Not Your Regular Type of Anniversary

Tomorrow is an anniversary of some kind. Although it is most definitely not an anniversary of celebration and could easily be viewed as a reminder of a pain and loss, I feel ambivalent about it. I took some time this afternoon to sit quietly with my journal, something I haven’t done for a long time, and I wrote what came to mind. This pending anniversary has been lurking in the corner of my mind for a couple of days. While my mind does replay that day every now and then, it truly isn’t something that I waste my time or energy dwelling on much. I cannot change what happened, and although the events were hurtful and confusing, I have no interest in trying to rehash, resolve, or return to the past. That’s not my circus, not my monkeys.

As I wrote in my journal, my thoughts swirled around that day, landing only on the final outcome rather than the actual happenings of the day. Most of my focus was actually spread over the past year, the days between July 14, 2017 and tomorrow. I echoed a sentiment I have expressed many times over the course of all of 2017 and thus far in 2018, that it has been quite the year! Tomorrow’s anniversary is only a small blip on the timeline. It might have felt bigger in the moment, but it’s power to hurt me evaporated like morning dew on a hot summer’s day. If nothing else, the months between January 2017 and today have been all about adversity and personal growth. There hasn’t been a whole lot that has gone as planned or expected in this time period, but I’m still standing.

I am being intentionally vague about this anniversary and will continue to skirt around it. A year ago, I felt shame and humiliation although I had no valid reason for either feeling, but that’s not the reason for my vagueness. In a way, I guess I am protecting others by choosing to not speak directly to what happened, and, if I’m going to be completely honest, rubs me the wrong way just a little. It doesn’t seem fair, to not take someone to task for their words and actions, but that is just the way life is sometimes. It’s not always fair. People hurt other people, and sometimes they even feel justified in leaving carnage in their wake. I don’t agree with it. I don’t like it. But I accept that it is what it is and my self-worth is not tied to any person’s opinion of my character. Despite all of the disappointments and challenges of the past year and a half, I have no regrets about anything I have said or done. I know I am strong, inside and out. I know I have only grown stronger through all of the challenges. I have remained true to my character, my nature, and yet managed to grow even more comfortable in my own skin. I think of this time last year with a dispassionate eye, because the events of that day can no longer hurt me. Truth is they haven’t had any power over me for a very long time, but I am a sentimental person who remembers such details as dates and events.

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Be Kind & Mischievous

“I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.” ~Mary Oliver

I do not always know what other people think of me, and I try not to care about that too much. But I do wonder sometimes. How do people perceive me, and does that perception line up with how I see myself?

I know that I am not always the easiest person to get to know. Ever the introvert, I open my doors cautiously, slowly, and there are many doors to pass through. It took my husband twenty years to realize that I have a thing for shoes, because I have kept that passion locked up tight. It’s not that my love for shoes was a secret I felt I needed to hide; in fact, I was actually surprised that my husband hadn’t been aware of it. (I think he knew it and simply forgot!) My reasons for not indulging in shoes have been financial (I had three kids burning through shoes on a regular basis.) and practical (Where am I going to wear 4 inch stilettos? And honestly, the heels I love are brutal on the body.) My shoe example might point more towards my husband’s attention to detail than my being difficult to know!

After powerlifting competitions, I have been told that I am so calm and cool on the platform. I go out and do my thing without drama or some grand production. That is just how I often tend to be. When I am at work, I tend to be mostly calm and cool and focused on the tasks at hand. In social situations, I am much the same. I might be trembling like a leaf with doubt and insecurity on the inside, yet I’m easy-going, calm, and doing what needs doing. But don’t let my calm manner and cool exterior fool you!

I know how to be silly and mischievous. I even sing, although usually when alone in my car or while doing housework or with my daughter when Bohemian Rhapsody comes on the radio. Green hair isn’t a shocking sight these days, but it definitely wasn’t common when I was a teenager, who on a dare sat in the front row at church with green hair. There are too many times to count when my family rolls their eyes at my fan girl freak outs over Star Wars and Wonder Woman, but I am a 46 years old fan girl! Fingernail polish and flashy jewelry are not permitted at my work place, but I have always enjoyed expressing myself through the colours painted on my nails and big, funky earrings. Sometimes I forget that about myself, because I have grown so used to being work place compliant. Kindness is something I know how to do, to be, even though I fail miserably at times.

