We’ve all been at a similar crossroad. Crossroad. As if you are deciding between two roads that will lead to equally happy and fulfilling lives when really you are just stuck, unsure of your next move, scared to move on. You may have even hit rock bottom which is what usually precedes the decision that can ultimately change the course of your life. Lilly did just that. Realizing something, or in her case 25 things had to give, she found exactly what she needed, peace.
The year I turned 30, I was at an all-time high. I had a good job, a model family and a locked up five year plan. It was really pretty amazing, that at 30 I thought I knew so much about myself and how things would play out for me. I’d found my career defining job. I had a rock solid relationship with my husband. I trusted my values and decision making. Life looked really good – in my head and on Instagram to boot
Until one night when I sat down with my husband and realized none of this was true.
Sure, our lives were on solid ground, but if you looked closely, there were water marks on the ceiling showing signs of trouble. It’s like I walked past them every day, noticing but ignoring them and distracting myself with more new and shiny things instead until everything fell apart and flooded in at once. Things went from just a little drip to water rushing in faster than I could make a plan, until it just sat right under my nose, refusing to go back down.
My first response was to thrash around and try to scream my way out of my life flooding in, but like in real life, it only exhausted me, got me nowhere and made me more likely to drown. The way to survive was to slowly tread, trying one new way out at a time until the water eventually receded.
So, that’s what I did. I slowed down. I tried the what felt like the next right thing, one at a time, until I looked up one day to see my feet on dry ground. I was amazed by the feeling of normalcy and even joy that had resettled in my body in a new and more meaningful way.
Life flooding in and washing out the parts that do not serve you happens to everyone. I used my most recent experience to learn how to both nurture and press on pain when it shows up unannounced and uninvited, ready to challenge me and teach me new things about myself. Some are tried and true, some worked, some didn’t. None of us will ever share an identical path through pain, but one might be worth trying next time you’re up to your eyes with water and ready to try any way out.
- Walked my dogs. Every day and more if the only options I saw in the moment were walk my dogs or sit in a fit of grief and/or rage. At times my only accomplishment for the day was a pair of very fit and happy dogs, but it was something.
- Made an appointment with a psychiatrist, talked through what I was experiencing, tried medication, made myself aware of side effects, logged how I was feeling every day to monitor progress and made follow up appointments to check in with my doctor. “Choosing joy” and other bullshit things people will tell you to do when you’re in the valley of life is easier when you help your brain create serotonin and its other biological needs.
- I bought crystals on Amazon. They’re supposed to ground me, open me to love and healing and stabilize my energies. I’m not sure if I’m using them right, but they look good on my nightstand. When my hand cramped from holding fists of anxiety all day, I would sit on my bed, close my eyes and hold my Amazon crystals instead and at least look like someone who emotionally had her life together.
- Told my good friends – maybe four total. Some right away and some later on. Some could relate to what I was going through and some couldn’t, but they knew I was in it and were understanding and courteous, took my 7:00 a.m. phone calls and, in one moment of intense need, brought me a pizza. These are my people for life.
- Let go of the friendships that I had been carrying around because I was previously able to but wouldn’t help me now. The friend who called me all of the time with her problems but I knew couldn’t handle mine now. The friend who, should I confide in her, would sound supportive and then call the others to share how “worried” she is about me. I just didn’t have the ability to have my guard up around people or carry anything on my back, so if our relationship required that, I didn’t have time for you. I couldn’t call them and they didn’t call me. It’s a little sad but it’s a lot better.
- Talked about it but didn’t post about it. Wrote about it and never published it. I thought maybe one day I would, but not until everyone was on the other side and ok. My friends who knew respected the vault because I was the vault. I believe in showing my scars, but have never found social media the place to heal a wound.
- Listened to the audiobook of Lonesome Dove for the first time. I needed my life to feel less dramatic than someone else’s and I needed a new crowd. The Hatcreek Outfit and their drive to Montana was everything I needed in 40 total hours of my mind absorbed in the adventures of some of the best people I’ll never meet. Driving, walking, sitting in waiting rooms and in bed at night I got to turn off my life and join them on the trail. I may have endured a rough day, but I had not died at the hand of Indians or water moccasins. I now believe there is life before and after reading Lonesome Dove. When you need new friends but can’t make yourself be around people, there’s always a great book ready for you.
