My mother died 4 weeks ago in a car accident. My grandma, eyes crowded by her swelling brain, died from her injuries one day later. There isn't much to write about this. An accident. One blink, and they're gone. I often write to make sense of patterns that emerge in an examined life, but there is no sense to be made here. Bad things happen. The dead leave us.
Not only did I eagerly avoid any confrontation, but I made myself so insignificant in relationships that I was essentially invisible - an extension of whoever I was sleeping with at the time. My boundaries are a living document in my phone, constantly growing, shrinking, and evolving as I become more defined as a person and lover.
Sometimes my fasts were thinly veiled diets, leaving my far more concerned with how my body would look after forty days of no dessert than the condition of my heart. Other times I would choose something far too ambitious and cave within the first week, leaving me with the uncomfortable conclusion that I must like Netflix more than Jesus. Occasionally I would see it through and experience a half-hearted sense of accomplishment. I did the thing; I got the gold star. But sitting there in the pew on Easter morning, belly full of donuts and TV privileges restored, I didn’t feel any “closer to God”--another pervasive church phrase. I drifted from the practice along the same timeline as I drifted from the Church. Who needed one more way to feel like a failure?
This deferment of happiness, the idea that everything will be fine when X, Y, Z happens is a particularly insidious one because it’s a half-truth. When our external circumstances improve, we do feel better. But if that were the end of it, then post-traumatic stress disorder wouldn’t exist. Temporary things can permanently alter our brains. We don’t just moonwalk out of survival mode the moment danger has passed, even if at first it feels that way. The work--the dumb, vital, boring, beautiful, infuriating, transformative work--is waiting for us as soon as the honeymoon is over.
Last year I wrote a blog post I never published about how I'd stopped setting resolutions to transform my body, mind and soul into the equivalent of Gwyneth Paltrow's glowing steamed yoni. Not true. But this year, seriously, I am not transforming. No drastic weight loss, no finished book in 30 days. None of that shit. This year, it's all about the slow, methodical, incremental change that is a gentle life.
Perfectionism is a trendy concept. Most women I know think of themselves perfectionists. We're high achievers, the girls with our hands raised first in grade school. I've never taken this idea too seriously. In the grand scheme of personality defects, perfectionism is like saying you were born with a rapacious intellect. Oh, you want to be good at everything? That sounds debilitating. [*insert judgmental eye roll here.*]
Sometimes, it feels like all this work to be okay is just too much. Getting to stasis requires Herculean effort. Yoga classes, meal prep, mantras, affirmations taped to my bathroom mirror, walks in nature, organic everything, rock-sized supplements. A cacophony of wellness bombarding my every moment. I can't keep up.
For an entire week I stopped doing any housework whatsoever, letting dishes overflow and clutter pile like a landfill on top of our dining room table. I stopped eating because my stomach was continually in knots. I stopped talking to my friends. I cried multiple times a day for no particular reason I was able to identify. After getting the kids to bed, I would sit silently on the sofa for hours, paralyzed. I felt like my anxiety had been cranked to eleven and blown the circuit on my brain. I just...didn't work anymore.
For me, anxiety meant shoving strangers out of my personal space on crowded train cars, snapping at slow-walking tourists, nagging at my husband like a harpy over dog hair and dirty dishes, my jaw eternally clenched and ready for confrontation.
In my family, in Honduran culture, you don’t reveal your business to strangers, which means anyone outside the immediate circle of close friends and family. Therapy is for crazy people, locos. Discussion of mental health is taboo
Too often, when I say I'm enacting self-care, what I really mean is that I'm ramming my anxiety down my own throat in the form of whole pints of ice cream only to existentially puke it back up the moment the sugar high leaves me. Or I'm using Netflix to put off difficult conversations and tough choices which are the hard, necessary work of building character. When self-care gets distilled down to gratifying your short-term desires at the expense of your long-term health and growth, it ceases to actually be care. It becomes something delusional. And, if you've been swimming in the self-care rhetoric like me, pretty damn hard to pin down and face.
I took it all in stride, my arms swinging wide for all to see: Look at me - I got my shit together. But then Life, that cruel goth mistress who likes to stick hooks in her back and hang from the ceiling, let me know who was boss in this joint. Just to be clear, it's her. Not me.
