Gratitude feels like this

There was rocks and rain being thrown inside the truck yesterday. I couldn’t stop feeling wet and getting lumps stuck in my throat.

I’ve had some rough days. I’ve had friends tell me that they don’t believe my symptoms are real. I’ve had many change the subject immediately after asking how I’m doing. I’ve had some people straight up ignore me when I’ve asked them directly for something small (simply sharing a post – nothing more). I’ve had people talk condescendingly me towards me for not wanting to try a remedy without discussing it with my physician first, telling me I was giving up or not willing to get better by trying different things. It wasn’t that I wasn’t willing, but I wanted to ensure there was no (or limited) risk that my doctor might have known about before trying it. If he felt there was no harm in trying, then I’m all for it. I’ve had people mute me on social media because they’ve said they just don’t care.

Some of those things  I can chalk up to not being about me. Some of those things are limiting factors on the other person’s end, or awkwardness towards the situation, or just not knowing what to do or say. Those are things I understand, and I have no problems with.

But some of the other comments, actions and inactions hurt, and they were difficult not to take personally. I managed it, eventually, but that initial reaction felt like an icy cold slap to the face, and it stung when it came from a small handful of people I have known for a long time and I thought cared. That they didn’t is actually ok – they have things of their own to worry about, and they have their own agendas. Me expecting them to look out for me is my problem, not their’s, and I don’t typically expect things from others. I was (and still am) feeling extra vulnerable, and was grasping onto things that weren’t mine to hold onto. (I’ve let those things go. I was feisty, nervous, sad and didn’t fully have awareness of my overabundant emotions at the time. I’m human.)

But then, everything changed. And those small handful of people who I had allowed to drive me deeper into a downward spiral are suddenly muted by the huge outpouring of love and support from so many others, and from some people I don’t even know.

Seriously, universe, you have some amazing people in you. And as much as I often question the direction of humanity, this lesson has taught me that there is more kindness than there isn’t. There’s been tears and feels, but they’ve been good (if not complicated) ones.

It’s been weird for both my husband and I. Admitting to needing help is hard enough. Especially publicly. Taking help is a whole other matter. As mentioned previously, I’m one to give things away. I love it. So when people have been buying product, I’ve been wanting to give them gifts with their order, as I always do. Jess, the superhero who has taken over selling my products, has slapped my wrist numerous times for that. I gave her complete control over all of the inventory, selling, discounts and everything associated. And she’s been rocking it, without the discounts. She’s selling things better than I ever did.

We’ve both shared that we’re better at selling other people’s products than our own. At markets, I’d sell my neighbours products easier than mine. It was fun, and they were appreciative. They’d be quiet about their product, and strike up conversation a little, but wouldn’t want to be pushy with sales and allow the customer to browse. I’d pop my head over, grab my favorite product from the table (which would change with different customers) and start asking them questions about it, and commenting on the things I loved most about it. I was also sincere about it, which I truly believe made the difference.

Most of the time the customer would buy one of whatever I was oohing and aahing over.

I excel at retail sales when I have fun with them. At the sports store I used to work at, I’d focus on the customers in front of me, and not focusing on making specific sales. I worked the quietest shifts, but always had the highest sales, because they were my focus, no matter what they were looking at. My specialties were the people on a budget – because I could relate the best with them. It was amazing how much some of the other associates took advantage of people, and it never impressed me. We got commission at the time. I’m glad that practice has been ended since I worked there. The managers loved those associates for selling the high ticket items, but then they didn’t have the highest average sales.

“They are so cute, and anything has to be more comfortable than these. Where did you get them?”

I remember one elderly gentleman had come in to pick up his shoes he had on hold, and I couldn’t help but pry. He was there to purchase the newest, greatest Nike Shox, which retailed for the great deal of $299 at the time. The associate that had helped him previously convinced this man that these shoes would help his knees stop hurting while he was in the garden. The man was on disability and in pain, and he was desperate for relief.

They were basketball shoes, meant for a basketball court, with crevices in the soles where dirt could pack into and compound, rendering the “shox” useless once dirt got embedded in there. He obviously had crippling arthritis in his hands, and the work to clean the shoes in order to keep the dirt out from those areas would add to the list of things he shouldn’t have had to do.

I downsold him to a reliable, comfortable, supportive pair of $60 New Balance shoes, and gave the associate the sale for those.

Oh dear, did I ever cause a kerfuffle. The other associate complained to management, who had to reprimand me for stealing a sale even though I didn’t take it myself. The associate was also reprimanded for the unethical sale. 

