Trauma’s lethargy finally cracks
Inertia. Indifference. Strangulated passion. Latent drive. A void of direction. An arduous and unchosen reconfiguration of self. All of these things are going on, or as it can feel like, NOT going on post life altering traumatic loss.
And if we are being true to our process, there is no manufacturing our way out. Amid the mysterious and painstaking unfolding all one can do is wait. And observe. And tend to the present the best one can and engage in life to whatever degree one reasonably is able.
A year and a half ago I embarked on a basic 200 hour yoga teacher training. Clocking in now at a whopping 45.5 years old (as of August 19), a peculiar kind of fascination takes over as I gaze back at my 44 year old self. You see, the conventional middle aged settled, predictable and basking in the illusion of being fully sure of one’s future does not apply here. When one sustains a life altering traumatic loss, particularly in mid-life, one undergoes evolvement and transformation that possesses a depth, velocity and trajectory that is highly abnormal for the phase of life in question.
At the time, the training seemed like the next logical step, a workable thread from my old life to my new life. And, as someone who exercised gumption in getting back on the yoga mat EVERY TIME after one surgery and all ten failed fertility treatments, with little to no social support or acknowledgement to cheer me on, I figured this yoga thing was probably here to stay in my life in one way or another.
My early rounds in the yoga world exposed me to a few things. I had endured both clueless and horrible spewings from yoga teachers in regards to my infertility – after all, those who don’t know are tough to deal with, those who don’t know but presume they do are downright poison. I had summoned the courage to leave a studio that overtly catered to the reproductively privileged where I got no support and I had settled in with a teacher who didn’t fuss over pregnant students, honored my requests on the few occasions my battered self knew what I needed (for example “I’m in the middle of a stim, I will not partner with anyone and don’t want anyone touching me except perhaps a gentle adjustment from you only”) and who doesn’t have kids herself (by choice) so at least there wasn’t that thorn to contend with.
(Side note: Since yoga is often suggested to those trying to conceive and as a form of self care for those of us grappling with staggering loss, I must point out that I’ve found the yoga word in many ways a very isolating and alienating place to be when traversing through infertility and involuntary childlessness. The positive benefits of the practice are real, the environment can be dicey. The reasons are enough to fill another post, however suffice it for now to say it’s laden with world views that don’t apply well to the aforementioned experiences and the general knowledge yoga teachers have of infertility is incomplete, naive and misleading. Buyer beware. And all the more reason to have someone like me teaching!)
I entered the training two years after our final failed treatment thinking I might teach but knowing darned well I was not yet in a position to know. And I struggled, being side by side with people who presented an excitement and curiosity I couldn’t at the time even dream of harnessing. One can sense when their state is not resonating, when their experiences have brought them to an entirely different place than the people around them. I felt ensnared by the truth and lack of choice in my grieving, mourning, healing and resurrection process.
I was also side by side with some of those in the yoga world determined to make the appeasing behavior of gratitude an Olympic sport, all while mine was nowhere to be found. Of course I WANTED to feel grateful for the good teaching to which I was privy (one of the highest privileges in life is receiving good teaching, I’ve always felt), and to the fact that I could be there having that experience.
But what I felt instead was a lethargy, an indifference that came from the very real place of knowing that had I gotten to have children I wouldn’t have been there. My phantom life of being at home raising young children was alive and circulating amid this first delicate foray into my new life as my future remained gray, an ambiguous muck of what should have been coupled with indiscernible flickers of future vision, exiting as quickly as they flashed in – a most cruel tease.
Truth be told I had more pressing, and quite frankly harder things on my plate than learning how to teach yoga as this situation also threw me into interacting with my fellow humans again and into the learning process of figuring out who I now was and was going to be in this world.
(Read about my experience telling my teacher training group of my child free infertility survivor status here).
I dealt with feelings of perpetual drowning as I was immersed in world views and philosophies that used to intrigue and fulfill me in which I was now sorely disinterested as they had been rendered either untrue or unimportant by my experiences. My peers, although I enjoyed them on many levels and appreciated learning much from them, presented another bafflement – having felt somewhat on par with them pre-infertility, they now felt like third graders to me. Preoccupied with the inconsequential, moved over things that for me were no longer even the slightest bit profound.
