Not Quite A Mermaid Yet

My brother-in-law and husband working towards their diving certification

“We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.” ~Helen Keller

This weekend, I learned a few things about myself.

First of all, I learned I am not yet ready to be a mermaid. The dive class Friday night went well for the most part, with my biggest stress coming when we were told we needed to sit underwater with our regulator in our mouth but no mask over our face. This was nearly impossible for me. I’m a fair swimmer, but not a great one. My first experience of swimming was being forced off a diving board into the deep end of a YMCA pool when I was 9. It did not go well. I swallowed a mouthful of chlorinated water, surfaced choking, and decided swimming was not my thing. I eventually learned to swim well enough. And while I passed the 10 minute float test with zero trouble, I remain a 54 year old who jumps into a pool holding her nose. I can swim underwater only if I exhale bubbles from my nose. So, yeah. Sitting on the bottom of a pool with air bubbles rising up from my respirator and hitting my nose was not my thing. I freaked out, inhaled more water up my nose and went home dejected. Still, I rallied and tried scuba class again on Saturday. I had no problem clearing my ears or learning to achieve neutral buoyancy. I loved swimming around underwater at 13 feet and diving for toys. But when it came time to take off my mask, hold it in my hands, swim around, then put it back on, I knew I was finished. I left the class early and alone. I will not be scuba certifying until I get my confidence issues resolved. My mermaid days lie ahead somewhere. Perhaps after a summer of swimming and some private lessons.

On the positive side of this unfortunate discovery, however, is the reality that when I realized I was not ready to meet this challenge at this time I was able to be honest with myself, tell the instructor I was out, and forgive myself for needing a little more time to prepare. I can’t be angry with myself for needing to learn to be a mouth breather. I can be proud of myself for recognizing my limits and being willing to step away until I can make progress with my swimming. This is big step forward for me. Even as it was a disappointment not to be ready to complete the scuba class, it was a growth opportunity I managed. Does it suck not to have achieved this goal as I planned? Sure. But I wasn’t ready. And I’m wise enough now to understand that “not right now” does not mean “not ever.”

Overall, the weekend was a mixed bag. It is difficult for me to admit defeat, even if it is temporary, but I am grateful I was able to acknowledge my current limits and step away. I will get my water issues sorted. I just need to trust the growth process and keep moving towards my goal. Someday I will pass my scuba certification and the accomplishment will be even sweeter for the time I spent working towards my goal.

Go Ahead — Ask For Some Help Already

This post is for all of you helpers. You know who you are. You are the ones who take on more responsibility than you need to, who feel overworked and under-appreciated because you don’t know how to share the load, who don’t know how or when to ask for help or even that asking for assistance is not only important but healthy.

I am your people. I grew up believing I could only count on myself. I had no problem helping out others. I learned that if I wanted something done the “right” way, I had to do it myself. It never occurred to me that perhaps someone else might have a better way of doing something or that I might learn something useful from their efforts. I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed, so I told myself I didn’t need anything from anyone else. If someone disappointed me, which happened on occasion precisely because I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted, I labeled them as untrustworthy and went my own way. It was a vicious cycle. Each time I tried to trust someone and was disappointed, it was further proof I could only count on myself. And so I went through most of my life taking on more and more, trusting less and less. Since no person is an island, I created for myself an untenable situation. I became stressed out. I continually felt put upon. The truth is, eventually, we all can use some help. Wise people understand burden sharing provides insight, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging. Taking on everything solo fosters isolation, frustration, and bitterness.

Every night as I’m finishing with dinner prep and we are about to serve, my husband asks if he can plate some food for me. Most nights I still say no. Most nights I tell him I can get my own. I grew up feeling self-sufficiency was proof of competency. Other people ask for help. I don’t need help. That was the lie I told myself. The more I took on, the more others relied on me for that service and the more exhausted I became. My life only began to improve when I started letting others share the burden.

I’m still learning it is okay to let others do for me. They might not do it exactly the way I would have done it, but that can be good. Sometimes when I let someone else do something their way, it’s a growth experience. Other people can be a great source of fresh ideas if you let them bring their gifts to the table. I’ve learned a lot through watching others do things their way. Sometimes I adopt their method because it makes that much more sense.

So, my challenge to all my control freak comrades is this: find a few moments this week when you are feeling overwhelmed and ask for help. You can start small. Ask for help bringing in groceries or walking the dog. If you’re meeting a friend for lunch, suggest a place closer to you for once rather than driving across town to meet them like you have always done. People who are willing to seek help and rely on others occasionally create for themselves a sense of belonging. I think we could all use a little more of that feeling these days.

