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.

Henry David Thoreau-ing It

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Me a bunch of years ago celebrating at Red Rocks (with food I can no longer eat)

Birthdays over age 50 are something else. On the one hand, you have to acknowledge you are definitely over that hill and the time ahead for you is far less than the time behind you. On the other hand, you know people who have already left this world, perhaps classmates that didn’t make it to your advanced age, and you are grateful to be here. It’s a mixed bag. I’m simultaneously glad to be 54 and annoyed to be 54. But time marches on and the only way to stop it is death, and that is not an option I am anxious to explore. My fingers are crossed that my luck continues to hold.

While I did not go into the woods like Henry David Thoreau, this month I have been taking a much needed hiatus from social media. My reasons are a little different than Thoreau’s, but the thought is the same. I wanted to eliminate the bullshit. I wanted to face only the essentials of life, to see what those people around me and the situations we shared in person together could offer me. I wanted to delete the distractions provided by the socials. I wanted to ensure I wasn’t wasting my life gawking at other people’s lives. And I needed to make sure I wasn’t so busy presenting a life to others that I was no longer consciously living one myself. I picked a curious time to do it too, given that this month is filled with experiences one would love to post on social media…birthdays, graduations, parties, reunions, and travel.

Still, I’m not doing it quite right. I admit to playing some games on my iPhone and watching playoff hockey and episodes of Formula 1: Drive to Survive. I’m not checked in 100% of the time, but I am present more than I have been. This is both good and bad, as I’m struggling with accepting that our youngest will graduate one week from today, and in August we will drive both sons to Washington and leave them (along with part of our hearts) there and return to an empty house. So it’s useful to give myself, from time to time, the opportunity not to focus on the huge changes that are afoot. It’s important to feel your feelings, but it’s my birthday and I don’t want to spend it sobbing about my most challenging, most favorite job ever coming to an end.

This weekend, Steve and I will be taking scuba classes. This should keep my mind off my kids and allow me to celebrate myself and my life and what I am able to learn, overcome, and accomplish, even at the advanced age of 54. This weekend I start the next phase of my life even as the last one is wrapping up. It’s time to make new friends. And if everything goes well and my ears clear and I don’t freak out underwater trying things that are way outside my comfort zone, on Sunday I will finish my first two dives at the aquarium among my new fish friends. I’ve done a lot of exploring on land in my life. Time to see what the sea has to offer.

I’ve decided to refer to this social media time out as “Henry David Thoreau-ing it.” I think he would appreciate my wisdom and the shout out.

Finally Going To Take My Own Advice

I have posted this quote from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on here before and it is the intro portion on my Facebook bio.

Me in a nutshell

Tonight, though, I’m finally deciding to take my own advice for real. I have been thinking for quite some time now that I need to take a social media hiatus. To that end, I’ve decided to go dark on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for a month. I’m not walking away from the platforms forever, just long enough to give my life a good detox. It’s not even that I necessarily spend too much time on them. It’s just that the time I do spend on them often leaves me feeling negative or isolated or frustrated or annoyed. I don’t need the ads. I don’t need the opportunity for comparison. I don’t need the divisiveness or the unhelpful and unnecessary commentary. I feel like too much of my life and my headspace are being taken up, frankly, by crap that does not matter.

Facebook has done some good for my life over the years. I’ve reconnected (even if a bit superficially) with some truly genuine people. I’ve used it to check up on and check in on friends who live at a distance. It’s been a good place to store memories of things I’ve done and places I’ve gone. If I scroll back through photos I posted, Facebook is a flip book of my life over the past 14 years. Back in those early days, Facebook was fun. Sadly, it has changed since then, but then so have I.

What at last led me to the conclusion that it may be time for me to take a vacation from the site was, oddly enough, an episode of South Park that I watched last night. Stan doesn’t want a Facebook account, but his friends create one for him. The next thing he knows, he has hundreds of thousands of followers. His girlfriend, Wendy, is mad at him for a comment another female made on a photo of him in a bunny costume. (That person turns out to be his grandmother’s friend who is 92.) His dad keeps bugging him to be his Facebook friend and to “poke” his grandmother. Remember pokes? Ugh. Sick of the whole thing, Stan decides to delete his account, but his profile has become more powerful than its user and it can’t be deleted. There’s a scene reminiscent of the movie Tron where Stan is now actually in the Facebook realm and there he runs into the profiles of family and friends. They keep saying things like “Grandma likes Teddy’s photo” and “Teddy thinks Stan’s bunny costume is fantastic.” And that is when the insanity of Facebook really hit me. This is what we’ve become.

