A hiking partner once asked me, “what’s the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?”
“Emotional,” was my (almost) immediate reply.
It was March 2018 – I had yet to leave my marriage, had no GATA2 diagnosis, and was doing my best to cope in a very unhappy home/life situation. My friend Jack and I were hiking part of the rollercoaster section of the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia, and just passing the time, shooting the breeze. Our 15-mile hike only lasted a few hours, but that question has remained with me throughout the years.
Yesterday, Andy and I moved some of our items from one storage place to another. For me, it was the final few boxes from a marriage of 17 years. Some of the items – camping gear, notes from a 2012 photography class, books, an old wicker basket I kept on my desk – were not a big deal. Some of the other things – (non-digital) photos, race programs from rowing & Ironman World Championships, health records and get-well cards from a 2008 bike crash and 2010 blood clotting crisis – hit me like a ton of bricks.
I suppose that’s why so many of these items were in a box, packed away.
I just didn’t want to deal with it, preferring to shelf them and their accompanying emotions. And I did the same thing last night too, by just leaving everything sitting on the living room pool table. I wouldn’t have to take the time. I wouldn’t need to decide if this was something worth keeping or throwing away. I could ignore the photos and the history that came with them and just not deal with any of it.
Yeah. Obviously, this is not ideal – for anyone.
Today I went to order a Brita water filter and 40 oz insulated stainless steel water bottle, in an effort to keep my kidneys healthy and not spend so much money on 1L Smart water bottles. Andy kindly asked if I wouldn’t mind removing items before bringing more into the house.
And then, I started to cry.
We are both smart enough, have lived long enough to realize that my response had nothing to do with his request. But for the life of me, I just couldn’t stop crying. It took a bit of time, tears falling. But between nose blows and hiccups, I eventually concluded that by putting off dealing with the mess downstairs, I was also avoiding all sticky emotions that came with said mess.
So I pulled on just about every DBT skill that I could think of, and I went through every single last piece of what was on the table. Some items were tossed immediately, others took more careful consideration. The things I decided to keep, I did so either because they brought me joy, reminded me of my strength, or had deep personal meaning. I cried, much more than I thought possible. But it was good to cry, and tears that were suppressed for many years finally emerged. This time, I didn’t hide from the hurt or pain, didn’t stuff everything back into the box from whence it came – today, I just let myself feel.
I think this is extremely important. The mind-body connection is such a critical one, essentially how one thinks can affect how one feels. As a recent Stem Cell Transplant recipient, I live this daily. In that sense, dealing with my emotions and the items connected to them, is a beautiful form of release and the best gift possible to myself. Today I lightened my load, removing the things that no longer serve me and keeping space for the ones that do.
It’s not easy, but it’s doable. (See, mind-body thing there).
In the end, I ordered my filter and 1L water bottle. Andy has been supportive, both giving me space and also available when I was ready. I love and appreciate him for that. He also provided some very thoughtful feedback, both to me and also for this post.
Body wise, I’m feeling OK. I spent a lot of time moving around today – but it was all indoors. My skin is still dry, lips very dry and I need to continue to drink water. My eyes sting a bit from the tears, and my face will probably be puffy in the morning – but then again, its puffy every morning at this point. More importantly, I’m really proud of myself for doing the emotionally tough work that I did – ultimately my heart will be lighter for it.
And a special thank you to Andy. I love you.