There is a sign that lives above my desk that reads “Celebrate the Successes.” It’s something my sister once told me as I related to her how I was struggling with feelings of inadequacy and stagnation. About how life sometimes just feels so hard and how everything feels like just one long series of failures.
We had that conversation long ago, maybe last year, maybe the year before. I can’t remember, but the paper the sign is printed on is pretty tattered, so it certainly wasn’t recently.
And yet, today I need it more than ever.
Because life is hard, yo. It’s a constant struggle. And, yes, it still feels like one long series of failures.
I was going to come here to whine about just how hard it all is and how low I feel right now, but then the sign caught my eyes and I realized that maybe, just maybe what I need today is a moment celebrating the successes instead of going over the list of failures one more time.
I have work. I even enjoy some of it.
I’m successfully working from home.
The kids are having great years.
I’ve started working on a new novel.
I’m making time to make more family meals.
I’m making more time to walk and take care of myself.
I’ve cultivated and nurtured some amazing friendships.
When I stop to think about the successes in my life, both big and little, it’s like a weight lifts from my shoulders and the dark clouds over my head get a little less heavy.
It’s been a rough few weeks. So much angst and worry and sadness. So many burdens to shoulder. I know I’m not the only one struggling this month. I see it all over Facebook and among my friends. January is hard. Brutally, unapologetically hard. It’s good to stop and remember that finding a little light to make the darkness more bearable is within our reach.
The other day when I was organizing my office, I moved the signs on my wall around. I think I need to move this one sign back to where I can see it easily so I keep reminding myself that success lies everywhere and it’s up to me to look for it.
After hearing her speak on the Beautiful Writers Podcast, I bought Glennon Doyle Melton’s book, Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, because I do that, buy books after I hear author’s speak, and then I popped it into the bathroom, because, let’s be honest, that’s what I do with 99% of the non-fiction books that I buy.
Having read a few chapters already, I have to say, this book might actually make it out of the bathroom. But let’s not hold our breath. Because non-fiction.
In any case, after reading the bit (at the very beginning) where Glennon explains how she came to the conclusion that her thing, her way she could give back and help, would be to speak her truth, her whole truth, so that others would hear her words and maybe no longer feel like they were alone, I thought “I do that! I speak my truth online too!”
Patted myself on the back. Smiled a little. And then my smile faltered as I realized… wait, maybe, just maybe I don’t speak my whole truth. Maybe I speak a sanitized version of my truth. Maybe I should grow a pair and try it the Glennon way, the whole unvarnished truth. The kind that resonates with people and helps them on their own journeys.
So I sat down and I opened my journal, because I’m a chickenshit and I had to see if maybe I had the guts to write my truth somewhere hidden before I could maybe share it here, this truth that has been sitting heavy in my gut for weeks now.
I have to say, it flowed easier than anticipated.
So here is my truth.
I am 40 years old and I don’t know who I am.
I know I’m a mother, a sister, a daughter a friend.
I know I write, though I struggle with defining that part of myself.
I know I love to watch TV and read stories. The more fantastic the better.
I know I love to help people, to guide them and advise them.
But, at the core, I genuinely don’t know who I am.
I have no strong convictions, nothing I believe in passionately.
I struggle with my weight, and have done so my whole life, but only because others have told me I should be concerned about being overweight.
I am a rule follower because it has always been expected of me, not because I’m convinced it’s the right thing to do.
I am 40 years old and I have always done what my family, my society, my community expects of me.
I am 40 years old and I don’t really know who I am. Nor do I have a clue about figuring it out.
This little block crafted by Robin Plemmons has sat on my desk for years. Maybe I should read it more often.
I turned the corner, driving that fine line between driving the speed limit and going fast enough to get to school in time to collect the kid getting out of her after-school activity. I snarled at the rain starting again, at my broken windshield wiper I didn’t even know was broken until this morning, at the blister forming in the rain boot that only gets worn once or twice a season.
And then I saw it. And I gasped.
A rainbow. A silly, stupid, glorious rainbow, stretching clear across the sky. A perfect shining rainbow.
And then I laughed.
Because for a minute I couldn’t fathom what I was seeing.
I’d forgotten about rainbows.
What can I say? It doesn’t rain very often in California.
So, I’d forgotten about rainbows.
Rainbows in all their magical, improbable selves. A thing that children color, because they’re so darn pretty and shiny and irresistible.
Rainbows, reminding us that there’s beauty and magic to be found in even the dreariest of days.
