2016 was a massive year for me with lots of wins and some big, kick you in the butt, then kick you in the gut lessons. I learned a lot and can feel pretty satisfied with the progress I’ve made. It’s often said that you keep getting the lesson until you “get” the lesson but what is often overlooked is the spiraling nature of learning as you cover the same territory again and again but each time at a much deeper level of understanding.
As we get ready to kiss good buy to 2016 and welcome 2017 with open arms, eyes full of optimism and a heart full of hope, I’d like to share with you some of the lessons learned in 2016.
Make the tough decisions…they’re not actually that tough
Moving city, changing jobs, starting new schools for the kids and planning the arrival of our rainbow baby, the start of 2016 was full on! Throw into the mix my father’s health scare which nearly shut down his heart, the suicide of a friend who had called me out of the blue only a week before, the first anniversary of my baby Mia’s stillbirth, diagnosis of gestational diabetes and a race to the hospital because bubby went quiet and you could say that we were primed for stress and fear from the start. Under stress your ability to think clearly and make decisions becomes impaired.
As we neared the birth, there was a fair bit of pressure to induce, and induce really early as I was considered high risk for a number of reasons! I like to have a fairly hands off birth, minimal if not zero pain relief, and minimal intervention so this didn’t sit well with me. I am also a pragmatist and live in a country that has an amazing public health system that generally respects the wishes of the mother, so I wanted as much information as possible on which to base my decision. How long could I push it out for? What increase of risk over what period of time was there? What’s the difference between days? As I weighed the pros and cons and the due date loomed, I agreed for an intervention that on the scale of things was the least interventionist, a stretch and sweep. At that appointment the midwife informed me that I was good to go, already dilated, could potentially go into labour over the weekend, that if we did induce the first part would be skipped and we could get straight down to business. I booked in to be induced on the Monday and spent the weekend willing my body to go into spontaneous labour. I didn’t.
In the end, the inducement went well. Although according to the trace I’d been having contractions all morning, it wasn’t until I lay down for a rest at noon that I actually felt the first one and it was big. Within 15 minutes I was climbing into a bath for some pain relief and shortly after shit got real! My midwife kept asking me to tell her once I felt the need to push. I never got the chance. According to the midwife, suddenly my eyes pinned and she knew things had changed. The plan was to get me out of the bath for the actual birth but there was no moving me at that point because the baby was coming. Within seconds I went from not needing to push, to desperately needing to push because the baby was coming out. At 12.55, Bryn was born. He was perfect.
The decision to be induced felt like such a tough one that I spent so much time agonising over and yet in the moment that I made the call the decision wasn’t difficult at all.
There were a number of tough calls made this year, that in the lead up, felt tough to make and yet with all the information gathered what needed to happen was JUST DECIDE, and then it was done.
The most joyful moments can be tinged with sadness
Having baby Bryn earth-side was such an exhilarating moment. I couldn’t stop kissing him, and smelling him, and squeezing him, and stroking him and gazing at him. In the moment that he was placed on my chest and at a few points during his birth, I wept. Deep soulful sobs. They were tears of joy, of relief and grief, and sadness, of shame, and exhaustion, of triumph and rapture!
In the weeks following his birth I was determined to be on top of things. On guard for depression. A sense of guilt at my low moments. It was at Bryn’s 6 week check up that my new doctor named up the realisation, that I was busily denying. As we ran out of time for our appointment because I had another one to be at, she stressed her desire that I book back in, so she could properly check in with me, “because it’s in those quiet hours in the middle of the night that you will rail against the unfairness of it all”. I burst into tears. It was as though she had reached into my chest and stuck her finger into my heart right at the point where it hurt the most, that little pocket that housed my grief. Like poking a hole through a rice paper screen, the pop and slide of it as what was inside became exposed and rendered unable to be covered up again. She was right. In those wee hours, as my baby suckled at my breast, tears would quietly roll down my cheeks. Those moments were so bitter-sweet, they still are.
Depression sneaks up on you
I was keenly aware of the risks I faced this year. That with my history of depression, hormonal changes post-birth, and challenging circumstances, the risk of depression was a big one. I would proudly announce to various health practitioners that I had an amazing support network, supportive husband, all sorts of techniques to support my mental health and a profound awareness of triggers and warning signs.What I didn’t anticipate was that I would end up dealing with more than my fair share of stressful circumstances, financial worry, and pride. The problem with supportive networks and powerful techniques is that they don’t work if you don’t use them. It wasn’t until I was already depressed and spiraling deeper that it occurred to me what was happening and by then I had isolated myself from my network of support. I was so busy looking out for the signs and triggers, that my depression could sneak up on me.
Ask for help even if it leaves you vulnerable
Vulnerability seemed to be one of the buzz words of 2016. Often uttered in the same impassioned breath of authenticity. I have an estranged relationship with vulnerability. On a number of occasions where I have allowed myself to be vulnerable, I felt that it was either misunderstood or used against me. Even when I was sharing a struggle that was passed, that I had dealt with and was sharing retrospectively, people have proceeded to give advice as to how to overcome it, exclaimed at my “getting the lesson”, wondered at my failing, and questioned my reliability because of it. On each of these occasions I have been left perplexed and hurt. Every time, more and more cautious as to who I share my struggles with and if I should at all.
