Let’s begin by sitting up tall, stretch up the spine, smile and take a nice deep breath - the kind that makes the back and the belly flare out as the ribs expand. Fill the abdomen first, expanding the front, back, and sides of the lungs and finally up to the throat, giving a gentle massage to all your vital organs by noticing the diaphragm push down with the inhalation. If done properly the shoulders should not rise. If they do, it means the breath came from a shallow space in the top of the lungs and indicates you might be in a state of stress. When you are full of life force oxygen, squeeze the abs like an old-school bellows, releasing all the air in a woosh, as if your breath were a wave crashing upon the shore. This causes the diaphragm to retract upwards, once more massaging vital organs.
Try this three times more and tuning in to the sensation of relaxation as all the cells relish in the nourishment you provided them. Did you know, as we age, our breath gets more and more shallow – we become chest breathers, i.e. our shoulders scrunch up when we take ‘deep’ breaths. Chest breathing creates stress in the body, whereas deep breaths, fully engaging the abs and stretching the ribs not only gives a little love to all the vital organs, but also calms the nervous system, telling all the cells that everything is good and it’s okay to relax.
[So much of the world has changed in the short time since I began to write these words, so keep that in mind.]
The other day I heard John Lennon’s, Imagine, and I decided to write this piece. I think dreaming of how the world might be is a fairly universal activity. But for every dreamer there is a unique dream which is probably like a snowflake – no two are the same. And with so much contrast in the world, it might easier to see how we are divided more than how we are connected. This would be a mistake. Which brings me to why I’m here. I noticed some connections I’d like to present.
I see us – the collectively us, as being at an interesting place in history. It’s the year 2020, and all around me I hear people in reflection. What I mean is, I hear a lot of talk which includes statements such as, “this is how it was for generations, but it doesn’t seem to fit anymore.” Depending on the context “this” refers to models of education, the structure of employment and retirement, the design of families and partners, and many other components of the foundations of society – at least in North America.
My insight tells me, things are shifting. It’s as if we are a generation living between worlds. We are becoming disillusioned with how things are, the legacy we have inherited, but we aren’t there yet – as a whole group. There are pockets but the gaps between give the false impression we are each alone in these thoughts and feelings, which ironically enough is part of our legacy – this belief we need to be independent. And with this independence and self-resilience, comes a flavor of needing to be alone, to do it ourselves, to be unique – basically to be separate. [Update: in the two months since I have written this, Covid19 has spread its tentacle reach across the planet, uniting the world in an unprecedented manner. Timing is everything.]
I love tarot. I think it gives wonderful insight to the psychology of being a human being. For example, the year 2020 is the year of the Emperor. As humans, we’ve been around for at least two hundred thousand years (200,000), and “civilized” (I use the term loosely) for at least six thousand (6000). That’s about 100 million generations worth of knowledge, traditions, beliefs and habits. And, wow, do we have beliefs, and opinions - about how we should be, how we should think, how to structure our lives, choose our life partners, control our bodies, etc. Any area of life that can be imagined, some human has an opinion on it from the Macro to the micro. According to the Google – pronounced googla (our modern-day repository of everything), there are currently 7.8 Billion souls breathing Mother Earth’s air, sucking on the teat of her resources, and acting like we are Emperors of our world.
The Emperor is an archetype, which according to Jung means a mental image inherited for generations and something that lives in our collective unconscious. Literature recognizes twelve different archetypes but we what we care about is that it represents a universal pattern of human nature. The Emperor is the Father figure, remote, strict, logical, dominating emotions to the point of suppression. When applied to culture or society, he represents the laws, the rules, the attitude, habits, and mores built up around the structure of culture. We’re talking everything from the government layout to job structure – how to be at work, the dominating style of work, the hobbies and recreation we care about, and the education system and how we indoctrinate our children into society by teaching them what a good citizen is and how they should contribute to the culture. In essence, this archetype covers all aspects of the role and expectations of each member of the society along with its formal and informal governing rules.
