For any of you who’ve been following along for a bit here, you know that I’ve recently returned from an unfairly fantastic and extended vacation to a beautiful home in Naples, Florida.
My younger brother, Jason, is getting married in a few days. It’s a destination wedding for immediate family only, all paid for by the bride and groom. So, though I’ve only been back about three weeks now, I’m headed out once again tomorrow to Miami, and from there on a cruise to Bermuda. Free.
Lest you get the idea that I’m just breezing along between fabulous and free getaways, let me add that there are plenty of not-so-glamorous things going on, as well. But even in the midst of those challenges, a couple of days ago, I quite literally found about $3,000 I didn’t know I had (it was in some sort of investment portfolio that was apparently part of a benefit I had in my name from an old job). This money will pay for the first, last and security of my impending move; so while finding a new place is never fun and I wish I could stay in my current home, the financial part of it is off the plate, by yet another freakishly fortuitous occurrence in my life.
While I was away last month, I wrote a birthday post called “sparkle,” in which I reiterated that happiness is not circumstantial. It’s a choice. In fact, the first three pieces of advice in my book, The Best Advice So Far are as follows:
- You always have a choice.
- Being miserable is a choice.
- Practice positivity.
I’ve written about strategies I use in order to stay present and enjoy moments; about the system I use for banishing worry when it threatens to upend my peace; and about the importance of focusing on what really matters in life. So with all of that having poured out of me recently, I wonder if what I’m about to say today will seem contradictory or even hypocritical. Still, I’ll take my chances. I just feel like it’s important to be transparent and to paint a complete picture, not a fantasy. Otherwise, you may wind up believing that any advice I may share only works for “people like me” who get free vacations or magically find thousands of dollars they didn’t know they had. And then you’ll give yourself an excuse not to try it.
Not to make new choices.
Not to change.
Like I said, I’m willing to get “ugly pretty” here, so that maybe you’ll see I’m not all that unlike you.
So here’s the thing. Despite all these wonderful things of late, I’ve just felt like something is wrong inside. I’m not unhappy exactly. As I said in a recent post, I felt a mounting desire for some “crazy fun.” Lightness. Silliness even. Unrestrained laughter. Something.
And I tried. Honestly, I did. I went out and tried to make (or at least allow) some moments like that. But it became apparent that it’s a little hard to have crazy fun by yourself.
Now, let me stop here and say this. If you were to ask any ten people who know me well, “Who is the least needy person you know?” I would bet my bippy (if I knew what a bippy was) that most, if not all of them, would name me as the least needy. And that’s great. Who wants to be seen as needy, right?
I mean needy is right up there with clingy, desperate, suffocating. And that’s not me.
I’m a giver, not a taker.
I want to leave others feeling inspired, not drained.
I want to breathe life into people, not suck the life out of them.
But I’ve realized lately that the feelings I’d been having weren’t going away. It feels off. Weird. It affects my breathing – like I’m out of breath, but I can physically breathe just fine. Maybe it’s just that I find myself in stretches where I am aware of my breathing, and if I stop being aware of those breaths … in, out, in, out … I’ll never get them back into rhythm. If I stop concentrating on them … in, out, in, out … they’ll just get bigger and bigger and more erratic until they’re too much for my lungs.
Or maybe it’s that thinking about breathing takes away the prickly pressure inside my head. And behind my eyes.
People have always expressed wonder at how in tune with my body I am, how aware I am of the ways in which my emotions affect me physically. But this last month or so has taken some getting used to, some learning. It’s a “me” that feels unfamiliar somehow.
In the moments where the need to think about my breathing passes, I’ve done some soul searching. Was it the birthday? Did it affect me more than I knew? I didn’t think that was it.
Is the upcoming move actually eating up mental space, taking me out of the present in ways I’m not accounting for? That didn’t seem like it, either.
At times, it would seem like I was onto something that had that “Aha!” sort of feel, but then it would slip away before I could put form to it. However, over the course of days, like staring at one of those Magic Eye pictures long enough, the blurry outline coalesced into an image I could see and put form to, if I held my breath and didn’t blink. And here is what I saw:
“That’s it?” you say. “You needed? What’s the big deal?”
But to me, it was a big deal. It made me go all rubbery inside.
I mean, I know I “need” to eat and drink, in order to stay alive. I “need” my heart and lungs and a bunch of other organs and systems to keep working. But those are kind of obvious needs. The clarity of what I had been feeling was more like being woken up with a splash of ice water to the face.
