Accepting a life I don’t want
Some of you will remember that I did an episode recently called ‘Navigating Mother’s Day when you're childless’. It was an episode that was a bit different because I just switched the mic on and spoke about all things Mothering Sunday (which is in March in the UK). As far as these days go, it actually went really well for me this year - a lovely day with unexpected blessings and a general sense of peace. Have a listen for more on that if you haven’t heard it already.
However, I’m just coming out of the Easter weekend, which is usually a safe space for me, and it was probably one of the worst weekends I've had for a few months. So it just goes to show, you never fully know where the chips are going to fall in life.
Normally I really like Easter, especially as a childless woman, it doesn't have the family pressures in the same way Christmas does. It acknowledges pain and suffering on Good Friday, highlights the waiting, grief, and confusion of Holy Saturday in between, and celebrates the hope and triumph of resurrection on Easter Sunday. What’s not to love? It’s the path we all hope to take through our loss (obviously spread out over more than just a weekend). There’s something about it that I have connected with more and more over the years and look forward to. Those of you that know me by now will no doubt be muttering under your breath - it probably helps that it’s the official time to eat marzipan too! And you’re not wrong. As a self-confessed, and officially noted in many a blog, marzipan lover (seriously folks, I think I may have a problem starting), I’m all for a festival that has a fruit cake with marzipan baked into the middle, laid on top, and then decorated in small marzipan disciples. Otherwise known as Simnel Cake. And of course, there's usually an abundance of chocolate appearing, Cadburys mini eggs are a favourite of mine, but this year, well… not only was there no eggs, it just wasn’t the safe place I was expecting or hoping for, and I’ve discovered, you can’t force it if it's not there.
Why was it so bad? Well, I don’t fully know but I suspect it was my old friend PMDD rearing his ugly head. You can check out my blog ‘Lost inside; where am I?’ for more on that, because I don’t want to go over all the details and bore people again. But let's just say one of the D’s in PMDD stands for Dysphoric which means ‘a state of sadness, emotional discomfort or suffering’ and that was my weekend in a dairy-free chocolate nutshell.
I spent the majority of the weekend either feeling angry, sad, frustrated or confused. I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t do work (I tried to edit a small noise into an episode I was working on, couldn’t work out if it sounded right, so sat and sobbed at my desk, while, wait for it - not wanting to touch my Simnel Cake and tea next to me - yes, that’s how bad it was). My head was so full of nasty, horrible and dark thoughts that I couldn’t open my mouth to speak for fear of the damage I’d do. I’ve learnt a lot of coping strategies to protect myself and those around me, and I’m so proud of myself for that, but it’s really hard work internally. It’s hard enough for any of us to capture one bad thought and turn it to good, let alone when every thought is going that way. Then I get angry that I can’t just be me, I get sad I can’t enjoy myself, I feel lonely because I can’t communicate it, and I feel helpless because something inside me is crying out for help but I have no idea how to express or show that. It’s a mess. Then last week’s episode went out containing all the lovely feedback you guys have given us, and I felt like a fraud because when I’d put that together I was looking forward to Easter and feeling joyful.
It’s worth noting here that although I like to think my blogs contain helpful words and wise quotes for you all, or so you sometimes tell me, that doesn’t mean I know how to always apply it and live by it myself every day. These are lessons I’m still learning, wrestling with and processing myself. I have acquired a lot of wisdom from others over the years, I absorb it like a sponge when people share how to navigate life, but you can have all the head knowledge in the world and still not know how to let it filter down to your heart. And the irony of this dropping on me, the week after I released a blog on being able to ‘let things go’, is not lost on me.
The reason I knew there was a blog subject in the middle of this messy weekend is because there was one particular theme that kept emerging in my mind repeatedly, and it was a subject that I know many other people will feel too. It’s very closely related to my last blog ‘What happens if I let go?’, the sequel if you will. Because when you’ve learnt to let go, named what you’re facing and started to accept what’s before you, it’s very freeing, and you can start to see more long-term and reassess things and hope for new and different, but possibly better, adventures ahead. However, there is another aspect to this that I didn’t expand on in the previous blog, and it was this that was haunting me over the Easter weekend and since.
Although many of you will identify with it, not all of you will. I suspect it can depend on your overall outlook, personality or upbringing.
