On Celebrating 40: A State of Wellbeing Address

Hello fellow Being Alivers

Tomorrow I will celebrate being on this mortal coil for 40 years. 6 months ago I promised myself I would write a blog post today and this is that post.

Since February 6th I get the odd pal texting to say, "hey wasn't your birthday February? It says August on Facebook. I could have sworn it was February?"
 "Long story",  I always laugh. Here's that story:

When I think back on mid January 2016 I picture myself sitting in my car in a deserted parking lot at 10pm. The engine is off, it is freezing outside. I'm sitting in a fetal position in my front seat sobbing hysterically. I am a small child. Feeling terrified. Completely terrified. Alone and terrified. I have just received devastating news from my good kind completely innocent husband which has triggered this reaction inside my brain.  It goes from being news which cannot in reality threaten my safety or wellbeing in any way to something that is happening to me. Something which is a clear and present danger. I cannot ever see myself feeling safe or whole again. That is last Winter's defining memory. Winter ended. That dark night ended. A friend came to my rescue, that night, tucked me into bed in her guestroom. My sweet husband went shopping with me the next day for new curtains, we changed the furniture around so that my home, the place where I got that news could feel safe again.

That night was the last in a series of triggers that left me very broken. And then came putting the fractured pieces back together. Good, GOOD in every sense of the word, oh I'm choking back tears now thinking about JUST HOW GOOD they are, people sit vigil with me. In person, over the phone, reaching out late, late at night through text messages, they sent me funny memes, beautiful playlists, sent me endless patience, endless love, constant reassurance that the dawn will come, that I'm worth fighting for.

Expecting nothing, wanting nothing in return but for me to believe that.

I started seeing my blessed therapist regularly. I told her that how triggering my birthday has always been for me. What a struggle it is. How I have always actually looked forward to turning 40 but not this way. Not this way. I didn't want to feel like a frightened damaged child. I wanted it to be a celebration of the woman I am.

A woman who clawed her way through 30 years of PTSD, incorrectly labeled as depression, without having a clue of what she was fighting. A woman who nonetheless passionately raised 5 beautiful amazing children far from her home country, far from family support. Who moved across the country heavily pregnant with small children in tow, not once but twice and started all over again. A woman who finished her business degree with honours, with 4 small children and a couple of side jobs. Who achieved many things. Created businesses. Has a good heart. Helped  people. Created a peaceful happy safe fun home. Was a supportive loving wife for 20 years. Was a loyal friend. Contributed to her community. Loves and looks for beauty every day. Laughs easily, loves music, loves to dance. Loves life.

I told her that I didn't want to feel as though 40 was something that happened to me against my will. I wanted to welcome it and celebrate it for the huge privilege it is. I told her that I had an idea. I would celebrate it on August 6th. A historically happy day. The day my cherished little brother's first son was born. Also my "1/2 birthday". It would be in the summer! It would be a date for me to work towards. And I would even change it on facebook to make it official. "It's brilliant!" she laughed. All friends and family who knew, were forbade from acknowledging February 6th as my birthday. And I went to work.

I went to work. I went to therapy, I ran, I did yoga. I started to eat better. To avoid sugar and other foods which made me feel sick or sluggish.  I read all I could on PTSD.  I tried to be more disciplined about rest. I started to come alive. I started to feel whole again.

And then I made a big mistake. I stopped therapy for a while. I'm not exactly sure why. Then a slow, slow Spring arrived and with it the perfect storm of triggers. The terrible, frightening feelings rushed back. The PTSD went through what I now recognize as its predictable cycle of shutting me down.  But this time it was extra devastating. This time it arrived with a chilling message: I would never be ok. I thought I would but here I was, right back where I started. I couldn't keep doing this I could not. I couldn't do this to my family, to my children.  I tried so  hard to explain to my inner circle why it was better that I didn't. They told me I was wrong. That I was entirely wrong. That the PTSD was full of bullshit and lies. That I would beat it. They rallied again. AGAIN. They doubled down on love, reassurance, they sent more music, more funny texts morning, midday and night. One friend divided up a book he had written and sent me it to me in daily postcards. A book! Into DAILY POSTCARDS.  A friend called when I told her via text that I wasn't ok but no, I wouldn't be able to talk. She said, "but can you just listen, baby?" I could listen. I did listen. By the end of the conversation I was laughing. Of course. Laughter always saves me. Laughter and love.

