A Break From Authenticity

Last night I picked up my copy of Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. This book has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for almost three years.  My mandate to begin “Living Authentically” started shortly after I read Brené’s earlier published book, The Gifts of Imperfection. Since moving, starting residency, and having another baby, my goal to read Daring Greatly kept getting pushed to the bottom of my list.  Within the midst of my current existential life crisis, I decided it was time to pick up the book and stare Wholeheartedness right in the face.

I didn’t even get through the prologue before realizing that I no longer live, or even embody, the qualities of wholeheartedness and authenticity.  Maybe I used to, but in the struggle to keep up and keep going, I’ve let these important aspects of my life fall to the side.

Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection

~Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

The one thing I know for sure is that right now, I have no clarity of my purpose.  I am filled with fear and disconnection from my life and my purpose.  I feel confused and I lack direction because my viewpoint on life is clouded by outside expectations, judgement, and comparison.  My internal dialogue is lost and disguised by everything that defines fear and vulnerability.  These definitions were very well delineated by Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection and I know that reading that book changed my life.  I blogged about that change on the old blog and I will find that post to re-post here in the coming days.

Ironically, The introduction to Daring Greatly literally reminded me of these imperfections and what needs to be shed from my life:
1. Letting go of what people think
2. Letting go of perfectionism
3. Letting go of numbing and powerlessness
4. Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark
5. Letting go of the need for certainty
6. Letting go of comparison
7. Letting go of exhaustion of a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
8. Letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle
9. Letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”
10. Letting go of being cool and “always in control”

Each of these ten imperfections, every single one of them, comprise the mental roadblocks that I am struggling with right now.  These imperfections are preventing me from committing to the decisions I am faced with in my life today.  I need to lean-in to my fears and rediscover my vulnerabilities.  I need to embrace them and re-discover my own authenticity

 

Vulnerability Struggle

Today I am leaving for a conference and I have a 4 hour plane ride.  I am bringing Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly with me, as it is the one book of her’s that I have yet to finish reading.

I have found this path of living authentically and with vulnerability has become increasingly challenging.  Lately, I feel like it has been getting me more into “trouble” than benefitting me in any way.  As I’ve opened myself up to vulnerability and allowed myself to appear more “human” and “real” in my everyday life, I have really just opened myself up to more criticism.  I really feel like the world (at least my world) is not ready for this style of living.

I know that the biggest challenge I have with this way of living is that I am currently in limbo between a “real life job” as a physician and the “dependence and judgment” of being a student.  I have chosen this lifestyle for myself for the next 4ish years (I am already 1.5 years into it).  I have allowed myself to be open and honest in certain forums and settings about the struggles I have as a parent, as a hard working mom, and as a physician.  Unfortunately, that has mostly led me to receive comments or criticism about “not appearing happy,” or “being to open.”  I find this makes me feel bad about myself and the decisions I have made.

I feel like instead of standing out as an authentic person, I am struggling to defend myself against criticism. I am hoping that revisiting the origin of my authenticity movement will give me renewed strength and perserverence. Or perhaps it might even guide me back in the gout direction, if it turns out that maybe I have strayed from the right course. 

I Almost Forgot

“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”
~Johnathan Safran Foer

I almost forgot that this day, November 27, used to be meaningful to me.  On this day, I guess 6 years ago now, I met the person who became one of my closest friends for a short time.  Last year I was sort of “celebrating” this milestone.  But up until I re-read the post from this day last year, I ha forgotten the importance of this date.

I admired her so much.  She embodied everything I thought I wanted to have in a role model and a friend.  She embodied everything I thought I wanted to be.  We became good friends for a short while, but then she pulled away.  I was hurt so badly.  Sometimes I still miss her, but most times I wish I could just stop thinking about her.  I catch myself wondering if there is still a “what if?” But then I bring myself back to reality.

