yes to being alive

I came to a realization the other day. Not a fun one, either.

I am closed down.

I am joyless.

I am sleepwalking.

I have been saying no for a long time. As a method of self-preservation, which seemed like an honorable, even necessary, choice at the time. I was emotionally devastated after my miscarriages, and I needed to take care of myself. That is true. But I took it too far, curled too far into myself and shut out the light completely. And if I’m being honest, I have been saying yes (the wrong yes) to inaction and complaining for much longer than that. For years. For most of my life.

I wanted to travel. Instead of saving the money and going, I complained that I was too broke, then spent all my money on other things.

I wanted to be a writer. Instead of sitting down and writing, then sending those pieces to publications, I complained that I would never get noticed.

I wanted to find a purpose. Instead of pursuing what I was interested in, the things I already knew were my passions, I turned away and complained about not knowing what my path was.

It was all so much easier. Saying no, protecting myself, taking the safe route and never taking a chance. Those things are so easy.

But I can’t do it anymore.

I have this deep fear of wasting my life. Soul deep. It paralyzes me sometimes. Okay, it paralyzes me a lot of the time. It gets so huge and so overwhelming that I end up freezing, doing nothing, so overcome with the need to make it count. So, of course, I have ended up doing nothing most of the time. Which is such a waste.

Oh, the irony.

The other day, I finished reading Shonda Rhimes’s book, Year of Yes. I powered through it in a matter of days. Everything she said spoke right to my soul. Spoke right to the thing in me that was saying no to everything that came up in my life. And I realized that I was hurting myself. By saying no to living, I was attacking the core of who I am.

 

I want to live. I just want to live while I’m alive. I want to be here. I want to take up space. I want to say yes, I want to fail, I want to succeed, I want to try and try and try some more. I want to open up to life. It doesn’t have to be big. I don’t have to be Shonda Rhimes or JK Rowling for my life to be meaningful (but hey, if that’s in the cards, great). I just have to, you know, live.

So from now on, I am saying yes. I am saying yes to things that scare me. I am saying yes to stepping outside of my comfort zone, to taking steps, to doing. 

From now on, I am saying yes to being alive.

yes to being alive

the December 26th blues

I seem to have the December 26th blues (yes, I know it’s January). The blur of Christmas is behind me and now… Well. It isn’t that I want more or I was disapppointed by the holidays. It is that I am so, so tired.

Christmas requires a lot of family time. There is a whole lot of together time and not a lot of me time. Disappearing into a quiet, empty room to be alone for a while is only tolerated to a certain extent. My family has a better understanding of my introverted needs now, but still, vanishing for more than an hour invites questions, and feeling the weight of that dread ‘should.’  I should be with my family right now. I should be playing a game with my sister. I should be talking to somebody. I shouldn’t be playing Candy Crush on my phone, alone in the dark, finding time and space to breathe.

I will admit that most of this pressure, these shoulds, are self-imposed. My youngest sister is even more introverted than I am and requires even more alone time in order to function socially. Through her, my family has come to understand a bit more about introvertedness, and no longer views our need to duck away as an abnormality, or a comment on the company. They recognize that it is simply something that we need to do in order to be our best selves later.

But there are some memories from my adolescence that have been imprinted in my brain, that make it hard for me to take those times, guilt-free. Times when I was castigated for removing myself from a party in order to read and replenish some of my energy because it was rude. Times when others were still struggling to understand this need I had and fumbled through it inexpertly. Times when I felt like there was something wrong with me because the rest of my family was living it up upstairs and all I wanted to do was curl up in my bed and read until I fell asleep.

So I have to force myself to take the time that I need. And in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it is easy to forget about it. It is easy to tell myself that now isn’t a good time, that I am needed, that I will do it later. But then…I don’t. The “right” time never arrives, and so I am left in the wake of the day, drained and frustrated and cranky.

My patience and tolerance have been at an all time low for the past few days. Everything Bryan does or says, no matter what it is, grates on my nerves. Our families are big; I have a blended family, and Bryan’s parents are split, too, which means that, inevitably, we end up having at least three Christmases. Sometimes four. This year, I found myself almost completely unable to muster any energy or enthusiasm for any of our subsequent Christmases. I was over it. So very done with Christmas and all of the socializing it requires. All I wanted to do, for days on end, was stay at home, read a book, and be by myself.

