New Year's Resolutions. Last year was the first year I actually thought of a few goals, wrote them down, and put them up on the fridge. I did great with some and half-great with others, you can look at the list (now with updates on my progress) at the bottom of the Life List page.
Although I understand the sentiment of New Year's Resolutions being kind of fruitless on the theory that if you want to enact change you should do it at any time of the year, I have a counter argument to that: Having a specific date when you set your goals allows you to go back and check on your progress. Other than maybe your birthday, other dates and goals throughout the year don't afford that same sense of assessment that New Year's does. And that's good, because while there shouldn't be any berating of yourself for not doing what you set out to, you should at least be able to check in on yourself, if for no other reason than I bet you did a lot better than you think you did.
So anyway, resolutions. I basically only have one resolution this year and without sounding too hyperbolic, it's already changing my life. But it's a long story as to how I got there, so settle in.
Chapter 1 - "Bob, I'm giving you a prescription to take a vacation from your problems"
This December was a lot different from last December. Last December we had a newborn, B was in his first semester of grad school, and there was far too much family drama surrounding Christmas plans. It was stressful and made for a cranky few weeks culminating with a debilitating migraine for B for most of Christmas day.
This December was totally different and completely lovely. Lots of advent activities, no family drama, manageable school stress, and a better grasp on the whole parent thing. At some point towards the very beginning of the month I was standing in the kitchen contemplating sugar cookies, presents, the smell of orange and cinnamon boiling on the stove, all things Santa, and I thought to myself:
I think the WHOLE month of December should feel like Christmas morning. We should order out when we want, eat the cookies when we want, and just take a break from life. I worry a LOT, and I try a LOT... I'm just not gonna do that this month.
And that was it. I didn't think about it for one second longer or deeper than that. I just had that thought, made the decision, and totally moved on.
Chapter 2 - Yeah, right, that guy's about as real as Santa Claus
A few weeks later I was upstairs getting ready and the television was on. I'm assuming it was not showing anything even remotely lofty. For all I know, this little gem could have come from a rerun of Beverly Hills 90210. Anyway, I heard this:
Who's the happiest man in the world?
The man who can look in the mirror, exactly as he is today, without thought for the future or the past, and love every single thing he sees.
So of course I heard that and thought ha! Nice thought. Total bullshit, but nice thought.... No, seriously, who even comes close to that?? I mean, I GUESS it could be something to work towards. One day. But WHO IS THIS MAN WHO DOESN'T WORRY ABOUT HIS FUTURE?!
But it was a good thought, so I filed it away.
Chapter 3 - "What I'm mostly concerned about is Lupus"
For the four or five months leading up to December I was having a weird medical symptom - every day when I woke up my right hand would be swollen and stiff. And it started so gradually and got worse so gradually that I really didn't think anything of it. I just figured that I had some early onset arthritis. Then one day I was cleaning the house and my right hand became nearly unusable because of it's stiffness and pain. But again, I just chalked it up to arthritis, took some Tylenol and moved on.
Then there were a few days in a row when it was swelling throughout the day, hot, bright red, and not very usable. And had it not been such a dramatic change, I definitely would have just put it off until after the holidays. But B was really worried and insisted I make an appointment.
So I made an appointment for a physical and to talk about my hand. And when the nurse practitioner ran through the long list of bodily symptoms that they have to ask you about every year, I had two other minor problems, when combined with the hand, added up to a possibility of Lupus.
She was testing me for Lupus, Lyme Disease, and Rheumatoid Arthritis, "but mostly I'm concerned that you have Lupus." So I had my blood taken two days before Christmas and they said they would call the following week if anything was positive, otherwise I would just receive a letter. But because of the holiday, the lab would be backed up and it would take almost a week to get the results.
For whatever reason, I wasn't worried about any of it. And that's actually surprising because I have one dear friend with MS, and a week prior learned that my cousin was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's. So I feel like I should have been worried, but I just wasn't. The most I did was a quick internet search to see what exactly Lupus was. But it was so different for every person that I didn't read much after learning that it was an autoimmune disease where your immune system "attacks the good cells as well as the bad ones."
