Here are some journaling questions from the book “Going Beyond the Little White Book” by Liz Worth, from the chapter “Three of Swords”. I’ve been working on these the past week, and I’ve edited out some of the more personal, super-deep stuff that came up during writing this. I have to admit, this process was surprising. It’s interesting to me that a lot of these questions could easily be answered by my past few journal entries here on this website. I love when things connect like that.
- Are you nursing any grudges or resentments from the past?
Oh, God, the answer to this question alone could fill a book.
Honestly? I have a lot of stuff in regards to doctors and health care professionals. When I was a kid, I went through some terrifying stuff that I suppressed and a lot of it worked its way back to the surface of my mind last fall when Tom went through his cancer diagnosis/treatment. The way he was treated at certain times just *enraged* me. I had to put those feelings away while he was sick but then, this past winter, it started bursting up in my mind and heart again. I think a lot of this stuff is coming up because Gracie’s about to turn 13, and I’m starting to remember what life was like when I was her age.
I definitely have issues with my experience in high school. I went to a “Christian” high school and some of those teachers were truly terrible people who had NO business being near children. Some of the stuff that was going on in that school was BANANAS. It was a boarding school that had spaces for student to attend as day students, so I did not live on campus, but apparently there were teachers doing exorcisms on students in the dorm rooms, doing weird purification rituals, and spiritual “interventions on behalf of Jesus”, etc. When I learned about all this in the past few years, I was not surprised.
That school pretty much operated on shame. That’s how everything worked. For me, the faculty made the implication that my health problems (Spina Bifida) was a message from God that he was angry with me. I asked how could God have been angry with me *before* I was born, because Spina Bifida happens in utero. It was my soul, they said. It was just damaged beyond repair from the beginning.
WTF does a 14 year old do with that message?! I mean, seriously. Now I think about it from a perspective of being 44 years old, older than a lot of those faculty members at the time it happened, and from the perspective of someone who has a child that age, and I want to throttle those teachers. No adult has a right to tell any child anything of that nature, EVER. And I was a good kid. I was too meek and quiet to break rules. I was too scared of the consequences. I wanted to blend in, disappear, just be left alone. I can’t imagine what the kids who had more serious issues went through during their time there.
My parents kept me in that school because it was safer than the local public schools, and because I was able to keep up with my studies even though I was out half of most years between 7th and 12th grade recovering from surgeries.
Then I went on to college, where in the 1980’s and 1990’s there was solid, institutional discrimination against disabled people, in order to avoid liability. I didn’t know this until a few months ago, when I read Kurt Eichenwald’s book “A Mind Unraveled” about his personal experiences having epilepsy in college/the workforce. Apparently almost every school in the country tried to either discourage disabled students from enrolling or they made it difficult for disabled students to attend classes while they were enrolled to try and dissuade the students from remaining on campus, thereby decreasing the college’s potential liability if something happened to that disabled student while on campus. Learning about that was mind-blowing, but it also explained a lot of what I went through in college and made me feel a lot better about it.
Thinking back on all this stuff, I realize that besides my parents and my grandmother, I had absolutely NO ONE I could trust growing up.
To be completely honest, I didn’t even really trust my parents because while they worked very hard to shield me from anxiety or fear, it wasn’t always the best approach. There were quite a few times we’d show up at some doctor’s office for some scary, painful thing that I had no idea was coming and I would feel absolutely blindsided by it. (Just typing this made me cry. Just out of nowhere. Wow. I had no idea that was such a big thing. No wonder why I’m so scared of doctors waiting rooms. Yikes.)
Other times we’d show up for a routine visit and the doctor would suggest something uncomfortable or awkward or painful and if it seemed like it might help me, of course my parents were going to agree to it. So, I never knew WHAT was coming. My parents were just advocating for me the best they could with this disease that was really complicated.
I had no siblings, so it was just me. In the time this was going on, it wasn’t typical for a child to see a psychologist or counselor unless there were major behavioral issues, so I just sort of pushed everything down and that was that. The doctors told parents to pretend everything was normal, not to let disabled kids dwell on our health because back then the “tough love” approach was assumed to help us more easily integrate with our peers. But now psychologists know that’s NOT the case.