- Also read (it felt like) every book on what to do when your life feels like a hopeless pile of shit. The good news is, these abound and have wisdom to apply to when you are climbing shit mountain or just wanting to learn how to more gracefully step over the small doo doo piles one might find in daily life. A few I loved and wrote all over:
- Rising Strong by Brene Brown
- Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle
- Option B by Sheryl Sandberg
- Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lammot
- When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron (The title makes this book a great one to carry around and pull out in waiting rooms so people clearly know you are incapable of conversation.)
- The Tools by Phil Stutz
- The Universe Has Your Back by Gabby Bernstein
- For about a month, stared at the clock every morning before work, convinced I would never make it. Today would be the day I would just fail to move or get anywhere and someone would eventually find me coiled up under my bed sometime that evening and everyone would find out I was having a nervous breakdown. I would decide to start getting ready despite this very likely being my fate. I’d make it out the door at the last possible minute, cry the entire way to my office, force myself out of the car despite feeling like I was covered in 11 wet blankets making me unable to move, walk into work and greet everyone, put down my purse, walk back through the office like I was going to the restroom, exit through the back door, pace the back parking lot crying, estimate I’ve been gone half the morning and am fired, look down and realize it’s been six minutes, take a breath, go back to my desk telling myself I’ll just stay until I can’t anymore, open my email and then look up later and realize it’s almost time to leave. Every day, for about a month. Offices, especially fashion retail ones, are made up of persons who are fortunately way too self involved to notice you hanging on by a thread, for which I am grateful.
- On Mondays, specifically, this little routine of trying to convince myself to go to work was extra crippling. On those days when I was convinced I had reached my end, I set a timer for five minutes and laid down on the floor with my eyes closed. If I was still incapable of dealing with life when the timer went off, I could call off life. I always made it back up on my feet.
- Tried a super hot, super advanced yoga class by my office on a day I knew I had to do something besides sit silently freaking out. The effort it took to keep up and convince myself to stay in the death hell heated room disallowed me from thinking about anything else. The second I left every week, I was counting down to the next Tuesday when I could go back. For up to 10 minutes on my drive back to my office after class, I was too much of an exhausted human sweat puddle to think about my situation or what I was going to do with my life. It was just enough of a break to give me hope.
- Watched Lemonade probably forty times after it came out. Deep, resentful anger steam would start to puff out of my eyes by the time Beyonce asked, “So what are you going to say at my funeral now that you’ve killed me?” This is good, I thought, wring it out.
- Decided I should probably take a break from watching Lemonade.
- Wrote down 3 things that brought me joy every day. In a time where there was a general gloom and doom over my days, it was hopeful to see the clouds broke at least 3 times on any given day, even if it was something as small as a conversation with my daughter.
- Went on the beach trip I had booked before it all happened. Did zero activities and took one picture of myself. Ate so much food, slept as much as I wanted, stared at the ocean, found yoga classes in little thatch roofed huts and read on the beach. I didn’t feel guilty about crying and I didn’t feel guilty about laughing and dancing in the street. It was four days of putting the whole thing on pause and remembering way down in there I was still in there.
- Made a list of everything I loved growing up and decided to revisit my old passions. I loved to dance growing up, and went back to a barre class. I adored comedians and signed up for my first stand-up writing class. I loved looking at art and made “dates” with myself once a week to go to a museum or show on my lunch break. Before I was told how I should be when I grew up, I was a pretty interesting person. I now think 9 year old me had more going for herself than 29 year old me, and gauge my decisions based on if the 9 year old me would be into it and proud. No regrets since.
- Did “morning papers,” an exercise where upon waking you immediately fill three pages with stream of consciousness thoughts and drivel, allowing the filler thoughts and chatter out of your head first thing so you have more head space for meaningful conversations and new ideas. The content of my morning papers could probably land me in jail, but after a while my husband would wake me up by putting the journal and pen on my chest as he began to notice I was less angry and more of a human on the mornings I told it all to the papers instead of trying to hold it in all day.
- Connected the dots on all of my mystery symptoms – thin skin, hair loss, anxiety, sleeplessness and stomach aches, to recall a few – and began researching Adrenal Fatigue. I love irony enough to laugh that the unnecessary stress I had put on myself to be perfect for many years put me in physical distress, in turn creating these bizarre physical symptoms I was now stressing out about. I tried crazy herbs like Ashwaganda (worked), guided sleep meditations, anti-inflammatory diets and lavender linen sprays. I basically took everything but the red pill, gave it some time and thankfully found my skin miraculously turning from grey back to its natural pale before much medical intervention was needed.