The slump is slowly lifting. I have had some time, now, to do those things that I was craving. To read, to write, to do art, to workout, to be alone. I feel somewhat recharged. As I head back to work and fall into a routine once more, I think it will get better. I will start to feel more like myself.

But this sharp dip into melancholia has shown me how important it is to anticipate when I am going to need to be alone, and to make sure that I take the time to be so, regardless of what else is going on and how guilty I might feel about it. No matter who is over, and how many games are being played, and what conversations are going on around me, I need to ensure that I take the time to slip away when I need it. Even just for a few minutes. Even just to pop outside and breathe some fresh air. I need to make my mental health more of a priority, and do so guilt-free. I think people understand more than I think they do.

Hopefully, this time next year, I will feel less like a zombie and more like a real person.

How was your Christmas? Do you experience the post-Christmas slump too?

the December 26th blues

the long shadow of divorce

Barely a month into my engagement, the relationship that had been the apex of what a relationship should be for the entirety of my life disintegrated in rapid, dramatic fashion. Suddenly, this couple that I had long held up as a paragon for marital competence and success, was no more.

Selfishly, it felt like a punch in the gut. Which made me feel a little guilty; I wasn’t the one whose decades-long marriage was falling apart. I wasn’t the one who needed support (well, I was one of the ones who needed support, but that’s another story). The pain and anger and sadness and general mess of the whole affair were like a bright, blinding spotlight for me, illuminating this thought: did I really want to get married if this was one of the places I could end up?

My whole world had been skewed, tilted on its side. My worldview shifted abruptly, leaving me nauseated and confused. I looked at Bryan, the person I loved more than I ever thought possible, and thought, Can we, should we, do this to ourselves? I watched the slow and bloody process of picking up the shattered pieces of a life that had been built together, and I shied away from the idea of ever having to do that myself. I did not think I would survive it. I did not think that I could bear it.

I was forced to think long and hard about my own relationship and its future. Divorce had always been a possibility, of course, but in an abstract kind of way. It was something that lurked in the shadows, never really showing its face, never really drawing attention itself. I had never experienced the real consequences of divorce, had never had to navigate its trials and tribulations from any side of the equation, and so I had no touchstone for what it would really be like.

Until now.

And suddenly, there was a technicolor, all too real example right in front of me. I had to watch people that I love deeply bend and bow and wave – but not break – in the wake of this familial and familiar tragedy. I had to witness the very real and very painful consequences; the division of a family, the reassignment of allegiances, the rebuilding of identities. And I had to consider the possibility that, if Bryan and I went ahead and got married, this could be our future.

For a while, thinking about it was like trying to touch a fresh wound; I couldn’t do it for longer than a few seconds. Then it became more like pressing on a bruise that was a few days old. Then, eventually, it became like flossing. Annoying, uncomfortable, but necessary and not particularly difficult.

The realization I came to was this:

Tying your life to someone else’s is always going to be an inherently risky endeavour. People are volatile. People are, to an extent, unknowable. People have free will, and the ability to make decisions that will hurt you in myriad ways in the long run. But they also have the capacity for great joy, great connection, and great love. To build a life with Bryan might mean that we one day have to disassemble that life, parse it out in chunks of ownership and custody and who gets to keep what. I hope that if that day ever comes, we will meet it gracefully and exit it as friends, to whatever extent that is possible. But I cannot imagine a life in which I would regret marrying Bryan, in which I would regret the years I have spent with him. Even if, in a decade or two or three, things end bitterly, I hope that that potential bitterness does not overshadow the joy that he and I have shared together.

And so I decided that getting married was worth the risk. So far, I’ve been right.

the long shadow of divorce

ethical vegetarianism

Creative Commons © 2008 Victoria Henderson
Creative Commons © 2008 Victoria Henderson

Disclaimer: This post contains content that may get a rise out of people. That is totally fine! Feel your feelings. But please, always be respectful when expressing them. Let’s have a calm, productive discourse, like the intelligent adults we all are. Thank you! 🙂 

I have been a vegetarian for three and a half years now. It was an overnight decision, a quick change that stuck fast. I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, and was so thoroughly disturbed by everything it contained that I gave up eating meat immediately upon finishing the last page. There wasn’t a lot of dithering or weighing of pros and cons, it was a gut instinct that this was the right thing to do.

