I want to talk about joy. Unexpected and unbridled joy.
After Isaac passed I was not worried I would never laugh again, because my husband and my sisters and my girlfriends are hilarious. Humor is a family value and a tribe bylaw. I laugh loud and often and I did early on and I know how precious laughter is.
And I can say that gratitude has been a constant companion since losing Isaac. For the love, people, blessings, and the supreme gift it was to be a mama.
But joy, true joy, eluded me for awhile. In fits and spurts I had authentic laughter, fun even, I had gratitude, I had so much more love than it seems is fair in a weary world, and with a broken heart. And I had resolved myself to the possibility that joy was a thing of the past, that joy was only to be found in a world where a boy named Isaac Julian Ryan-McKinnon lived and thrived. That even my favorite shining season, summer, would become something I muddled my way thru, hoping I could connect, but knowing that I could not truly experience the joy spread through me, as I did before.
But lately I’ve turned a corner. I don’t know if it will last, but I believe, at long last, that it’s ok to say it out loud. Exclaim it: I experience deep joy. It IS different, it is infused with this knowingness that the world is different now, my world is forever altered. Joy now, however, feels deeper– and that has been difficult to say even to myself. But I think it is because it is hard won. Great effort on my part as well as the elevation that is granted to me to heal and be as and where I am affords me a grace to feel joy deeper than I did. Perhaps it is because I don’t take it for granted. When joy comes to me, I savor it. I look it in the eye and I say thank you– you are welcome here, thank you, stay as long as you like, thank you.
I’ve come to understand that after all the reaching and prying open and unearthing and truth telling, that I in fact DO understand Isaac’s pain. I do understand what it feels like to reach a state of hopelessness. It took awhile to remember– to connect to my truth– but I did experience suicidal ideation several summers ago. That is my truth. And when I was there, no one was to blame outright– and no one, not even Isaac, and nothing, not even my love for Isaac, helped me when I was in that head space. Until I asked for help, until I accepted that I would not survive on my own, I lived with a gnawing and ever increasing sense of doom that led me to believe that only death would relieve that pain. And I also lived with a deep shame that I could never say that out loud.
Part of the joy I now feel is in naming it. Naming that I am a human being who has struggled to be stable, afraid of being known as crazy, or even just sad. Naming that even with the best effort I could make to spare my child from knowing or seeing this, that he was not unscathed by my chronic depression, genetically or experientially. For so long I have carried the weight of blaming myself, for my depression. After losing Isaac that blame shame cycle deepened, despite learning, while I was “sick”, that the voice of depression tells us we are wrong/bad/etc. Even after losing Isaac, I have felt squeamish about mental health; mine, Isaac’s, everyone else’s. I have had to work hard to find compassion for it even as I have had to allow space for it.
This spring I became unwell, physically and emotionally, from ignoring and suppressing and trying to outrun goodness AND fear. I kept making myself busier and winding myself up because I could not sit with the aching heaviness. My wake up call was probably vanity; a rash that covered my upper body and especially my face that made me feel ugly and uncomfortable– I was literally crawling out of my skin. I had to stop everything I was “doing” and begin to start being. It is not fun. I had to stop working and start WORKING. I prayed so much. I prayed for peace. I prayed for self love. I prayed for patience from myself and those who love me. I had to ask for help. I had to say “UNCLE!”. I had to disappoint others by being true to myself. I had to let go of the idea that I’ve had enough of the arduousness of surviving. I had to tell the truth– to myself first and foremost and slowly, to others. Bosses, clients, my husband, my friends and family. I had to get real. I had to name it. And I had to stop telling myself to fake it til ya make it. Because, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that shit– that message– that idea is bunk. Atleast from ground zero. You cannot sustain mental emotional spiritual or physical health by faking it. You can’t. Atleast, I can’t. And now I won’t. No matter what, I have realized that I cannot believe that age old adage will ever serve my truth, will ever lead me to joy or even peace.
I’m not done figuring this out. My body and my mind are for perhaps the first time on the same page. I am starting over. I am learning how to lean in to my truth no matter what or who or how long or when or where it takes me. And sometimes I recede back into pleasing or appeasing others. But now there is an immediate message/alert from my inner fire that I cannot ignore. I have to step back, reassess, proceed intentionally– I have to say “no” I have to say “I’m sorry I thought I could but I can’t”. I have to say “I’m anxious. I’m sad. I’m scared. I’m uncertain. I’m lost. I’m feeling unstable. I’m feeling unreliable. Im feeling overwhelmed. I’m feeling spacey. I’m feeling untethered. I’m feeling quiet. I’m feeling shitty. I’m feeling angry. I’m feeling whiney”.
On the other hand, when I listen, I experience freedom. My bodysoulmind reciprocates with deep joy. My service to others feels more authentic and heart centered. My relationship with my body and my mind improves and I experience liberation from the shackles of shame blame pain. My relationships feel more grounded. My love feels more nurturing. My heart can accept all the love and prayers from others and I feel worthy. My truth feels like my truest friend.
I have always loved my birthday since I was a child. Only Isaacs was more sacred to me. But I have always made it a week long celebration. This year it was a month. I needed to connect to the part of myself that feels joy as I began to embrace a new decade. I planned a party and an entire weekend of love and friendship, a week before my birthday. As it drew nearer I began to fear it was too much; for my brain and for my health. After the party I still had another week of joy before the big day. I started to feel silly for putting so much energy into myself, and asking others to join. But others joined. I started to doubt I deserved so much love and attention. I started to recoil and turn inward. Each time, I decided instead to just allow myself to feel immersed in the healing balm of love, to surrender to its potency; from others, from myself. I decided to see what it might feel like to just embrace unfiltered and unedited joy.
And because of this I can say, forever, that whether or not I deserve it, I am privileged and grateful and joyful. I begin this new life I’m building with a deeper compassion for myself and others. And that, dear reader, is all that and a bag of chips. My cup runneth over, inspite of myself.
Joyful Girl by Ani DiFranco
i do it for the joy it brings
because i’m a joyful girl
because the world owes me nothing
and we owe each other the world
i do it because it’s the least i can do
i do it because i learned it from you
i do it just because i want to
because I want to
everything i do is judged
and they mostly get it wrong
but oh well
‘cuz the bathroom mirror has not budged
and the woman who lives there can tell
the truth from the stuff that they say
and she looks me in the eye
and says would you prefer the easy way?
no, well o.k. then
and i wonder if everything i do
i do instead
of something i want to do more
the question fills my head
i know that there’s no grand plan here
this is just the way it goes
and when everything else seems unclear
i guess at least i know
i do it for the joy it brings…