If Not Now…

Happy New Year, everyone! Although we are only just stepping into 2017, I hope that it has been good to you so far.  2017 has started out full speed ahead.  After 19 years, I have returned to college for a graduate degree.  Am I somewhat off my nut? A little.

Here’s the thing.  There will never be a good time to rock the boat that is your life.  I am, for example, a single parent.  Even when I was married I was experientially a single parent.  You can peruse the entirety of this blog, read what is obvious, read between the lines, and deduce that I was doing everything, for the most part, alone.  I can tell you exactly why I did that, and it was not entirely my ex-husband’s fault.  I had developed beliefs around my circumstances that kept me locked into a certain way of thinking–a limited way of thinking.

  • I was raised by a single mother.  I grew up watching my mother “do it all”.  That is the norm for me.  My mother never asked for help.  If she couldn’t do it, then she figured it out.  She once fell out of the attic and broke her leg while trying to fix something even though she knew absolutely nothing about fixing whatever was broken.  I am a bit like that.  That’s tenacity and stubbornness (or willful stupidity).  It has served me well in life, but excessive self-reliance causes imbalance.  Plus, it alienates the people in your life who would love to help.  Also? Burn out.
  • Life does not become simpler as we age.  It gets more and more complicated.  When I was in my early 20s, my personal welfare and future reality were, for the most part, my biggest concern.  I was not personally responsible for the well-being of other humans.  Of course, I loved other people and wanted to be available to them, but, by and large, I was looking out for Number One.  I am a mother now, and every decision I make will affect my children.  I am no longer solely looking out for my own interests and investing in my own future alone.  I am considering the effects of my decisions on my daughters and investing in their futures as well as mine.  This can give me anxiety and cause me to feel paralyzed at times.  When is it ever a good time to make major life decisions? I like homeostasis.  Nature and the human body like homeostasis.  Introducing big change is risky.  Stability vs. Risk.  That’s a tough call for me now.
  • I have struggled with my health for years.  This is common when you have profound trauma in your past–autoimmune disorders and neurological issues like migraines being the chiefest of complaints.  I am the poster child for the aforementioned.  I have chronic migraines (CM) and cluster headaches, and I have done everything possible over the last thirteen years to relieve them. Pain management is part of my life.  I was very fearful to attempt to go back to school while living with a sometimes debilitating condition, and I felt very limited in my future choices when viewing my life through the lens of my daily pain and future health risks.
  • I have children with special needs.  This was my biggest limitation.  I was “on call” 24/7 for a few years.  To a degree, I still am.  I dropped off the planet socially.  I had to be prepared to cancel appointments or social engagements in order to be with one of my daughters.  During the worst time of the manifestations of their diagnoses, I did nothing for myself.  I rarely slept.  This was the most limiting factor of all.  At present, my daughters do not spend the night with their father.  They see him socially and come home.  Being the sole primary caregiver does limit one’s choices.  One starts to feel imprisoned in circumstances.
  • I felt eroded spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically, thusly, contributing to profound existential fatigue.  That defined 2016 for me.  It felt like I would never be “me” again.  Ending a 20-year marriage, enduring two surgeries resulting from domestic violence, therapeutically dealing with the traumatic fallout every single week, managing autoimmune symptoms and pain, and learning to live alone and raise four daughters in a truly single-parent household took an inordinate toll.  I could not imagine ever feeling like I was flourishing again.

So, what was the solution? How does one think about the future when the present feels so limited? I chose to reimagine my future and “do it” anyway meaning I chose to make the choice I really wanted as if I didn’t have the present limitations, assuming that my life would adapt and expand for the life I was attempting to build.  A bold move perhaps, but what are my options really?

I can either stay in the current smaller space and think small, accepting my perceived limitations, or I can change my view, imagine that my life would expand to fit the life I want, and take a step forward.  Then, I applied to graduate school.  I am now entering my third week.  I won’t lie.  It’s been bumpy.  There have been complications.  It’s winter.  I get cluster headaches in winter.  Nothing new there.  One of my daughters is experiencing an exacerbation in her condition.  Nothing terribly new there either.  Disappointing? Yes.

What does all this mean? What is my conclusion?

Life is happening around us all the time.  That will never change.  The very familiar life that I know is happening.  It will never be a good time for me to do what I really want.  I might as well start doing it now then.  I’ve had enough practice managing my life and complicated circumstances.  I would think that I can manage all the complications that might arise then while building something better.  That’s not a bad conclusion to reach.  The only question then: Do I trust myself? Do I believe I can do it?

Yeah, I do.  Look what I’ve done so far.

That is what I would offer up for 2017.  There will never be a good time to decide to do what you really want.  It’s akin to couples trying to decide when to have a baby.  There is never a good time to have a baby.  Babies change everything.  If you want to have a child, then you just have to go for it.  Embrace the messy, wonderful, exhausting process in the midst of the already messy, wonderful, traumatic, exhausting process of living.