In lieu of actual human interaction, we’ve become a nation of people who show our support and friendship with a thumbs up or a heart. Instead of getting together over coffee and sharing photos of our trips, we post them online for the world to gawk at. Rather than calling someone to catch up or writing a card or even sending an email, we hop online and try to validate each other’s existences with quick comments, funny memes, and likes. We also use Facebook to leave unnecessary, snarky opinions on each other’s posts as if this type of hit-and-run commentary is actually useful dialogue. It is not surprising to me at all that Gen Z is the most depressed and anxious generation yet. They may not use Facebook, but Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat serve the same purpose, a giant popularity contest and yardstick against which to compare themselves. Imagine the psychological damage when you discover others don’t find you interesting or likable at a time when you are still discovering who you are.

I am going to keep on using WordPress because I am still on my blog-every-day-for-100-days timeline, and I will keep Snapchat because I only use that to send silly selfies to my son at college. My other social media apps will be temporarily deleted from my phone so the temptation to open them is gone. I have no idea what this detox will do to me. I’ve been a fairly regular social media user for years. I’m hoping that by sometime mid-next week I will find my brain focusing a little better and my productivity at home increasing. If I am able to be more mindful and rediscover my inner peace, it will definitely be a win. I’ll let you know on June 5th.

Be A Goldfish — Slippery And Bold

“She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it).” ~Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

In the Apple TV series, Ted Lasso, the protagonist coach famously tells one of his players that the happiest animal on earth is the goldfish because the goldfish has a ten-second memory. He then tells the young man to “be a goldfish” so he can let go of a negative interaction that happened with a teammate on the pitch a minute ago. That line has become a favorite among fans of the show. It’s so popular you can buy mugs, stickers, and t-shirts with that saying, and it regularly makes the rounds in comments on social media. And I get it. It’s a good saying. I quite like it. I’m not very good with the advice it offers, but I’d like to be.

Today I found this meme while scrolling through my Facebook feed. It offers a goldfish with a different point of view. I like this one too. I’m a little better at being brave than I am at letting go of comments, people, and past events that are no longer important or worth perseverating over. I attribute this to two things. First, I grew up believing I was inherently unlikable, so of course if someone said an unkind thing about me or acted like I did something wrong or suddenly stopped speaking to me, I knew it was my fault. I carried those feelings around like they were a suitcase, handcuffed to me and filled with irrefutable evidence about my worth. Second, to achieve anything when you have low self-esteem, you have to be at least a little brave. It’s a fake-it-til-you-make-it proposition. So, like I said, it is easier for me to be a little brave than it is to forget about a slight.

Ideally, I think both goldfish in this scenario are right. It’s good to let go of junk you are carrying around for no reason because it often says less about you than about the person or situation you are believing rather than yourself. It’s also good to work on your bravery. Although there are some who are born brave and some who become brave situationally, most of us could put a little more deliberate effort into being brave daily. We could stand up for ourselves with our boss or ask our partner for what we need instead of stuffing our feelings or tell the chatty barista that we need a new latte because we asked for oat milk but we got whole milk and, well, that just won’t work. To be so slippery that negativity glides over me like a kid on a Slip-n-Slide and so bold that I can live my truth every moment of my life from here on out, no matter who is watching or commenting, those are my goals. Goldfish are really speaking to me these days.

When I die, if for some odd reason I can’t be cremated, I want the Lewis Carroll saying at the top of this page on my tombstone. I am good at giving myself advice. I’m good at knowing the right thing to do (be it, let it go or be brave), I’m just not great at doing it. I’m just telling you this because I spout a lot of platitudes and inspirational quotes (read: fluffy bullshit) on this blog, and you should know it doesn’t mean I am living it. I’m working on it, but I’m not there. Not by a long shot. So if you’re not there either, that makes you my people. My suspicion is I have a lot more people than I thought.

Keep on keeping on, friends. We got this.

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.

Be The Messy Golden Retriever

Photo by Olga Andreyanova on Unsplash

“I have decided I no longer want to improve myself; I am a beautiful disaster and I accept myself as such. So, bless this mess because I’m done being stressed.”

Now, ignore for a minute that I might have heard this saying today on a TikTok video showing a golden retriever in all its derpy glory and simply focus on the words. It’s basically a self-acceptance mantra. And I like it. It might be a good thing to keep in my back pocket for those days when I find myself trying too hard to twist myself into a pretzel for the sake of “improving” myself for someone else or their agenda.

Long live silly, come-as-you-are, funny golden retrievers that prove you can be happy just the way you are.

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.

Escaping The Judgment Juggernaut

“It’s amazing to me how much you can say when you don’t know what you’re talking about.” ~ Phoebe Bridgers

Don’t throw these from a glass house

True story in fifteen words: I was most confident about who I was when I didn’t know who I was.

At that time, my only operational mode was filtered through a mindset of internal superiority. It wasn’t that I felt superior to anyone. Truth was I felt superior to no one. No. One. I protected my fragile sense of self by drawing distinctions between others and who I believed myself to be. Once I learned more about myself, though, once I was at last able to see the cracks in my unconsciously crafted facade, everything changed. I knew my structure was vulnerable, so I started treading more carefully after a thought popped into my head. I recognized that I should not believe everything I think about others or about myself. I started questioning more and being certain less. I accepted that I lived in an enormous glass house, and from this precarious position stone throwing might be ill-advised.

