Investing in Myself

When my son started crawling I entered the most challenging period of parenting I’ve experienced thus far. In this past week I’ve felt more moments of panic that a situation is spiraling out of control than I can even recall. Between the needs of my emotionally charged, strong willed daughter and my curious, fast-kneed son I literally cannot maintain my footing or my grasp from one moment to the next. I can thank only dumb luck for the fact that we’re all still in one piece, both physically and emotionally.

Work is similarly stressful right now and I feel I’m only barely keeping a hair’s breath ahead of everyone’s expectations. The smallest stumble and I’ll fall days or weeks behind. The prospect is terrifying.

Both at home and at work my stress levels are at an all time high, and yet I’m handling it all relatively well. Sure I’m frayed around the edges, and I’m making coffee for myself every morning before school (I have NEVER been a coffee drinker), but my meltdowns are at a minimum and my husband and I are still getting along.

To what can I attribute my relative “success?” I think I’m managing because I’m investing in myself.

I just started an online writing course via Berkeley Extension and while I will definitely be struggling to keep up, I’m already so excited by the reading and writing I’m going to do.

I’m making a really concerted effort to meet up with other women and socialize: I started a monthly dinner date with the mothers from my daughter’s school. I finally had drinks with a mom I’ve always really liked. I reached out to old friends that recently had babies via Facebook. I have plans to get brunch with a friend in my old neighborhood I rarely see. I bought tickets to visit my college roommates on the East Coast in October and I’m even considering the Vegas trip with my work colleagues in the new year.

I’m also exercising three times a week, which is probably the single biggest contributor to my stabilized mood. I can feel the stress melt off me as my heart rate goes up and I ALWAYS feel better–physically and emotionally–when I’m done.

Sure my house is a total disaster area. Sure my students are asking when I’m going to put their grades online. Sure I’m not getting nearly enough sleep. But I’m managing, and I’m doing so with minimal personal break downs. Right now, it feels like it’s working

At any rate, I’m doing better than I thought I would be. I appreciate that.

How are you investing in yourself these days?

What’s in a name?

I thought a lot about writing online, under real names and under pseudonyms. I wanted–needed–to write anonymously in my first space. That blog was about processing my loss and struggles to get pregnant and it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to share it with the people in my life, but that I felt they’d fault me for needing to even say it. So I wrote under an assumed name, to protect myself and the people who loved me.

I created an identity for myself in that space, under that name. I don’t think I realized how much it meant to me until I decided to let it go.

I also tried to write under my real name. I created a space and invited those I knew to read there. But as a teacher I felt trapped posting under my real name. There was so much I couldn’t say when I knew my students might find it. I felt silenced by their maybe some day searching for me.

So I created this new space, under a third name. I thought I understood my motives for shedding my original anonymous identity and starting fresh, but as I embark on the actual shedding, I’m not so sure.

Yesterday I started commenting under my new nom de plum. In the comment boxes of the blogs I’ve read for years I erased my old identity and typed in my new one. Who is this person I’m letting go? Who is this person I’m creating in her place?

We can never present all of ourselves in any one place or with any one person. In the first few years writing on my anonymous blog, I believed the woman portrayed was the more accurate representation, a more honest account than what I presented to the real world. Over time I came to understand that she was not a clearer reflection of who I was, just a window into a certain part of me I didn’t feel I could share anywhere else.

I think that ultimately I’m leaving that persona behind because those parts of myself don’t need to be shared as much anymore. I can incorporate those pieces into a greater whole, which I hope will give them more perspective.

I believed my old space was borne of honesty, authenticity and truth–and I hope that it was–but I never recognized that behind all of it was an overwhelming need that I couldn’t control. I was driven to write there, and not always for the right reasons; fear colored a lot of those words. I hope to come to this space with more deliberate intention, to be motivated by forces more productive than hurt or fear.

Erasing my old moniker in familiar comment boxes can feel like starting over, and it is in a way, but I know better than to think I can leave the person I was behind. I invited everyone who knew me there to read me here and they won’t forget who I was before.

And honestly? I don’t really want them to.

What does your writing identity mean to you? Have you ever considered changing it?

Fear

{image source: Dimitris Siskopoulos via Flickr}

I was pretty upset yesterday, when everything went awry.

I was fighting back tears. Even though I knew it wasn’t a big deal, even though I knew no one cared, I still wanted to cry.

When these waves of emotions crest, I try to be present, to be mindful, to experience them without judgement. I feel the knot in my throat, the buzzing in my teeth, the flutter in my chest. And when they’ve crashed against the shore and pulled languidly back into ocean of my subconscious, I search the depths for their source.

Almost always, when I touch that place, I find fear.

Yesterday, as I sunk deep into myself, trying to find where the wave had been born, dozens of thoughts darted past, dark shadows in the bright streams of filtered light. This is a disaster. How could I not notice these things before? I clearly can’t do this. Nobody will want to read me now. I should never have started this space. I’ve ruined everything.

