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.
28 thoughts on “I Actually Want To Do Something”
One does have a sense of wonder when she wakes up and realizes she wants to do something. I can relate. Love the line, “those who don’t know but presume they do are downright poison.” So true.
Hi Jennifer – Sense of wonder is a great way to put it. And some disbelief. It still feels a bit strange.
I just love reading your blog! It’s the highlight of my day. I always catch myself nodding my head in agreement with the message you are conveying to your readers. Bravo on your “I actually want to do something” acknowledgment. I’m right there with you!
Thank you! – Kristine
Thanks Kristine:-). The process of writing and sharing it with others makes me feel validated too. Something we all need in the face of the social invisibility we constantly deal with.
I’m just gonna come right out and ask… have you thought about running a yoga workshop for “our tribe”?… I would most certainly make my way to New York (I think you are close to NY) for that special event!! Please keep me posted if you do.
Yep, you guys have inspired me. As I commented to The EcoFeminist, I’ve got something in the very early stages of creation. It’ll take a while to bring it to fruition, but when I do I will definitely post on it.
I am SOOOOOO glad you went through the training, for purely selfish reasons! I have not been able to complete an entire yoga class in almost 3 years. I went to an amazing yoga retreat at the beach in late 2014 and shortly thereafter got my infertility diagnosis and never felt comfortable when I tried to go back. I’m the kind that definitely cries in yoga when it brings up emotions, and with that and a back injury, I’ve never felt “safe” enough in class anymore and always wished there was a class just for us infertiles to go to (hell, they have a zillion prenatal, how about one for those who have lost the battle to go to prenatal yoga?!) so I could get my zen on and stretch and cry and be around my peers of awesome women like you who have or are walking the road (and I will be a bit bratty and say ‘secondary infertility’ folks are not invited to my dream class – I only want the involuntarily childless, thankyouverymuch!). I have done some yoga at home but I *love* classes and having someone to go around and push my back down when in a child’s pose or make sure my posture is correct in a triangle or simply have that nice “yoga voice” that helps me breathe. Yay for you 🙂
Still waiting for that opening but know that deep down the fire has not gone out. Thank you – as always.
Yes, it’s noteworthy that prenatal classes are alive and well in the yoga world but classes for those of us dealing with infertility survivor hood and involuntary childlessness are currently nowhere to be found. Being that yoga is about inclusion, union, balance and non -hierarchy, the absence of nurturing ALL parts of the human reproduction spectrum is actually quite NON yogic. The few “yoga for fertility” classes out there are of course focused on achieving pregnancy, not on the tools needed when you can’t.
“I’m definitely the kind that cries in yoga when it brings up emotions” – love that you know this about yourself and I’m sorry for the feelings of non safety you’ve had to deal with that cancel out some of yoga’s benefits. One of the most painful things for me in my experience has been dealing with the surges of emotion coupled with the knowledge that I can’t tell people, knowing that I’m too vulnerable add the judgements, dismissals and blank stares that will likely follow to my injury.
I’ve often thought of the idea of teaching weekend yoga workshops tailored to our population, your comment prompted me to sketch out what that would actually look like. Thank you for that!
Ah yes the fertility yoga workshops, which now make my eyes roll since I know my infertility had nothing to do with the amount of inner peace within me or how well I could do an inversion pose. I had a teacher years ago who really understood about how yoga can “wring out” emotions similar to squeezing a sponge, but few over the years really talk to their students about this side of it. I have a Yin Yoga DVD at home which is great but at times I was actually scared to put it on because I knew it would turn on the waterworks!! 🙂
You should definitely post on your blog when and if you decide to do a workshop for survivors of infertility. I’m betting people would fly from all over the place for that.
Oh, don’t get me started on the supposed connection between our inner state and getting pregnant:-) Big. Loud. Groan. I learned the hard and painful way there isn’t one. My infertility (as I suspect many peoples’) could never have been remedied by yoga – even the increased blood flow it can facilitate to the reproductive organs would not have made even a dent in our medical case.
Here’s to your healthy waterworks……..I have a weekend workshop in the fledgling stages of conception, oh the tragic irony. It’ll take some time to construct and train for (after all my tribe deserves the best of me) but when it’s ready I will put the word out.
Can I congratulate you – I would also, definitely, throw you an “I Actually Want to do Something” shower if I could! This is majorly, HUGELY significant. As a fellow 45-and-something-year-old who lost her career mojo ages ago (“Inertia. Indifference. Strangulated passion. Latent drive. A void of direction”. You put it so well) I can’t tell you how important this is. I smiled reading this and I felt inspired: you’ve made me feel like it might happen to me too. Just the kindling being lit would be an ecstatic development. So THANK YOU X
Aaaww, a cyber shower, I’m touched!! If only we could all throw each other parties all the time, for “I actually want to do something” and before and after – it all matters. The whole process mystifies me, I think I’m still caught off guard that any of my work might translate into something. It’s been awhile.
Yes! There should be some sort of celebration for getting back something you probably felt at times was lost forever. I am a big fan of Jody’s book and attend regular monthly meetups with other ‘childless by circumstance’ women. I was in a trough for years but now, with a group of friends who do not think I’m something I’m not (‘career/money orientated, selfish person who hates children’), I’m now embarking on a new phase of my life. I’m building a studio at the bottom of my garden and I will produce beautiful things and be ‘artist’. It’s not the same role as ‘mother’, but I will be happy.
Lesley, your point about cultivating a group of friends who do not think you are something you aren’t is interesting. We deal with a deluge of misperceptions from people, that’s for sure. From my experience, I’d add “just like them but without children” to the list. I find people seem to be tone deaf to the fact that my experiences trying so hard to have children and then not being able to have endowed me with different needs, world views, capacities, etc. It is a different life that is worthy of others’ interest. And it often involves an expanded ability to be creative – bravo to you on your studio and on your new phase in life.
