Monday, April 7, 2014
Keep Practicing--My Messy, Beautiful
Wonder-Full Stories was born a few years ago out of my deep hunger for inspiration and hope. I sought to reclaim a sense of wonder by sharing stories of our beautiful, messy world. I wrote as a curator, inserting little of myself. My energy for the project fizzled after three posts.
Now, a few years later, I wonder whether I might find and spread some hope through a riskier method: by sharing my own messy, beautiful self.
This may be my one-and-only post of this type. I'm writing this over my internal nay-sayers ("First world problems!") and out of gratitude for the honesty of others. I'm writing this because it seems important, and because Lent is the best time for "soul work." And because, as Glennon says, we are all in this together.
I am a highly educated married mother of two. My husband and I are employed and we generally enjoy our work. We are financially stable, with a loving community of family and friends near and far. I have a meaningful spiritual life, and the time and flexibility and resources to take care of myself. I have not been the victim of mental or physical abuse. All four of us are basically healthy.
All of this privilege and blessing...and yet. On many days, I am still not okay, and sometimes I'm barely functional.
I've struggled my whole life with anxiety, depression and hyper-sensitivity. (My inner critic says: Guilt! Shame! Others are truly suffering and I am whiny and weak!) It has taken me thirty-five years, seven therapists, Zoloft and countless hours of reflection, meditation and loving conversation to acknowledge this truth.
Many days, it takes almost nothing to launch me into a place of churning stomach, tight throat and exhaustion. The first loud noise or minor worry of the day, and I feel out of control, compelled to erase and re-write my to-do list. Over time, anxiety has manifested physically as severe acid reflux and TMJ. Compulsive tendencies have driven me to over-work and ignore pain, leading to a (temporarily) debilitating overuse injury and various chronic pain problems. Hypersensitivity makes me irritable and rather high-maintenance. And my closest loved ones bear the brunt.
I am the gifted child who can't fall asleep at night because she is so worried about how tired she will be the next day if she can't fall asleep right away. I am the middle-schooler panicked from the stresses of bullying and gossip and back-stabbing. I am the broken-hearted teenager desperate after the end of an unhealthy relationship. I am the urbanite who never adjusts to the bruising noises and smells of the city. I am the college kid who loses a semester and some good friends to hours and hours of crying and neediness. I am the young professional who can't tolerate being touched and collapses into tears every night due to the stresses of a rather good job. I am the new mother who almost vomits from crying due to postpartum anxiety, and yet does not seek mental health support.
And I am also the star student and prized employee. I am the swim team captain, the choreographer and the a cappella group leader. I am the Most Likely To Succeed (whatever that means). I am the successful professional and small business-owner. I am the best friend, the loving daughter/sister and the faithful wife. I am a great mom.
I get that it is okay, maybe even desirable, and certainly unavoidable, to be flawed--even deeply so. To be imperfect is to be human; I get that. But I am still rather appalled by my own imperfections. I have not learned how to reconcile my ambition and my sensitivity. I blow through my own limits, and suffer the consequences, constantly.
A few weeks ago I started working with therapist number eight, and am tentatively very excited about her. I don't know where our work together is headed, and am impatient with the process as usual. But this person definitely showed up at the right time. I hope she can help me learn to approach my days more gently. And also to be mindful of my limits... and if it's not too much to ask, to maybe figure out how in the hell I can put my sensitivity to good use.
Our son plays Suzuki violin, which is equal parts awesome and ridiculously challenging (kind of like life, as it turns out). Whenever he gets frustrated, I ask him: "Why do we practice?" And he responds, as we have taught him, and sometimes with a groan: "To make it easier."
And there it is, the truth and the challenge: that it is our job to do hard things and to keep practicing. I am currently pretty tired of my own self and my own issues (so selfish and boring!) and also of practicing. But I do find consistent and increasing joy, maybe even inspiration, in things like dancing, humor, and honesty. My hope is that the joyful list will grow while the anxiety list shrinks, and that I will eventually know more internal quiet than internal strife. May it be so, for all of us.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!