The piercing art of letting go
I’m in one of those moods where it’s hard to write. I’m shoulding on myself right now, which I know I shouldn’t do, and now I’ve just shoulded and shouldn’t-ed on myself a little more. The truth is lately I wake up in the morning and feel like I have to stave off some depression and anxiety. I have this sense of foreboding, like something is about to happen, or something is already happening or maybe I’m making something happen inside my head. If I were in a movie, there’d be black ethers creeping toward me, something going by in a flash behind me, a weird reflection of someone or something in a mirror that the audience sees but I don’t. Maybe someone in the second row would yell out, “Look behind you!” and everyone would laugh except for the one guy who would sternly shush them and shake his head.
Maybe it’s that my son is leaving in September, but I don’t know where he’s going…only that he’s going. Maybe it’s that, and it probably is because as I write those words I feel sadness rising, winding its way around my heart and leaking out the corners of my eyes which is ridiculous because he’s just going to college, not the moon. But I know it will be different and feel different, because for the first time in seventeen years I’ll wake up in a house where he isn’t. And I can’t even picture where he’ll be or how life will be because I don’t know where he’s going, though I hope wherever it is will be driveable. Not that I’ll drive wherever he is unless he asks, but just the thought that I could drive to him for lunch if the sadness becomes unbearable is comforting. Not that I want him to go somewhere driveable on my behalf - I want him to go where he most wants to go, because his happiness is more important to me than anything. Can you just feel the kind of thing that’s happening inside my brain these days? I’m not worried about him, he has his head on straight. He’s a great kid, the best kind you could ask for - good heart, kind person, funny AF, respects women, loves his sister, works hard and plays hard. Plays classical guitar, too. He’s going to be fine. I’m also going to be fine, but god I’m going to miss him.
That isn’t the only unknown I’m facing, it’s just the biggest one. I know that life keeps changing and that change brings growth and when you’re lucky it also brings new understanding and adventures you didn’t see coming. An old friend came to yoga on Sunday and she told me after class that she’d been fired from her job last week, after eleven years. No warning. I hugged her because that’s hard and it hurts and it’s also a little scary at this age - she’s about the same age as me. You think you have things figured out and then, bam, you have nothing figured out. But I’ve been through that kind of shift before and so has she, and even though no one asks for it, if you’ve been there you know that growth is going to happen - and maybe something outstanding is going to unfold that never would have if the ground didn’t fall out. Maybe change is what keeps you young and hungry. It keeps those neural pathways forming so your brain doesn’t slowly shrivel up and die like a raisin. You probably want your brain to stay more grape-like than raisin-ish is my guess. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be scared or freaked out. If there’s one thing you want to grasp, it’s that feeling your feelings is the key to not losing your mind or making yourself sick. So we talked and I hope I made her feel okay to feel scared and excited and seen, if nothing else.
Lately I’ve been feeling lonely, too. Just kind of alone with my thoughts and alone inside my head even though I have the best people in my life. I seriously do, I have people I can talk to openly and they’ll be there to laugh with me or cry with me or just listen. I have a lot of love in my life and I know exactly how lucky I am. There are just some things you have to fight through on your own. I miss my mom. No one can make that better for me. I miss her voice and her laugh and being able to call her. Sometimes we had the best conversations. I miss the days when my kids were little, and the sound of their tiny feet padding down the hallway, their chubby arms around my neck, the hilarity of someone running into the kitchen dressed as a Jedi for no reason except it was Tuesday and they felt like it. Those years when they were little I felt like I was running an asylum with the best drunken small people who might laugh their asses off one minute, and then bawl at the injustice of having to wear socks the next. They would say the most incredible things. I used to watch my son when he was two or three and I’d see the wheels turning inside his head, and I’d ask him what he was thinking about and he'd say “anything” and I remember thinking, that’s it. We’re never thinking about nothing, though if we aren’t thinking about one thing in particular that’s what we say, we say “nothing” when we mean anything. That’s the mind and that’s human beings - we will think about anything or read the shampoo bottle to avoid the abyss, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Just like sometimes it feels like things are dark, but that doesn’t mean the sun isn’t in the sky, doing its gaseous-nuclear-fusion sun thing. That’s the best part of meditation - when you can just let the thoughts go by like the weather and tune into the fact that you are a lot more than your thoughts, it’s such a relief.