Let’s just see if this is something you’ll identify with or not. Picture something you have had to let go of, something you really hoped for, wanted or dreamed of, that you’ve realised is never going to happen for you. Narrow it down to as specific a sentence as possible. For example, I could say ‘we might be childless forever’, or I could pin that down to ‘I won’t ever be pregnant’, or ‘I can’t be a mother’, ‘I might never get married’, ‘I can’t hold down a full time job’, ‘I’ll never be able to ride a bicycle again’, ‘I’ll never be the grandparent I wanted to be,’ etc etc. Word it in the way that you feel most comfortable with, but as I said in my last blog, try to be really honest with yourself and take out the fluffy maybe’s if you know it’s a definite. Be brave, people! Now, if this is something that won’t happen for you, there’s the stage of letting go, as I discussed in the previous blog. Then there might be some time grieving that loss, that's perfectly normal. Then at some point, in order to move forward in life there’s the stage of acceptance. And it’s at this junction that we might all go our separate ways depending who we are. Let’s say there’s two main Highways but I suspect there are loads of different lanes on each of them as we all have varying ways of working along these roads. And the chances are, you will find yourself on one of them without it being a choice you made.
Here are the two roads:
Highway One - The Acceptance Accepted Highway. TAAH for short. This road is for those that have accepted their new life. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean they didn’t experience the same level of struggle and grieving as those on the other highway, it just means these folk are grabbing life and deciding to make it into something they will get the most from. In the childless world these guys are not apologising for the extra time on their hands, lie-in’s at the weekend, the extra disposable income, the holidays during term time, or their quiet house. This is their life and they are choosing to run with it and enjoy it. It’s the person who had a leg amputated and is running on those big springy metal strips as soon as they’re able to. It’s the grandparent who has more time and energy to put into causes and other people because they don’t have grandchildren or don’t see them as they’d like. It’s the newly blind person who picks up their white stick and leaves the house alone for the first time. It’s the person with a mental illness that creates space in their life for relapses without beating themselves up about it, or using it as an excuse. We’ve all seen courageous people like these or have seen their stories on the internet. That’s Highway One - The Acceptance Accepted Highway.
Then there’s Highway Two - The Acceptance Not Accepted Highway. TANAH for short (I know, these are just such catchy acronyms!). And this is the highway I have found myself on. Darn it! I really want to be on Highway One, so badly. However, I will say, that along Highway Two there are connecting small roads that can take you to Highway One where you accept life happily, and visa versa, so it’s very possible to switch. In fact, sometimes it happens by accident, you think you’re cruising along in the slow lane of Highway One accepting things, when suddenly you get your butt switched via a slip lane to Highway Two! Where you really belong. Ha! So what is Highway Two exactly? Highway Two is when you are forced to accept a life you didn’t want, which is the same as those on Highway One, but us Highway Two guys are really not happy about it and we’re fighting it at every single turn. We’re looking backwards wanting off, we’re eyeing up the slip roads to leave (but then realise they only head to a worse place - Highway One - where we’d have to fully accept our new life), we’re looking around us at the other people, comparing ourselves, and we’re scanning over the hedges to see what it might look like to be on roads with people who are actually living a life they enjoy (and we bet they’re all wearing sunglasses along the way). We do not want to accept the life or situation we have been given.
And this was a large part of what I realised I was facing over my messy Easter weekend - I will probably always have a few days or weeks here and there, for the rest of my life, where I will be derailed mentally and physically, outside of my control with PMDD. That this is probably my life now. So does that mean the next step is coming to a point when I accept it, learn to voice it, and dare I say, change or cancel plans accordingly [gasp].
The wrestling inside me was screaming ‘No, this can’t be it. I don’t want this to be my life. It has to get better. I have to return to who I was before. It can’t be the final me. Why can’t childlessness just be the thing? Or not having a career? Why this as well?’ And then I realised, there is a lot about my life that I just don’t want to accept.
I need to accept that I’m childless, and I have no regrets about the decisions we’ve made along that path, but there are so many wonderful things I will never experience or know, and that will always make me a bit sad.
I need to accept that I don’t have the successful budding career that I once dreamt about. I didn’t find something I loved to do for many years. I possibly wouldn’t have been able to with the health stuff that came at me in my 30’s anyway. I have had to, and still do, forgo a lot of other things I’d love to have in my life because of that.
I need to accept that our marriage (blessed as I am in that) will always need a bit more work to make sure we’re on the same page with all the stuff that childless life throws at you.
