A Good Tree Cannot Bear Bad Fruit

A few weeks ago, I was in the midst of “the perfect storm.”

I was still pregnant and close to giving birth to my (first) daughter.  I had just received yet another insulting form of rejection from a person whom I have kept in my life for far too long.  I spent that week’s therapy session discussing the role of this person in my life, the emotional importance her relationship served, and how welcoming my daughter into the world would likely change how I felt about that relationship.  Then, at the end of that week I attended our new church where the message of the sermon was about Matthew 7:18 – “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.”

I listened closely to the pastor that Sunday.  He said, “When things aren’t what they used to be, you have to change what you’re used to doing.” 

People love truth, and people love authenticity.  There is a low tolerance for the inauthentic in our society.  The tree that bears fruit is the perfect example of the difference between the authentic and the inauthentic.  Just as a tree grows and develops fruit over time, we as people grow and develop our habits and behaviours.  Just as a person would stop picking and eating rotten fruit from a bad tree, they would also stop dealing with or interacting with a person who routinely showed poor or inauthentic behaviours.

I used to think that I was the person with the poor our inauthentic behaviours: Why would someone be so hurtful towards me and make such an effort to exclude me from their life?  I have worked hard over the years to overcome this thought, attributing it to my low self-esteem that developed from my difficult childhood and poor relationships with my parents.  It may have taken years to believe this truth, but I am not a bad tree – I am a good tree that bears good fruit.  I really am.

However, even good trees have branches that are heavy and burdensome – branches that are overgrown and don’t produce any fruit.  These branches take up the resources and energy of the tree and prevent it from producing abundant fruit.  This idea reminded me of the advice I received from a fellow gardener last summer when I asked her about her fruitful tomato plants.  She told me to trim off all of the branches on my tomato plants that were not growing tomatoes.  This way the plant would stop wasting energy on the branches that weren’t growing fruit and instead would use that energy to grow bigger, more healthy tomatoes.  I used her advice and sure enough, my tomatoes grew bigger and faster.

If a tree is a metaphor for my life, it is only natural that I would have these heavy, burdensome branches that are weighing me down.  It is only natural, then, that I should need to prune my own boughs with the hopes of removing those parts of my life that are only causing me grief, so that I can concentrate more on the best parts of my life.  The pastor continues on in his sermon, addressing the need for pruning in our lives.  Like the gardener’s advice for my tomato plants, he quoted another part of the scripture: “The farmer cuts off branches that bear no fruit and prunes the ones that do bear fruit so that they will be more fruitful.”  He continued on, addressing all of us and saying rather matter-of-factly: “Most of us know exactly what areas of our lives need to be pruned.”

Despite all this advice, pruning is not easy; It is the targeted removal of something from our lives.  It isn’t fun – it cuts to the core, it is invasive, painful, and it is cutting something out of your life that needs to be removed.

For 18 months I have let myself hold onto the idea or illusion that Kay would come back into my life and that we would, gain, have some kind of friendship.  The timing of this sermon immediately after the mix-up/rejection from Kay was nothing more than perfect.  And, what better time to prune something so heavy and fruitless from my life than right before I prepare to welcome my daughter into my life.

My relationship with Kay initially sprouted from a need to fill in the missing mother-daughter relationship in my life.  It may have worked for a small while.  But there is never a replacement for the real thing – and now I am at the beginning of the best most real opportunity to develop this type of relationship… With my very own daughter.

 

 

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The Oxytocin Effect

If you google “Oxytocin,” you will learn that it is a hormone that has many functions.  Primarily, it is the hormone responsible for contractions during labour, as well as for milk let-down while nursing.  It also plays a major role in human bonding – between newborns and mothers, between men and women, and even between friends.  It is quite an amazing and versatile hormone, and all of these hormonal effects has me thinking about what can happen when the different hormone effects cross paths and boundaries.

After giving birth 9 days ago, I immediately felt strong feelings of kinship and admiration towards the doctor who delivered El.  I found that in the days immediately post-partum, I was sad to think that I wouldn’t be going to see her anymore for my weekly appointments.  This seemed like a strange response for me to have, given that most of our appointments were a quick 5-10 min and were really just about the “business” of my pregnancy.  I did choose this doctor out of all the obstetricians in the city because she has a good reputation of being liked by her patients, she is one of the few people who does all her own deliveries 24 hours a day, and I also really enjoy learning from her and working with her as a resident.  Despite these reasons, my feelings towards her after my delivery felt out of proportion to what they should have been.  You could almost say that the feelings I had were bordering on those of maternal admiration, and I was mourning the loss of this type of care and concern in my life.

