This is letter eight.
Thanks for still being with me, by the way. And thanks in advance for sticking through this one. I promise the rest are going to be a bit lighter in topic and tone. But as they say in the fine art world: without contrast, you might as well leave the canvas blank.
This letter is about anger and rage and illusions and war. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
We shall begin with an admission: I am no Florence Nightingale.
I wish I could say that I have handled the gradual worsening of my sister’s illnesses and the decline of her quality of life with grace and unconditional understanding, but I have not.
Instead, I spent the first four years of my forties angry – oh, wait, I meant to say: Angry – definitely bolded with a capitol A. On second thought, “outraged” is even more accurate because that word combines anger with the stench of indignation. A very “how dare this be happening to my life” kinda vibe.
I was pissed that, right at the beginning of My Great Decade, a wrecking crew (a.k.a. “a reckoning crew”) had suddenly showed up on my doorstep with orders to start dismantling the life I had been so carefully architecting.
But this crew wasn’t interested in busting my windows or removing my furniture, they were after something else entirely.
Once I found out what it was, I dug in my heels and decided I most certainly was NOT going to give these up without a fight.
They wanted to demolish my illusions.
All of them.
My illusion that my life thus far had been a result of Smart Choices.
My illusion that I could control… everything, anything, things.
My illusion that productivity could ward off shame.
My illusion that I could circumvent vulnerability.
My illusion that I could escape ever having someone dependent on me.
(I also had an illusion that one day I’d teach myself how to make crepes but the crew seemed entirely fine leaving that one in its dusty little corner.)
I waged a very long, bloody, ignorant war to hold on to each of these illusions (and several more). I was being invited to mature and awaken in ways I did not want to, in ways I was not expecting, and in ways that I felt were too fast and 2 furious to process.
I once described it to a friend as feeling like I was a snake being pulled through a very narrow slit between two sharp rocks that were peeling off my skin way before I was ready to shed it.
This, this is what integrating caregiving into my life felt like. And it felt like that because I didn’t want to do it…. and the reason I didn’t want to do it was because I didn’t want to acknowledge or give up my ableist privileges.
Put a pin in that for a minute – we’ll circle back, but we must return to the war:
After about four years, the wrecking crew and I wore ourselves out, so we sat in opposite corners of my mind, staring uneasily at each other for a few more years as we regrouped.
It was during this pause in my war when I encountered rage.
For the sake of brevity and privacy, I won’t go into this rage’s origin story; it’s not that important.
What is important is for you to know is that rage dwells down in the trenches…
…when you are in the trenches of dealing with life circumstances that are monumental and unjust and heartbreaking and inescapable you may have an encounter with rage (anger’s primitive, primordial cousin). If you do, remember that the sheer force of rage demands that it be processed physically.
My experience of rage is that it was inside me. I had the sense that unless I processed it out of me in a physically positive way, it would have come out of me in a physically harmful way – either it would cause me physical harm or I would cause someone else physical harm.
(In this case, I hired a personal trainer that I trusted and, for four sessions, he supervised me while I cried and lifted and threw and hit heavy things. A while-were-in-a-pandemic option: the wonderful author Tosha Silver recommends ordering some whole coconuts online and throwing them at walls or bashing them with baseball bats. Some of my friends have reported that this is, indeed, satisfyingly cathartic.)
The war for my illusions resumed and concluded in 2020. The wrecking crew won when my bubble of obliviousness finally popped.
I finally realized that a) all of my illusions were, just that, illusions AND b) the substance that my illusions were made of was privilege.
All this time, I had been waging war to cling to my privileges – fighting for all of the unjust entitlements I have personally and obliviously enjoyed for fifty years of my life: white privileges, able-bodied privileges, neurotypical privileges, gender privileges, etc..
All these years, while I was bent over with my nose to the grindstone, my eyes were perfectly positioned to gaze at my own navel.
And then the reckoning crew showed up, determined to get me to look up and look outward.
I am by no means “fixed” or “new and improved.” I am humbled and now just beginning to live as someone who is aware of how much her own garden needs weeding, aware of how much more help the world needs each of us to give. And I’m more than a little embarrassed of all that it took to get me here.
As a souvenir from this past decade, this quote from C.S. Lewis will be packed in the carry-on I’ll be taking with me into my fifties:
True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.
You know I’m big on perspective shifts… and now you know that I know that sometimes a shift of perspective can happen in a single coaching session, and sometimes shifting takes a decade and a war and weeks of slamming a sledgehammer into a tire.
Well, I’m excited to report that I’m almost ready to tell you about that thing I mentioned in our second letter – that “new thing I’m starting in the realm of coaching that you won’t be able to guess so don’t even try…” thing. YAY!
Meanwhile, I want to share with you why the number $1,736.50 is so important to me. That’s next week.
All of our previous letters are here.