I promise you this. Once you start asking for assistance, once you start allowing others to be there for you the way you’ve been there for them, you won’t go back to your old ways. It’s liberating to let go of unnecessary responsibility. And, believe me. When someone is insisting on contributing, it’s because they want to. Understand that accepting their offer doesn’t mean you’re incompetent; it means they feel they have something positive and useful to offer. Maybe it’s not about you at all. Maybe it’s about them and their desire to be involved.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for what will make your life a measure easier. Sharing life’s burdens makes life better. You just have to be willing to let go of a little control. No one of consequence will think less of you.

Evolution Isn’t Just For Finches

If anyone is wondering, I am finally sick of my own bullshit.

I am tired of my whining about people who put me in a box, closed the lid, and then sat on it to keep me in my place. I got strong enough to topple them, to push my way out, and then I complained about being held down for so long. I spent so long bitching about it that then I was holding myself down. I think that is a common pattern for people recovering from abuse. You have to process it to make your peace with it. And part of processing is wallowing. It’s the wallowing that makes you sick of yourself. And getting sick of yourself is a good thing because it pushes you out of the track you’ve been running in and allows you to begin a new track.

I understand now why I operated the way I did. And now I know how to operate differently. I don’t always get it right, but forward progress in any measure feels like a win. I will never let anyone speak for me again or tell me who I am or what I like or what I should do or be. I might solicit advice, but that doesn’t mean I’ll take it. No one is an expert on me, not even me. I am in the middle of an evolution.

All the best people are.

Calm Down

I saw this yesterday and appreciated it so much I had to post it to Facebook, and I rarely post anything to Facebook other than links to my blog posts because my blog posts cover most of what is happening in my life anyway. But I thought this bit was brilliant. Brilliant not just because it was amusing but because it was honest.

Thank you, Tom Papa, for your wisdom.

It’s kind of crazy how much time some people are willing to devote to their careers. Their jobs come before family. Their jobs come before their health, their friends, their home. And for what? Money? A title? Some imagined (or real but not incredibly significant) career legacy? So few people land where Steve Job, Elon Musk, or Jeff Bezos did. Those men have made their mark on our lifetimes, but how long those marks will last remains to be seen. Who from the annals of history do we recall? The great philosophers — Socrates, Plato, Aristotle? Genghis Khan? Caesar? Napoleon? Consider the number human lives lived during the same period that these men lived and how few of those lives had a significant, lasting impact on the world, the dissemination of their genes into the proverbial pool, notwithstanding. Most of us will live quiet lives, so why do we stress ourselves out with long hours and dedication to work when ultimately our significance in this life will remain inside a small circle of personal influence. How much time do we lose in that circle by pawing for things that don’t really matter in our life’s grand scheme? Did we learn nothing from the 1974 Harry Chapin hit Cats in the Cradle?

It’s something to think about. I think most people know the most important things in life can’t be bought. It’s too bad so many of us don’t live that way.

A Change Of Heart

On July 26th of last year, I made a commitment to my blog. I would write every day for the next 365 . It’s been 250 days as of today. I can’t believe I’ve made it this far. It’s difficult to come up with a post for every day. Some days I barely squeak something out. Some days I am proud of what I do. But most days it feels like I am creating material below my capabilities because it is being done under the duress of having to post something.

So, after a lot of consideration, I’ve decided I’m stepping back again. I will write on occasion, when I feel I have something valuable to contribute to the blog universe. I’m simply tired of forcing myself to do this. I need a break.

But, maybe then again, maybe this is just April Fool’s craziness and tomorrow I will be back at it. I guess we’ll see.

Unmoored

Photo by Joel Bengs on Unsplash

I’m having a sad day. I assume you know the kind of day I am referring to. It’s as if all the difficult and emotional things in my life that have been running in background mode for a while all decided to rise up and jump on me at the same time, leaving me at the bottom of a dog pile of sadness. I’m one of the most fortunate people I know, so I fight the urge to feel sorry for myself, even when there are legitimate life experiences that are troubling me. When you have everything, it feels shallow to whine about the few things that feel off in your life.

I allow myself to feel frustration, anger, shame, guilt, and a whole host of other emotions, but sadness is verboten. I think this goes back to my childhood. There are only so many times you can hear someone sing “Cry Me A River” or say “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” before you realize sadness is something to be avoided at all times. The past couple days, though, I let the sadness smother me. I have been throwing myself a pity party, and I’ve not been enjoying it one bit.

