Sweeping away the cobwebs

“Sometimes you have to do what’s best for you and your life, now what’s best for everybody else.”

This is on my mind, tonight.

Well, to be honest. Not just tonight, but a lot recently.

There is more change afoot, or at least a cross-road to be considered. And it seems that whenever this is the case, writing is what I must do. I seem to do best when I think with key strokes. The tappet tap puts order to the discomfort of unrest, helps me find a path to calm the sea of uncertainty.

They say we should trust our heart (or our gut-depends on how you feel it). But I find this so hard to do. Whatever message my heart is sending, it never seems to speak a language I can completely understand. The path is always grey and muddied. I feel the tug and pull of two directions, and in both I see different kinds of challenge and contentment. I find apple reason to take each path. And no absolute reason to choose one over the other. It’s so bloody frustrating.

This time, I’m doing something different. I’m trying really hard to take the people out of it, to ask myself what is best for me. What is it that I want. I’m not very good at thinking this way. Most of my life I’ve been guided by expectation. Funny that, isn’t it, expectation, and  how it has a way of seeming crystal clear.

But of course it’s not, of course we shouldn’t presume to assume what others think she we do, or want us to do. But we do, don’t we? And what a tongue twister that is all around. Assumptions, presumptions, expectations, motivations, sensations. All of these nothing but vague representations of what we believe to be real. And certainly  none of it for certain. Yep. Read that 10 times.

Maybe it’s easier to make decisions based on what we think to be the needs of others, because it allows us to avoid the discomfort of doing our deep thinking. If we can blame it on someone else, it is a whole lot easier to leap. Because if we do it for ourself, we have no one to blame. And that just sucks.

How can one know which path is right, and which decision will lead to the next bit of happiness.

It has been a long, long time since I’ve felt my path to be absolutely clear. In fact, I don’t think I really have since the haze of adolescence. Isn’t that funny. The very time when we are conceivably open to being the most misguided or misdirected is, or at least was for me, the time that pointed in the most decisive directions.

It’s because with age you realize your decisions can lead to uncomfortable impact, impacts that are not so easy to recover from and that affect more than just oneself. A career—for example—may offer limitless potential and opportunity for happiness and opportunity, but at the same time, as a job they feed our families, pay the bills and help make dreams come true for more than just ourselves. As I grow older this becomes painfully more obvious. And extremely frightening. The truth is I cannot sit idly and indulge every intention. There is just more to lose than ever before.

And so it is harder to leap. To have faith. To be sure that, at the end of the day, it will all work out as it should.

There have been only a handful of occasions in my life when I’ve asked for spiritual help, and these were without a doubt the times I needed it most. In these moments, I can honestly say I just felt and understood what I had to do with certainty. Whoever is out there granting support, well he or she has come through when I needed it in spades. But I don’t want to abuse that gift. I want to sometimes be able to feel a sense of direction for myself.

And so here I am. Writing it out, and yet being purposefully vague.  By putting in black and white, letting the key strokes wander where they must go, I start the work of sweeping away some of the cobwebs.

Comfort of mother and son

My boys are growing up. And no matter how often I remind myself, slow down, remember to pay attention, I know this will all be over too soon. I often feel I’m being swept away by life. It’s hard work  to pay attention. It’s even harder to remember to pay attention. I’m delighted by them, by our family, and this precious gift called motherhood. It sounds quaint I know, but the truth is, I’m in awe of it. They are people. People I made. And now, as their arms and legs stretch the limits of boyhood, as their minds expand to explore thoughts unknown to me, I sometimes forget that I made them. They are me. But now, they are no longer me. They are them. It’s kind of a mind twist isn’t it?

But when I do look at them and see them for who they are, my heart literally bursts with pride. Wow. They are something.

I just wish they would slow down.

I want to inhale one more deep breath of their baby softness. I want to feel their round thighs and stroke the baby softness of their chubby little fingers. I want to hear the squeals and delight in the joy they feel when they seem after even a short separation. I want to be their centre.

