Why I Want to be Whole

It is true for all of us, every day of our lives, but this last year I have been faced each day, each moment, with a very clear choice:  grow or die.

The option to just take the despairing route almost always feels easier (and certainly justified) in the moment, just as reaching towards healing usually feels impossible.  It’s like facing the choice of climbing stairs or going down a slide.  The slide is easier and feels better at the moment.  Every moment on the slide makes it harder to stop or go back up.  And the stairs are work.  But… the stairs are the only way to the place I actually want to go.

 

 

One of the things I have had to do, in order to heal, is close myself off from so much other pain – the pain of my friends, the pain of people I meet, and the pain of different injustices in the world.  I don’t have the emotional resources to empathize.

I was considering this more carefully as I was thinking briefly about the border situation in the US: parents trying to move towards a better life, and having their children taken away from them.  I had to stop myself, before I even got to the question, “What is really going on here?”  Because I can’t take it right now, the extra pain of considering that will undo me.

But I do NOT want to be a person who refuses to empathize, who will not look at the world around her for fear of seeing the pain.  I don’t want to be someone who denies reality because I prefer to believe a comfortable fiction.

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I love the Jewish concept of tikkun olam (literally, “repair of the world”, alternatively, “construction for eternity” according to Wikipedia).  That work is something I want to be a part of.  Somewhere in my soul is a deep conviction that I am here to make change in the world; to make this world a better place.  I know this.  (I believe this about you, too, by the way.)  Over the course of this last year I have received so many encouragements and affirmations in this area.  Some have been intentional, and some have just been offhand comments, but I have grabbed them and held on to them with all of my might, so that I am feeding the hope that climbing these stairs will be worth it.  I have a small glimpse of how broken the world is – and a small glimpse of how glorious it could be.  I want to work with individuals to help them become more whole in every area of their lives.  I want to face systems of injustice and come up with new, creative ways of living.  Each encounter with brokenness makes me all the more determined to be whole – to chase and pursue healing with all that I have – so that I can do the most I possibly can to share that healing with the world.

 

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Self Care

As I write about the things that have helped this year, it could arguably all be classed under self care.  Over the years, I’ve watched people work themselves until their bodies quit under the emotional strain.  I recognize these tendencies in myself, and know how easy it can be to do when your work is something you are passionate about.  So I have resolved to learn about and practice good self-care over the last few years.  I’ll be no good to myself or anyone else if I work myself to death.

I couldn’t eat the day Beatrix died.  I didn’t feel like I could eat the next day, either…  but I knew that for my heart and brain to deal with reality, I would need fuel.  So I made myself eat something – I managed to get down some rye toast.  And since then it has been a daily fight to put nourishing food in my body.  To come up with the energy to prepare it…  when I would much rather just consume a bag of chips.

I’ve went for massages occasionally.  This is a ridiculous extravagance to me.  But when there is nothing I can do to alleviate the emotional pain – at least I can get relief for some of the ways this pain is showing up in my muscles.

Self-care has meant going outside, and moving my body.  I go for lots of walks.  This usually has the dual benefit of getting me some exercise and having some time in nature.  My friend Dave says that after just 15 seconds among trees, your brain chemistry (and emotional state) is changed for the better.  (And he has a masters degree that has to do with our interaction with the natural world, so I believe him…  In this area, anyway. 😉 )

Sleep has been a struggle for me for as long as I can remember.  And I know that getting a good sleep can be a major factor in mental health – so again, I have worked hard over the years to have good “sleep hygiene” (basically, a regular going-to-bed routine that doesn’t include screens, I don’t work in the place where I sleep, and a regular bedtime).  Going to bed early and not being tempted to stay up doing nothing is the hardest part… but so important this year, because I just stay up late and get melancholy, miserable, weepy, and because I’m tired I just sink and sink.

And grace:  recognizing that there are days when I. just. can’t.  Not beating myself up when I’m too tired to make the initial effort, to do the thing that will make me feel better.  To receive forgiveness, pick myself up and try again on the days when I use maladaptive coping methods.

These things are all difficult because they have little or no immediate benefit or results.  And it has been so much harder because of our nomadic lifestyle this year.  But little by little by little, I have been able to see the way that working to take care of myself in these very basic ways has paid off.

Social Strategies

In addition to strong boundaries, I have come up with some strategies to help protect myself in social gatherings.

You know the kind – where there aren’t enough people for you to just be unknown, but more than the 1 or 2 that would be easy to hang out with.  Office parties, weddings, funerals, church,…   (Sidenote:  I think this is a big reason why church is so hard for people who are going through something hard.)

Now, I pretty much always have a plan.  (A couple weeks ago we were at my parents’ house, and I suggested we all do the short hike up Star Creek.  My mom eyed me warily and asked, “Why?”  I was a little taken aback… “Um, Vitamin N(ature), exercise, um… quality time?”  You know, all the things implied.  But she knows me.  She thought I might have a secret agenda.  HA!  No mom, I’m an adult now.  I don’t have to trick adults into buying me ice cream by asking to go for a bike ride.)

Going into social events, I usually have a few people I specifically want to see, or some conversations I want to have.  It doesn’t mean I don’t spend time with other people, or that I don’t have unexpected conversations, or that things always go according to plan, but I plan to have meaningful interaction.

In this last season, it has been important to make sure that I have an out if I get too tired, or if it gets too hard.  (There was a specific church service that I really wanted to go to in September, but it meant that as soon as they announced the greeting-shake-hands time, I went and hid in the bathroom until it was over.  I mean, is there any more awkward and anxiety-inducing social event than greeting time at church?  Is this just me?)

Also in September, there was a wedding I really wanted to go to.  I knew there would be a lot of people there that I know a bit, but am not close to (these have been the hardest people to be with), and a few things about the wedding that would be particularly painful.  When we got there, we were at a table with a couple who we have been getting to know over the last few years, and who we like a lot.  They are wise, sensitive, and safe people.  So we just hung out with them for most of the time we were there.

One thing I know:  if you are already engaged in a conversation, other people (who might say difficult things) are less likely to come and start talking to you.  So this became a strategy for engagements that I wanted to go to, but knew would be a stretch:  ahead of time, I identify one or two people who will be there, that will be easy for me to hang out with.  (And aren’t crucial to the event, like the bride or the family of the bride.)  I haven’t even always stayed with these people, but knowing ahead of time that there is someone who can be an oasis has given me the courage to rejoin the land of the living.