This weekend I was catching up with my mother over the phone. After telling me about her painting class, how she has started swimming again, and the new restaurant she tried, she turned the conversation to me. She asked me how things at work were going and if we had moved into the new studio yet. I began detailing the various roadblocks we had come up against to which she said, “Oh, so you are exhausted and depressed?” Moms always know, huh?
I hate to admit that I am the kind of person who subscribes to strong, silent type ideals. I carry difficult things inside me and maintain a high level of privacy. I rarely share deep details of my life with my coworkers, clients, even friends. My mom knows this about me and knows that when my life is out of balance I tend to sleep more, talk less, and cry only when alone.
My mother calling me out on my silent struggle reminded me of a beautiful sentiment that comes from the legendary Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers taught us that “feelings are mentionable and they are manageable.” This inspired me to share a few personal struggles that I rarely talk about as an effort to better manage how I feel.
1- My father’s dementia. I talk about my dad a lot. I share with people how my dad was a basketball coach who truly believed that defense wins championships. I share that I come by my love of athleisure wear honestly because my dad loves nothing more than a good pair of sweatpants. I share how growing up with a federal pretrial officer for a dad kept me on the straight and narrow. But those are all memories of my father. In the here and now my father is very sick. The onset of his dementia hit my family hard. None of us were prepared to deal with the rapid decline of his mental health, and we certainly weren’t prepared for it to happen when he was in his early sixties. There are days when the thought that if I ever have children they will not know their grandfather creeps into my mind. It breaks my heart. Sometimes I am so overcome with emotions that I can’t breathe.
2- My mother’s breast cancer. In the last year my mother was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer. Although she was fortunate in that she only needed the mass removed and not the entire breast, her treatment has not been an easy road. Our entire family is very fair and has sensitive skin. The radiation burned her so badly that wearing almost any clothing was unbearable. The best way I could think to help was buying her some silky bras. I felt a mix of worry for myself and what this could mean in my future (damn you, genetics) and fear that our family could lose my father’s caretaker. Then I would feel guilt that my initial reactions were so selfish. My mom was tired but fighting and doing so without the presence of three of her children (two still live in the state and are much better children to my parents than myself).
3- My feelings of inadequacy and failure. Nearly every day I wonder if I made a mistake leaving my previous profession for managing a yoga studio. Nearly every day I wonder if teaching yoga is actually what I should be doing. Over the last four months, as we have planned for and started to move the studio, I have felt like I am consistently dropping the ball. There is always something I didn’t anticipate. There is always some snag, some detail, some something that I overlooked. I begin to think about the clients that I am letting down. I think about my bosses, whose business I have been entrusted with steering, and how I am not carrying enough weight for them. I think about everyone who relies on me and how I have failed them because we are not in the new studio yet. And then either I shut down or I lash out.
You know who else was a fan of the strong and silent type? Tony Soprano. I would much rather be a Fred Rogers than a Tony Soprano (I know that one is real and one is not but you catch my drift). We cannot manage the feelings that we do not acknowledge. Strong emotions and intense feelings carry a vast amount of energy. Yoga teaches us that being present to this energy, learning how to practice with it, brings us to a deeper understanding. My mother offered a kind reminder to me that I cannot bury the difficult inside me. It will surface in another form. So instead I will try to practice being present to what is honest and true in my life. I will practice acknowledging and mentioning my feelings to manage them through my practice.