They say this is what we are meant to do, that our job is to help them learn to fly free. And I want what that for them, of course. But I find it hard knowing that they are living lives without me, that things happen to them every day, at school and even under my own roof, to which I am not privy. How can that be? How can I not be part of it all? It’s not fair. I struggle with this. And sometimes the depth of the struggle surprises me. They’ll talk about things I know nothing about and I’ll feel jealous and hurt. It’s silly really, but it’s the honest truth.

I’ll never hold them accountable for this. It’s my pain, the pain of motherhood. But, it’s also the joy. The joy of knowing that they are stretching their wings and learning it’s safe to fly free.

Right now my oldest and I are sitting together companionably. He’s reading. I’m taking a taste of my writing again for the first time in a while and I feel the contentment surrounding us. I feel sure that this will always be available to me. This companionship and deep comfort that is mother and son just being, together.

I think they take me for granted. I hope that they do.

Stronger for it

In the more than six months since I last wrote, my life has changed yet again. Perhaps it would be news if my life weren’t changing in some way.  The flux in my life affects the big picture. I don’t do small change. It’s always big. Overwhelming. Intense. Day-to-day, I hate change. I’m a homebody by nature, I crave routine and the comfort of being surrounding for long periods of time between my own two walls. I like predictability. At least, that is how I would describe my core.

And yet, since becoming a mother I have had few moments of personal peace. The turmoil has felt endless and sometimes suffocating. Being a mother, living a responsible, productive adult life, surviving the challenges of marriage and forging my way through a demanding professional career—all of this has been the backdrop for my journey to discover myself. The journey that, for years, defined me.

But here I am. It’s 2014, and as I look ahead I have promised myself that this is the year that I try to catch a breath. I will just be well and live my day-to-day one at a time. It’s time to slow it all down and focus on my family. It’s time to take the emphasis away from me and find comfort in the chaos, instead of constantly fighting it.

In the past, the turmoil has caused ill health, and deep, difficult struggles. But I’m through that and most definitely stronger for it. Not stronger in the way that I feel like I could roar, but stronger in that I know myself better now than ever before. This feels good. Very good. And because I know myself I can face the coming year with a sense of fortitude that I couldn’t just a few years ago.

This is a good place to be. I feel good—really good. I’m content. I hope to get back to writing it all out. This place provided me with clarity when I needed it. The writing forced me to think. To understand. I miss it.

Reflecting

Do you hear that—that ffff sound? It’s me, blowing the dust off my blog. It’s quite thick, months worth actually.  My dashboard looks very foreign and for the life of me I can’t remember what all these controls all for, but the blog is still here and so am I.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve felt myself being pulled in this direction, a growing desire to write and feel my fingers racing across the keyboard, but even more a desire to sit, write and reflect. When I’m not writing, I’m not good at reflecting. Writing helps me focus, and manage my thoughts. By putting things into words,my mind gets organized and I understand myself better. After the last six months, I really need to spend time understanding myself better.

I’ve been on a roller coaster of emotion, albeit carefully controlled and managed emotion, but topsy turvy, full speed ahead emotion nonetheless. Life has happened in a big way, a scary way, a I want to run far into the forest screaming kind of way. But I haven’t. I’m here. Living it. Feeling it and learning from it.

My best friend recently said to me that she’s decided that the definition of being an adult is learning to live with and cope with change. She’s right, if there is anything I’ve learned in the last 15 years it is that nothing stay stagnant and as we get older and life continues to propel forward, change seems to happen more. My guess is it just feels that way because time passes like a freight train, with the weeks and months blending into a blurry landscape.

In a couple of weeks I’ll celebrate my birthday. I’m not fond of birthdays anymore because they remind me of how quickly time is passing. But just like change, birthdays are a fact of life. As I’ve grown older, I’ve taken my birthday as a cue to reflect on life, what is was over the year that has just passed and how I would like it to be in the year to come. This birthday signals my entry into the latter half of my thirties. My husband and many of my close friends have recently celebrated or a hair’s breadth from 40. FORTY. How is that even possible? I still remember celebrating my dad’s fortieth birthday. At the time, it seemed like a lifetime away for me.

And I suppose it has been a lifetime since that celebration during my expectant adolescence to the life I have now.

