I need a shelf. I build it and organize it for my needs. My needs change. I reorganize the shelf. This new organization has helped me reach new goals, which creates more needs. The shelf is no longer adequate. I build a cabinet. I now have plenty of room so I move more stuff in. I feel confident. I feel prepared. I take on more responsibilities. I put more stuff in my cabinet. The cabinet is now a mess. Life is getting too complicated. I tear apart the cabinet and build a shelf. I organize the shelf for basic needs. I’m bored now. I need new needs. I don’t have enough room for new needs. I better build a cabinet…
I once heard that people get addicted to drugs because they stay trapped in search of a high that feels better than the one before, an elusive goal to feel as good as it did the first time. Progress is my drug of choice. At some point as a kid I succeeded at something and I’ve been on the hunt for that repeat satisfaction since. Sounds like a good thing, I know. But I’m exhausted. I’ve lived in a constant hamster wheel of trying to make things better for as long as I can remember. The better things get, the even better I want to make them. With limited resources, however, I can only do so much. So I’m the person that moves all the furniture in my living room once a month to see if I’m missing a better arrangement. It’s the exact same furniture, so ultimately it works exactly the same. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. I’m always in search of perfection. I dream of the peace that I know must exist if I can just make everything around me perfect. And until I can find it, I have no place that I can truly rest. Pictures are never straight enough. Drawers are never neat enough. Ultimately, the disorganization drives me so crazy that I throw everything away. As you can imagine, that’s not a perfect solution either. All I can say is my husband is very patient with me!
People throw “perfectionist” out in interviews like it’s a unique skill or exceptional talent that apparently makes them a more desirable candidate. Half the time it’s a lie, but for the people, like me, that truly cannot accept less than perfect, it’s a blessing and a curse. Of course I want to hire perfectionists, and being unable to peacefully accept less than perfect myself has certainly helped move me forward in my career. But needing perfection is a disease that makes me unable to fully appreciate or accept anything less than perfection. Now let me really blow your mind. What is perfection?
Perfect is subjective. Is perfection a reachable goal? How can a person strive for an idea that varies from person to person in moment to moment? If I’m working towards a goal that never stays the same, then I’m never going to succeed. What a depressing realization. And yet, I find extreme comfort in this hamster wheel. How can that be? It’s not the glory or the attention I desire, although I do have to acknowledge that public recognition, while it does make me uncomfortable, is good for my business, but that’s a different topic for a different day. This is totally a personal experience. This is about my own feelings. This is what makes me feel necessary and alive? What is this magical motivation, this energetic elixir that keeps me moving forward, hungry and driven?
I am addicted to… anxiety.
I fear stillness. My mind is constantly racing. I’m always dreading the next disaster before I’m done preparing for the possible one before it. I don’t handle stress well, so I do everything in my power to prevent stress. I live in a constant state of preparation. I never stop considering the possibilities. While this has certainly proved to be an exhausting lifestyle, it’s also been a great source of motivation for me throughout my life. This drives me. This encourages me to get up in the morning, to tackle each day and to climb hills enthusiastically. This makes me who I am. This is my identity, and this is my value. I know my anxiety isn’t good for me, but I can’t let it go. I am in an unhealthy relationship. I spend half my time hating anxiety, but as soon as it disappears I miss it. I know it’s wrong, but I welcome it back. I create situations that force it back into my life. I defend it. I celebrate our reunion, and I settle into a false reality where anxiety and I can live happily ever after together. While most people dream of peaceful stillness, I’ve always done everything in my power to stay busy. The noise is safe for me. Quiet makes room for fear and self doubt. I don’t have time for that.
I always knew pregnancy would slow me down. Perhaps that’s why I kept the whole idea on the back burner for so long. But I seriously had no idea just how much my life would change and how abruptly it would all happen. My husband and I did not get pregnant on purpose, although we weren’t trying not to get pregnant either. After 13 years of marriage, 8 of which we managed a business together, we figured life was out of curve balls for us. We let our guard down, we went on a real vacation, and for once, we allowed life happen to us. Needless to say, we brought back the ultimate souvenir.