So I am a vegetarian for ethical reasons. While I recognize that animal agriculture here in Canada is not necessarily exactly the same as it is in the United States, and that most documentaries and books focus on the US, I still firmly believe that we have a moral imperative to treat animals with dignity before we kill them for our food. I still firmly believe that there are many ways that we can be better. I am not morally opposed to the concept of eating meat, not by any means. I don’t think you are a monster for eating meat, or that we are ingesting an animal’s fear, or whatever else. I don’t care that a piglet has a cute little face. I have no issues with using animals as sustenance. I have issues with treating them with cruelty before killing them for consumption. I have issues with the ethos of factory farming. I have issues with the idea that animals are lesser than us and therefore are undeserving of respect and quality of life.

But for the last six months, I have been coming back, again and again, to the idea that I should go back to eating meat. This isn’t an easy thing for me to contemplate. If I had given up meat simply because I didn’t like it, then it wouldn’t be a big deal for me to resume eating it because I suddenly had a hankering for it. But because I gave up meat from a moral standpoint, I have been struggling mightily with the idea that I might go back to eating it. At one point, I was convinced that I would never eat meat again, and that we would raise our children as vegetarians as well.

Part of the reason I am considering transitioning back to my previously omnivorous ways is, yes, because I miss meat. Just a little. When we are staying at my parents’ house and they cook up a big pan of bacon after church, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been tempted on more than one occasion to throw vegetarianism out the window then and there and scarf down a few pieces. Sometimes, I just really want a burger, you know?

But there are bigger reasons than that. And they are this: I don’t believe that abstaining from meat consumption is the most effective way for me to make my stance on factory farming known. If I am standing here, saying, “Factory farmers, you are bad, so I am going to stop eating meat!” then I am also depriving small, ethical farmers of my business. And what is more effective: being a passive bystander, or actively giving my money to the change that I want to see? I want to see more ethically produced meat, and, yes, I am absolutely willing to pay more money for it. I think that this is the way that meat production should be: less quantity, higher quality, more ethical. So I should be putting my money where my mouth is. It isn’t enough to remove my support from factory farmers: I should be transferring it over to the farmers who are doing exactly what I think should be done. If those farmers are out there, doing things right, but not getting enough support, then they are going to vanish, and we are right back where we started.

I haven’t come to a conclusion yet. It is still percolating around in my mind, but every time I think about it, I draw closer and closer to the decision to return to the land of the meat eaters. I am still coming to terms with what that means for my ethics, but I’ll get there.

For now: have you ever made a change for ethical reasons and then changed your mind again later? And if you have any resources on the vegetarianism debate, please feel free to share them.

ethical vegetarianism

A Year of Secondhand Living

Over the past few years, I have been making career decisions based on interest and passions, rather than money. In terms of my happiness, it has been a great host of decisions. In terms of finances, though…well, I took a pay cut to move into child care. And then I took a pay cut to nanny. So now I am making less than half of what I was making two years ago. And suddenly, that means that some changes need to be made in the way that we live life.

I’m okay with that. I mean, I have always valued contentment and direction and purpose over having a lot of money. But, of course, our world runs on money, and having none of it isn’t really an option at this juncture. I’ve been making a conscious effort to reduce expenses: I contacted my cellphone company to see what they could do about reducing my bill (it went down $12 a month right now, and will go down another $20 at the end of my contract in 2 months), I have reverted to the envelope system for all non-necessary purchases, and I have drastically cut back on how much I eat out.

But as I was going over my own personal expenses from the past few months, I realized that there was something else that I could do. I noticed that I had made quite a few clothing purchases, which surprised me, because generally, I don’t spend much money on that. But several hundred dollars had gone towards revamping my wardrobe. And while I do not regret that in the slightest (I love my wardrobe now, and rarely have any problem picking out what I am going to wear, finding that nearly everything goes together and I am comfortable in all of it), I could have reduced those expenses quite a bit by doing one thing: buying it secondhand.

Which gave me an idea. I had read an article on Coffee + Crumbs a few months ago about how Anna Quinlan had gone a whole year without buying anything new. What if I did the same thing?

And so, a challenge was born (y’all know how much I enjoy a challenge, right?).

The terms of the challenge are simple: for one year, starting on November 1, everything I purchase will be secondhand. There are two exceptions to this rule: 1) things that cannot be purchased secondhand for whatever reason (ex. hygiene) and 2) gifts. Otherwise, everything brought into our home will have been previously owned. I believe that this will force us to re-evaluate what we actually need, as well as push us to be creative in how we obtain those objects.

