There was a time I would write down my list of resolutions/goals for the coming year and attach it to our refrigerator; that way I would see it frequently, including the satisfying strike through of something accomplished. I am not exactly sure when I stopped making these lists – probably after H was born. Having a three-month-old tends to narrow one’s ambitions to things like getting more than three hours of uninterrupted sleep and leaving the house (or the couch). H was not yet three when L and C were born, so personal resolutions remained a relic of my pre-child life, much like extra long runs on the weekend and going to the bathroom alone.
However, given all that has happened over the past year and a half, I decided 2017 should be a year for personal resolutions — for aspiring to changes and working towards goals in support of my own satisfaction and happiness. My over-arching resolution for this year: be more open, honest and direct in all of my interactions with other people but especially with the people most important to me. This might not sound particularly revolutionary, but for me it is. Being open, direct and honest requires that you have a firm sense of self. It requires vulnerability, daring and the willingness to lose someone rather than lose yourself. Until recently, my life involved very little of these traits.
Through the years, I have been myself, just not in a very thoughtful or determined way. I have let the people and events around me circumscribe much of the path that led me to where and who I am today. I have made some of the most important decisions of my life based on who I thought I was supposed to be; significant soul-searching was not required because who I was and what my life was like had already been decided (although by who exactly I couldn’t say).
Things might have gone on like this forever had it not been for the birth of my twins, the significant deterioration of my mental health and my decision to step away from my regular routine and take time to learn how to be well. Turns out a huge part of sustained mental health is knowing and loving your self, a self defined without regard to any role or responsibility to another person, a self that stands alone (like the infamous cheese).
Months have gone by since I learned in treatment about the absolute necessity of having and maintaining a separate sense of self regardless of life circumstances, like having children or a very long-term partner. As is often the case with personal change, implementation has proven far more difficult than understanding the need for change.
Even so, I have made significant progress. I have been vulnerable in asking for what I need and want from my support people. I have dared to stand up for myself: to assert my health and happiness as equally important to that of my husband and children; to tell people I will not do something simply because I don’t want to; to express my opinions even if they may not be welcomed. Most importantly, I have started to see the outline of my self. While all of the content — the values, preferences, desires, and limits– are not yet clear, the boundary that separates me from the other people in my life is set. I now know (or remember) what it is like to simply be me and I am willing to lose someone else rather than lose this feeling of individuality ever again. In short, the ground I stand on feels firm and safe enough for me to be open, honest and direct with all of my people. I deserve my own perceptions, my own opinions, my own truth. You may not agree with any of them, but I still get to say them out loud. And if that causes you to walk away, so be it.