"I do not have to accept everyone's invitation to their crisis."
How are you? I mean, really, how are you? I hope the new year is finding you well. I can still say "new year" even though it is April because I started this letter in January. Also, a spring snow flurry just dropped two feet of snow on our town this past weekend so it still looks like January here. I know it has been a long time since I've mailed out a letter - thank you for your patience and for still being here. For opening this! I am truly grateful that my words find a home in your hands.
This winter/spring/second winter I've been, well, pretty busy. Haven't we all? Work has been incredibly involved, parenting a three-year-old is requiring more energy than I anticipated, and I've been running a lot lately. I know it's super annoying when runners talk about running, and how often they're running, and how many miles they're running, and what races they're running. We do it because we're addicted. We also do it because running has likely saved us or is currently saving us and much like those mall evangelists who want to know if Jesus is your Lord and Savior while you're pawing through sweaters at the GAP, we just can't help but tell everyone about it.
Anyway, several weeks ago I got really angry. Like, Rage-Against-the-Machine-on-repeat-and-full-volume angry, and I had to physically do something so I wouldn't explode. I chose to run and I didn't think there would be a setting on the treadmill fast enough to let me get all that anger out. But then I stopped because I've got a marathon coming up and I didn't want to ruin my legs just because I got pissed off one day. (See how I worked my marathon training in here? They teach you that at running club, where we all get together to talk about how to be the most obnoxious about running. I will get extra points for that.)
Seriously though, I was super pissed. Because in at least one area of my life at all times there seemed to be someone/something in crisis and I had reached my limit. Constant drama was not working for me.
Back in January, as one tends to do at the start of a new year, I was thinking about becoming the best version of myself. That is, the best version of the real me, instead of the only-slightly-okayest version of what I think I should be based on what I see externally in other people and on social media. All of that marinating let to a slow, simmering realization: I have spent the past few years (and perhaps most of my years) feeling unanchored. Untethered. Without a solid foundation. The opposite of "firmly planted." Easily uprooted. And that discord, that imbalance, it just wasn't working. And what I've had to come to terms with is my need for foundation. For balance. For roots that go down into the depths of my soul and beyond, going deeper into the most fundamental truths about the universe and my place in it - and who I am designed to be.
It is so easy to get caught up in the wind these days. Expectations from family members or friends, from colleagues or bosses, from the commercials and ads we see telling us how we should act and dress and live and feel, what we should eat and what we should drink. They're always conflicting. It's like being in the of a storm where the 50-miles-an-hour winds are coming from all angles. And when you get invitation after invitation to crisis after crisis, you just feel pulled and pushed, swept up without a tether.
I have this tattoo of three tall trees - ponderosa trees, which are my favorite kind of tree because they are gigantically tall and deeply rooted and even though they can sway, sometimes alarmingly, they are not falling.
Roots. Deeply planted. Firmly centered.
A foundation that helps me stay grounded when the wind threatens to knock me over.
I'm so tired of being knocked over.
I'm not going to do that anymore. I do not have to accept everyone's invitation to their crisis.
If all of this sounds a bit extreme, as though I am suddenly turning a cold shoulder to the very real needs of my friends, my family, my community, and my world, let me explain: this is not about empathy. This is about boundaries.
Have you heard of leaky gut syndrome? Leaky gut is a condition where the lining of your gut actually leaks particles of whatever is passing through them (food, etc) into, well, the rest of you. Into your body. And it's not good. It means you aren't absorbing the nutrients you need, and it means bacteria and other things that should stay outside your body end up on the inside - where they really do some damage.
Your gut is a boundary.
Now, I don't know about you, but every so often I push the boundaries of my tender gut because I think silly things like "I'm feeling wonderful having been diligent with my food choices for so long, I bet bread and cheese aren't really the cause of all my problems."
But they are.
Or, "I know I unfollowed that person on Facebook for a reason and I've been feeling much, much better every since, but I should probably re-follow them just to keep tabs. I'm sure I can handle it now."
But I can't.
So I eat the bread and cheese and I re-follow that person on Facebook and I cross the boundaries I've tried to set for myself (and some, like with my gut, that are being set for me) and it rarely goes well.
Boundaries protect us. We set them - or they are set for us - for a reason. Our gut's boundary makes sure only the good things get into our body, but when compromised - when that boundary is crossed - it can't do its job. The boundaries I set for myself, having recognized what serves me and what doesn't - what gives life and energy and what saps it - they work best when I respect them.
It's true that taken to an extreme, like any good thing, boundaries can become prohibitive. For example, this past weekend was incredibly wintery. Everyone was out snow-blowing and shoveling and helping each other out... and my husband's rationale for not jumping back into his snowsuit to help our neighbors was that they might think it meant he wanted to be friends. That was a dumb boundary. "We" had to overcome that. ("We.") Boundaries that prevent us from authentic, genuine connection may need to be revisited. Boundaries that let us stay disconnected, that protect our fear and our shame and let us stay in our familiar bubbles, those aren't the ones that actually help us.
The best boundaries protect us just enough for us to start developing those roots I mentioned earlier. To start planting and growing deeply into who we really, truly are, and to find and own our place in the universe.
It's funny. I wrote the paragraph about not feeling rooted all the way back in January. It's April now, and I don't feel that way anymore. I feel rooted. I feel planted. I don't feel inflexible, rather, i feel capable. Capable of being able to witness and hold space for the big emotions and big circumstances of others without being caught up in it myself. I can maintain my sense of self while also holding space for someone who is insecure in theirs. This is the result of setting healthy boundaries while taking healthy risks all in the name of courage, compassion, and connection. Looking back, I can see the growth.
It doesn't always feel that way.
I've been frustrated recently because my heart rate while running has been unusually high. "Easy" runs have been infuriatingly difficult. But when I looked back on my watch's history over the past four months I saw that my average heart rate has been steadily dropping all this time. It's hard to see the progress when you're caught up in the thing.
Wherever you are on your journey, try not to mistake the forest for the trees. When all you can see are trunks and darkness, remember you are part of a larger narrative. There's always a trajectory.
Boundaries. May we set them for ourselves, may we respect them in others, and may we feel empowered by the space they create to start thriving.
Until next time.