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lindsey mead

Guest Posts, parenting

Loneliness. By Lindsey Mead

March 22, 2014

Loneliness by Lindsey Mead.

It has been an enormous privilege to have my piece, 10 Things I Want my Daughter to Know, read by people far and wide.  It has also been interesting to see which points seem to most resonate.  It is #10 that draws the strongest reaction, and criticism, and I think rightfully so.  I stand by my point but absolutely agree I ought to have said it differently.

I was frankly more surprised by the strong reaction to #9, which cautioned Grace against trying to fill “a gnawing loneliness … inherited from me.  That feeling, Woolf’s ‘emptiness about the heart of life,’ is just part of the deal.”  Over and over again, people told me I was missing something essential, diagnosed me with depression, or chided me for having a desperately bleak outlook on life.  But the thing is, I didn’t think I was saying anything particularly inflammatory.  I thought everybody felt this vague loneliness at the center of their experience, this unnamed, ineffable emotion that waxes and wanes depending on the day, week, or hour.

There’s no question this is true of me.  The fact that I assumed this feeling was universal tells you how inextricable it is from my daily experience.  There’s something inside me, deep, inarticulate, but powerful, and I can’t control it any more than I can adequately convey the degree to which it shapes my life.  This truth, however, doesn’t make a sad person.  I could, and would, argue that it allows me to feel profound joy.

While I recognize that we are all tuned into this feeling of loneliness to various degrees, I still think it is part of what makes us human and that it exists in each of us.  Furthermore, I think that much of our addictive or distracted behavior (food, relationships, drinking, drugs, obsessive iphone-checking, you name it) is an effort to avoid awareness of this echoing emptiness.  Or this darkness at the heart of life.  Or this inexplicable awareness of something sorrowful that we can’t evade.  Even as I write this I think: I’m going to get more comments about how depressed I am.  And believe me, I’m not.  But there is a seam of sadness that’s stitched through my life, some hollowness that underlies everything, that ebbs and flows through my consciousness.  What I know now is that when I make an effort to really be here now, and to stop my frantic distractedness, that buried loneliness rises up.

Have you ever felt like the universe was talking to you?  That experience when random, disconnected sources come together to form an undeniable chorus?  And sometimes that chorus makes you feel less crazy and less alone?  Well, I have.  It’s how I connected Dr. Seuss with Mark Doty a while ago.  The reason this particular topic, the loneliness that lies under all of life, is in my head, is because of Louis C.K., Caroline Knapp, and Hafiz.

Louis C.K.’s much-shared explanation of why his children won’t get a smartphone, which I watched several times, contained these sentences, which made me gasp:

That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty.

Yes.  It’s through sitting with the emptiness, eschewing the behaviors that numb us to the darkness at the core of this life, that we learn to be human.  I could not believe this more.

It was in Caroline Knapp’s beautiful collection of essays, The Merry Recluse (thank you, Lacy) that I read her piece titled Loneliness.  Short and powerful, it made me stop, cry, underline, and re-read.

…sometimes I think I was born with it, born with a particularly acute sense of myself as apart from the world, as somehow different or lacking.

…the loneliness of my experience tends to be immune from reality, from circumstance or logic; it lies within me, a small, persistent demon that stirs in my quietest moments, during unplanned evenings, on Sunday mornings.  It is a sense of void.

Yes.  Just: yes.  I too have a small, persistent demon.  It exists in my chest and often functions as a glass wall between me and my own life.  I watch, nose pressed up against the invisible barrier, always feeling removed.  No matter how I shift and agitate, I cannot escape the painful reality of life’s impermanence.  The fact that even as I live a moment it’s gone.  The fact that no matter how much I grasp onto a particular season of life, photograph it, write about it, inhabit it, it slips through my fingers.

What’s new to me, at least in the last few years, is that this loneliness can be as valuable as it is undeniable and inescapable.  Hafiz writes:

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you as few
human or even divine ingredients can. 