Marriage is all about compromise. It’s important to see your partner’s preferences as having equal value to your own—they’re differences, not deficits. Differences are the spice of life! A really great time to practice compromise is with driving styles. On a seven-hour trip. With two cranky children in the backseat. It helps to have a counseling appointment set for the day after you return.
The first time I got sober, I held tightly to a just-in-case Xanax prescription, waiting for the panic every addict in early recovery knows well. We feel all of our emotions when we're new, pain and worry and sadness and grief and fear. We are like the exposed nerve in a rotten tooth, except walking around in the world.
There really is a Murphy's Law principle to this stuff--on the day when you were most hoping to autopilot parent until bedtime so you can binge watch Black Mirror while eating the gummies you bought for your kid's school lunches, that's the day they're going to break out the existentialism.
There's a time and a place for setting a goal and charging headfirst towards it. I will always love a challenge, and that can be a great thing. But when you find yourself lost and adrift in the absence of said challenge--when your two polarized modes of fitness are training with Olympic dedication and binge watching Netflix wondering what's the point of it all--then you know something is out of whack.
My grandparents told me a whole history passed through photo albums and anecdotes. Mixed in these were the stories of alcoholism. Over and over, the mean drunks beat their wives or spent the family grocery money or died early, everyone a little relieved.
Recently, a friend who had a baby last week reached out to me with some concerns that I recognized all too well from my own postpartum experiences. It got me thinking about how key facts of the first week postpartum hadn’t made it onto my radar before I had Eleanor, and how much of a relief it was to read articles like this and this and realize that I was totally normal and not alone.
I am telling the story of Nikki, and in Nikki's story she sews gorgeous hand-dyed clothes for her children and listens to NPR and does yoga at 6:00 AM every morning and relishes every second of it. That's a nice story, isn't it?
In story, we can cast ourselves as victims, nihilists, cynics, always on the sidelines with a critique. Or, we can choose the lead role, the heroic, or maybe even the quiet kindness that slowly progresses us forward to a better place. Introvert me, this quiet kindness is my favorite.
My niece, bless her, said to me recently that when she thinks of the perfect couple, she thinks of me and my husband. Morg's 12 and her parents are going through a divorce, so she should be forgiven for this erroneous perception of relationships. She has a long time ahead watching me and her Uncle Fester and thinking, "Holy shitballs, please don't let me turn out like them."
The exact moment that I became aware that my actions had a direct effect on the environment occurred on or around Earth Day 1996, when my fourth-grade teacher had us this PSA video about water conservation, which shows a little boy letting the faucet run while he brushes his teeth on the right side of the screen and a pond rapidly draining on the left, threatening to beach the fish that lives there until he calls the boy on the phone and tells him to maybe stop being such a thoughtless asshat and turn the water off.
Hi, I'm Jamie, and I'm a fixer. No, like a fixer. I will insert myself into every aspect of your decision-making process to tell you how you should do something even if you're not even thinking about how what you're doing might need to be done a different way. For years, I called this "helping." Because who doesn't feel super motivated when her mother nags her in that condescending, know-it-all voice?
To all of this work, both personal and professional, I brought a Puritanical belief that I was creating spiritual value for myself through labor. It became my primary love language--I showed God love by being the first to volunteer at the homeless shelter on Thanksgiving. I showed my roommate love by doing her half of the dishes without being asked. I showed my boyfriend love through elaborate handmade gifts. And when people complimented my work or told me I did a good job, I felt love in return.
[My] guilt was compounded by the fact that, not only was I a woman, but I was a cavernously hungry one. Voraciously, consumingly hungry. For food, for sex, for attention, for everything. My needs felt overwhelming, and my body was suddenly terrifying to me in both its existence and its want. My body had become a problem to be solved.
I am a grass is greener kind of woman. My husband, who will generally sing my praises as long as it's not about money, will tell you that this is my fatal character flaw. You and I can both order dinner a restaurant known for its delicious tacos, and I will look at your tacos and wish that they were my tacos.
I never in a million years thought that I would get to a place where I felt fine about ditching sugar and grains, and doing so has been my most significant takeaway from Whole30. I've been addicted--emotionally and chemically--to sugar for as long as I can remember, and daily cycles of cravings and crashes ruled my life until a month ago.