This year was not pretty. The timeline, when I sit and write it out, is full of very sad news, hard lessons, and loss – for me and so many I love. This year has felt lonely, and painful. It has also been one of the best years of my life, full of unexpected gifts. Confused? Me too.
I made less money, accumulated more debt, and spent less time with friends and family. I carried more self doubt, and made more people unhappy than ever before. It was the first year since 1998, that I have lived without even one pet, after Joules left us this summer. It marked the first time someone I love was very ill, and I was completely unable to help. This year gave my first go-round working with the completely overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, mortality, and limitation, all at once.
Inevitably, because of that, I grew. Growing this much at 39 years of age, has made the ground feel very shaky. Aside from the year’s highlights and hard truths, I changed everything. I not only pushed my comfort zones, I set them on fire. I closed my private practice, and was really honest with people that I, in fact, could not be consistent for them. I went to work in a preschool after 8 years as a nurse practitioner and business owner. I started a 200 hour yoga teacher training, and completed my certification to teach children yoga. That alone was super terrifying – because everyone in central Oregon is a yoga teacher. Seriously.
So, I was certain, for the better part of this year, that I was out of my ever-loving mind. I isolated. I deleted my Facebook, which felt weird, really weird. But then I learned that I don’t have to look good on Facebook, and get nods from others, to know that the life I have is beautiful. All of the time I spent outside with my children really happened, even though it happened in private. In fact, it was really strange to wonder if my moments meant as much as the ones others were posting online. I asked myself, “Why has this kind of thinking taken such a hold on us all?” And now I think I understand how to use these kind of tools a little differently, and less treacherously. We’ll see.
That was not the only unexpected freedom I stumbled upon. Perhaps the most surprising and odd discovery was this: the less money I made, the happier and lighter I felt, even in spite of the financial stressors. My sense of humor returned, my diet changed, I started drinking more water, and I was more active. The less ego I had to show up with, the more I liked myself, even with all the fear. And when I told people, “yeah, I’m a nurse practitioner, working in a preschool,” and smiled, they smiled too.
And really, why wouldn’t I go work in a preschool? The one thing I’ve always loved is being with children. After years of being stressed beyond belief, I get to go to work where I am greeted exuberantly and hugged. I hug kids, and teach them yoga, and sing songs, for money! I hang out with really, really nice people, who are so nice to me. We watch kids grow up and make gains in speech and motor development and socialization, and when I’m not at preschool, I teach yoga to older kids, and show them how to calm their bodies, and we laugh. This is work?
Really, in a nutshell, I have squeezed just about all the glamour out of my life, in favor of simplicity and sweetness. The more I buck the illusion of importance and the pressure to shine out into the world in a serious, authoritative way, the more I’ve reclaimed my actual self. And, as much as it saddens me to write this, I am starting to know my young family in a way I couldn’t even comprehend a year ago.
I’ve been able to soften, and to figure out, after many years with the same man, that I have to actually invite him in to the inside of my heart, where the good stuff can happen. It is, it turns out, safe to be soft instead of prickly, small instead of grand, and utterly imperfect, in front of him, every day. This particular change has made all the difference, and though I don’t know how to put it into words, I can say I am a little bit swallowed up by the fact that I did not know I was keeping walls up for so long. This is what we do, I think.
In the wake of a somewhat lousy year, I’m happy to say I’ve learned how speaking up, holding boundaries, and pushing back sometimes shows me, without a doubt, what I already knew, but was too afraid or impatient to face. I understand, more clearly, that I do not have to play games or follow foolish rules, because it will not serve me in the long run, and what others think of me is not what I have to answer to on the pillow each night. I’ve made friends with feelings of discomfort, and come to honor the value of staying, rather than lacing up to outrun.
As this year rolls to an end, I see things more clearly, and with less glossy overlay. I am less tolerant, and yet, more loving. I feel brave and foolish at the same time, and a lot of the time I feel very lost. I worry, a lot, about some friends who are facing big health problems, or big emptiness that takes up too much space for them. I am loving with a heart that feels older, and a bit weary, but maybe wiser. I am taking better care of myself and the people here with me, and though I have 2015 to thank for that, maybe the next year could be a little more gentle?