"You'll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you'll be in a Slump.
And when you're in a Slump,
you're not in for much fun.
is not easily done."
A passage from Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss
My parents have always maintained that anything worth having does not come easy. When I think of the past several years and the emotional work that I've needed to accomplish in order to feel that I'm back in control of my own life, I realize just how true their words really are.
This post is not a "Look at me now and let me prove just how self-actualized I've become" but yet a reminder to myself of the tangible actions that have helped me feel more like the real me. I've always said that I'm a late bloomer in many regards and though it may have taken me 4 decades to really start to be comfortable in my own skin and respect myself as I would a dear friend, it's been worth every dark and uncertain moment to be here where I am today. Here are some key things that I've implemented that have aided my process to move forward into becoming more of myself:
1) Get to bed!
I've always been a night owl. While my college roommates would intentionally schedule their classes starting at 8 a.m. and adhere to strict, self-imposed bedtimes, I would just be starting the 2nd half of my day as they turned off the lights. It sounds absolutely pathetic now, but there would be many a day where I would still be in bed when they returned from lunch (after already completing a full day's worth of classes!). Once I had kids, my penchant for the wee hours of the morning only increased. The pure bliss that I experienced from the uninterrupted hours of the continuous physical and emotional demands of the day became so addictive that I pushed the limits as far as I could, often not going to bed until 2 or 3 a.m. Look no further than the time-stamps of many of these blog posts to see that I was not doing any favors to my body. Turns out I wasn't just being unfair to myself, but to everyone else around me, too. While I used to brag about how little sleep I got and how productive I could still be (or thought I was being), I was curt, ornery and was running on fumes when it came to the patience I had for my kids. It's embarrassing to admit that it took me 40 years to truly value the benefits of a sound night's sleep. It's hard to make good choices without a good night's sleep to back you up. Not only do I feel better than I have in years, but I look better too (who knew you could lose weight just by sleeping more - apparently everyone but me!). Yet more importantly, my relationships with those who matter most are thriving in a way they just couldn't when I wasn't giving my body what it needed to be my full self. Bottom line: Sleep - It does a body good!
2) Know when to ask for help
One of my parenting mantras has always been that I love my kids enough to know that I am not enough. I am not the least bit shy or hesitant to seek out the kind of professional resources and assistance that I feel would benefit my kid's well-being. And yet, I was so slow to ask for help to support my own well-being. Feelings of shame, embarrassment, failure and sheer stubbornness impeded my ability to see that I could not do everything on my own. It wasn't until I realized that in any given stretch of time that the "good days" were barely noticeable, if even present at all amongst the bad ones that I finally admitted that I needed help. I knew that my current state of living was not the quality of life that I wanted or deserved - for me - or for my loved ones. So I asked for help and got it. As my brilliant friend JR says, it takes a really strong person to ask for help. I thank God each day for the strength that I had inside of me to finally get the support and help that I needed.
3) Stop projecting
Oh, boy. This was an especially difficult one for me to examine and own up to particularly because it forced me to address several unresolved feelings that I had with the two most important women in my life: my mothers. The range of emotions that I had for each one of them surrounding the most salient events in my life were often displaced onto others. I realize now that I was protecting them as much as I was protecting myself. Who wants to admit that their mother (or in my case mothers) could not or would not give you the validation of everything that you made you you? I've come to realize that loving and accepting those who are connected to you in the deepest sense doesn't mean that you have to agree with or like everything they've done or said. Looking at a situation objectively and reflecting back to see how things might have been handled differently doesn't mean that my love or loyalty for either of them is ever in question. Accepting others unconditionally - accepting both of my moms unconditionally - was critical in helping me to accept myself. I now try to see things for what they are - in that very moment - without the haze of the baggage that I've carried from the events of the past.
4) Recognize and be honest about your own limitations
Though this somewhat connects to number 2, for me it was getting real about what I could realistically accomplish and at what cost. A perfect example was my quest to complete an Ironman. I went to Madison last fall to volunteer and get priority registration; I paid my $575 entry fee, joined a gym, purchased a bike that cost more than my first car and was all but determined to let my training be my full time job. Ummm, except that I already had a full time job being a mom and a wife as well as two other part-time teaching jobs. I had neither the time, the energy nor the money to devote to training. It became clear that I needed to get real about what I can and cannot properly manage and to admit that quite often, I CAN'T have or do it all - that is if I don't want to compromise the well-being of myself and my family. This means using the N-O word often and without apology. As far as the triathlon went, my husband and I came to a compromise. I replaced the triathlon with a marathon. I still feel like I have a goal to work towards, but without exacting an unfair toll on our family. Lesson learned - albeit a very expensive one - but one learned nonetheless.
