the things we thought we wanted.

High school graduation happened for me on a hot, sticky June evening in 1999. As I sat on stage sweating, my hair growing larger and frizzier by the moment, I cared not what was being said at the podium. Instead, I was thinking about my looming escape from the shit small town where I grew up (an adolescent tale as old as time, right?). I had it all planned out: college, law school, a move to Boston (or other major metropolitan area) where I’d become a rich, high-powered attorney. It should come as no surprise that Ally McBeal was informing a lot of my understanding of what adulthood should look like, at the time. Being 18 is embarrassing, in retrospect. What did I know? I had an EYEBROW RING.

It’s 23 (!) years later, and I never went to law school. Or moved to Boston (or other major metropolitan area). And I spent many years bemoaning those facts, while also looking to some vague idea of the future as to when my life would “start.” I’ve made a fulfilling career of serving others and I know at my core it’s what I was meant to do in the world. But I could never shake the thought that I had this path, and I didn’t follow it.

I’ve spent a lot of the past 3 years really working on myself (i.e., paying for a lot of therapy in which I had to get very real about life and also cry/rage a lot to a woman who I am lucky enough to have found). It has not been a linear process; in fact, often times I felt like I was moving backward. It has frequently felt terrible, but the net result has been healing. I know myself now, I fully inhabit who I am and what I want and need and expect. This has allowed to re-examine existing beliefs, narratives, and ideas about my life, the lives of those I love, and those maybe I don’t love so much, anymore.

I went away a few weeks ago, alone, to stay with my friends who were renting a country farmhouse in the Hudson Valley. And while I was there, I came back to myself, as just me. Not as a mom, or a wife, or a professional, or any other identity I possess. Only me. The noise (metaphorical and literal) ceased, and I could think-hold myself in my proverbial hand and examine who I am, who I was, and who I want to be. And in those days, I realized something.

There was never any path.

Or more likely, there were many paths, and I had ideas about what I wanted mine to be. That’s all–ideas. And mine have changed many, many times over the years, as I experienced things and cracked open, making space for deeper understanding of the world and my place in it. I realize now that the expectations I had for myself when I was younger would’ve never made me happy. They seemed like a necessary blueprint for getting away from that town, those people, that mindset, that life. And while I maintain that I needed to do that getting away to have a shot at being who I am, who I wanted to be, I understand now that doing that can look like a lot of things. It was and is education (formal and informal), trying and failing, keeping and open heart and open mind, nourishing my self-worth and love, traveling, moving away from the black-and-white and into the gray, being clear on my values and moral compass. I’ve done that. Mission accomplished.

You know what I want, now? I want a home in the woods, where I can’t see or hear anyone else but my husband, son, and all the wild things we share our land with. I want to grow my food, make art through photos and writing, lavish the people I love with time and attention, and build a life around connection and meaning. I want to keep serving others as long as it feels good and does good. More analog living and less technology. I hope to work toward these things…maybe some of it will happen, and some of it won’t. But in this second half of my life, it will be more of a guiding philosophy in decision-making, and less prescriptive.

Am I getting older? You bet. Maybe this all sounds like the rambling of someone settling into middle age. But it feels so good, so warm, so right. There is so much that matters so little, and even more that matters a lot. And I think I may have confused those things, for a long time.

I’ve been talking about this with my friends and peers, and I’m finding that many of them share a similar sentiment. We were all sold the idea of a very narrow path toward and into adulthood and what success and happiness should look like, which really amounts to hustle culture. Competition, money, throwing yourself into being the best, having the best, doing the best. And I think we’re tired and finally realizing that for many of us, it wasn’t reality. We want to be present in our lives in real ways, to approach our work as something that funds our lives, not dictates it. You can do good in this world professionally, and still maintain personal boundaries and identities. There is nothing noble in losing yourself to the hustle, no matter what it is.

What did 18 year old you want? And how does grown-up you feel about where you landed? What matters most?

the truth hurts. until it helps.

