The Medicine: Work, Worthiness, and the Liminal Space
“If you ask your body, is there another feeling underneath this exhaustion? Could it be grief?” my therapist asks me.
We ask my body because it knows the truth; the mind has a habit of getting in the way.
“It says… Maybe,” I respond.
Something inside of me immediately wants to answer yes, if I don’t give myself time to think about it. This is my intuition, I’ve learned. And even though I’ve been practicing trusting this subtle response for some time, I still have trouble quieting my conscious mind and trusting it.
“Where is it?”
“My chest?” I know this is the answer but my voice contains the hint of a question.
“Okay, place your hand over your heart, and ask it: What is this grief telling me?”
And with that, the tears. “I’m not doing a good job. It’s not good enough.”
This has been my relationship with work for as long as I can remember, or for as long as I’ve been working for myself, which is mostly what I remember these days.
Thinking back to prior jobs I held in my early 20s (in finance, then media planning, then as the editor of a recipe website called Mr. Food [yes, seriously]), I knew nothing about this pain – in fact I always thought I was doing a great job, too good of a job maybe!
Entrepreneurship will bring out all of your demons, that is a fact. And this is only increased if you are a solo entrepreneur, and then that basically doubles (triples? 10x’s?) if your work is creative, from the heart.
And by demons I mean, it will bring out all of the things you need to work on so that you can achieve peace and happiness as a human being. Demons could be a harsh word… or maybe it’s perfect.
Because at times I’ve certainly caught myself thinking: Life could be so much easier for me without my work. Maybe I should just go get a job somewhere? Do something else, anything else other than follow this dream that somehow tends to bring out the worst in me, the parts deep inside that hurt, need attention, my greatest wounds.
And this reminds me of the story of the monk who goes to live in the mountains alone, who finds great peace there where he has no one to interact with! Nothing to bother him, he can just live as he pleases on his own accord. I can’t say I’m entirely sure about what the purpose of life is, why we’re all here doing this dance that at times feels like ecstacy and other times makes us want to curl up into a ball and (figuratively) die, but it seems to me like this monk may not be really living at all.
And then I am reminded of a favorite Rumi quote: “If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?”
Lovingly shared by one of my closest friends at a time when I was being rubbed and fighting it. As soon as I heard it, I relaxed into this idea… of being polished. Ahh, yes. The idea is to allow the rub, to learn not to be irritated by it. To, maybe, eventually, see the opportunity in it, find yourself appreciating it.
My work is what offers me the opportunity to do “the work.”
I think we all have one area of focus in our lives where this is true. For some, it is relationships – romantic, or friendships. For others, it could be the relationship they have with their body. Money is a big one! It doesn’t mean we don’t all struggle with any of these life areas over time, but I find that most people have one area that resonates most, one that keeps coming back to haunt them until they’ve done some real healing.
Interestingly, what lies beneath most of these issues we experience is a lack of self-worth.
An issue that, from my experience, isn’t so easy to heal.
Other times I’ll come across a quote that says something like this: “Inner peace is my inner compass. I know the way because I choose what feels right. I choose what feels like home. Inner peace is my way. Inner peace is my priority.”
I like how this sounds! I’ll think, this is my mantra! And it’s not a bad mantra to have, I think there’s a lot we can learn by integrating ideals like this into our way of living. But note my use of the word “ideal” because that’s just what this is. Something to consider often, surely, as long as we’re careful that it doesn’t have us running in the opposite direction of the “rubs” we need to make contact with.
So no, I will not be giving up my creative work and getting a job at the local crystal shop anytime soon – tempting and “peaceful” as it may sound.
As an entrepreneur I had become addicted to my work. Addicted to taking action, even if I wasn’t taking the right action. I needed to keep checking things off of my list to feel good about myself, like I was moving closer to my goals, even if I wasn’t actually getting anywhere.
It wasn’t as if I was unaware of the deeper self-worth issues at the root of my struggle. I read all of the books, went to all of the therapy, was all too aware of the fact that as the daughter of addicts, I permanently felt that I was missing something inside, like a toy on the assembly line built without a crucial part.
And while the books and therapy were helpful, oftentimes it takes life happening to you, real and raw life experience, to impart the wisdom needed for deep change to occur.
Because for years I went on with my addiction to busyness, until a series of life events broke me down, broke the pattern. Not at once, but layer by layer.
The first was the death of my father.
Then, a Vipassana meditation retreat.
A global pandemic!
My estranged mother’s sudden death…
With each of these life events, I shed parts of myself that were no longer true.
When my father died, I experienced a creative rebirth.
After sitting in silence for 100+ hours, I began to connect with my inner voice and intuition.
The pandemic crystallized my need and desire to write.
And my mother’s death gave me permission to let go of my business – so that I could discover who I was without it – before becoming a mother myself.
Early on in my pregnancy our landlord and his wife came over for drinks, to see how we were settling in. We got to know each other, and they learned of my creative pursuits.
“Oh, I can’t wait to see what you’ll create during this time! When our daughter [an artist] was pregnant she had one of her most potent creative stretches ever,” the wife said exuberantly.
I imagined myself up in my art studio, an apron over my pregnant belly covered in paint. Vibrant, abundant, dripping with new life.
Not exactly how it went down for me.
My pregnancy was hard. The physicality of it nearly broke me, in mind and spirit. And only now can I see that this was just what I needed.
Yes, Kit – you were right. I needed to let go of all the doing. But without growing this magical little creature inside of my body, without such a supernatural force draining me of every ounce of my energy, I never would have been able to do this. To truly let go and learn to rest.
It didn’t go down without a fight! And oh my, how I fought the rest. How I fought the need to be glued to the couch most days, binge-watching Netflix, yearning to be able to just get up and do something productive, feeling utterly incapable. How I judged myself! All of these amazing women in my life were also pregnant and working full-time jobs, yet I could barely bring myself to brush my teeth before 4pm.
