One of the things I love about the place I work is that two of our guiding principals are Recovery and Resiliency. Recovery suggests that we seek to help people not only manage mental illness but regain vital functioning and resiliency refers to factors (both innate and augmented) which we help clients build such that they can face future challenges. The place I work is a reclaiming environment –reclaiming at-risk children and adults lost to trauma, mental illness and addiction. Of course not every coworker embraces the company philosophy with the enthusiasm I do but hey, it’s still a good set of values.
So why, might you ask, am I elucidating the internet about a mission statement I agree with? I am writing a manual to re-create the program I currently direct and I have been spending hour upon hour breaking down these ideas into manageable bites for new employees and potential directors. Fun stuff and oddly mind numbing, which allows me time to listen to Olive’s Sunrise Mix (love love love!!) and to reflect on the place I currently find myself in life.
I find myself mostly filled with peace and excitement as I think about the babies residing and growing in Joey’s belly. And I realize that I have been at this emotional place many times before although never with the same circumstances surrounding me. I am happy, really happy. Yet I have not recovered from infertility and certainly those scars will always remain on some level. So now I am thinking that I must be a relatively resilient person and I am reminded of the debates coworkers and I used to have back in the day when I worked inpatient psychiatric care with children. We saw some children who lived the most horrific lives yet who remained filled with strength and light and we saw children from the same circumstances who were clearly broken before their lives began in earnest. The children who really fascinated me were the children who had lived relatively “easy” lives with many developmental assets yet some of these children were just as broken as children living through the most intense trauma. My coworkers and I worked afternoon shift and we had time (after lights out) to discuss our theories about why some children were simply innately stronger than others. The best answer most of us could decipher was that some people are genetically predisposed to being fragile while others are just stronger. I know there is a shadow of truth in this prosaic theory but today I embrace a more strengths-based approach that pushes me to find more compassionate and all-encompassing answer.
In my musings I find a memory from senior high school English. We read several works about happiness ranging from Greek philosophers all the way up to current short stories. One short story (whose name and author have been eroded from my brain by time) introduced us to the idea that some people must work for happiness through constant vigilance while for others happiness is like the gift of a bird that lights on your shoulder. For some the bird flies away with little provocation and for others the bird. simply. stays. though most anything. As a wide-eyed senior girl with every possibility ahead of me, I could not really grasp the idea that deep-seated happiness would have to be vigilantly maintained– though trust me, I have learned that lesson with the passage of time. But something inside me connected with those writings and that story in particular (perhaps because I was an 85 pound anorexic causing myself rather intense misery?). And I connect with the story still although it is but a hazy memory. With time, I have added more complex thoughts about happiness. College added writers and thinkers such as Thoreau, Csikszentmihalyi, Bradstreet, Gilman and etc. In the ensuing years, I have added such thinkers as Thich Nhat Hanh, Gilbert and even Difranco! So I suppose my views on happiness are a bit eclectic and difficult to express in a clear fashion. But isn’t that how we all really manage to maintain happiness? We put on our rose-colored glasses and look over the uglier bits. We rejoice in the good parts of life and decide that the shittier portions are not so bad—or at least are less important than the happy moments.
Bringing me back to my initial question: is it resilience that helps me be happy now or it is a set of skills I have developed over the years to talk myself out of my focus on the harder parts? ……..Perhaps a bit of both.
- Hard: Trust me, as Joey’s belly grows and we talk about the time when she will feel the first fluttery movements of our babies—the jealously and anger I feel at my life and my body is nearly tangible. I always imagined that I would be the first to know our babies in that way.
- Hard: And sometimes I feel like an imposter as I talk about our babies on the way—maybe I am not really their mom too? Such ugly thought spirals these! I must admit that this one was rather my fault. I bought a Double Snap and Go stroller from a twin-mom on Craigslist and somewhere through the conversation I realized that she was a conservative Chris.tian—kind and nice but not a woman I will ever be pals with. In my mind, a $40 stroller was worth a bit of subterfuge with a woman I will never see again. As the caller and the driver, she assumed that I was pregnant with twins (presumably with a husband). No problem- I did not correct her. All was well as we chatted about twin pregnancy and twin parenting with Joey and I asking a ton of questions. But then, a four year old daughter came out of the house and the lady said, “This nice lady has twins in her belly just like Mommy did before __ and __ were born.” I smiled- hard- and for reasons I cannot fathom, the woman repeated her statement a couple more times before I could stagger an escape to the comfort of the car. Imposter? Yes! Proud owner of a lightly used stroller for a deal? Yep. Battle wounded? Certainly.
- Better: But most days, I am just happy. I can look at pregnant bellies without envy.
- Also better: I can see all the reasons it is better for Joey to be pregnant with twins than it would be for me. For instance Joey can teach all her classes online next semester if she gets stuck on bed rest and her insurance is far superior to mine. Also Joey being pregnant has solidified her relationship into my family like never before.
- And lastly: if I freaking could have gotten pregnant, I would!
So maybe that is the real “secret” to staying happy as the “thwarted uterus”—accept what is and stop letting myself linger on what I wished for. This is my path and that path ends with babies so complaining and internal distress feels like a betrayal of my love for those little penguins—who if I am not mistaken are about kumquat-sized at present.