I let myself be happy for a brief time by taking risks, living authentically, and being vulnerable.  Unfortunately, this happiness didn’t last and the loss of that friendship caused me a great amount of sadness.  The question then becomes, what that brief moment of happiness worth the sadness?  It is really hard to know for sure.

Taking One Day At A Time

“The only Courage that matters is the kind that gets you from one moment to the next.”
~Mignon McLaughlin

From The Old Blog, November 24, 2014:

I can only take my life one day at a time.  Getting through today is enough work and enough of a struggle. I lose confidence in my ability to survive when I imagine doing it all over again tomorrow.  Regardless, every time tomorrow comes, I get out of bed and survive once more.

It is a relief to know that having only enough courage for one day is all that matters.  I’ll worry about tomorrow’s courage tomorrow because likely in that next moment, I will find the courage I need to keep going.

That’s all I need, and that makes it a little easier to survive.

I really felt a string sense of peace with what I wrote last year on this day.  It was not *completely* about struggle, it was not about making good or bad decisions, it wasn’t about a friend I seemed to be over fixated on.  Rather, it was about me – the raw me – the true me.  While some days are better than others, I still days that feel like this post:  can’t imagine making it past this one day that I am living.  What is of ultimate importance, however, is that I just make it through the day I am living.  Tomorrow is another day.

It’s Always Okay

“‘It’s Okay’ is a cosmic truth.”
~Richard Bach

If there is one thing that I have learned from this November project that has taken me back over the last few years of difficulty, it is that this quote is truer than ever.

Perhaps it’s easy to say that when nothing absolutely “tragic” has happened.  However, despite the difficulty of this previous year, I am doing okay.  And, last year at this time, after a rather difficult year before that, I still said I was doing okay.

It’s all relative, I believe (and, isn’t that another somewhat famous quotation?).  So far in my life it seems like, even though nothing is ever perfect or what I would like it to be, everything is always “okay.”

And, that’s the truth.

Together in Pieces

“It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”
~Suzanne Collins

Image Source: ldsperfectday.blogspot.com

Over the past year, I have slowly been working on putting myself back together.  In last year’s post on this day, I spoke about making an attempt to be more positive and figure out a way to start moving forward.  Here is an excerpt from The Old Blog’s post from last year:

As I child, I remember my mom always getting so angry when something fragile would break because she could never glue it back together without it looking perfect.  This gave me the idea, from a young age, that you are never as good as you were before you were broken.  Anytime I got in trouble or got hurt in some way, I just imagined that it made me less “valuable.”  When I came across this Japanese idea of accentuating flaws – because it makes something more beautiful – I suddenly felt so much less “broken.”

I took the small pieces of myself that I had left and assembled them into a new life.  This really started to materialize in the new year, when I made multiple goals that I wanted to meet – most of which I did accomplish by the mid point of this year.  I am proud of my accomplishments – I ran a half marathon, I made great progress on my goal to read 12 books this year (I read 9 whole books, and I have 3 books on the go… the year still isn’t  over yet…).  I made some new friends, joined a taekwondo club, where I have attained a green belt (that is on hold now while I grow a tiny human), and I’ve got another year of residency completed and under my belt.

The most important part of all of this, though, is that I haven’t been pretending that everything is always okay.  I’ve admitted to difficulties and mistakes – and those are the gold seals that show up in this new and re-formulated life of mine.

Mindfulness In The Rain

“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining, is to let it rain.”

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I love the story I told in this post from last year.  For that reason, I decided to again share the entire, unedited post.  This past year I have spent a significant amount of time “letting it rain.”  Perhaps not with the same thrill and intensity that I describe below, but I have allowed myself to be there in the rain.  I have felt the wetness soak into my hair and my clothes.  I have wrapped my arms around myself and tried to calm the shivers.  I let the beauty, often lost in the storm, come through: the sweet smell of the shattered and broken atmosphere, the sun attempting to shine through the clouds where they are thin, the edges of the rainbow as it starts to form and take shape…  I am learning to be present with the moment, especially when it is stressful and anxiety provoking, and this has made me realize that my experience of those storms will pass faster that they otherwise would if I tried to prevent them from soaking me.  My exercises in mindfulness, I know, have made a difference and re-reading this post made me realize that I need to get back into practicing my mindfulness on a more regular basis.

