springtime in my soul

10:37 AM

For being an over sharer I’m pretty shy when things get tough. I’ve watched and admired many individuals lean in and share their pain or struggles but when it comes to myself I’ve always just closed down shop.

Sharing publicly requires vulnerability--period. Even if you’re just sharing a rug.  It’s your rug, in your home. It’s invasive. But sharing your life – your dreams, your mistakes, your longings and even just the mundane day to day, that’s really vulnerable. Sharing pain publicly is like breaking the fourth wall, it’s ultimate vulnerability and well, I’ve never been very good at that. I have been able, years after the fact, to muster up the courage to put certain painful events to paper but never in the present tense.

This past fall I was very firmly planted in the place of denial. In many tangible ways, my life was falling apart but in my day to day I was stubbornly painting on a smile every morning and going about my business. Perhaps I felt that if I just held on to any shred of normalcy I could will it into existence—wrenching it out of the foreboding skies that seemed to follow me wherever I went and claim it as my own. And though my will didn’t seem to tire, my body and, maybe even my soul, did. But I definitely wasn’t depressed.

Eventually my body started giving up. It stopped wanting to move. To eat. To dress. It was tired and just downright “over it.” Still I wore a smile. I smiled as I spent all day in bed in pajamas. I smiled when people asked how I was and I honestly had no idea how I was because… how can I put it? I wasn’t sure I was anymore? But I wasn’t depressed. Just tired.

The funny thing about being a mum is how all those mundane tasks become reflexes after a while. I still made pots of oatmeal and mac and cheese. Dispensed vitamins and brushed teeth. I clothed and planned afternoons at the park. I attended well visits and by the grace of God I even homeschooled. But that was all my body and my mind were capable of. Once those tasks were completed I would return to gazing out of the window or at my phone mindlessly – an endless stream of faces, living rooms and latte art. But this wasn’t depression. Just a rough spot.

The undoing was a treacherous mess and at this point it has all blurred into one tear soaked Mark Rothko painting. That’s all I can say about that. Perhaps all I can ever say about that to anyone. I felt sawed open and all of my preconceived notions on life, all of my confidence in what I knew to be true and in my own stability/ability was unraveled.

However, never one to be left on the side of the road I began to recover. I began to heal and this is where you can insert all of those saccharine quotes about butterflies, wings, seedlings and springtime. Because they’ve never felt so dear.

I told my therapist the other day that I’ve never liked springtime. Compared with the other seasons, it always bored me. Fall is my favorite, winter a solid second, and summer… well who can ever hate on watermelons, ice cream, warm water and the hot sun lulling you into a false sense of security we so long for as adults? But spring? In Russia spring is winter but with the snow now brown and covered with animal (and unfortunately sometimes human) urine stains. It’s still cold, you’re still eating everything out of cans and the only difference is that the landscape is so much more depressing. Here in the states it’s not the snow but greenery and relentless rain.  Trust me I love rain on a crisp fall day. Actually that might be my perfect day but in the spring when you start getting those humid days that just make you feel as though you’re slogging through a sauna? No thank you. Well that changed this year.

When I heard the first notes of the blackbird’s song I felt like it was singing just for me—the song that was writing itself in my heart. When the first buds appeared on trees and bushes they seemed like a physical manifestation of the tiny sparks of hope beginning to glow in my soul. And finally when the dogwoods and magnolias burst forth their blossoms it felt like a new door had flung open inside me. One that I had never even thought to open…

The door of fear. I had kept it shut since I was a child, believing that keeping it closed was what would keep me safe. But keeping it closed only harbored the fear, it had no exit, nowhere to go. So I cracked it open and I began to believe that I could be happy right here, right now.

Sure I don’t have a home to call my own. So what? Four walls aren’t everything. Sure I don’t have a perfect marriage. So what? After all, I’m not perfect. As Alain de Botton said, we’d be much better off starting our romantic relationships with the question: “I’m crazy like this! How are you crazy?” Because after ten years that’s what marriage can often feel like – a day at the insane asylum. But I love his brand of crazy and he swears he loves mine (how, I will never know).  Sure I don’t have an enviable career. So what? I’ve got what I’ve got and I’ve got to make the best of it. Sure I don’t have anything figured out. So what? That doesn’t preclude me from being happy.  Depression made me only see what I don’t have, only focus on the fear and pain, I had blinders on that hid all the good from my line of sight.

But I decided I’m no longer waiting for something or someone to give me permission to enjoy my life. I once heard that it takes as much effort to be miserable as it does to be happy. BOOM. Right? Like ALL the light bulbs.

I didn’t know how to start this. I didn’t know how to write this at all. I didn’t think I deserved to be seen, to be heard. Because I don’t have anything worthwhile to say (this is how I used to, and, I am ashamed to admit, still do talk to myself sometimes). But because I did not heal in a vacuum and instead surrounded myself with voices of women who weren’t afraid to say “I want to be seen. I want to be heard. I have something valuable. I am valuable” I suppose I wanted to add my small voice. Because sometimes that’s all it takes – a string of words that awake something inside you that wants more out of life than just surviving. And because I believe that’s it’s so important for more of us to stand up and say – this is me, imperfections and all.

And maybe I don’t have anything worthwhile to offer. I don’t have much to show for myself. I’m certainly not here to tell you I have it all figured out. I’m still a work in progress. I still have tough days when I feel like my toes are almost touching the darkness, like one small breeze and I’ll be hurling down into the abyss again. So I’m just here to say that if you’re feeling unmoored, less-than, if you’re feeling like everyone is passing you by with their perfect homes, vacations, careers, social media accounts and manicures and here you are just wondering if you can re-wear those sweatpants again you are not alone! And also – it is not ok that you feel that way! And a better house, vacation, career, social media account or manicure is not going to make you feel better. There are a million things that could but unfortunately (or fortunately) none of them can be bought. Happiness and peace it turns out must be earned, one small hopeful breath of gratitude at a time.  And a lot of therapy. A lot.

Breathe in. Breathe out. And repeat after me:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

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