I want to address a couple of comments I’ve received since I started sharing my blog. These couple of comments have been something along the lines of, “It seems like you are doing really well with everything.” When I’ve read those, I appreciate the sentiment/encouragement but I want to wave my arms frantically from the deep end of the pool and shout, “I’m not! I’m barely keeping afloat here! Somebody throw me a ring!” I worry whether I’m achieving what I really set out to do, which is to be honest.
The prompt I am using for this blog is What is it like to be me in the world today?. I am trying to write about thoughts and feelings that I’m living through on the day when I write and publish. For the last year I have been immersing myself in various forms of self-help (and really anyone-please-help!). I have been effectively retraining my brain to start framing my reality differently. I have listened to countless audiobooks and podcasts. I have seen four different therapists since separating almost two years ago. (I think I finally found one I can stick with!) I attended the Jody Moore Be Bold Bootcamp in March and immersed myself in the content of her membership program for about 6 months. I’ve acquired and studied a whole library of books about self-trust and shame and courage and processing emotion. I have been grabbing onto anything I can to try to change the narrative in my head about what my life has meant so far and what it can mean going forward.
So when I write here, I’m writing what I am trying to live. And I’ll be the first to say that there are days when I fail…miserably. Yesterday was such a day. I saw a few patients at work, which is getting increasingly harder as I am becoming awakened. I used to be very good at compartmentalizing my life. I could go to work and talk to 8-12 depressed, anxious, manic, psychotic people though the course of the day. I could hear their stories of trauma, heartbreak, side effects and irritation, and my brain would package it up neatly and leave it there in the medical record for me to forget about until I saw them back again in one to three months. I realize now that I was so adept at this because I was effectively doing the same thing in my own life, with my own feelings. Now that I’ve broken that wall down in myself, I find my patient’s difficulties are creeping into my interior. So suffice it to say that work is harder than it used to be.
Then I went to therapy. I spent the appointment talking about my failed marriage and my doubts about religion. These are two topics that I am soooooo tired of thinking about that it infuriated me that I was spending my hard-earned money on a therapy session to talk about them AGAIN. I got some good take-aways but still—totally annoyed that I haven’t got these two things figured out yet. The fact that these are deep and pervasive problems, not quickly solved is not lost on me. I just want the luxury of talking about the smaller, more interesting, more benign problems in my life with my therapist. Or better yet to have this all packaged up neatly in my brain already. This is what it’s like to be in my brain. There’s a voice there that keeps saying, “Michelle, get your shit together.”
After therapy I complained about this to my sister, who laughed at me (kindly, of course) for being bothered about spending money on therapy about my failed marriage. Then I talked to my friend, who validated and heard everything I was feeling and fed me dinner. Then to another friend, who hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek, but also called me privileged when I told her I was taking this year off from voting (no space in my mind for the issues on the ballot). Then another friend called and I heard myself telling her she could come over even though I was struggling against it even as I was saying it. By this point in the day, I was really angry. Uncomfortably so. The kind of angry where you just want to be alone because the idea that someone might witness this ugliness feels too shameful. So she came over and I told her about all of the things. I was thinking, “How many times have I repeated these things now?”
And I cried (kind of—it was kind of like on The Holiday when Cameron Diaz’s character decides to cry but then can’t get the tears out). So my sweet friend watched me do whatever that was, whatever it looked like. And she agreed with me that it was all terrible. She was a witness to my pain. She reminded me that I had written some good content here. I told her that I thought it was all lies. None of it works. Exhibit A — me in my current state.
Even as I was saying that, I knew I didn’t really feel that way though. I think the lie is this: That if you do this hard work, you will someday get to the other side of pain. That you can find nirvana. The truth is that the deeper you go into this work, the more shit you uncover. The more demons you find in your closet.
So why do it? I think JOY is the answer. I’ve heard that joy is deeper and longer lasting than happiness. That happiness is fleeting but joy endures. If that is the definition we are working from then joy might be better described as unburdened. Unburdened happens when I let go of fear (which is the future) and dirty pain (which is the past) and just exist in this moment. When I accept it for what it is.
Let me be clear, last night I did not feel joy. But the process, the tools I’m trying to understand and explain in this space, they lead to an unburdened life. One where I can have my face in the mud last night, and wake up today feeling shaky and unsure and still a little pissed off, but knowing that I can move forward. That I’ve picked my face up out of the mud before and that I will do it again a million more times. It’s about trusting myself and trusting the process. Maybe this is what it means to be “doing well.” Maybe feeling like everything has gone to hell is exactly right. And as I’m writing this into the world, I’m really saying it to myself because some days “doing well” feels terrible.