Shed Something - Part 2
Growing up, I kept a literal list of all the things I wanted to do and try and see and be, as my maid-of-honor made sure to highlight in her toast. 1) Dream Big…19) Study the environment…26) Become a firefighter. Not on my list, not one single hint or solitary entry…Move to Texas.
Yet, here we are.
It wasn't anything against Texas other than pure geography. My list was supposed to lead me north of Indiana and cold. Alaska cold. However, I can report that I sure do love Texas. Now. My children were born here. We have awesome friends here. The humans and cultural diversity is rich here. The food is amazing here. And while I’m still not sure everything’s bigger here, the folks I meet sure have mighty hearts. Within the orbit of this Space City, I've enjoyed some of my greatest achievements as well as lamented some of my grossest failures of character. Texas has been to hell and back with me. With us. And you can't help but love the fire that refines you. You stay close to keep warm.
Bibby Lane on the Bayou is home.
But ten years ago, I was giving Texas the stink eye. I resented the concrete jungle, my humidity-teased hair and all those damn fire ants. And why was everyone fixin’ to do something or go somewhere? I made my husband promise to move me back home within five years. I was stunned-stuck. My school plans interrupted, my career path ground to a halt. Everything I used to meter myself was in the 26-foot Penske rear-view mirror; a governor the only thing keeping us from leaving it all behind too fast.
Our identities are our garments of personality, of connection, of differentiation, of perception. Consider what happens when a new set of folks come together? We almost instantly, instinctively give wide sweeping hints as to who we really are without specific details. "I'm an introvert. I'm an extrovert. I am a free spirit. Oh, I'm a total Type A." Someone might say, "I'm an INFJ,” and someone else shouts, "Me too!" We construct fences as we scan for neighbors we can open our gate for.
Our identities are also our garments of protection, whether it's the healthy kind or not. One thing with anxiety is that you can only maintain the semblance of control as long as everything in the bubble stays status quo. As long as your clothes still fit and are in season. You’ll still have issues, triggers, fires to deal with (Life!), but the topography of your cultivated, known world grounds you, in identity.
But does it?
Fear is fickle. What challenges me might not challenge you. Maybe a move wouldn't phase some folk. Maybe it's even welcome. At a play date a while back, a good friend of mine told me how she "likes to move every five years. It's a great way to reinvent yourself." She rolls with things. It suits her.
It inspires me.
For two years, I bounced in disorienting fashion from one job to the next trying to figure how I could fit here. To start laying new plank in this new terrain. Nothing felt right. I stopped teasing percentages of slightly sweet smelling raw minerals for the boiling vats, as the lone night tech in the laboratory perch above quarts filing down the line, swallowing black syrup. It’s not easy to meet new folk at 2 am, all alone. I went on to test marine bunker fuel, medical diagnostic kits, urine and blood. I even got to put a small checkmark beside #26. For one year, I crawled through burns, trained for car fires and city emergency protocol, rolled hoses and beat the minute suit-up time.
Still, there was just no orienting my compass. I longed for soft Kentucky Blue under my bare feet, not this Bermuda-can't-push-a-mower-through-something. The city was a wilderness I didn't navigate with ease. This traffic, are you kidding me? I could exist here but not accept here. Not that couldn’t but I wouldn’t. I might have to wade in bit but damnit if I was going swim. There are alligators in these waters.
You can't go by first impressions.
Then I got an opportunity to try something completely different, out of my box, but still in the vein of, just a tad, science. So I was introduced to design and materials. Softgoods. Space fabric. The next seven years, I flew up ambitious ranks, all the way to the International Space Station. The years I spent onsite NASA as a contractor both quenched and worsened my anxiety. As designer, a manager, I wore the high-heeled boots and make-up of my Young-Adult Instar of Identity with pride. I was Texas-found. I was career. I was city.
But even if I had never left Indiana, my body would have betrayed me.
Until you face pain day-in and day-out for years, it's hard to fully understand. Chronic pain folk understand. You fight every single day to recognize yourself in the mirror. I left my job. Operating the joystick, I took a wrecking ball to the identity I had worked years of overtime to fashion into my climate appropriate garments. I was ready to stop living - in Texas or anywhere else. I hid from everyone. I had hurtled towards milestone. Towards please and achieve. But really, towards avoidance. Trying to hang onto my identity. The alignment was slipping, God, I could feel it slipping. All the while, I had been to tens of doctors trying to figure out what was wrong with me. After a decade of unknowns and ineffective treatment, I was giving up.
