It’s been a strange week.
I had planned a trip back to my ancestral homeland of Lansing, Michigan to visit my sister’s family and their newborn baby.
It was going to be just my two-year-old and I – a chance to go on an adventure with him alone, for him to soak up grandparent love and connect with his cousins, independent of his wonderful, confident, boisterous older brother.
But two days before our flight, I started coming down sick, and though I drank tea, emergen-c, lots of water – the morning of our flight, the fog descended.
At the same time, a snowstorm descended onto Michigan, and (long story short) our flight was canceled. So instead of dragging my sick body through the airport with an excited toddler, I was home, unpacking my bags and feeling sad and sorry for myself.
Because you see, what had also descended was (buckle up, gentlemen) MY PERIOD which has a way of amplifying my negative feelings until they are the world and the world is my bad mood.
For most of my life, I have thought of this as a bad thing. PMS sucks! Don’t make decisions! Don’t try to communicate! Hide away and cry!
Well, that’s what I did. I went to bed and slept for two days, shuffling around drinking tea and feeling like the world was ending. OH THE HORROR of my bad, bad cold.
Then I started to feel the fog lifting, and started to ask myself that essential question when you’re coming out of a fog: WTF just happened?!
It feels like I spent the last week in a strange Underworld, a topsy turvy world full of despair and darkness, that is 99% my imagination.
Which sucks, yes. But one reason I’m not a fan of positive thinking is that, as hard as it is to be in the underworld — for me, those dark times are also a source of power.
The best way I can explain it is to go back to my biggest baddest experience in the Underworld thus far in life: the two times I’ve given birth.
Six years ago I went into my first childbirth clownishly optimistic. I remember crowing at a party, seven months pregnant, that I didn’t think it was going to be that hard. I was half joking, but the other half believed that somehow I possessed a superpower — that deep down, maybe every woman who said it was painful was kind of exaggerating.
Ahhhh sweet justice. Sweet 44 hours of labor karma.
If I could sum up my experience giving birth in one word, it would be HUMBLING.
I went in feeling like a superhero, and the universe quickly showed me how truly, painfully mortal I was. I wrote a song afterwards about it called Mother Nature Doesn’t Love You. I was utterly schooled by my body, whipped around, tricked, tested, pushed to the brink and beyond. In the aftermath I was holding a tiny vulnerable human in my arms and overwhelmed by my own vulnerability, unsure, undone, a total mess.
Paradoxically, I was more IN my body than I’d ever been, aligned with it, listening to it. I didn’t have time to waste judging myself. I had to trust my body. Like a buddy cop movie, we had to learn how to work together if we were going to survive.
My second birth was totally different from the first – but equally humbling. (I wrote about preparing for it here. And about my artist residency in motherhood that followed).
The word that comes to mind is DISORIENTED. It happened so fast that my mind couldn’t catch up to my body and I was utterly lost, confused, my navigation tools spinning. I remember laying on my back with an oxygen mask on my face, weeping from sheer confusion, sheer lack of control, and in less than an hour my second son was born. It was easy in a way, and yet I felt so lost.
We don’t think of these as powerful words. And yet, growing into my own power has been deeply linked to these states.
Out of that disorientation, from a place of humility, I learned to listen to my inner voice.
To give over to chaos.
To cry – to howl – to ask for what I need.
To want what I want, to like what I like no matter how ridiculous it is.
To let myself be inconsistent. To let myself change, to want one thing one minute and the opposite the next.
To find relief where I can.
To find my way by fumbling and following the tiniest of clues, the tiniest slivers of light, the tiniest hint of an instinct.
This is what my birth experiences taught me, and why each time I get my period and return for several days to that state of darkness and loss, I know – even as I’m aching and confused, even as I don’t feel clear about the way – that feeling humbled and disoriented is a great gift. Because I can re-experience the tiny steps that re-orient me and connect me to other people – I can remember again that these tiny steps MATTER.
Tiny steps like taking a nap, drinking good tea, drinking water, listening to music that makes me cry (so cathartic), having a conversation. Looking for the tiniest of connections.
If you are in a state of disorientation and overwhelm, you can look around for tiny connections too, tiny ways you are supported.
If there are no people around, connect with the animals – is there a squirrel outside chattering in annoyance? Are they trying to tell you something?
If no animals, connect with the objects and pretend they’re alive. That’s what my six year old does! He’d rather play with real live friends but in the absence of humans, he’ll pick up a LEGO figure and get lost in rich, complicated adventures.
This may sound silly, and when you’re in a dark place, it can sound dismissive to say, hey just pick up a LEGO figure and pretend it’s your friend!
And yet it is in our times of darkness that we need silliness. When the troll voices roll like thunder in our heads and we give over to them – when the forces of patriarchy feel like they are crushing us – when the future looms and the bills are pilling up and it feels like we’re at the bottom of a deep dark hole…
… it is the tiny, silly, ridiculous things that pull us out. That get us connecting to the world. That get us the care we need, and get us caring for others in return.
Tiny things are deeply important. Like a tiny sip of nourishing bone broth, or a tiny glimpse of the ocean which reminds you to take a tiny breath – these are the ways we take care of ourselves.
Hugging a stuffed animal and whispering, I love you.
Picking up some playdoh and making a little blue figure and patting her head.
Drawing a monster and coloring her hair a wild orange.
Listening to the song that always makes you cry and letting yourself cry.
Saying out loud, I need a hug, and letting your six year old give you a hug.
Those tiny steps matter.
Thank you for listening, friends. I am feeling a little silly writing to you from this vulnerable place and yet, I will listen to my own tiny voice, and trust that this tiny connection is important.
Note: I swear to the goddess I do not plan this, but every year around this time I write a post about vulnerability and sickness and poop and getting lost in the fog. ‘It’s the season my friends!
November 2018: Stretching Season (aka the life changing magic of stepping in poop)
November 2017: Bragging about the mess