it’s not about me

I have been realizing this more and more lately: it is not about me.

For a long time, I have felt this gaping hole in the center of my chest, this sense of missing something, of being, slightly, crookedly, incomplete. I have spent countless hours worrying about it, thinking about it, searching for it, whatever it is. What is my purpose? What am I supposed to be doing? Why am I here? How can I make myself feel whole?

And I am starting to realize that it probably isn’t really about me, after all.

I received an email in my inbox the other day from an online business guru, talking about how people always say things like, “I want to run an online business and have passive income and work a flexible schedule.” And his response is, “Well, la de da, who cares what you want? What does your customer want?”

I have been reading a book entitled If You Find this Letter by Hannah Brencher, the founder of The World Needs More Love Letters, an organization that I discovered through her book and fell immediately, passionately, manically in love with. It is funny, because I thought, somewhere, she said the words, “It wasn’t about me.” And maybe she did. But I have been scanning and scanning and scanning the book, and for the life of me, I cannot find it. So I am forced to assume that it was an idea that was conveyed subtly, rather than explicitly stated. Either way, it hit me in the chest, and I immediately pulled my journal towards me and wrote the words IT IS NOT ABOUT ME across the top of a page in big bold letters.

Because maybe what I am looking for is not about me. Maybe it isn’t about what I need, but about what other people need, and how who I am can somehow meet those needs. Maybe I have been looking in all the wrong places because I have been focused on me when I needed to be focused on those outside of me.

At this point, I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know what that will lead to. But for now, I am committed to seeing the world from a slightly different perspective; a “what can I do for you” perspective, rather than a “what can you do for me” one (thanks, JFK). I started, simply, hopefully, with writing a few anonymous love letters to leave for strangers. I think Hannah would approve.

We’ll see where all this goes. But I have hope.

it’s not about me

the depression chronicles: radical self-care

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I was doing all right. The day had been a little lighter than the ones that had come before it, but anxiety was knocking at the door again, a bit of darkness pressing its face against the windows, and I knew that I was going to have do something a bit bigger, a bit stronger, a bit more radical.

So I hauled myself out the door. First things first: get out of the house.

I didn’t have a plan. I headed to the mall, thinking I would run some errands, but as soon as I set foot in the cool, echoey interior, I knew it was a mistake. Malls are depressing places; I rarely ever see people smile there. I hustled out as fast as I could and headed to my go-to happy place: the library. But I knew that I had too many books at home to read, and the growing pile, far from giving me pleasure, was starting to feel like a chore. Instead of heading inside to peruse more chores, I stopped at the threshold and went into Second Cup instead. I bought myself a green tea lemonade and a croissant, plonked myself down at a window table, and enjoyed my snack. I didn’t pull out the book I had stowed in my purse, nor did I pull up the Feedly app on my phone. I answered a few texts, but mostly, I just sat, and ate, and drank.

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When I was done, I headed back out into the sunshine, with the vague notion that I would head to the river valley and find somewhere shaded where I could sit and write for a while. The previous day, in my counselling session, my therapist and I had talked about grounding techniques: take your shoes off and walk in the grass, literally hug a tree, put your hands in the dirt and let it sift through your fingers. She laughed a little, and apologized if that sounded too hippy dippy for me, but it sounded exactly right, and I thought that now was the time to put those ideas into action.

Walking past the imposing Fairmont Macdonald, I noticed there were some flowers out front that I had never really noticed before. I cut back across the street I had just crossed to check it out, but the benches were all full in the sun, many of the flowers looked like they hadn’t been watered in weeks, and there were three or four people sitting around, smoking. I try to avoid secondhand smoke at the best of times, but now that I have someone else to worry about, I am militant about it. This was not where I was going to rest.

I continued on past the hotel, to a staircase I had never ventured down. It took me down into the river valley, to my favorite path, which I have not been on much over the summer. It is my running route, but I haven’t been running for the past three months because of my leg injury, and I hadn’t realized how deeply I missed it. Not only the act of running, but the location. A huge smile spread across my face as I meandered past the trees, occasionally stopping to press my hand against the rough bark of one.

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Eventually, I slipped my shoes off and put them in my purse. The pavement was hot under my feet, almost unbearable, but the shock of it, the here-ness of it, brought a huge smile to my face. Sometimes, when I am very depressed, it feels like there is a wall between me and the world, a wall that I cannot break through or knock down, no matter how hard I try, and so I cannot feel anything. I can see the world, but I don’t feel part of it. I can objectively feel the air and smell the smells and see the sights, but there is no subjective experience attached to it. Here, curling my toes against the hot asphalt, feeling the roughness of the tiny pebbles against my skin, I came slamming back to reality with such force I am surprised I managed to remain standing.

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I went on like this for nearly two and a half hours. Turning left when I usually turn right. Breaking into a near-run, skipping whenever I felt like it. Not only returning people’s smiles, but actively seeking them out. At one point, I wanted to go down to the river, so I found a little path that took me to the edge of an incline, which I slid down on my butt, and found myself just a few feet from the water. I sat on a tree branch, so knobbly that my derriere was asleep within minutes. But I sat there for nearly half an hour, taking pictures, drawing, and writing in my notebook. My shoes squealched in the mud, and I watched as four or five ducks swam in front of me, circling and quacking and completely oblivious to my presence.

After a while, I had to head home, because I was ill-prepared for my adventure and had neglected to bring either water or a snack. As well, I have to pee about every five seconds nowadays. But I went home with the biggest smile on my face, having immersed myself in pure joy for the afternoon, a kind of radical nowness, and it was exactly what my soul needed.

