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Until I remember how to swim
Four weeks ago, I had a really good week. I woke up every day happy and energized. I made breakfast. I got my taxes done, and cleared paperwork from my desk that had been sitting in the to-do pile for years. I cleaned my house. I did yoga and meditated and read books. This lasted for five straight days.
Five straight days is the longest I’ve felt fully functional in as long as I can remember. Sometimes I’ll have a good day once every month or two, where I wake up and say to myself, “Is this what it’s like to feel normal?” A day when I can handle whatever life throws at me. A day when I feel inspired to start a new creative pursuit. A day when I eagerly lace up my running shoes because I can’t wait to feel the cool air on my face and the soft trail beneath my feet.
All the other days of my life are not like this. I wake up exhausted, vexed by some disturbing dream that feels real for an hour after I open my eyes; one where I’ve been running for my life, or rejected by high-school classmates, or cheating on my husband and then remembering that I’m married and feeling horrified that I could forget about Seth. Then I wrestle with my own will for another hour or three, deciding whether it’s worth getting out of bed. My smart phone and iPad allow me to do almost anything I need to do while snuggled under the covers, so it’s not like I’m being restful or relaxed in those hours; I’m merely working on stuff in a reclined position. At some point, though, I hear the words of a nutritionist I worked with echoing in my ears: I must eat breakfast, otherwise my body will think I’m starving to death and it will decide that now isn’t the best time for a pregnancy.
When I start to notice the pangs of hunger convulsing my insides, I dutifully drag myself out from under the covers, pull on my fuzzy jammies, and shuffle downstairs to stare at the fridge and hope breakfast will make itself. At 43 years old, I still don’t know how to feed myself. I survived my 20s on bagels and dry Cheerios, and in my 30s I’d eat a banana in the car on the way to work. Carbs are off the table since I’ve been trying to go gluten-free, and the granola I stocked up on last winter has too much sugar in it (I’m following an anti-inflammatory diet to boost my egg quality). These restrictions also mean that I can’t just grab a Belvita bar or have Seth bake me a batch of muffins for the week. No, I actually have to turn on the stove and cook something—hot oatmeal with quinoa flakes, flax, and hemp seeds, sweetened with banana, apple slices, and raisins. It turns into a thick paste that I can choke down for a day or two, then I’m back to just eating the banana and hoping Seth left me some yummy leftovers for lunch (he always does, because he knows I would shrivel up and die otherwise).
With my hunger appeased, I look around the house to determine whether I’m ready to face the day. If there’s a pile of laundry in the living room and a pile of papers on my desk and a pile of mail on the dining room table, the answer is usually no, and I head upstairs and crawl back into bed until my stomach asks me to feed it lunch (which is less stressful than breakfast, thanks to Seth’s yummy leftovers). Once a proper meal is in my system, I can usually tolerate spending the rest of the day sitting in a chair in the corner of my bedroom, or in the living room if it’s not laundry day, or outside on the deck if it’s warm enough, or at my office desk if I have an unavoidable computer task. Then I do whatever it is I do with my day (writing, coaching, planning, scheming) until the sun hangs low in the sky and I realize I’d better get some exercise before it’s dark (this needs to happen at least 3 or 4 days a week, otherwise I really lose my mind).
I go upstairs to put on workout clothes but usually flop back on the bed first, contemplating for at least 20 minutes whether I really need to do this today, what the weather is like and how much daylight I have left, whether I want to run or bike or whatever activity is in season, where to go, and what I have the energy for. If I make it out the door, that’s the rest of my evening—exercising, stretching, and showering. At some point Seth comes home and makes a yummy dinner and we eat it way too late according to my nutritionist, and I feel guilty that my body can’t absorb all the nutrients when I go to bed an hour later.
Punctuating all of this, of course, has been the fertility treatments and blood work and acupuncture and foster care trainings and miscarriage support groups and researching everything and writing about all of it and thinking about it all the time and wondering what to do next. And punctuating all that are the days when I just want to escape, and I fall into a rabbit hole of researching RVs I can’t afford and planning trips I don’t know if I’ll be able to take and daydreaming about Alaska or Baja.
Most of the past four months have followed this pattern, and I woke up today with the very visceral realization that I’ve been treading water, doggy-paddling in the middle of a vast expanse of lake (it doesn’t feel as wild and untamed as an ocean) where I can barely see the other side, and I don’t know how long it will take to get there or if I have the energy to keep going. We finally had our third intrauterine insemination (IUI), but I won’t know for another week if I’m pregnant. I found a child on the adoption website who might be a good fit for us, but I’m waiting to learn more from the social worker. I found an awesome conversion van in my price range, but someone else bought it by the time I inquired. I’m supposed to leave Friday for a long-anticipated camping trip in Acadia, but the timing is all wrong and I’ll either have to cut my trip short or skip a cycle of fertility treatments because I won’t be home in time for the next round of blood work and medications.