I need to accept that I’m someone that will occasionally not be able to do things, not be able to be there for people, not be able to do everything I could do for others because of physical or mental health issues.
I need to accept that I can’t always be the ‘me’ that others need me to be. I can’t always be chatty, happy, visiting people, sending cards, buying gifts, rushing to help support them in the way my mind wants to do but doesn’t have the capacity for.
I need to accept that sometimes I’m so tired and sad for no reason and that’s ok.
I need to accept that it’s not weak, pathetic, moany or negative to tell others what you’re going through and let them help.
I need to accept that there are certain places, with certain people where I will feel like I don’t fit in.
I need to accept that sometimes my own plans will be derailed by my own brain and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I need to accept that it’s ok to feel this way, even though I beat myself up by thinking of all the people who have it worse than me.
There are many things I need to accept, but, honestly - I just don’t want to.
The truth is, I don’t want to be this person, it’s not who I set out to be. If I die now, I’m not ok with how far I’ve come on this journey.
Yet I can see that those who have accepted their situation, experience more peace, joy and hope with the ups and downs.
So, how do you do that? Can you do that? Or are some of us just not able to?
Well I have a very easy, very definitive answer for you, as far as I’m concerned - I have no idea. No idea at all. Hey, I can’t do all the hard work for you!
One definition of acceptance is ‘the act of taking or receiving something offered’ - nope, I don’t want it. I’m not taking it.
Or a ‘favourable reception or approval’ - again, no. I am not predisposed to accept this situation favourably.
So, where does that leave me? I don’t want to accept this offering of a life, and I don’t want to receive it favourably. I don’t want it.
But it is what I have, in fact, right now, it’s all I have, so how do I move forward?
Like I said, I don’t have the answers but I know one thing, and this is where those of you without a faith or a belief in God might roll your eyes, but I can’t see anything in this world that gives me anything strong enough to hang onto in these situations. It’s not that faith fixes all these issues (obviously, or I wouldn’t be struggling with them), not by a long shot. For example, I wasn’t feeling the triumph of Easter Sunday this year, I felt like I was stuck in Good Friday with the disciples watching it all crumble around me as they watched Jesus, their friend, be crucified. As someone who believes Jesus rose from the dead, I found my mind, and this is hard to admit, saying; ‘Whoop de doo, but what good is that to me right now?’ as I sat and sobbed my way through a second watching of The Shack, wondering ‘Were the children I might have had, somewhere in Heaven waiting for me?’ and concluding I didn’t have them, so that doesn’t make any sense. Nope, I’m still just childless. There’s a small glimpse through the grubby window into my PMDD mind for you.
So it’s not that faith changes any of that, but… and it’s a big but… when I think about having to accept this life and this broken world with all its suffering, death, shootings, extinction, murder, dying children, war and dairy-free chocolate - there’s something else that pops into my mind and it’s what Jesus teaches us - we were never meant to accept this broken life. He always intended more for us. It’s ok to not accept the pain, suffering and heartbreak that this world offers, because that’s not what He wants for us, that’s just what the world has become. And I believe He’s always with me in that, whether He’s comforting me or I’m angrily shouting at Him and sobbing, or we’re eating marzipan together over a cup of tea.
There’s a song called Blessings by Laura Story (I’ll end with the lyrics) she went through a hard time with her husband’s health, and their prayers weren’t answered in the way they hoped so she started to look at redefining ‘blessings’ - what if they come through the bad stuff? It’s a song I’ve returned to a lot when I want to challenge the idea of my blessings only coming through money, health, relationships and jobs etc.
So, you might be thinking, that’s all well and good but how does that help me when I’m stuck on Highway Two?!
Well, it all comes back to things I’ve said and heard said by our guests many times on the podcast. None of us are guaranteed a life without struggles. And I think that’s a key point to remember here.
There’s a very challenging scene in the film and the book, The Shack, where the main character Mack is chatting to a character called Wisdom about how he (as we all do) judges people as good or bad, he wants to condemn to hell the man that killed his daughter. In the conversation he admits he even judges God for not stepping in and stopping what happened. It’s a fantastic scene, and you can watch it below, but it is better in context of the whole story really. Wisdom says this to him: “Is that who your God is, Mackenzie? No wonder you're drowning in great sorrow. God isn't like that. This was not God's doing. He didn't stop it. He doesn't stop a lot of things that cause him pain. What happened to Missy was the work of evil. And no one in your world
is immune from it. You want the promise of a pain-free life?’