But then I was lying in bed one night and I couldn't sleep so I was ruminating on Lupus and I thought "Whoooooa! FUCK! THAT! I already have a shitty spine that doesn't stay in place and a wildly unstable blood sugar system that makes me sick, with no given notice, almost every other day. I do NOT need ONE MORE THING that makes my body weaker. No! NO GOD DAMNED WAY."
Enter Louise Hay. Louise Hay has about a million books, but the only one I know about, or have read, or own is Heal Your Body, A-Z. Heal Your Body is set up like a little dictionary of all the body parts and illnesses and the "definition" after each entry is the emotional correspondent to that illness. Do you have chronic shoulder problems? Maybe you feel like you're shouldering the weight of the world, etc.
I realize this may sound like a dismissal or simplification of western medicine but it's not. I don't think we need yet another study to show the effect our emotions have on our health. And I don't think it'll ever be effective to treat someone's ailments from only the neck down. I see the body/mind stuff like I see dreams - some dreams have meaning and some don't. Some illnesses are here to teach you something, and sometimes you were just born with a crappy knee or an unfair disease.
So you can take it or leave it, but I deeply believe in the power of signals. I believe that they're all around us, giving us quiet clues to our life, our happiness, and ourselves, and we can either choose to listen, or choose to ignore them. But the more you ignore them, the louder they're going to get. That I'm sure of.
So to this day I actually haven't looked up what Louise Hay has to say about Lupus in her book, but as I was lying there in bed I recalled "your body attacks the good cells as well as the bad cells." And it took about 4 seconds before I realized that this one was not rocket science. You're attacking the good parts of you as well as the bad parts. True. I am.
So since the health scare (all tests were negative) seemed so clearly like a message, I thought that I would take the message and leave the disease. I didn't want to be slapped with something awful before I smartened up and realized that I need to lighten up and be nicer to myself. And I don't mean self esteem. I feel like I have pretty good self esteem. I mean, it took all of my 20s to get here, but I'm here now and it's a good and happy place to be.
However, the mental effort I spend in any given day to be me is absurd. Regardless of how I come off in the world, in terms of my inner life I TRY. EVERY SECOND OF EVERY DAY I am putting forth EFFORT to be a good wife, a loving and effective mother, a good communicator, someone who stands up for her needs, etc, etc, etc. And here's the thing - I don't think I'm even REMOTELY unique in this. Because I read your blogs, and I read your emails, and I listen to our conversations, and I see the way you talk about yourself and your life, and I can see it just as plainly in all of you as I can see it in me.
You're TRYING, with clenched teeth, and a tightened heart. And it's EXHAUSTING. It's exhausting. It's hard to put THAT much effort into every second of every day and I decided to stop doing that. I decided that I was just going to trust that I am a good wife, mother, friend, citizen, etc. and just trust that everything else will work itself out.
Because I feel like all the trying is not getting anyone anywhere. You can't make positive lasting change from someplace negative. You can't hate your body until it's skinnier, you can't shame yourself into a better career, you can't stress or guilt your way to a happier life. Nothing good and lasting will ever come from a place of anxiety and worry and negative thoughts.
So that was my one New Year's resolution for 2011 - to stop trying to live my life and just live it... to stop worrying about everything and just be that man in the mirror who really believes he and his life are perfect just the way they are.
I decided this about four days ago, and like I said at the beginning of the post, my world has felt radically different. I feel lighter and happier, I feel SO much less judgmental of others, AND I've had no back pain. And trust me, I should. I've been working every day to get the house back together (and still not working out) and I haven't taken any medicine in a week.
I feel like this change could be radical and bring dramatically positive things into my life. But it's going to take practice, so it's my only main resolution this year and it's going on the fridge.
So that's been my experience but I want to hear yours. Have you already had this realization? Do you have any tips for me about it? Do you need to do this yourself? What are your resolutions? I'm not posting tomorrow because I really want to hear your thoughts and have a discussion about this. So even if you've been a reluctant commenter, now would be a great time to start.