It seems my thoughts and feelings about my Mom's death prefer to express themselves in the form of poetry, something I haven't written much of since my teens. I'll be playing a card game with the kids, or trying to fall asleep at night, when suddenly words come flowing into my head. I stop what I am doing to grab my journal (I have many; the one titled "Life is a Journey, not a Destination" feels fitting for poetry) and let the words flow to paper.
I've asked myself many times why I even bother posting my thoughts. The answer is an honest "I don't know", but I decide to let intuition guide me and not worry about who is going to read it, and whether it will mean anything to anyone. It means something to me.
Originally written on April 14, 2017:
I've asked myself a million times
Why her? Why now? Why this?
She still had so much life left to live
So much love left to give
The question swirls in my mind, my heart, my soul
It just swirls, and swirls, and swirls
Until I see that there is no answer why
My dear Mom had to die
Why her? Why now? Why this?
It simply just is.
The answers hurts my mind, my heart, my soul
But also helps me work on letting go, and go, and go
I love you so, so much Mom.
Reading time: 3 minutes
Harmony is beautiful! Life balance is achievable!
Or so I always thought.
The ‘Wheel of Life” is a practical self assessment tool often used in coaching to help us determine which areas of our life are flourishing and which need more attention. The Wheel of Life suggests there are 8 common elements that need to be nurtured in order for us to feel content in life. There are many variations on the Wheel of Life, but most include health, family, personal growth, finances, career, relationships, social life and some combination of spiritual, mental and emotional well-being.
The significance and relative importance of each factor varies by individual, heavily influenced by how we have been nurtured as children. I used to think that finding the perfect balance of these elements was a journey with a final destination, a goal to be reached and maintained.
As if once I had that magic "life balance formula" figured out, I could just keep it going like a well-oiled machine of happiness.
Maybe if I really mastered the perfect mix, it would be a clear path to enlightenment, where unicorns slid down rainbows to wake me up to each blissful morning. I even had the idea to determine what this magic formula was for me, and then to write a book about how you too could calculate your ideal balance between the 10 elements.
Then I got distracted with moving my husband, 2 cats, 2 kids and a household of belongings halfway across the world from one continent to another. The time and motivation to develop formulas and write a book fell to the wayside. I felt frustrated that life felt so out of balance once again.
I couldn’t understand why some days everything seemed to flow beautifully and other days were such a struggle.
I became convinced it was my lack of ability to be consistent in nurturing each of these elements in life, and that I just needed to put more focus on it. Whenever I hit a streak of harmony where there was a really positive atmosphere at home, I felt like I'd finally "gotten it". And then I was inevitably frustrated and disappointed in myself when that harmony faded as quickly as it came, each and every time.
But in the midst of settling into my new home and guiding my kids and family through the transition, I realized something that felt pretty groundbreaking to me. I realized there was a pattern that not only I kept following, but also my friends and family near and far.
I became more open about sharing my own trials and tribulations, and this opened the doors for others to step away from their picture perfect social media lives and show me their vulnerable sides too.
Time and again, they failed to maintain any sort of consistency in balancing what was important to them, just like I did. We went through phases of feeling like life is beautiful and that perhaps we had finally figured out the key to health and happiness. We ate healthy, had fulfilling relationships, thriving careers, stable emotions.
Until things undoubtedly – every time – changed. And then we would suddenly find ourselves in phases of struggle and stress, feeling like everything was falling apart at once. “When it rains, it pours” had been a theme of many conversations.
And we all went through times where it wasn’t pouring, but we experienced ups and downs all in a day's work. So many of us failed to see that while life as a whole might have seemed out of balance, the whole didn't matter so much as the moments did. There were moments of happiness and harmony to cherish, moments of sadness or fear to feel and move past, and it was perfectly normal if they all happened on the same day.
What I learned from listening to others and observing my own experience from a detached perspective is that life is not about finding a constant static state of contentment. Or of harmony. Or of balance.
Life is constantly changing by nature.
The broader picture of life, of birth, growth, decline and death, is happening on a micro scale in our experiences every single day. When we are conscious of that change in motion and embrace it, we suffer less. We can feel less attached to the emotions of the moment, feeling them but not getting dragged down by fear or sadness, or hanging on to joy too tightly.
It is the attachment that creates the suffering, while detachment creates freedom and facilitates the ability to handle change without suffering. During difficult moments we can gain comfort that we will have joyful moments too. During joyful moments, we can allow ourselves to be fully present and enjoy it with gratitude, rather than hanging on to the false belief that this moment will last forever, only to feel disappointment and despair when it doesn’t.
All of those years I had been trying to change the balance of those 8 elements, to essentially change my external environment to find balance. When really what needed to change was my attitude towards life balance, my expectations about achieving a constant state of harmony.
Change is the only constant in life. And now I realise just how beautiful that is.
