I’m Not OK, But It’s OK

At almost 38, I’ve had this conversation a thousand times:

SOMEONE: Hi! How are you?

ME: I’m good. How are you?

SOMEONE: Good, thanks!

And so on.

Lately though, I’ve changed the script because what I’ve realized is that I’m fucking tired of lying as part of a social nicety. We normally aren’t asking “how are you?” with the goal of actually learning the answer. We’re asking it because we feel like we should, because that is what people do when they encounter another human and are expected (forced) to engage in small talk so that you won’t be mistaken for a curmudgeonly asshole with a field completely devoid of fucks.

Well, people — my field isn’t just fuckless. The earth has been scorched, salted, and more closely resembles a lava flow than a meadow filled with fucks for others.

I’m worn out. Worn out in a way I haven’t been in years. Not since all of the medical nightmares with Dad’s cancer and complications have I been this worn out. I’m perpetually tired to the point where I am tired of being tired. And then I’m tired of being tired of being tired.

I can barely stand myself right now.

Last weekend, I was in a deep low. I couldn’t get out of my own way. In an attempt to make myself wake up and feel better, I decided to take a shower — use the water and the warmth to feel something. I grabbed my towel, stripped down, turned the water on, and then…no hot water. Lukewarm at best. I walked into my bedroom, curled up into a ball on the bed under the covers, and then proceeded to cry. I wept big squishy tears. The lack of hot water was the last straw on my simmering bonfire of sadness and I had no logic left to find a solution or an alternative. Scott came upstairs and simply curled around me while I released irrational, bewildered tears. (Husband points were gained that day).

So, my answer to “how are you?” is not “I’m good” or some other version of the bland positive nothingness we normally give. My answer to “how are you?” is that I’m shitty. I’m depressed and I’m NOT OK. And guess what? There is nothing you can do about that. And that is OK. The only way out is through.

When I’m not weeping big squishy tears over lukewarm water, I know that this happens to me often during autumn. The leaves changing color are a double-edged sword laced with foreboding joy: they are a beautiful harbinger of what is to come – winter. When the leaves change, I feel awe at the stunning magic of nature, but I also feel a creeping gloom because that means that stick season and its evil  of seemingly endless neutral color is nearly upon us. And what follows after that? The cold white horror of snow and diminishing daylight.

Things are also simply HARD right now. I love teaching, but school is currently extremely difficult. Students are more challenging with each passing day. I’m actively writing a brand new class and that entails an intense amount of preparation (aka time and research). I’m the highest my weight has ever been and I’m pissed about it, but I can’t seem to find the time, willpower, energy, etc. to change it. Scott’s job requires him to be gone for much of the week, and even after 20 years we like each other enough where we want to spend as much time together as possible, and that’s not happening right now.

I say all of this because I know I am not alone. I know that when I too commit the sin of social niceties, the responses I’m receiving aren’t the truth either. We try not to burden others with our woes as we know they probably have their own woes to deal with, but in many cases sharing our woes is exactly what we should be doing. This is how we help each other, by listening.

At some point in the last month or whatever (time has no meaning to me anymore), it was mental health awareness day/week/month/fortnight/kerfuffle and many people shared their stories of struggling with mental illness. We need to keep doing this on days other than whenever instagram or facebook tells us to. It’s OK to not be OK. Talking about it can keep the shadows at bay. It can keep the loneliness from creeping in. It can help you find the other end of the depression wormhole. And no, social niceties aren’t truly evil or wrong, but pretending you’re OK to the people who love and care about you is not always the best move. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a strength. Be the strongest, baddest bitch and reach out. That’s what I’m doing.

I am 100% that bitch, and I think Lizzo would be proud.

There’s Never a Good Time

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As of this weekend, The Hubs and I went back up to a four-cat household. Yes, we are crazy cat people – we own this moniker with pride. We have not been at four cats since my beloved Oscar passed in October 2017, but the opportunity to take in an adorable nine-week-old kitten arose, and we couldn’t resist. He’s adorable, as a tiny demon equipped with soft kitten fur, tiny samurai swords for claws, and an internal nuclear energy generator must be in order to survive. Scott named him Ferdinand Porsche when he was only three weeks old (all of our cats have car-related names), and that’s when I knew we were keeping him. My one rule was that he had to test negative for feline leukemia and once he passed that hurdle he was in my arms the next night.

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Is it a good time to take in a tiny ball of energy that is equivalent to a furry neutron collision? Nope. Would it truly ever be a good time? The answer is also nope. Most of the best things in life come to you when the timing sucks. The Hubs and I will be traveling for almost the entirety of August (at least it feels that way). We are gone for the first four weekends of August, including a week in the middle of the month to fly to Vancouver, Canada. This may be the craziest month of the year for us, so should we adopt a tiny kitten who is currently at war with our other three cats? Probably not. But honestly, fuck the idea of “should.”