How do you practice radical self-care?

the depression chronicles: radical self-care

all of the feelings

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Well. The cat is out of the bag: we’re having a baby.

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the whole thing. When we found out, I sobbed uncontrollably for almost an hour, completely overwhelmed with happiness and fear and anxiety and hope and basically every other emotion a human being is capable of feeling. I wandered around in a daze for the rest of that day: we went to IKEA and saw the movie Southpaw, but I barely remember any of that. Mostly what I remember is standing in the middle of an aisle in the IKEA warehouse, unaware of where I was, thinking, over and over, Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. 

Then I called my mother.

The sheer panic of those first few days has lessened somewhat over the last few weeks. The idea that we are going to have a baby, that we will go from a couple to a family of three, has become a bit more comfortable (though no less terrifying). We have told our family, our friends, pretty much everyone we know, and so I don’t have to keep it a secret anymore. When I am overcome with a wave of exhaustion so intense I can barely stand, I don’t have to pretend I’m fine anymore. I don’t have to make excuses.

I am happy. Very happy. This is, after all, exactly what I wanted.

But there’s more to it than that. Over the past few weeks, I have also been more depressed than I have been in a long, long while. There have been days when I have been unable to drag myself out of bed for more than a few hours at a time. Given the level of exhaustion I’ve been feeling, it has been hard to engage in many of the things that I like to do, which has been frustrating and demoralizing. There have been a million things that I feel the need to think about, now that a mini Cooper is on the way: is this the right place for us to be living right now, what do we do about the fact that our neighbor’s cigarette smoke is constantly seeping into our apartment, what kind of stuff are we going to need for the baby, what do I need to do in order to take fullest advantage of maternity leave, life insurance, a will, RESPs, the list goes on and on. Sometimes I lay in bed at night, with these thoughts and worries chasing themselves around my head like a dog with its tail, and it is all that I can do to keep from screaming. And I look at myself, curled into a protective ball under the blankets, and I think, “I should be happy.”

But I shouldn’t be anything. My therapist told me, “Pregnancy is an experience like anything else, and there is no should about how you feel. You feel the way that you feel.” And so I am practicing self-compassion again, giving myself permission to be how I am, whatever that may be, letting myself know that it is okay to not be okay. That maybe pregnancy won’t be a meadow full of flowers and rainbows for me, and that is okay. That it is okay for it to be whatever it is going to be.

I just want to embrace it while it is here, however it is going to turn out. I only plan on having two children, maaaaaybe three, so this is a rare experience, and I want to really experience it. I don’t want to spend the whole time wishing it was over. I want to be here, now, not only to be truly present for all of the ways in which my baby is growing and my body is changing, but to experience the last few months that Bryan and I have to ourselves. I really don’t want to squander that time. I want to spend it cuddling and talking and laughing and exploring the city and having new experiences and doing things we’ve always talked about but never gotten around to. I want to spend it planning how we are going to adjust our dreams and aspirations to the presence of a tiny person in our world. I want to spend a little bit of it pretending that a baby isn’t coming at all, and that it is really just the two of us for a while longer.

All I know is that this whole thing has come with a shit ton of feelings, and I am doing my best to lean into them. To be here and now, while I can be.

Mostly, though, I am just little-kid-on-Christmas-morning excited that I am going to be a mother. (OH MY GOD.)

all of the feelings

Book of the Month: How to Grow Up

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Michelle Tea is like the no-bullshit older sister I never had, telling me the straight facts about life, pulling no punches, but with a soft hopefulness that makes it all easier to bear. This is why I love her.

I came across Michelle the first time almost two years ago on xojane.com, where she was writing about the process of becoming pregnant through fertility treatments. This immediately became my favorite series to read, and I would check back obsessively for new instalments. It was not a fun or easy process for her and her partner, Dashiell, and I appreciated how honest and raw she was about the whole experience. When I found out that she had a new book coming out, I was over the moon. On our recent trip to Vancouver, I took it with me, and savored the essays contained therein over several days. It is one of those books that you want to rip through as fast as you can because it is so amazing, but you also want to take as long as possible with, lingering over lovely sentences and chunks of jaded, shining wisdom.

Tea never shies away from the gritty truths of her life; she never glosses over her problems with addiction, or the less than adult decisions she has made. Her essays shine with honesty and openness, and I think that is why I gobbled them up so voraciously. From examinations of how her propensity for strange fashion affected her childhood to ruminations on why she lived, by choice, in actual squalor for some eight years of her life, Michelle Tea’s words are heartfelt and often very funny as she takes us through the many different places she has found herself in on her journey to adulthood.

That journey to adulthood is something that has been on my mind a lot lately. It has been on my mind a lot for a long time, actually. Though I am 26 years old (certainly not a geezer, but far from my bright-eyed, naive teenage self), I hardly ever feel like an adult. I feel like a child impersonating an adult. I bump up against struggles pretty much on a daily basis that force me to define how I am going to live my life, what kind of adult I am going to be, and the growing pains are sometimes pretty hard to bear. While reading How to Grow Up, I found myself writing down whole paragraphs as inspiration, so many rang so true for me. Despite the fact that our lives have been very different, I still found myself nodding my head in agreement on every page. Through her own experience, Michelle Tea has managed to hit on the fundamental aspects of our humanity.

And she’s just a damn entertaining writer.

Highly recommend. One of my favorites from this year, for sure.

(PS. Find the rest of my book recommendations here.)

 

Book of the Month: How to Grow Up