There’s some phrase about secrets making you sick, right? Sounds like it originates from old school sobriety communities, but there is something to it, nonetheless. I’m going to share something with you guys, something that scares me more than anything else to share. My biggest shame, and I’ve shared quite a few over the years in this space.

I have binge eating disorder. I was formally diagnosed in early February, but I’ve known that was the case for awhile. Writing that, “saying” that, makes me feel utterly exposed and well, just kind of gross. As a cisgender female-identifying person who came of age in the 80s/90s, it feels like there can be nothing worse to admit about yourself. But, I’ve learned something over the past few months: nothing takes the power and angst out of something like exposing it.

I’ve discussed in the past here that weight/body image is something I’ve long struggled with (take a number, right?), but over the past 5 or so years, I’ve developed extremely unhealthy eating habits and an increasingly sedentary way of living. I’ve blamed it on a million things: stress, the nature of my job, being busy, PCOS, etc. Those things don’t help, for sure. But the bottom line was, anxiety (and secondary depression), unresolved hurts/traumas (a big one being the death of my mom), and an increasing desperation to stop feeling those things, conspired to create a perfect storm. What I’ve realized now, is that while I was aware on an intellectual level of those things, I was completely disconnected between my mind and my body (and believe whatever you want, folks-that connection is very real, and very necessary for overall health).

I never really understood when people would talk about feeling empty and needing to fill that void with something-food, alcohol, relationships, whatever. But I’ve discovered that’s exactly what was happening to me-stuff, stuff, stuff until you’re so uncomfortable and checked out. It’s a vile feeling, but it sort of “exhausts” the other things you’re feeling, if that makes sense.

I started doing really secretive things like only eating certain foods in front of people, and then binging on “bad” things in private, hiding wrappers and packaging in the trash, throwing away receipts, you name it. Things I imagine are indicative of active addiction. In retrospect I kind of think its funny that I thought it was so secretive-my weight was giving me away.

But one day, something happened to crack the facade. Andy and I were looking through my online banking app for something for taxes and I got super, super anxious that somehow he was going to see what I was spending on food, and how frequently I was doing so. He, of course, didn’t. In that moment I thought to myself, ‘Am I going to keep doing this? This is completely exhausting.‘ And I just looked at him, and told him everything. And then I told my sister and my friends. And all of them being the incredible, loving people they are-they listened without judgement, and offered me all the support they had.

Since then, I’ve been working with my therapist, my doctor, and a dietitian. I’ve been finally treating myself with the care I would treat someone else who is struggling. I’m showing up for myself, first. I’m very early on in my recovery (and that’s really what this is), but I am down 20lbs, and feeling good. I am still triggered by emotions and presence of certain things (hey, candy!), but the focus I’m placing on connecting my thoughts/feelings to my body is helping me build healthier skills. I’m practicing feeling and processing things, and I’m also limiting the other things that hinder me, like alcohol. I’ve got so long to go, but I feel good about the foundation.

This is all extremely difficult for me to share, because it exposes me in a way that causes me deep shame (working on that too). But as much as I’m doing it to flex my own vulnerability muscle, it’s my hope that maybe someone else struggling with something like this will read it and be able to name it, in their own lives. I feel like a pressure valve has been released in my life, and I feel like I’m actually alive again. I want other people to feel that way, too. We all deserve it.

I have HAD it.

What was that? I ask myself, as I lay in bed, trying to will myself to sleep. A tiny twinge of pain in my head (Aneurysm!), or a knotted pain in my stomach (Cancer?), and I’m sent swirling into a spiral of anxiety or panic. On the REALLY heavy nights (Sundays, amirite? IYKYK), it veers to the more existential: the dying of our democracy, an unrelenting pandemic, climate disaster. The chaos of the world, of my middle-aged worries, of the things I cannot control, have all taken residence in my bed, in my mind, in my body. And I’m tired. I’m so tired of fear and despair and hopelessness.

