The stretch of time from January through February always feels like a full year to me. Maybe it has to do with the bitter, cold Utah winter, or the come down after a whirlwind holiday season, or possibly just the feeling of everyday monotony. It seems like I am a shell of a human, slogging my way through each day.
During that period of time, everyday tasks feel like a chore and happiness is an unattainable goal reserved only for the faces I see at after-school pick up or littered on Instagram. I always wish to skip these first few months. They are hard for me. I feel sad and isolated. I begin to turn all of my thoughts inward. I start to doubt myself and wonder if others might secretly think ugly thoughts about me too.
A friend of mine once wrote about witnessing her father’s health decline due to Alzheimer’s. I think about her thoughts often. She mentioned learning “to cherish every moment while living in the hard, to refine our abilities to love.”
I have tried to make this a focus in my life but not only is it incredibly hard to do, continually re-adjusting my thoughts, but it is also an exhausting process. I am the type of person who is acutely self-aware. I am constantly correcting myself, inside my mind. Sometimes when I am faced with something hard, my self talk sounds like this:
“You have lost loved ones. You have faced cancer. You know that life is such a gift, cherish every moment. Be happy. Be grateful. Stop whining. Toughen up. Look outside yourself. Love better.”
When I share all of this with my therapist she tells me, “Liz, you can hold all of these emotions at the same time. Trauma and pain along with strength and resilience. It does not have to be one or the other.”
This idea was new to me. Giving space to simultaneous yet, opposing emotions. I had always thought it had to be one or the other and I was consistently trying to push out what I saw as the “bad” thoughts in order to fill my mind with the “good” ones. I thought that would fix me but this new way of processing emotions feels like an important practice so I am leaning into it.
My daughter will turn 8 next month and she is now the same age that I was when I lost my mom. She is also the same age that my older daughter was when I was diagnosed with cancer three years ago. These thoughts create strong feelings for me. Triggering my grief trauma about one of my greatest heartaches, losing my mom, and heightening my anxiety about one of my greatest fears, not being here for my kids.
Sitting in these thoughts is really uncomfortable. Almost unnatural. Though I want to quickly move to more positive ones, I am learning to give space to all of it. Instead of tucking the negative thoughts and fears safely away, I am trying to allow them to stay, telling myself it’s okay to feel these feelings while I cherish every moment of this incredible existence.
I am still working on this change in direction. It’s a different mental pathway but I can already feel the weight being lifted and the warmth of the light ahead. I have discovered that this new way of becoming vulnerable has not only increased my ability to truly see and love others but I am dealing more gently with myself too. I am refining my ability to authentically love me. Which is what I didn’t know I needed most of all.