I got very sick just before Christmas. Maybe you did too. Seems to be the vibe.
The typical cold and flu season we’d come to expect pre-covid is a far-away Utopia compared to this getting-back-to-contact with sanitized immune systems.
I have a child in preschool. Which means we’re a little bit sick on the reg. Is it a biological imperative in support of building immunity that makes four years olds touch, sneeze on and lick everything, do a final pass over their butt holes before snuggling our faces? Perhaps as strong as the biological imperative to find those disgusting little creatures so adorably lovable that we snuggle right back?
My family has clocked more sick days than healthy ones since the sun abandoned us for seasons of drear. When a week before Christmas, I succumbed to the plague I’d just watched my people suffer, I wasn’t that bothered.
Ugh, fine, I thought. More body aches, let’s go!
My ski trip was cancelled, and my well-intended Christmas baking and gift-getting, the cards I pretended I was going to send, all turned to night sweats and awful dreams.
At first, it seemed like I was simply dreaming about relationships no longer. Friendships and colleagues I’ve lost touch with, or who’ve passed. Soon the dreams took an eerie shape of a ghost of Christmas past.
Deep grooves of loss and regret cleaved into my being. Sludge of self-loathing oozed from those grooves, coating my self-sense with utter disorientation. Familiar questions of existential reckoning were stumbling through me like a drunk friend.
What am I even doing with my life? Does my life’s work matter at all?
But with an unfamiliar dark turn. Feelings of failure and disgust became me. Inner accusations festered… Loser. Irrelevant. Pathetic. Delusional.
It surprised me. Scared me.
Honestly, I have a pretty solid self-sense. Like, I like myself. I trust my motivations. I laugh at my own jokes. My heart is massive and leads the way. I bring wisdom, care and some pretty fine skill to my life and life’s work. By the light of day, with a rational mind, I’m good with who and where I am. Joyful and generous.
This wave of darkness revealed something of an invitation. At first, I was like, ummm yeah no, fuck off, I don’t want to attend this party. But every few nights, sleep becomes fitful.
Dread. Anxiety. Angst. Regret. Sweat.
Ghosts return. Death’s long bony finger motions for me to follow.
Now I’m curious. What IS this?
Is it hormones? Middle age? Ego death? Bypassed and unexamined shadow? Am I just a piece of shit and didn’t know and now the truth is revealed?
The most painful part is the regret. The occasional regret I’ve felt in my life has been times when I’ve let people down. When I’ve made missteps or shown neglect that’s hurt others. But when it’s just me with me, we’re good. No regret.
This is different. I’m circling my world like a cringy musical montage in a lifetime movie. I’m taking stock of allllllllllll my choices. And regretting them!!!! Even the ones that have brought me the sweetest blessings. It feels like dismemberment, my arms and legs being ripped from me, a sinister laugh asking with disdain, you thought you’d keep it together?
How’d I get here? Is this it? How disappointing! Why did I do things this way? Look what I missed out on, failed to realize, should have done differently. Look at this life I’ve made, it’s awful….
My life is beautiful. Privileged. I take pause, wondering if I’m trying to convince myself, trying to coat the messy, complicated, and deeply challenging reality of being human with the illusion that it’s all good.
And yet, it’s so good I sometimes feel disgusted with myself for suffering anyway. For wanting more. For feeling like I haven’t done enough, been enough, given enough. For diving heart first into stress cycles. For not being able to inhabit each moment as the total miracle it is. There’s so much to be grateful for, my riches embarrass me.
And yet. Night comes and I’m a monster. I’m beckoned into spaces and places of investigation.
At times, it seems, things come for us. Things we didn’t ask for or want. Things we’ve been diligently trying to keep at bay by creating or controlling our reality. The aspirational selves. The polished masks. The identification with being a good, righteous or evolved person.
I don’t know what this is, but when I turn toward it, I’m home. Writing about it is the flashlight. I’m looking around. What’s here? Humility and shame and grace are the fabric wrapped around this utter nakedness. As I walk deeper in, shining a light on the walls of my being like I’m inside the wet, dark, red meat of an animal, I’m washed with sudden relief.
I’m slumped on the floor, not collapsed, but surrendered. Ideas about myself and my life, about life itself, float away. These ideas are like whisps of smoke, with nothing to hold onto. But this floor? This basement? This meaty hallway of disappointment and grief? It’s dense and surprisingly nourishing. It may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I can be myself here. I can even invite you in.
What do you see in the darkest corners? Where your shadows dance, where your complaints bore you, where your hopes and dreams and potential feel like a cosmic joke? What’s nipping at your self-sense, lurking, ready to pounce when you disengage long enough from the busy work, from the bustle of life’s demands? From who and how you think you should be, faced with who you truly are? Can you love yourself there? I’m learning that I may know how.