And this was my real work: Acceptance. Loving myself through it. Learning, for the first time embodying: I am not what I do, what I produce, what I achieve. I am worthy of love without any of it.
I started feeling more like myself again as I crept toward my third trimester. I’d been itching to write again, which reminded me of how I felt around the time that my dad died, how I’d get these visions of paint colors hitting the canvas; now I would awaken in the middle of the night – phrases, words, ideas and thoughts formulating in my head.
I was ready to begin working again, though in a much different capacity than what I had done previously. I knew that I needed to start slowly, tread lightly. I was feeling better but still experiencing waves of exhaustion, and I knew I wanted to prioritize taking care of myself.
Was it the magic of Aries season, the spirit of springtime buzzing in the air, signaling growth and blossoming and so much promise to come? I’m not sure, but some otherworldly force helped me to design and build a new website and write several thousand words in a very short amount of time. And I was so grateful, so happy to be expressing myself again, to have this foundation in place that I could now build from.
But those waves of exhaustion I mentioned? Still very much a reality. And probably even more intense after that bout of work. Once again, my expectations got the best of me. There was more I wanted to do, and I felt disappointed in myself that I didn’t have the energy.
How quickly I fell back into my old ways, the old thought patterns.
“I’m not doing a good job. It’s not enough.”
I didn’t want it to be this way. I felt I was changing, I had changed and grown so much, I was stronger now. I had made healthy decisions and boundaries and this wasn’t the type of woman I wanted to be, the type of mother I wanted to be.
Back to acceptance. Self-compassion. Release of the self-judgement. It was natural that I was here again, experiencing these feelings. And now I had the opportunity to choose again.
As I uncovered in that conversation with my therapist, I was exhausted, yes – but there was something more lingering beneath the surface. Grief, the old wounds, the little girl who never felt good enough. It was my inner critic who gave voice to it all. Yes, she’d been present all along, having an absolute bonanza with my pregnancy – with all of this time that I was spending resting, not doing, being utterly unproductive (from the outside, of course).
I got to wondering: How much of my exhaustion had been strictly related to growing a human, and how much of it was the result of the pressure I was putting on myself, the internal fight I was having each time my body craved rest?
It is our battling of reality that creates the problem, not reality itself. How much more energy would I have if I simply accepted what was true?
A lot more, I learned… and I continue to learn. The more I simply accept myself the way I am, accept my feelings and emotions, whether I want them to be true or not, the freer I feel. The lighter I feel. It all sounds so very obvious and simple, but the unraveling has been so complex.
Then there was the fear of the unknown, the future-tripping: If I’m this tired now, how will it be once my little one is here? How will I ever get anything done if I can’t do it now?
And the medicine here is to stay in the present.
I’ve spoken to some women who’ve had similar pregnancies to mine, who’ve told me that they felt 10x more capable, productive, creative, energetic, more themselves (!) with a newborn than they ever did pregnant. This sounds promising, though of course I have no idea what my reality will be.
From other women I’ve heard that with motherhood comes a superpower. I have one friend in particular who does it all: Three kids, divorced and co-parenting, remarried with a toddler, all while running her own multimillion dollar business.
She describes it to me like this: “When you become a mother, it’s as if you gain a superpower. You have this little being that is your responsibility, and something just shifts in you so that you become laser-focused, no longer capable of wasting energy or procrastinating.”
Maybe this is why my inner critic has been so hard on me throughout this pregnancy, I wonder. Because maybe there won’t be space for her any longer once this baby is here. Maybe my inner critic has more to fear than I do.
A lifetime of trying to prove myself, overdoing it until the weight became too great.
Layers and layers melting away, leading me to now.
Now I see my pregnancy has offered me the very medicine I needed most.
(Doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle to gulp it down some days.)
Liminality is defined as a state of transition between one stage and the next, especially between major stages in one’s life or during a rite of passage.
It’s that gooey, in-between state where you know something new is coming, a new version of yourself, or a new chapter, but you aren’t quite there yet. Uncomfortable, dark, enigmatic – yet so full of magic, potential, and possibility. The caterpillar’s soup, where growth is happening in real time, but we can’t yet see or feel the triumph of the result. The meaning behind the phrase “growing pains.”
I can’t think of a more liminal space than that of pregnancy, though, if we’re lucky, we will experience it many times throughout the course of our lives. I found myself in this state after each of these major life events: the meditation retreat as well as both of my parent’s deaths, and, of course, the pandemic – where the entire world found itself here together.
I am still very much living in this liminal state. I do not have anything figured out just yet, and at times I am still afraid. While I know giving birth will carry me over one threshold, I don’t expect this to be any sort of “fix” for what I’ve been experiencing. It will simply be a new phase where I will have to discover myself once again, this time as a mother – new traits and ways of being combining with the old. Because as they say, when we give birth to a child, we also give birth to a new version of the self.
It’s good to remind myself of all of this. When that discomfort arises, when I find myself worrying about how tired I am, how tired I will be, who I will be creatively and what I will be able to offer to the world – or the far more deeply rooted and subconscious: how will I know how to mother when I wasn’t mothered myself – I take a breath, and decide to let it go.
No magic formula exists for letting go of thoughts, I’ve found. I once read a book on it (aptly titled, “Letting Go”) and at the end I found myself confused – like, did the author even explain how to actually do this? But it’s no more complicated than just reminding yourself, over and over again: I’m not in the present moment right now.
Taking a breath and coming back to that. Remembering the times that came before this, the many crossroads and crises, followed by the clarity and the wisdom, the inevitable expansion. Each time, making it to the other side. Trusting and remembering that we need these moments of mystery, these magical cocoons to carry us there.