My Red Balloon
My brain is a hoarder that has buried my soul under piles of thoughts. Somehow my surface understanding of myself became untethered from the deep-down knowledge of who I am and of what I am capable. Its as if all the experiences of my sometimes painful, sometimes wonderful youth molded and shaped me into this durable and complex being and then that being was buried under miles of…I don’t know…thoughts. Society-driven thoughts telling me how I should look and how much money I should make. And my own perfectionist-driven thoughts of what my life is supposed to feel like and how much I should have accomplished by now. Thoughts of how to falsely convince my parents that they have produced a happy and capable person; one that will be ok without them someday. Thoughts of how to attract a man that has just enough stability to make a great life partner and just enough flaws that I don’t feel insecure about my own. Thoughts of how to impress other women with all the plates I can “effortlessly” (ha!) keep spinning in the air. Thoughts about whether I have found my “true tribe” or if I am just trying to fit in because I am tired of looking for people who “get” me. Thoughts of the tasks on my daily to-do list that is so long and tightly planned I have failed at my first unscheduled coffee break. Not to mention all the comparison-driven thoughts generated by the constant scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. As Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy” and scrolling past thousands of images all day planted seeds of comparison that bloomed into white hot panic at 3 am. I would jolt awake in the middle of the night with fearful thoughts of “should I do more, should I be more, should I have more?” And, as fear begets fear, sleep would elude me as my heart gripped and my mind raced. Afraid for my safety and security in this big city and crazy world. Afraid that I wasn’t measuring up. Afraid that I would die alone; no husband and no baby. Afraid that most of my relationships were empty and only created by me to provide a safety net should I ever actually fall. I knew each empty relationship was like sewing a safety net from a cobweb, but figured if I stacked enough of them together, they may just be strong enough to save me someday. Therefore, I spent incredible amounts of time amassing and cultivating these relationships; sending texts, liking posts and compulsively checking to see who responded to my little mobile cries for attention. I measured my worth by my ability to get a response from friends and men, usually at a sacrifice to my dignity. Buried under these thoughts all day and these fears all night was my poor withered soul. The soul that was once a big, beautiful being had turned into a dull and empty shell. When I was a girl, I felt as if I had a bright red balloon
of sass and potential and confidence tied to my wrist, for all the world to see. Then, at some point, I felt as if I was dragging a dead cat behind me on a dirty rope. No one wants to see that. No one wants to be around that girl. Believe me, no one wants to be that girl either. There’s no joy there. In fact, joy was buried right down there next to my deflated soul in that hoarder’s pile. I missed that red balloon and the gritty girl who displayed it with such pomp and pride. Where did she go? And more importantly, could I get her back? On some level, I knew I had not created the life I was meant to live but the task of excavating this pile of emotional shit seemed near impossible. Where would I even start? How would I find the energy and motivation? Did I need help and would anyone be willing to help me with such a gruesome and arduous task? Did I even have enough time left in my life to get it all cleaned up? The obsessive thoughts and questions I asked myself about how to clear away this pile only added to the pile itself. And then I had a realization: what if I didn’t have to rescue my soul by clearing away the pile? What if I just fed my soul from underneath, letting her inflate into her strong, red, beautiful self once again, and in doing so, the pile just fell away? The contents of the pile certainly won’t disappear, because some of those hurts are deep and valid and need to be examined, but as my soul gains strength, those hurts become relatively less and less important. This seemed like a plan. I sat down and made of list of ways to nourish my soul. (I’m not suggesting these are the only ways to do this, or even that what feeds my soul will also feed yours. Only you can know exactly what you need. I do know however that thinking about these issues for yourself takes courage, honesty and the ability to sit with unpleasant feelings for a bit.) The list shaped up something like this: I needed to reconnect with God and/or the universe in order to tap into a source of power greater than myself. It was a humbling experience. I had never held a strong faith in anything but my own ego, and when it failed me, I was utterly lost. Getting on my knees and admitting I did not have all the answers was one of the most difficult yet important things I have done. I needed to reconnect with nature in order to see beauty and order and wonder. Watching animals use their instincts reminded me of my own. Watching plants grow and thrive in favorable conditions reminded me that I needed to create conditions for health in my own life. And looking up at the star-filled night sky gave me the perspective that I am just a small part of an enormous system. As Albert Einstein said “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” I needed to reconnect with people from my youth; the people who knew me when I was still holding that red balloon. Being among the people who knew me when I was full of hope and plans and promise helped me get back to that place in my mind. I needed to reconnect with my hometown. Visiting the places where I played and laughed and learned gave me a visceral rekindling of those processes within me. I needed to reconnect with my body. I needed to stop abusing it with food and to start moving it in ways that didn’t feel punishing. I needed to start not just accepting it as an unfortunate hand I was dealt, but appreciating it for its wonder as a functional machine and a beauty to behold. This was a difficult yet important step. I needed to evaluate and cull my relationships, only giving time and attention to the ones that were true and bidirectional and clearing away all the false cobwebs. I needed to connect with others who were struggling. It wasn’t important that I found people struggling with exactly the same things with which I was struggling, just that they were struggling and they were able to be open and honest about it. I read books about people overcoming their circumstances. I joined groups of people openly talking about their pain. I listened to podcasts of people describing their journey of rebirth. And I talked to almost anyone who would listen. I learned gratitude in the service of others “less fortunate”. In that re-connection, I learned the important lesson that we heal together. And, maybe most importantly, I did away with my rules and timeline. I allowed myself permission for this journey to meander wherever it went and for it to take however much time it took to re-inflate my spirit. I am still at the beginning of this road, and some days I feel like I am learning the same lesson over and over, but its ok, because I know those lessons will soon stick. I know my gravestone won’t read “She was perfect”, but I will die happy if it can read “She truly tried”.