Kindness can turn around and bite you though, and I bear many unseen scars. Earlier today, I found myself reading something I wrote quite a few months ago, which brought some of those scars to the forefront of my mind. The words I wrote were in response to being bitten by the very kindness I had given away. There is a measure of sadness in the memory, a touch of anger at the injustice, but mostly, I think, I feel so far removed from that actual attack. It happened, and I still don’t understand what doesn’t make sense. But I do believe that kindness is still a valuable commodity worth sharing with others.

Filling Cups

My husband texted me this afternoon to ask if I wanted to meet him at my Starbucks for a refreshing beverage. Since I had already been to Starbucks a couple of hours earlier, I hesitated but ultimately agreed. A few minutes later, we were sipping our drinks at the bar counter, where I could stand instead of sitting. This is where I work, so I frequently watch what is happening behind the counter, wanting to stay connected and involved even if I’m currently not working, and so, I picked up on some concern towards a regular customer who was sitting outside with friends. I am not usually the sort of person who makes a point of injecting myself into other people’s conversations, but I did this afternoon and I’m glad I did.

Her eyes lit up when she saw me, and she quickly stood to greet me with a hug that she was reluctant to end as she told me that her husband had passed away last night. This sweet couple have been regular customers for as long as I’ve been working there. Alf was always the quiet one, but there was a sparkle in his eyes as if he had been up to some sort of mischief. There had been health concerns for a while, so his passing shouldn’t be a surprise, and yet, there was also the sense that we would present him with his mug of green tea for a long time to come.

It’s not always easy or comfortable to interact with someone who has experienced such a loss, especially so recently, and such situations make me feel incredibly inadequate and awkward; however, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to see Corrine today, to share a bit of her grief, and to simply be a friendly face to hold onto. In her typical sweetness, she introduced me to her good friends and also asked about my own health and potential surgery (the last time I talked with her I was still waiting to see a surgeon). I listened to her share some stories of Alf, some recent and some not. There was laughter in her voice but also grief and loss and sadness. And strength.

I love my job. Mostly I caffeinate people, but I love that I also have the opportunity to nurture and inspire the human spirit, to fill the figurative cup of the people I serve. Of course, not every customer is going to want anything more than their cup of coffee, but we do our job with the knowledge that we have the potential to be something more. It is about connection, and that is one of the reasons why I started working at Starbucks. When you connect with people, even with a coffee counter in the middle, you get excited when a student passes that exam they’d been studying for. You know when someone’s been on vacation or when they’ve been sick. You encourage the teachers as the school year draws to a close. You welcome the snowbirds back in the spring. You listen to stories and share your own. You cry with them when they’ve received bad news. And you grieve when loss happens.

You don’t need to be a barista to experience this connection. People are everywhere, and I don’t know a single person who has their life all together and without struggle, pain or loss. As an introvert, I like my time to myself…I like it a lot; and yet, people need people. People need people who care enough to ask how they’re doing, to simply say hello, to lend a hand or even just a smile. Think about that.

Know Yourself

“Who you were, who you are, and who you will be are three different people.”

~unknown

 

Two recent conversations have left me thinking about who I am in this season of injury. The first conversation was with my husband, and he made a comment about me still looking to find my own identity. The other conversation was with one of my best friends and was about parents wanting more for their kids, while the kids are generally satisfied by enough.

Since herniating my disc six months ago, I have often felt lost and adrift without purpose, usefulness, or potential. Of course, those feelings have never been completely true, and yet, I struggle with the pain and physical limitations I am forced to endure. My life has been turned upside-down and inside-out. The activities I used to enjoy doing, I cannot do. I am on medical leave from work, so I feel the loss of being a part of my work community, and I stress about the loss of income for months on end. After competing in nine competitions since 2014, this will be the first year without a competition. Some of my powerlifting goals were crushed into dust the moment I hurt my back last November…a bitter pill to swallow. Although I have all the time in the world at home while on leave, my ability to do things is still hampered. Housework can only be done in short bursts of time, because standing too long results in lots of pain. My housework abilities are also limited to what is safe for my back. I wash dishes, sweep the floors, tidy the bathroom, fold laundry, make dinner, do grocery shopping in small, manageable trips. The rest of my time is spent going to appointments, going to the gym to do safe exercises and rehab, going to Starbucks for coffee and to soak up a bit of connection with my co-workers, and varying my position between standing and reclining as frequently as necessary. It’s a boring life and frustrating. I feel like I should be doing more and living a real life, not this paper doll existence I am living. With the warmer weather, I want to be outside and active, much more active than my body will agree to, and I fear that I will miss out on spring and summer just as I missed out on winter.