Should is what keeps us from following our dreams. Should is the monster that chips away at our mental health and makes us feel guilty for taking some time for self-care. Should is the chainmail we (especially women) wear every day when we don’t sit down and take a break when we get home from our full-time jobs, but instead we make dinner, do laundry, and bathe the kids. How often do we find ourselves with a spare ten minutes, but instead of sitting down and reading a chapter in a book we get up and vacuum the carpet? Should robs us of our joy.img_20190727_2017317504245644831324397.jpg

I’m working to burn “should” from my mental dialogue. Instead, I’m trying to ask myself, “What do you want to do? What actually needs to get done and how does that fit in with what you want to do?” If we don’t take time to ask ourselves these questions, we go through life doing what we think we should be doing, rather than following our own path. It’s just like the societal push that everyone in happy, stable marriages should have children (there’s that damn word again…). No. You shouldn’t do anything of the sort. You have to WANT to have children. Otherwise, you’re letting someone else make decisions for you. The next time you hear yourself saying, “Ugh, well I guess I should do that,” stop yourself right there. Should you do it? Or do you WANT to do it? We ultimately only know for sure that we have this one crazy, beautiful, heart-breaking, amazing, life. Why spend it waiting for a time when you don’t have anymore “shoulds” to get through first?

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So, SHOULD we take in a kitten right now? Nope. Big ol’ bag of nope. Are we? Absolutely. If I had let should completely rule my life then I would be missing out on the experience of taking care of this amazing little life that brings me equal amounts of joy and exasperation (everything, and I mean everything, is now on the floor and/or under the couch). We all need to take more control over our own lives and focus on the needs and wants, not the shoulds. We’re not always going to win the battle. This mentality is built into us from when we are very young, again, especially for women. The guilt of not doing what we know we “should” do is real and it is very demoralizing. The standards are set up so that we fail because there is simply too much to do to do it all and to do it all well. But if we don’t start focusing on our own needs, when are we going to get to them? I don’t want to be at the end of my life and be pissed that I chose vacuuming over reading a book that changed my life. When vacuuming gets to a need, I’ll handle it, but until then, you’ll find me on the couch reading – probably with a kitten on my lap, playing with my hair and being so damn cute while doing it I’ll forgive him for ripping the corner of the page of the book he’s standing on.

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Sometimes you have to break down to break through.

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It has been a very hard last year or so. Probably longer, if I’m being honest. Grief, stress, constant change, constant obligation, exhaustion. It all adds up until one day, you hit the bottom really hard and the only choices you have are to stay at the bottom and wallow or use the event to inspire good change.

Last weekend, I hit rock bottom. I hit it so hard I bounced. Let me set the stage:

It was my last weekend of yoga teacher training. One of my closest friends was getting married on the Saturday, so I would miss half of my classmates’ practicum classes. I was teaching my class second on Sunday, right after lunch. We got home from the wedding on Saturday not too late, but it didn’t matter because I couldn’t sleep a wink. The anxiety I had had in control for the last month thanks to acupuncture, yoga, and meditation, was back full force and there was no way I would find sleep. I still rolled out of bed and drove to teacher training Sunday morning, doing two hours of asana  practice before finally getting to my class. I felt prepared, I had practiced the shit out of my class, even teaching it to two co-workers all the way through. I knew this class in-and-out. It all started out fine, but I could feel the pressure of expectations, my own and my teacher’s. I made a mistake, not that the class knew, but I KNEW. Then it started to unravel like a ball of yarn in a hurricane. I unraveled. I managed to teach the entire class without any of the students (and even my teacher) from catching on to my disintegration, but I broke down hard at the end. Bursting into tears, I quickly picked up my mat and books and ran from the studio.

When the time came for the last practicum class, I pulled myself together and took the class, managing to stop crying for the entire hour. Then Judgment Time had arrived- final assessments. At this point, I was so certain I had failed and I was already trying to figure out what to say to my family and friends about my failure. I walked in and sat down with my teacher and the first thing she said was, “You taught an AWESOME class, so what the hell is going on in your head right now?!” She and I speak the same language, I appreciate her directness and it allows me to respond in-kind. “When you’ve internalized that a single mistake equals absolute failure for five years, it can be hard to get out of your own way, especially when you’re exhausted.”

When my teacher hit me with that direct question, it charged my brain and the reason hit me like a brick. I have always had high expectations for myself. These were never imposed by my parents or teachers because they could always see that I didn’t need outside pressure to perform well, I had enough intrinsic motivation to do well. This only becomes a problem when you start working for a company (or start a relationship with a person) that recognizes your intrinsic motivation and exploits it to demand perfection at all costs. In my case, it’s my job where my perfectionism is exploited. At work, anything less than perfect is failure. There is no positive feedback, no recognition of effort or that you’re even a human being who will make mistakes. It’s merely, you made a mistake- you failed. Five years of that can be incredibly damaging to the psyche.

