October 25, 2020

How we go from Feeling Sorry for Ourselves to Buddhism’s “Maitri.”

The past seven months have been rough on our country.

The past few weeks have been rough on me.

I have cried. (I hate crying. Especially in front of my kids.) I have been eating too much. (Have you ever tried homemade pimento cheese on Ritz crackers?) I have been drinking too much. (To be clear, I drank a lot before.)

Worst of all, I’ve been feeling sorry for myself.

One year and four months ago, I finally left a job that was sucking the emotional life out of me. It was a toxic cocktail of office politics and poisonous people. I had stayed there for 15 years because I loved what I was doing and because my spouse felt it was more convenient for us if I stayed—even though my mental health was being eaten away like a rat gnawing at my brain.

I had to get away and I had to do it soon. I wasn’t getting any younger, and a depressed senior citizen doesn’t usually make for a promising job applicant. It wasn’t very long before I found a new job in a different industry that required my set of skills and expertise. Even better, it offered a sizable increase in salary. It was a win-win! Giving my two weeks notice felt so empowering, so exhilarating! People were shocked that I was leaving. The human doormat was finally taking control of her own life and getting the hell out.

That taste of power over my own life was quite liberating and made me hungry for more.

Flash forward to January 2020, when I left my marriage of over 30 years. I guess I really had grown a pair, and it was time for me to be truly happy.

I was so excited for this New Year and new decade to begin. I had already met someone and was looking forward to getting to know him better and to introducing him to my family. There was Easter, birthdays, and summer barbecues in our future. There were get-togethers with our mutual friends. Yes, life would be different this year because I was getting divorced, but the potential for happiness in my life was exponential.

You know what happens next: Pandemic. Economic downturn. Civil unrest. Fires. Hurricanes. A highly contentious Presidential election. Lions. Tigers. Bears. Oh sh*t—but I’m okay. I’ve got this. I’m very fortunate. I am healthy, I still have a job, and I have my family, my boyfriend, and friends. I am quite lucky. And I really believed this to be true for the first six months of semi-confinement.

I think many of us thought that things would be back to normal by summertime. But it wasn’t, and instead of just worrying about catching COVID-19, I was watching my country become more divided and violent. It seemed as though people could no longer agree to disagree and still treat each other with decency. There was destruction and violence and hate and no way to escape it. No way to hug my family and assure myself and each other that everything was going to be alright. I was able to spend time with my boyfriend, but that required us to travel. He lives out of state, and I made the choice to cautiously travel by air. Because of this choice, though, it guaranteed that I had to maintain physical distance between myself and my family. Emotionally, this started to take its toll.

You would think that a woman like me who finally took these supposedly brave, bold steps, after all these years, would be hardened and tough as nails by now. Yet the thought of not spending Christmas with my adult kids this year sent me into a meltdown.

I cried in front of my son on his birthday. We were six feet apart—in the opened garage of my former home. I knew we wouldn’t be together for the holidays. I had already prepared myself for that eventuality. But when I brought the subject up, that unspoken truth was finally confirmed. Maybe it was because I didn’t get to sing “Happy Birthday” to him, and he didn’t get to blow out 25 candles, plus one for good luck and one to grow on. Maybe it was because I was delivering a cake to him in a dusty garage surrounded by a lawnmower and garden tools instead of having him at my own home so that we could enjoy a piece of cake together.

All of the disappointment, sadness, and stress of 2020 that I had been trying to hold together fell apart at that moment in front of my son.

I felt so weak and ashamed. This was the culmination of all the things that I had been feeling over the past few weeks. I was stressed about my new job. My role at work was changing, and I was less confident about my abilities. I was missing my family. They all had someone else to pass the days, weeks, and months with as they stayed in their safe little bubbles. I couldn’t watch the news. It seemed as though there was nothing positive to speak of or feel good about. I couldn’t even take a walk outside to clear my head because it was either too hot or wildfire smoke filled the air with breath-choking particles.

I started feeling sorry for myself. I moped. I complained to my boyfriend over FaceTime. I drank wine and I overate. Everyone seemed to be handling all of this better than me. This new, strong woman that I thought I had become had a crack in her armor.

I wasn’t fooling anyone. Certainly not myself.

Then the next day came. I cut back on the wine. A few days later, I pulled out some of my old exercise videos and worked up a sweat. A week after that, I signed up for a writing course. If I couldn’t change my feelings, I needed to treat myself better and find an outlet for the emotions that I was holding inside.

Nobody can truly understand and tell you how you are supposed to feel. It was up to me if I was going to own it, accept it, and keep moving forward.

I learned a new word that first day of my writing class: it was maitri.


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