That was three years ago. We've since lived through a flooded home, a 10-month rebuild, my husband's ankle surgery, our son's first lost tooth and our daughter's tonsillectomy. The flood of 2015 saved my life. My latest surgery, one year and two months ago, gave me Hope again. It wasn't immediately obvious, it would take months to recover and months beyond that to gain speed again. But not to hurtle.
It is a sight to behold to see an insect molt. It is spiritual.
When we give up something, we create space for something else. It's a continual process. We must shed something in order to grow. A perception, a fear, an identity.
Is there something you need to shed?
Today, I'm shedding my fear of myself. In the arrest of chronic pain, I was forced to face one of my absolute worst fears - Silence. But it was in that space I found I could hear a voice. It was my own. I could barely hear her before.
I am shedding my shame of pain and stepping out into a blinding sun. Resilience, like all of our character, is something to be cultivated. That comes from care. Self-care. Allowing others to care. It comes with time. With season. It can't be rushed. It can't be forced.
I am shedding my apprehension to be vulnerable. To grow in this space, I have to get my hands in the mud. That means digging deep inside and sharing my humans with you. It means exposure to the elements. It touches on the deepest need we experience in our humanity - the need to connect. I am humans on this side of your screen. Ardent and odd and ready to stretch myself past my limits. There is little growth inside the shade. I faced those 70 girls. I can face seven-billion. Gotta start somewhere.
I am shedding feeling bad or like a burden for having humans-needs. We all have our limits. It's not a defect if we break under the weight of stress or pain or shame or fear. It's humans. And it's more than ok to say, "I need some help over here."
I am shedding my need for that one identity. Along with the idea that identity defines us and derives our worth. It's a cycle that will derail us every time. I did not lose myself when I left Indiana. I did not lose myself when I left NASA. I did not lose myself in the worst years of my pain. But I felt like I had. It’s a terrifble feeling, not knowing where and how you fit. You can get lost. I did.
I am shedding my need to control. This very day, as Hurricane Harvey advances towards our southern coast with 111 mile per hour winds, as edge rain on the dirty side now falls on us here in Houston, I pray for all our brothers and sisters about to be impacted. There is prediction of significant damage. We've lived through one flood already. I can only accept the moment in front of me. I can only control my response to my life.
This includes my need to control my reputation. John Wooden, a Hoosier born basketball player and coach, known as the "Greatest Coach of All Time," once said, "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are." I believe projection is one of our biggest enemies. Outside of weather and the actions of others, I do have control over me. My responses instead of my reactions. My pursuits. The conflict comes when I give away my power. When I look to someone else to define my worth, approve my identity, uphold my reputation. A lot of folks feel like they have that one figured out. I'm guessing it's more fragile than they can admit.
As humans around other humans, we are often insecure. We long to be brave enough to live how we truly desire. Today, I have another chance to live. And with that, another chance to reinvent myself (shout out to my friend, M!). I write. I do it because why does a painter paint? Or a singer sing? We answer the call that pulses through our souls. Our passions inform us. To deny them is to deny our nature. To not live.
On this side of surgery, number whatever, I hear things more clearly. I can processes concepts faster or even at all. I can see a new plane of life and change and opportunity and I'm less afraid of my own feelings. I am less afraid of the cost of being me because I see the cost of suppression is death. I choose life. I choose to molt.
Our fears can hold us back. Stunt our efforts. Cause us to give up before we even start. Mute our tongues. Hinder us from living the best versions of ourselves. Fear is the rocky foundation holding up our scapegoat excuses. We're afraid to fail, so we're afraid to try. We're afraid to speak up, even when it's in our best interest, because - what might someone think? We don't want to appear unwilling, unhelpful, so we don't say "no" to the latest request, though we desperately need a break. We avoid self-care to avoid seeming selfish.
I am shedding my limits in my thoughts. 'The sky's the limit' until fear steps in. When we remove the geometry around the idea of a something - an opportunity, a dream, a problem, a solution, a fear - that something becomes possible. There is no shape, nothing to have to fit. Recently, I derived great joy in watching my kids watch "The NeverEnding Story" for the first time. The whole premise of Fantasia is No Boundaries. It's whatever you can imagine.
What if we were brave enough to imagine?
The final molt for the caterpillar is the transition from chrysalis to butterfly. The final molt for the cockroach is an even bigger cockroach. A beetle grub becomes a ladybug.
Humans don't have a final molt. But as humans, we all follow the same delineated path of live and go and grow and learn. In doing so, we undergo our own type of metamorphosis. We end up shedding layers and layers of garments that no longer fit, the ones we've tried and outgrew. With each molt, our iridescence and our capacity is more revealed.
Ultimately, every single one our of identities is Humans. Growth is part of the plan but fear and constraint can impede our progress. The questions remain: What are you afraid of? Is there something you need to shed?