There will never be a good time in your life for you to reinvent yourself, take a risk, do that one thing you’ve always wanted to do, make that one change you know that you really need to make, or make a plan of action.  Life is not set up to ease us down the road of success.  Life is set up to hinder us.  That’s why we have heroes and heroines.  They overcome extreme obstacles and provide us with an example.  They inspire us.  But, your life is probably full of obstacles, too, and that makes you something of a heroic figure then just waiting to be called up.

What if you’re being called up now?

It really is now or never.  The future is but an idea at best, but today is yours.  It is all that you have.  You will never own tomorrow.  It is now, and now is the time.

“If not now, when?” Hillel the Elder



9 Comments on “If Not Now…

  1. Thank you so much for your blog MJ. I love the way it is grounded in theory, cogently argued and always so beautifully expressed. Although our circumstances are different, so much of what you say speaks very directly to me. This post, in particular, has hit home as I’m at this very crossroad right now-with one significant difference. After so many times of trying and failing to make my life happier and then picking myself up and trying again only to be knocked down yet again, I no longer trust myself or believe I can do it. How do you regain a sense of belief and trust in yourself ?
    Good luck to you.

    • First, thank you for your kind comment.

      Second, how do you regain a sense of belief and trust in yourself? That is such an important question. Hmmmm…

      Well, let’s see. I think the first thing to do is to look at self-judgment. I’m thinking out loud here while I’m looking back so bear with me. I think that we might lose our ability to trust ourselves when we look at ourselves through self-criticism and self-judgment OR when we take in the judgment of others. For instance, there were people in my life who judged me for marrying my ex. “How could you marry him? Why did you stay? How did you not see it?” blah blah blah Yet it’s so easy to say things like that when you’re looking at something from the outside. The perspective is different. Think about divers. If I were in a submarine or even on the surface of the water, I would know which way is up. But, when you’re caught up in a riptide, you lose your perspective. You can’t tell anymore if down is down and up is up. And, if no one is willing to grab you and pull you up, then you have to figure it out yourself. Follow the bubbles…

      In that moment, when you’ve got almost no air left to blow those bubbles or minimal experience in the riptides of life, can you say to yourself, “I am doing the best I can,” or “I did the best I could.” Yeah. I did the best I could at that moment in my life. How do I know that? Because I’m here now. I made it. When I married my husband, I did the best I could with the information that I had and at the developmental phase of my life. So, I can let myself off the hook. We can’t apply our present knowledge and maturity to our past selves. That’s unfair. So, that’s one way that I release myself from regret and self-judgment. That is one way that I realize that I am trustworthy.

      Another way is to look at the areas where I have grown. What did I do with my mistakes? Did I do something with them? The mistakes are not regrets for me. They are the places where I became better, and you can do that with the past in the present. This is where you get to spin lead into gold. You get to practice alchemy. No one ever learned from repeated successes, but we sweat it out in those moments of perceived failure. They become our proving ground, and we become something far more than we ever thought. So, you can begin asking yourself, “Do I believe that I can bounce back from failure? Do I believe that I have what it takes to stand up after I fall? Can I take a hit? Can I just be the last one standing?” Those are magnificent questions to ask, and, the beauty in that is this: If you are alive today then you do. The answer is yes to all of them. There is no glory or romance in taking hits or being the last one standing. It’s hard as hell. It takes the life out of you. It feels lonely and alienating. But, if you did that, then you can trust yourself to do it again. You have a lot to believe in when it comes to your own personal resilience if you’ve fallen and dusted yourself off again and again.

      That was my starting place when it came to realizing that I could believe in myself. I was trustworthy. I might fail. I might do it a lot. But, I would come back again and again. And it’s the come back that matters. Not the pain. Not the fall. Not the mistake. It’s standing up. I don’t know if that helps, but that’s the first thing that comes to mind.


      That would be my starting point.

  2. Thank you MJ for your kindness in providing such a detailed response to my questions. Like you, I’m not sure how much it helps as yet, but it’s certainly given me lot to think about-which is helpful in itself.
    I understand intellectually the point about resilience and being able to trust myself because in the past I’ve managed to pick myself up and have another go. It’s an argument my therapist has advanced more than once in recent weeks. Emotionally though, I struggle with this. Every time I dare to hope for better and then fail, it becomes increasingly difficult to rise and try again. I’m utterly worn out and I fear that a time will come when I simply cannot get up. It very nearly happened a year ago.
    Your recent blog seems so full of hope for the future-it’s a testament to your strength of character that you still believe that you can achieve a better life.
    I wonder how much of that hope can be attributed to your faith in God.
    Speaking of which, I was reading one of your posts from Dec 2010 where you mentioned David Adam and one of his books on Celtic Christianity. I live in Northumberland near Holy Island [Lindisfarne] and met him several times and chatted briefly to him as he wandered around the village [I’m not a church person. God and I don’t see eye to eye!]. I found him to be gentle, kindly man. Holy Island itself is a beautiful special place-though this has been dulled in recent years by the ingress of large numbers of tourists! Thanks again Dee

