Episode 5: The P-Word
Let's start with a story that is not related at all, but it will get me talking.
(Isn't that how I start most of these blog letters?)
Half of my son's life ago, we lived in the Atlanta burb of Marietta in a 3-story rustic house surrounded by a hundred trees, beautiful azaleas and poison ivy.
There's an analogy.
Our cars lived on the first floor, the kitchen/living on the second and bedrooms on the third.
Rustic, with cabin-y ceilings and an old stone fireplace.
Rustic, and in need of several updates we had no money to make.
But the kids were young and it was fun and I made that place shine.
Picture mattress surfing on the stairs with the female half of the kindergarten class.
The house had an old wood bar in the living room, with a tiny sink. That was the first thing to go.
Not because we were Mormon. We just didn't need it--
and drain pipes are freeways for cockroaches.
Like taking I-4 to Disney.
The following story was our impetus for removing the bar.
I sat on the brown leather love seat talking all things Relief Society on the phone.
RS is the women's org of the church, and I was the 2nd Counselor in the congregation's presidency.
You know that joke where kids are whining, "Mom, Mom, Mom..." on repeat while she's on the phone?
Or while driving a car, and they are passively trying to get her attention, but by the time she answers, they've forgotten what they wanted to say?
I was on the phone.
Since littles, they both had an etiquette they followed meticulously of interrupting a phone call.
And I was not having it.
This was the only thread of my life that was only about me.
I held up my hand, like a crossing guard.
I put my finger to my lips, while nodding my head to the caller.
I shoo'd them with my hand dismissively.
I still see them.
They are both standing in front of me, ten years and five. It was Sunday, after three hours of church, so they still had dress and tie on.
My daughter was resourceful. Five years old. Intuitive.
She could see that talking to me was not working, so she pointed.
With her little pointing finger.
She pointed to my arm.
Resting on the arm of the couch.
So I looked.
Crawling on my sleeved arm.
I wish I could have seen my face!
The cordless home phone flew, my arms splayed like a frightened chicken,
then flapped for at least 30 seconds,
as I walked the room, fluffing out my clothes away from my body,
shaking out my hair.
Somehow, I am still so fond of that story.
We took out the bar.
I haven't written for a while. But I have identified an important feeling on my hiatus.
I'm very familiar with it, how it feels.
This time, I suppose, I'm paying attention to it, shining light on it.
I named it.
A definition: excessive self-absorbed unhappiness over one's troubles.
Also: identifying as a victim of circumstances.
Brooke Castillo says it's the brain's response to a hard event, saying, "Sucks to be you."
So, I have the hard event, or a few at the same time,
which I feel all the appropriate feelings for:
loss, guilt, anger, sadness, all the things.
Every so-often, in these recent months, a wave will come of self-pity.
It's a deep dive.
It's when I cancel plans, wear jammies all day (showered)
and buy pints of non-dairy ice cream.
Or eat chips from the bag.
Because Mormons don't drink alcohol.
No, you're right, I'm not Mormon anymore--but habits are habits.
I've broken a lot of habits in the last two years.
I've lost 45 pounds.
I think I was in self-pity during my 27 year marriage, and this is what that looked like:
Anything that happens, the circumstances of a conversation or another relocation, is dramatic and embellished. It looks super-big in my mind.
And my thoughts boil down to: "Of course, this is happening to me. This is my normal."
Which feels terrible.
And then I give up on life. There is no life.
I do as little as possible. Stop caring for me, and eventually others.
It's like living underwater with a pile of blankets on top, preventing a rise to the surface.
I'm not clear on how this looks from the outside, but I have looked over some photos of family gatherings, and self-pity has an image.
Jammie pants. Or size 20 boyfriend jeans.
Sweatshirts and sweaters to "cover my body."
Blinds closed to the sun.
The least amount of distance to walk the dog, because it's just too hard.
And eating when no one is around.
Just writing that, I can feel it a little. Do you?
When the cockroach was walking on my sleeve in Georgia, I responded.
But after the initial reaction, I had thoughts of,
"This should not be happening! NO No no."
Until there was no more energy to sustain it.
That resistance is super-powerful.
One of the consequences of my self-pity has been to quit things.
I think, "It sucks to be you."
I feel like crap.
I give up. Quit.
Unfortunately, the quitting does not relieve the self-pity.
That truth is a light bulb.
But this feels very different.
Shining a light on it, giving it a name and definition,
being 100% real with what is happening--
what it feels like,
without fear of feeling it,
and DECIDING, do I want this?
Is this how I want to live out my third act?
Of course, it's a no.
Big fat no.
Okay, so we're not going to do that anymore.
It will come up, because it's a habit stored in my Limbic brain.
Resistance would have me EXPECT for it to never come up again.
I expect that it will. I accept that my brain likes to go sideways sometimes.
How long will I entertain it? Do I invite it in and let it stay?
Not this time.
Today's Deep Breath: a practical juju nugget, a collective Next Best Decision.
Spray your home for bugs.
Just kidding, that's not my advice.
Although...they do have better options that are pet, human and planet friendly.
Don't think I didn't get on my laptop this week and make a Maintenance Request on my apartment website when a cockroach was in my bathroom, and another came out of my dishwasher.
The body panic and screaming was short, but the neighbors on my floor probably thought I'd been murdered.
I could have embellished my circumstance to be something like this:
I live in a roach-infested apartment and I'm going to die here!
Look at those adjectives.
One cockroach didn't run away when I flipped on the light. He crawled on the door jam, back onto the door, under the lip at the bottom.
I remind myself to keep breathing.
I know the pest control happens on Mondays.
I live here.
He lives here.
He has nothing to eat here, so maybe he'll leave again down the drain.
I can get my drain plugs fixed so they will close.
But this will happen again, so I can expect it.
I can expect to see a cockroach in Florida, where it is never "real winter" and the bugs don't die, so they just get bigger and grow wings and can fly and crawl all over buildings at night.
That's the facts.
They live here.
I live here.
Our paths will cross.
Accept. Not resist.
I've spent so much time, as a child and an adult, resisting reality.
Blaming others when things didn't work out for me.
Ooo, that sentence touches a tiny nerve.
If I wanted to, I could go sideways there. Linger in it.
I want to thank you for listening and still being here.
We'll see how long I decide to keep this going.
But for now, I'm glad I wrote again, I'm grateful to have the opportunity to use my voice.
My hope for you is the same as for me:
there are some hard things, and some things that are going right.
Be really clear about both.