just a little more outward than I’m used to

I woke up to a kaleidoscope. As it got brighter and brighter, I knew what it was, some sort of aura or ocular something that if you google, it may scare you into calling a doctor. I asked my husband to get me three Advils and a Coke to ward off the threat of a migraine. I rested in bed as my thoughts raced they way they always do, and I eventually listened to an “emergency meditation” on Calm. Just like the web engine doctors said, the blinding light is gone now. They throbbed and danced possibly to remind me of anxiety in the most blinding yet beautiful way, all those colors and light refusing to be unseen. Underneath slime-making wth kids and summer photos and hydrangeas in vases, I feel these jabs of sadness that are not unfamiliar.

I was getting an annual physical the other day, and my doctor, a passionate woman who has lived 5 lives colorful lives under that white coat, said that I’ve looked better than I have since 2012. All my working out has paid off, she said. But when I told her about this newer thing—this chest tightening—that I had easily named because it’s just part of American life, we continued chatting as we normally do, like two friends over coffee. She mentioned that our brains make these pathways that they remember. For example, if something triggers another emotion, it’s likely the same or similar thing will trigger the same exact line of thought you felt the first time. It’s important to fork that pathway to go to another street, the metaphor suggests. We casually talked about this because I told her about my unexpected blip at a Korean spa, this place that can’t be explained (people have tried; trust me, you just have to go to one), only experienced.

It took me years to agree to go to one—the kind where you can’t wear clothes and where you’re given “humble one-cut prison pajamas” when you go into the common area— and it was at my literal most naked moment where someone’s grandmother was dutifully scrubbing skin off me that I had this irrational thought of something awful happening to my daughter and this realization that I was unreachable. I knew the kids were with Kal, and I knew better in general. My phone was just one room away locked with my other belongings, and I couldn’t reach it from where I was. I had to assure myself that I could, indeed, get up and check it. At any angle of my brain, though, something awful was happening, and I was unreachable. The larger the thought, the larger the panic. It took me about 45 minutes of imagery and self patience to get myself away from the desperation of that feeling. I already had tools to help myself because I have reviewed them with my students; I’ve had to use it before, but it’s never been this essential. An hour later, it was done, and I was in the “pajamas” with my friend who is like a walking amethyst crystal, full of healing. In fact, she is the one who first gave me the idea years ago that imagining a river of cool water helps her ground into reality. I noticed that when we joined together, walking from from hut to hut inside the spa, that I quietly held in my experience. I didn’t want to ruin the occasion, but I told her about it later and casually over ice cream.

I think maybe I’m my best self when I’m around people, engaging with them or answering questions, fixing a plate and offering a space to talk. Like this quote by Amanda Palmer: “Just letting someone speak their truth can sometimes be the biggest gift you give them, to just hold the space for them.”  And like anyone else, I need alone time to patch up the likely invisible slits in my armor. My husband is too busy in his work life to know what to do about it. Which means that like so many other things I sense we need in our family life, figuring out how to fix, organize, and encourage the momentum of our life falls on me. It makes me feel like I’m letting my life down when I just don’t feel up to the challenge. I recognize I need to find the space and time to do this for myself, but it’s hard to arrange. It makes me feel there is yet another thing I have to plan and prepare to do, which perpetuates resentment and stress.

This has little to do with him or really any supportive partner taking out the trash and working hard to make ends meet, two symbols I equate with marital patterns and necessities that are easy to overlook unless, well, they stink.  It’s not at all an appreciative or fair to him, but even knowing that doesn’t get me less frustrated at how much unseen falls on me: list making, travel anticipating, life-sensing.  In short, I feel when anything in our life coughs in the middle of the night that I’m the one whose eyes pop open and think about ways I should follow up on it the next day. I’ve learned that this, for me and for my mother and mothers I see, is the component of being a woman and a mother and my version of an adult. It’s not unlike when I fought against daily lunch unpacking + packing always falling on me–right alongside all the other nightly stuff–until one day it became clear that I just do it better, and because I want that for my kids, I took it on with renewed mission.

