Happy New Year! Yes, I realize it’s twenty four days into the new year but do you think good wishes for the new year will ever get old this year? I think not. We have weathered the worse storm my generation, the one after me and before me will every experience. While there were a ton of lessons to be learned, and many had epiphanies of just how fortune we are, I’m happy to say good riddance to 2020, and move beyond it to 2021. But before I do, I would be remiss if I didn’t give 2020 a proper close out.
This holiday past, 2020, is like no other holiday I, as I’m sure many of you, have ever experienced. It was mid-November when the husband was watching the news, as he insists on doing almost daily, and I, on another rant about who knows what; maybe the insensitivity of too many people or the incompetence of the governments handling of this Covid19 pandemic, when he said to me, ‘You’re so negative’. I was taken aback. Didn’t really know what to say at first. I mean my first thought was, ‘No I’m not’. Quickly followed by, ‘Am I?’
It’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard those words uttered. At this point in my life, I can certainly admit that positivity and optimism are things I’ve struggled with in the past. But now? Upon further reflection, I don’t think is is a common challenge.
What this short interaction did was force me to think about why that might be his perception. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that for weeks, I had been experiencing increased stomach pain, bloating, discomfort. Even sharp pains that made it feel like I couldn’t breathe. Could this be related? I went deeper inside. I wasn’t excited about the 2020 holidays. Outside of the baking the kids and I had been doing – which always makes me feel happy – I was not excited and maybe I had been a little more ranty and maybe even a bit grumpy. I could have chosen to be defensive. To reject this as a possibility. What the hell does he know anyway?!?!?
But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I searched far and wide in the expanse that is my mind, for the last three years has forced me to open not just the two eyes firmly placed in my skull but my third eye too. What is happening inside? What is happening around me? I could almost see the synapses firing as the connections were made and BAM! There it was; I wasn’t just not excited about the holidays. I was under extreme stress and, at least on a conscious level, completely unaware…unwilling…to acknowledge it.
You see, we are a blended family which during the best of years can make holidays complicated. However, this holiday past not only meant complicated but also meant questioning whether the three households we must consider were all on the same page in terms of safety measures. We were not. And the moment that became clear, I buried it. For all of the leaps and bounds I’ve taken in the last few years, this remains one of my biggest challenges. When the stress is too much, I bury it and my body bears the burden.
Over the last three years, I’ve had the same conversation with all sorts of people. I strongly believe that stress is a major contributing factor to my having ended up with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia. Time after time, medical professionals invalidated this belief. Some more subtle than others. In fact, I’m not sure which was more offensive; being stared at like a deer in headlights or the outright pronouncement that this is rubbish. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a book called, ‘When the Body Says No’, by Dr. Gabor Mate, that I learned about how the body responds to chronic stress. I was furious that I had been fluffed off by so many when there was clear scientific evidence that stress is a major contributing factor to negative health outcomes. But I was also relieved. Understanding the physiological process of how stress affects the body gave me the opportunity; not to beat myself up for the past, but to look forward to what I can do to effect the best possible outcome for myself. To be more aware of what I feel inside. Which ultimately, as suspected, would contribute to my overall wellbeing and longevity.
And so, finding myself in this position where my Fitbit was literally registering active minutes not achieved through physical activity was worrisome. And a more accurate account of what looked like negativity to my spouse.
And so the holidays were a challenge. Even after all of the personal growth, this particular challenge too much to bear. So, I did something I haven’t done in nearly a decade. I sank into a crutch. I’m not exactly proud of that but let’s be honest, we are now 10 months into a global pandemic. As a highly social and outgoing person, isolation – in part because it is our duty and in part because we simply don’t know how my body would react to a Covid19 infection – the pandemic has been mentally devastating. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to be grateful for. It doesn’t mean there aren’t wins to celebrate. We are after all safe, none of us have been infected so far, our kids continue to thrive in the online school and remoting working affords me the time to move my body and feed my family at a reasonable hour, neither of which existed pre-Covid. We have a roof over our heads…and electricity to fuel my new found Zelda addiction. There. It’s out! I am a closet binge gamer and saying out loud feels so good!