I seriously can’t believe I’d forgotten about rainbows.
Just how grown-up and jaded have I become?
What happened to the girl who always looked for the silver lining in every situation? Who always tried to tease the fun out of every moment?
2011 was a brutal year of unending big catastrophes that kept knocking me off my feet.
This year has been less obvious in its relentless sly attacks, and yet, apparently no less draining.
I keep trying to pull myself up from my bootstraps, keep trying to jolly myself out of the gray area I seem to wallow in most often these days, but it’s hard. There are constant reminders about my father. Constant little challenges to overcome. Constant reasons not to smile, but to, instead, force a grin on my face a bear another day.
It’s not how I want to be, not who I want to be.
I want to be the girl who looks for rainbows, not the one who forgets they even exist.
Last week I went through this past year’s blog archives to find a post or two that I could to enter in the Type A Parent “We Still Blog” contest. As I perused what I’ve written a few thoughts occurred to me.
I’m proud of what I’ve written. Proud of the way my voice sings on the screen. Proud of the fact that I can let my vulnerability shine.
But I’m sad at how sad pretty much everything I’ve written in the last 12 months has turned out.
It was a grim read-through.
I’ve been deluding myself somewhat, telling myself that I’m fine, I’m coping, I’m getting through the days. And, for the most part, it’s very true. The days flow by, the work gets done, the kids are thriving, the house is cared for, and most days, there’s even some laughter.
But reading through my blog was like having the cold hard truth stare me in the face.
The last 6 months have been hard, really, really hard. Instead of seeing everything surrounded by a silver lining of hope and potential, it feels like everything has been surrounded by a dark lining of sadness.
No matter what I do, a part of my heart feels sad.
Please, trust me, I know this is normal. I know this is grief. I know this will fade in time until I’m almost sad it’s gone.
But I’m still ready to take back my joy.
A couple weeks ago, when the school year was just starting, I realized that one of the things that I most missed from the time before my father’s death, the time before all the sad, was my knitting.
Knitting has always been a source of comfort and calm for me. It helps center me and make me feel whole and connected. I always turn to my knitting when I’m facing challenges, when I need peace. I knit on every plane ride taking me to see my father, I knit whenever I was at his bedside, and I knit as he lay dying.
During his last months I worked on a gorgeous scarf made of luxurious yarn that brought me solace whenever I simply touched it. I finished the scarf a few days after I returned home after his death, draped it around my shoulders and felt comforted by this thing I had created as he breathed his last breaths.
And then I put my knitting needles down and walked away.
I told myself that it was too hot, that I was too distracted to focus on the challenging pattern I had chosen for my next project, that the yarn just wasn’t soft enough. I lied.
The simple act of looking at knitting needles made me uncomfortable. The act of picking them up made me downright nauseous.
A problem since I was desperate for something soothing to do in the evening.
Now, I don’t just knit when I’m sad or anxious. I also knit during most school volunteer meetings. It keeps me from getting distracted or doing something rude like playing with my phone while someone is talking. The mere thought of heading into the school year without this crutch to help me get through the countless meetings I attend every month was enough to make me hyperventilate in pure panic.
And that’s when I realized that it was time to take back what was mine.
It’s enough that I lost my father. I wasn’t about to also lose something so essential to my well-being.
I found a super simple project and unearthed some of my favorite yarn. I knit a coffee cup cozy, and another, and another. I started playing around with the design, taught myself a new technique, made another two. (If you’d like one, let me know. I, ahem, have a couple extra.) Then I started a new, slightly harder project.
Now, when I pick up my needles, it once again feels like coming home. I’ll always feel myself sitting at my father’s bedside, but it’s turning into a tender memory, not a panic inducing one.
Taking back my knitting feels like the first step towards taking back my joy.
It’s not going to be an easy process. It definitely feels more like I’m clawing my way back to my joyful life, rather than just sauntering there. But it feels like I’m finally on my way.
I’m spending more time with friends. I’m searching out opportunities to be with people rather than holed up alone at home. I’m looking for rainbows and reasons to smile. I’m cooking again, running again, reading again. Taking things back, one by one. Doing them because they bring me joy rather than because they stave off the panic and the sad.
The sad will still be there, I know that, but I’m going to try to keep it from overshadowing everything. At the very least, it’s not what my full-of-life, passionate father would have wanted. For that reason alone, it’s worth the effort.
The slightly harder project. Legwarmers for Little L.