I am still not consistently able to catch my hypocrisy or haughtiness in the moment, but it doesn’t take me more than a few minutes to get to a more open headspace, to recognize where I took a wrong turn, and to embark on a more authentic and honest path with myself and others. This often requires apologizing for a conclusion I jumped to, admitting I made an error, and then pointing out how the comment I made arose from my insecurities. This was difficult at first, but with practice it is becoming much easier. As a side benefit, it allows those in my circle the opportunity to get to know the real me. Like an unboxed refrigerator in a discount warehouse, I’m a little dinged up but in decent working order. There is nothing broken about me. I just had to accept that it’s not my flaws that define me.

I am working to embody the Ted Lasso school of thought: be curious, not judgmental. When I feel that judgment coming up, I am more equipped now to stop myself and be curious about my thoughts and why they jumped straight to negativity and derision. I know the demons that sabotage my better self and throw me into judging mode: shame, guilt, fear, and ego. When I go from zero to judgment faster than a Tesla in ludicrous mode, one of those dastardly devils is behind it. But now that I know my triggers, I’m quicker to catch myself and say, “Whoa there, Nelly. That is wholly unnecessary.” I am able to remind myself that I am safe now, the judgment that secured my ego and made me so damn confident about everything without having reason to be is no longer a necessary survival strategy. If I make a hasty choice or assumption, there is no need to project negative emotions onto someone else to cover up my error. I simply made a miscalculation due to the muscle memory of judgment that kept my fragile ego in bubble wrap for decades. It happens a lot when you’re recovering from a fear-based world view. It’s astounding how a little self-kindness and compassion dosed out accordingly can reduce the adverse effects of fear-based living.

I am able now to give myself and others more grace. We’re all human. We all have baggage that directs our behavior. The path to freeing yourself of judgment is facing that baggage, inspecting it carefully, understanding why you’re carrying it around, and then setting it down. I am grateful to those who bravely and in plain view undertook this journey away from fear-based functioning before me. Glennon Doyle, Kristin Neff, Anne Lamott, and Brené Brown saved me from living the entirety of my life in a glass house I inherited but in which I never wanted to live.

Don’t believe everything you think. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Believe In Your Potential To Pop

I’ve spent part of my morning doing something I don’t do often enough, reading other blogs. I recognize that I am part of a community of writers on WordPress, but in my daily struggle to find enough headspace to write and publish one post of my own, I usually neglect to read others’ works. It’s not a great plan, honestly, because other writers can provide food for thought, inspiration, and unexpected wisdom. I recognize I need to employ the Ted Lasso way of being. I need to be more curious with regard to other people. I am already a curious person regarding most things, but I’ve never been very curious about others because my childhood taught me human beings are unreliable and not necessarily worth my time or trust. This year, however, I decided to take more risks and that includes taking more risks in my experiences with others.

I found this quote today while reading someone else’s blog, and I thought it was brilliant.

I wish I had seen this quote when our sons were young and I was trying to figure out why they couldn’t do what other children their ages were doing. Parents read the What To Expect series of books about childhood development and, if our children don’t measure up according to the charts and graphs, we immediately assume something is “wrong” with them. There is nothing wrong with our children. They are simply on their own path. Some will be on target with the milestones in those books and some will not. They are individuals, and individuals come to this life with their unique set of gifts and challenges.

Because my sons are mostly grown now, I am looking at this quote with a different perspective. I learned that lesson about my kids, that they would eventually find their stride on their separate and beautiful path. It never occurred to me when I was giving my children the grace to get where they were headed in their own time to do the same for myself. From the beginning, I’ve imposed unnecessary, stringent guidelines on myself with regard to what was appropriate in my life and when. I cried hard on my 25th birthday. Why? Because I was upset I reached that milestone without having my master’s degree. Shit. I’m still aiming for unnecessary and contrived goal posts. I wrote the other day about what a person my age “should” be wearing. I am an adult. It doesn’t matter what others think is age appropriate and acceptable for me to wear. It only matters what I feel comfortable in and what I feel makes sense for my life. I don’t even have a job with a dress code. I could wear a Disney Tigger costume every day if I felt like it and not get fired. (What would I fire myself for? Being too cute?)

We are all popcorn. Some of us don’t pop as children, however, so it’s unfair to put that expectation in place. We will pop in our own time or we won’t. There are those among us who will remain the same coming out of the pot as going into it. Maybe our goal should be not to worry about when the pop will happen but to believe instead we will reach that potential when we are ready. Some of us might just need a little extra time in the pot to get there. Patience is key here. Don’t count us out.