The thought hit me like a ton of bricks: I am a little beat up – both literally and figuratively. Over the past 5 years, I’ve been through a lot. Some truly horrible, life changing, gut wrenching events and some this-20-minute-drive-has-taken-an-hour-and-a-half stressful stuff and I’m weary.
If you could see me right now, you’d see what I mean by literally beat up. I’ve had some nagging eye problems for the last six months and my left eyelid looks like I’ve been sticking it with a toothpick plus I burned my hand on Thanksgiving.
I figure out that I’m a little beat up.
As I was putting my favorite pink Life is Good – Do What You Like, Like What You Do coffee mug in the microwave, I looked down at the burn and I thought to myself, “Well, I’m a little beat up.” Whereupon I burst into tears, bolted up the stairs to my office, and started to write this post.
That was a week ago. And I’ve been carefully, deliberately avoiding finishing it every day since.
The thing is, when we finally realize that we’re beat up, it’s grueling to address how we arrived here. We’re comfortable surfing the waves of stress and anguish that continually break over our heads, so it’s hard to contemplate how we would even begin to move past them. It’s not that we’re comfortable with those feelings; it’s that we’re numb to them. Which makes it easy to first submerge them and then keep them under.
For me, it started in January 2013 when I lost my husband, Bo, 14 days after outpatient surgery. His surgery was on a Thursday; we returned home that evening (after 15 hours at the hospital); EMT’s took him to the emergency room Monday; he was moved to ICU and put on a ventilator Tuesday, and he died 9 days later. I spent a large part of those 9 days in the ICU room with him, holding his hand, chatting with the lovely, caring people who worked in ICU, and reading books on my Kindle, watching and waiting. I’m a little beat up.
When I wasn’t at the hospital…I have no memory at all of what I did outside of the hospital. Oh, I do remember coming down in the elevator one day to fall, crying uncontrollably, into the waiting arms of one of my neighbors. And the day before Bo died my sister arranged a birthday lunch for our son, Ken’s, 20th birthday.
During the 10 days Bo spent in ICU he was resuscitated twice. There was just one problem with that. Years earlier we had agreed that neither one of us would do anything to artificially prolong the other’s life. And I let it happen twice! When I realized what I’d done, I had the hospital implement his do not resuscitate order. And I beat myself up some.
As Bo’s condition continued to deteriorate (even though the doctors kept telling me he was getting better, he wasn’t), we arrived at the day when I had to decide that we’d done enough. So we took him off the ventilator, and once again, through God’s relentless grace, an amazing nurse sat with me off and on during that interminable day as I waited for Bo to die.
Whatever it takes.
I remember calling our 2 kids who lived out of state and putting the phone up to Bo’s ear so they could tell him goodbye (their mother died a drawn out death and I told them they didn’t need to come). Ken came to the hospital to tell his dad goodbye then I sent him home with his best friend to install a new garage door opener. My brother stayed for a long time, just being there for both of us.
Also during that incredibly long, horrid day, I had to talk to the hospital social worker to find a hospice to move Bo to because Medicare doesn’t pay for ICU when you’re removed from life support. That was fun. Lucky for me, he passed away before we had to go through the agony of moving him. What a horrible sentence to write. I’m a little beat up….
Then he died. The process of his dying was awful. It wasn’t peaceful; it wasn’t beautiful; it was horrible. Maybe it was because he’d been wired to so many machines for 10 days. I don’t know. It was horrid. I will be forever grateful that the nurse stayed with me as Bo passed on to his next place.
Grace and grief.
Grace intervened again when three people from three different religions appeared in his room to pray over him. His doctor performed a Hindu rite to release Bo’s soul to the universe.
I entered the twilight zone, where nothing is quite real because nothing penetrates the veil of grief. I was tired, I was sad, and I second guessed every choice I had made from the day of Bo’s surgery to the day he died. I beat myself up relentlessly.
My friends and family rescued me. They would appear out of nowhere as if summoned by angels. They came whenever I called. They literally carried me on their shoulders.
Since losing my husband unexpectedly wasn’t enough of a challenge for me, the year after he died, I decided to leave my seven year career in teaching (I’d had enough) to start my own business. I was so desperate to get out of the school system that I gave my notice before I knew what I was going to do next.
Once again, by the relentless grace of God, a friend of mine identified my next career – career coaching. I spent March through May of that school year, working on figuring out how I was going to build a coaching business. So…the previous sentence originally read “I jumped into coaching with no plan, I just did it.”
This is funny. As I was wrote the original version of that sentence I realized that I did spend time planning my business before I started it. For the last three and a half years I’ve said that I just jumped in and started working with no plan. I did have a plan. I’ve just never looked back til now!
Oh, and that spring, out of the blue, I had major surgery. I keep forgetting that I had the surgery at the same time I was starting a new business. Guess I’ve been too busy – or too numb – to think about it! I’m a little beat up.
So, I jumped into coaching. I quit a salaried position with benefits to jump head first into something I’ve never done before, without training, and with no guaranteed income. Some people have assumed I had a pension, or social security payments, or insurance from my late husband. Nope – I had a little insurance money and no income other than my earnings from coaching.
The thing is, I absolutely had to do something different. I could not stay in the sick, abusive system that was and is (even more now) public education. I was committed to finding a career where I could use all of my talents and skills, one that I loved, and where what I earned would be based on the quality of my work (which has never and will never be true of working in public education).
It’s the little things?
A quick recap. Over the last 5 years I lost my husband, left my job, started a new business, had major surgery, completed my coaching certification, worked with over 120 clients, survived a year when I brought in no money whatsoever, tried things that didn’t work, and tried things that did. I also took dozens of courses. I re-imagined my practice 3 times, re-branded twice, networked regularly, and met a whole new group of friends and colleagues.
And somewhere in there my son had a major concussion and had to move back home from college in Boston. Move back like bring every single thing he had from the six years he’d been there, back home. I’m a little beat up.
Then there are the many, many times, I’ve spent sleepless nights worrying about how to pay my bills. The thing is that my experience has been simultaneously insanely awesome and crazy stressful. I’ve gone from highs of having clients find exactly the right job after months of looking, to the lows of going through my things to identify what I could sell to bring in cash. Although, selling some of my things was both liberating and a tangible reminder that I am enough and there is enough.
So, when I got to my encounter with the microwave that morning and realized that I’m a little beat up, I lost it. Over the week it’s taken me to force this post out of my brain and my fingers and onto the page, I’ve come up with an analogy of how I feel.
A buzz saw masquerading as slippers
I feel like I’ve been through a buzz saw whose teeth are covered in fuzzy wool like a favorite pair of slippers, masking their terrible power. It’s perfectly silent, no ear shredding noise to warn me of the destruction. Here I am, shredded and not bleeding, wondering how on earth I got to this place. I’m a little beat up.
I know I’m not the only one who’s arrived at this place of total weariness. We’ve all been there. We’ve made it through seasons of unbearable pain and unbelievable joy, and we keep going no matter what. Then something triggers us – maybe it’s a holiday, maybe it’s a birthday or anniversary, or maybe we can’t even figure out the trigger. And we find ourselves at some random place and time, crying our eyes out, wondering what on earth just happened. We’re a little beat up.
But my friends, oh my dear friends, I’m here to tell you that when we take the time to figure out what happened, what triggered our meltdown, how we arrived at this place, we free ourselves from the constant pounding of those waves over our bodies.
When we own our pain, our progress, our mistakes, our unstoppable determination to keep on moving forward, we find new energy to keep going.
When we own every segment and emotion of our journey, we claim our power to create the life we choose.
I’m a little beat up, and I’m okay because I know why.