Just writing this makes me realize so much of this, what I am going through now, is this issue of trust. Growing up, all the people around me- the adults (doctors and teachers), peers, just humans in general- seemed like they could turn around and hurt me at any moment. And the last few years it felt like a version of this was playing out again- not just in people around me, but it sort of spread out into not being able to trust my own body, or even the *weather* (Hurricane Irma). If I can’t trust anything, or rely on anything, where do I find solid ground? Where do I stand? Instead of being a general, wary distrust, it’s evolved into being a very active distrust, if that makes sense. I’m on defense 24/7. I think that may be the heart of what’s going on with me.
Whoa, that’s a bit of an a-ha moment.
- Are you letting your thoughts linger over something that you feel was a big blow for you?
Um, yes. 😉 Everything that’s happened the last five or so years. Individually I think I would have bounced back from each of those things, but I think they just sort of built on each other and formed this tremendous mountain that feels impossible to scale. I’m working through them, but it feels a little like multi-tasking to the extreme. Like, I get bits and pieces of each thing worked through, but not a lot of progress on the entire, overall emotional overwhelm.
The last few months/years I have definitely been on auto-pilot. Fight or flight or freeze, for sure. I’ve been reading a ton of science books lately and watching tons of TED talks about human evolution and the best way I can describe what I am feeling is very primitive. Like I’m eeking out an existence each moment, but not really living a full and rich life. Surviving but not thriving.
The last few weeks I’ve been waking up from that a bit, and wanting to step up to the driver’s seat a little bit again, and have more of a say of what my life is about and how I feel about it. I think I realize that I do have a say about what the future can look like, and I want to learn how to engage in that process more than I have been these last few years.
I know I need to just decide on a few things to let go and kind of say “I don’t have time or energy to devote to this, it’s just not that important, it needs to be out of the equation” and do what it takes to close those doors and get some distance. I’m kind of working on that now.
- Does something in your life need to come to an end? What are you ready to release?
Probably the insecurities and questions I had when I was a young-adult. You know, that period of time between 20 and 40, when you are figuring out your purpose in life, your career, your personal relationships, your family, social roles, etc. “Why am I here? What’s the purpose of life?” etc.
At 44, I can call myself an adult. I have a little family (a husband, a daughter who is just about to turn 13, four cats and two birds and a gecko that need love and attention and care), I have a life, I have responsibilities, I have good decision-making skills, I manage things and keep things going. I think I can let go of the idea that I haven’t really done anything with my life because in all this time I’ve been waiting for my real life to “start”, a lot has happened. This *is* my life. It’s worth living. There’s a lot going on. Just because I haven’t had a formal career path or am creating some sort of legacy doesn’t mean I haven’t accomplished anything. I’m a good mom, a good partner to Tom (at least I think I am), I’m a great caregiver to all the kitties and birds who I have the privilege of sharing my life with… I care for my house and the little 1/5th of an acre its on and the little creatures that live there… i think I am working to leave this world a little bit better than I found it.
So, yeah, I need to let go of this feeling like I’m still looking for my life to have meaning, to have purpose. I need to stop riding myself so hard for not having done more than I have. I need to stop LOOKING for more meaningful purpose in life, because I’ve already got it. I just have to embrace and inhabit it.
- If you’re struggling to let go of something, ask yourself why you continue to hold on to it? What’s causing you to hesitate in gaining the closure you need?
I think this is a question I will be sitting with and contemplating a lot. I think it has the potential to help me clarify a lot of things.
To start with, there are a few things going on that I’m going to be forced to engage with on some level for the foreseeable future: health, my issues with living in Florida, the state of the world, the complex emotional situation with my parents, the heartbreak of losing pets, etc. These are all aspects of my everyday life. I realize that by making certain choices I am also actively choosing things that go along with them- for instance, if I choose to have pets, then I am also choosing attachment and the bittersweet things that come along with that. So I accept responsibility for those things.
I feel like there are certain areas in my life I am just having to contend with no matter what, and I accept those responsibilities wholly – my health, my family’s health, my pets’ health, etc.
I think because I feel like that in itself is a lot, the stuff that seems optional but really *isn’t* makes me frustrated.
For instance, Florida. I seriously am sick of living in Florida. This has become a HUGE issue for me since the hurricane. It’s been brewing for years, kind of in the background but not enough that I gave it considerable thought, but after the hurricane last year I was just DONE. I knew that the clock was ticking.
I’m not a nomad- I grew up in NY, stayed in the same house there for 18 years until I went to college, then lived in Atlanta for seven years in the same city (two different apartments) while I worked on my college and graduate degrees, and then I moved down here to Southwest Florida in 1999. I have lived in the same city now, full time, for almost 20 years, and before that I vacationed here with my family since the early 1980’s.