My daughter wears my clothes now, the ones that are cool enough. She wears my shoes, too, and we share makeup and secrets and I pray I’m teaching her everything she needs to know to survive in this world as a girl and a woman because god it’s enraging sometimes. Enraging and exhausting but also the fucking best. It’s a wild thing to be told explicitly and subliminally what your worth is and what you’re capable of and who you can be and what it’s okay for you to dream about, and still figure out who you are in the midst of all that noise and pressure. That’s how diamonds are made. It feels good to be done worrying about what people think, or if you have to keep saying yes to be likable. It’s freeing to recognize being nice is bullshit but being kind is everything.
I’ve been an easy crier my whole life. Stupid Hallmark commercials, yup, that’s me crying. I actually remember bursting into tears in the cafeteria in high school because I decided to finish Ethan Frome at lunch, and there was nowhere to run. It used to embarrass me to cry so easily, but if the world isn’t affecting you then what’s the point of being here? I cry even more easily now, it got worse when I had kids and I never calibrated back. It’s worse yet after losing my mom, and I suspect every time I hit a new level of vulnerability, that’s the new baseline. God knows I’m not going to spend any energy trying to erect armor when I spent so many decades pulling it down.
I’m sure hormones are part of this. I know I’m in perimenopause even if all my levels are “within normal range” because what male doctors decide what “normal range” is, and for whom? I know myself and I trust myself. I’m struggling with the hormones less now than I was six months ago because thank god there are knowledgeable women out there talking about this stuff, so I take probiotics and I changed my daily vitamins and I take magnesium at night. I figured that out on the freaking internet, because when I went to my GP and asked him if he thought the overwhelming grief I felt was “just” the loss of my mom, or if maybe I was in perimenopause as well, he asked me if I wanted Prozac, and whether I had become “difficult to be around.” When I asked for clarification he said, “Would your husband or your kids say you’re unpleasant to be around?” and I realized I was talking to the wrong person and also that I might be about to become unpleasant to be around, right in front of him. Jesus. Would my husband or my kids say I was unpleasant to be around? This is what you ask a woman who’s grieving her mother and wondering if this amount of grief is “normal”? You make everyone else in her family more important and wonder if you can cure the symptoms for them so she can - what? Keep doing the laundry and keeping the house clean with a smile on her face?
The thing is, sadness is okay, and so is grief, rage, longing, and an impending sense of loss. My fear is fine, my anxiety is fine, it’s all fine. They’re just feelings and they aren’t permanent. I have tools, I know how to breathe deeply and when I need to move my body to burn off tension. I know when I need a deep stretch or a long walk with my dog. I know when I need to listen to just the right playlist, or read a certain writer, or call a certain girlfriend to meet me for lunch. I know how to handle myself and I know it’s fine to fall apart, because I’ll just fall together again later. I’m strong and sometimes I’m not strong, and whatever. I’m good. I have myself. I’m just swimming through a river of change right now, and I have plenty of days where the sadness burns off by the time I finish my coffee and I feel at ease. I have hours when I’m working and I feel so immersed in what I’m doing and so fired up, I know there’s important stuff in these waters, too. I know a lot more than I did when I was thirty, and a lot less than I thought I knew when I was thirty. Or something like that. I know enough to know that where I am is just fine and where I’m going will be just fine too, because I’m still here. Nothing has done me in yet. Also, I laugh a lot, probably more than I cry. I really love being here, even when it’s hard. I wouldn’t miss this ride for anything, no matter how much change, loss, or groundlessness is involved, because isn’t this just the coolest thing imaginable? I mean, we’re flying through space, so why get caught up in any one feeling for too long. To be on a spinning planet in just one of countless solar systems in a universe we can’t even really fathom, getting to be here at the same time as the other people we love more than anything? Getting to read the words of other people trying to figure out how to ride the ride just like we are? Watching our kids or other people’s kids grow and grow and one day grow taller and smarter and funnier and kinder than we are? It’s beautiful. It breaks your heart. It makes you cry. Things flash by in the mirror behind you. The ground falls out. People exhale for the final time while you stroke their hair and tell them not to be scared, that you’ll take care of everything. One day if you’re lucky, someone will do that for you.
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If you’d like to meet me in real time to talk about the piercing art of letting go, I’ll be here 1/26/24 at 11:15am PST or you can wait for the Come As You Are podcast version. And if you’d like to meet me in Portugal in June, it’s going to be phenomenal, and I would love that so much.