I’m a little cowed by the prospect, I don’t mind telling you, especially because I will be embarking upon it right before the holiday season, and we are also hoping to get pregnant again within the next year. I thought about delaying it, but then I realized that, at any time, I could probably come up with ten reasons why it would be easier to do it some other time. So I shut those excuses in a box in the back of my head and decided to just do it.

Have you ever done anything like this? Do you have any tips or tricks for me? I would absolutely love to hear them!

A Year of Secondhand Living

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

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

howtogrowup

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

the anguish of postponed motherhood

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I have no children, but I am a mother. I feel it in my bones; I have always felt it in my bones. So the fact that we “are not ready” to start our family grates at me, scraping the flesh of my heart on a daily basis. Sometimes, it is the only thing that I can think about, a constant thrum of anguish at the centre of each day. All of our “reasons” look flimsier and flimsier next to the raw need in my heart.

I work with children; every day, I look at each one and think, “I could have a child like you.” I sit with the preschoolers at nap time, so pleased when they want just me to rub their backs, melting into a puddle of goo when they make funny comments or do sweet things, like the four year old boy who took my hand in his and cuddled it to his chest, saying, “I’ll keep you warm,” when I told him I was cold. I watch every child that goes through my care and think, “My future could look like you.”

There is a list on my phone entitled “Baby Names” which I have had since I was nineteen or so. The names haven’t changed much. I’ve had the same ones picked for several years now. I have names for every eventuality: two girls, two boys, boy and a girl. A surprise third child. Except for middle names, mostly because the idea of middle names confounds me. (What is the point?) In idle moments, I entertain myself imagining the little people that will go along with the names that I have chosen. I wonder how their names will shape them. I toy idly with the name Khaleesi (though I agree 100% with my BFF when she said to me, “Jessica Michelle McGale-Cooper, I will not be an auntie to a human child named Khaleesi.” Thank you, voice of reason.)

One day, while babysitting for the sweet six month old baby boy that I get the pleasure of looking after every week, we were sitting on the floor, playing, and amidst all the babble and the joyous kicking of legs and blowing of bubbles he went still, and he simply looked at me, with his impossibly wide blue baby eyes, and he did not look away for at least a minute. He held my finger and stared at my face, and tugged so hard at my heart that I burst into tears right there.

I was born to be a mother. Of this, I have always been certain. And so it kills me a little bit to have to postpone this transition.

Not only that, but it feels like a lot of pressure. Because, it seems to me, if I am postponing the one thing I want more than anything in the world, I better have a damn good reason for it. I better be spending my time wisely. I better be accomplishing absolutely everything I have listed on every to do list I have ever made. I better be checking things off my bucket list left, right, and centre. Because if I’m not, if I am simply whiling away the time, staring at the biological clock as it ticks away, then what the hell is the point? I might as well get knocked up now, reasons be damned.

But if any of this agony is to have any meaning, I need to be doing something with my time. And so, anxious person that I already am, I have become exponentially more anxious about how I am spending my life. Am I doing something productive? Am I moving forward on anything? Am I achieving anything at all?

Some days, it feels like I will buckle under the pressure: the anguish of postponed motherhood, and the pressure of it, too. I am stuck between a rock and a hard place, and no matter how I wiggle and twist and push, I cannot seem to find a way out.

Someone hand me an exacto knife.

Do you have any suggestions for improving the situation I find myself in? Have you ever experienced anything similar? (Doesn’t have to be baby related.)

 

the anguish of postponed motherhood

Split Personalities

There are two halves of me.

One longs for roots. Thick, deep, strong roots that will anchor me to a place and never let go. A warm home, with a well-curated library, comforting possessions, a garden. Children running wild, a shaggy dog, a purring cat.

The other yearns for freedom. The kind of freedom afforded by owning next to nothing and living in a camper van, or taking to the road to travel long term. The kind of untethered existence that sets a person loose upon the world and allows them to float wherever they damn well please.

One is anchored in comfortable convention, the other blazes like a bonfire, seducing me away from the conventional. But as of now, I have not been brave enough to turn my back on what I have always known to explore what I have always dreamed of. I do not know how to put down roots that will also allow me to float around at will.

There is a cliff approaching, and I do not know if I am brave enough to jump.

I close my eyes, repeat my new mantra: I am courageous enough for this. 

I see the edge.

What do I do?

What do I do?

Split Personalities