As we continue to move away from the holidays, I continue to re-emerge from the shadows, or in this case, the screen of my TV to reclaim the habits and practices that make me feel whole. There have been tears, and there have been apologies. One of the things I feel most grateful for is that I’ve learned not to apologize all the time. If I’m a little late for something, ‘Thank you for your patience’. In our society, we are quick to apologize and one must ask themselves how closely such apologies are linked to guilt and shame. And in the name of practicing positivity, I rather focus on gratitude, compassion and patience, than on self-shaming or the shaming of others. However, I’ve also learned to apologize when an apology is due. So, as the days have gone on, where there have been tears or impatient tones (because luckily we aren’t yellers), there have had to be moments of vulnerability also. Putting aside our own protective defensiveness to, at time, sit with each other, hold each other or just be under the same roof depending on what each of us needs, until the waves of emotion have passed over and through us. It is not always comfortable and at times even requires digging deep for patience but it is not an inconvenience, it is not an expression of lack of gratitude, or lack of appreciation or displacement simply to feel negativity. It is the human condition as a result of some of the most overwhelming days of our lives and moving through it together is a monumentally loving thing to do.
This period of time has evoked a lot of thought about apologies and what they reveal about us. What does it take to really apologize. Well, I suppose that depends on many things. It would depend on whether we believe there was any wrong doing in the first place, obviously. It may depend on how badly we want the forgiveness of who we have offended. It may also depend on how deep we are willing to go within ourselves to observe our own behaviour. I mean, anyone can apologize. In the case of a narcissist who has pushed someone too far, for instance, an apology may just be a meaningless opportunity to begin a new cycle. But if we aren’t a narcissist, what does it really take?
It takes self-awareness. It takes a willingness to acknowledge wrongdoing. But even deeper than that, it may require us to examine how such behaviours occur in the first place. How do we allow ourselves to behave in such ways that is hurtful to people we claim to love or care about. And how do we reconcile such things within ourselves, even just to maintain our own integrity and self-love?
It is too easy to blame others for how we (re)act. It requires no action on our part. No responsibility. No need for self-reflection and no need to experience pain we aren’t willing to confront. But life has taught me over and over again that no matter what, we have no control over others. We only have control of ourselves, our own actions, our own behaviours. That does not mean that we accept unwelcomed actions or behaviours of others. It just means we accept the consequences of having boundaries, or of not having boundaries as the case may be.
For me, I am grateful that over the last three years I have learned that, apart from not being perfect as none of us are, I don’t need to be. But what I do need to do is hold myself accountable to exploring what occurs within myself so that my apologies are not empty. I also need to hold myself accountable to doing better because if we aren’t doing better, we aren’t growing and I refuse to stagnate. I didn’t slam the door in deaths face to waste it being the same person I was because, while I appreciate and love the flawed person I am today, I know I can do better. I will not avoid my responsibility to grow for the good of me or my family, or even for my responsibility as a healthy functioning member of society. What vulnerability, promises of action and follow through models, is that it is ok to be flawed, it is ok to forgive but it is not ok to repeat unhealthy patterns when every single one of us is equipped to grow. And if we allow ourselves the opportunity to feel the pain of the past, we can gain greater understanding of self and ultimately deeper relationships with ourselves. The reality is, the relationships we have with others can only be as loving as we are with ourselves.
And so here we are, twenty four days into a new year and I’ve had my time to wallow in self-pity. Now it’s time to get back on the horse. Thankful that my body reminded me there is still much work to do. It’s time to hold myself accountable to betterment, growth and acceptance of imperfection for the greater good of myself and those around me, no matter how hard that might be.
What are you holding yourself accountable to this year?
Until next time, take good care. We’ve got this!