Fellow child free not by choicer and advocate Jody Day said it perfectly when she wrote in her book “Living the Life Unexpected – Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children” (which I highly recommend by the way):
“Truth is not everyone wants to be as potentially free of illusion or as psychologically and emotionally mature as we’re having to become.”
For me the dawn of this reality rendered a very rough landing. It is something I venture to say takes even the best of us a few years to acclimate to. Between this and that all except one of my fellow trainees were either not willing or able to meet me where I was at (the same as most other bystanders during grief), many social interactions were utterly draining if not downright excruciating.
Clearly yoga teaching itself was one of the many things I was juggling, most of all I was juggling change. Painful and unsolicited change.
And so I had a vague sense at the time that I was going to use my experiences and post traumatic growth to help others, that I needed my new life to fit and use my experiences, not avert them and that I needed and wanted some form of regular work so that I could continue with and widen the reach of my writing. I had no idea if these urges would intensify or fade, and no clue as to how or if they’d translate to real life. It’s only now I realize what a hard and brave endeavor it is to learn something knew in the face of soulful obliteration and of such a bewildering degree of not knowing. There was no getting around that whatever was going to happen I’d be doing it without my children. For years there was no motivation to be found in that. And really. How could there be?
And so. I was hit with a nervous system disorder mere weeks after the training sessions ended. A month into my disorder I figured out I could work on teaching one pose at a time (it would be another month until I would find out I would recover eventually). Through dizziness, lightheadedness, and intermittent heart palpitations, shortness of breath, nausea and mood swings I slowly pieced together the 18 pose sequence I was required to teach to get my certification. I had a student over to my house (to avoid adding car time, excess noise and light dark adjustments to what is already a nerve racking situation), taught the sequence and submitted a video. It went as well as it could have at the time.
Then a funny thing happened. I started to see myself as a yoga teacher. I began to remember that one of the things I am, at my core, is a teacher. I started to remember it’s a thing I do. I’ve been teaching since I was three and my bother was born. He claims I taught him to read. I taught private flute lessons for over 15 years and loved it, at least the teaching aspect of it anyway. I’m actually motivated and have started learning to teach new poses. I’m hungry to piece together new sequences and am in a better place now to contemplate which themes I might, and just as importantly, might not teach.
It occurred to me that this “I Actually Want to do Something” is a milestone and a very important one at that. My experiences with infertility, fertility treatments and involuntary childlessness have led to the absence of a hard fought for future, a complete and utter loss of control and a severed relationship with the experience of cause and affect. And I know I’m not alone. Coming through, and perhaps out of that, is no small rite of passage.
Now, I get it. No one is going to throw me an “I Actually Want to do Something” shower or caress my “I Actually Want to do Something” belly while telling me how beautiful I look or swoon over the contribution my actually wanting to do something is going to make to the world. There is no “I Actually Want to do Something” national holiday set aside to mark my role in life, there will be few to no “Oh, I KNOW, my ‘I Actually Want to do Something’ is in its first year TOO! (Insert dipthongy gooey child talk vocal tone here) connections in daily conversation with my fellow humans. Actually wanting to do something is something that can only be appreciated by those who have had for years the desire stripped from them.
Actually wanting to do something in no way makes up for the loss of all my children, parenthood and grandparenthood, nor does it imply that this challenging path we are walking is suddenly lined with rainbows and bunnies. But it is something. And it is inextricably hard earned in a way that an easily conceived pregnancy could never ever be. It is a sign of healing, a signal of a new life burgeoning whatever that may end up being. Do I have my innately fire laden mojo back 3.5 years out of treatments? I’m not willing to go that far yet. But I think I can safely say the kindling has been lit.
And so I take this moment to honk my own horn and hope you can find a way to honk yours too – maybe you have already and will continue to do so or perhaps you’re still waiting for the opening to present itself. Carry on my soldiers, carry on.