Home » Blog » Growing Up

Tag: Growing Up

What’s the kindest thing you could do for yourself right now?

You may or may not have noticed that my blog has been on hiatus for almost two months now. At first this wasn’t on purpose — I didn’t plan to stop writing. But I did and one week became four, became six.

For the past two months I’ve been turned inward, moving through a phase of transformation that has left the rest of my life on pause. I haven’t been blogging. I haven’t been marketing my coaching business. I haven’t been keeping up with the chores and minutiae of everyday living the way I usually do.

This is what the first phase of change looks like.

It’s inward-turning and silent. It’s still to the point of motionlessness.

When you’re deeply buried in the first quiet stirrings of a profound shift, you move so slowly that some days you might not move at all — a breath caught in your own tightened throat.

To pause in this way can feel so uncomfortable.

In the first weeks after I slowed all the way down to my stop, I felt like everything was falling apart — or maybe that I was falling apart and taking my life down with me.

It was hard to watch.

It was hard to watch myself fall apart, to watch the habit and abilities I had attached my self-worth to fall away until it felt like there was nothing left but me — naked, needy, useless.

In part, I stopped writing because I felt I had nothing to offer, nothing to give.

I don’t want to sugar-coat this because this is what the beginning of a transformation looks like.

In order to make room for what will be, what was needs to fall away.

And in between what was and what will be you may feel as raw and naked as a newborn baby, squalling with the first stinging breath of air in your unaccustomed lungs.

I think that all change begins like this. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and ungainly and in many ways objectively awful-feeling.

And when it happens to you, here’s what you do.

You take care of yourself.

It sounds nice on paper, and maybe what you imagine in your head when you read these words is a kind of retreat or idyll. Cozy mornings, long baths, quiet hours spent reading or journalling — but in my experience taking care of yourself in the middle of a meltdown is not nearly so romantic.

Because when you get down to brass tacks, taking care of yourself in a meltdown looks mostly like giving yourself permission to not-do all the things you want to be not-doing.

  • It looks like making oatmeal for dinner instead of cooking when you’re tired.
  • It looks like calling in sick when you wake up in exhausted and aching and feeling awful.
  • It looks like not-doing anything that isn’t essential: laundry when you’re out of underwear, the grocery store when you have literally nothing left to eat

If you’re like me then you have words for yourself when you live this way.

Lazy. Useless. Irresponsible. Worthless. Slob. Slacker. Whiny. Disappointment. Burden.

They’re not very nice words, are they?

Your words would maybe be different than mine, but I think most of us tend toward self-judgement when we feel like we’re falling apart.

I think that most of us have a habit of feeling like letting things fall apart is not okay.

It’s hard to recognize in the moment that these words are lies.

There’s no actual difference between “barely holding it together” and “thriving” — you’re living your life whether you made oatmeal for dinner or three loving courses from scratch.

It’s good. You’re alive. It’s enough.

You are doing enough.

In moments of meltdown it can be hard to remember this, which is why it’s your job to keep remembering.

In the middle of the meltdown taking care of yourself looks like giving yourself permission to fall apart.

To keep whispering softly: “hey, it’s okay, you’re okay, it’s going to be okay” to that scared little part of you that’s deathly afraid of letting things fall apart.

When you’re ready to make a big shift it’s going to feel like you’re falling apart. This is because the old you is falling apart… you are shedding the skin that no longer fits you and it’s going to look ugly at first.

(There’s an awkward beauty to that ugliness if you look long enough.)

So when it happens — because it happens to all of us eventually: take care of yourself.

From moment to moment, just keep asking: “What’s the kindest thing I could do for myself right now?”

Do that.

Much love,
Jessica

How to find joy

I believe in joy. After all, who doesn’t? And yet so often joy is something we think of as elusive.

Joy is the mirage we chase our whole lives — always searching for it around the next corner, the next raise, the next promotion.

Soon, we think. Soon I’ll have everything I could possibly want.

Soon I’ll have everything I need to be happy.

And then we get the job or the raise or the promotion — and inevitably it doesn’t turn out like we’d expected.