And Mack replies:
She says: ‘There isn't one. As long as there is another will in this universe, free not to follow God, evil can find a way in.
Mack says: ‘There's gotta be a better way.’
And she says: ‘And there is. But the better way involves trust.’
This challenged me to the core. Where have I got this assumption that there are pain-free lives out there? Why have I assumed, with all the illness, evil and destruction in the world, I would be immune to it? Why have I assumed God causes or allows any of it, like a mean dictator choosing who to punish and release from punishment?
What if we’re all equal? We all get pains, suffering, illness and trials. They are different, they are many for some, less for others, they are results of our choices, they are purely biology. However it comes, whenever it comes, we should draw strength from being in this together.
You can choose to be bitter, angry, frustrated and annoyed, or you can just keep finding ways of hacking through the weeds to find hope, peace and joy within your situation. Would I swap my pain for a physical pain? Sometimes I want to. Would I want a daily physical pain for my whole life? No. Would you go back and not have the death of your loved one occur in your life? Yes, probably. Would you do it if it meant never having the person in your life at all? Possibly not. So in some situations we’d choose grief? Choose pain?
Confusing isn’t it? And it’s ok to be confused. I have a faith that helps anchor me in these situations, that brings me home, and makes me realise I’m not alone and dairy-free chocolate isn’t forever, but you might not have that, so you might have other things that have been your rock instead, that help to explain what people go through. However, many people don’t, they flounder, they fall, they drown in situations they were never meant to swim in alone in the first place. And that breaks my heart.
If you’re finding yourself struggling to accept the life you have, you’re not alone. And that doesn’t solve your situation, it won’t make it easier (yet), but it does help to know it’s not personal, all of us are in the same boat with this. There are no easy answers to these questions, but there is marzipan, no sorry, I was going to say, there is hope. There is always hope. It’s not always easy to find, but it’s there, it floats to the top of any situation if you let it, but you sort of have to look for it and want to find it, it’s not interested in forcing itself upon you.
I’m still working on this myself, but what I’m taking forward at the moment are some truths that might help you in your situation:
I’m not alone - everyone has their problems and grief - look around you on your Highway - it’s packed with people
I’m not alone - I believe in a God that shares my sufferings, collects my tears and will right all the wrongs on this planet one day
I don’t have all the answers - and that’s ok, no one does
I don’t want this to be my life - but there are many aspects of my life and me as a person that I wouldn’t give up for anything
It could be worse - although it’s not good to compare, whatever you’re facing now could be worse, it might not feel that way, but it could
It’s ok to be someone else - I’m need to re-accept who I am, taking into consideration my childless status, my health, my employment, I need to absorb the things I don’t like as part of me and find ways to accept them, but I also have new things to accept and love and enjoy because of those, and it’s ok. It’s hard for me to celebrate the extra freedoms I have without children, and the increased down days I’ll need with my health every now and then - but that’s me, and nothing good comes from putting me down.
It might not be the life you want, but it is the life you’ve got, and if we don’t find a way to see past the newly acquired aspects we don’t like, we will be blind to the newly acquired blessings that have come our way, and good traits that have been born in us because of it. Own your story, write your future, and let’s all be building up to the point where we feel brave enough to look for those slip roads onto Highway One, take a deep breath, grab a friend’s hand and say ‘Let’s do this! Let’s accept our life and start to celebrate it. Warts and all.’
I’ll finish with Laura Story’s lyrics from Blessings:
We pray for blessings, we pray for peace Comfort for family, protection while we sleep We pray for healing, for prosperity We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering All the while You hear each spoken need Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things. 'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops What if Your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights Are what it takes to know You're near? What if trials of this life Are Your mercies in disguise? We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love As if every promise from Your Word is not enough And all the while You hear each desperate plea And long that we'd have faith to believe. And what if trials of this life Are Your mercies in disguise? When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win We know that pain reminds this heart That this is not, this is not our home It's not our home. What if my greatest disappointments Or the aching of this life Is the revealing of a greater thirst This world can't satisfy? And what if trials of this life The rain, the storms, the hardest nights Are Your mercies in disguise? Laura Story
Blessings, by Laura Story:
The Shack scene: