enduring vs. moving forward

I originally wrote this a few weeks ago but never posted it (what is with that?! I guess I thought I would edit it but never did. Oh well.)

I’m going to work on an “around here” soon. In the meantime…

Plant Ally Cards by artist Lisa McLoughlin

I wasn’t going to pick a word for 2018, because I’m kind of burned out on the idea that one word or one story or one whatever can encapsulate everything. Everything is always changing, and I find when I don’t cling to ideas or things too much, it’s a little easier for me to keep making small adjustments along the way. But it is good to have something to root yourself in, I think, as long as you don’t get too attached if that thing somehow shifts into something else.

As I was starting my new calendar for 2018 and making a list of doctor’s appointments I had to make but was dreading from the VERY CORE OF MY BEING (you have no idea how much I am completely burned out on doctors) a word popped into mind: “wellness”.

I realized that if I put the thing I usually try and work around – my health issues- up at the front, at least for the very beginning of the year, maybe I could clear the path for a little less stress later on in the year. I decided to just face my fears and go ahead and schedule all my doctor’s appointments and try to get them all done in the first few months of 2018.

So on December 29th and January 2nd, I made a flurry of doctor’s appointments that I kind of have been dreading- dentist, eye doctor, regular physical, etc. I need to call back the mammogram place- after being on hold for almost an hour I had to give up.  I had a baseline mammogram done a few years ago, and since I’m in my early 40’s, have never given birth (Grace was adopted), have been a vegetarian all my life, am thin and exercise regularly, and don’t smoke, I didn’t feel like it was pressing enough (no pun intended) to do it, but I think cancer prevention is now a top priority for all of us.

 

Next is working on emotional wellness. I’ve been coming up with some things I want to address and sort of scratching them out on a notebook I keep open on my desk. And the other night I was looking through my beautiful Plant Ally card deck by Lisa McLoughlin and I decided to pull a few cards in response to a few questions I had written down to see if I could get some insight or a jumping off place.

The first question I wrote was based around how stagnant I have been feeling these last few months. The card that came up for that was “endurance.” Just seeing that word made me laugh a little, but then when I really took a second to stop and think about it, it was a total “a-ha” moment for me.

I looked at the card and realized that it pretty much describes exactly what’s been going on for the me the last year, especially the last few months- I have been enduring. Not  growing or evolving or moving forward or recovering or bouncing back or anything else that denotes any sort of forward motion. Enduring. I think “endurance” is a powerful and positive word, but it doesn’t always denote forward motion- it sort of implies that shit is coming at you and you are handling it. You are doing the best you can considering the situation. I feel like so much shit has been hurled continuously this past year that I’m still trying to catch my breath.

But I don’t want to endure anymore, I want to feel like I am sort of in the driver’s seat, at least just a little bit, and not just receiving what’s being dumped on me.

Meditating on the idea of “endurance” was very insightful to me. I mean, how can I expect to feel any better and bounce back from 2016/2017 if I’m still in a state of mind where I feel like the blows might keep coming? I realized that I’m still in a mode of extreme defense- I’m crouched down, inside my shell, tense and terrified, just waiting for the next thing to happen.

And it’s so exhausting. A person can’t really carry on this way forever. It doesn’t work.

I hate to call it trauma, because trauma is *serious* business and some people have extraordinary challenges that make mine pale in comparison. The cancer diagnosis, the hurricane preparation/aftermath/damage, losing PT, the shit with my family… all of that could have gone so much differently- we came out of these situations with manageable outcomes.  So I feel gratitude. But I had a PTSD-related diagnosis in the past (related to medical stuff from Spina Bifida) and I think that it got sort of activated a little bit by my foot surgery last year and then Tom’s cancer and the medical stuff around that. I hate even writing that, because TOM went through the cancer, not me. So please don’t think I’m trying to take the enormity of what he went through and claim it as my own. But, you know, if something like being in a hospital or a doctor’s waiting room is a trigger (which it is for me- so much so my annual checkup is like a thing I spiral in anxiety about for the entire year), it almost doesn’t matter why you are there.  So there’s some emotional stuff going on from all that that I can’t seem to shake, at least not yet.

I think if I really want to get past this, I’m going to have to make some really proactive decisions and force myself to move forward, and if I can’t, I will have to find someone to support me in that. Because I really don’t want to exist in this “all defenses up” mode much longer- it’s so exhausting. I really thought that everything might shift back to normal when we returned to our normal routines and stuff, and the emotions and anxiety would fade, but I still feel both exhausted and worn down. A friend pointed out that having a cancer diagnosis for a spouse, a major hurricane, and losing a pet in a four month period isn’t exactly something you bounce back from overnight, and that makes me feel a little better, but I do want to transition into a slightly different state of mind so I can bounce back from this.

 

The second question I had written down was: what was I overlooking? I kind of feel “clogged up” and I wanted to try and spark some sort of thought about what that might be. The card that came up for that was “positivity” which at first I interpreted as not being able to see the good, which is a pretty straightforward message, and a good reminder to try and find the good in the everyday and feel gratitude for things that *are* good.

Bu I got another idea from the card when I read the little message back and it suggested using personal expression as a way to explore the idea of positivity.

That was interesting to me because I haven’t been making any art these last few months. Not since the hurricane. Actually, not even during the summer- I was too freaked out about Tom’s diagnosis to do anything but make color palettes and work on this large geometric color pencil image that took weeks.From time to time I’ll work on a page in my art journal (I’ve started art journaling again, I’ll eventually talk about that, too…) but I just don’t have any desire to commit myself to it.

On top of that, I definitely don’t have the energy or time. With my own school work and everything going on around here, I’m lucky if I get more than a half an hour to myself at a time. So making art was the thing that got scuttled.

At first I kinda thought “I’ll just embrace this non-productive period- maybe it will be good to not create for a while and let the pressure and expectations drop and then when I get back to it, it will be fun again” but I think not making art is actually kind of damaging to me. Art is an outlet for me, and even though I place a million conditions on it and agonize over every decision and criticize myself every which way, there’s still something about it that seems necessary to my well-being. I wish I could find the place where I could create and not worry about the outcome and that’s something I want to keep working on. But I think it’s pretty clear that as busy as things are, I need to push some things off my plate and get back to doing something art-related – maybe just dabbing some paint on a canvas or working on drawing some mandalas. But it needs to be a priority.

 

The third question I wrote was what could I let go of, since I feel so overwhelmed, and the card that came up was “open”. The card literally flipped out of the deck as I was shuffling though it. “Open” didn’t seem like it was a great answer to the question, but I decided to take a closer look at the image on the font of the card and read the blurb and then it made sense.

The image on the card is this lady sitting in lotus position with a big flower blooming on her chest, and I interpret that as being responsive and receptive. Usually that’s a great thing, but if you’re super-sensitive and a people pleaser, it can be bad. So to me, I see the image of the card as sort of an open channel to a person’s feelings, and if you’re super-duper-sensitive, you kind of have to be a little protective of that.

And these past few weeks I’ve been super stressed about how my “blah” ness might be affecting Tom and Grace and trying to constantly figure out how to work around it and maybe overcompensate a bit.  For instance, we had plans to go see the new Star Wars movie right after Christmas. Grace’s didn’t start holiday break until a few days before Christmas because all the schools around here are adding extra days anywhere they can to make up for the weeks lost after Hurricane Irma. And then the day after Christmas, Grace got SUPER sick, and she’s STILL sick- school started last week and she was just well enough to go back (she’s not contagious, but she still has a cough and a bit of a sore throat and is run down). And I got sick about a week ago (along with my period) and didn’t start feeling better until yesterday.

Needless to say, we never got to see the movie. It’s going to be playing for a while, but I feel like I let everyone down by not making it happen. Which is so stupid- I mean, what COULD I have done? Dragged Grace to the theater when she was sick? Tom was also a little run down, and I freak out about him getting sick with his immune system, so it would have been bad for him, too. I mean, we had a lovely, relaxing holiday at home, all of us getting lots of much needed down time and time together and rest, and all I can do is think about how I let everyone down because *I* didn’t find more things for us to do out of the house. Like, I am literally having anxiety dreams about the movie (and my teeth falling out, but that’s another thing…) It’s so ridiculous. The card made me realize that it’s okay to just let that stuff go and focus on getting better and doing what needs to get done.

 

The fourth question I wrote down was basically the opposite of the third question- if I am letting go of something, what can I consciously be more aware of/what can I bring more of to this whole situation so I can start moving forward?

The card that came up was “repair.” It makes sense- you can’t really move forward unless the damage has been repaired. It’s like a broken down car- you can’t expect to use it again until you get it fixed, right? So I think the card made me realize that I need to focus less on *how* I am feeling and more on *why* I am feeling that way, and work on addressing those issues. That makes sense. Address the cause, not the effect. Fix the problem instead of waiting for it to magically resolve with time.

This one I am going to have to really sit with. I don’t even know where to begin. My monkey brain says “Take a year off all the doctor appointments! No social obligations! Sleep in and indulge yourself in books and Project Runway and healthy meals and crochet and gardening and make art!”

But that’s not realistic. But maybe after I get the first batch of appointments out of the way I can start working on that a little. I have a dentist’s appoint in mid-February that I’m already all anxietied out about. Maybe I should see if there’s anyway I can move it forward so I can check it off the list.

Also, my current semester at school ends in February, so that will lighten the load a lot as far as time. School takes up a lot of time, but I really enjoy it and I feel better when I’m actively practicing Buddhism, so it’s worth doing. But I’m looking forward to having more free time to write and paint and play with my decks of beautiful cards (a new obsession, maybe I’ll talk about it in another entry…)

 

The fifth question I wrote does was what small tweak can I make to things right now to get them going in the right direction? The card that came up for that was “sageness”. The message on the back of the card reads “what is important to you will come forth and be visible. You have full permission to change direction. Be encouraged to overcome the obstacles.”