Interestingly, I don’t remember having such strong feelings of maternal admiration towards her before going into labour.  They only started after my delivery.  The timing of these feelings got me thinking about how the hormonal changes in my body may have affected my emotional attachment towards my doctor while she delivered El.  I also thought about how my feelings and admiration towards my old friend Kay developed after she delivered A all those years ago.  Finally, there is the most important consideration in all of this: the lack of close maternal bond and relationship with my own mother throughout my life.  All of these factors got me thinking about how the high levels of oxytocin in my body while I was in labour may have affected the “relationship building” pathways in my mind; perhaps my subconscious mind was trying to lay down or replace the maternal bonding-like relationship that I never really had growing up.  It makes me wonder if I would have had this response if I developed a normal mother-daughter relationship with my own mother as a child.

I have been trying hard to reflect on how I’ve been feeling in the last week and a half.  Specifically, I have tried to separate out logical from illogical feelings and evaluate what would be considered “appropriate” or “inappropriate” in terms of “normal human behaviour.  I have also been reflecting on what parts of my subconscious still need work and attention.  It is a little disappointing to think that after all my years of therapy trying to overcome the issues surrounding my childhood (and my relationship with my mother specifically), deep down there is still something missing.  Perhaps the fact that I am able to identify this change in feeling and attribute it to “something” suggests that I have made some progress in my therapy, but I’m not really sure.  Regardless, I will continue to reflect on my feelings and figure out a way to navigate through this mess and make it meaningful – both for my emotional recovery, as well as my future working relationship with my doctor (who will continue to be a teacher and mentor for me in my training).

“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.

Surprising Discovery

After cleaning out my closet last week, I was excited to show my husband the progress I had made. He looked around and seemed less than impressed, stating that he didn’t think it looked that different. He was about to turn and walk out until something caught his eye. he pointed to a small brown box in the top corner of my closet: “What’s that?”
I sighed a deep and powerful sigh. “That box,” I started, “needs to go in the garbage…”

Where do I start with that box? How do I tell you what’s in that box? How can I express the personal and powerful associations of that box without bringing you back on a three year journey into the past?

I had a friend – I’ll call her Kay – and everything that she ever was to me is in that box.

Kay was my best friend for a short while – we were close and intense and intimate in a way that I’ve rarely ever been with a friend. It was mutual, she was special, and I loved her.

Before she was my friend, she was my mentor – personally and professionally she inspired and encouraged me more than anyone had before.

Before she was my mentor, she was my physician – she delivered both of my babies and she was kind, compassionate, and caring in a way that many physicians lack today.

Through all of those stages, she became a beacon of “something” in my life and there was not a day that went by in 5 years that I didn’t think of her for some reason or another.

I don’t know how else to summarize my relationship with Kay.

A year ago my life fell apart and I struggled deeply to keep my sopping head bobbing above the water. Kay tried to be there for me as best as she could. Unfortunately, I was sinking more than I thought and I must have been bringing her down with me. One day Kay started pulling away from me, and so I grabbed on harder. I was at the lowest point that I had every been in my life, yet the day finally came where she let me go. In one short and succinct email she told me everything I didn’t want to hear: She can’t be my support, she can’t be my friend, she can’t be my mentor. She hasn’t talked to me since.

After that day, I took everything I had from or about her and I put it in a box. But, I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away – I wasn’t ready to say good-bye – so I placed it in the top corner of my closet instead. And for 8 months, there it remained… for me to glance at every time I went into my closet.

“You can throw it in the garbage, please?” I asked my husband with a tone of authority. It was time, I decided. He wanted to see what was in it first, to make sure there wasn’t anything worth keeping (even though I assured him there was nothing). To my surprise, however, there was one thing I felt drawn to keep: Right on the top of the box was a small glass picture frame with a 4×6 photo of Kay and I after our first 10K race. Before our falling out, I displayed that picture proudly on a shelf in my closet. While I haven’t seen it at all in over 8 months, I was surprised to feel a sense of comfort and satisfaction in looking at the picture. I placed it off to the side while my husband and I filtered through everything else. Eventually I put everything back in the box, including cards of kind words and letters of encouragement, and I watched my husband carry it away to the garbage. I took the framed picture of us at the race and I placed it back on the shelf where it sat 8 months ago.

I’ve forgiven her.  

Our friendship is over and it will never come back.

It still hurts when I think about “what could have been.”

But I’ve made peace with it all.

She was an important part of my life for a long time.

We accomplished wonderful things together, and I can’t change that.  

It’s time to remember the good.