And, of course, he is the epitome of the patriarchy. One of the interesting conversations taking place at the moment revolves very specifically around the separation of the sexes and the role it has played over the generations in the dynamics of our collective experience. Patriarchy is a human creation designed thousands of years ago probably out of necessity. People didn’t live as long then and were very much in survival mode. Men needed to be warriors and women needed to make, nurture, and raise babies in order to keep the tribe in existence. Many tribes, in fact, honored women and the crone figure, or wise woman, was often a leading member. Somehow, though, over the generations the once functional concept changed to one in which it became common belief that men, especially white men, had a god given right to dominate. This inherently affected all aspects of culture. However, we are no longer in a state of survival with warring tribes (on some levels) and this imbalanced and invented interpretative design element of the fabric of our lives is most deserving of the scrutiny it is currently receiving. [Update: once more we find ourselves in a state of survival – and this time the service and medical industries are the heroes. Fascinating how things change but also stay the same.]
There is stability in the Emperor. When his traits are being put to their best and highest good it is easy to take comfort in knowing and understanding the boundaries. After all, we all grew up learning about how our ancestors fought to separate themselves from their home countries and strike out on their own, kind of like high school graduates going off to carve out a piece of life separate from their parents. It is accepted as a rite of passage and necessary to become a whole, independent adult much like the U.S. felt it needed to declare its independence from Britain. We sometimes need to declare what we are not, in order to get on with the business of figuring out what we are.
However, when the Emperor loses its balance and floats into an extreme, it becomes overdone, oppression results and personal development is hindered. The Emperor provides a solid foundation of rationality, which can feel reassuring in its stability yet, will forever remain limiting in its range. Why? Because we were born with two halves of a brain, not one. And the Emperor would very much like us to forget this. Or, as in the case of patriarchy, force us to accept that logic, male dominated action is the best and only way to go, and female, creativity and receptivity is weak and should be subordinated at every opportunity. Logic good. Creativity bad. Men rule. Women follow. Structure required at all costs. Creativity dangerous. Blind acceptance good. Questioning authority – squash it.
Having this card in this year is a timely invitation to consider how the Emperor archetype is operating in our world, among other reasons, the most obvious being how much conversation revolves around the patriarchy and its rule over our psyches and societies for the last five thousand years or so, or roughly 100,000 generations. That’s a long time to root in some core beliefs.
While the Emperor represents an archetype it also comes with an imbedded lesson. The lesson of the Emperor involves understanding the traditions and beliefs within society and using them as a foundation to move beyond, to provide space in which we are free to develop a personal code. In other words, the trick is to use this foundation to explore individual passions and emotional expressions as a launching pad for more. It is not the final destination, only the base camp. The elements of the Emperor serve a purpose and hold a truth, but they are not THE purpose, nor THE truth, an important distinction.
Let’s take a deep breath or two as we absorb this information. What do you think about it? How does it sit with you? Does it register as true? Does any of it trigger you? By which I mean cause you to feel defensive or angry? If so, there is more there for you to think about. How fun 😊 [Update: wow, how amazing what a few months difference can make. To move ahead, or anchor into our fear – that is always the question. 3d energy is reactionary energy – it a state of always b=needing to be “doing” to be working, moving, producing, go, go, go, yang energy much of which we were all born and raised on. 4d energy is about recognizing there is a choice. We are currently in this phase. What personal code will you develop and support – will you choose. Social distance? Respect the rights of others? Hoard things? Freak out and feel overwhelmed by the change? Settle in and chill out? So many new options are on the table at the moment. 5d energy is about embodiment – about “being”. It’s where I believe this is all moving toward. Structure is needed to a point, no doubt, but there is more – there is new and there is an invitation here. How many of us are burrowing in and waiting for things to go “back to normal?” And how many of us are using this shake up to explore ad different way to live and to find JOY in it?]
A few years ago, I was a teacher. I had been teaching in many different classrooms since graduating with my Master’s twenty years ago. I taught at the university level for a semester in the U.S. and then moved to South Korea and taught there, as well, first in after-school programs and then again at the university level. When I met my love, we eventually settled in Canada where I went into a “proper” education system in an elementary school board. We bought a house, then another as our family grew from two to four. We were “settled” into our society. We had the cars, the mortgage, sports and music programs, two jobs, and the feeling of being like most people in our lives – not poor but not really thriving either. We were ‘normal’; like so many of our friends we were managing. In our late thirties and managing our shit – that was our status.
