Physics, Engineering, Geometry, and many other scientific and mathematical fields rely on things being linear. Life is not Math or Science. Life is art. Art is realistic, abstract, and everything in between. Life is subjective and sometimes follows rules. Life is beautiful and messy. Life is random.
I started 2022 with a perfect formula for success. It was a foolproof equation to grow by leaps and bounds. Okay, maybe not. I know myself too well to believe that bologna. Instead, I picked a general direction as I do every year, and I set off with a compass in hand. The thing about me and people like me is if I am supposed to head North and there is something in my way, I don’t like to head East or West to go North. Does anyone else have that problem?
My intention for 2022 involved the 8 C’s of Internal Family Systems (IFS), a form of therapy. The 8 C’s include curiosity, connection, confidence, courage, calm, clarity, compassion, and creativity. I wanted to be a little more open-minded toward myself and others. We could all use a little more of that these days, right?
Let me tell you how that went for me. At the beginning of the year last year, I mentioned that my life was characterized by fear, cowering from danger, inauthenticity, cloudy thinking, anxiety, and being paralyzed by the unknown. I probably just described a lot of people whether they admit it or not. Today, about a year later, those things are still true of me. The cool thing is, once again, life isn’t linear, and it isn’t about starting when the gun goes off and crossing the finish line. Life is lived one moment at a time just as progress is made one step at a time. So, yes, all of those things are still true of me, but I am not at the starting line waiting for the gun to go off anymore.
What I saw over the course of 12 months was progress over perfection, and that is really where my aim has been all along; hence the telephone pole illustration I have used for several years.
I want to provide a timeline as a way to encourage others to see the progress in the midst of the struggle.
February: I was already feeling exhausted by the expectation I put on myself and felt others had placed on me. I discussed the movie, Encanto. Who can’t relate to feeling stretched thin and not meeting expectation?!
April: This was a huge milestone month in which I hit 500 days without self-harming. I used an unconventional means to articulate dark caves in my mind. And I assisted my friend and coach during a powerlifting meet. Those were the positive things. The negative wiped me out and made it difficult to see the sun. I had crippling anxiety and barely left my house. I was terrified because I frequently questioned reality and thought I had psychosis because of hallucinations or projections of flashbacks and irrational fears. I was also grieving some difficult things and suffering in silence. The month of April was a free fall swing.
May: After pushing through an incredibly difficult month, I sat back to do some reflections from nature and people who inspire me to be and do better. I noted that eagles float with the wind rather than fighting it. The familiar phrase would be “ride the wave.” The people I was able to connect with were my paternal grandparents. They are both gone but were models of strenth and compassion. Ironically, those translate to “courage” and “compassion.” Those were two things I had been struggling most with in the previous month.
June: Every now and then it is a good idea to stretch. I mean, at the gym it is important when lifting. No one wants to get hurt. But I mean much more than just a good lat and tricep stretch before doing a back squat. I read a book know by some as “The Pink Book.” The actual title is Come as You Are, and it is about female sexuality, among other things. This gave me a level of comfort to talk about sex in a different way—a little more openly AND with questions.
July: Books can be amazing teachers. They can also be wonderful vacations from the real world. The book I read in July was more like a spark that ignited an existential crisis. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing except I fell into this massive, confusing black hole that somehow I could not explain. It was one of those times that I had a compass and either didn’t trust it or didn’t know how to use it. I was scared, sad, restless, angry, empty, confused, and disheartened. I was also suppressing my emotions and thoughts. Those things are a recipe for disaster whether you have a mental health diagnosis or not, and that recipe made a nice little cake called “worthless nobody.” Because what on Earth are any of us doing with our lives, or at least what am I doing?
August: Life is messy. That was my theme. I decided (again) that emotions suck, I have imposter syndrome, and “why?” needed an answer. The positive side to those realizations was that fixing things is a whole lot easier when I know what isn’t working. In desperation, I decided to “reset and recommit.” I read Can’t Hurt Me and Staring Down the Wolf. The theme in those two books? Courage. Both authors were willing to look at the ugly to improve themselves and/or their situations. They used something called an after-action report, so I started to reflect each night before bed as well. I noticed I was most often acting in an altered state of who I truly am—a part rather than Self (IFS terminology). Ah a starting point again.
September: I took a good hard look at two things I had been struggling with back in May—courage and compassion. I reflected and began developing a plan for myself…that I unfortunately did not share with my therapist. Not only did I not share my plan with my therapist, but I didn’t share anything relevant to the progress I was making in between sessions. My word of advice is to not do that. Share the small victories and progress because without doing that, it creates frustration, confusion, and, in my case, a rupture in the therapeutic relationship that seemed almost irreparable at the time. Ruptures teach us something though. I learned to sit with emotions, humble myself, communicate, listen, and trust. I learned about relationships in a way I guess I had never understood, at least not like that. I hope everyone gets an opportunity like that because it truly is life-changing.
October: Shame kills me. It keeps me from doing things I want to do or saying things that need to be said. I decided to compete in a powerlifting competition in my home gym when I could feel the shame boiling inside of me. Notice a theme here? Courage and compassion for myself. I also read a book about sexual assault in a day or two. That seems somewhat foolish for someone who hasn’t been able to process her own sexual trauma, but nonetheless I chose to read it. I was amazed at the parallels in how I dealt with my own situations and the experiences of the aftermath. I needed to read that book to normalize what I had experienced. This gave me a little more courage to begin talking about a “lesser,” more palative experience.
November: I felt pride. I started to “do the dang thing.” I followed through on competing in the powerlifting meet, and I started to discuss some of my personal trauma.
My year was a whirlwind of forward and backward movement, and I am so proud of myself for sticking with it for each of those steps. I could have self-harmed. I could have given up. I could have walked out on therapy. Yet, each step I took was a step I chose, and I am further along than I was when I started. Linearity is for Math and Science; not life. Life is freakin’ messy, AND it is an adventure.
An adventure made better by connection and coffee, if I do say so myself. With that said, this isn’t just a reflection of my year but an encouragement to connect with others, build relationships, get courageous and compassionate, and take the next step. It is worth it no matter how awful the moment feels. Oh, but try to enjoy the journey.