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.

Dead Leg

Sometimes, when I am explaining my symptoms to a new doctor or physical therapist, I use this expression of “dead leg”.  It isn’t the pins and needles feeling that we commonly associate with numbness.  It is more of a lack of a sensation than a sensation.  It is like that portion of my body is just there, but not feeling anything.

Dead.

And last night I was thinking to myself that my whole self has recently turned into dead leg.  Not feeling, not sensing, not knowing—not present.

Just dead.

The events leading up to “dead self”, interestingly, include death.  And there is this tendency among people in general, and people who know me tangentially, in particular, to assume that the dead self is the denial stage of this thing we call grief.  But an awareness inside of me is confident denial is not the issue.  Something else is the issue.  Numb is the issue.

I’ve questioned whether the dead self is actually depression.  But I am not acting depressed—not isolating or becoming unproductive or changing my eating habits or stopping activity that I enjoy.  All of these are familiar.  None of these are currently happening in significant ways.

So, maybe there is a sixth stage of grief?

Maybe dead self is a thing that psychologists have missed in their explanation of the psyche after a loss.  Or maybe they confused depression and dead self, because they hadn’t experienced depression before they experienced loss, so they couldn’t notice the subtle differences.  I am in the privileged position of knowing depression well, so I feel the difference.

When people ask how I am doing, I don’t know how to answer.  I usually respond with a “pretty well” or “I’m fine” or a “good, all things considered”.  In truth, I have no answer.  And none of the answers I provide are lies, per se, but they are not actually getting to the heart of the matter either.  But the heart of the matter is deadness—the deadness inside of me, and the dead body of my mother encased in her vault under the ground.

And there isn’t a way to explain those things.

There isn’t a way to express the hurt and the longing and the confusion and the devastation and the loss and the struggle and the peace and all else.  And because it cannot be expressed it is held somewhere within, and that place where it is held becomes stagnant and then hardens and then stops feeling.  And that isn’t the same as depression.  It is a thing even more difficult to grasp or to understand or to cope with than depression.  Because it is death.  It is a little death inside of you.  The death of hopes and dreams and promises.  The death of loves and disappointments and arguments and laughing fits.  The death of relating and the death of understanding and the death of miscommunicating and the death of trying to fix the things that we never quite got worked out between us.

It isn’t just the death of my mom.

It is the death of a piece of me.

There is a dead space in my life and in my spirit and in my heart.  A space that will never again be connected.  Without words to express it adequately, we say things like “there is a whole in my heart” or “I am heartbroken”.  But that isn’t the fullness of it.  That space dies.  That connection dies.  And the dead space rests there within you.  Or, maybe in my case, overwhelms you.

There aren’t words deep or grand or expansive enough to describe.

Just dead.  That is all I can think or say.  Dead.

We cling to memories of the connection.  We try to keep that place alive in this way.  And that is good.  That helps.  But the acceptance part of grief isn’t really accepting that the person whom we loved so dearly is dead, but accepting that dead space in our heart as our new normal—as the way we now have to navigate the world, with a little bit of death in our heart.

That doesn’t have to keep us from living beautiful lives.  But it does make us live that beautiful life just a bit differently, always with a taste of loss.

So, maybe the dead self that I feel is just the deepest expression of that loss.  And maybe it will pass as I begin to accept new baselines of feeling.  But, for the moment, I still feel disconnected.

And some of that disconnect, I know, is because the world goes on around me, unaware of the earth shattering experience that I am dealing with.  People eat and drink and laugh and work and walk and talk, as though the seismic shift in the universe is only known by me.  Because it is my shift, and not theirs.  My loss doesn’t move them.  It doesn’t concern them.  It doesn’t matter to them.  They can say, “I’m sorry for your loss” as I pass through their space, but few of them are actually affected by my loss.  They keep on living and I wait for the end of the dying.

And waiting is all I can do.  Waiting for the acceptance of this new way of navigating the world, and hoping that I learn well how to walk and talk and eat and drink and laugh and work in this new way—that the dead space doesn’t grow and cover over the rest of my heart, impeding my ability to have a normal and a beautiful life beyond this event.

But I have a good therapist and a new psychiatrist and a bottle of antidepressant medication already in play.  And I know that the process of grieving takes time.  And I know that acceptance is the end goal.  So, I believe that I will reach that goal…eventually.

And I know that I have adapted to the challenge of living with the dead leg, so I am certain that I can also adapt to living with the piece of dead heart. We all have to at some point.  As long as there has been life, there has been death.  And I don’t think that will change anytime soon.  But survival depends upon adaptability.  And I have proven myself capable of adapting time and again.  So I shall survive this as well.

But for now, I’m attempting to live with dead self, and to nurture said self with compassion and space and time to do what dead self needs to do.  Once that stage is over, another will take its place, and so will another, and then another.  And on we go, living the best way we can, until our own death (may it be far from this time and come as a grace, not a tragedy).