I can’t get away from this darkness at the heart of my experience, but maybe it also makes me who I am.  Perhaps I am learning from and shaped by it in ways I can’t yet articulate.  There is such liberation in this thought.  This emptiness, it echoes, but it also informs the way I see this world that I so dearly love.

It’s the same emptiness that both Caroline Knapp and Louis C.K. describe.  It’s the same gnawing loneliness that I referred to in my 10 Things.  And I thought everybody had it.  The reactions made me question that, but I’ve come to the conclusion that we all do, it’s just a question of how much we feel it.  For me at least, the answer is a lot, and often.

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Lindsey Mead is a mother and writer who lives outside of Boston with her husband and two children.  Her writing has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and online sources, including the Huffington Post, Literary Mama, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and Brain, Child.  She blogs regularly at A Design So Vast and loves connecting with people on twitter and facebook.

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Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane and the founder of The Manifest-Station.  She’s leading a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and over New Years 2015. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Costa Rica followed by Dallas, Seattle and London. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Guest Posts, healing, motherhood

The Rocky Path To Grace.

January 22, 2014

                                                       By Lindsey Mead 
I have so few memories of the first weeks after Grace’s birth. It’s fascinating the way the mind recovers and copes, isn’t it? My memory has smoothed over those weeks of tears and panic like the airbrush facility in photoshop: the pain is still there, I can’t forget it, but its pointy, prickly granularity is sanded down to a more general, uniform memory. So I strive to remember specific moments, but I mostly can describe the overall experience. In my letter to my friend, I referred to the crucible of bewilderment, fear, and wonder known as postpartum depression, and I still think that’s a pretty good summary.

What do I remember about those first days and weeks?  I remember a blur of tears, darkness, crying, and most of all a visceral, frantic sense that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. This fear was powerful enough to almost topple me: the panic that I had ruined my life was layered with the guilt for having those feelings in the first place in an incredibly toxic cocktail. I remember walking one raw, early-November afternoon, Grace strapped to my chest in the baby Bjorn, my hand almost freezing off as I held a phone to my ear (one of very few phone calls in those days) and cried to a poor, unsuspecting friend who was expecting a joyful new mother. I remember sitting in the rocking chair in my kitchen, a week-old Grace asleep on my knees, wondering numbly why it was that my doula (there for her postpartum visit) was looking at me so oddly, why she kept urging me to call my midwives, why she took Matt into the other room and whispered something to him.

It all came crashing down at my 2 week midwife check-up. I am still horrified that most women have to wait until 6 weeks for their own appointments after giving birth, and am intensely grateful that my midwifery practice mandated this 2 week appointment. I sat across from the midwife, Grace asleep in her bucket carseat, and dissolved into tears. I remember crying with those all-encompassing sobs that make you feel like you are drowning. I could barely breathe. I was not allowed to leave until the end of the day, at which point I left with prescriptions and therapist appointment cards clutched in my hands and a dawning sense that I was truly not okay.

I have heard many funny stories of how control-fanatic women like myself struggled to adapt to motherhood. I always laugh, but the truth is that my reality was different. I crashed off the cliff of depression so quickly and so utterly that I was not even trying for control (for the first time in my life?). I didn’t even care, which was for me much scarier. I just sat there and cried. I think the fact of my surprise pregnancy contained within it the seeds of my PPD: I had never been in control of this, not from the very beginning. I, who have been able to muscle my way through basically any challenge (mostly because I was good at only selecting those challenges that I could conquer), was completely undone by this 7 pound, 12 ounce baby, and it devastated me.

My body fell apart as rapidly as did my mind: within 2 weeks I was 10 pounds thinner than I had been pre-pregnancy. I did not sleep, I did not eat, I did not smile. I looked like a cadaver, with deep circles under eyes that would not stop crying. I would not talk to anyone; the phone rang and rang and I refused to pick it up. Now I see I was recoiling into the deepest recesses of my body and spirit, trying to physically hide, to pretend somehow that this was not happening.