My husband’s comment took me aback a little, because I was confused as to why he would think that I was still in need of an identity of my own. Didn’t I already do that? In my opinion, that’s what I had done between 2010 and 2017. I had hit the bottom and clawed my way back to the top. Hard work, determination, and the right people in my corner allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin and to be sure of who I was. Through powerlifting, I discovered something within me that I could never have expected, and I loved being strong both physically and mentally. There is no doubt that I had grown substantially over the course of those years, and I learned to weather the storms and grow through them. Who else could I possibly be? What was missing?

The conversation with my friend revolved around parents and kids, but I instantly grasped how the concept of ‘wanting more’ and ‘satisfied with enough’ could apply to me as I mulled over my husband’s statement. From the time I started going to the gym and focused on powerlifting, I have wanted more. This desire for more was focused on my performance and goals within the sport far more than it ever applied to the rest of my life. I’m an easy-going and low-maintenance kind of person. I’m not interested in keeping up with the Joneses. Even when there is something I would like to improve in my home or have as an experience, I am still easily content with what I can realistically have. Enough is perfectly fine for me, unless I’m in the gym and setting goals for future competitions. I don’t need to be the strongest or the best, although I will always strive to win while knowing there are others better than me. Most of the time I succeed at my goals, but not always. The sting of failure hurts for a little while, but I always manage to learn and grow through the experience. That is enough!

But here I sit (figuratively because sitting hurts like hell), not knowing what my future holds, where it will lead me, or when I will reach the next stage of the journey. When I realized the nature of my injury, I fully expected to be back to normal within a few weeks, maybe a couple of months. Six months later, I no longer have a clue when I will be back to normal, if that will even happen. I’ve been stuck in limbo, playing the waiting game with my body, my doctor, and now a neurosurgeon. My doctor has repeatedly said this will take time and that there are proper steps to follow in treating such an injury. Time, I understand, even proper steps, but I chafe at the unnecessary delays created by the medical system when a slightly faster pace could potentially create improved health sooner (and less of a burden on the health care system, my workplace, and employment insurance costs). I feel alone, forgotten, cast aside, and broken.

I believe that I am still me. This injury hasn’t erased the woman I had become in recent years. In many ways, I think this injury will only make me a stronger person. But in the meantime, I feel stripped of so much of what makes me who I am. Is that true though? I am a barista. I am a powerlifter. I am a wife, a mother, a friend. Those are things that I do or titles that apply to me, but they are not who I am. Last year I learned that lesson after a disappointing competition after a disappointing and frustrating several months of training. Powerlifting is what I do, not who I am. So, I know who I am even though I feel lost, but I am beginning to realize that this injury can shake up my assumptions and put them back together as something entirely different than what I had imagined. I don’t know what that means for me yet, but I suspect it will add another layer to claiming my own identity. In the same way, I also believe that the theme of being satisfied with enough will weave through that layer in a most wonderful way. It’s not always easy to sit in these days of uncertainty, but I am excited to see who I am at the end of it.

Singling Out Shame

As I laid awake in bed last night, my mind randomly flashed back to a situation I found myself in about a month or so ago. It was the kind of situation that would be quite easy to ignore or glide over, but in chewing it over in my mind last night I was able to talk myself through the awkwardness and the negative emotions which threatened me in that situation. Of course, all of my best thoughts and words were probably used up in the dark of night, but let me try to spit it out now in the light of day.

I don’t know what day it was exactly, not that it matters at all, but we were at Costco, my husband and I. We had wandered the aisles and thrown a few items into our cart before planting ourselves in one of the long lines to checkout. As we were waiting and talking, I noticed a woman in a line next to ours, and I immediately recognized her face. That’s my super power…recognizing faces. It might take me a month to remember where I know a face from, but I remember faces. Anyway, I recognized this person as a friend of a former friend. I don’t know if she recognized me (we had met once or twice before), but I was instantly flooded with anxiety and shame. Our items were scanned and paid for, and we walked out of Costco, while I shoved those feelings into a mental closet and locked the door.