I watch women who are 20 years older than me waiting in line at the store, and I can see this look in their eyes. It’s different than the exhausted new mom who stares blankly because she’s overwhelmed and the baby is still crying; it’s actually one of impatience and almost irritation. I look at those eyes now and can sense that life does that to a woman. It makes her wiser of herself and what she doesn’t want to do, like maybe in this case waiting for the teenager to find the right buttons on the register, but it also has a curious sediment. It’s a little terrifying and mostly fascinating that women’s eyes are keenest storytellers.

Today the kids aren’t home for a few more hours. I’m supposed to be hopping from one store or place to another in preparation for a family trip coming up, likely another source of the blinding but beautiful lights. The house is still, and I don’t feel up to the race just yet. I will post this message and walk away feeling relieved for a moment, then hyper aware of feeling I overshared or that it doesn’t fit with what you may see in me when you meet me especially because people bring out the best in me. It is, however, something I needed to share, and it is, however, the acknowledgement of the thing—the sense that my instinct doesn’t want to be muffled—that has gotten back to this computer. A runner-up to talking with that one friend, trying to write something out is probably the closest, most meaningful effort to truth-finding and space-holding as I have likely experienced.


4 thoughts on “just a little more outward than I’m used to

  1. First of all – Jeju is my favorite place! That alone is “a little more outward” than you are used to. Ha. I have gone with friends and I have gone alone – both are equally as satisfying and renewing.

    For me, it is not the chest tightening. Instead it is the stomach tightening (and lovely nausea/refusal of food that follows and lasts for hours) but it is the same thing. This is a timely post as I’ve packed all week for our first international trip just the three of us and all week long, bobbed on the waves of that feeling. All the what ifs that we do in our heads. Much like your imagined emergency phone call, I have imagined every possible terrible and unlikely scene – from flight delays to sickness to injuries that find us an ocean away in a foreign hospital knowing no one at all and with only one adult to figure it out. Using all the tools to break that “pathway,” as your doctor called it, and turn down a different street. But it is still a lot. And I am totally convinced that somehow men just don’t do this. Why is the part I have not figured out. Because of something genetic? The other side of the coin for our famously reliable intuition? Or maybe just simply because they always rely on the women in their lives to do this for them.

    One thing I know for sure: our bodies tell us the truth when the rest of us will not listen. I’m getting better at finding space between my self and that buzzing feeling when it begins. I think when I ignore the whisper, it gets louder until it screams — if that makes sense. For me, it is my signal that I am telling myself a bullshit story about something terrible that has not happened yet.

    All this to say me too. I hear you.


    • Thanks, Katie. I hear you, too. All the way. There is a freedom in traveling alone with your kids, but that comes with no support. You’re the beam. I can imagine how challenging it can be. I’m sure that you’d be the one thinking up all the things and all the scenarios to prepare for whether it was a trip of 4 or 3! 🙂

      I wonder this about men all the time and then also wonder how we can still be attracted to them with all their deficiencies in comparison to the mighty woman. Also, I think the creative side of us makes us thinkers deep down so hard that even that alone is hard to complement in someone who is not like that (consistently turning things over quietly, naming them, etc…).

      In the end, though, it’s always about us–the individual figuring out how to be and what works. You’re so right–we can’t ignore the buzzing! My friend said the other day about a totally different scenario–“Trust your instincts! Women tend to ignore our very nature.” Sorry about the stomach knots; I’m not there yet, but I love to imagine the moment I’m sitting on the plane with nothing else to do but wait and be.

      Also, I know you love Jeju :). Totally thought of you and your “new year, new skin” tradition. I can’t say I loved it (just yet), but I can say it was an experience I want to do again! Skin shedding with real women in a totally unusual experience is something I can use at least once a year!


  2. Wow, I got a little weepy when I read this! I’m that woman twenty years old (ok, maybe only 10-15) whose eyes probably show a lot: weariness, knowledge, patience, impatience, selflessness, and selfishness…I could go on. I think, as women, we must ‘overshare” or we will go crazy. There’s just too much going on in our heads and we need support from other women. This has been true since the beginning of time. Can’t wait to get together!

    Liked by 1 person

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