I may not be at that final endpoint of “finding what I had lost” as I describe in the post below.  However, I’ve come to realize that the endpoint may just be different.  I will never be able to experience I storm like I did when I was 13 years old, but I can experience them in a different way than I used to and that makes them so much more tolerable.

From The Old Blog, November 7, 2014:

When I was a kid, I loved the rain.  I remember a particularly gloomy day when I was in grade 7 or 8.  You could tell from the look of the clouds in the sky that it was going to rain at some point that day.  During class (maybe it was Language Arts, or Social Studies) we could hear the thunder off in the distance.  An electricity was starting to build, both in the air and in the classroom.  I was always drawn in by the energy of a storm – and it seems that my classmates were as well.  We gathered around the windows as the thunder became louder.  Bursts of lightening began to fill the sky and we started counting the mississippis between the light and the sound.

The quality of the air changed as the storm moved closer: It was chillier, but not cold, and it had that smell that only ever comes with a thunder storm (is it true that the smell is actually a result of lightening splitting atoms of ozone?).  The excitement intensified, and even the teacher didn’t seem to mind that we weren’t working anymore.

And then the rain came.

It pelted hard against the window panes and flooded the uneven tarmac of the school yard next to where our portable classroom sat.  I was high on the frenzy that was mounting within me and I had an insatiable urge to run outside and feel the rain against my skin.  We asked the teacher, who didn’t seem to care anymore, if some of us could go out in the rain.  He dared us.  And we did.

I ran outside into the storm with nothing to protect me.  The rain was thick and heavy, cool and unforgiving.  It hit hard on my skin, but I liked it.  It didn’t take a minute before my clothing was soaked and my hair was pasted down on my face.  Still, I looked up into the sky and spread out my arms.  There were no more mississippis left and the lightening and thunder came together.  For a moment it felt like the earth was shaking below me.  In that moment I loved the rain more than I loved anything else: I was wild, I was refreshed, I was cleansed, and I was at peace.  All of this, amidst the chaos of the storm.

Now when it rains, I still feel that little electrical surge of excitement, but I would never run out into the street to take it all in.  I don’t want to get soaking wet – I don’t want my hair to get frizzy. There is usually so much going on that it would seem odd – if not, inappropriate – to just stop everything and frivolously frolic in a rain storm.  And, what if I have no choice but to go out in the rain? Where is my umbrella, or my rain coat, or my rain boots?  Why, as adults, do we try so hard to avoid the rain?

The storms are going to come; there is no way to avoid them.  We expend so much energy and effort on staying in control. We are satisfied if we can prevent the rain from ruining our plans.  But what if we just stop for a moment and feel that electricity again – experience it like we did when we were children?  It seems as though we lost something along the way into adulthood and instead of finding the beauty in the storm, all we feel is the mess.

The rain will stop eventually.  The clouds will clear, the sun will shine, and our wet hair and clothing will dry.  So why not enjoy the rain? Rather than fight it, we should experience it’s fullness and feel it’s power.  We should emerge from the storm refreshed and transformed, not exhausted and defeated.

There was a reason I used to love the rain: it is something that I must re-discover.  When I can freely let the rain come down on me again, I will know that I have found what I have lost.

I’m Not Always Okay, And I’m Okay With That

“I’m not okay, you’re not okay, and that’s okay.”

