“You don’t have to find yourself,” says the sign at the yoga studio. “You have to create yourself.” But I think I do need to find myself.
That’s not to pick a fight with the sign at the yoga studio. There is no ready-made, off-the-shelf self waiting to be discovered, like the perfect wild raspberry hidden along the trail. Finding myself is not a matter of practicing the right asanas, chanting the correct prayers, or following the proper program. It will take a lot of creative effort. So maybe we’re on the same page, the yoga-studio sign and I.
Still, “finding” is a central part of what I need to do. When I lost my father, I lost a part of myself. Three years later, I’m still not sure what that part is, let alone how to find it.
In the year after his death, I also lost my health and vitality. Recovering from Lyme disease and overwhelmed by grief, I needed to let myself fall apart. But I was too afraid: afraid of losing control, afraid of letting people down, afraid that if I eased up on my responsibilities, I would become irresponsible. Worse, I would be revealed as the irresponsible person I already was — the one I had worked so hard to disguise under a cloak of commitments and accomplishments and good deeds. And so I pushed on. I forced myself to focus at work when all I wanted to do was cry. I carried on as synagogue president even though I knew that my fellow volunteers could manage without me. By the end of the year of mourning, which was also the end of my term as president, I had drained my physical and emotional reserves, creating an exhaustion from which I couldn’t bounce back. I was depressed, still deeply grieving, and terrified of letting myself feel all that pain.
And then came the crash — not a sudden slam into the wall, but a long, drawn-out, slow-motion wreck. Picture a car speeding along a desert highway and then running off the road. It hits a rock, punctures a tire, slows down, but keeps going. The hood pops open; it slows down but keeps going. The engine catches fire; it slows down but keeps going. The whole time, the driver is trying to steer the car back onto the road.
That was me. Until finally, I just stopped.
I thought I already knew how to say no, but it turned out I needed a lot more practice. I decided that I would do what I had to do (which was very little), and what I felt like doing (which was not much more), and that’s all. That winter, I essentially hibernated.
The strategy helped: very slowly, I began to regain some energy. But I had lost my confidence, my self-image as someone who can be relied on, someone who gets things done. And I lost my boldness: as I gradually added activities back into my life, I worried constantly about overdoing it and wrecking myself again. Any risk seemed too big.
It has been suggested, gently, that this story of my long, slow crash is a tale of the past, one that I should set aside as I write myself a new story. And for sure, there is a danger of getting stuck in ways of thinking and feeling that don’t fit my current reality. But the opposite danger, I think, is being stuck in the future — that misty, mythy future that lies just ahead, where things will surely be better than right now.
And if I don’t go looking for what I’ve lost, I surely will not find it. On the other hand, as I try to find myself, who knows what else might turn up?