I didn’t make friends there. Apparently ethics doesn’t belong in retail sales, and I’ve always tried to live up to a strong code of ethics for the benefit of others. I could not in good conscious let that man pay for those shoes without feeling guilt, and to this day I do not regret my decision to downsell him those shoes. He came back to see me personally and thank me, as the shoes actually did help reduce his pain while in the garden. This was the kind of thing I worked for. 

I had the lowest amount per sale, however the highest total monthly sales for my department, because there were customers that refused to see other people due to my honesty. They simply wouldn’t deal with the other associates in my department, and would ask for me specifically. The managers had to deal with fires often from disagreements on fairness. No one could control who the customers wanted to buy from, however, and there was nothing that could be done about it. I was always on time, I didn’t steal sales from other associates, I found associates to pass customers to in other departments and I treated everyone fairly. I was isolated from the others, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. I was there to work, not to make friends, which wasn’t the same attitude that many others had. I didn’t mind.

When it came to my own products, however, I was no different than those other quiet handmade vendors. I’d converse, talk and answer questions, but didn’t want to come across as over zealous, so didn’t push sales. And I’ve never done so poorly selling products as I did my own.

That’s not to say I did poorly, mind you – but I didn’t have the same exuberance about it as I did selling other people’s products.

It was never for lack of confidence in my products – while sure, I’ve made a few mistakes and bumbles (seriously, what company doesn’t), I’ve always loved the things that I’ve made and have been proud of what I’ve  done. I think the issue lies more in the self, in asking people to pay me for the things I do. As much as I’d try to talk myself up that I’m worth what I ask for, I think deep down, I didn’t believe it myself and it came across that way. Or, not that I wasn’t worth it so much as just wanting to enjoy what I was doing without worrying about the monetary aspect behind it.

Which makes for TERRIBLE business practice.

I was quiet yesterday, and my husband noticed. My feelings were strong – and confused. I was elated by the outpour of support from so many people, while dreading taking their generosity, while grateful for it, while sad that those I thought would be more supportive disappeared, while humbled and embarassed, but proud of reaching out instead of falling into further trouble. I was also glad to have the thought of business off my mind, while sad to be letting it go.

Emotions are complicated and hard, man. But I’m ok. I’m more than ok. I am so, so blessed to have such amazing people in my life.

But gratitude and love win. Every time. And that’s how I’m feeling right now.

Plus exhausted beyond reasonable comparison. The last few weeks have taken alot out of me, and I don’t feel like I’ve given myself the proper chance to rest and catch up. And the more tired I am, the less I sleep, and the worse it gets. And today I’m definitely in a huge energy deficit, and I’m just staying in bed. I’ll take a break from that to do a small yoga practice and move some blood and tissue at least a little, but I don’t think I’ve got much else. And that’s ok. I don’t have anything I need to get done today, and nothing pending, and anything that’s on my to-do list can be put aside for another day.

This is where my boundaries and self care kick in. I’ve pushed myself here and there, mostly to see how my body would respond. It’s little experiments to know how far I can go and what activities I can do. Sadly, it’s not nearly what I’d have hoped for, but I’ll take what I can.

My MRI is on Saturday, which is faster than anyone expected. If the MRI comes back with issues, I’m being sent to a neurologist. If it comes back clean, then a rheumatologist. 

We’re narrowing things down, finally, and I’m looking forward to finding a better normal than I’ve had recently. It’ll still be awhile, but it’ll come. I have faith.

But in the meantime, I feel so grateful for everyone who has helped us, and I’m excited for the day that I can pay it forward again.

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I reached out … now what?

Asking for help has never been easy. It means I owe a debt, and it’s not always a debt I’m sure I’m able to repay, so it’s only when I’m truly desperate that I do what I feel is grovelling to others to request help. If I’m able to repay the favor, then it’s not hard to ask, but without having that balance I struggle with the request.

Experiences can be humbling, can’t they?

I am at what might be my most humble. I’ve had to ask for help before, but not quite like this.

This year has been a struggle, and we’ve kept many details to ourselves. During yoga teacher training I wasn’t able to keep up well with sales so much, as there was so much going on with trying to finish training as well as my aromatherapy certification. There was also a side project underway where a new company became incorporated, and so much effort had been put into getting this endeavour underway. It was ready to go, and we were just waiting for our financing to come through. It would have been so good for us, but that’s when things started to go wrong. That’s when I could no longer make sense of the things happening. That’s when I couldn’t focus on any of the tasks I was working on without making silly mistakes. And that’s when I had to admit that I couldn’t move forward with the company we incorporated, because it was completely a team effort and we were both needed in order to move forward with it.

We cancelled all plans with the incorporation. We still own it for the time being, but nothing has progressed with it. We wanted to wait to see what would happen.

