are really feeling. Write it in green and it means you are open to talking about it. Write it in red and it means you aren’t. Then you go to work or school or the grocery store and everyone is walking around with a tag. I’m lonely. My husband is cheating on me. I’m so excited for my trip tomorrow. I think I’m pregnant. I’m sick of people giving me advice. Abandonment issues. I got a great job that I’m completely unqualified for. This sunny day makes me feel like frolicking. I ate an entire bag of Cheetos. In laws. I screamed at my kid and I feel horrible about it. I’m falling in love. My wife has cancer. Bankrupt. I want someone to take care of me. I’m jealous of everyone who is better looking than I am. I had a hard time leaving the house because of my anxiety. I’m happy for no reason.

Of course this alternate universe relies on us always knowing what we are feeling and why, being aware of our issues and able to articulate them. As far fetched as that is, when we have a glimmer of insight I think it’s worth trying to be brave and vulnerable and generous with our truth. Most of us are floundering through life looking for the people with whom we are simpatico. It’s hard to keep in mind, when wallowing around in our own emotional shit, that people long to say “I get it, I understand.” as much as they want to be understood themselves.

Authenticity might be my favorite quality in a person. My own moments of faker-ness come more often than I would like but I’m striving to be more candid in the way I present myself to the world. When someone shares their real self with me, it brings richness to my life, another complex layer of flavor. Being open with our truth is a gift to those hearts that are in harmony with our own. It makes us softer and more trusting. It feeds the compassionate parts of human nature instead of the judgmental ones. It’s an awkward stumble into grace.

“Engrave this upon my heart: there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” – Mary Lou Kownacki

(Except that I’m too realistic to be completely sold on this. There are plenty of people that I will continue to dislike even if I hear their story, because some people are just plain obnoxious. But I like the quote anyway.)

 

No More Leave It To Beaver

I’ve been struggling. The kind of struggling that sometimes leads to Prozac or psychotherapy or big life changes. It’s not really an easy thing to talk about. When someone asks, “How’ve you been?” I don’t say “I’ve been unhappy with my life and not sure what to do about it.” But that is the truth of the matter. It is part of the reason I haven’t been writing. I’m not gloomy all the time by any means, but often enough that I don’t feel like myself. There is a nagging feeling of being unfulfilled, stuck, lost, joyless. I have so very many things to be grateful for, but I’m having a hard time really feeling the gratitude. I can look around and see the gratitude, I can know intellectually how lucky I am but my heart is not swelling with it.

This has been such a busy couple of years for my family with very little down time in which to regroup. Most days, the urgency of the children, our business, the food that must be bought and prepared, is enough to mask what’s not quite right under the surface. But the subconscious starts to yell louder when you aren’t listening. I have found myself in the midst of bright green envy for the lives of my friends (who I know damn well have their own sets of problems) when usually I wouldn’t trade my situation in a million years. I have been leaky-eyed and overwhelmed at odd moments and without resilience. I’m getting a C- in mothering when I usually can pull off a solid B. Something is in need of adjustment.

I had a dream about my dad, who I haven’t dreamt about in years. We were seeing each other after a long time apart, supposedly having a visit and catching up, but he was spending the time making small talk with strangers and ignoring me. I finally cornered him and demanded to know why he wasn’t talking to me or interested in my life. I wanted to know what he had been doing with his time that was so much more important than our relationship. He told me that there had been an all day Leave It To Beaver marathon on TV “and, well, you know…”  I was so upset by the fact that he wasn’t even watching something new, but reruns of a show that was stupid the first time around, that I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him, screaming “You are wasting your life!!! You aren’t paying attention!!! You aren’t asking me questions!!!”

I woke from the dream knowing that it was an important one. I started off thinking that my inner little girl was coming out to deal with some old issues from the past and wondering ‘why now?’ But as I ruminated on it a bit more I had an epiphany. The dream was not about hurts in my childhood, it was about me, right now, not paying attention. I’m afraid one day I will look around and feel that I have wasted my life. That instead of asking myself questions, I’m ignoring something important and distracting myself with metaphorical reruns. My dad came to visit me in the night to tell me I need to get my act together.

Okay, so, that’s great, but now what? I understand that I need to start asking questions, and I am. I’m asking over and over. What is it that I want? What am I going to do with the life I have left? What is missing here? How do I find inspiration again? But each of these questions comes with a subtext that points out that the answer must fit in with our real life, and our real life is kind of a pain in the ass right now.

My day to day at this point feels monotonous. My children will never stop testing me, my husband will work seven days a week for the rest of his life, and traveling is a thing of the past. Now, intellectually I know that is not true, but it’s such the reality of our situation at this time that I can’t fathom how we move out of this phase. Hence the feeling stuck.

After a number of talks with Robert, who is a tremendous, if distracted, support to me, we still haven’t figured out how we make owning a business less crazy and more sustainable. We both agree that it’s not working very well right now. Yes, we can potentially (knock on wood) make a living doing this, but at what cost? Living in a state of panic, always running to put out whatever fire is burning the hottest is no way to have a life. Short term and long term, changes need to be made.

One thing that has become clear is that for everyone’s sanity I need to take over some more of the business responsibilities. It does nothing good for anyone in this house when Robert has to spend his weekends shut away doing paper work. He feels fully burned out, the kids miss him and resent me, and I feel like a caged animal, about to scream or cry all the freakin’ time. I’m trying to figure out my place in this work we have taken on as well as what I need to do to feel personally fulfilled. Building houses is not my passion, but it’s not terrible either, and it is what we are doing right now. There is enjoyable, creative work in there, but I have to find my niche. There is also mindless data entry work, a lot of it, and that needs to be done too. I want to truly be a partner for my husband, not just the one who takes care of the rest of our life so he can work all the time. We both are in need of some balance.

I’m hardly unique in these feelings. Most people at some point, or at many points, feel unsure of their path or afraid of wasting their lives. We are all finding our way and sometimes, and for some people, it’s just really hard. I guess this could be called a mid-life crisis. I’m not in any danger of running off with my personal trainer or getting a boob job or dancing on tables at the local bar. But I am in danger of not being the kind of mom, wife, daughter and friend that I want to be. I’m in danger of not being the kind of ME that I want to be.

So this is life right now. It’s messy. It is also very mundane and privileged to have these kinds of problems. I know there are many, many people who work harder and more stoically than we do. It’s so embarrassingly prosaic that I’m rolling my eyes at my own self, but shameful or not, it’s where I’m at.

There is a lesson here, and I want it to stop hitting me over the head with a two by four, so I’m trying to learn it. So far I’ve got this much: Pay attention. No more Leave It To Beaver reruns. Your time is limited, don’t waste it.

I’m asking my questions and hoping the answers will come.