I’ve talked to my therapist about this, and she assures me I’m having a garden variety midlife crisis. But this is so much deeper than that. I feel fundamentally unsafe in the world, as though all of civilization is careening towards this proverbial brick wall of destruction. And I’ve learned that so many people share these feelings, which makes me feel simultaneously better and SO MUCH WORSE. I’m used to being the anxious worrier-I need other people to ground me. It’s like when you’re on a plane and turbulence hits, or the plane makes a weird noise-what do you do? You look towards the flight attendants. If they are walking about and doling out beverages, you relax. I love to be right and validated, but not in times of worry! Tell me I’m wrong, that I’m overreacting, that it’s OK. Keep pushing the beverage cart, so to speak-don’t buckle yourself into the jump seat and suspend service. I need YOU to remain calm.

I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression my entire life, but this is something different. It’s paralytic, almost. And it’s making me angry. I have an almost non-existent fuse, now. Por ejemplo: I was recently at an intersection, where I waved a man on. He then responded by throwing up his hands in exasperation, which was…confusing? Rather than ignore it, I screamed “F**K YOU!” out the window and gave him the finger. At 8am. What kind of monster does that? But it’s like it’s all bubbling there, right at the surface. The only thing bringing me any sort of real contentment and fulfillment is…get this…work. I got a promotion early this year, and I have been loving my work. And I’m taking very careful steps not to sink into it, because the last thing I need right now is professional burnout. But it’s the only thing that feels predictable and controlled.

I don’t really know why I’ve made the decision to share all this, especially after almost two years of silence on this blog (a medium which now feels painfully outdated, but hey, I’M now outdated, at 40). I think I’m just at max capacity. I mean, where are you guys at? How are you processing this hellscape we call the 21st century on a dying planet? The few things that seem to help me are: my friends, my sister, Andy, and D, being outdoors, and (of course) listening to Daddy Obama tell everyone it’s going to be OK, on podcasts. But what does the other side of this look like? IS there one?

Wow, ok.

Welp, that escalated quickly. I’m coming to you from my dining room table which has become a sort of weird self-isolation command center: work space, school space, puzzle I’m never going to actually finish space, and other random detritus that gives me anxiety to even look at. I’m not a cluttered dining room table person, and quite frankly, this is just more stress I don’t need right now. Fucking social distancing.

We’re on day 4, and I don’t know about you, but life over here is pure lawlessness. I’m wearing jeans that I’ve had on since like Sunday, trying to work (and by work, I mean transfer my entire service area over to a remote model), educate my kid, keep my dog exercised, and keep the house quiet so my husband can also deal with 1,000 conference calls. I’ve never felt more in control! *cries, stuffs Oreos/english muffins/pretzels/string cheese/Dots in mouth*

Here’s a true illustration of how it’s going: yesterday, Andy and I both had to be on important calls simultaneously, so I tried setting D up with some art to keep him busy. As is his norm, he flew through it in 10 minutes, and began whining and flinging himself all over the sofa for attention, while I muted my phone and hissed violently at him to be quiet. The call I was on was full of feedback/static and everyone kept talking at the same time, which was enraging me, and then! THEN. The dog started throwing up. And then D started dry-heaving, and I just started in disbelief that my life has taken this turn so rapidly. I mean, WHAT THE HELL IS EVEN HAPPENING RIGHT NOW? So, I sat for another 45 minutes on this call, angry, staring at piles of rapidly cooling dog puke in my living room that I could do nothing about. How’s it going at your house?

For real, though, this is weird, right? I keep vacillating between “This is fine, we can do this” and “Holy shit, this doesn’t have an end date, and I’m going to be stuck at home for the rest of my life.” Anyone that knows me, knows that the idea of being “caged” in by anything really, really doesn’t sit well with me.

Today’s a good day for me, but honestly, most days I am scared and deeply unsettled. About all the same things you are: the economy, the social isolation, the illness, the long-term effects of all this. I’m pissed at the lack of testing, the lack of sound guidance and leadership from the shithead pretending to be president, the countless people on social media who keep spreading misinformation as fact, in that angry, grammatically-inept, misspelled, racist way they have. I’m worried about D’s lack of interaction and opportunities to play with other children. About how I structure his days to ensure that he completes his educational responsibilities and meets expected outcomes, while I also try to work. And for real-if the weather turns and we start getting days on end of rain, shit’s going to get VERY dark over here. My one saving grace is being outside multiple times a day, getting to take walks.