One day, possibly in my fortieth year, I woke up and just didn’t feel right. There was a knot in my stomach. I went to my French second-grade classroom but didn’t feel like my usual jovial, optimistic self. It was my third year teaching in a French classroom and I found it hard. I had learned French only about 6 years before as a result of marrying a French person. I have high expectations for myself and didn’t feel I was meeting them. I like to feel authentic which I didn’t, because I didn’t consider myself truly bilingual. I was okay, even good enough to get the job, but I made mistakes. The masculine and feminine articles before words are a pain in les fesses (the ass). It did not help that the other French teachers I taught with supported this belief by correcting me in front of my class. I don’t think being American helped much either – there were many jokes about the mouth of an American butchering the beauty of the French language. To be fair, there were many who did attempt to support me, reminding me to take pride in the fact that I learned a second language as an adult. The sentiment was nice, but it wasn’t enough at the time to change how I felt. Funny how much the need for validation and expectations can collide with our perspective of ourselves – of our reality, our sense of value and how successful, supported or loved we feel.
In Canada, they have this phrase in education called micro-aggressions. Like small little barbs that on their own make it hard for you to complain – like if you did, you would come off as overly-sensitive. So, people get to say semi-sexist, semi-racist, semi-classist, semi-dickish comments aimed at you, but each on their own aren’t enough to “do” anything with. These comments can be recognized by the qualifiers, “Come on, I was only joking,” or “don’t be like that, I didn’t mean it,” “Man, I didn’t realize you had such thin skin.” It’s like death by a thousand papercuts, small almost imperceptible but it hurts.
I struggle with thinking that, as a society, we accept this as “normal”, and not a “big deal” because there are so many worse things we can say and do to each other – and we do, so, apparently, we should let this kind of crap slide. Have you ever met anyone who lets a pebble in their shoe slide? There it is, this tiny needling pebble, messing with your head with every step you take, and you’re gonna be like – no it’s fine, I’m good – I have a thick skin. Has that ever happened? Maybe, but for me, I found it to be a slow bleeding out of my vital energy – pretending to be fine all the time, pretending it didn’t bother me.
After spending a year of my life in Teacher’s college and months trying to get into school boards, and three years on the inside, I began to wake up every single morning asking myself, “why am I doing this?” For the love of the students? If I’m honest, some yes, but others, no. For the lifestyle we were living, and the opportunities my income provided our family? Of course, but that was beginning to weigh on me more and more. For the acceptance by family and friends for finally having ‘settled down’ into a conventional career that eased minds because it was stable, and came with a pension after retirement? Maybe.
In my heart of hearts, I’m a creative – I’m a philosopher, a writer, a thinker, someone who sees connections and, dare I say it, reads and understands energy and other unseen things. But, while Socrates and Aristotle might have been able to make a living sitting on some steps and asking questions, in this ‘real’, modern world none of that was gonna happen for me. I “needed” my creative nature to fit into structure.
After all, this was the process of life, right? At least in North America, there was a kind of formula to follow. Yes, it has some room for variation and deviation, but for the most part it looks like this: go to school, grow up, find love, maybe get married and have kids, definitely get a job – hopefully a good one, get your own place, pay your bills, work, work, work attempting to fit all other areas of your life around this working, til you’re in your 60s, probably. Then you hit retirement, a golden period in your life when you can be free – you have put in your time, paid your dues and earned the right to do whatever the F you want.
If this way of thinking was a bowl of punch at a party, we’d all be standing around drinking it. (hello, Emperor) Mostly everyone I know, since we were young and impressionable, before we even knew what the juice was, we were getting a daily dose. We grew up on and got to a point where most of think this is a part of life, like having to shower and brushing your teeth, this is “normal.” My parents wanted me to dream of being a lawyer, or a doctor. Anyone else?