Tonight while walking with my youngest, I was talking to him about how I am struggling. In addition to all the truly shitty things happening in the world and the country right now, I’m facing growing older, having my kids go to college and move on with their lives, recognizing that the job I’ve devoted myself to 24/7 for the past 21 years is ending, accepting that the pandemic took a toll on my friendships and hobbies, and trying to figure out what I am supposed to do with the rest of my time on earth. If I had to put a term to what I am feeling, I would say I am unmoored. Luke, being the wise person he is, told me I need to find some anchors, regular routines or habits that will give my life some stability and meaning when I feel like I am adrift. He pointed out that he has reading and school to keep him busy and give him purpose. This makes sense, and I know he’s right.

I have spent the past two years the way many people have during the pandemic: in limbo. I’d like to start back to yoga, but I suspect the minute I do some new variant will come sweeping through, close studios, and set me back again. This fear that the other shoe is constantly about to drop and mess everything up is debilitating. I need to get to a place where I can shove my melancholy and fears aside and throw myself back into life. I need to start moving forward, but it’s hard to do that when all you want to do is lie around and binge watch shows in some sort of meaningless, feeling-less stupor. I am all over the place, stuck in a cycle of feeling superfluous one minute and lying to myself and acting as if everything is fine when I know damn well it is not the next. It’s no bueno.

I need to claw my way out of this hole. I am going to start with forcing myself to exercise and hope that sets me on a better path. It’s either going to improve my mood or kill me is what I figure. At least it will be a step in a direction, which will be better than staying buried under my demons, right?

Life is hard. Anyone who tells you it isn’t is selling you something. On a more positive note, though, I guess “unmoored” is another way of saying “free to explore new shores.” So, there’s that.

The Abbreviated Drama Queen

If I had to share one thing about myself that would help you in your dealing with me, it is what is written on this mug. I am not so great at dealing with unanticipated changes the moment they are happening. But, if you give me a few minutes, I will pivot, accept the situation, and move on. I just have to be dramatic and whine about it and act like it is a much bigger deal than it actually is first.

My youngest sister gets this about me. When Julie was moving to Connecticut, I told her I would drive out with her and fly home. The day before we left, she let me know her car was very full. In addition to the last and most important of her belongings, we would be making the journey with her poodle, Jezebel. Julie kept telling me that I had to make sure my cross-country bag was small because her car was packed. So, I packed a small duffle bag for the three day trip and the flight home. When Julie pulled up, I noticed her sweet dog was not in a kennel, which is where I expected she would be for most the ride. Instead of a kennel, Julie had Jezebel’s dog bed. That was when she told me I would be riding with the dog bed on my lap with Jezebel in it. I wanted to lose my crap and get all dramatic, but what could be done about it? Nothing. We had to leave and this is how it was going to be. So, I got into the passenger seat, put Jezebel on my lap, and we were off for the 1900 mile drive. Julie told me later that she didn’t tell me earlier precisely because she knew I would get all dramatic about it. She also knew that if she just showed up and dropped the bomb on me minutes before we had to leave I would have a lot less time to be dramatic and I would just get over it. She was right. I did.

So, now you know the secret to dealing with me. When I am backed in a corner, I might grumble a bit but I will get on board more quickly. If I have time to be annoyed about it, I will still still get over it but you will have left me more time to whine about it. I still say I am flexible. I always adjust. Sometimes I just complain about things for a little bit longer.

The Things We Tolerate

I can’t look at this little girl without wanting to hug her and tell her she is enough

As a child, I learned that I was something to be tolerated. This notion colored every relationship I had. If you think you are barely tolerable, inversely, you will tolerate a lot of abuse from others because you understand what a burden you are. I spent most of my life apologizing for being who I was rather than acknowledging what I had to offer. Over my years in therapy, this paradigm has shifted for me. I am able to see what my gifts and strengths are and to value them. Don’t get me wrong. I know I have faults and hang ups and annoying habits too. I simply no longer think they outweigh my positive qualities. What I taught my children about themselves now also applies to me: “You aren’t a bad person. You are a good person with bad moments.”

Part of the beauty of reaching midlife, if you’re lucky, is your priorities shift. You become less concerned with what anyone else thinks and more focused on what you need, want, and are willing to work for to make the rest of your life worthwhile. When I combine what I’ve learned about myself through therapy with what I’m learning about life by virtue of being of a certain age, it’s like having a FastPass at Disneyworld. I am ready to jump to the front of the queue. I’ve spent long enough working hard for others, bending myself into a pretzel to make sure I am bearable, while not asking often enough for what I needed for myself. I’ve come to the place where I acknowledge if I’m not worth the effort to someone, then I don’t need to stay with them. Tolerance works both ways. I am free to choose what I will put up with from others.