So far, my thirties have been tumultuous. Everything I’ve trusted and taken for granted—even, actually —my own sense of self has been wrung out, turned upside and left shaken and floundering for a sense of direction. These last few years have made me weary.

And yet, my thirties also brought the birth of my children, tremendous growth and opportunity in my career, and a variety of fulfilling and amazing life adventures.

In many ways, the cliché of finding oneself during this decade holds true for me. However, one difference is that it hasn’t exactly been about uncovering anything I didn’t already know.  I’ve always known, I just didn’t necessarily believe and trust. Often I still don’t. And that is what I’ve learned. Despite the unrest, my thirties have brought acceptance. I don’t always know myself, I frequently have trouble finding my way, I am, by nature a cavalcade of pent up emotion, and I often lose sight of perspective and that’s okay.

Settled

It was 7 years ago this month that I became pregnant with my first son. Seven years since my life was turned upside down and inside out in both good ways and bad ways. Seven years since I lost my sense of direction. Seven years that it took to wring my life inside out and come back up for air.

Today, I am settled. Happier than I have been in as long as I can remember. I am myself, and yet so very different. I love my life. I haven’t said that since before my first pregnancy, maybe even longer. I’m content. The gentle cadence that marks the rhythm of my days finally fits like a glove.

I’ve become the woman I’ve always wanted to be.

Writing it like that seems trite. But for the very few who have known and seen the depth of my struggles, they will know how tumultuous the road has been.

Today, I’m here to celebrate and send gratitude to the universe for finally showing me the way. Had I not travelled the roads that I have, I could not appreciate the beauty that comes from the journey. Nor could I revel in the simplicity of a happy, productive routine.

Because that is all this is—an ordinary life. But a happy, ordinary life that finally feels right.

Today, someone asked me what my secret is. Just a year ago, my answer would have been so different. I would have wanted to say that it’s so much more than it really is. I would have wanted to seem wise and accomplished. I was still trying to find answers in things that don’t matter.

But now I know. I know what the answer is for me, and it’s quite simple.

I sleep, A LOT. I acknowledge my triggers and truly respect them, even if I don’t like it. I put boundaries on my life and protect them as much as I can. I respect my needs. I breathe and believe.

That’s all.

The tricky part, however, is not just saying it, it’s really, really doing it. That is what made all the difference to me. There was a time when I knew these to be my needs, but I wasn’t very good at sticking to them. As soon as I gave in, and lived them for months and months I finally started to get better. It didn’t, couldn’t, happen over night. It just took time. And determination. And, frankly, surrender.

And if I start to slip, I remind myself. Breathe and believe. I reign it in and go back to basics.

 

Sunday morning

It’s Sunday morning. The day has started out cool and breezy, with a faint feeling of fall whispering its approach. My children spent the night at their grandparents so we enjoyed a slower start to the day. For me that meant brewing coffee and curling back into bed to savour the hot, bitter taste while flipping the pages of my latest book.

I’m reading Husband and Wife by Leah Stewart. It’s been on my to-read list for months and months. A few weeks ago, I looked at the reviews on Goodreads and decided it was just the kind of book I needed. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Though I expected it be good, I’m not sure I expected it to be quite so good, quite so true to the real lives of husband and wives. As I’ve read I’ve found myself thinking about my marriage, the choices I’ve made both personally and professionally and the family I call my own. The book is a validation that nothing is ever perfect, and that the things that happen in our heads are not necessarily the things that actually are. It reminds me that the hard times are, in their own way, as important as the good.  I need this nudge every so often.

Before long I hear car door slamming, and the chipper sounds of little people voices. They swept in with piles of stuff, and stories, and happy, happy smiles after an evening of being spoiled and loved. I hugged them tight because even though I long for the breaks, when they are gone I just miss them. I miss the softness of their skin, the smell of downy blond hair and the laughter that erupts all around the house because of the things they say. When they are gone I miss them intensely.

Now, we’ve settled into our Sunday routine. The boys and their father curled up in our family room watching The Lorax. I’m on my back porch, letting the rustle of trees sooze me as they always do. I hear sounds of our neighbours enjoying their own Sunday together as families. There are lawn mowers gently humming in the background, and the family next door is chatting, and playing in their backyard.