There are days when I Want to Actually Do Something (I’m a teacher by trade) and other where I feel indifference and apathy. There are still others where I feel bitter for having to teach other people’s kids all day long. It’s tough. Thanks for your post, as always.
Hi Elizabeth – Your comment for some reason made me think of a conversation I had with a friend of mine about this subject. She lost her husband unexpectedly 6 years ago a few months before her 40th birthday. She pointed out to me that when things return to us they don’t come back the same. It’s a simple concept, but it’s one I forget a lot and did not mention in my post. As of now I’m guessing there will always be a few threads of indifference and apathy running through my experiences.
If I were teaching other people’s kids all day long I would have PLENTY of days where I would feel bitter. Though I know working with other people’s children has its benefits and good sides, I’ve wondered from time to time if there shouldn’t be a whole other level of support (not that there’s much of any at the moment) available for those of us who work with other people’s children but can’t have our own. I have to give you a lot of credit – though I may work with young people one day in my career, I don’t think I could have endured it in the midst of attempting to reconcile involuntary childlessness.
What you said about “when things return to us they don’t come back the same” is true and I relate it to my career. I honestly chose teaching because I have a passion for it but because it was also a great career for raising a family. Well, now I sometimes question everything since the family part (well, the kids part) hasn’t happened and won’t.
I won’t like, I’m not quite sure where my head was when I accepted an elementary position. I wanted something full-time to keep me busy and college classes weren’t offering that. I also at that part in my grieving process needed to be around people more than a few times a week. But it was rough, and still is some days. Not just because of the kids but because we have a lot of young staff who are having kids.
One we realize we we will not be having children there are so many aspects of our lives that no longer seem to fit or make sense – all together or on some level. It’s no wonder our losses take so long to reconcile.
A woman in my support group when I was TTC was an elementary school teacher and her colleagues were having babies right and left. One even got two showers – one from the staff and one from the parents. Total overkill. I often think of what a better place the world would be if people put some of that damned baby shower energy and effort into supporting those of us who can’t have children.
Again, I give you a lot of credit. Any healing you’ve been able to achieve is no doubt hard earned.
I abandoned yoga while in the thick of infertility because of how isolated I felt. My teachers were completely unable to relate and, frankly, I think I scared many of them with my growing grief. It’s because of this that I’m thrilled that you have been certified. I have no doubt that you will help so many with your teaching and your practice. And my hope is you’ll also be part of a much-needed shift in the yoga world, teaching them that grief needs to be addressed.
Congratulations on this milestone. It is a massive accomplishment.
Thanks for your comment Cristy, I have definitely felt a fear of grief from the yoga world. For as beneficial and opening as the practices are, I’ve also noticed that of the people who have really stuck by me and empathized with me through my crisis, only one of them is a yoga practitioner. If anything, I’ve noticed a slightly lower level of connection and compassion from yoga people, though I’m not sure why this is. I do suspect that belief in a just world and an orderly, purposeful universe does play a role though, these belief systems do not, in my experience, tend to breed empathetic capacities.
I have a few more requirements left to go to be officially certified, I’m waiting on my nervous system disorder to heal enough for me to drive on that. I’ll hold your encouragement with me through the rest of my process, no doubt.
From someone that’s in the space of not wanting to do anything & severely lacking in motivation or interest in anything, I can understand the excitement to finally feel a wanting to do something. Also good to see the time it’s take for you, so I don’t go feeling like I should be feeling anything differently to what I’m currently Experiencing!
Awesome if somehow I fostered some acceptance on the time front. I still experience doubt/irritation at “how long it’s taking” and then I revert back to my instincts that know that for me, it could not have been any other way. Though I’m all for fashioning an inspirational Plan B or whatever, sometimes I need to shut that aspect of our community out. Surviving and grieving well are huge accomplishments in and of themselves.
That’s basically what the psychologist I’m seeing said today 😊
“There is no manufacturing our way out.”
Another incredible post. Congratulations on your very important milestone!! I am celebrating with you!
(Also, please consider this comment to be my preregistration for your upcoming yoga workshop. Yeah!)
I took up yoga/yogalates a few years post-infertility & probably took weekly recreational classes through our local community college for the better part of 10 years. The counsellor I saw (who specialized in grief, loss, infertility & couples issues) recommended it for stress relief and relaxation, and I found it really did help! She also recommended the books of Alice Domar to me… if I remember correctly, Domar did studies in which women going through infertility who went to yoga classes, kept journals and attended support groups attained higher pregnancy rates than those who did not. Domar emphasized that yoga did NOT equal baby — only that it would help you to handle the stresses of infertility better. I think that message has gotten lost over time, though…! Anyway, I keep saying that I must get back to a yoga class soon! 😉 & I would love to take one with you someday! Congratulations on getting your certification and everything that has gone along with it!
Thanks! A few more requirements left before certification, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can somehow fulfill them amid the waning symptoms of my nervous system disorder.
Thank goodness SOMEONE emphasized that yoga does not equal baby. That’s a truth that needs to be made loud and clear by so many. And that positive thinking, belief, being at peace with yourself and in your own body, trust in nature and the universe ALSO do not a baby maketh. Ahh, the yoga world can sure be such a hammering place for those of us who have been forced to know differently……
I read this again because I honestly do love it – I’m waiting for my own eureka moment!! It’s so bloody important, it’s about getting your groove back, it’s amazing.
Thanks so much. Fingers crossed.