Just a quick update. Tomorrow is Turkey Day…and I am still on bedrest because I am still dealing with a lot of old blood and old blood clots. I am not sure that I feel you yet. I am fearful as I haven’t been at work for 13 days, even though I am doing some things from home. I am feeling very cut off from my “normal” life, but I am still trying to be okay.
It is a gray, rainy, dark day. If you are anything like me, the weather can really impact your disposition. I am going to talk to you about something that has been a major struggle in my life. I spent a lot…a lot…of years suffering with anxiety and depression. I don’t want to get into the how and why I was that way, that is part of the story, but the bigger thing here is that I am through it, yet never entirely rid of it. I guess what I mean is that I worked very hard to know myself better and, in doing so, I think that I can recognize the bad traps that come up from time to time. Being on bedrest has certainly kicked the anxiety alarm for me, but the power of hope, the support from your dad and family, and the steady glow of faith that renews itself in me when I pray is keeping the fear in check and mostly at bay.
As a young child I was unabashed and lived this radiant, confident, joyous life. Sadly however, when I was in third grade the family atmosphere made a sudden and dramatic shift and not only did I have to attempt to grow up fast, but I also had to learn to temper my ferocity. I still had my own emotional outbursts which were either tripped by or added to an already tempestuous environment where my mom and I butted heads – frequently. We had a very rocky relationship for many years and there is nothing that I can do to go back and make up for that. I often tried to be perfect in order to win approval, which (my bad) I relied on other’s approval way too much rather than being okay on my own. The maddening drive for perfection and the spotlight was exhausting. There is a child psychology theory about a child being able to feel “good enough” – if you search child psych and good enough there is a lot to read there, and when I studied it, so much of that theory hits the nail on the head for me. I never felt like I was good enough and soon I took on that belief for myself well, well into my adult life. There is a balance between being a total lazy, unmotivated slob falling far short of one’s potential and being the overly frantic mess of a perfectionist who can not appreciate any well-earned gains. I was the frantic mess and strived to be the star and the best at all things. The energy that it took to maintain such a pace is impossible to sustain and the inevitable crash and burn was always around the corner. And when I crashed, man did I burn. And the anxiety would give way to depression as I fell into a hole of failure, self-loathing, and regret. Of course the failure was most often my own distorted reality and the real failure was how much of my childhood, teen, and adolescent years were scarred by this ever-present gray cloud of mental anguish.
The reason for me going into this is because anxiety and depression is a part of me, but a part that forced me to really come into my own. I wonder if people who don’t go through this are just naturally more self-assured or if it was a matter of living a life free of the traps that got me. Again, in psychology there is a great debate over “Nature versus Nurture,” and I think that people’s situations are a combination of both. Maybe my overly sensitive and competitive nature, which has been a benefit to me at times, can also become a slippery slope to a personality flaw where I get too hurt and expect too much without the ability to manage loss. And with regards to nurture, my fractured relationship with my mom and her own physical and mental struggles when I was a kid certainly made the environment at home a place where I encountered struggle too. The point is, that this force that was such a presence in my world didn’t beat me, nor did I completely vanquish it. Rather, in seeking a means to combat its negative impact I expanded my scope of vision. There have been a few key aspects to this vision quest. I had to learn more about who I am and what I can be “good enough” at. I had to learn that being good enough was enough…and that was hard to do as it meant bringing that star part of me into check. Believe me, I still like to be the star, but it isn’t something that I obsess about. I read about Buddhism and learned to use some simple mindfulness in order to calm the storm of anxiety or move myself into a shaft of light when my thoughts would be dark. I turned to nature and found myself being grateful for the beauty my life allowed me to behold. And one of the most powerful things that resonated with me was a Native American parable about two wolves.
According this legend, in all of our hearts live two wolves. One is dark and feeds on anger, feel, jealousy, hate, regret, sadness, and fear. The other is white and is nourished by love, kindness, giving, understanding, forgiveness, hope, empathy, and happiness. These two wolves are always at battle with one another and the grand question to ask yourself is: based on what you feed them, which wolf wins? I remember hearing that and it really clicked for me. Both wolves are ever-present, but it is what I am feeding them with my thoughts and actions that determines which one is stronger. And, this my son, is something that I hope you will carry with you too. I want you, on your own, and with the help of us, your family, to do all that we can to keep the white wolf strong and healthy. That isn’t to say the dark wolf won’t be there at times too. Everything in life is a balance, so it is important that we do not let that dark wolf become too large and too fierce that he drives the white wolf away. So, in this, I have tried to recognize moments where I can tell what and how much I am giving to either one. This has helped me the most as I move into the middle part of my life.
The other thing that I want you to know is that you are not destined to be some mini me or mini your dad. I think that who he and I are, is a part of what shapes you, but the miracle of your life is that it is yours to create. I think that I allowed myself to always try and fit some mold that I thought would be approved of by others. There was a scene in a Julia Roberts movie where she didn’t know what kinds of eggs she liked because she always said her favorite kind was the same as whatever guy was in her life. She never knew herself and because of that she was always just mushing herself into what she thought others would like. That is dangerous. One, you might be afraid that if you can’t keep up the act you will get rejected. Two, you think that who you are at your core is already pre-rejected before giving it a chance to be found and appreciated. I was like this for a long while. Finally, after doing some soul searching, I was ready and grown up enough to meet your dad. I do believe that some heavenly strings were involved in the timing of that. This time, I went into the relationship being 100% goofy, nerdy, over-the-top, super sappy me. I didn’t put on an act and I didn’t hold your dad to some fairy tale expectations. Rather, we were genuine together and through conversations and fun adventures, we learned to trust and be comfortable with one another’s quirks, flaws, and imperfections. Having your dad love me even when I am a complete mess is so amazing and that is what helps me to feel strong now even when I am afraid too.
You will be tested and you will be hurt and you will be afraid. These are things that I can not protect you from. You will experience disappointment, anger, sadness, and all of the things that feed the dark wolf. Those are the things that can sometimes become powerful shaping forces in your life. I do want to you know that you need to take strength from being you and from knowing that your dad and I will always love you – unconditionally. You will have to work hard and make something of the miracle that is your life, but that is your path to navigate and the more you can know who you are at your core, the better choices you will make. And you will probably make some dumb choices and have to live with the consequences, but don’t give up. And sometimes the things we think we need, want, and should be doing are not realized, so we need to look with calm eyes to see the other possibilities that we never imagined. And when you are struggling never allow yourself to believe you are all alone…that is how that dark wolf really hurts the white wolf. Reach out and connect…it doesn’t have to be to me or your dad, but to someone who will feed the white wolf with light and positive energy. This is all easier to type on a computer than it is to practice in real life, and I know that. Anyway, my baby, I am trying to help you if you should find yourself feeding too much to that dark wolf. Right now, the hope that I have to see your face and hold you in my arms is a pretty awesome diet for the white wolf – see? Even when things are not the rose-colored movie-type storyline that I may have hoped for, this bedrest is allowing me precious time to focus my thoughts on things that I want you to know. So, this talk about the wolves was something I very much wanted you to know.