Maya Angelou writes, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
“Midlife is a death” Yes, and I have been dying for a number of years now. That feels like my story. Drowning in midlife. How do I know? I have been making my life smaller and smaller. I have been playing it safe. I have been trying to make all the strategies that worked when I was a single mother raising a son and maintaining a home and working full time continue to work even though all the current circumstances have or are changing.
Rod Stryker says, “change is the hardest pose.” He is absolutely right. I fought valiantly when my son went to boarding school. I left what was safe and known for a new adventure. It was only a matter of months to figure out that adventure that had glittered was in fact not the gold at the end of the rainbow. I went down gracefully. I belly breathed my way through the disappointment I laid at everyone else's feet, including my own. My fiftieth year seemed destined to be of failure, moving backwards, not forward. I wasn’t holding any of it together. A new romance had turned into a cage I did not want to fit in.
Then I ran to the mountains, to Colorado, to the arms of those who love me.
I had no idea what would be next. I could not see next. I could not seem to be seen. I was fifty-one and feeling like there was no next, and I desperately needed something in order to keep a roof over my head. I still had one foot in travel to boarding schools to see my child, and to have a place he could still call home. But life is a complex web of many goals at the same time.
The goal to have fun, explore and adventure. The goal for survival, or better yet, future survival. The goal to love and to be loved. The goal for some progress, any progress. And of course, these goals can interfere with each other from time to time. We stay tied to desks rather than adventure pursuing future security. Or we adventure continuously while maintaining minimal present moment survival and sacrificing progress.
But sometimes the goal is restoration. I was re-employed in part of my old job and it was enough breathing room to have gratitude and a need to recover from the year of stress. A commitment I had made in my 40’s allowed me to step off the merry-go-round of life and go to India. In India, I had space. Space to stop, to fully feel the pain and fear. To see the mistakes, and to look forward to what I wanted next. In India, there were no distractions or responsibilities. There was time, myself and the Universe.
One trip didn’t do it. I returned and perhaps too quickly and quietly slid back into the old ways of numbing the pain of this reality I call life. Managing to negotiate the next five years with a little climbing, a little wine and coffee, a lot of hot flashes and a body that just seems to be on its own path. I could climb and feel pain. I could run and have my knee stop working, I could swim and feel too and too cold at the same time.
I kept pushing the agenda, attending more personal improvement workshops soaking in the agitation of pursuing financial security and spending on “self-care” and time with my son. I felt like I was in a vice closing at an incredibly slow pace and I was desperately trying to find the kill switch.
I spent time with my Yoga teacher. He gave me practice for this double vision I had been experiencing. I went through the “what’s next” and “who am I explorations.” I wanted out. I sobbed reckoning with the truth of who I am and my patterns of fear. I added more to my plate, bound to unbind myself.
Then I got smashed across the chin by the end of a shovel and I HAD to STOP.
Gardening and digging. The shovel blade hit a rock and the end slipped from my wet hands. I was dazed and yet had the sense to wonder if it was a concussion. There was no remedy but to rest while the rest of the world kept going without me. If I exercised, concussion headaches resulted. If I didn’t sleep, I cycled through multiple nights of no sleep. If I was around loud places, I could last 30 minutes and the headaches started.
My body has been my power. Since I was a child, I was the one who was strong enough to open jars for my mother. No one else could. I could hold my own with my father, skating a bobsled ladened with logs across the lake, stacking wood, picking raspberries in the sun and thorns. I could run fast, ride my bike anywhere and I was thin, fit and strong.
Now I felt completely disempowered. Anything more than a slow walk on the beach and concussion headaches returned. Climbing anything harder than the easiest routes meant risking days in the dark. My time socializing became limited. My house was empty except for me. As the months dragged on, I considered, what if I couldn’t care for me, drive? What if this doesn’t get better, ever?
Fear was winning. Self-doubt was riding shotgun.
That’s when the voice whispered and shook me, “I am not joking. You need to face facts. You need to see the world and you in the world accurately. Understand, I am not punishing you. You are. You need to understand I am you. You need to choose and accept, and love you.”
The only way out is through.
At least that is what they say.
What through looks like, I am still figuring out. But through doesn’t involve shrinking. It starts with getting the monkey’s of fear and self-doubt back in their places. It starts with a little joy. It has started for me with a new depth of understanding of my need to share my experience with others. Offering conference sessions, expanding myself into new arenas. A commitment to being in nature, walking, most importantly, breathing. A commitment to noticing the criticism and choosing to say thank you, I will consider whether that is true. A commitment to looking for the essence of everything and letting more gratitude and love in and out.