To me, that says that I just need to keep contemplating what matters, what I want to focus on, follow that like it’s my north star and let it sort of unfold and change and evolve as it will. I need to get clear about what I want and move in that direction. So I was thinking about making a list of things I truly want to do right now and things I really don’t want to do right now. Whatever I can cross off the “don’t want to do” list, I will- and I’ll let it go. The stuff like doctor’s appointments that are non-negotiable, I need to just try and get through.

It’s funny, because the other day as I was kind of pondering this card, I heard someone say “it’s not hard, it’s just scary” and that message was TREMENDOUS for me. That kind of encapsulates everything I get anxious about. I’ve been repeating that to myself over and over and over since then. It just made so much sense to me.

 

Finally, the last question I wrote was what I should I focus on, overall, to make a shift in my wellbeing? The card that came up was “being yourself.”

This is very straightforward and I know exactly what it addresses, but also something that could takes year to untangle.

With all the “stuff” that’s been going on with my family, and with me see my daughter turn into a young adult in front of my eyes, I’m really doing a lot of thinking about what I thought I would be vs. what/who I actually AM. They are two very distinct things, although some things have roots and branches reaching over the divide and entwining themselves with things on the other side.

One thing that I’ve learned from practicing Buddhism is how important it is to drop attachments- especially to identity. They are the major inhibitors to happiness. When we decide to lock down our identity, it means we can’t be satisfied until we tick off every box on that list of “identity” AND that we can’t evolve because we are rooted in that identity. I have no idea what my identity really is. It sounds bizarre, but it’s not- I defined myself for a long time on whether or not I hit some goals I made when I was in my late teens, heading off to college. I defined myself by whether or not I got approval from my parents, and if the things I chose would be considered valid by them. I defined myself by whether or not I was “putting enough out there.” I defined myself by my abilities, my skills, my disability, my faults and failures.

But none of that speaks to who I am. And to tell the truth, I’m not sure what the hell it all is. I could tell you what I’ve done and haven’t done, but I can’t really tell you much about me anymore.

I’m on board with the whole concept of “no soul/no self” in Buddhism because I believe with all my heart that there isn’t an inherent permanent nature about any person or living being on this planet. But if we are all interconnected, then every one of us is a little tiny bit of the “we” and that’s where I draw a blank. There’s something to be said for understanding how you operate, what fires your soul, what moves you, what you draw energy from. I’ve lost touch with a lot of those things and have rooted myself DEEPLY in my routine and what I believe makes me happy- like art, for instance. I’m not saying art doesn’t make me happy, but… maybe there are other things, too. I just decided along the way that art was it, and it was reliable, so I set that all up and now I just default to it when I have extra time (which is rare, gotta work on that, too…) without even asking myself if I want to even do it, or if the resistance I feel sometimes is actually an interest in something else and should be honored.

I think these past two years have been a giant kick in the pants and there’s two ways I can respond- recreate the routine and then lose myself in it once again, or actually use this uncomfortable and time in which I feel absolutely stalled and like I am spinning my wheels to go a little deeper.

I feel like all I do here is make plans for transformation, and it never pans out. Overall I am doing okay- I take great care of my health (well, besides these stupid head colds I’ve been getting since the hurricane) and I take great care of my family and I don’t spend all day in bed which I did a little bit in graduate school when I was trying to write my thesis and hit a block. I feel like I am alright. But, you know, I kinda miss that *spark*.  Just that little sense of passion and interest and captivation that I seemed to have given up in favor of other stuff.

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2 thoughts on “enduring vs. moving forward

  1. I feel you on soooo many levels. 3.5 years in to motherhood I am just now really processing everything from that. I was really effed up that first year (both of us were), more than I realized. It carried over into year 2 of course and finally things are clearing up and I can see some things better. I’ve been trying to write it out a bit but haven’t finished up that kind of processing. I’m a write-it-out to process it person so I know the sooner I do this the better.

    *hugs* I had been wondering how you were doing.

    I would like to hear more about the cards. As I’ve seen more people into tarot and tarot adjacent cards I’ve become curious. I don’t think I want the typical tarot cards because that seems a little too far fetched for me, the plant type cards make more sense for me.

    Do tell when you get a chance!

    I need to make some appointments, too. I don’t know if I wrote about it but in late 2015 I started having bad vertigo. It cleared up eventually but it came back at the end of last year and now I really need to get checked out. But—>scared of course. And I need to go to a dermatologist to just have a look at my skin for all of that great skin cancer stuff that I should get checked up on being freckled and fair skinned and all. Ugh.

  2. Thinking of you today – and happy birthday! I rarely get a chance to catch up on our blog, but when I do, it’s so rewarding. Thank you for sharing so much of you online. And sending all the love in the world!

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