Walking Into Life

I think I’ve lived a good deal of my life with my senses on high alert.  When the boys were babies and I was a single mom, I remember sleeping with one ear measuring the rhythm of their breaths, the other attuned to the sounds of the house – I had to be ready, just in case.  I have always been neurotic at work – my silly view that as technology allowed 24/7 availability, I was supposed to be available in every time zone (for we had 33 office around the world).  This made me a very valuable employee in the environment known as ‘Big Law’ – where the bizarre ‘play hurt’ philosophy still drives the billable hour and the head-shaking awe and respect of others.  I’m the person you want in a crisis – no tears, very collected, logical – I’m ready.  Divorce?  Death?  Employment issue?  Performance problem?  Marital angst?  Sick child?  I’m your woman.  I can make it through Whole Foods in fifteen minutes and fill the cart with the proper items.  I don’t love anyone or anything in a half-assed way, and as such I will give it  everything I’ve got – no questions asked.  I have run head long into life – but for the times when I’ve crashed into a wall.

I crashed into a wall when I was diagnosed with this stupid autoimmune disease that makes my joints swell inexplicably, the tendons twisting and rioting without provocation.  When I realized that after too many surgeries I was  going to have to figure out the music that accompanies chronic pain so I could understand the rhythm I’d be dancing too (I hate being off the beat, though I am clearly off-beat).   I didn’t see the wall on Sunday. We were having brunch with our friends who asked about the Jewish ritual of sitting shiva – a seven-day mourning period after the death of an immediate family member.  After seven days in the house, one is supposed to go outside and walk back into life.  I remembered my sister and I doing this after the shiva period for both of our parents.  I couldn’t speak, for the pain of missing my parents was so visceral in that moment.  And I swear to you, for a moment I thought my heart stopped.  Walking back into life.  Walking back into life a person changed forever.

So it was when I retired last year.  No need to re-visit the early days of dissonance, when no notes came together to form a lovely sound.  Suffice it to say, I was opening the door and walking outside, completely unfamiliar with my space in the world.  At first, I walked with purpose – almost defiantly.  At some point I slowed, realizing that I had the chance just to breathe.  I wasn’t driven by urgent need – or my perception of urgent need.  I didn’t need to walk back into life for any reason other than it was my due.  It has taken me months to figure out this new rhythm, embrace the richness of this music and accept that just being me is reason enough to walk into life.  I need not be raising and protecting my delicious boys,  I don’t have to be grieving, I don’t have to be on call for anyone who may need me for reasons which they consider critical (but in retrospect were often pretty self-serving).

The beauty of stopping before you open the door lies in the anticipation of what you will find.  Each day, I now pause.  I close my eyes and open them just to be surprised at what may appear before me.  Goofy?  Perhaps.  A reminder that this is the only moment?  Definitely.

Stress Much?

Whenever I used to frown, my mom would say “Don’t do that, your face will stay that way.”  She was right – the picture above is a self-portrait.  That’s not true – I only mildly resemble a sharpei.  But you do get my point.  Depending upon the success of my nights in the arms of Morpheus (I love that line), I can wake up with a start, my brain flitting through the worries du jour, the have-tos that I neglected to do the day before (which I realize diminished their importance as obligations) and the ‘should have dones’ that didn’t even register.  Once I have coffee, all bets are off and I wave the white flag because my mind begins to travel at a speed that has yet to be measured scientifically.  Perhaps I have a bionic brain – the thoughts fly with the speed of sound, I just don’t necessarily get anywhere.

I’ve reached the point though where I can laugh at this (btw, in the picture above I am laughing – can you tell?).  These exercises in self-flagellation are futile, and bear nothing like those scenes in “Fifty Shades Of Grey” where ostensibly everyone is enjoying the experience far more than me, and their vocalizations don’t resemble my “Oh damn” or “I can’t believe I forgot to do that – you dummy”.  Sometimes I say things even worse, but no need to repeat them here.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  We know better.  We know it is better to step back, breathe, prioritize and discard the non-essential.  I’ll go a step farther – we also know this is learned behavior, and as such can be ‘unlearned’.  I think there is something self-reinforcing in experiencing this kind of stress.  In a convoluted way it reminds us that we’re important, our contributions matter – within the circle of our life, our actions are critical to keeping the cosmic wheel turning.  Is that enough of a motivator to keep stressing ourselves out?  Um…no.  Because in the final analysis, our ‘musts’ are not about fundamental survival, coordinating organ transplants (unless you’re an organ transplant doctor, in which case I apologize) or responding to life or death situations.  We are creating this level of pressure in our own minds.  It isn’t until the you-know-what hits the fan that we realize that we’ve been stressing over things that are overblown in our own minds.

We are making ourselves slightly crazy.  And our sanity rests to a large degree in our perception of how big our requirements loom.  If we accept that every routine day is  inevitably disrupted multiple times, some things don’t go as planned and other events are out of our control.  So be it.  Perhaps we can gain some control over what we choose to get exorcised about.  Maybe today we can start our day differently – committing to ourselves that as involved as we are going to get in our day, we are not going to let it gain zombie-control over our life (my understanding is that once you give a zombie control of anything, they pretty much grab the whole enchilada).  When our tendency is to over-react to the problems in front of us, instead we will create some distance so that we can look at them for what they really are.  One challenge at a time, fix it and move on.  Maybe we can honestly acknowledge the days that seem to pass without asap incidents or increases in blood pressure, for there are those too – and it doesn’t mean you’re not a diligent, capable and important.

Just try it and let me know how it goes.  Let me know what happens when you take a step back instead of running directly into the fray.  If I have any success with this, I’ll let you know too.  Unless I am attacked by a zombie, in which case all bets are off.