So here’s the thing. One strong message that I heard over and over again during my “sabbatical” – that period after I quit my day job and before I committed to some social media consulting and working more with Help a Mother Out – was one that I have heard for years from various sources: you’re too hard on yourself.
Even as I write these words I’m hard on myself. I’m silently chiding myself for writing instead of finding content for my social media client or banging down doors to get more sponsors for HAMO’s spring fundraiser event, or folding the laundry, that ever-present specter that looms over my entire life. I don’t know what the deal is with me and the laundry. I guess it’s a physical metaphor for the metaphysical mountains I carry.
This is the week of the Boston bombing and manhunt, the Texas explosion, the gun control vote, the pedestrian vs. auto death on Agoura Road. It’s a week of great fear and sorrow. It’s also the week of my children’s birthdays. Those two ideas, juxtaposed, make me ever more grateful that my mountains are as small as they are.
I have been working on being kinder to myself. I am noticing when my body is tired or dysfunctional. My weird optical brain problem seems to have gone away, in case you were following that story. The only close explanation is that my body was “resetting” itself. Something about the crystals inside my inner ear…a physical therapist explained it to me and it made a lot of sense. The only thing I changed was the amount of booze and caffeine I was drinking. I don’t know if that’s what made the difference. Either way, I haven’t learned that lesson at all, because I happily drank wine every night this week and jacked my caffeine level up a scoop this morning.
One thing I find incredibly difficult, and that I know is necessary for my continued path toward peace, is to sit through uncomfortable feelings. To not rush to fix them. (This doesn’t include a ban on numbing them through self-medication. I am not that evolved yet.) One way the problem manifests in my life is that when I am very busy, I get all freaked out and I stop accepting new opportunities, or volunteering for things, or saying “yes” to things. Then I clear my calendar and declare a victory.
And then I get bored.
Like, instantly. That’s not even real. I mean, I am never actually bored. I see blanks on my calendar and I rush to fill them up, even though it’s the opposite of what I want. I have gone so long on this hamster wheel that I don’t even know what it’s supposed to feel like being off of it. Is it supposed to feel boring, or like nobody cares about me anymore?
Look, I’m not going to act like social media and my excessive use of it doesn’t play a big part in this. When I am not super busy with work-ish things and I see my colleagues and peers who are, I feel left out and jealous. There are lot of bloggers who are publishing books these days. Bloggers who have been at it as long or longer than I have. Bloggers who just started. And yes, hacks who came up with cute gimmicks that went viral and so they got book deals out of them.
My jealousy is empty and shameful. Whether or not I have a book in me is irrelevant if I haven’t tried to write one. Those other people showed up and did the work and came up with something. Good or bad, it’s something. I’m 41 and what have I done? I can print this blog out and hand it to you as a book. A long, indulgent, personal book that makes sense to a handful of people.
This is what happens when I pause. And that’s why my pauses have been so brief. Because they are uncomfortable.
I started reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly right after Creative Alliance ’12. It’s a good book and an interesting read, and it’s talked about in my creative circles like the Creativity Bible. But I got to a certain point and I had to put it down. Why? Because it made me feel uncomfortable.
There are people in my life whose silences make me feel uncomfortable. I chase them, make sure everything is good between us, because tension makes me feel uncomfortable. Even if that back and forth is not good for me or them.
And parenting. If there’s ever a thing that could make a person feel bad, it’s parenting. The second-guessing, the messiness, the emotional mine fields, the million hard choices every day. What were we thinking, doing this to ourselves? The heartbreak risk is very high. But of course the promise of reward is so great that billions of rational human beings keep doing it. It’s the ultimate gamble. My parenting choices are often uncomfortable, yet I do not hesitate to make them because they are for them, for my children, and any amount of suffering is nothing to me if it benefits them.
So why can’t I do that for myself?
Yes, being kind to myself makes me feel…say it with me…uncomfortable. But I’m doing it.
Exhibit A: Yesterday I took a lunch break and watched an episode of The Mindy Project in the middle of the day. A Thursday. During my precious few kid-free hours, when I normally plow through the giant list of things to do that can’t be done when children are about.
Exhibit B: I did a 21-day meditation challenge (yes it was through Oprah Winfrey’s website, but it required 15 minutes of sitting still, so it totally counts)
Exhibit C: On several recent occasions I sat and drank my coffee in the morning without doing anything else.
Exhibit D: I am better at resisting knee-jerk reactions. Not perfect. Not done with them, but better, and much more mindful of the impulse.
This time it will be different, because I can feel it on the inside. The changes I need to make have a lot to do with being mindful of my available time and energy, of the state of my body and my emotions. Don’t do it if you don’t have time. Don’t tackle tough problems when you’re tired. Don’t compose that email response while you are upset. Or maybe don’t respond at all.
I’m drawing in, burning it all down, starting from scratch. A new person will come out of all of this. I intend for her to be more grateful, more mindful, more patient, and yes. Kinder.