- Permed my hair. None of this is advice, but specifically not this one. My famously long showers practically doubled in length as I stood under the water and watched my hair fall out in clumps each morning while I bathed. I convinced myself an opalex, beach wave perm like Julianne Hough’s would make my significantly lessened amount of hair look full and I would become a joyful pixie like Julianne Hough in process. In hindsight, I probably could have damaged and lost the few remaining hairs I had on my head. But, it was a “project” to get me through another week.
- Took a sabbatical from making decisions. At first, everything felt like it was the deciding moment – a good one meaning things would work out for all eternity and a bad one meaning this was all a crap pile ready for me to burn down. Quickly exhausted by the back and forth, I decided I was only going to observe and not decide, hoping one day instead of having to decide I would simply know. So as much as I was tempted, no selling the house, no quitting my job, no tattoos of phoenixes. I wish I had applied this mindset to the perm, but it was by far the least permanent and destructive of some of my ideas at the time.
- Ordered an “energy clearing” kit from Amazon with sage and a feather and some other fancy accoutrements. This I do recommend and should do more often. The house smells good and mentally it’s nice to signal to the Universe you’re just so over it and making the choice to put some things behind you.
- Volunteered my family for two 10 hour plus road trips, including overnight stays on farms and in state park cabins. I find this amount of time in the confines of my Prius station wagon with my family makes both intimacy and civility necessities. We spoke nicely to each other for hours at a time, we heard a new story about each other’s childhood and we laughed. It gave us some new memories and resolve to carry on.
- After posting a long list of requirements on Facebook (LGBTQ and women ministers, hold the guilt) and asking my contacts for recommendations, found a church that matches my soul and values. We hadn’t gone to church in years, which was unlike each of our personalities but logical seeing as how our home church no longer inspired us or spoke to who we were. Sometimes you have to step out, but I’m thankful we stayed open enough to find a place to step back into. We’re encouraged to turn to love, we feel like a real family when we go and I am assured by the amount of humans I sometimes barely know who fiercely love and care for my child. That’s a huge weight lifted when in the throws of recognizing what a human being I am.
- Said yes to a dog off the SPCA truck that my three year old daughter decided she was in love with and needed. The first two days, she laid on my stomach to sleep like a furry hot water bottle. After that, she became a terror. Minus the hole in my sofa, I appreciate her wild behavior for letting me know that yes, I was down and out for a while and could barely get through the day, but here I stand now, capable of something as dehumanizing as house training a small animal without losing it. She looks a little like a rat and sheds, but when I look at Sarah Jane it feels good to know I can do hard things.
- Decided to massively forgive everyone, including myself. I pictured this as a one time moment, done while walking on the beach or staring into a country fire, but it’s a daily practice. Logically, we are all forgiven. Emotionally, it’s a daily choice to live in love and not fear. Did I fail in simple ways to connect with my husband, miss warning signs and mismanage my priorities? Yes and forgiven. My entire childhood? Forgiven. The crackpot therapist who told my husband it sounded like I didn’t want to be married to him since I was still angry three weeks after the news? Fine, you’re forgiven. All you human beings and me, the humaniest of them all, we’re all doing our best and I’ll meet you halfway and be ok with the times when you fall below average. I forgive you and I hope you forgive me, but it really doesn’t matter because I forgive me.
Through all of this, I was willing to do the work to find my way back, but sat in the dilemma that I didn’t want to leave this life or live in the new understanding of what this one was. I wanted the old life, despite its flaws and my naivety, where I was right and my people would never hurt me. My (final, good) therapist drew it on the board with an Expo marker – D I L E M M A – with two roads drawn out, neither of which I wanted.
I hated that I felt jaded – it’s harder to love when you can’t put people on a pedestal, harder to be enthusiastic when there’s an understanding the bottom can fall out. While that creates some insecurity, I’ve also never felt safer. I walk through life knowing I have my back and some other fine, flawed folks do too. I love by choice, not for protection. I try new things and make the choices for myself that I want to, not because there is a guarantee.
Towards the end of my twenties, I had really built up turning 30. I had a party. I got a watch. I had a baby on my hip and it all planned out. Looking back, I appreciate getting kicked in the teeth by life and starting a new decade in the throws of learning and not knowing. I still feel pain from the fall out, but let it stay with me as a reminder of how far I’ve come. In the end it was a gift, though for your 30th I promise I’ll just bring wine.