So with this as my backdrop, you can imagine that in the depression that was rapidly taking over, I was reluctant to ask for help, scared to let people know what was happening, and overwhelmed by the choice of who, if anyone, I could trust.
As the baby cried in his bassinet and I sobbed on the top of the stairs outside the room, I frantically searched my mind. What were the problems I needed to solve? Which problems needed to be solved first? Who had the expertise to help me with those problems? And of those people, who could I trust? And again in that moment, I overcame the agony. A decision was made and so was a phone call.
I asked 4 people for help. Each for different reasons. Each with a purpose in mind. Each with fear and trepidation in my heart as I opened up and shared where things we’re going wrong and what I needed from them. Although it didn’t quite work out how I’d planned, the act of asking for help and allowing myself to be vulnerable in that moment meant that I went from stagnation and overwhelm, to moving forward. I de-cluttered and cleaned the house while the kids were looked after by a friend so that I could think… I can’t think straight when the house is full of clutter! Got my tax and other finances sorted. And with the seemingly trivial under control, I could start to put myself back together, start working on my state of mind. I booked in for some Creatrix®. Cleared some fears and blocks and put myself back in control of my emotions. I learned that I had to stash my pride, ask for help and allow myself to be vulnerable in order to find solutions and take the action required to recover my empowered self.
Be careful with whom you share your vulnerability
It might seem obvious but it has to be said, be careful with whom you share your vulnerability. I had a Facebook friend turn customer turn unhappy customer this year. It was an experience that taught me a lot of lessons, some painful, some empowering.
It was just as my depression was peaking, when I was crying everyday and had been doing so for over a week, when she asked for a refund. It was also at the peak of our financial challenges where my maternity leave had run out, I was desperately waiting for my tax return and filing paperwork for various payments. At first I was hurt but I knew that it was not only her right but also the only way to salvage the situation or so I thought. The second thought was that I didn’t have enough to refund the $109 until the following week when I anticipated my tax return would be paid. It was at that moment, as I cried reading the request, that I made a fatal error of judgement and shared that fact with her. Her response was swift and hurtful, that she “wasn’t interested in my drama” and the money needed to be in her account by the end of the week or else. I rang my husband at his work in tears and we pooled our last few dollars and paid the refund.
Even though the level of detail I shared could hardly be described as “drama” and she was entitled to a refund, what I learned in that moment was two critical lessons. The first was to always approach business dealings with strict professional boundaries and policies NO MATTER WHAT, friend or otherwise. The second lesson was that when you are at your most vulnerable, your weakest, your most hopeless, you MUST be especially guarded about what you share and with whom. Even minute details shared without caution with the wrong person can bring you unstuck and leave you feeling super crappy. Be careful with whom you share your vulnerability!
Your Friends are where you left them
Things got really stressful, my state of mind felt toxic, and I felt so utterly alone. I didn’t feel I could ask for help, my friends and parents were going through their own shit and in fact I was trying to support them in some cases. I retreated more and more into my head trying to pull myself out of the rut and struggling alone. I felt isolated and trapped. It wasn’t until I swallowed my pride and asked for help that my friends were right where I left them.
It’s easy to tell ourselves that we are alone, it’s easy to buy into the lie that our friends aren’t there for us but the reality is that friendship is a two-way street. While you are swallowed up by your thoughts and worries, you remain absent from others. That you feel alone and without friends is because you have stepped away from them. When I reflect on the year, I realise that not only are my friends right where I left them but there are one or two new ones among them. Open up, look out for what you need and bring it into your life. Waiting for it all to happen to you will leave you feeling powerless and on the outskirts of your life, acting on your needs is powerful and puts you back into the center of your universe surrounded by those you love.
There are times to keep your mouth shut
This lesson came from watching someone struggle through their own experience and sadly one I couldn’t help them through. I can only hope that they come to this realisation one day for themselves: There really are times to keep your mouth shut. It doesn’t matter how much of a dick someone is being, you don’t always need to point it out. No matter how in the wrong someone is, righteously protesting it, doesn’t always make you right. There are times to speak up, against injustice, for the rights of others, but there are also times to stay shtum. When it comes to your values being deeply affronted, when your ideals are challenged, you may wish to preach but there is a time and a place. I would never advocate compromising your values and ideals but you must remember that someone else not living up to your values doesn’t compromise your own alignment.
Peace-of-mind comes with a price worth paying
There are times when we must weigh the importance of being right and our peace of mind. The reality is that not only do we crave being right but we want it acknowledged. You can be right without the other person acknowledging it. You can be right when others think you are wrong and you can think you are right and be very wrong. The question isn’t how to get others to acknowledge your “rightness” but how much is your peace of mind worth. Sometimes it’s important to cut your losses. Peace of mind is worth paying a price. How much is your peace of mind worth??
There is never a “right moment”, stop waiting for it
As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve wasted a lot of time planning and trying to get things “right”. Things will never be perfect. You will never have all of the information. You will never be a master. There will always be space for improvement. There is never a right moment so stop waiting for it. I started to put out more regular posts, sharing what I do with others, running workshops, marketing, writing courses, writing content, sharing…sharing…sharing. It was imperfect, rough around the edges, on the fly and yet the more I did the better I got. The more refined my message became the better my results. My one regret…that I didn’t start sooner!
So as 2016 comes to an end, what lessons did you learn? How will 2017 be different because of those lessons?