The Swamp Land of the Soul

Saturday, I was supposed to do a 21 mile training run.  It began with me trying to find some dry running clothes–its been a wet week and all my warm running clothes were WET.  Sigh, I slipped on some cropped running tights, layered up a few lightweight long sleeve tops and set off in the wet muckiness.  Within 2 miles, snow began to mix with the rain.  By mile 5, my hands HURT like CRAZY.

In 2004, I climbed Mt. Rainier with a group of people from my university.  We had to stop for longer than intended to switch up the rope teams as some people decided to turn back down to camp.  We sat there for a good 40 minutes and by the time we were ready to move out, I was sick to my stomach because my hands were so cold.   As I tackled the first hill at Point Defiance Park, I felt that same sick feeling coming over me.  I felt a lump growing in my throat–I was fighting back tears.  I thought, “Surely I am going to die!”  For the next 4 miles I went back and forth, “Come on, be tough and finish the 21 miles.” and then, “Melissa, you don’t have to prove anything!  16 is sufficient!”  and then, “You can work out inside this afternoon!” and then “What the hell is wrong with you!  16 miles! You don’t need to work out again this afternoon!” Sigh, and so it went over and over again.

Then I began to think about why I was having these thoughts.  Before heading out for the run, I watcehd a Ted Talk by a lovely woman named Brene Brown.  She is a psychologist that studies vulnerablity and shame.  In her talk she spoke of the difference between shame and guilt.  Guilt is what you feel when you make a mistake and then you apologize/face up to it–“I’m sorry I ____.”  Shame is about who you are.

As I sludged through the mucky, cold, wet park, near tears from the pain in my hands and wanting oh so badly to quit and ask someone to let me sit in their car an warm up, I began processing through some of the shame in my life.  One of the things that kept resurfacing with not being a “good enough”  wife, daughter, teacher, homekeeper, WOMAN.”  Our society is full of messages about what a “liberated” woman should be like–she works a full time job (and if she puts in more than 40 per week she gets bragging rights about how much she works), she keeps the house clean, she is thin and sexy (and is so because she works so hard she just “doesn’t have time for lunch.), she’s strong willed yet sensative…etc., etc.

I don’t feel “cut out” to work this 40+ hour week at a job that doesn’t make me feel alive with excitement.  Am I less of a woman because I desire to one day stay at home with my children?  Have I done wrong by my mother and the generation(s) of women who fought for women’s rights and equality?

I had a plan–and in it I should have had at least one baby by now.  I should also be more relaxed and be ready to pick up and strap that baby on and go travel the world at any given moment (this is my ideal self speaking)…and I should maybe even have dreadlocks.  But I don’t have a baby and I need time to adjust and plan.  I’m a planner…and damnit I want the house clean…and I don’t have the guts to get dreadlocks.  And I feel shame about not living up to be the person I “think” I should be.

Yes, sometimes my mind goes to the edges of my soul while I’m running.  In this case, it was also a way for me to escape the reality that I was ridiculously cold.  I think these are important conversations to have with ourselves, both men and women, and with each other.  When we start to talk about it, we learn that we are not alone and when shame is met with empathy, it can no longer control us.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Theodoor Roosevelt (mentioned by Brown–watch the TED Talk! Its about Shame often keeps us from doing the things that make us come alive because we believe we are not “enough”, that we will fail and all our vunerablities will be spilled for a all to see.  When we address the shame and respond to it with truths about who we are and when we meet each other with empathy, we can dare to be great:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

**Note: I did indeed only run 16 miles and went home and sat in a hot bath while drinking tea and eating an apple with sunbutter.  It was more than satisfying.  

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4 thoughts on “The Swamp Land of the Soul

  1. emily

    You are strong. you are beautiful. you are wise. you are everything you should be right now!
    Thank’s for being vulnerable and sharing this important message we can all relate to.

  2. Shawn

    Your post made me cry Melissa- You are right that we should have these conversations with each other to learn that we are not alone. This being “super-woman” is quite crazy. It is interesting to see how the Woman’s Movement has evolved and the expectations that society has developed for women (or the expectations women perceive society has developed for them- I am not quite sure). I find myself in an interesting spot in my life, questioning whether or not I made the right choices. I did the super woman thing for a very long time until one day my body said “enough” and I became unconscious, fell over, hit my head and woke up in the Land of Oz, wandering around trying to figure out what is really important in life. I think I should have paced myself more carefully, spent more time with my girls when they were young and certainly have done a better job at keeping the house clean!

    I think about our family and wonder if these shame tendencies are more prevalent in our family than they are in others. Of course, one can never really know what goes on in the minds and souls of others. I have been reading a number of books about “personality traits” and excited to read about recent research that has determined that brain biology and chemistry actually determines those characteristics, beliefs and behaviors that we have called “personality”. Of course, you put all of those “need to achieve at all costs” and “if I don’t live up to my expectations and what I perceive to be the expectations of others, I am a bad person (shame)” people in one family and those beliefs are reinforced – until one day our body revolts-.

    From my perspective, I hope that the upcoming generation of women will not feel the same pressure to “do it all” that your mother and auntie’s generation did. Once that Women’s Right’s Movement got rolling it took on a life of its own. I hope the pendulum swings back towards the middle – a little balance in life would be nice. I think it is always important for a woman to be able to support herself and her children on her own if need be. I think that is an issue that led to the Women’s Movement and continues to be an issue for woman in many countries still. I hope that the World of Work will recognize the need for parents of all genders to balance work and family and offer more part time work options. I hope that when your children are your age, they will look at their grandmother and great-aunties and say, “I can’t believe they lived like that- what were they thinking!”.

    And I am so glad you stopped at 16 miles. I have a tendency to set goals (usually pretty rigorous ones) and go about achieving them at all costs. I also, often do not recognize when it would be wiser to stop and readjust. We have talked in my brain injury groups about how it is not an “all or nothing” world sometimes “some” is right too. I also used to tell my students who had a tendency to rush through everything to get to the next activity that “life is not a race -the first one done does not win”. I would do well to heed my own advice.

    I just reread this post – I think I should start a blog!

    • mjorgey

      Shawn, you should start a blog 🙂 You always have such great insight. I love your description of waking up in the “Land of Oz” and trying to figure out what is really important.

      My friend that visited for Christmas commented on how strong the women in our family are. I am so proud of the strength (and humor) of the women in our family. It inspires me and reminds me that I come from women of strength. While it may have helped inprint some ideas in my head about what kind of woman I should be, and how that strength should be manifested, there is beauty and security in it as well. But I am with you that I hope our next generation of girls look at their great aunties as say, “WHAT THE HECK! Why did they try to do it all???” hehe.

      One of the things I talked to your lovely daughter about this morning/last night was how the women’s “emancipation” should be about freedom to choose her own desinty, not just another form of bondage (from the kitchen to the office). It should be about us each daring to be great in our own ways, and not the ways society or a movement tells us we should be great. I think you are right that the woman’s movement in some ways took on a life of its own–setting new expectations for women to live up to and creating new standards for an entire gender–which really isn’t fair, ya know?

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