I don’t travel at all, I have no wanderlust, I don’t get the itch to switch homes or relocate. So what I am feeling isn’t that- it’s not an attempt to run away. I’m not the kind of person who thinks moving will fix my problems and because I am such a creature of habit, the idea of relocating and starting over somewhere makes me crazy anxious.
But I know, deep in my heart, that I need to go back north. Not to NY, but somewhere between Virginia and Georgia. Or maybe west. I need seasons and green and big leafy trees and the ability to be outside more. I need museums to lose myself in. I need science museums and aquariums to connect with the universe in. I need a diverse population to feel at home in. I need access to things that make me want to adventure outside my comfy house. I want a big, private backyard that I can wander around in and garden in and work on my mobility in, in a safe and private space. I want shady streets and cooler weather so I can try riding my bike again (a three wheeler- dorky but good for people with no balance).
I need to feel like the weather isn’t a constant threat. Many people live happily in Florida, but I feel like I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Flooding, hurricanes, blistering heat. Lightning that comes out of nowhere (which is deadly for a swimmer). I feel like I am sort of dehydrating to a crisp here, like life is being sucked out of me drop by drop. I know it sounds really dramatic, but that’s the best way I can explain it. When the temperature dips to below the 70’s, which is happening less and less often as the years go by, I feel like a totally different person. I feel like *myself* on those days, with the windows open, the air streaming through.
I just know I’m not meant to be here in the long run with absolute certainty- the way I knew I wanted to spend my life with Tom, the way I knew I wanted to adopt from Vietnam, etc. I don’t have these bolts of clarity very often, but when I do, they tend to be significant.
But we are committed to staying here until Grace is done with high school- Grace’s school is the ONLY reason we are staying here. The teachers are AMAZING. They really love those kids, they work with them, they connect with them as individuals, they just care so much. Grace knows that she is cared about, that she is supported there. I’ll go through 1,000 hurricanes so she can have that experience. Having her feel safe and accepted and feeling like she is a vital part of a community in her school setting is enormously important for Tom and I because neither of us felt like that when we were in middle/high school and we understand how important it is to have that experience as a teenager, and how rare it is to find it. Tom and I are not willing to rip her out of that environment because we can’t take the lack of privacy and space, the noise, the pollution/red tide, the severe weather, and the hurricanes anymore.
I was watching a psychologist on YouTube this morning and she was talking about when a person is ready to make a change but for logistical/practical reasons can’t just up and do it, just kind of planning for it and holding it in mind space *is* a step forward. So that made me feel better. There’s work that can be done towards that 5-year-plan right now.
- Where do you need to heal overall?
I think that all of this comes down to the feeling that I’ve lost my trust and connection with life, the universe, with people. I feel like I’m on my own in the universe- like, I was part of it and connected in some way, and now I feel like I’ve been disconnected and I’m kind of grasping on. Does that make any sense? But I still want to be a participant in my own life rather than just being dragged along for the ride.
I feel like I’ve lost *myself*.
I have some old stuff I need to work through, too. I felt for a long time that just getting through childhood and teenage years meant that stuff was over, case closed, done with. But then I’ve started to realize some of that stuff really does influence and inform my day to day life as an adult. I think watching Grace grow and with her about to turn 13, stuff from that period of my own life is coming up for me. It’s a good thing because it really informs my responsibility as a parent, and my ability to empathize with her and be emotionally supportive and available to her as she grows.
- What is it time to open your heart to?
Acceptance. Maybe some trust, especially with life itself. Engaging in *this* life. Allowing myself to be happy about the things that make me happy, even if they don’t make sense to other people. Letting my art be enough. Doing things for the sake of doing them, for the process, for the joy they bring rather than worrying I should be using that time for more productive and beneficial means.
I think this is just about opening my heart again. It’s, like, SEALED shut right now. Or it has been. I’m terrified of this. But it something I know I need to do if I want to move into the next stage of my life. I like the idea of being 44 and an adult and moving forward. I feel a little like I did when I was 18- when I graduated high school and I had no idea what was next. Anything was possible. I feel like I’m in that space again, but I know a lot more, and this time I’m really ready to embrace this opportunity.
I need to find joy and connection and light again. I feel like I *can* do it, simply because there’s still sparks of it in me. It’s like fanning a flame- I’ve got to protect those little bits of light and let them grow strong. I’ve got to do what it takes and let go of what isn’t serving that.