But just like in the pharmaceutical drug commercials, the side effects are either never spoken about, rushed through at the end, put in tiny print you can’t possibly read in the milliseconds they flash across the screen, or downplayed as not important. Side effects of this process include: stress, depression, anxiety, medication, body breakdown – disease, frustration, feeling okay and moments of joy, but more a baseline of just “okay,” maybe “good.” But, as I said, this gets a collective shrug of the shoulders and “that’s how it is,” because everyone who participates in this structural design experiences these effects and believes in this definition of “normal”. BY the time you reach the glory space of “retirement” most of us are too run down and broken, or trained by our years of routine to be able to enjoy it – because either our bodies or our minds are no longer up to the task.
I read somewhere that over a hundred years ago, in China, the doctors wouldn’t get paid when you were sick. You had to pay while healthy, but if you got sick, the payments stopped until you were healthy again. Imagine that? A doctor getting paid to keep you healthy. During this period of my life, a lot of people I loved died of Cancer, had strokes, or developed auto-immune disorders. Could it have been preventable? I’m not a doctor, but I can’t help but question the methodology based on eating pills for everything. I find it suspect. Especially when alternative options are ridiculed and smeared in the media as being almost offensive in their claims to be being useful. Even though these other options have endured almost unchanged for thousands of years, and some of which are the basis for the pharmaceuticals we are meant to put our full faith in, while shunning more natural alternatives. I find it interesting how much some aspects of our cultural are all of one thing and none of another. So much either/or, and barely any this and that. For me, along with the mental stuff, I started to develop a dull throbbing pain in my left arm, a weakness began to set in and the range of motion started to decrease.
Did you know: The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as, “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” And a quick search of the best healthcare in the world shows the US lingering in the 30s out of 100. Different charts offer different rankings of course, but none of them have the US breaking the top 20. Canada is a bit better, but not by much. And it’s not a money issue. North America cares a lot about its perception of affluence and power and less about its foundational basics. We might be able to claim we are richer than many other countries, but we don’t seem to want to hear we are also sicker, fatter, and getting dumber. Perspective and awareness are such interesting components of ‘reality.’ They are such important factors in determining priorities and when they are limited in their range, such imbalance can result. [Update: recent events are bringing this to light even more so. Denial is real and can be fatal when coupled with a lack of preparation ‘just in case.’]
Which is where I found myself. No matter how much I wanted to and tried to get in harmony with this process – which I defined as ‘be-an-employee-first-and-a-human-second’, no matter how much I attempted to surrender to its resonance, it’s vibe, and get on board, I would wake up with that question eating at me. Why am I doing this? What is the point?
For context purposes – I consider myself a strong individual. My mother has an illness which simultaneously put her in a wheelchair and a lot of responsibility on a ten-year-old’s shoulders. I cooked, cleaned, helped raise my siblings, and did my best to cope with a situation no one seemed to know how to cope with. It was a shit show – this is not me complaining or blaming, it is simply how I would characterize the situation. My point is that since I was ten, I got shit done. I was responsible. I accepted that role gladly and was even proud to be seen as someone who could step up in that way at such a young age. Sure, it came with consequences no one could have predicted at the time, but that’s what happens when you don’t know, right? So when I find myself questioning my current career – it was not a ‘oh, this is too hard. I don’t like it and I want to quit’ kind of thing. [Again, kind of like where we are now.]
When you don’t know - you do what you can and hope for the best. A belief I once bought into, but no more. Now I believe, when you don’t know, you research the hell out of it, meditate, contemplate, consult your guides, and then make the next right choice which feels in alignment and for the best and highest good of all, trusting all the while that the universe has your back. (But I’m getting ahead of myself – back to where I was.)
