A Dose of Self Compassion

Here we go…

This is where it started.  The writing, that is, the infertility thing started several years ago.  I originally thought I would just keep adding to this, sort of like a journal, which is why it is ungodly long, but, nope — not how things worked out.

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I’ve been going through something and I haven’t been particularly kind to myself in the process. I’m here, because I want that to change. I need that to change. My husband, my family and my friends need that to change. Hell, the guy that cuts me off on the highway or the clerk at the grocery store needs that to change. If I can have more compassion for myself, I can be a better wife, sister, friend and quite frankly, a better human being. So this is my path to finding more compassion, courage, joy and grace…within and for myself.

How did I get here?

I’m sure there are 38 years worth of triumphs, losses, heartbreaks, lessons, people, and experiences that ultimately brought me to this point, but I don’t have the desire or brainpower to analyze myself to that depth. And does it really matter? I’m here. I’ll get right to the compelling battle that has motivated this journey (or seemed to tip me over the edge if you’re feeling a little more ‘glass is half empty’ today)– Infertility.

I was born to be a mother. This is the one thing I know for certain.

Now, having a baby …well, that has been a bit of a challenge. A bit of a challenge… ha! A bit of a challenge? That is what you say so as not to offend or make people uncomfortable. That is what you say to people with delicate sensibilities. That is what you say when everything is still under control, or when you want it to appear so. Let me be clear, this is about the opposite of being in control. This is about letting go and opening up. This is about what is real. I will not be delicate and although it is not my intention, I do not care if I make you uncomfortable. The truth is, having a baby started out as a challenge and turned into a total shit show.

With a challenge you still have an authentic smile on your face, determination in your eyes and hope in your heart. You are completely willing to forge ahead and still may even be a little naïve–by choice or by accident.

The Urban Dictionary defines shit show as: A description of an event or situation, which is characterized by a ridiculously inordinate amount of frenetic activity, disorganization and chaos to an absurd degree. Often associated with extreme ineptitude/incompetence and or sudden and unexpected failure.

Yes. Exactly.

I was tired in very way: emotionally, mentally, physically, etc. I was sad, sad for everyone involved: myself, my husband, and even my dogs (our Cooper really needs a kid to go muddin’ with). I questioned myself and my purpose and my worth. My hope turned to fear. I was bitchy. I stopped taking care of myself. I cried … a lot…and over really important things like spilling salt on the floor. I felt like an utter disaster (and I kind of was). I was lonely. And because I was totally fucking insane, I was still pasting a smile on my face and telling everyone what they wanted to hear so they weren’t uncomfortable, so they didn’t have to worry about me or worse (THE WORST!), feel sorry for me.

So, yeah, ya know…A bit of a challenge.

Let me pause my pity soup to bring up the quote by J.M. Barrie, “Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” Fucking. Spot. On. We are passing multiple people every day going through their own personal crisis – a relapse occurs, a child has passed, the cancer is back, divorce papers are served, an eviction notice is sent, the car is totaled… The kindness of strangers is mind blowing in the moments when you feel like you are drowning. It feels like someone or something, somewhere (insert whatever spiritual belief, if any, you ascribe to here) is telling you, “It’s going to be okay, just one foot in front of the other.” So, I’m begging you to please be kinder than necessary when you can.   You may never see the impact you bring, but at some point, you will unknowingly be the quiet cheerleader necessary for someone to keep on keeping on. Because those of us in the middle of stage shit show look like everyone else going about their business. We smile. We are polite. We take care of the things that need taking care of, but we are in a great deal of pain. And in those moments, your kindness saves us.

Jason casually asked me one day how I was feeling and I finally said it out loud (with the cry voice, of course), “This is a really lonely place to be.” There I said it. I admitted I was lonely, which made me vulnerable, and you should know, in my world vulnerability is what nightmares are made of (I’m pretty sure the energy I’ve spent on avoiding vulnerability in my lifetime could power a small country). But, it was the most real and true thing I’d said aloud to that point. I. Felt. Alone. My husband had been and is being wonderfully attentive and thoughtful in a countless number of ways, but he couldn’t be totally in it with me. None of my friends or family knew what to say or how to help. They couldn’t be in it with me. Outside of my inner circle? Fugataboutit…They were definitely not in it with me. I was all by myself. I had loving and willing support, support that was wanted and needed, but no one could take care of me as well as I could take care of myself. No one knew my pain like I did. I needed to be kind and nurturing. But, I wasn’t. I was berating, judgy and downright mean. I was more unkind than I have ever been to anyone.

The weight of the situation was eating away at my spirit and the question of how much more I could take was creeping into our conversations. I realized I had two options: stop and get on with our lives childless or start tackling life in a healthier way so I could keep going without demolishing myself in the process. I wasn’t ready to give up yet. Reluctantly (understatement), I began to open up to a resource, a blog, I had previously ignored. Reading the first post, I experienced a wave of relief and grateful tears simultaneously and immediately. Someone was saying this shit, talking about these feelings, not just out loud, but in public. TO the public! She was my hero and I hadn’t even realized I needed a hero. My head had been in the sand and I’d been putting on a great front (remember my motto: just say no to vulnerability). Honestly, this was the stage/role/show I’d been practicing for my whole life and I was gooooood, so good even I believed my own bullshit. I didn’t know how desperate I was to hear another person say,“ you are struggling, I understand, it was my struggle too, and you are not alone.” Even writing that sentence now makes me choke up.