Dr. Brené Brown talks about perfectionism and its relationship to shame in many of her books, and I highly recommend you read them (links below) because they are making a huge difference in my understanding of myself. I broke down at teacher training because I felt deep shame for making that mistake. I wasn’t good enough. I failed. All of that hard work, for naught. Five years of that attitude forced on me at work, and I had internalized it as if it were truth. We live in a culture of perfectionism and shame. I think about all of the young moms I know who are in constant fear of being perceived as a bad parent. The level of judgment and expectation has gotten out of control and it’s part of what is contributing to rampant stress and mental illness (IMHO). Talking about what’s going on in our head is still somewhat stigmatized. Breaking down is seen as weakness in a world that has no room for weak moments.

Breaking down at yoga teacher training is probably one of the best things you can do. Why? Because where are you going to find a more spiritually enlightened, safe, open place to breakdown? Where are you going to find more kind, compassionate, understanding people? Yogis are an exceptional group of people on a good day, but they really shine on a bad day when you’ve ripped yourself apart from the inside out. To my fellow classmates: I have so much gratitude for your kindness that day and every day.

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The good news: this absolute breakdown helped me have a breakthrough. Five years of repressed emotion burst through the walls I had built to keep them at bay so I could function. I didn’t just cry on the way home from yoga teacher training that night, I sobbed myself dry. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, tears I should have shed so many times and just couldn’t because that too would be a sign of failure. I sobbed away the weight of perfectionism that had me stressed and anxious every day of my life after starting at my company. I came out the other side of those tears a different person. A person who was going to do her best not to let other people define me. A person unwilling to except the unrealistic expectations of others. A person who could make mistakes without feeling like a failure. It was the beginning of something.

It’s been a week since all of this. The Hubs told me last night that he can’t believe how different I am. He told me I’m so much more relaxed and lighter, that he can tell I’m not sitting next to him on the couch and thinking about all of the things I should be doing. I’m more present. My new goal is to maintain this to the best of my ability. I do not want to go back to that world of repressed emotions and feelings of constant failure. Life is far too short and beautiful to waste it letting other people define you.

Books I’ve read by Brené Brown:

Rising Strong

I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t)

The Pose You Hate is Probably the One You Need

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Tools for class

The pose you hate is probably the one you need. This is also true for entire classes. I had to make up a third chakra-focused class because I had to miss that day in my yoga teacher training program last month. I was…well, let’s just say I wasn’t looking forward to it, because third chakra means abs. Lots and lots of ab work. The third chakra, located roughly around the belly button/solar plexus is where the energy of will and decision comes from, so in order to help balance that area it’s best to do ab exercises that target that area of the body. This means a lot of plank, a lot of side plank, and many many bridges.

So yeah…I wasn’t looking forward to it, but it had to be done, so I fired up YogaGlo on my phone, mirrored it to my tv, spread out my mat and got down to business. I’ll start by saying the things I didn’t like and get them out of the way. The class was taught by Jo Tastula, who did not make me a fan by the end of class. Tastula’s cuing left something to be desired- she often did not cleanly move people from pose to pose, rarely offered modifications, and the pace was highly irregular in such a way that it was disorienting. I know that I’m probably pickier because I’m in the midst of my teacher training program, but it was a tough class to follow and I plan to use it as an example of what *not* to do.

Now to be fair, this was a Level 2 class, so I understand that the cuing might be a little brief because you only get to Level 2 if you’ve been doing yoga for quite some time and already know the poses. I still think you should still provide modifications, but that’s just me. Tastula was very strong in her conveying the focus of the class, connecting the poses to the third chakra, and providing ample time at the start and end of class in savasana for centering and some breath work. I found it interesting that she included kapalabhati breathing during some poses, as well as lion’s breath, and it was a novel tactic for me.

I find side plank extremely difficult. Plank is also not my friend, as my shoulders, elbows, and wrists are weak (though improving!). This class was hard for me, and I know that at least part of my ire above is because of being baldly faced with my own weaknesses and faults. This is ultimately when the yoga really starts. This class forced me to look at my weaknesses and see them as they are- parts of me that I need to accept and recognize that they are parts of me TODAY. I can get stronger and I am working toward that, but today it is all about working to the edge and being comfortable with that. As much as I would love to avoid plank and side plank, I’ll never get better if I just continue to avoid it, no matter how much I hate plank.

And ultimately, I really don’t hate the poses, I hate how the poses makes me feel weak and incapable. By the time I was done with the class today and lying in savasana, I had finally gotten around to all of this. It’s ok to not be perfect, but it’s not ok to avoid what’s hard because it’s hard. The hard place is where the best work happens. The hard place is where you need to be. It’s where the best parts of you are formed.
~Namaste