We’re disappointed.

We might be angry or frustrated. We might even feel betrayed.

There was a time in my life when I felt betrayed.

I felt like the way we talk about success and happiness in America had betrayed me, had led me down the wrong path — a path that had promised happiness but had ultimately left me mired in misery.

That time was post-MIT when I’d sunk everything into pursuing a dream only to look up and wonder whose dream it was that I was chasing.

I’d wrecked myself on sleepless nice and a ceaseless cascade of stress — and in the end it seemed that my suffering had bought me only what I didn’t want: a desk job I didn’t love, a paycheck I didn’t spend, and life in a city I dreamed of escaping.

And for a while, I felt betrayed. Angry. Hurt. Bitter. Exhausted.

That misery was the fork in my road, the moment in which I had to decide whether I thought that joy ultimately lay just a little farther down the path or whether I was going to have to venture off into parts unknown in order to find it.

I was pretty sure that joy didn’t lay farther ahead down the same well-worn path — but the problem was I was afraid to venture off the path.

I was afraid I might get lost.

But here’s the thing. I’ve been venturing off the path for a while now — in some ways for years.

And joy isn’t out there in the woods somewhere and joy isn’t on the path.

Joy is locked away in your own heart and the easiest way to find it is to stop looking and notice.

I can say this because I still haven’t moved far from the path.

I’m still working a desk job that increasingly I find I enjoy.

I’m still living in a city I wish I could move out of — but increasingly I find that the city is also beautiful in it’s own impenetrable way.

I realize now that I volunteered myself for suffering because I wanted the world to approve of me and of my choices — and I’ve learned that the only approval I really need is my own.

And you know what? The magic of it is that often these days I’m just ridiculously grateful and happy.

So often these days I just sit quietly and feel myself marinating in joy.

And what I’m learning now is that when you find joy within yourself first, it stops seeming so scary to venture off the path.

Now it’s your turn! Have you quit seeking happiness? What simple pleasures of everyday life bring you joy? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

Heimat and homesickness

In German there is a word, Heimat, which rather famously doesn’t have any direct translation into English. Most commonly the word is translated as “home” or “homeland”, words which are respectively, too small and too large to encompass the feeling of Heimat.

Heimat is more than a home and less than a homeland. It is the spaces that made you, the places that live tenderly inside your heart, it is not one place but many places — places that somehow add up to something whole.

When I first learned the word Heimat in a German class during college it seemed to me a revelation. A word that I had been looking for ever since I had left my home and flown across the country to go to school at MIT. It was a word I hadn’t known I’d need until I had moved away from home and found myself unable to explain the way I missed my home: not so much with sadness, but almost viscerally — as though the rocks and trees themselves were a part of me that I’d left, planted in soft soil some 3,000 miles away.

I still feel that way. Even after living in Boston for almost seven years, the city has never felt like home. My Heimat is still a piece of Northern California roughly described by the boundaries of Humboldt County, a place that is indelibly etched on the ventricles of my heart.

I mention this because the weather in Boston has been remarkably reminiscent of home this past week and I’ve been feeling more than a little homesick (heimwehkrank) as I listened to the rain pouring down outside my bedroom window and remembered so many nights spent similarly as a child in my bed at home.

This week I thought I’d share a little something I wrote about it:

It’s raining in Boston — a grey, cold rain that reminds of Christmas in California even though today is the first day of June. The sound of the rain dances in my soul and I feel blessed and washed clean of the weariness and heartbreaks that have gathered in me since the moment I first boarded a plane, almost seven years ago now, and flew away from the rocky beaches and tall trees I call home.

I boarded that plane with my heart in my throat but with a miracle stretching out before me — an unfolding of possible futures that had felt limitless.

As I flew across the country and away from childhood, as I descended into adulthood, I felt at once impossibly small and still larger than life, tucked away in the confines of my seat.

Now, seven years later, I no longer feel the same swell of possibility that floated in me as my heart caught in my throat. Seven years later and I feel bone-weary and over-wrought in a way that leaves me wondering, more days than not, whether it is still possible to keep on going when I feel so very tired.