The person questioning her life choices was not a quitter. In fact, the opposite. That girl would rather run herself into the ground doing what was right for those she cared about even if it meant sacrificing herself – her health, her wellbeing, her very sanity. Which is how that girl ended up in a bathroom one day after first recess balling her eyes out unable to stop. Then the disparaging thoughts came. What the hell is wrong with me? I thought. Pull it together. This isn’t you. I’m the strong one, I push through, I always handle my shit. Loads of people count on me including my two little ones, and my husband. I’m going to count backwards from 5 and when I reach one, the water works will cease and desist. 5. The bell is going to ring in a few minutes. 4. Have a bottle of wine later, that will relax you. 3. That sounds so nice and maybe we can order food and partner can put the kids to bed. 2. because I just can’t deal with it. 1. Deep breath. Here we go. You’re a permanent teacher thanks to working so hard to learn French. You don’t need to fight for a contract. You’ve made it. You can ride the seniority train for the next twenty years, collect your pension and be free. You should be happy.
And somehow that word, caught in my throat and wouldn’t swallow down. I should, I have to. It was only the beginning of November. The school year had just begun. And the record in my head was, I can’t handle this. I don’t want this. But I have to, I have to, I have to…
I loathe those two words and feel they are the underpinning of nearly all stress-related disorders, diseases, and dysfunctions most people struggle with. Two little words, bringing the whole thing down: have to and should. (okay, one compound word and one word, so three little words). Whatever grows from those noxious seeds, flowers into guilt, shame, oppression and soul-crushing limitation. Think I’m being dramatic? Pay attention and catch yourself and see, (1) how many times those words, or some variation, come out of your mouth, and then (2) feel the result of the following action you take, or how you feel if you don’t take it.
Societies have built their entire structure around these words and the pervasive beliefs which go with them. People these days get upset about others appropriating cultures, but no one notices or makes the connection of how belief systems and perceptions of how Life and Reality work have been appropriated, manipulated and indoctrinated into our definition of what it means to be alive and human.
“Stress is the trash of modern life – we all generate it, but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.” Danzae Pace
Stress is probably the number one contributing factor to illness and dis-ease. You won’t read this in Western medicine – no, this is propaganda of the other stuff – the stuff we are meant to shun. The beliefs in mindfulness, meditation and all things woo – silly and easily dismissed. (sarcasm here if you missed it).
Did you know some typical signs of stress include:
- Wake up feeling tired even though you slept for 7 or 8 hours
- You feel overwhelmed
- You’re short tempered and impatient
- You’ve forgotten how to laugh, joke, or have fun
- You crave sweet or salty foods
- You feel as though you can’t take time to yourself or a day off because all the things that need to get done are more important than you
- You’ve gained or lost weight
- You seem to get sick, a lot or have pain in your body such as in the lower back or joints
- You suffer a lot of “middle age” conditions such as high blood pressure, or high cholesterol
- You get a lot of headaches
- You are sensitive to sounds
- Your relationships are not as great as they could be
These are just a few of the effects of stress. Stress that goes on for a long time, or chronic stress, can override the body’s natural ability to bounce back, leaving you feeling depleted. Because you are. Stress activates the adrenal glands in the body.
These tiny glands sit on top of the kidneys and produce among other things, cortisol which gets triggered and floods the blood stream with steroids every time stress is felt in the body. This put us into fight or flight. It is only supposed to happen for a short period of time to be followed by a period of rest and restore, but our fast-paced lives don’t really put much emphasis or support into the necessary restoring part. [Our lives have slowed down greatly for the moment, but our heads don’t know the difference between real or perceived so if your mind is still running at full tilt with its worries and concerns, then the body is still responding to it.]
When we are in stress mode, or the sympathetic state, the body is using its own resources. It is literally feeding off itself, to keep going. Ever have those late afternoon sugar cravings? The constant firing of the adrenal glands causes them to be over stimulated and then worn down, which then causes the energy producing systems (the mitochondria, the liver, and the digestive system) to become overtaxed and depleted. This results in fatigue and can lead to illness. The cells of the body, over time, begin to accept this new programming as ‘normal’ and reproduce accordingly creating physical symptoms which range from fatigue to digestive issues, even to autoimmune diseases. [If you are currently unable to find peace and stillness, chances are good it’s because your programming is still in stress mode and needs a conscious re-adjustment.]
Stress also develops in degrees.
