“A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us.” ~ Pema Chödrön
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” ~ Joseph Campbell
It’s December 31st and I have decided on but one aspiration for the New Year: to see difficult feelings and situations as opportunities to learn about myself and go beyond my comfort zone; in other words, to grow.
It’s easier to stay in the comfort zone and distract myself with projects and leisure activities, and yet I know that staying in the comfort zone of distractions and self-delusion contributes to a sense of complacency, of doing the same things again and again and expecting different results (the definition of insanity for some people).
No matter how much I might wish for things to be otherwise, there will always be challenges in my life. I will give birth to a baby boy in 2012. There’s no easy way to deliver a baby or to adjust to being a new parent. And pregnancy has not been easy since I’ve had symphysis pubis dysfunction and restless leg syndrome among other pregnancy-related ailments.
For many women, pregnancy is the first major physical challenge they face in their lives. For me, pregnancy is the first major physical challenge that I willingly chose to undergo. After years of living with chronic illness and pain, I have developed a “toolbox” of coping strategies, learned to navigate medical systems, and learned to advocate for myself. I know where to find credible medical information on the Internet. I know how to make sense of contradictory medical opinions. And I know how to take care of myself when I feel like crap. So I’m applying what I learned from living with Crohn’s colitis and chronic pain, but pregnancy still challenges me.
For the first time, it really hits home that it is not just my body that I have to consider. The soft kicks and punches of the baby in my belly remind me many times a day that everything I do can have an effect on him. It’s no longer just about me. Yes, I know, such is the path of becoming a parent. After spending years learning the art of taking care of myself, I am faced with the challenge of learning how to take care of another and myself. And I definitely can not avoid that challenge!
Many parents-to-be do not have to face the ghosts of medical trauma during their initiations into parenthood. Perhaps many of them have endured other kinds of trauma–sexual assault, physical abuse as children, the loss of loved one–and I imagine that these kinds of trauma could have a similar kind of impact. The experience of almost dying, being a victim, or experiencing a great loss is unforgettable (to at least some part of our minds). I believe that such trauma “haunts” the unconscious mind and sometimes gives rise to intrusive thoughts and fears.
It’s easier to wish intrusive thoughts and fears away than to accept them as challenges. It’s easier to numb ourselves with food, television, Facebook, and news than to be honest with ourselves about how they affect us. It’s easier to hide our neuroticism from others than to ask for help.
I’m tired of running, numbing, and hiding. And I know that to continue to do so could have negative consequences for my son-to-be.
Anxiety is a powerful reminder that we have room to grow. Every anxious thought that comes up is a challenge to see what is beyond the comfort zone of self-delusion. With kindness and compassion as my guides, I know that I can safely venture into the largely unexplored terrain of my personal “shadow” and shine some light on the places that still haunt me, remembering all along that they are just memories of times gone by.
2012, I’m ready to accept these challenges. It’s now or never.