And the miracle is that I do.

Day after day. Year after year.

Each morning I march off into the dawn like the “good” girl I’ve always aspired to be.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I can feel in me an exhausted yearning for tall trees and rocky beaches. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I miss my home some days the way one might miss a lost tooth — as though there is a palpable emptiness inside me that I remain unable to fill.

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I long to go home. Someday.

On some not-so-distant future morning.

But not this morning. Because on this morning the rains have come to wash my weariness clean and I can almost imagine that the swish of cars driving by on soggy streets is the sound of spruce trees — swaying in the wind.

 

Now it’s your turn! What does Heimat mean to you?

 

When I look back, I see

When I look back the images that I see are of me, a little girl cast adrift in a sea that is vaster than her own imagination. I see myself in math class, attempting to hold within the circle of my skull the number of drops of water in the ocean.

I see infinity and zero superimposed such that infinity is nothing more than two zeros. I see infinity in the Ouroboros – and I struggle to reach my own tail – to become at once infinite and still nothing more than two zeros.infinity symbol

Two zeros side-by-side, like breasts, the pendulous sort I never grew. The sort of breasts I dreamed of as a little girl when I lay in bed at night and felt the tenderness of blossoms on my chest.

Two zeros side-by-side like me, a small zero tucked away in the larger cavern of my mother’s womb, sharing life-blood and oxygen back and forth between our two connected destinies. A moment in the infinite re-production of life stretching back through untold generations of mother giving birth to mother and to mother.

When I look back I see the moments in which I dared not stretch to my full height for fear of being too tall and I see the moments in which I sang oh-so-quietly for fear of being off-key.

I see the moments of lack and they are, each and every one, met by an equal moment of grace: the afternoon I spent at the beach not-thinking, just waiting for my heartbeat to synchronize with the rhythm of the tide.

I see sun drenched days spent on beaches with friends, with family. I see rocks that begged to be climbed until I could stand atop them like a god and know that I was just as infinite as our ever-expanding universe.

When I look back, I see everything.

I’d love to hear from you! What do you see when you look back? Let me know in the comments.

The drumbeat in my temples

The first time it happens I think I might be dying.

I’m in third grade. I’m sitting in the classroom and there’s a spot in my vision, a speck that shimmers in the morning light.

At first the speck is small and unimportant and I think that if I ignore it, it will simply go away.

And then it grows.

The spot grows and grows, eating everything in its path. First, a pencil eraser. Then it gobbles up my name, traced in graphite at the top of my worksheet.

It curves, a shimmering blue crescent, a lake of opacity that dominates my sight.

It mesmerises.

I’ve never experienced anything like it. No one has ever told me that you can have a shimmering pool of not-quite-moonlight-on-water in your eye that grows and grows, blotting out everything in its path.

I do not interrupt my teacher, not then, not at first. Not so much because I am not frightened, but because I am not certain of what words might be used to describe my problem. I am not sure how to speak of this pounded-silver crescent that has developed in my eye.

I say nothing about this spot and it’s growing-ness. I watch it as it grows until, just at the moment when I am about to panic, it begins, once more, to recede.

Evaporating from its edges like tidal waters dragged out, once more, to sea.

My vision returns.

And then the agony sets in.

I go home from school that day and my mother teaches me the word for migraine. She calls my shimmering crescent a “visual aura” and tells me that they come and then go and are followed by a headache.

She gives me Advil and a cup of tea because the caffeine will make the Advil more effective.

It is the day I learn that Advil doesn’t help a migraine. Not even if you take it with caffeine.

There will be other migraines after that first one. Several handfuls before I mostly grow out of them somewhere between middle school and high school.

Many will be treated with some Advil and an ineffectual cup of tea.

Some will be so bad that I vomit from the pain.

And it will be many years before I can face the aroma of a simple cup of tea without the echo of a drumbeat in my temples.

I’d love to hear from you! Let me know what you thought of this piece in the comments below 🙂