But! All of this aside, I see some benefits in what we’re living through:

-People are waking up to the way they live, in terms of sustainability, destruction, waste and mindlessness. This very much includes me.

-I have witnessed so much generosity and kindness between people, and things that have been created to help people feel less isolated. People are realizing we all belong to each other. I wrote on social media the other night about how bad I was feeling, and my friend Sean took the time to do a meditation with me over FB Live. Not only did the meditation itself help, but I came away feeling less lonely and disconnected from others. Sean, if you’re reading this, I hope you know how much you impacted me with your kindness.

-My dog is getting WAY more exercise.

-I am getting WAY more exercise.

And the big one: it’s been a huge lesson in gratitude.

As I look around at all the mindless hoarding occurring, the isolation so many people are facing, the health complications that people face that makes this deadly for them, I realized with renewed sense that I am SO lucky. We have enough food, and the ability to get more whenever we need it. We have a warm, cozy home to stay in. I have love-my husband and son, and my friends. I have technology to call those friends and see their beautiful faces smiling back at me. But with all that, I (and so many others) are responsible to lighten the load for others. So, I sincerely hope that everyone out there that can, is helping out: your neighbors, your local businesses, the children in your community. Even just a phone call can change someone’s day right now.

I know that we are just at the beginning of all this, so I want us all to connect: tell me how you’re experiencing all this-leave a comment here, or on social media. Let’s talk, and share, and love.

The stories we tell ourselves.

In the work I’m doing to heal and grow, I’ve been thinking a lot about self-narrative. You know, the story you tell yourself about who you are, how the world sees you, and what you’re capable of. The things you just accept as fact about yourself. Of course, this is great when that narrative is affirming, but what about all the other things we tell ourselves, that aren’t so great?

I’m reading a book now called Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies, by Tara Schuster and in it, Schuster calls this narrative “the frenemy within.”  It’s that voice that tells you all the shitty things you come to believe about yourself-you’re lazy, undeserving, incapable, and so on, and how mindlessly we just absorb it all as gospel, shrinking ourselves from our full potential and ability to achieve the goals we have. That gave me pause. Do I do that? LOL, you sure as hell do!

So I got up this morning to journal (another Schuster strategy) before the day started, and explored this a bit further. I wrote down all the stories I tell myself about who I am…and it wasn’t great. I have terrible internal narratives about:

-my ambition/initiative/work success

-my parenting abilities

-my relationships

-my appearance

-my personality

Then I further broke each down, and looked at the root of my self-perceptions. And objectively speaking, nothing is rooted in undeniable fact. They’re rooted in societal norms, me taking things personally that are not personal whatsoever (another thing I need to work on), and my history: my childhood, traumas I’ve experienced, things I’ve witnessed other people experience, my struggles with anxiety.

After last week’s post, I got a lot of messages from people saying how much my experiences resonated with where they are in life, too. So, if that’s the case for you, I urge you to reflect on your self-narrative and try breaking it down: think about what you to believe to be true about yourself that isn’t positive or serving you, and then take some time to dissect it. Why do you hold those thoughts? How is it affecting your life, your plans, your goals? I think it might surprise you, how much you’re holding yourself back.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hobble back to the sofa to ice my lower back, since I injured it last night by STANDING UP FROM A CHAIR. #foreveryoung

Love you, bbs.

Where did I go?

Almost 4 years. That’s the last time I wrote. The last time I did something I have loved doing my entire life. While we’re at it, I haven’t removed my camera from its bag in years, either. There are so many things like this that I’m discovering lately, as the realization sinks in that I seem to have lost myself. I don’t know what happened, or how to get back to that place.

I’ve slowly taken up a meditation practice over the past 4 months, and it’s been eye-opening, in terms of really examining myself and my life from all angles. The realization that I’ve been on this weird auto-pilot, while also feeling extremely unfulfilled and lost. I look in the mirror, and I don’t recognize myself- physically (which is another source of inner turmoil) or spiritually…my eyes have lost their light. While there is part of me that is grateful to be seeing myself more clearly, I have to say…it’s really, really painful and uncomfortable. And I can’t get away from it.