And then there are my bigger concerns around money, career, and what the hell I’m even doing with my life. In January I made the intentional decision to take a few months off from my coaching business (I’d already cleared my schedule for my winter road trip that was canceled, and decided to keep my calendar clear as I embarked on a new round of fertility treatments). I continued working with a long-time client, but otherwise didn’t take on anything new. I started writing, because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do, though I quickly abandoned plans for my peak-bagging memoir so I could write about what’s happening in my life now and share it here on Substack. I’ve been really quiet about my writing, aside from sharing snippets to my personal Facebook page and connecting with fellow writers in the Substack app (yes, this blog comes with an app, and you can discover and interact with other great writers there!). I haven’t advertised, I haven’t told my friends about it, I haven’t shared the link with the email list for my coaching business. Yet in four months, I’ve somehow attracted 50 subscribers, and in response to my last post, five of them pledged money for a paid subscription. (OK, so two of those people are my mom and my mother-in-law, and the other two are like moms to me, but one is a person I barely know!)
The problem with taking a four-month break from paid work is that the money stops going into the bank account but it keeps going out of the bank account, especially when the dog has cancer and the fertility treatments keep happening and the car insurance is due. It makes it stressful to think about how we would even afford a kid or an RV or our long-deferred honeymoon to Alaska. It makes me worry that none of those things will happen because I don’t have money, but how can I find the energy to make money when I’m so busy treading water?
Then, enter the shame and self-blame: I’ve spent the last five years as a life coach and business coach. I’ve helped dozens of people do the very things that I have done before and now need to do again: get unstuck, break out of a rut, unhook from negative thoughts and limiting beliefs, launch and grow a business, and tell other people about it. My bossy perfectionist parts say, “What’s wrong with you? You know how to do this. Stop being lazy. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Go do something!”
Yet there is a smaller voice; the voice of the child inside of me who is curled up with her Puffy and her Binky, the one who whispers: “I’m tired. I’m sad. I’m scared. I need a nap. Please just hold me and rub my back.”
The Jedi skill is to be able to listen to both of those voices—and all the others in my head—and nurture all of them. The bossy one has a good point that it’s time to do something, even if she’s not being very nice about it. The little girl is reminding me just how much I am holding right now emotionally and physically, like the four dead babies in the flower pot downstairs, the fertility drugs messing with my hormones, and the not knowing if I’ll ever be a mom. According to the Internal Family Systems (IFS) parts-work model I’m trained in, the key is to cultivate my own Self-energy so that I can lovingly listen to all of my parts and help them heal. This energy is rare and fleeting these days (except for my one good week last month), but I have more of it when I move my body and spend time outside. Even better if I can stop thinking for a few minutes and just be present in this moment and breathe.
After I pause and tune in, the little girl lets me know that my tummy is hungry and my throat is thirsty. The bossy one relaxes a bit and reminds me I was going to work on my website and social media (Liz Explores is now on Instagram and Facebook—come join me!). Another part feels motivated to fold the laundry and get the mail off the dining room table before the social worker arrives for our final home study this afternoon, our last step to get approved for adoption. My Self-energy reminds my parts that we will do the best we can, and it’s OK if it doesn’t all get done today. I have permission to do it all UNperfectly.
Before I sign off to go stretch and eat and clean and work, I now have the confidence to ask you:
Would you like to become a paid subscriber of Liz Explores, to support my work so I can keep writing what’s real for me and sharing it with you? Here’s a button to pledge your support for $50/year or $5/month (there’s also a Founding Members price of $250, and you get a free 1:1 life-coaching session with me, so it pays for itself!). With any of these options, you won’t be charged until I turn on paid subscriptions, and when I do, you’ll get some special posts each month that I don’t share publicly, whether they’re details of my latest adventure or my latest meltdown. (If you’ve already pledged, thank you SO MUCH! You rock!)
I’m also thinking about launching a new coaching program, so that I have an excuse to brush up on all my mindset tools, and so I can get back to sharing them with other people who might find them helpful. I’ve got deep training and experience with the Enneagram, Positive Intelligence, and Internal Family Systems parts-work, and a big goal of mine for the past year has been to integrate these models into a powerful system for personal development (I’m the only person I know of, anywhere in the world, who has expertise in all three). I thought I’d squirrel myself away this winter and figure out the magic formula on my own, but it turns out I work best when I’m in community, collaborating with and learning from my clients as we practice and grow together. If you’d maybe like to be a part of this, drop me a note in the comments or send me a private message on Facebook or Instagram and we can talk about what I’m thinking and what would be helpful for you. All of my coaching has an underlying theme of letting go of perfectionism, calming the inner critic, having more fun, and tapping into our inner Badass. (I promise I’m really good at this, despite my whining—it’s much easier to support other people with these skills than it is to use them on myself, and working with others is the best refresher for me!)
I’m still in the water, but the sun is coming out. The shore is coming into view. I can swim with calm strokes, turning my face to the sky to float when I need to. Boats full of people glide past me and wave. There’s a bright yellow raft I can climb on and lie in the sun as long as I want. I no longer feel the urgency to reach the other side; why not relax and enjoy my swim? The water is lovely.
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