Reading time: 2 minutes
Have you ever felt listened to, I mean really felt you were heard? How often does it happen? Especially in my early parenting days, I often felt alone and overwhelmed. While I had good friends, they were all in the same boat as me. When we would meet, we were always with our babies and toddlers in tow, so our conversations were interrupted and disjointed. Occasionally we would meet for ladies nights, which were great fun and good stress relief, but they weren’t the right forum for getting deep into the issues I struggled with every day.
So I did what many of the moms I knew ended up doing. I focused on surviving each day, perhaps with the help of a glass of wine during the witching hour! At the same time, I scoured the internet and books for tips and tricks to get through each day with a little more grace. When I stumbled upon Hand in Hand Parenting, a lot of their articles and tools resonated with me. They weren’t quick behavioural fixes, but offered tactics for building deeper relationships with my kids and feeling more supported in my various roles as Mom, wife, daughter, etc.
I have tried so many tactics over the years, and Hand in Hand’s are the ones that I find my kids respond to best and that leave me feeling the most competent as a mother. What’s very different from other approaches is that Hand in Hand encourages parents to find another parent to partner up with and listen to each other, allowing each person time to vent before things build up inside and become overwhelming or unmanageable. Being truly listened to, in confidence with another parent, was such a novel and helpful life tool!
I am still in the process of learning to listen to my children and to communicate with my partner in a way that we listen to each other and resolve issues peacefully. As with most big changes, it takes times, but seeing progress is so encouraging. I am so encouraged by this approach that I want to share it with other parents. I want to not only feel supported myself, but to help other parents feel that way too.
I am grateful to have gotten to know Kate Orson, another expat in Switzerland who also happens to be a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor and author of the book “Tears Heal: How to Listen to Our Children”. Kate and I would like to build a parenting support community with regular meetups that are guided through a series of workshops. Each workshop will focus on a hot parenting topic. The first workshop will focus on how to deal with our children’s big emotions while at the same time taking care of our own needs. She will offer tools to use with your children and introduce you to listening partnerships.
If this speaks to you, see the event details and contact for me with any questions. If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading and I really hope to meet you in Jan!
Reading time: 5 minutes
It's been a long road to where I am today, but one for which I'm very thankful.
I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada and, while my heart calls that home, I've spent just as much of my life living outside of Vancouver as I did living there.
My parents taught me from a very young age how to live an intentional life by working very hard to create their own destiny.
In my own attempt to create the life I wanted, at 19 years old I started traveling the world, living in London (eastern Canada), Bermuda, Amsterdam, Zurich (2000 to 2006, and again since June 2014), Atlanta, New York City, and Chicago.
My nomadic experiences taught me a lot about finding happiness in new and exciting (albeit challenging) experiences, but very little about seeking happiness from within.
In 2008 it seemed like I had it all.
I was at the height of my career earning a generous 6-figure income working on a financial markets trading floor in Manhattan. My husband, C, and I had a beautiful apartment with the perfect Manhattan skyline view. My parents, whom we were very close to, lived part-time in the same building as us. C was delving into the entrepreneurial world with an exciting startup business.
We took annual vacations to St.Martin and Florida (often with my parents), and I was fortunate to visit my friends and family in Vancouver and Zurich regularly. Many dear friends and family members passed through our apartment as they visited NYC. After years of practicing yoga, I had organically transitioned from the physical practice into the more holistic, guided by a few inspirational yoga teachers at my favorite studio in Long Island City.
Everything was flowing beautifully.
AND THEN. And then the financial markets crashed. And then the funding for the startup business got pulled. And then we lost all of our investment funds, or had them tied up in a failing market.
We suddenly found ourselves on one income, with our NYC living costs based on two, our savings were dry and I was pregnant with our first child. For a person educated in financial matters, I had made some pretty poor financial planning decisions.
We had to redesign our lives to fit into our new environment.
It was an extremely stressful time that I wouldn't wish on anyone. When our son, Cale, was 7 weeks old and I was on maternity leave, we moved to Chicago for a job opportunity my husband had. A few months turned into 5 years.
At first, it was isolating and challenging having a newborn and living in a place where I didn't know a soul. I was lonely and, if I’m honest, a little bored. I was very fortunate to find a mom & baby yoga class near me and started going weekly. I got out of the house, met other new moms, and started feeling less alone. I surprised myself with how much I loved being a Mom dealing with baby poop instead of the adult shit that goes on in the ego-driven financial world.
After 6 months of mat leave, I returned to work part-time at home and started feeling the weight of all the recent life changes lift. Life returned to a new normal.
I unexpectedly got pregnant with my second child when my first was 13 months old. Despite the stresses of our situation, my first pregnancy was the most profound and beautiful physical experience I'd ever had. I felt energetic, beautiful and bonded to my growing belly, to a point that near the end of my pregnancy I was quite sad it would soon come to an end.
