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February 10, 2020

How Grief turned my Life into a Gwyneth Paltrow Goop Lab.

I laughed half-heartedly when I saw the show.

Only half-laughed as I realized my life has been a Giant Goop Lab as of late.

The loss of my mother to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease or the Ice Bucket Challenge, as most know it) left me empty to the core, a shell with the insides brutally scraped out. I needed to find myself again, smile fully, and laugh from the pit of my belly. To no longer feel pain from the grief.

I was 39 and single, and seemingly had my life ahead of me. But I was surviving with a fake smile. How to live again? I had the crying part down pretty well—so well I could teach a course on it. How to breathe despite the snot in your nose choking the breath out of you. I was willing to try anything to live fully in the pursuit of finding joy. And I did. I gooped up my life.

I started with my health. My cortisol levels were insane from spending a decade as a caregiver, and I walked around feeling like an Oompa-Loompa from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory—always running on high alert, waiting for tragedy to occur at any moment.

I had to reverse the damage.

I joined a gym. Actually, it was a gym disguised as a five-star resort with a spa, café, and Olympic-sized swimming pools. I knew myself too well. I had to trick my mind into going to the “spa” to get to the gym.

I hired a personal trainer and spent most of our time distracting her with clever conversation and running the clock out on our session. It worked. Mission accomplished.

One day she said, “This should really be a fun experience for you.” I looked at her through my pretend heavy breathing to delay the next series of squats and said, “What do you mean fun?” She replied, “Working out should be fun so it doesn’t feel like working out.” I looked at her and replied, “Great—because I actually hate everything you are making me do and I’m not having any fun.”

I promptly stopped the sessions. But her words stuck with me. Fun. I didn’t even know what I enjoyed anymore. Years had passed since I thought of what I wanted or needed.

Fine, I’ll experiment to find this elusive “fun” feeling—and secretly rolled my eyes. Off I went, trying a variety of classes. First, a hip-hop dance class. They played loud music, twerked, shook their butts, and looked like they were having “fun.” I stood in the back, dancing right when everyone danced left. My feet felt heavy. I tripped, and the loud music and colored lights made me feel like I was in an arcade. We twirled around with our arms outstretched like helicopter wings.

I wasn’t having fun. I left.

Next: yoga. I looked at a schedule and picked Ashtanga yoga. Walked in proudly with my newly purchased fuchsia-colored mat, decorated with bright yellow mandalas, and sat at the back of the room. The instructor came in and class promptly lined up like a little army.

He called out instructions I could not comprehend. It was like “Simon Says” and “Twister” combined. My head and body couldn’t connect the dots fast enough. I was not having fun. I slid all over my mat, while everyone else seemed solidly in place. The instructor came over: “Your mat is upside down.”

Again, I wasn’t having any fun. I tried to keep up, and everyone started rolling around in circles like tumbleweeds in the desert. My experiment had gone wildly wrong.

Next stop: dating. I hadn’t dated in years. I couldn’t make eye contact or carry on a conversation without sweating profusely through my shirt—and I wasn’t one to sweat.

I joined a local dating organization where they “matched” you with people who had similar interests. Casual dinners—four girls and four guys. It seemed like a good place to start.

My first dinner, I walked in hopeful. I looked at the crowd and knew that this was not going to be fun. They placed me next to a man who wore a poor replica of an Indiana Jones hat. Was that a belt clip with a stretchy key holder for his phone? Lord, help me. I started to laugh.

I began to find humor in these excursions. My experiments were failing, and I grew bolder. What did I have to lose? I was collecting great stories from gooping my life, and my married friends were enjoying living vicariously through me.

Regaining my faith was next on the list. I was angry, sad, and depressed after my loss. At a time when I should have had faith in something bigger, I had none.

I started a gratitude journal to reconnect. I awkwardly started to write, “Dear God.” That felt odd.

I kept writing—”I’m grateful”—and waited.

Nothing. Minutes passed.

I picked up my pen: “I am grateful for my coffee this morning. It was hot.”

I closed my notebook. I was fairly certain I walked away with an F on this experiment as well.

Over the next year, I tried belly dancing, Reiki healing, chanting, rock climbing, acro yoga, singing religious songs in a stranger’s basement, online dating, hiring a relationship coach, meditation, yoga paddleboarding, riding a camel in Morocco (yes, a camel), and endless other lab experiments for my life.

The more I failed, the more I began to laugh. Failing was fun. Why isn’t everyone doing this?

With each new Goop life experiment, I learned what it felt like to truly laugh again—to reconnect with myself. I met diverse groups of people and started to recognize parts of life that lit my fire and experiments I will never do again.

The best advice I ever received is that life should be fun. We should all be experimenting.

I’m now a fully fledged yogi and instructor. I own countless belly dancing scarves and shimmy around while I do laundry. I made great friends in hip-hop class, and randomly break out in dance and laugh hysterically while shopping at the grocery store.

My latest journal entry is:

“Dear Mom and God,
I’m grateful for all the failures. It’s been fun.”

Goop up your life, people.

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