    • Oh my, Lindisfarne. That’s a beautiful place. I always fancied going there and having tea. 🙂

      You know, I understand what you are saying here. 2016 was a terrible year for me. There were moments I didn’t think I could get up anymore. I have faith, but my faith sometimes feels more like permission to rail against God rather than comfort. My Christian friends feel something of fearful respect for God while I shake my fist and make demands like an angry Job. That would be the Jew in me. I have not seen eye-to-eye with God for most of my life, but I share the journey anyway. It’s odd, I guess.

      I think that sometimes, Dee, when you hit the bottom, it’s okay to stay there for a while. I don’t mean in depressive, self-defeating thinking. I mean, to rest and regroup. That’s what I did last year. I had no idea what would become of me. But sometimes new direction comes in those times. We’re like fallow fields. I once had a chance to spend time with an English potter out of Devon. He was extremely successful. I asked him how he had come to choose pottery. He had chosen it later in life as he had previously been a history teacher. He was this well-educated (Cambridge) scholar who ended up in Devon as an artisan, and he was so happy. He said that he fell off his roof and injured his back. He was stuck in bed for weeks and weeks, and he knew then that he would not be able to stand on his feet for hours upon hours teaching after that injury. So, as he lain in bed, the notion of pottery came to him along with all the details, and, with effort, he became accomplished and successful.

      I thought of him last year as I lay fallow in my life, and, sure enough, the next steps for my life materialized in the quiet, emotional cold. The winter of life. Perhaps you are not falling down or failing so much as subconsciously looking for rest and new direction? It’s just a thought. Perhaps a fallow time. IT is winter. A time to renew resiliency and build out by stopping and letting yourself simply be who you are today and beginning to believe that whoever you are–it’s good enough. Today.

      • Tea and cake-a lovely thought! If you ever get over here, feel free to contact me. I’ll happily take you to Lindisfarne for afternoon tea and lovely views!
        I get what you mean by railing at God, I used to do exactly the same, until I realised, how one-sided it was ie just me talking to myself. Eventually in 2015, when I was having an extremely difficult time, I found myself more than once on the floor sobbing and begging God for help. No help came. No loving reassurance, no comfort, no support-physical, emotional or otherwise. Nothing. The silence said it all. The penny dropped. Either God was dead [not an original thought, I know], or more likely, he plain didn’t care. Thereafter the arrangement became that I wouldn’t bother him and I didn’t want him to bother me ever again.
        I understand what you’re saying about lying fallow too and I’ve had times in my life when I’ve been content to just be and take stock. I spent most of 2016 horrified at what a complete waste my life has been. I know that at each stage, I’ve done the best I could. However, I’ve turned 60 last month and I’m no nearer to putting right the effects of the verbal/emotional abuse I received as a child. I’m sick to death of pain and struggle and I don’t dare lie fallow right now- it would play straight into the hands of the apathy of depression. Beside the counselling support I’m receiving now is focusing on me taking risk/changing behaviour. It’s not working. I dutifully take risks, change behaviour and it still all turns to dust-which brings this back to where I started with my questions about self belief etc! Take care. Dee

        • I hope that I did not appear to “pushing platitudes”. I was not. I did not know your background or inner struggles. I was just…sharing. Depression is serious, and it’s a serious struggle. I have endured it before, and I have two daughters that live with it. I was just at the Behavioral Health ER two weeks ago with a daughter who was experiencing suicidal ideation due to sudden onset of depression (she has Bipolar I). She kept saying in the car through her sobs, “I just can’t do it anymore. It’s the same thing all the time no matter what I do.” Like laundry. No matter how much I do to make it stop, it just won’t. I’m not making light of it in that. I used to have panic attacks around doing my laundry because it felt so much like a metaphor for my life–it didn’t stop coming at me. No matter what I did, it would not stop piling up. And I just felt too overwhelmed.

          I wish that there was something I could say about your life mattering that would resonate with you. I am so sorry that you experienced abuse as a child. I did, too. It is a painful journey, and it’s hard to live with–those wounds and scars.

          If you ever want to dialogue or chat more, my public email is: jamaisvue72atgmail.com.

          The best to you…MJ

  3. No worries, I didn’t for a moment think your comments were mere platitudes. Thanks for the offer to chat further. I’d like to take you up on that-don’t worry, I won’t bombard you. You have lots to take up your time raising your daughters single-handedly and continuing your studies as well as all the other ‘stuff’. Keep up the good work! Dee

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