Vulnerability as strength

I’m supposed to be in Texas right now. I can almost see in my mind’s eye the scene from which I am missing: the living room of my grandmother’s house where my aunts and uncles and siblings and cousins are celebrating the new year together. I can see the matching Christmas stockings hanging on the mantle, all lovingly knitted by my grandmom. I can see my dad and one of his four siblings chatting about football or music on the couch, my cousin and brother and sister playing a board game, Grandmom watching with amusement and more than occasional exasperation from her easy chair. I can hear the easy flow of conversation, which runs the gamut from mundane to impassioned to silly and everything in between. I like to say that conversations with the MacMillans consist of everyone’s streams of consciousness flying through the air, intersecting and colliding, seeing what sticks. I love being with my family.

Instead, I am sitting alone in a chilly attic room on Long Island, New York. The space still shows signs of having been a bedroom: a dresser here, a lamp there. Mostly, it’s a storage area, the boxes of clothes and books having been shoved to the side for the twin air mattress upon which I rest. I feel oddly like I’ve taken refuge here. Yesterday morning, I sent an urgent text to my friend, Maria, asking her for a corner to curl up in because I felt like I was, well, freaking out a bit and had just accidentally on purpose missed my flight to Texas. No questions asked, she said, “Sure, come on over!”

My alarm had gone off at 3:45 to tell me to get ready to go to the airport. I lay there for a minute or two and suddenly felt a cloud of terror rise from my toes to my crown. I thought that, for sure, my plane was going to crash. Though the panic seemed to consume my body, I knew on some level that this was simply my irrational mind speaking and I lay there for a few more minutes. The feeling of fear did indeed pass, but I was left with an intense feeling that every molecule of my body was screaming, “No!” Nothing in me wanted to get up to travel for 5 days. Of course, I wrestled with the thought of my disappointed family members and my own desire to spend time with these people whom I love so dearly, but at the same time, the thought of not going felt surprisingly liberating – though, strangely, the urge to get out of the city was almost as strong as my urge to not go to Texas.

Maria texted me her address, I switched out the clothes I’d packed for the relative warmth of the Texas plains for layers for the Mid-Atlantic cold, and I hopped on the Long Island Railroad. I felt crazy for not going to spend time with my awesome family. I felt crazy for not using plane tickets I spent $264 on. Why in the world was I doing this? On the ride, I called my best friend who helped me recognize how powerful that voice was, the voice that told me not to go to Texas. Sometimes things just don’t make sense – except that we’re following our heart’s guidance and that makes more “sense” than just about anything I know. The truth is, my body and soul have been telling me that I need deep rest and because I haven’t been giving myself that, the message has been coming through louder and clearer.

When I was lying on the bed trying to will myself to go to the airport like a good, responsible adult, I had a vision of two Chelseas. One Chelsea, the Sweet and Tender Chelsea, was cowered in a dark corner. She looked shriveled, as if she hadn’t seen the sun in years. The other Chelsea, the Big Strong Chelsea, was standing guard, her sturdy legs spread wide, hands on her hips, chest puffed out. She said, “Everything is great. We are doing just fine. I have eee-verything taken care of!” Meanwhile, I could see Little Chelsea behind her, disoriented and weak.

Leo asked me whats it’s going to take for me to pay more attention so that I don’t have to wait till “crisis” mode to take care of myself. I shouldn’t have to flake out on family plans or frantically text friends to take me in. I need to take time more often to check in with how I feel. I’m smart and capable, gosh darn it, and that means I take care of things. But, sometimes that means taking care of myself.

Yes, yes, I know that self-care is the lesson of the day – er, lifetime – but the point in telling you all this is for a practice of being more vulnerable and open and maybe letting go of a need to prove my strength and independence. I can already feel the little clench in my belly at the thought of admitting any of this, but I know that it doesn’t mean that I’m not strong and capable. There are many facets to me (and to you!) and that’s the fascinating beauty of being human!

What are you going to let go of in the new year?

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