Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Soul Searching

Several months ago, a friend of mine commented to me that he thinks I am one of the "most intense people" that he knows. My friend is always kind and gentle, and I think he meant this as a compliment; nonetheless, I was taken aback by his observation and felt mildly slapped in the face. Me, intense? I mentioned to BJ that my friend said this, and BJ basically immediately responded that he thinks my friend's observation is spot-on and he wholeheartedly agrees. My feelings were so hurt, but I wasn't sure why. I had never thought of myself as an intense or exhausting person, but if my partner in life, who knows me better than anyone and sees me everyday, could completely agree with this statement about me, then I knew it must be true. Self-examination was in order. I set out to explore examples of this "intensity," how it plays out in my life specifically, and why I reacted negatively to the comment.

My soul-searching intersected with Adele of course, as do many roads in my emotional and daily life. George is still obsessed with her voice and even her face, and my Adele Live DVD calms even his worst tantrums. The moment he sees her face, he goes into a trance like a man in love. It's hilarious, but that's not where I was actually going with this. We play a lot of Adele in the car since we are a family of Adele fans, and I began hearing with new ears the song "Don't You Remember." One line in particular states, "I know I have a fickle heart and a bitterness, and a wandering eye, and a heaviness in my head." That last part is what really stands out to me: a heaviness in my head. Since Adele is not actually a personal acquaintance of mine (shocking, I know), I have no access to pick her brain on what exactly she meant when she wrote this line. The line really resonates with me though because I see within me a personality characteristic of getting easily emotionally involved in circumstances, which oftentimes gets me in trouble. Most of the time I feel joy and utter contentment with my life, but there are times when things aren't going so well and I find myself consumed with grief---sometimes grief that doesn't even really feel like my own except that I have made it so. A heaviness in my head. BJ has been witness to this tendency in me since we first met, and over the years I have become wise to it as well. I find myself having to safeguard myself against it these days.

A perfect example of the heaviness in my head is the last nearly-two years of my life. Granted, during these two years I have been pregnant with two different babies and nursed one for a solid year. In short, my life hasn't been hormonally normal in four years. I'm about to give birth to my third child and my oldest one will still be only 3-1/2 years old when I do, so I'm no stranger to ups and downs these past few years. But that aside, I can see where my personal tendencies have not helped to buffer me against the downs in life that have occurred. The news of my best friend's baby Owen and his terminal brain disease rocked our world. BJ and I were visibly depressed for over a month, often tearful and despondent, but surely that is normal under the circumstances. Months went by, my own George was born, fatigue set in, and I found myself daily in tears while simultaneously feeling joyful and giddy about my own little family. As is usual, I talked with Sommer (Owen's mommy) every day, and I began feeling some relief as I knew that she was going to be okay. I found Adele's music during this time and I started listening to it almost every day and feeling relief as I did. Here, I thought, is a woman who also clearly feels heartache just like me, so I am understood by another. I could sing it out like she does, and I was learning that I was going to be alright. I wasn't quite emotionally back on my feet before my friend Laurie told me about her friend's son Aiden, who was tragically ill with whooping cough and was fighting an uphill battle. And here is where the heaviness in my head comes into play: I could have been there for Laurie but never allowed myself to get emotionally involved with Aiden. I didn't know Aiden or his family, and I didn't have to follow their "50 for Aiden" Facebook page with progress and updates, but I did. I chose to love a boy and fell in love deeply with him. He passed away three and a half weeks after I first learned of his situation, and my grief at his passing was every bit as deep as the grief of my grandparents' deaths---a child I had never met. I couldn't shake his loss, and a couple of close friends expressed their concern about my well-being in that first week, taking me under their wings, feeding me and my boys dinner because BJ was out of town, and just being there for me when I couldn't stop crying. I cried for almost a year. As I began pulling myself out of it and was finally feeling better, the May 20 tornado missed our house by 600 feet, devastated our community, killed more babies, and made fresh loss all around. This set me back a couple more months, but I can say today that the daily tears are gone and I am out of the tunnel.

Owen and Aiden will always be wholly entrenched in my soul because of the depth of their impacts on me as a person. The closure on my grief with Aiden comes because of several wonderful reasons: I have become friends with his mom Kristen, which was tangible reassurance for me that God works with peace in our lives. Secondly, my involvement with breast milk donation began because of Aiden, and that has become a passion of mine that has helped to benefit others and give me a purpose in Aiden's name. Also, I found and purchased a look-alike of Aiden's delicious little star blanket as a present from me to my next baby, little Van, so that Aiden can physically continue to be part of us and can help spread positive blessings to his little buddy Van. Having these positives in my life is inexpressibly important to me. Though these positives have come at the price of pain, I view it as a pain that has been well worth it because it has led to deeper, intense (there's that word again) relationships with others, the re-prioritizing of what is important in my life, a search into my own blessings, a proving of my own resilience, and a journey to the dark and back that has made me a more self-aware and loving person. I'm smart enough to realize that some of the grief I attributed to Aiden is really for Owen. Owen is still living, but the reality of what his life holds for him is painful to think about. He is a wonderful gift most especially to his family, but also to those of us who love him and want what is best for him. Van's middle name will be Owen, again a tangible connection to his buddy that illustrates that we are all in this together, just as with Aiden's blanket.

I do not intend for this to sound like a poor-me post. I am keenly aware that other people have suffered unimaginable losses in each of these circumstances, losses that far trump my own and produce grief beyond my capability of understanding. I have shared these stories as potential examples of the "intensity" that my friend mentioned---and my own characteristic of allowing my head to get 'heavy' during complex circumstances that are emotionally-charged but removed enough from me that I don't have to get involved. Sometimes I don't get involved. You know, hardhearted as it sounds, I barely looked at the news for a week when the Newtown school shooting happened in December because I knew for sure that I didn't have the emotional resources left to deal with anything like it. Numerous friends and family who knew my vulnerability at that time called me on that day to see how I was handling the news, and I had to admit to them that I had heard it happened but didn't want too many details because I just can't right now, I just can't. Thankfully, they seemed to understand. Perhaps that is proof of "intensity" in me...that a news story could potentially send someone over the edge and her friends know it and call her and check on her...even though she isn't remotely involved in the situation 2,000 miles away and has no greater claim to its grief than any other random Oklahoman who didn't know any of those people. It's also perhaps a testament to the awesomeness of my friends. =)

So after all of these months of soul-searching, do I agree that I am intense? Yes, I suppose so. Do I like it about myself? Yes. Yes, in fact, I do now. I think it helps me to organize my life with appropriate priorities and feel ups and downs that enrich me as a person and teach me new ways of being. I have to be careful though, I know, and keep myself from getting wrapped up in too much because I don't know how to get out of it once I'm in. As long as I know this about myself and can depend on my family and friends to keep an eye out for me, I can fuel intensity and make it a blessing rather than a curse. All of our personality characteristics reside on a continuum from good to bad; although growth is always a process, I encourage each of us to examine our own personal traits and use them for the mobilization of good in our lives. Enough about me though! Check out this picture of Owen, on the right in the green, at his second birthday party. He's so obviously surrounded by love, and I am so proud that he has reached his second birthday--previously thought to be unattainable. His stubbornness shows through every day. =)

 The black-eyed Susans that we planted last year in honor of Owen are thriving! A special flower for a special little guy!

Lovely Aiden

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