I tried reasoning with myself. I had had the unmedicated delivery I wanted so desperately, despite it being long and arduous. How could I have survived that experience, whose pain was fresh and blinding, and not be able to bear this? I had delivered a daughter, the gender of child that I’d never even allowed myself to admit how much I wanted. How could I not be grateful? In the face of such a thick, inarticulate fog of despair, whose power felt primal, logic absolutely failed. I could not see past the storm clouds either in my heart or on the horizon (and there were many there, too: an economy in collapse and a terminally-ill father-in-law awaiting a heart transplant).

I admit that for all of my pretense at open-mindedness, I had always thought that people who took anti-depressant medication were simply not trying hard enough. That arrogance disappeared overnight when I swallowed my first zoloft. Grace’s arrival was my hint – and, frankly, it was more like a sharp slap to the face, since I seemed to have trouble hearing the hints – that trying hard was not always going to be enough.

My recovery was gradual. If I plunged off a cliff in a near-vertical line when Grace was born, I climbed out on an angle just north of horizontal. I got significant help. I saw more than one therapist, frequently. I took medication. I can’t remember a specific day that I looked at my daughter and felt the swell of pleasure, of joy, of love that I had expected when she was born. It did happen, though I hate that I can’t note a specific day that those feelings arrived, and I love her fiercely now.

The truth is that I expected motherhood to be simple. I had been told that it would be instinctive, that I would look at my baby and realize I’d always been waiting for her. I didn’t. While I’ve spent my life working for specific achievements, I think I thought that this one thing, being a mother, was my birthright. It wasn’t. I am dogged by a profound guilt about those early days. I ask myself all the time what kind of damage my ambivalence did to her and to our bond. My passage to parenthood was marked by a deep grief that is integrally woven into my identity as a mother.

I delivered Grace myself, pulling her onto my chest with my own two hands. From that moment I began a long and difficult passage to the grace of motherhood. It did not come easily to me. I’ll never know if this has made me a more confident mother, for knowing the treacherous shoals I traversed, or a more insecure one, for the lingering knowledge that I did not embrace my child immediately. I try to tell myself it doesn’t matter now.

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Lindsey Mead is a mother and writer who lives outside of Boston with her husband and two children.  Her writing has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and online sources, including the Huffington Post, Literary Mama, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and Brain, Child.  She blogs regularly at A Design So Vast and loves connecting with people on twitter and facebook.
Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She will be leading a Manifestation Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October.
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The Only Currency In Life Worth Protecting.

November 7, 2013

The Only Currency In Life Worth Protecting. By Lindsey Mead.

My life has simultaneously narrowed and widened.

People ask me, with some regularity, how I “do it all.”  Of course, I don’t.  There is plenty I don’t do.  And I have been thinking about that a lot lately, of the immensely different ways we each populate our hours and what they say about what we value.

Every hour of our life is a choice, a trade-off between competing priorities and desires.  We are all given the same number of hours in a day.  What do you prioritize?  What do you care about?  Where are you spending your time?

In the last several years my own life has simultaneously narrowed and widened.  It has narrowed because I have substantially cut down on external (non-job and non-family) commitments.   I say no much more often than I say yes.  And even beyond commitments about my physical presence, I’ve withdrawn in a real way: for example, I spend much less time on the phone catching up with friends.

But even in this narrowing my life has startled me with an unforseen richness.  It’s like I stepped into a dense forest but then I looked up to see an enormous expanse of the sky.  Somehow, in my turning inward, I have learned to see the glittering expanse of my own life.  Maybe it is not having the other distractions.  Maybe it is that is training my gaze I have opened my heart.  I am not sure.