Level 1: begins as irritability, tiredness, headaches and insomnia
Level 2: aches, anxiety, muscular pain, depression, guilt, helplessness, apathy
Level 3: persecution complex, despair, increasing guilt and depression, susceptibility to viral infections and bacteria.
Level 4: the body is really crying “help”. Heart pains, strokes, high blood pressure, unexplained pain, autoimmune diseases. The immune system is depressed which can lead to all manner of physical problems. Perhaps it’s time to expand our concept of health and contemplate our habits and beliefs around taking care of ourselves, and how we model health for our kids.
Currently those two words (should and have to) go hand in hand with another deviant, responsibility, which can mean anything from being accountable, to placing blame or guilt (the sister of shame), to doing a task, and being dependable and reliable. Talk about a loaded word! Just saying – sometimes it’s the little things we let slip by and don’t notice, that we should be paying attention to the most.
Looking back, it’s a bit comical. Not the suffering, of course. That sucked. I made it out of that bathroom physically, but not emotionally or mentally. What was comical was the construct of my life. As a writer and a teacher, I have always been fascinated with processes. I see it in real estate and business and most other areas of life where people want to be successful – they work a process. It’s a formula and if you work the formula, say and do the things according to the formula, in theory, and in practise to varying degrees, there will be a successful result. I say varying because personality, motivation, and other human factors come in to play of course, but the concept and practise of process is one of the few truly universal aspects of life. It doesn’t matter what color or creed you are, if you follow the process, or recipe – bam, result. I tell my students its like a math equation, factor by factor equals product. It’s a math fact, its reproducible, and it’s constant. That’s one of the beautiful aspects of the Emperor and left brain thinking – anyone can use the process and produce favorable results. Same with writing a paper – it contains certain components that must be included.
But, and this is actually a BUT, processes run with a little variation inside their well-ordered forms are not the only stuff of Life. Conditioning – this is the superpower or skill of the Emperor. Conditioning can be great - it strengthens and habituates us to the routine needed to get the results desired. However, conditioning has its limitations (notice a theme here?), just ask anyone who has ever done an exercise program or followed a diet for a long time. After a while, the effects lessen and if continued can go the other way turning a positive into a negative, potentially causing damage. Think of weightlifters or athletes who only focus on certain parts of their bodies to the neglect of others then end up with joint issues, arthritis and other health problems. Or consider cheeseburgers. If you eat a cheeseburger – it might taste wonderful to you. Perhaps its so amazing, you eat another and then another. Over time though, that cheeseburger is not going to taste as great as it did the first time you ate it, plus, what is the cost of eating the same cheeseburger over and over again doing to your body and overall health?
Conditioning is not balanced – we also need mobility and flexibility of thinking, which are not necessarily strengths of the Emperor, and so the Emperor mentality would love to ignore, minimalize, and even erase this truth from our experience, because – well, its too different and not structured, and messes with the Emperors’ belief that things are how they are, and they shouldn’t change. There is a rigidity here to doing, thinking, and being a certain way. Which kind of messes with our need and divine right as humans to grow, change, and evolve. Variety is also a necessary ingredient. Change is necessary. Under the Emperor, we can accommodate variety but only to a point, there is most definitely an upper limit which should not be crossed because we have to respect how things are meant to be done (according to what _____ (fill in archetype of emperor’s name) has said) like we have to do it this way, mom or dad said; this is how the boss or teacher wants it; these are the rules of the state, the government; etc.
Which is what I think became my struggle. I wanted to fit in with my culture, kept trying to force myself into a career that deep down I knew didn’t even suit me. As a result, I felt a failure for not being able to succeed, when I already experienced success in almost any area of my life where I applied myself. Looking back was proof enough. I wanted a Master’s degree. Check. I wanted to travel the world. Check. I wanted to get married. Check. I wanted to learn another language as an adult so I could speak with my new family. Check. I wrote three children’s books and was a certified aromatherapist. Hell, if anything, I did too much.
I wanted to provide a stable, loving life to my kids. Check.