And the feeling of family just washes over me.

It’s now. Moments like these when I feel the intensity of family. And it is just so comfortable, and fulfilling. There is nothing special about this moment. It’s just a normal day, with everyone doing the things they love to do on lazy Sunday mornings. The sun is shining, and I’ve had a great night’s rest, which helps. But I’m just happy. All is right with the world.

Making choices

Lately it feels like I’m coming here more and more to write about how busy I am. And if I’m not writing about how busy I am here, or here, I’m thinking about how busy I am. And then I start to think about what I can do to slow down the pace of my life, to remember to breathe, to protect myself from getting caught up in it all in an unhealthy way. No matter how much I turn it around in my head, right now, today, something has to give.

My life is rich and full. I’m finally well, consistently well. Of course, I have bad days. And yes, I’m still working through many personal challenges. But I’m happy more often than not, I’m productive more often than not, and my well of patience feels mostly full again for the first time since before my children were born. At least most days.

I’m working on several stimulating, yet incredibly intellectually and time-challenging projects. They are soaking up most of my creative energy and capacity to think. 

I’m trying hard to make my relationships with my husband, and downtime with him really about being with him, rather than escaping into my computer. I admit, I’m not always good at this, but I’m working on it.

My children are flourishing and growing and generally challenging us in so many wonderful and irritating ways every day. They are 3 and 5 1/2 now. When did that happen? They are settling later at night which leaves less time for me. I’m okay with this. It’s how I expect it to be.

I’m surrounded by friends who care for me, and who make a difference in my life in so many ways. Some of them are online and who I hope will remain firmly a part of my life, but many more are offline and I want to give them my attention. Some of them need my attention.

And so my life is full—to brimming if I’m being quite honest.

And that leaves little room for what I do here. This writing, this connecting and sharing. There is so little of me left to devote to this space in a way that I would want to be able to do that. It’s not that writing has become less important to me, it’s just that I have to make choices in my life. Isn’t that what motherhood and womanhood and balance are all about?

Making choices—choices we can support and sustain.

And for now I can’t sustain this blog. I’m spent by the time I carve out a moment to write, and that means I’m not writing the things I want to be writing. That means it becomes a chore. When it becomes a chore, it creates guilt.

The last thing I need in my life is guilt. I’ve worked too hard to find some emotional and mental stability.

So when I’m not coming here, when I’m unable to visit all my favourite blog spaces and read and connect, I feel guilty. I also feel sad, and somewhat empty, but mostly I feel guilty.

But the thing is, that guilt is entirely of my own making. So the only way I see to undo it, at least for now, is to eliminate it. I have to give myself permission to let it go so that it doesn’t hang over me every day, so it doesn’t gnaw at my conscience.

To leave this space untended is gut-wrenching, even as I write this I can feel myself resisting. It has been so many things to me over the last few years. But I realize now that those thing will never leave me, I can always come back when I’m ready. Or not, if I never am. But when I do, I want it to be for the right reasons. I want it to feel comfortable and natural and a privilege rather than a chore. I want it to be because I have something to say, and to share. Just now, I don’t feel that way.

So for now, I’m stepping away. I expect this will be a long break. The things that are taking up so much of my energy at the moment are far from being over, the light in the tunnel is still only a speck. And who knows, maybe next week I’ll have something burning to write about and you’ll see me back here eating crow. But I don’t think so. I think that this permission I’m giving myself is going to free up just the right amount of space, space that I desperately need.

In the meantime, you’ll still find me in all the usual places like here, or here. Or you can always drop me a line here. I’ll be around, just in a different, more simple way for the next little while.

 

Getting comfortable with discomfort

If you were to ask me to describe myself here is what I’d tell you:

I’m enthusiastic and emotional. I laugh and cry openly. I can be argumentative. I have heart. I’m empathetic. I’m willing to listen. I take everything personal, and I over-analyze every conversation. I’m easily convinced. And I’m a people pleaser.

I like to talk, but more than that, I like to communicate and connect. I’m honest and open. I’m willing to be vulnerable.