I know why I felt anxious and ashamed when I saw this person, but I didn’t want to spend any time thinking about it. Sometimes we think that shutting painful emotions off is the same as dealing with them, but that’s not how it works. It was easy enough to ignore how I felt in Costco all those days ago, and I could probably continue to ignore that for a long time yet. Until the next time I see someone with a connection to a former friend.

The anxiety comes from the fear of being disliked or treated with disdain, while the shame flows out of the fear of what the former friend may or may not have said about me. The end of our relationship was surprising and odd. The last conversation was confusing and one-sided, as if designed to create shame within me. In some ways, it felt like I was being gas-lighted. As confusing and hurtful as that was to experience, I was able to see the smoke and mirrors, even if I can only guess at the motivation behind them. It was surprisingly easy to move on, but maybe not so surprising given the growth in my self-confidence over the years. Seeing someone connected to the former friend rattles that confidence. Negative thoughts whisper in my ear, questioning what gossip or lies about my character might have been passed on. In actuality, I feel no shame about what happened with the former friend, because I know I did nothing wrong. But I feel shame in thinking that someone might have been told misinformation. Why? Why should I feel shame about that? Why should I feel anxious simply because I recognize a face in a crowd?

I have absolutely no idea if the former friend has ever said anything about me or the end of our relationship to anyone. No idea whatsoever! Quite honestly, I think it is more likely that this person hasn’t mentioned my name at all. Or maybe my name gets mentioned like a piece of trivia or a historical tidbit of information without emotion or explanation. I have no way of knowing, and I don’t want to care about it one way or the other. What is of greater concern to me is the way that I respond emotionally to a situation that I cannot control and is likely not even a situation to speak of, like seeing someone at Costco.

The feelings of shame that I felt in Costco that day were nothing more than lies designed to imprison me. To the best of my ability and with the grace of God, I have peace within myself in the end of that relationship, so there is no need for me to feel ashamed at the possibility of being recognized as someone’s former friend. I don’t need to stress out over what may or may not have been said about me, when I know my own actions and words and attitudes and have examined them most carefully. If some random person has a problem with me because of misinformation…well, he/she can have a conversation with me about it or not. As for me, I don’t have a desire to waste my time fretting over what ifs, and I do not want to be weighed down by misplaced guilt or shame. There may be moments or days when my confidence is battered and shaky, but I know who I am and I know my worth.

And now that I’ve got that off my chest, perhaps the only thing that will keep me awake tonight is the ever-present pain in my legs!

Regret

7. What was your biggest regret and why?

We’re not perfect and we all make mistakes. It’s an uncomfortable truth we don’t like to think about. But facing our failures helps us in positive ways. When we admit and accept our mistakes, we grow. And best of all, we’re less likely to repeat them.

As far as regrets go, I don’t think I have actually held on to very many this year. There have been regrets, of course, like the loss of a friendship. That regret is for the loss rather than a failure or mistake on my part. Despite what the other party might say about the situation, I know that I did nothing wrong. I can mourn the loss of the relationship while not carrying the weight of regret over someone’s decision.

I would have preferred to have not herniated a disc, but it happened. Although it happened at a competition, I don’t regret my training or competing. I don’t regret the efforts it took to break all of those records that day and to set a couple of personal bests. I wish the injury hadn’t happened, but I think I am at the point where I can honestly say that I don’t regret it happening at all. The injury didn’t happen because of a personal failure. It just happened, and I am choosing to embrace it rather than continuing to wallow in misery over it.

I know that I am far from perfect, and I am more than willing to admit my faults. A year is a long time and memories tend to jumble together until the images are distorted. Smaller mistakes and regrets are most likely there, swirling among the debris, but I cannot pull many out for full examination.

However, there is one thing that I do regret and it is an action that I take sole responsibility for. In January, I thought it would be fun to see how long I could sit in a body weight squat. I stopped after 5 minutes, impressed with myself. Everything was fine until about a week later. All of a sudden my lower back hurt while squatting when I had never had back pain while training before. It turned out that my 5 minute squat had made my SI joints quite angry, and thus began many months of pain and suffering. I do regret that, but I learned a lesson. Do not sit in a body weight squat for a long period of time! Through the months of struggles, I was forced to learn other lessons that I might have preferred to avoid if given the chance, but I know I came out of those struggles stronger.