Almost immediately my life started to change. A world fueled by caffeine and adrenaline abruptly converted to prenatal vitamins and midday naps. My energy left the building, seriously. I struggled to drag my feet from the bed to the bathroom so trying to get through an entire day was torture. Speaking of the bathroom, I had to pee A Lot. I’m sorry, there is an hour wait for food because the chef will have to pee three times before your meal is ready. Hell, while we’re on this new honest kick, let’s just talk about pregnancy. It sucks. I mean really, don’t worry, no judgment here. Speak the truth. Here’s the pamphlet they should give you on your first doctor’s visit. Buy new underwear because your vagina has a cold! Pregnancy is NOT magical, or beautiful. You’re not glowing, you’re sweating because you’re hauling around 20 extra pounds and your hormones have gone wild on spring break. I got zits… How is that even fair? You feel fat and now your face looks like your school pictures from the ugly years. As if the outer appearance isn’t enough, your insides explode into a volcanic eruption of acid and gas. You’re a walking pin cushion. Doctors poke and prod at you, because let’s face it, you are a science experiment. What your body is doing is remarkable and unbelievable. And painful. And yucky! That’s just the physical part. The mental trauma is just as shocking. How are you supposed to feel? I mean in the emotional sense of the word. We’ve already established the physical horror. But emotionally, you go from a life you know to a life you’ve never lived and no amount of planning can truly prepare you for. I didn’t feel the instant elation that apparently some women experience. In fact, it pissed me off. Every time a mother came to me with a HUGE Smile and energetically and enthusiastically said “How do you feel, Isn’t it Amaaazzzing?!” I wanted to punch them in the face. I wanted to scream NO! Why are you doing this to me. You KNOW this SUCKS. Why are you making me feel ashamed for not loving every second of this nightmare? Mothers should be consoling each other. The friends that truly made a difference for me were the ones that gave my shoulder a squeeze and a consoling smile that said, don’t worry, it will get better, I understand, and I’m sorry for you. I have to question if the over the top joy is real or just a good disguise for fear of the unknown, or ever greater, fear of not fitting in. I’m sure the plastic smiles of prenatal euphoria are a mask. We’re women, we’re supposed to reproduce. Our bodies start preparing us for this almost immediately. This is our Job, and God forbid we aren’t happy to do our job. We’re supposed to LOVE this, and we’re supposed to Love it for each other. Well I say why can’t we be realistic about this. And then, just maybe, if we are able to truthfully talk about pregnancy and motherhood we can all find a little real joy in our acceptance of each other. How refreshing it would be to say out loud “I’m tired and I’m scared” and then hear another woman reassure us that that’s completely normal and to be expected. How much less would the guilt and shame be if we knew how hard the first few weeks at home with our new baby would really be. How much more prepared and stronger would we feel if we didn’t have to discover breast feeding is insanely frustrating after the baby is already here and crying from hunger. What a difference it could make to be honestly prepared and ready to face the toughest challenge of our life. Greeting each other with pageant smiles and jumping jacks certainly does not foreshadow what’s to come, but it does ensure that when shit hits the fan, and your hands, and your arms, and your clothes, and the furniture, and the dog, and pretty much anything else in shooting range, you will feel like a complete and total failure not worthy of the beautiful, smelly, screaming, scary, incredible miracle that has now taken over your life.
I had not waited my whole life for this moment. I was busy, all the time. I set professional goals and went after those goals wholeheartedly and sometimes ignorantly. I didn’t have time or energy to wait for any moment. But here I was, waiting for 9 months. And now here I am waiting for the next nap time to write or steal a quick shower, the next feeding time, the next need, the next want, few of which belong to me. I live in a constant state of waiting for what my daughter needs me to do next. Life has changed.
We brought home a stranger, and she immediately took over. My favorite things conveniently located within arm’s reach have been replaced with her favorite things. I used to be in charge, but suddenly I’ve been demoted to baby servant. I cook for her, clean for her, entertain her, teach her, and any efforts to better myself are ultimately to be better for her. It’s a role that I was not prepared for or that I expected. I went through a serious identity crisis. I did not recognize this life, but it was extremely difficult. Working hard for something that I did not feel passionate about was exhausting and confusing. I honestly just tried to stay afloat. I did whatever was needed from one moment to the next. I didn’t think about the moment before and I didn’t have the energy or experience to think about what would happen next. For two months I just survived, and I did everything in my power to keep this tiny person alive and well, because the alternative was too scary to consider. Two months passed, three, four and now into five. Tiny roommate has started to show personality. She’s funny. She’s smart. She’s sweet. She’s careful and thoughtful. She loves me, and I love her. But this isn’t like any love I’ve ever felt before. Sure, maybe strengthened by a feeling of responsibility and accountability, but either way this is a pure and total love. Unconditional Love. I get it now. As much as we’d like it to work both ways it doesn’t, and only until we become a parent can we understand it. Children turn their backs on parents all of the time, but it’s so rare that a parent will let go of their child. You see it in the unwavering support of parents of troubled teens and adult criminals. They may not agree with or love what their child does, but they love their child. Few things are strong enough to break this love. It is an all consuming and intoxicating love. It is hope, joy, fear, peace and pride.
Oh yes, it has changed me. Most definitely this life is new. But this life is beginning to feel right. Little did I know that all of the hard work, dedication and sacrifice that I poured into building my business was all for the ability to one day sit still, to breathe, and to love.
So from entrepreneur to mother, I must admit that my life is changing and my needs are changing. What worked for me before just isn’t going to work anymore. One shelf is more than enough, and it’s time I learn to appreciate and accept it just the way it is. I don’t need more, so I don’t need to be pushed towards more. It’s time to break up with anxiety. It’s not anxiety, it’s me. We were good together for a long time, but I’m going in a different direction now. I wish anxiety well. I leave with no hard feelings. In fact I will always think of anxiety with fondness. Anxiety was always honest with me, even if I wasn’t with it. Anxiety never pretended to be anything other than what it was, and we accomplished so much together in such a short amount of time. We made it through obstacles and over mountains. We laughed, we cried, we drank lots of tequila! When I pass anxiety again, snuggled up on someone else’s arm, I’ll smile and wave with maybe just a tinge of jealousy but lots of great memories and gratitude. I hope that person treats anxiety right, because anxiety deserves a person that knows just how to treat it. I know I will have weak moments, and I will have to practice an enormous amount of will power to not invite anxiety back into my life. I accept that challenge. I know it’s time. I look forward to new, healthier relationships. My daughter deserves this of me. I deserve this. I’m ready. I am really ready to let anxiety go.
Farewell old friend.
I must go now.
Peace is calling.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you. It is my true belief that we make the world a better place and our experience in it richer if we share our experience together. I do that through food at my restaurant, Smoking Mo’s in Shelton, Washington, and through my story telling here. I deeply thank you for joining me on this adventure, and for giving me the love and encouragement to keep moving forward.