5) Cut the toxic ties
I think it was Dr. Phil who said that in the game of life you're either going up or going down, that you're never not moving in one of the two directions. My number 1 rule when I was dating was that when I was with a guy, I had to be able to answer the following questions in the affirmative: When I was around him, did I feel more like the real me? When I was in his company, did I feel like the best in me was being brought forth? When we were together, did I like myself? I've started to apply the same test to others in my life. Some friendships and former connections are no longer, and that's more than okay. True friends encourage and allow your own light to burn brighter and in turn inspire you to ignite the light in others. Time is truly one of the most precious assets that we have - I've learned to use mine more wisely by being much more selective about the people with whom I choose to spend my time.
6) Do some kind of physical activity for at least an hour a day (although anything is better than nothing)
I know. . .it's not always easy finding an hour a day to "just do it". Believe me, we suffered 30 below wind chills here last winter so going out for a run wasn't always something that I was exactly jumping at the chance to do. Sometimes I had my own indoor dance party. Sometimes I popped in a DVD and did something - anything. Sometimes I just blared the Milli Vanilli and cleaned the house looking like all kinds of foolish (just blame it on the rain!). What I do know is that I have never once regretted a single workout in my life. If loving all the benefits of getting my heart rate up for an hour a day is wrong, I don't wanna be right!
7) Be present - truly present - with each person with whom you come into contact
I can always count on my kids to keep me honest on this one. They KNOW when I'm not emotionally present with them. In the past, I know that I often conflated being home with them as being there for them. I've become much more mindful of making sure that I remove all distractions before I engage in a conversation - regardless of who it may be, but especially with my husband and kids.
8) Shut up and listen
Being the verbose and often self-absorbed person that I am, this is one of the hardest ones for me to apply on a regular basis. I've got a ways to go, but I'm still trying.
9) Every exchange, every interaction and every moment - whether in solitude or in the company of others - has the ability to impart something to help you grow. What you choose to learn from it is up to you.
One of the things that I have come to appreciate about myself is my love of people and my love of learning. The combination of the two has yielded such unimaginable opportunity for growth and discovery - both for myself and the world in which I live. Being a bonafide extrovert, I am grateful for the seemingly endless social situations that surround me as I never lack for the chance to learn something new. Recently I had a not-so pleasant situation that blindsided me in front of 16 other people. I felt both vulnerable and unable to help mitigate the negativity that I felt this situation was spreading unto others. As jarred as I was immediately following this incident, it has proved to be one of the most profound learning opportunities for me - in all areas of my life. I was fortunate enough to have a cadre of amazing and supportive people (shout out to my Pact camp peeps!) who helped me process and fully examine the situation. From those conversations came some of the richest, most profound discussions I have ever had in my life. I'm honestly not trying to spin this or sound like Pollyanna when I say that this original situation has revealed itself to be a huge gift because of what I have learned - about myself, others and the common human experience.
10) When in doubt - see number 1!
I realize that none of what I've written here is new and that it's pretty much Basic Self-Care 101. I don't portend to act as if I have it all figured out or that I'm this newly minted enlightened person who is impervious to the same feelings that everyone else has. The person I was 5, 10, 15 or 20 years ago is still very much a part of me - every step I take in this short life is a part of who I am. I stand behind the posts on this blog because it was where I was at that moment in time. No one part of my life is better or more deserving of praise than another, just as one part should not be targeted in isolation as a cautionary tale. I needed every, single moment of the past 40 years in my life to bring me to where I am today. Tomorrow, next year or the next decade may reveal something entirely different, but until then, I will appreciate and respect who I am today. I write this today as proof to myself to recognize the work that I've done to get this far. I write this for myself, to myself, as a way to celebrate and appreciate this life that I have. My life is full of endless opportunities for continued growth and exploration and for that I am truly grateful.
May your day bring you many unexpected blessings.
This post is dedicated to S (taking the picture), K and D - the ones who give me every chance to grow into the person I am meant to become.