 

Worry

6. What did you worry about most and how did it turn out?

Worry is an odd thing for me. I tend to carry a lot of figurative weight around on a day-to-day basis, things like worry and stress; however, the weight of such things isn’t always heavy. For example, as a mom I had worries for my son when he traveled to Thailand recently. This was his first time undertaking such a lengthy and distant trip and without the presence of family or a large group. I am not naive about things that can happen when traveling (or at home). Although I did worry for my son’s safety, the worry was not heavy or consuming. I went about life without dread or fear. While I appreciated the bits of contact that my son made with me during his absence, I was not dependent on them to have peace of mind. I held worry in my hands but was at peace with the situation. This is how I respond to stress and worry over many details of life. I can feel the inner disturbance yet quickly regain solid footing. My natural inclination is not chaotic or dramatic but calm and rational. Mostly.

As for worry that weighed heavily upon me, I suppose I can pinpoint two situations.

1. A friendship ended this year. At the time and still to this day, I don’t really understand what happened there. The type of worry that eats away at you only lasted a brief period of time before I reclaimed my peace and solid footing. That short period of anxiety and doubt and worry was horrible, not so much for how it made me feel but for the sense of impending loss. I am often slow to open up to new people and cautious about who I allow into the deeper levels of relationship; however, once someone has been granted access and makes the choice to accept me, I invest in the relationship and value it greatly. When a treasured relationship ends, it hurts. There is confusion and uncertainty. Worry…about so many things! What did I do wrong? What did I say? What didn’t I do right? What didn’t I say? Those questions and doubts can attack with brutality, leaving you bruised, battered, wounded, and forever scarred.

Thankfully, my confidence and knowledge of self has grown stronger over recent years, and I was able to discern truth from fiction and weigh my worries accordingly. The friendship was gone, but I was not destroyed. I think I’m stronger now.

2. The other big worry for 2017 has been and continues to be my back. My back has been through a lot this year. This current disc herniation makes my earlier SI joint problems look like a walk in the park. Tomorrow will be 7 weeks since I herniated my disc. There has been improvements. I even think there continues to be improvements, but they are slow in the coming and not always consistent from day to day or even hour to hour. I am not in screaming, agonizing pain on a scale of 100 out of 10…thank goodness! But there is still pain. Too much standing/walking and the numbness in my left leg/foot increases, pain shoots down both legs, and the back hurts/aches/throbs. When I lie down I can feel the shock of electric currents traveling down both legs. There are moments when I feel almost normal, except for the permanent numbness, but such moments are brief and sporadic. I am so weary of this injury.

In the early stages of the injury, my worry was mild. In my ignorance of what was actually wrong with me, I was still optimistic that I’d be back to normal soon. When I was made aware that I had actually herniated a disc, that little blob of worry transformed into a giant black hole that sucked all the joy, peace, and hope out of me. I was worried, and this worry was heavy. As the days and weeks progressed and my recovery progressed so slowly, that worry began to crush my soul. Knowing that discs will eventually heal wasn’t enough to allay the worry. The lessening of the pain wasn’t enough either. The continued presence of numbness and the later addition of pain and numbness in the other leg only fed the worry I held inside. I’ve cried a lot of tears. The worry has been all encompassing. I’ve been worried about how my injury impacts my ability to do my job to the level that I am accustomed and that I desire to attain. I’ve been worried about how my injury impacts my co-workers who have had to cover my short-comings and my absence. I’ve been worried about my limitations in doing basic, every day stuff around the house. Worried about the limitations in my ability to train at the gym the way that I enjoy most. Worried about my future in powerlifting. Worried about the financial impact of this injury. Stress over the process of applying for a medical leave and employment insurance. The worry about my short-term and long-term health has been heavy. Even the process of seeking medical care is riddled with worry and stress. This worry has taken a heavy toll on me.

I am still dealing with this injury, tripping my way through recovery and medical care, and slogging through the muck of emotional distress. I am still worried, and I do not yet have resolution to this problem. I am still injured. Recovery is still in progress and hazy. There will still be a financial impact for months to come. There is no sneak peek into the future. Uncertainty remains. So does worry.

But the worry is less consuming now and I feel more hopeful than I did a week or two ago. I am far from where I want to be, but I do know how to put one foot in front of the other in order to take a step forward. I know how to work hard to reach my goals. I know what it feels like to struggle, to feel challenged in a task, and to succeed. I know failure, too, but I also know how to pick myself up again. Worry isn’t done with me and my disc and I don’t know how it will turn out yet, but I know I will be okay.