Wait, no. Jump back into the bathroom and the guilt-fueled waterworks. I taught kids the same age as my own, and I had arrived in a place where there was no more patience for my own children. Every single day was a repeat of the day before, me arriving home with nothing left to give. My nerves felt shot. I was exhausted. I couldn’t take the noise, the whining. I yelled. I snipped. To every interaction I showed up laced with anger, frustration, and shortness. I knew what I was doing yet couldn’t stop myself. I would have a few drinks or smoke to loosen up and let it go, but it wasn’t enough.
The next morning I would get up, get ready for the day with a constant program running in my head about how today would be fine, I would get through it, I knew what I was doing blah, blah, blah. And I did make it through the day, but it drained me of everything I had, and I couldn’t handle the stress of having to still give more, even if I loved them, because I loved them and wasn’t giving them what they needed and deserved, and I couldn’t bring myself to speak up honestly about my perceived failure to ‘make it’ as a teacher. And I felt horrible and guilty all.the.time. So I took it out on them, those adorable, innocent, malleable souls – I poured my toxic overflow into our home and their hearts because I couldn’t get my shit right, but mostly because I knew this wasn’t working for me on any level, and still I tried to force myself to do it anyway. I hated it, and I hated what I was becoming.
Where was my perspective? What were my real priorities in life? Is this who I am now? A bitter middle-aged woman who barks at her loved ones, drinks to forget, and drops sarcastic humor everywhere to mask and deflect from the pain of not feeling right?
I think it’s fair to say my view of life was a bit skewed. And I was stuck, what I cared about and believed in, how I wished I could structure my life, did not match up with everything I had been raised (conditioned) to believe. I took the two weeks at Christmas and did what I usually did. I ignored it. We were too busy anyway, visiting with family and friends, making memories with the kids. I focused on playing with them and getting back to the mom and spouse I wanted to be. It was good, but I could feel the underlying mistrust – will I snap and yell? And they were right to mistrust me. Hell, I didn’t trust me. At that point I was caught in the loop of a pattern, although I didn’t know what those concepts really meant, and I certainly didn’t know how to stop it.
Now, to be clear – I wasn’t belligerent, throwing things and yelling all the time. I wasn’t a ball of anger lashing out with every request. It wasn’t so pervasive and perhaps this is what made it all the more insidious. It wasn’t constant or always overt. There were days that were wonderful, I felt normal and loving and we had a great time together. But I couldn’t maintain it. My little one was getting up during the night and my older one was having anxiety (looking back now, it’s no surprise) and so there were nights I was woken up two or three times. When a few of those days happened in a row, it was guaranteed there would be some micro-meltdown on my part, followed by guilt, loathing and self-sabotage. I have no idea if anyone else ever felt like this, this confused, and frustrated and completely feeling unable to get a handle on things, but this was my state at the time. And it sucked. And I had a hard time expressing how I felt and didn’t really know what to do to help myself either.
By January that year, I went on a leave of absence, which in my world is a little bit unheard of and quite possible excessively lavish. Afterall, I had no workplace injury, no illness, I hadn’t just come off surgery, given birth, or experienced the death of a close loved one. On the outside, nothing was wrong with me. Sure, I was tired, possibly burned out, but so was everyone else my age, especially the married ones with kids. These were the dog years, right? The no-time years, the too-busy years. The life-is-making-me-her-bitch years. After work, after school programs for the kids, all the chores of life, what was left? Time to exercise? Maybe. Eat well? Maybe. Look to hang with friends, socialize and pretend you are still young and can still party? Maybe. The piece of the pie left over to be a person after being an employee, a spouse, a parent, and a friend is just a lot smaller. This was neither good nor bad, I thought. What made it good or bad was how I handled it, and I didn’t handle it well. Also, I had the order completely backwards, but didn’t see it at the time, and definitely didn’t feel as though I had the right to reverse the order.
So, those weeks culminated into a “breakdown”, which I would later call an awakening, and I took the leave. In the beginning, I thought, I’ll just take a break – one week – sit in silence for a bit, get my head on straight, and then I’ll be back. But weeks turned into months. The first few were filled with enormous guilt. Some people thought I was ‘faking’ just for some time off. Like I said, I was always the strong one and some people – who felt they had worse problems than me, and maybe they did – couldn’t take off work, so why the hell did I think I could? Not to mention, as a teacher, I had regular breaks built into my life, more than most, especially corporate people.