It takes a lot of courage for me to swim past these thoughts. I don’t like when dark figures brush past me in the murky depths. I panic, my body seizes, every fiber of me jerks toward the surface. I want the bright lights and brisk wind to distract me from everything below the surface. I want to swim, even doomed to push forever against the current, in blissful ignorance of what is lurking underneath.

But I will myself to sink deeper, and when I finally rest on the cold sand below all those darting thoughts, I touch fear. Resting there, under the weight of everything, so still and yet so easily disturbed by my body’s inevitable flailing, is a dark, abyssal plain of gently undulating fear.

If I look closely at the sand, I recognize each grain, the seed of some paralyzing thought. What if this is a disaster? What if I make mistake after mistake? What if I don’t know how to manage my own, self-hosted space? What if nobody follows me here? What if I end up writing for no one? What if this space never lives up to the sanctuary I abandoned to create it?

These are the questions that scare me. The unknowns, the uncertainty. I’m terrified that I left something and that I might not love the thing I left it for. I’m paralyzed by the possibility that this was all a massive, monumental mistake.

It may seem melodramatic, and it very well could be, but I think this move is symbolic of other things for me as well: of venturing out, of leaving the familiar behind to tackle the unknown, of having faith in who I am and what I can accomplish. This space is about me coming into myself, and I’m not sure who I’ll find, and I’m not sure anyone will care to find her with me.

I know coming here was the right thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying and it doesn’t make me any less worried that someday the decision will be tethered to great hulking anchors of resentment and regret.

Fear. It’s at the core of so much of what upsets me. If I sink deep enough, every lingering issue is rooted in fear. Finding it, recognizing it, takes some of the power away. When I know what really scares me, it’s easier to sit with it, even when the dark figures drift steadily past, determined to distract me.

I know I can never defeat fear: that abyssal plain will always be waiting, quiet and vast under the murky waters, poised for my panicked flailing to churn up the debris of dreams lost and goals unmet and blind me with the infinite fears that are forever lurking. My only chance is to float, quiet and still above the seabed, and see my fears for what they are: tiny pieces of myself worn away by decades of living–a shifting substructure above which I’m destined to float.

Happily Ever After

Have you ever wondered what happens when a story ends? What Happily Ever After actually looks like?

Evidently happily ever after looks like squinting at the computer screen because you’re too lazy to find your glasses, picking cold, soggy french fries off your daughter’s dinner plate and writing an inaugural post on the blog you’ve just started.

Yep, this is what happily ever after looks like, when it’s set against the right backdrop. When the cold french fries are in the kitchen of a house I “own,” a house that rests (just barely) within the boundaries of the city I love. When the four year old daughter I fought so hard to have is looking at books in her bedroom and the ten month old son we were told would never exist is asleep in the room adjacent. When the man I married–who I love and adore–is coming home soon to take out the trash and load the dishwasher, all without me asking.

This is what happily ever looks like, and it’s kind of terrifying. Not everything it entails, but that I’ve finally arrived at the having of it, that now it’s my job to appreciate it and be grateful.

Of course I do appreciate it, and I am grateful. Intensely so. Some days my gratitude is so overwhelming that it morphs without warning into intense, debilitating guilt. Who am I to have so much? How can I honor all that I have with the choices I make?

The last time I was called to write was five years ago, when the the land mine of pregnancy loss went off on my already rocky road to happily ever after. I didn’t realize then just how many twist and turns my journey held, how helpless I’d feel en route and how hopeless reaching my destination would seem.

I didn’t set out on the path to happily ever after with the smug assurance that one might expect from a twenty something white women who had achieved all her previous goals. Clinical depression, mingled with bouts of anxiety and a family legacy of loss put my expectations in their place, but I still wasn’t prepared for the toll my struggles would take.

And yet now, here I sit, five years later, on the cusp of happily ever after. I like to think that the struggle to get here helps me appreciate my life more than I would have. I like to believe that I don’t take anything for granted.

But of course I do. And I will. It’s human nature to look past what we have, at least on occasion, and I have not yet risen above my biological or evolutionary pay grade. That being said, I want to do better, to be better. I recognize that our lives are not defined by the big boxes being checked, buy by the thousands of decisions, big and small, we make every day.

I want to live my life with intention, I want to treat each choice as if it matters, because the reality is, it probably does.

And if they don’t… well, there are worse things than caring deeply about one’s life, and the way it is lived.

The birth of my son was the last great change in my life. The stage has been set, the parts have been cast, now the show will go on.

I want to show up for this grand performance. I want to make it epic.

And I want to write it all down, right here.

My name is Noemi and this is my courageous attempt: at life, at writing, at not a wasted word.

So pull up a chair, we’ve only just begun.