My Why By NinaOct 18, 2019
There I was, sitting in my suit in front of a hassled executive for the fourth round of interviews for a public relations job at Visa.
He asked the textbook interview questions, and then Tell me your weaknesses.
I’ll be honest, I said. I work really hard and have a tendency to over do it. I burned out at my last job. I’m coming to you after taking some time off to get my shit together.
[Backstory: I was the PR Manager for The North Face for five years and lost my sister in a car accident during that time.]
So taking time off helped you get your shit together. What will you do differently here at Visa? He asked.
You see, while I felt recovered having gotten away from the grind of my old job, the demanding stakeholders, the annoying commute (and grieving my sis) - it was really just me taking a much-needed deep breath.
The kind of deep breath you take before diving back into the pool.
I realized in that moment I was about to dive back into my old ways of being.
I didn’t know how to NOT put my nose down and plow through. That wasn’t going to change with time off or in a new job.
I grew up back east constantly competing for varsity - on and off the field. You didn’t just go to college, you went to the best college. You didn’t just play sports, you were the best athlete in your sport. I was used to pushing through resistance even though it hurt. There wasn’t a lot of sleeping in, bench-sitting, rest or recovery happening around me.
I learned how to hustle, to figure things out, mostly on my own - perhaps to a fault.
No one taught this to me. These were the stories in my head.
And they showed up everywhere - at work I was a rockstar - superhuman - PR - maven (who was constantly kicking my own ass and burning out). In my relationships I was a really good friend, often over-extending myself, easy going and flexible (it was easier to please everyone around me than actually speak up and risk being judged).
I thought it would be easy to downshift from work and stay home with the kids for a few years when they were young. But let’s be real - my workaholic, Type-A tendencies shined at organizing big events, being responsive and available for The New York Times (on deadline), and generally getting shit done (GSD) but that didn’t translate at home with my little ones, my husband or myself.
And then I was diagnosed with primary lymphedema.
It took years to diagnose the peculiar swelling in my leg. I was told there’s no cure and no finish line. It will only get worse.
Primary lymphedema is rare. The swelling can snowball out of control. I’m at high risk for infection in my left leg because of the poor circulation - challenging my outdoor lifestyle and love of mountain biking, hiking, camping and all things wild. I was recently hospitalized for an infection that started in my leg and spread to my bloodstream. The infection cleared quickly, we caught it early. But I have to be really careful.
At first I just pushed through. But as the swelling got worse, my self-pity and shame did too, and I treated my leg as a disgusting deformity, unworthy. The voices in my head were telling me to “suck it up and cover up…” The swelling only got worse.
I put on a happy face. I pretended I had it all under control. I covered up my distress and stuffed the negative emotions away. In reality, I felt completely ungrounded and insecure. The sports and activities that fulfilled me so much were fading away - especially my love for running - it became too painful. My jeans no longer fit, I replaced all of my short cocktail dresses with long ones, my shoes stopped fitting and my tall winter boots wouldn’t zip. It wasn’t just my wardrobe, life seemed to tighten and compress around me, and I felt completely out of control.
My patience with myself and my disease grew shorter and shorter, and extended into all of the other parts of my life. I was lashing out at my kids. It took effort to participate in their playfulness and respond to their curiosity. I just simply felt bossy all the time. I was evasive and pushy, unpredictable and sad. The relief I used to get from a workout or fresh air wasn’t enough anymore. I was isolating myself by pushing everyone else away.
I was totally consumed by the losses, they eclipsed the loveliness that still existed in my life. I didn’t know what to do or where to start to get back on the rails.
One night we were out to dinner and the long dress I was wearing (to conceal the medical grade compression I have to wear) flew up in the breeze. When I looked up my oldest son was standing in front of me.
“Mom, cover up! No one wants to see your fat leg!”
I was completely stunned. But then I realized, those weren’t his words. Those were my words. He was just reflecting what he’d heard me say and feel time and time again.
Despite all of my self-discipline, will power and attempts to “muscle through” I wasn’t getting anywhere. I wasn’t being honest with myself. I didn’t recognize myself. And what kind of example was I setting for my kids?
I thought I would look weak if I opened up and got vulnerable. I was afraid to be seen and heard.
This is hard.
I feel so alone.
I can’t hide anymore.
I need help.
When I finally let go, allowed myself to feel and acknowledged the emotions, mind and body started working together, life slowly started to fall into place.
I started to listen and be gentle.
Yes, modern medicine shows that I have poor circulation in my left leg, but I think stunting my emotions and stowing them away for so long also contributes to the physical congestion in my body. The body keeps score.
Put it this way: the swelling in my leg is a constant reminder that I need to continue to allow myself to feel the feels, delicate and heavy, to let them pass through me without judgement or punishment. To ask for help. To honor my needs.
I work on letting go a little bit more every day. Rest and recovery are safe and critical. Not lazy or wrong. I try to treat myself like a friend. When I’m not taking care of myself, not listening to myself, not respecting myself, I’m no good to anyone, including myself. I’ve learned it starts with me.
When I’m gentle with myself, I’m a gentler human being. I’m graceful and proud, playful and intentional, centered and grounded. When I serve myself and honor my own needs, I’m freer to serve those around me, and it feels so good.
I became a coach in 2013 because I wished I’d had a coach myself. I was so frenzied and lost I had no idea where to start to get back on the rails, steady, strong, reliable, loving, playful and graceful. Intentional. What looked like a physical diagnosis and disability was truly so much more. It was just the tip of the iceberg, which is almost always the case with our clients, too.
It’s scary to be seen and heard. This isn’t easy. I’m a coach, but I’m not a perfect human being. The work Kelle and I do is a most authentic extension of our own journeys. We’ve been there. We are there. I’m in-progress every day and hopefully this gives you permission to feel the feels and see yourself, however imperfect, lovely, messy or uncomfortable, too.
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