Like all women, I give a lot of myself away, all the time. My career, my marriage, parenthood, community obligations, you name it-it sucks me dry. Until now, I haven’t been able to name it. I am frequently angry, impatient, sad, and exhausted. And guilty-all the time, for seemingly everything. For thinking I should be taking on more at work to demonstrate my readiness for new opportunities, for making lazy dinners instead of an IG-worthy meal (that’s also organic!), for not playing a bit longer with D, for the food I put in my mouth and the exercise I don’t do, for going up to bed early to read before I sleep,  because I could be spending that time with A, for not giving my hair a full blowout in the morning, opting instead to tie it up on my head. And a million more things I can’t articulate. It looms.

Why do we do this to ourselves? More accurately, why do we allow societal constraints, media, and expectations to tell us that there is only one way to live: to do it all, to be everything to everyone, and do so with a smile on your face. Don’t be angry, don’t be difficult, don’t complain, don’t cry, don’t be too much. Be agreeable. Think of everyone else! Don’t be selfish. THEY NEED YOU.

It makes me want to run. And I’m confused by these feelings, because I have so much to be grateful for: a husband who supports me in all things, and lifts as many burdens from my shoulders as he can (while also making me laugh), a son who is brilliant, funny, kind, and open-hearted; friends who are the truest definition of family, for me. I’m healthy, my people are healthy, I have a home, a job, food to eat, access to healthcare.

What I’m discovering is, these aren’t feelings of wanting more…they are feelings of wanting less. Less pressure, less fast-paced expectation, less social media, less horrible news bombarding me around the clock from this dumpster fire of an administration,less DO DO DO. Less time constraint. Less guilt. Less of all these things to make room for real abundance: time, love, nature, mindfulness, patience, nourishment in all its forms, and joy. The way I measure success is changing, and I need to change with it.

So, I’m making some commitments to myself, and you:

-carve out time everyday for myself, to do something that lifts me up

-continue working on establishing boundaries for my own well-being

-name the things I need, to the people I love

With that, welcome back to this space. I’ve missed you.

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What the hell just happened?

I’m writing this as Dempsey sleeps on my shoulder, my computer balanced precariously on the Boppy pillow on my lap, and wondering…how did we make it through this past month?
He is 5 weeks old now, 5 weeks that simultaneously dragged and flew by. And I have to be honest-the first 4 were incredibly rough. I didn’t anticipate the difficulty I would have in adjusting. On top of the garden variety lack of sleep, I couldn’t even sleep when he did, because I had such bad anxiety. Trying to recover from a c-section and care for a newborn, dealing with my mother’s death, and just generally worrying about how I was going to adapt to it all, really took a toll on me. I frequently felt sort of out of my mind, and yes-I was suffering from a little depression as a result of it all. And just as swiftly as it all hit me, it all lifted, on the day he turned one month old. I’m not sure what was responsible for the flipped switch, but I am incredibly grateful to be feeling like myself again, happy, much more rested, and able to more freely enjoy the experience.

It got me thinking about the messages that we’re sent about parenthood, and what to expect. I got the impression that sure, I would be sleepy, but life would be so lovely with a new baby, all mushiness and love. And while there were those moments, there were more frequently really difficult ones. I would cry uncontrollably in response to a simple inquiry of “How’s it going?” And no one ever talks about those things, which then makes you feel like there is something wrong with you. I started to feel like a bad parent for feeling like that, for wishing at times that I had my independence back (or even just a free pair of hands), that I could have even one more night of uninterrupted sleep.

Once I started feeling normal again, I felt more comfortable coming clean about these feelings. As I talked to other moms, I began to hear a lot of my statements echoed in their own stories. So many people said that they experienced the same thing, and that those who had multiple children recalled feeling incredible anxiety when they became pregnant with their second child, unsure if they could do it again. So, the lesson in all of this becomes: talk about it. We as women need to share our stories with one another, support each other, validate what others are feeling. Because if we don’t, we continue to perpetuate feelings of isolation, shame and guilt. Women need to know that they aren’t alone in those feelings, that it’s OK to ask for help. Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you normal. Healthy, happy babies need healthy, happy parents, and that’s ultimately what we all want for our families.

