Hello from the Other Side

 

It is a melancholy morning.

I’m not sure if the weather is affecting my mood, as the various shades of grey float overhead and the street is filled in a sort of half-light.  The green looks green, but all the other hues seem dulled with this canopy of neutral sky where I want the blue to be.

There are days when I think that I simply wake in a mood and the universe follows suit.  That isn’t a delusion of grandeur marking manic episodes, it is just an observation that life is tied in intriguing ways with our environments.  And I don’t know if my mood is tied to my surroundings or my surroundings are tied to my mood at times.  Granted, I understand that I don’t control the weather.  It is less of a fact than a statement of how life feels today.

Close.  Dreary.  And a bit sad.

So, of course a melancholy girl throws on Adele 25 the moment Spotify loads on her computer.  Who better to nurse a mood like this than Adele?

And the first song is Hello.  And it hits me in a way I don’t expect.  It is totally about relationships most days—or at least that is how my psyche interprets it most days.  But today it feels like a signpost of my difference.  Today it feels like that song is meant for me to holler across the chasm between me and others.  Today it demarcates my life from the life of the “normal” person in my society.

Today I feel outside of the lines that are drawn to boundary the “good” from the “bad”.  Today I feel like all of the weight of my situation and my life and my history and my overactive mind and my grief is loaded upon my shoulders.  And I don’t see others carrying that weight.  And it makes me feel not just different, but “wrong” somehow.  Atypical.  Anomalous.  Weird.

At times, I think that others must have this weight too, and maybe they are just better at disguising it.  Maybe their shoulders are a bit broader and stronger.  Maybe the weight is distributed in ways that make carrying it easier.

But I am a woman living alone in one of the most challenged neighborhoods in the City of Big Shoulders.  I should be able to carry most anything.  And I know from experience that I am an expert at covering over the winces and stumbles that the world’s weight can bring about.  I’m so good at it that people believe I am faking or crying out for attention when the winces and stumbles show up, instead of understanding that I am always covering up my suffering and pain.

And I also have this sense that the reason I feel so melancholy today is that I am getting closer and closer to my goals of being mindful in every moment.  I’m letting myself feel whatever comes, and then letting it pass without having to grasp and cling to those feelings.   This morning I woke in a mood that left me longing and saddened and apart.  But I don’t need to cling to that mood.  And I don’t need to cover up that mood.  It can just stand.  It can just be.  It can just happen.

There is much in my life that has been heavy.  There is much in my day that might be heavy.  There are clouds in the sky that seem heavy.  And in some ways my heart is heavy.

With good reason.

My daughter is feeling uncertain about her future.  Someone I care for is dealing with his mother’s cancer diagnosis.  Old friends are slowly saying goodbye to their tiny boy before he is removed from life support.  Destruction and death are touching almost every inch of this little blue planet.  Need has become the hallmark of my life.  Loss is deeply felt.  Struggle lives up and down each block in my neighborhood.  I look down upon it right now, with the boarding up of yet another building and the remnants of last night’s celebrations covering the empty lots.  And there is this all-consuming feeling that I am alone in knowing the expanse of all of this.

There is a feeling that I know pain in ways that others do not or cannot.  There is a feeling that I have been through the most, the hardest, the most devastating.  There is a feeling that my empathy is too great, and my heart is too tender, and I feel too much.

But I also wouldn’t change that.  I wouldn’t change any of that.

If I had the option to not be abused, to not live on the run, to not marry an asshole, to not be a single parent, to not dance for money, to not fight my way through evictions and repossession and shit credit, and to instead have all the good things in life, I wouldn’t choose it.

There is something beautiful about being melancholy.  There is something beautiful about having deeply felt pain and struggle.  There is something beautiful about my difference and my distance from the general public.  There is something beautiful about being able to know this pain and this struggle and to keep on going.  There is something beautiful about my life and my history and my challenges and my neighborhood and my loss and my burdens.  Even if those things weight me, and make the day feel grey, they are still beautiful.

The other day I texted a friend whose brother is going through some challenges, just to check in and see how things were going or if there was any way I could help.  And at one point in our exchange, I texted, “Everything eventually resolves, right?”

It wasn’t actually a question.  It was rhetorical.  And it was true.

Everything eventually resolves.

There is weight.  There is struggle.  There is sadness.  There is loss.  There is death, destruction, and damage.  There is pain.  And there is the promise that this too shall pass.

Nothing lasts forever.  My melancholy mood might lift with the return of the sun, or with a text from a friend, or with the morning tomorrow.  It might hold on for weeks.  But at some point, melancholy will no longer be my mood.  It will change.  It will resolve.

And being mindful helps me to know and to understand and to accept that it will resolve.  It allows me to feel it, but not live inside of it.  There is a way to approach our feelings that acknowledges them, lets them be felt, and then releases them when they do not serve us well.  There is a way to hold on to the promise that things will resolve, and that this feeling isn’t the whole of our situation, or our circumstance, or our being.  It is only a feeling.  And feelings come and go.