I spend my time with my family, I spend my time writing, I spend my time reading, I spend my time with a small number of people I entirely trust and wholly love.  I run at 5:30 in the morning because that’s the only time when the trade-off isn’t too steep for me.  It is very rare for me to have dinner, drinks, or lunch with a friend one-on-one.  The same is true for Matt and me with other couples.  On the other hand there are many evenings where I sit and read to the kids while they are in the tub, when I get into bed at 8:15pm with a book, and there are a great many days full of work.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. – Annie Dillard

Let’s all decide to no longer hide behind the excuse that we “don’t have time.”  The truer response would be “I don’t care enough to really protect the time.”  This may be harsh, but I think it’s also true.  Let’s take ownership of our choices rather than bemoaning their results.  Do you want time to meditate?  Time to go to yoga?  Time to spend reading with your children?  Well, something else has to go.  Unfortunately time, at least in the framework of a day or a week, is a zero sum game.  The ultimate one, perhaps.

Think long and hard about how you spend your precious hours, the only currency in this life that I personally think is actually worth anything.  A lot of these decisions are made instinctively, without deliberate thought or analysis.  But that’s how life is, isn’t it?  We know what we care most deeply about, and we run towards it, chins ducked.  We protect fiercely time for those things and people and events we truly value.  And those things, people, events we never seem to have time for?  Well, that tell us something important too.

I believe that if you look carefully at the map of your hours over a week or a month, you will see a reflection of what it is in this life you prize most highly.  Do you like what you see?

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Lindsey Mead is a mother and writer who lives outside of Boston with her husband and two children.  Her writing has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and online sources, including the Huffington Post, Literary Mama, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and Brain, Child.  She blogs regularly at A Design So Vast and loves connecting with people on twitter and facebook.

Guest Posts

There Is Room For All Of Us by Lindsey Mead.

June 24, 2013

There Is Room For All Of Us by Lindsey Mead.

One afternoon last week Grace was telling me about a conversation she had with a friend about being competitive.  They were discussing the pros and cons of that trait, and, Grace said, she told her friend, “Well, my mother is not competitive at all.”  I was equally taken aback, I think, by the fact that she had noticed that and that she’d offered it in a conversation with a friend.

This is true.  It’s also surprising to a lot of people.  But it’s absolutely true.  I’ve written before about my disinclination towards competition when it comes to sports and games.  And that remains true of me; I’m a total nightmare to play tennis or a board game with, since I just can’t get myself worked up about winning.

But what’s on my mind lately is competitiveness more generally.  We have all encountered people whose view of the world is predicated on an assumption that their success is linked to our failure.  The world that these people live in is a zero-sum one, in which there is a set amount of success; if we do well, that lessens their chances to do so.  So they have to be dismayed at our success, much as they try to hide it, because they fret it endangers their own.

I simply do not believe this.

It’s becoming clearer and clearer to me, as I get older, how firmly I believe that there is room for all of us.  Room for all of our success.  When a friend does well, that doesn’t mean I’m less likely to; in fact it enlarges the universe, and in no way detracts from me.  Success is not a zero-sum game.  It is the opposite.  I cannot adequately describe how deeply, and how fiercely, I believe this.

There is only one truly limited quantity in this life, one truly zero-sum thing, and that is our time.  I have written before about my belief that how we spend our time reflects what we value, shared my personal experience that drastically narrowing my life led to a startling, unexpected expansion.

That is simply not the case, in my opinion, with success.  This view allows me to entirely genuinely celebrate the accomplishments of friends and compatriots.  I do not feel lessened by their success.  I truly, honestly, do not.  There is room for all of us to blaze brightly, to shake the universe, to make our mark, to move people.

Once again, my ten year old daughter saw me better than I saw myself:  My mother is really not competitive.

And I’m not.

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Lindsey Mead is a mother and writer who lives outside of Boston with her husband and two children.  Her writing has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and online sources, including the Huffington Post, Literary Mama, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and Brain, Child.  She blogs regularly at A Design So Vast and loves connecting with people on twitter and facebook.
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