I believe I am all of these things. Of these, I would argue that my willingness to be honest, open and vulnerable are my most strongly routed qualities, or so I’ve always believed of myself. That is, until recently when I learned something very important about myself. It was eye-opening and somewhat humbling and was completely unexpected. I AM this person, but I’m not very good at BEING this person.

In this space, this ironically very public space, I do a very good job of living this honestly. Here, I share openly.

But when I step away, I’m actually very different. I am tremendously intimated by myself. I lack confidence. I’m willing to be honest, but to a point. If I feel strongly about something, I’ll tell you, but I won’t push it.

In real life, I can be very guarded. And if I let down my protective barriers, if I put myself into a situation where I feel vulnerable or I’m losing control, I quickly surrender. It a self-protection mechanism that I’ve perfected to the point that I failed to recognize it in myself. Deep down I know myself to be someone different, rightly believed myself to be that person that I had actually convinced myself that I was that person.

Here’s what I mean.

When my thoughts, feelings, perceptions and assumptions (the very things that make our emotional psyche) are rolling around in my head they make sense. They are weighty and important. I believe them, I trust them, I live by them. And when I write them here,  they feel okay. I’m comfortable with sharing, secure in their black and white absoluteness. I can speculate on the many reasons that may be. Perhaps it’s because I ultimately don’t have to hit publish. Even as my fingers clickety clack across the keys, the words are still anonymous, exist only on the screen, in a draft only I can see, and thus, arguably are still very much safe in my head. As they roll off my fingertips, offering comfort and self-understanding, I’m still protected, protected until I release them into the universe, or the Internet as it were. Or maybe it’s because I know that even when you, my dear friends, read them they still, in a way maintain their silence. I’m not there with you. I don’t need to witness, see or hear your reaction. It’s safe. When I hit publish there is still silence.

But when I say them, articulate them out loud, it feels prickly. When I talk with friends, colleagues, mentors, family and even my husband, the words just never seem good enough. They feel cheap, almost fake. I  worry there will be consequences. And that sensation makes me believe my thoughts aren’t important. It makes me feel silly, even provincial.

My husband reads my blog pretty faithfully. I appreciate his support, and feel blessed by his encouragement and interest. But he’s the kind of person who likes to read out loud. When he reads these words, my words out loud it makes me profoundly uncomfortable. It’s prickly. For some reason hearing them feels like a judgment.

Extend this to the rest of my life and you see the struggle I’m facing. It’s unpleasant. Well it’s more than unpleasant, it’s downright debilitating.

I need to find a way to get comfortable with my own discomfort. And to further complicate it, I need to do it so that I can be myself. Twisted in a way. But our subconscious has a funny way of protecting us.

I took some early steps recently but talking about all of this with my husband. Explaining it as honestly and openly as I could. You might think it would be easy, but it isn’t. It took me almost a month to muster the courage, to describe why this is, what is has meant, and what I must do now. It all makes sense in my head, but as soon as I say it, it makes it real, and the reality is very hard for me to accept.

So this blog post is step two. It’s me coming clean so to speak. I’m practicing for the harder parts I still have to face, the more difficult discussions that will need to be had, and the person I need to learn to be.

 

 

Learning to Breathe: A review

People have come into my life in a profoundly perfect way over the past year. – Priscilla Warner, Learning to Breathe: My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life

I know just how this feels. It’s a remarkable thing. A gift really. To receive exactly what or who you need, precisely when you need it. I’ve experienced it myself in many ways through my own journey, which began just two years ago. And today, as I sit comfortably in the afterglow of Priscilla’s exquisite memoir, I realize it has happened yet again. Now, with this book, the timing is once again “profoundly perfect.” And even more, I’m certain it was meant to be. What more of an indication did I need but to learn as I read that we share a birthday.

I cannot speak highly enough of Priscilla’s writing. Not only is it elegant and gracefully honest, but accessible in that the context is precise, detailed and completely  imaginable. Her experience becomes the reader’s experience, and you can’t help but cheer her along as she writes of her year-long journey to bring calm to her life. She narrates her quest from the point of view of living it, but also as wise observer. This is a great gift to the reader because she offers a valuable opportunity for everyone to truly learn from her experience, and she does it by sharing all the parts of her journey, her thoughts, her worries, her conversations. All of it.