I loved my belly and all the hope of what was inside.
I continued with my regular vinyasa yoga practice until the day before Cale was born, as well as with a gentle prenatal class that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
In contrast, my second pregnancy started with terrible morning sickness, which meant too many mornings were spent lying on the playroom floor trying to muster up the energy to engage with my toddler. I experienced deep feelings of sadness that I would no longer get precious one-on-one time with Cale, and regret that I was about to turn his world as he knew it upside down.
My saving grace was my prenatal yoga class where I got 60 minutes a week to focus on the baby growing inside of me.
I had to have a scheduled c-section with both kids, due to previous abdominal surgery that was needed to remove invasive fibroids. C-section was the polar opposite of the home birth I held in my dreams. I eventually accepted that this was the safest option for baby and I, but what I didn't expect was just how difficult the recovery would be after my daughter, Noelle, was born.
I suffered in pain for 4 weeks due to an undiagnosed internal infection (from the cesarean) that I had to fight to get properly diagnosed and treated. Because of this, I wasn't able to carry Cale and could barely play with him.
The guilt and sadness felt like an insurmountable mountain.
I was fortunate to have help from my husband, Mom and mother-in-law for the first 6 weeks, but my Mom left telling me "I don't know how you're going to manage this". And I didn't know either.
I didn't recognize it at the time, but I started falling into a postpartum depression. I was overwhelmed with responsibility. I cried throughout the day. I felt helpless. Alone. Unable to do the simplest things. Getting both kids in the car felt like running a marathon.
So when I got a call 4 months postpartum for an attractive project management contract working 60%, my husband encouraged me to interview.
I jumped at the opportunity to work outside the home.
The opportunity to escape the madness of life with a newborn and toddler.
To escape from feeling like I couldn't do anything right.
To escape from the constant physical and emotional demands of these two beautiful children who were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing.
It turns out a working mother can't just check out of motherhood Monday to Friday, and check in on the weekends.
I had managed to trade in the guilt of being a terrible mother at home, for the guilt of a working mother who is paying someone else to raise her kids while she works. I had traded in the stress of meeting the demands of 2 little ones for the stress of meeting project deadlines and running client workshops while in a sleep-deprived state.
I felt like an imposter in this financial world of men talking about things I no longer had any interest in, like I was now pretending to be the businesswoman I had always identified myself with. I was exhausted by working intensely all day, coming home to put the kids to bed, working again in the evening, and then getting only a few hours of interrupted sleep during the night.
I was maxed out and was officially diagnosed with postpartum depression.
While I considered taking anti-depressive medication, I feared it would mask my symptoms and prevent me from getting to the root of my problems. I wanted to address whatever was wrong with me in a way that prevented myself, and my family, from ever being in this position again. I mentally put the medication option in my back pocket to reconsider in the future if needed.
Instead I started therapy, sought health advice from a Naturopath and revived my journaling. I focused on sleeping more, eating better and took an 8-week meditation course. I read loads of books on parenting, on self-discovery, and on getting things done more effectively. I accidentally found a spiritual guide who helped me question and solidify my core beliefs.
I took my baby to mom&baby yoga and met some amazing women who helped me see the light through my dark times. I met some women for a reason, some for a season and one kindred spirit who will surely be with me for a lifetime.
It felt good to know I wasn't the only one struggling, to know that I wasn't alone.
With all the professionals I sought advice from, the best advice I received was from my Mom. "Start yoga again - for yourself and not with the kids", she advised. And I did. I found an amazing studio with a beautiful teacher who weaved in bits of wisdom throughout her class. It felt like group therapy. I stayed after class a few times to talk to her and inevitably ended up in tears. But it still felt good and I kept going.
I ended up deciding that one of my 2 gigs had to go.
Since I couldn't give up the parenting gig, I quit my paying job. I wanted to focus on one major thing, and doing that thing well.
It's been close to 4 years since I made the decision to be a stay-at-home-mom and I haven't once regretted it. The days are most definitely long while the years are short. But I've loved being with my kids and I largely attribute my yoga practice, both the physical and spiritual, to my newfound perspective on life.
Life still keeps throwing curveballs, but I am so grateful that my journey through PPD equipped me with tools to better handle life's challenges.
One day, in the middle of yoga class, I had the crazy idea to become a yoga teacher and to really start living what I love. It has taken a lot of patience and perseverance, but I am finally at the point where I am ready to help others as they navigate life's ups and downs. I want to create a space for moms to feel supported in a community, uplifted physically and emotionally, and inspired in their quest for being the best version of themselves.
I know my story is not entirely unique. I know every mom struggles from time to time, or even all the time. If you can relate, I would love to hear your story too. Let's support each other through the darkness by being each others light .
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Michelle Borner, a mom on 23 missions, blogs about her Deep Thoughts on a wide range of topics from parenting to conscious living to lessons from brain cancer.
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