So, while I still feel like I am shouting an echoing hello across a chasm to the “normal” in my society, and while I still feel immense weight upon my shoulders, and while I still work through struggle that most never experience, I am at peace with my melancholy mood.  It has come.  It will go.  And I don’t need to hang on to it when it isn’t serving me well.  It isn’t going to be weighting me for long.  It is not here to stay.  It will resolve.

Adele’s album, however, will stay.  It is already saved in my Spotify account.  And I know that playing it tomorrow might yield completely different feelings than it offered today.  Because life develops, changes, keeps moving, comes in waves, and offers us feelings anew.  We just need to let it.  We only need to acknowledge, accept, and release what comes.

Let life resolve.

Backward

The last few days I haven’t been able to keep control of my letters.  They keep switching up and making the words I mean to write a jumbled mess.  And this is not figurative in any way.  I’m seriously dyslexic of late.

It isn’t a major issue, since we have these lovely computer checks of our spelling and grammar these days, and the only thing I end up writing with my actual hand and a pen is notes from my online nutrition course, so I should be able to decipher what I meant to write.  But, even without severe consequence, I get annoyed with this trading of letters and destroying of words.

It isn’t that I’m a perfectionist…

Just kidding, I’m totally a perfectionist.

And that hasn’t always served me well in life.  There are many times where I put too much effort and too much stress into a project of some sort, because I had to achieve my own standard of perfection.  And my standard has always been high.

I don’t think I came to be such a perfectionist by accident.  It has been shown that there is a correlation between perfectionism and trauma.  And I grew up with a mother who didn’t allow anyone to settle for less than what she deemed perfect.  Though I constantly disappointed her hopes of perfection, I still adopted some of her desire for all the things to line up perfectly and look neat and clean and good.

I didn’t realize that I was dyslexic until adulthood.  For some reason, even though things were constantly being reversed in my early education, nobody ever diagnosed me with a learning disability.  In adulthood I would also be given the diagnosis of ADHD, which often travels in tandem with dyslexia.  Both have been linked to low DHA and EPA, the omega 3’s from fish, in utero.  So, basically, my mom wasn’t perfect, because she clearly missed out on oily fish while my cells were multiplying and differentiating and doing all the scientific shit that cells do.

Because I wasn’t formally diagnosed with these maladies in childhood, I felt stupid a lot.  I couldn’t meet the standards of perfection.  I kept messing up in the same ways and living in the same mistakes.  I couldn’t pay attention, my desk was a mess, I was terrible at penmanship and spelling, and I kept drawing “b” and “d” either identically, or replacing one with the other.  I was flawed.   I couldn’t get it right.

And doing things “right” was of high importance in our household.  Or at least making them look “right”.

Perfectionism didn’t just apply to my handwriting.  I needed to have perfect hair and perfect clothes and look like a perfect daughter.  But I wasn’t a perfect daughter, so lying about my imperfections became commonplace.  I was always the daughter bouncing around when she should be still.  I was always the daughter who spoke when she was expected to stay silent.  I was always the daughter who would leave when told to stay and stay when asked to leave.  I was belligerent and defiant and not at all the kind of daughter that my mom wanted.  And, until my sister came along, I might have believed that daughters didn’t come in a perfect model.  She was compliant and accommodating and capable of making my mother happy.  I wasn’t.  And I used to envy or despise my sister, depending on the moment, for her ability to be the child that my mother had wished I was.  But I eventually let that go, because it had nothing to do with my sister and everything to do with my mother, and my relationship with her.

I couldn’t be perfect, but I tried, until not living up to the challenge for years and years finally made me give up.  And I gave up in gigantic ways.

My house was a disaster area, and my husband was an asshole, and I was a cursing, loud, obnoxious, addicted, defiant mess.  And it was fabulous.

I became the exact opposite of what my mother wanted me to be, and I stayed that way for some time.

Eventually, I came to see that some of my behavior wasn’t serving me well, so I started to travel from my backward ways and get closer to the ideal daughter.  But, after travelling so far from that ideal, you really don’t come back.  Your experience becomes a part of you. Whether you want it to or not, your history is always a part of your story.  So, I formed my own ideal.  And I started to strive for that ideal instead.

I accepted that I would never be the daughter my mom wished for, but I could be the best possible me imagined.  Right?

Wrong.

I’m an idealist at heart, but pragmatic overall. However, I formed an ideal that I couldn’t live up to.  And I think that all of us do this, on some level.  We imagine a self, and spend so much time and energy living into that perceived self that nothing else matters, and then we cannot meet the standards imagined.  We fail ourselves—not just our mothers.

I didn’t learn the lesson quickly, and spent years struggling with myself, but I have finally seen that I was designed to be backward.  Not in the sense that the divine wished dyslexia upon me, but in the sense that we are all designed to be different from what we expect of ourselves.

