You know how sometimes you’ve been gone so long you just don’t know how to get started again? Like when you’ve had a vacation and returned to find out that Big Changes have happened at your office, or you’re out of the loop on the latest gossip, or when you have to play major catch-up? That’s kind of how I feel today, returning to the blog. But a lot has changed since the last time I’ve written, and maybe its time to catch YOU up too.
I’ll have more to say about depression later, but in October, slightly after my last post here, I started really struggling and pulled it together enough to go to therapy after my last session 20 years ago. Why I waited that long, well, I still don’t have a great answer for that. Pride? Embarrassment? Resistance to change? Probably all of the above. It was tough getting started, and its still challenging self work, but I’m glad I have started down a path of better self-acceptance and self-kindness. Its not only made my life better, but helped me be a more thoughtful, compassionate nurse, friend, and partner.
The timing couldn’t have been more spot-on as we headed toward the Great American Holiday Season with all its expectations, financial obligations, sleepless traveling nights, and feeling of deep loss as I miss my biological family so much during that time. ”Just keep swimming”, I told myself. ”You will get through this. This is the hardest part, and it gets easier at the first of the year. It does every year.” I would repeat it over and over again in my mind as I went to sleep, as I woke up in tears, as I filtered my sadness and bit my tongue trying to squelch the negativity inside.
But this year was different. The losses just kept coming.
A dear friend of ours, my gardening mentor, my inspiration, passed away suddenly on Christmas evening. A month to the day later, my beloved husband’s father passed away following a long struggle with renal failure. Three weeks after that, I lost my first pregnancy, which we’d tried for for two years. That was what finally brought me to my knees. Actually, to my knees would have been a step up, there were many days of just lying on the living room floor unable to do anything but breathe, and not entirely sure I wanted to keep on doing that either. My husband and I really felt like everything we’d loved was being cruelly snatched from our embrace.
I am very grateful I had started seeking treatment a couple of months before and wasn’t on some waiting list somewhere, because there’s a possibility I wouldn’t be here today. It was that bad at times. And one of the greatest gifts my therapist has given me is a simple piece of paper with the word “SHOULD” on it crossed out. Because when asked how I felt about myself and my situation, all I could think of was what I felt I SHOULD be doing better: coping better, having a more positive outlook, Getting Over It. Extrapolate that to my constant drive for perfectionism in all aspects of my life, and I’m sure you can guess what kind of pressure I was putting on myself, and had been for years. I’ve always been a “sensitive” person, and probably to a fault, but still, in my head I hear the voices of those I’ve let down my entire life. Parents, teachers, former friends, awful bosses, even my ex-husband (whose judgment is worth far less than a cockroach’s IMO). I feel this constant pull in my head to APOLOGIZE for just being me, being human, being imperfect. What I’m working on now is silencing those criticisms, because at this point they belong only to me and not to anyone else. That might be the hardest work of all, and while I see people every day who blame external factors for their own crummy situations, it just drives me more toward positive change and self-reliance and acceptance. At this point my life is my own and I create my own circumstances, as well as my own reaction to the occasional surprises (both good and bad) that come my way.
So what if I still haven’t written my holiday thank-you notes, so what if I’m not some ambitious career-ladder monkey, so what if I’m more overweight than I like, so what if I wear my heart on my sleeve and tell you exactly. what. I’m. thinking without sugarcoating it. So what?!
I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to be a pillar of strength. I don’t have any use for the labels others have given me. I don’t HAVE to be or do anything. There is no SHOULD. There only…is.
And its freeing. I still have to remind myself every day of this. But when I do, its like I’m 100 pounds lighter.
Go on with your day, and do the best you can, which is all you can do. Put your best self out into the world in your home, your work, your life. Forgive yourself your perceived inadequacies. Seek help if you need it, and offer help to those who are struggling. You’ll get there. Just keep swimming.