Therapy homework is hard

A big part of camp has been learning about and practicing mindfulness; not in a strict, sitting still, eyes closed, meditation sort of way (thank god) but more along the lines of “try to be present in the moment, notice your thoughts as just thoughts, and be mindful of when those thoughts aren’t helpful as you go about your day.” It will come as no surprise to those readers who know me personally that I have been working very diligently on my mindfulness homework.

So far, most of my unhelpful thoughts tend to center on my home life: thoughts of being overwhelmed, being inadequate, not knowing what the right answer is (but assuming there is one), and, perhaps hardest of all, the constant thought that I am letting everyone down in ways big and small because there is only one me and so many of them.

My mindfulness practice has has also helped me notice thoughts I was less aware of having, like: how did I get from past me to this present? where did I go in that process? And is it possible to find me again? Or to discover the me that exists now?

These days I hardly have a minute to go to the bathroom by myself, let alone the hours for uninterrupted self-reflection and exploration I imagine would be necessary to excavate my sense of self from beneath layer upon layer of roles and responsibilities related to other people. But apparently this project is not optional. It seems I am required to have a self that is not defined relative to other people; that to be sustainably healthy and content in my life I must find and maintain an independent identity. Apparently this has to do with something called “self-differentiation” and also “healthy boundaries.”

Having my first child involved a fundamental shift in my perception of my place and purpose in this world. I became a mother. Everything changed, even my name. Having the twins only solidified this shift in identity, as my life became largely consumed by managing the practical tasks of caring for three small children, plus a husband, and our live in au pair. I enjoy taking care of other people, but (I have learned) I also use such caretaking as an excuse to avoid taking care of myself. For example, I have altered abused various substantives to go on being “fine” and “happy” and up to whatever tasks need to be done, rather than admit I am actually overwhelmed/tired/resentful/scared/desperate to get in my car and drive somewhere far away and quiet. I have given too much and I have not let go of enough and I have largely lost any sense of who I am apart from the roles that I play in other people’s lives.

So here is the question I have been asking myself: If I were not a mother, not a wife, not an attorney, not anything relative to anyone else, who would I be? As of today, I honestly have no idea, so instead, I am making a list of more questions in hopes of figuring it out. Questions like:

What would I choose to do with my time? What do I value? How do I live consistently what those values? What makes me happy or brings me joy? What have I not done yet that I want to do? What makes me excited about life? What do I want to learn? Where do I want to go? Is there anything I feel I am missing? If so, what and how do I get that thing?

These are not easy questions to answer. In fact, just the asking feels a bit scary; like pulling on a single, errant thread that ends up unraveling your whole sweater.

On the other hand, not asking these questions seems to pose an even greater threat. It is my life after all. If I don’t figure out who I am and how I want to live it, then I won’t have really lived, not authentically.

So I will ask the hard questions, and answer them as best I can. And while I will continue to be the mother of three small children, a wife, and many other things, I will also, hopefully, find the space to be myself, whoever that turns out to be.


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