I fought to become what I envisioned a good woman to be.  And that vision was based upon what I knew from my history, and upon what I imagined my mother wanted, and upon what I deemed culturally appropriate.  But I am no more culturally appropriate than I am able to keep my letters in the correct order while I write.

So, when I did learn the lesson, and I did discover who and what and why I am, I learned that I am not now, and not ever, going to fit into an imagined ideal me.  That isn’t how development works.

When we are babies, we don’t make a list of things we want to accomplish before we begin to explore the world and start to meet milestones.  We never say, “Hmmm…I think walking might be cool.”  We just engage with our environment in such a way that we eventually discover that walking gets us to places we want to go.  And somehow we have forgotten, by and large, that development happens as exploration happens, and that no amount of wishing for a baby to walk gets them walking, but they do so when it serves them well.

It sounds a bit selfish, but it really isn’t.  Being your best self doesn’t mean adhering to an ideal that constantly lives just outside your grasp, but accepting who you are and what you need in the moment. And while you might imagine that as self-serving, in truth, when you care well for yourself you are set free to care well for others, instead of putting all your energy toward meeting the unachievable ideal.

There are lots of people who still think I live life backward.  They comment about how I should get a job or get more exercise or try this or that home remedy.  They tell me they worry about my choices, because I like both men and women, because I have sex while unmarried, because I am pro-choice, because I live in a ghettoized neighborhood, because I date outside my race, because I am not a biblical literalist …

The list goes on forever.

But the best thing that has happened for me in a very long time is that I stopped caring what those people want Ideal Christy to be like.  I no longer care what my Ideal Christy was.  I have learned to simply live within the Christy that I am.  I accept my beliefs.  I offer gratitude.  I increase my awareness.  I educate myself, and I transform what I can based on new information.  I let go of what I cannot change.  I release expectations and, instead, hold on to who I am at the core—deep in my heart, or my gut.

I don’t need to be perfect.  I just need to be who I am, in the most authentic way possible.

There are many ways that perfectionism still sneaks into my daily life, including my frustration over the order of my written characters, but even that tendency toward perfectionism can be accepted and released in my newfound, mindful approach to living.  And there are still many ways that others view me as failing or a failure that hurt my heart, but those too can be felt and then released.

I spent so much of my life trying to be the perfect daughter, the perfect wife or girlfriend, the perfect mother, the perfect student, the perfect employee.  And all of that was not waste, but much of it was unhelpful.  I don’t need to fit the mold for any perfect ideal.  There is no longer an ideal self.  There is only me, simply being.

And I think that being is better than perfection, without a doubt.

I do waste energy, from time to time, on the things that others desire for me to be.  But, for the most part, I have learned to break free from expectations and to accept myself as I am.  Once the keeping of lists stopped and the toddler-like exploration of self and environment began, it was difficult to revert to the perfectionist striving.  Because exploring self and life is so much more rewarding.  It offers wonder and surprise and enlightenment and new life.  And that is much better than the struggle that perfectionism offers.

I’m becoming proud of the process of becoming.  I’m accepting that I may be any number of things, and some of those things might align with the ideals of others, but others will not.  But those ideals aren’t my goal anymore.  Mindful living is my goal.  And mindful living always offers me good things, and never disappoints.

I understand that this way of being will be considered backward for some.  But those people are probably still striving for a perfectionist ideal that will never be reached.  And I don’t need to care that they see my way of exploring the world and the self and the environment and the world as not “right” in its approach to living.

If loving me is wrong, I don’t want to be right!

Annoyances like transposed letters still frustrate me at moments, but I’m learning to accept even that as a part of who I am.  And I’m learning to accept that I am good, just as I am.  I am “right”, because I am being true to myself and my experience.  I am being true to my heart and my gut.  I am letting me be enough.  I am allowing myself the space to fall and to rise and to be, without judgments.  And something that offers that much love and grace and compassion toward the self, instead of the usual berating and judging of perfectionism, cannot be wrong.

So, since today is not a class day, filled with strangely spelled notes, I will spend it doing that which makes me be, without perfectionist ideals.  Maybe I will do some yoga, or a meditation.  Maybe I will color mandalas, or work on some art pieces, or finally attempt some sewing, or plant some stuff, or take a bath.  And others can think of those things as selfish, if they want.  But I see them for what they are: practices that accept who I am and where I am, practices that lead me to my best self, and practices that never ask me to strive for perfection.

And you might think that such things couldn’t possibly be added to your day, because you are too busy.  But you would be wrong. Because practicing mindfulness strips away the busy, and leaves you with what is most important—it always leaves you with the best possible you.

End your striving.  Stop trying to be perfect.  Let your heart speak to you, and then speak that to others.  Don’t pretend you are something you are not to please your mother (or anyone else, for that matter). Look inward. Be backward.

I promise you won’t be disappointed.