“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
― Haruki Murakami,
Way back when I was a new parent, I had plenty of times when I clung – CLUNG! – to the comments from other parents that life got easier as the baby got older and settled into a regular sleep routine. My oldest was actually an excellent, happy baby, and within her first few weeks was going to bed around 8, waking up around 12:30 to eat, and then sleeping until 5:30 or 6 most mornings. From the start she was easy-going and rarely fussy.
But then C was born, followed by G, and sleep was one of those things I just adapted to getting less of and assumed it was normal, because all our friends and peers were in the same boat with us. As the years passed the kids grew up and sleep was no longer that much of an issue so much as time in general. To work, to be a mom, to carve out for myself. Then my marriage imploded and I discovered single parenting is something else entirely as far as time management, sleep, and having any sort of non-mom life.
In 1996 when my oldest daughter B died, it was my first real experience with death. I had lost friends and distant relatives, but losing my 12-year-old daughter brought me to my knees in an indescribable kind of agony. Blame and shame and grief and pain … my sensitivity to the thoughts and opinions of others went into massive and emotionally destructive overdrive, and with my shattered heart and non-responsive brain I took every well-meaning word or question about what happened as indictment of me and my role in my B’s passing.
I knew the moment the school called about her collapsing with a terrible headache that life was forever changed, and after she passed I had this fatalistic feeling that it would always be at least that hard. Worse, I felt that I deserved every single second of hardship and pain.
Of course it was not my fault – arterial venous malformations in the brain are like birth defects; they happen, and sometime they burst and a child dies. My pregnancy was uneventful, my daughter happy and healthy for 12 years and 5 days. It was not my fault. I did not bring this upon myself or deserve to be in such terrible agony over it.
Time passed, life continued, and the wounds slowly healed. While the scars are significant, I know better than many that time does heal wounds, after a fashion. You just learn how to walk with something akin to an emotional limp. You are different.
Today began with a gasp and being ripped from sleep to escape a terrible nightmare. While I got adequate hours of sleep, I do not feel like it was good, restful, restorative sleep. It made that 4:30 a.m. alarm even louder and more intrusive than usual.
But I dragged my sorry ass to the gym determined to do my full sets of routines. I did not feel energetic or confident. Even now, I am thinking about a couple of things and wondering if I am ever going to feel competent at them. My question of the day for J was going to be “does it ever gets any easier?”
And the mad thought race is ON.
Easier as in less challenging? Easier as in mastered? Easier as in well rested? Easier as in not 5:30 in the morning? What exactly do I mean by “easier”?
If it were easier, would it be as effective? In exercise and fitness, plateaus are discussed, and in fact J and I just talked about those on Monday. Right now what seems to so hard and struggle-inducing was impossible to imagine myself doing even 3 months ago. Easier in this case might be more confident in my own abilities.
But if I truly wanted easier I probably would not have hired a trainer or I would have selected someone else. If I wanted an easy life I would still be a drone somewhere in our local public utility, possibly even retired by now after 30 years of service.
If I am absolutely candid, easy seems like it would be boring. If there is no challenge, there is no reason for genuine engagement or putting forth real effort into whatever I am pursuing. Easier, too easy is suspicious and not to be trusted.
Whenever anyone says that relationships are a lot of work, I smile. Because it’s absolutely true. However, not all work is created equal. If you are the one always making compromises to keep the peace in the relationship it is one type of work. When you are working together toward shared goals and different avenues to accomplish those goals, it’s a lot more satisfying than just being a yes-partner.
True story: there was a time when I tended to agree with M on everything nearly all of the time. I caved against my better judgment or provided whatever he wanted or needed without giving my own desires and needs consideration. And that worked for awhile, until it didn’t and I had a screaming mimi of a breakdown that included the emotion-backed “I want a divorce!” at very high volumes. Because my passivity turned him into a selfish prat and me into a martyr I do not even recognize now. We were in counseling and working on our relationship for 2 years. During that time we both grew up a lot (at 40 and 44 finally figuring some things out) and learned how to communicate clearly and fight fairly. And it was so hard. And I wanted to give up so many times. And I thought making it easier on myself by giving up would be better, easier. Except I love the guy, and he loves me, and giving up was only going to be easier in the short term but so much harder overall. So we worked at it, together and separately. And lo and behold, it did get easier.
Challenges are different now. While I am suspicious of easy, I still frequently long for it. When my alarm goes off at 4:30 and I know I have to get to the gym and exercise, because the alternative is unbearable now. When a client calls and asks me for the personally difficult favor of explaining to his wife why increasing the budget for her new vehicle from $30,000 to $50,000 is a bad idea. These are hard, and I wish for something else … like the 6 a.m. alarm on weekends or not having to become involved in what feels like a marital dispute. But I get up at 4:30 and I don’t have a pissy day because I got some exercise, and I call and explain to my client’s spouse what the impacts of changing course could have on their financial future.
It’s life, and I remind myself it is MY life and MY choices. Does it ever get easier? Sometimes. It depends. And maybe it’s the unpredictable uncertainty of the outcomes that makes me/you/us keep trying to be better, trying to find that elusive easier way.
It is a good day. Even when it was hard, it is a good day. Maybe attitude IS everything, but that’s another post for another day.