I realized that during my time away in Florida, while I was able to sleep regular hours and rejuvenate my body and mind in that way, and though I had a break from output to others – I did not have any input. The distinction is an important one, between lack of output and active input.
One mental picture I got was that I was a vampire – the original vampire, whose blood could heal any other vampire who’d been bitten by werewolves. And everyone had been bitten by werewolves. And everyone needed my blood. And I was giving it to them. Full of holes, I was. Bleeding out. But there was no food for me, no new blood to nourish me back to vitality. And I tried biting myself, but it didn’t have the effect the others seemed to be enjoying. I was just empty. Drained, but still existing somehow. (Don’t call the men in the white coats; I told you, I haven’t been myself lately. And I haven’t been biting myself or anyone else, I promise. Apparently, creativity is a deeper well than what ailed me.)
The point is to say that this was quite a revelation. And it made complete sense. I’d been through a few months where all energies had been going out, yet resources for putting back in were inaccessible. I’m not just talking about the kind of input that comes from cherries and sunset swims and naps. I needed human input, not merely breaks from output.
So how does this fit into the advice that “You always have a choice”? Or that happiness is a choice?
Well, actually, it really does.
As I said in my recent post, I’m not unhappy. I do enjoy helping others reach their goals, listening, talking, blogging, getting word out about the book, and most other things with which I fill my time. I just came to the realization that it was all out energy. And what I needed was in energy. I’m not sure how else to explain it.
Maybe soul need.
In another recent post, I had this to say: “Being who I am means fully feeling what I feel in the present moment.”
And in one of the most popular posts to date, I encouraged readers to follow my lead: “Be vulnerable and take risks.”
Either I believe these things or I don’t.
Either I’m prepared to live them out, or I’m a fraud and have no business writing about them.
And so, you see, I was left with a choice: Do I reach out and let the people in my life know how I’m feeling and that I could use a little extra care right now? Or do I suck it up for one more day, play it safe, and avoid “bothering people” or seeming needy?
Please hear me. Even for me, who writes about these things constantly, this was not an easy choice. The latter would be my inclination by nature. But that’s easier when the feeling I’m trying to describe here lasts for a couple of hours, a day or two at most. This time around, it had been mounting for months.
So I made the choice to be extra intentional and persistent about asking for time with “the right people.” We are all busy of late. But I let them know that I really needed time with my friends right now. And people started coming through.
Just being with people who didn’t need anything from me was refreshing. I could feel the blood starting to course through my veins again (don’t worry; I didn’t bite anyone). But because there had been some gaps in getting together due to summer plans or bigger projects on everyone’s plates, we fell quickly into “catch-up mode”: painting what we’d been up to in broad strokes. It was good – but I could feel that it was not what I needed. So, in each case, I forced myself so start in and explain this dry spell inside as best I could, and then to specifically ask for a little extra TLC for a short while.
It was hard. Really hard. But I made the choice to do it, rather than to “seem fine,” as people have come to expect. I realized that unless I expressly told them, they wouldn’t know. So I told them.
I told them that I needed them to take the active listener role, to let me spill everything and be messy for a while.
I told them I just wanted to be reminded that they were there and cared.
I told them that I could use a text or email here and there, just asking how I am.
I told them I’d love to be sent pictures of the little moments – even silly things – that made up their day, because it would make me feel included.
I told them that I would appreciate their checking in with me on the things that are important to me: the kids I mentor, the book marketing, etc.
And you know what? They did. They are. Happily so.
I didn’t need money. I didn’t need pampering at a spa. I didn’t need long, emotional talks where someone held me while I cried and rocked in fetal position. I just needed a little extra care. I made the choice to tell people, and they’ve been coming through for me.
For those among us who value a sense of independence, and who really are pretty together most of the time, it’s really hard to be vulnerable when we hit those places. To seem weak (because we are at those times). To need. No one said all of our available choices would be easy. But we do have a choice, nonetheless.
And today, in this very late post, I’ve chosen to let you in on how I’ve been feeling, what choices I made, and how it’s working out. I wanted you to know and understand that we all need input in our lives, the kind that can only come from other real people, and not from anywhere else.
It’s OK to need.
It’s OK to admit it.
It’s OK to ask for help.
It’s more than OK.
(Be sure to remind me later that I said this.)