The blogger was also an author and there was so much in her book I identified with. Although our stories were different, the voices in our heads were uncannily similar, except for one thing… shame. I didn’t feel shame. I was pretty open about my experiences. I wasn’t afraid of people knowing what was happening or asking questions. There was no shame. All the voices in my head collectively agreed – not shameful. If I say it one more time, will you believe me? I was not experiencing shame in any way.

Then I went home, the small Midwest town I grew up in, for two weeks (Side note: isn’t it amazing how the collision of the old you and the new you can be so unraveling?) and I made plans to go to the local YMCA. The night before as I was falling asleep, it occurred to me I was potentially going to see people that knew my age, I hadn’t seen in years and didn’t know my story. Only semi-consciously I started to rehearse answers for possible questions about whether or not I had kids and if I was going to have them. Not one of my rehearsed answers involved the words “infertility” or “miscarriage” and decidedly not the phrase “shit show.” That, my friends, is shame. Based on potential and possibility, I started to strap on my amour and made sure I had enough ammo. I was preparing myself for battle just in case. It was then I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get through this without help. My old defense mechanisms were threatening to ruin me. The blogger, that also wrote the book, was also a counselor (jackpot!). I asked her to take me on as a client and, thankfully, she did.

Lists are among my favorite things. My husband says I make lists of lists. On my list of things that needed to happen to make things better I could check the first item off. Next on the list was “do the work.” And that was all there was on the list. And by the way, my version of “better” equaled embracing and enjoying my life fully and completely as it is. Becoming the best version of myself whether or not that includes motherhood in the traditional sense. Being grateful for all the wonders that make up this beautifully imperfect crazy world of mine. So a recap of my list… 1) Set up time with counselor 2) Do the work she tells me to do… Boom! Right?

Other than a list maker, I’m also a rule follower to the extreme. If someone gives me “homework,” I’m in heaven. I tried. I tried so hard at doing the work that I made it worse. I felt many emotions all at once, all of the time. I cried more, I was angrier, more bitter and even less tolerant with myself.

After some time, insight and “the work,” It became clear I needed a shift in perspective. I was learning to knit, painting, creating in the kitchen, making travel plans and generally enjoying Northern California with my husband and pups. But, I was thinking of these things as distractions, just passing the time waiting to see if I was going to have a child. I was reminded this can also be defined simply as…wait for it…“my life.” Genius! Total revelation for me–seriously. I’d been thinking of these experiences as “less than” because they didn’t amount to the responsibility, stress and grandness of raising a tiny human. But I was missing the fact that they did amount to the responsibility, stress and grandness of raising ME! And raising me would be one of the…no THE most meaningful thing I would ever do.

I also needed to do more defined and concentrated work — I needed to learn more self-compassion.   As it happens there is and has been a strong movement away from building “self esteem” and more towards self compassion for many reasons. For one, self-esteem is quite elusive – a continuous cycle of attainment and loss. Self-esteem is also rooted in the ideas of winning and losing and comparison. For one to be at a high point another has to be at a low point, like yin and yang. Self-compassion isn’t so much about comparison or dependent upon what someone else is doing. It’s about empathy, mercy and love from YOU, for YOU. It isn’t about having to reach some goal, attainment, etc. to feel good about you. It is about the inherent knowledge that you are a good, worthy, wonderful being who is always learning and growing.

As mentioned above, the struggle throwing my equilibrium off more than I could handle was/is infertility, but let’s be honest, if it weren’t this struggle it would be another one. Life is full of loss and heartbreak. We all have struggles, difficulties, and tragedies and we will all have more of them in the future. As difficult as this has been, I’m acutely aware there will be more and it can get worse. I’m not on a quest to wipe out difficult pieces of my life, rather I’m trying to figure out how let them be a part of life but not take it over. I want to allow those struggles and heartaches to exist, to roam about freely and even to teach me, but to be small compared the love and the beauty and the gratitude. My life is too awesome not to be enjoying and indulging in every. single. minute. I want to stop making myself feel like I’m sitting on the sidelines just because I haven’t changed a thousand diapers, I’m not shuttling a kid to soccer practice, or wiping snotty noses and tears. In my perfect world I would already be doing those things, but I’m not, and I may never be. I want to be comfortable with the fact that my life just looks different and has different experiences that the person with that job. Having a child is not the key to unleashing the best version of me, but learning to nurture myself and live among the bounty of courage, compassion, joy and grace…now, that is something.

A side note : my exact experiences don’t matter. I’m not giving you my statistical rap sheet of loss, anguish and general shitty-ness, not because I want to keep it a secret, but because your challenge / my challenge, your shit show/ my shit show…it’s all relative and we should trust each other when someone says “I’m going through something awful,” instead of comparing our experiences.   My awful won’t look exactly like yours, but it is going to feel similar. Let’s agree, awful = awful. It doesn’t need to be qualified, to ourselves or anyone else.

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Disclaimer: I do feel strongly about that final note.  I also thought this would be the only piece I ever wrote. That not being the case, I feel it would come across cryptic to keep details of my losses and struggles quiet, so there will be more information that creeps into later posts.

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