~Elizabeth Kübler-Ross

Reflecting on last year’s post thta accompanied this quotation, I realized that it still completely stands true: In our world, we have to get better with being “okay to not be okay.”  I struggled with the a lot recently, especially as I went through many internal difficulties but had no choice but to push through on the outside and act like everything was just fine.  In the past 12 months, I’ve lost an important friendship, come to terms with the idea that people aren’t always who or what we think they are, I had to say goodbye to my longtime and cherished blog, I decided to have a baby, and then I’ve made it through a horrible ill first-trimester.  Not all of that was okay… and that’s okay.  It really is.
(I’ve also realized that in the last little while I have drifted away from Brenè Brown and I need to get back into her books and philosophy)

From The Old Blog, November 3, 2014:

Do you ever notice how everyone is always “okay?”  I find it a little sickening, and irritating, and unhealthy that no one ever admits to being not okay.  Sometimes you can tell that people are struggling or having difficulty with something; yet when you ask them about it, they insist that they are okay.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why do we do this to other people?  I feel that by pretending that we are always coping well with our lives and not facing any challenges, we are perpetuating the idea that it is abnormal to struggle with life’s challenges.  We all struggle with life sometimes.  Some people have more struggles and some people have less.  Regardless, when we constantly feel that the people around us are coping well all the time, it only makes us feel bad about ourselves for not coping well.  And you know what’s worse?  When we feel like we are the only people struggling, we become isolated and we don’t reach out for help.  Similarly, when we know people are struggling and they don’t reach out to us for help (even when we offer), we feel isolated from them in just the same way.

I tried working on this for a while – while I was reading Brené Brown’s books on Shame and Vulnerability.  As Dr. Brown alludes to in her books, we don’t admit to being “not okay” because it feels shameful and we are afraid of being vulnerable.  I tried overcoming my own shame and allowing myself to be vulnerable.  However, there is an overwhelming majority of people who are not ready for this.  We have all been hiding our shame and vulnerability for such a long time that when someone reveals it, we are unsure of how to deal with it – so we push it away like we do with everything else that makes us uncomfortable.  Brené Brown is ahead of her time – and trying out her advice can sometimes make life a little more isolating.

You have to pick the right people  with which to be vulnerable.  There aren’t many people I will open up to and admit that I’m not okay.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any of them here with me now.  I need to go back and revisit the world of Shame and Vulnerability, I think.  In the meantime, I just hope that more people will read Brené Brown’s books and realize that there is a whole world of human connection that is waiting for us if we would all just admit that sometimes we are “not okay.”

Welcome to NaBloPoMoMo 2015

So, This is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that can be.
~Stephen Chbosky

Excerpt from The Old Blog, November 1, 2014:

I have good days and bad days – I’m not yet sure if any type predominates over the other and there is a really good chance that most days are good and bad.  On the good days I often ask myself how things can seem so good when I know there is so much missing from my life – so much that I left behind and that I know is happening concurrently… I could be a part of that.  On the bad days, I wonder why I can’t just get over it and move on and accept all the wonderful experiences and opportunities  that lie before me.  When it comes down to it, I am healthy, I have healthy children, I have a loving and supportive husband, and I am successful in my career aspirations.  What is there to be unhappy about?

A year has passed since I wrote this, and it’s interesting to realize that while circumstances have changed a fair bit, the underlying emotion is the same.  The landscape of my life is significantly different than it was at this time last year: I am pregnant with a third child – something I never thought would actually happen.  I am no longer friends with the one person who was probably one of the most influential people in my life over the course of the preceding five years.  It has been and interesting year as I’ve learned more about myself and the decisions that I’ve made in the past few years and how they’ve gotten me to where I am today.