My siblings rallied with comfort and advice at all hours. My sister was ready and willing to fly me to her in South Africa on a day's notice. Research on how to help me was made on my behalf. Texts flurried back and forth between my girlfriends and my husband. I was given the message that all that was expected of me was to heal.  Other friends quietly, practically and faithfully did everything they could to keep things on an even non-stressful keel for the family. Kids were ferried to and fro without me even having to ask. My husband was both mother and father. So many huge and small but always quiet acts of service and love were performed for my children on my behalf that I may never know but that I will always, always feel unspeakable gratitude for.  Thank you. So much. This human connection gave me the faith and hope that life wasn't just a ridiculous cycle of marking time until death.

Once early in the year I lay under my covers, a dark safe cave. Listening to music.  I had just listened to a song by the Verve that had been recommended by my friend, one of my lifelines with whom I was texting, as he described the bright future he felt was definitely ahead of me. As I read the hopeful reassuring words, the next track, One Day by the Verve came on. It was what I call a movie soundtrack moment.  Reiterating all that was being said. All the things that had been said. Nothing can really penetrate a message into my soul the way music and nature can.

Whenever I feel low or I feel that I need the reminder to be disciplined about doing the work I run in the woods and listen to this song. And whenever I do,  I think about paying it forward. I send my love out to all the people I know who are walking in pain and all the people I don't know who are walking in pain.  With every footstep on soft forest floor and with every heartbeat I send this message to  those beautiful people as the message was sent to me

"You've got to tie yourself to the mast my friend and the storm will end."

Tomorrow I'm going to celebrate the privilege of being alive. In all its ugly glory. And then I'm going to get back to work. On myself and on paying it forward. I have taken many notes along this journey and it's time to share them in a more practical accessible way than I've been doing up to now. This blog has taken on many incarnations through its lifetime and I hope that this one will be its most valuable. That it will serve and help and comfort. That it can be added to the sea of voices that are out there to remind us that the fight is worth fighting. Even if you don't understand it, even when it seems pointless and ridiculous. 

This week I went see Coldplay (again) with my oldest son who is starting college in a couple of weeks. We experienced a pretty intense range of emotions that night from euphoria to flat out fear when our attempts to get home were more complicated than anticipated. Honestly I'm still recovering. Some of it was amazing and some of it was terrible but I wouldn't trade that night for all the world. Ending up at 3am in a hotel room with my son laughing hysterically over the events of the evening. Feeling that connection. Feeling so much love and pride in this amazing human being and so much privilege in sharing this connection. That's life. Sometimes it's wonderful and often it's terrible but it's a privilege and it's meant to be done together. If you're not feeling it right now, you will. Just tie yourself to the mast, my friend, this storm will end.  And then another will come. But that too will end. And through it all we will have each other.  xoxoxoxox

One day maybe we will dance again
Under fiery skies
One day maybe you will love again
Love that never dies
One day maybe you will see the land
Touch skin with sand
You've been swimming in the lonely sea
With no company
Oh, don't you want to find?
Can't you hear this beauty in life?
The roads, the highs, breaking up your life
Can't you hear this beauty in life?
One day maybe you will cry again
Just like a child
You've gotta tie yourself to the mast my friend
And the storm will end
Oh, don't you want to find?
Can't you hear this beauty in life?
The times, the highs, breaking up your mind
Can't you hear this beauty in life?
Oh, you're too afraid to touch
Too afraid you'll like it too much
The roads, the times, breaking up your mind
Can't you hear this beauty in life?
One day maybe I will dance again
One day maybe I will love again
One day maybe we will dance again
You know you've gotta
Tie yourself to the mast my friend
And the storm will end
One day maybe you will love again
You've gotta tie yourself to the mast my friend
And the storm will end

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