People often forget that those breaks need to be built in because dealing with kids all day every day requires a monumental amount of patience and giving. Working with kids is intense and ‘teaching’ is sometimes the last thing that gets done. Kids, especially in a high needs school, have issues, many of which cannot be ignored, and they come from families with issues, many of which are ignored. I’m not judging anyone – we all have issues.
Consider your own life for a moment. Are you on top of everything? If you have kids, are you on top of what’s going on in their lives in addition to being on top of everything in your own life? I’m guessing no, especially if you work full-time. Most parents try and those of us who subscribe to adulting do our best to manage our shit. But kids do not have these skills and sometimes come from homes that do not have these skills, and when you spend six hours or more a day with twenty (if you’re lucky) or more personalities in one room, and in an environment where hundreds of personalities and needs get mixed up with each other during “free” time – things can get intense and hectic.
I think adults who work with adults don’t realize or forget. It’s easy to complain about a co-worker, mostly because on some level you see them as at least old enough to know better about how to be a human or do their jobs, but kids don’t. They don’t know how to say what they need because they don’t know what they need. They don’t know how to explain how they feel because they are scared they won’t get love, or they just don’t know how to express what’s going on inside. Maybe they aren’t so different from the adults, which begs the question again – what are we modeling for our kids? How are we demonstrating nurturing and support of our emotional health and well-being, individually, and collectively?
Teachers can’t teach the curriculum when chairs are being thrown (true story), kids are running from the classroom (also true story), or talking and interrupting all the time because they have no self control. Normally, there is one teacher with at least twenty students and it’s pretty much like herding cats! I have so much respect for those who can go into the trenches of psychology soup every day and work to straighten out lives, clean up manners and instill a model of how to think critically to solve problems, all with a smile and a brightly colored classroom that made everyone feel welcomed, loved, and important. Turned out, I could do it, but only in small doses – I didn’t possess the stamina required to constantly give of myself, and be okay with it.
Deciding to make a huge change makes for a weird time to be sure. The stability factor falters as pieces come loose. I know why people start to lose it when they undergo large remodels of their homes and are forced to live ‘under construction’ for a long period of time. My kids didn’t understand why I was suddenly home; my partner was worried I was having a full breakdown, and wasn’t sure what to do about it or how to be around me – after all we weren’t really raised with tools to process and discuss our feelings honestly. I had more practise than him because of my mom but his strategy was to ignore until it got better. My parents seemed supportive by which I mean they didn’t say much either way except we love you, but overall, everyone kept asking me when I would go back.
It reminded me of when I got married, lots of people asked when we would have kids, like during the wedding reception – “hey, now that you’re official (or even better – an honest woman or man), when are you making babies?’ kind of jokes. Then we had a kid and while still holding my newborn, many asked, when will we try for the second? Then I had another son, and with him still in my arms, people asked, will you try for a girl now? Each person on their own thinks they are being conversational, and curious about your life, maybe even humorous. I’m sure their intention is good, but collectively…can I breathe here? Pressure much? I mean seriously, my vajayjay is all sorts of out of whack, my boobs hurt, I haven’t slept in what feel like years, and you’re asking me when I’d like to do it again?! Hold my baby, I need a glass of wine to deal with you. And don’t worry, judgey friends, I pumped, so little one won’t be getting any of this good stuff.
So, yes, weird time. Even I wondered when I would go back. I didn’t have another plan. I wasn’t even sure what was going on. I felt okay, and then I didn’t. I could make dinner and clean the house, I didn’t slip into a depression, I just couldn’t be in the school, or around little kids. My mind swirled with the past, and present. I went from enjoying the time to feeling as though I needed to be productive and get things done. I exercised and read, then vegged on TV. I was lost and wasn’t sure what to focus on. I was getting clear about what I didn’t want, but still had no idea what I did want.
How do you move forward when you aren’t sure where to go? [Sound familiar to anyone?]