Last year for NaBloPoMo I chose a to elaborate on a series of quotations to include in a daily gift to this important friend in my life.  over the course of the month, rather than staying in touch with this friend and exploring the gift with her, she pulled away from me.  Shortly after the end of the month, she ended our friendship and we haven’t spoken since.  A year has passed and I still think of her oten – more often than I would like or care to admit.  I decided, therefore, that this month I will force myself back through the series of quotations that I chose for her and re-evaluate them as they pertain to my life now, one year later.  All of the quotations I chose had a theme of “Everything Being Okay.”  They were uplifting, reassuring, supportive, and funny.  I’m hoping that by going through these and re-experiencing them in the context of my life today, perhaps I can achieve another step closer to full closure on the chapter of my life that involved this friend.  We shall see.

So for today I will look back on this quotation and say that I am overall very happy with where my life decisions have led me.  Despite this truth, I struggle with the day-to-day challenges of a busy lifestyle, two young boys, pregnancy, and wondering how I will manage to fit a whole new tiny human into my life in the next six months.

November… here I come!

“This is Happy” – Book Review

It has been a long time since I’ve started and completed a book in less than 4 days.  This is Happy by Camilla Gibb is one book that had me captivated from the first few pages right until the acknowledgements at the end of the book.

I don’t know where to start with my review of this book, except to say that it is simple yet profound all at the same time.  In 270 odd pages she manages to tell the story of her entire life, from her early childhood to her current life. It seems like a short amount of space to dedicate to almost 40 years of a person’s life.  However, she manages to capture everything that is meaningful, powerful, emotional, and human while succinctly conveying the struggles and triumphs of her life.

I feel like the biggest reason I was so captivated by the simple and straightforward writing in this book was because sometimes I felt like she was describing the exact same emotional and mental struggles that I, myself have had throughout my life.  Camilla Gibb shamelessly recounts her multiple struggles with depression, including her hospitalizations.  She discusses the mental health struggles of her family members, the rise and fall of her relationship and marriage to her wife, her sudden and unpredictable desire to have a child, her failed pregnancy, and then her successful pregnancy… all that and more.

What I found most profound was her struggles with pregnancy and parenthood; specifically, how she felt so drawn towards having a child and then spent her entire pregnancy wondering how she was going to love and care for her child.  After the birth of her daughter, she continues this emotional journey and expresses her fear of having to “be alone” with her daughter – like she doesn’t know if her version of parenthood and the emotions she feels towards to role are proper and acceptable.  Yet, she feels compelled to try again for another child.

For the first time I feel I have finally read an expression of parenthood that is similar to how I can feel at various moments in my life.  Instead of the overwhelming “Mommy Wars” that I see happening everywhere around me, I have found someone who expresses their fears, uncertainties, and truths associated with parenting: Am I doing this right?  Am I doing it for the right reasons? And, is it okay to feel like I’m not doing it right?

Camilla Gibb’s recollection of her struggles with parenthood is only one of the moments that seemed to parallel my life.  It seems most pronounced now, given my recently new pregnancy and all the uncertainty I feel around a decision that I thought I was happy to make.  Some other important parallels I found including the sudden and somewhat unexplained loss of an important relationship in her life.  While she desribes the rise and fall of her relationship with her wife, I can claim a similar emotional experience in the rise and fall of my relationship with my old friend and mentor, Kay.  Another area that is overwhelmingly familiar: the constant struggle from an early age with the dark and unpredictable tendrils of depression.  Camilla’s rendition of her multiple struggles with depression throughout her life seemed to echo strongly inside of me.

And yet, with all of this difficult times written out on paper and shared with the harsh and unforgiving world, she made the decision to title her book, “This is Happy.”  This is Happy: struggles with depression, anxieties and uncertainties around parenthood, loss of relationships, mental illness… But there is also the beauty of her life that shines though: Her Daughter.  Those unexpected relationships that she formed in her life and became the most meaningful and influential.  Her success in life, academically and as a writer.  She is someone who made her life what she wanted it to be, despite everything that she struggled to overcome.

This book resonated with me in ways that I am still discovering, even as I write this review.  Life is messy, unforgiving, full of struggle and heartache.  Despite all of that, however, life is beautiful, meaningful, rewarding… and Happy.