I’m amazed everyday at how much easier it gets-how we just adapt to this tiny (yet huge) little person in our lives. I look at Dempsey, watch the way he changes each day, see him growing and developing and becoming his own little person, and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to be his mom. Even more so, I’m grateful for the support of everyone in my life that supported and encouraged me in those first few weeks-it lifted me up at a time when I needed it most.

For my mom.

I lost my mom last week. Fifteen months of battling lung cancer that spread to her bones and kidneys, and it finally became too much for her. I knew on the very day of her diagnosis last year that this would take her, and the manner in which it would do so, and so I began to prepare. We all watched as she dealt with the side effects of her chemotherapy, losing a startling amount of weight, her hair, as well as her normally endless energy. We almost lost her last year after her first round of chemotherapy left her so weak with pneumonia that I still don’t know quite how she survived it. I often felt frustrated at the universe for giving my mom so many “sick days”, when I would see other women out shopping with their friends and daughters, clearly battling some sort of cancer, but healthy enough to enjoy life regularly. My mom didn’t get that. I remember telling her that, and her getting upset, having taken what I was trying to say the wrong way. She thought I was blaming her. I wasn’t, I was trying to communicate my sadness for what she was experiencing, but that was the nature of our relationship. Contentious, edgy, misunderstanding each other around every corner.

I never understood who she was, thought she had no interests or hobbies, wondered silently throughout my life why she didn’t “get a life”-go out with friends, cultivate interests, be her own person. In turn, she often felt that I was uptight, had self-absorbed interests and ideas, and I believe that she often thought that I believed I was smarter than her. In fact, she said as much to me, a few years back. During what I thought was a pleasant conversation, she suddenly erupted, “You think I’m stupid, that I’m not as smart as you are.” I remember confusion being replaced by shock, and my dad quietly suggesting to her, “That is your thing, not hers. She’s not implying that.” Our conversations were frequently a near-miss.

In all the horror of her illness and death, there was a beauty in learning about who she truly was. My mom DID have interests, joys and hobbies-her family and friends. She loved my dad with her whole heart, and never wanted to be a day without him. And each of us, even me-she worried endlessly about our happiness, even if it came out wrong sometimes. “Call or text me when you get there”, she say to me as I left town for work. I would roll my eyes, and say, “No, Mom..I’m a grown woman, I’m not going to do that.” I wish now I had just appeased her anxiety, and said, “OK, Mom”. Her passion and caring often erupted from her in a loud voice, and I would shut down, feeling “yelled at”. She was just trying to convey how much she felt what she was trying to communicate. In the last few months before her death, I spent many days caring for her, and while it broke my heart to have to remind her multiple times about why she was taking medication, or to wash her bald head with “that soap that smells so nice”, I feel so lucky that I had that time alone with her, for us to really connect for the first time, to talk about life and what her greatest joys were, what she would miss. She worried endlessly that she wouldn’t meet Dempsey, and it made me so happy on the day that she was able to rub his little head and kiss him. I feel at ease knowing that she died knowing how much I really did love her.

In the days after her death, there was an outpouring of stories from my mom’s friends, family, co-workers and students about her impact on them. The common thread in all of them was that she made them feel cared about, accepted, worth something. Despite all our differences, I always knew that my sense of social justice, of inclusion, of doing the right thing came directly from her, but I was humbled at the far-reaching impact this seemingly simple woman had on so many people throughout her entire life. I can only hope that I’ll have half the impact on others that she did, that I will raise Dempsey to be a man of strong moral character, with a heart of love to offer the world. Those were her gifts to the people that she loved, and even now, I can feel those things all around me.

To everyone that has shared their love and support with our family over the past year and a half, and particularly in the past week-thank you. You will never know the gratitude that we feel. Each of you has been a beautiful tribute to my mother, and her life.