Lately I’ve been taking stock of the relationships in my life. I can put them into categories. There are the people who like me both for and in spite of who I am and the people who see my downsides more than my upsides. I suppose there are also some people who walk the line of liking me most of the time and yet expecting me to be something I am not the rest of the time, but I can deal with those more nebulous relationships later. My goal right now is to jettison the relationships that make me feel worse about myself, the ones where I do all the compromising and giving and they do all the “tolerating” and taking. Those relationships aren’t serving me. They never did. There is positivity in walking away from them if I can withstand the judgment and commentary from those I care about who will question my choice to do so. Can I be brave enough to stand confidently in my truth without reverting to old habits, wavering, and then capitulating in the face of dissenting opinions?

Maybe it’s because it’s springtime, but I am feeling a compelling pull to weed the garden of my relationships. I want a fresh start. The void left by the people I walk away from will be filled in time with new, life-affirming friends of my choosing. I need to trust the process, to know in my heart that eliminating those whose words and actions make me feel less will only bring me peace because, heaven knows, keeping them around has only mired me in self-doubt. I’m not something to be tolerated, and I don’t have to tolerate a life with those who think I am.

“Accept yourself, love yourself, and keep moving forward. If you want to fly, you have to give up what weighs you down.” ~Roy T. Bennett

Being A Difficult Woman Is Actually Quite Easy

Here are a handful of things a woman might do that could get her labeled as “difficult”:

  • Refuse to smile when someone tells her she would look prettier that way
  • Ask for what she wants
  • Insist on equal treatment
  • Express an unpopular opinion (or even a popular one in the wrong company)
  • Say she isn’t interested in sex at the moment
  • Request help around the house or with the children
  • Believe it should be her body and her choice
  • Put herself first or make herself a priority
  • Know her worth
  • Expect appropriate acknowledgment and compensation for a job well done
  • Go against social norms, especially regarding appearance, career choice, or motherhood
  • Exhibit her anger, disappointment, or sadness
  • Call herself a feminist
  • Clap back against a cat call or other uninvited advance from an unknown male

There are, I’m certain, many other things a woman might do that could get her branded as difficult. It’s not just men who would label a self-assured or successful woman difficult. Sometimes women will cast other women in that same light because they are so accustomed to societal norms they don’t see the inherent sexism in them.

I have been labeled difficult plenty of times. It used to bother me. Now I simply see it as my duty. I’m not saying we need to smash the patriarchy to smithereens, but I think we’d do a lot better as a species if we allowed the world to become more balanced. Too much of any one thing is never a good idea, especially if that one thing is testosterone.

You May Not Know What You Think You Know, Which Is Shocking, I Know

I saw this quote recently, and it struck a chord with me. Not just because people from my childhood on have sized me up, rated and assessed me according to their standards, and then expected me to fit in that neat little box for the rest of forever. If I grew or changed, they became disoriented in our relationship. Some adjusted, although in most cases we simply parted ways. I know this is a human condition. I know I too have sized people up, assigned labels, and lived in that fabricated paradigm with them, never acknowledging they might be more than I have given them credit for. Never once thinking perhaps the terms I ascribed to them were placed there via my own filters and were, at their kindest, a little biased, and at their most abhorrent, completely unfair.

It’s what we do as humans. We look at others hoping to find similarities. We look for our people. When we run across someone who doesn’t fit our prescribed guidelines, we pack them up and place them in the box we’ve determined they belong in. We are often wrong because, although we may have asked some initial questions, we usually haven’t conducted important follow-up inquiries to get beyond the superficial. We stick to the surface. We may half hear one part of a response to a question we’ve asked and suddenly we’re off to the races on judgment. If this pattern were an Olympic event, I would be in gold medal contention. At the very least, I’d probably make the podium.

In my world, I am working to be, as Ted Lasso reminds us, curious and not judgmental. Holy hell is that a hard road to walk after a lifetime of judging that began when I was but a wee Polish-Catholic girl. I will keep on working at it, though, because I can’t expect people to accept the ways in which I have changed unless I am willing to view them through a different lens as well. This ability, to allow others to grow and develop in ways that suit their goals and lives, is one I work on constantly. I do this because I don’t want to grow apart from the people I care about. My sons are clearly much more than I have decided they are, and I have to work to remind myself of that. They deserve their own chance to define themselves without my input. So, I am trying to be curious, to observe, to ask questions, and to apologize when I haven’t allowed them enough room to challenge their perceptions of themselves, to reach outside of their past behaviors, likes, and wishes and stretch.

Take a minute to reflect on how you measure people. Are you taking their measurements every time you meet them to determine how they are different and how you can fit into their new schema or are you expecting them to fit into the same outfit you gave them a decade ago? In what ways have you limited a relationship by neither admitting your own growth or acknowledging someone else’s?