“Science gives us a lot of the raw information to work with [on anxiety and panic], but how everything applies to you as in an individual is a very specific thing, which you’ll have to figure out for yourself,” says Priscilla’s therapist, Dr. Jaeger.

And this is precisely what she does in this book. She takes the science, she takes the spirit ,and she shows us how she used it to figure it all out for herself. Powerful stuff.

As I read this book and connected with her journey to the very core of my being, as I cried and gasped in understanding and kinship, as I underlined bits and pieces of text, and left dark, heartfelt exclamation marks in the margins, I ironically, felt myself  holding my breath because of the connection I’d found.  I’m just now finding the strength and clarity to emerge from my own season of fighting panic to find peace, and it was the reading of this book that finally helped me recognize what I have done.  Two years ago, when I set out to find myself, I never expected that I would almost lose myself in the process. The markers for my own depression and anxiety were all there, but I now know that I wasn’t ready to face it until this season in my life. It nearly broke me, but in doing so, I was ready for it to save me. I have come across dark waters, but to cross I had to be willing to dive in, to tread water, and finally to extend each arm, tentatively at first, fighting strong counter currents, but soon growing stronger as I learned that I could swim.

This is the lesson of this book, this is the gift that Priscilla offers with her words, and in sharing the guidance she was given by so many others.

“The convention of panic was just a thin veil for you,” Rabbi Robert Sachs told Priscilla in an e-mail one day, which she then shared with us in her book. “It cloaked the stillness and compassion that is you. It takes great courage to let it all go and to display the unbearableness of so much love.

If you’ve struggled with anxiety or depression, or simply feel lost in your life, this book will inspire you to find a path to peace and happiness.

On trusting our intuitive and creative selves

I’ve been taking an online course called Emerge.  The course is designed around developing the creative tools we need to help us face our seasons of change. It’s little wonder a friend recommended it to me. For two years (it’s hard to believe that I’ve been working on Project Finding Me for that long!) I’ve been going through a period of intense personal growth and change. And while I’ve certainly been moving forward, I’ve learned that ultimately there is no final destination. That said, my interest in this course came from the notion of learning to emerge from a life transition and become more fully myself. Interestingly, this is the very place I find myself now. I’m learning what it means to get out of my own way, to finally embrace everything I’ve learned and finally live the life I want to lead—a life that feels right, and comfortable and true.

So I registered. This week, we’ve been reading about and doing exercises on trusting our intuitive and creative selves. This is a huge weakness for me. I’ve been a people pleaser my entree life and as a result I’ve never learned how to trust myself, much less to feel confident following through with any sense of intuition. So these lessons have hit hard. It’s at the heart of the work I’m focused on, and  has a lot to do with improving my sense of self-confidence.

So, we’ve been encouraged to write the following lists as a way of tapping our intuitive, creative selves. I’m supposed to let my gut take over and write anything and everything that comes to mind. So here goes:

My obsessions and preoccupations:

  • Social media
  • A clean, organized house.
  • Constant professional advancement
  • Starbucks
  • Self-understanding
  • Whether there should be a third baby in our family.
  • Paper, and pictures. And putting them together into art.
  • Being good. And liked.
  • How to nurture self-confidence in my children.
  • Anything Apple.
  • Flannel sheets.
  • A hot, flickering fire.
  • Being very, very good at my job.

What I know:

  • How to plan, and build a house.
  • How to start and stoke a fire.
  • Patience is never easy, and takes constant practice.
  • It’s very hard to still the mind.
  • There isn’t enough time in the day.
  • How to make a buttery, flaky pastry.
  • How to pitch a story and get it covered by media.
  • What it’s like to lose a loved one.
  • Bi-polar affective disorder sucks.
  • I can’t stand seafood.

What I don’t know:

  • The right way to discipline my children.
  • How to cook without a recipe.
  • If writing is really my calling.
  • How to change a flat tire.
  • How to start our snowblower.
  • How to trust myself.
  • How to set a table.
  • If I’m making a difference.
  • If I’ll ever feel like I truly know myself.

 

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