I am short of my yoga teacher training certification by 10 hours because the worst of my symptoms came up during the retreat, where I found out just how much I was affected by the sun and heat. 

I couldn’t finish my aromatherapy certification because of the brain fog, which has made it nearly impossible to not only read, but to retain new information.

I moved my products out of the house in case they were the source of my issues. This makes them difficult to sell.

All of my plans and income sources had to be put on hold because I couldn’t focus on them. Whenever I tried, I made mistakes, or forgot, and I couldn’t stand the idea of disappointing anyone. So that’s when I made the hard decision to temporarily shut down Bohemian Alchemist, with hopes I could pick it up again soon.

But I couldn’t. My inventory was stored offsite, and trying to sell it was difficult to do when I had a hard time managing the inventory. I couldn’t offer services or products out of fear of making a harmful mistake. I was making mistakes, and it was only a matter of time before I made a mistake I’d regret and hurt someone. Thankfully, they were all minor, but they were enough to make me realize that it was time for me to stop. I did the responsible thing by keeping my clients safe, rather than pushing myself further beyond my limits in order to keep everything operational. I was already beyond my limits, which had changed so, so much from the beginning of the year.

Closing was hard. So much harder than I could ever express. I love my business, and I love the products I’ve made, and I loved the direction I was heading with it. But mostly, I loved the connections I made with people. I worked hard to start and maintain it (not without help – I’ve had so much help from so many people!). I found that hanging off of “maybe”, “possibly”, “one day” and “eventually” wore on me so much, and I couldn’t answer people who wanted to know when I was opening again. The encouragement from others was well meaning, but brought my attention continuously to the responsibilities waiting for me. I felt horrible anytime someone wanted a custom order and I had to refuse. I felt inadequate, disappointing and that I was letting people down – but the one that mattered most was my husband. I have not been able to contribute to our income. He has been ever the encouraging, supportive person he always has been, but this is an insecurity of my own that stems from old, deep hurts and experiences that are difficult to keep controlled when I’m at my most vulnerable.

Everything was shut down. I found ways to keep busy and to keep my flare ups moderately controlled. The more controlled my symptoms are, the more productive I am, which is how I’ve been able to reasonably maintain our home. It hasn’t been ideal, but we’ve made it work.

But our expenses added up. Medications and supplements and specific clothes that helped reduce symptoms, fuel to get to and from appointments, window replacement, so on so forth. I’ve listed some of our expenses previously. They continue to add up.

And then our hot water tank decided to die on us right after my surgery. The nerve of it, I dare say.

What do you MEAN money isn’t everything? We are a bank!

And it’s been a struggle since then. 

I hit a low point a couple of weeks ago, which I also shared part of. But not in entirety. I had cabin fever in a bad way, and I was unsure of everything. We had been thinking about getting a service dog to help with certain things in order to get me the support I needed to function better in the day, but I wondered if maybe this was too extreme. 

And so did a few others. A few people have mentioned that they believe I may be bipolar, or that perhaps I need to find God, or meditate more, or to “just relax”. It has been implied that my symptoms are imagined and that I’m a hypochondriac. Perhaps I am just looking for attention.

These comments come from very few, select people, but they hurt, more than they could ever know. I believe they had good intentions, and truly believe the things they say. There were harmful, hurtful words regardless of intent, however. They made me think that, maybe, they weren’t wrong. They made me feel insecure. They made me feel that I was sharing too much about our situation, and that perhaps I should keep it more to myself. I found engagements with people to get less and less, and I wondered if I was believed at all or not.

To be fair, when people see me they see that I’ve lost weight and am rocking a fairly normal body size for the first time in a decade, see me walking and talking  and my clean house and see my rosy red cheeks, unaware that the redness is part of a flare up. What they see seems healthy.

What they don’t see is everything else I’ve previously mentioned. The crippling fatigue, the numb cheeks,  the thick brain fog and confusion, the double vision. I’m functional, but very carefully. They don’t see that. They don’t see the little leg pump I do before I stand up, nor do they realize why I stand up so slowly. They don’t see my balance as that bad. They don’t see me avoiding bending over to avoid passing out. It’s hard to believe, sometimes, if there’s nothing to see.

It’s there, however, if you pay attention.

For the most part people have been kind, caring and supportive. Several have offered help, and have stepped up to help where we need it most. Right now, what we need most is financial. Bad timing, I know. Our bills are paid, the animals are fed, but we’ve been maxed out in all accounts since early fall and we have been just barely getting by. The prospect of catching up hasn’t been promising – which also means no possibility of a service dog. I will not commit to getting an animal that I am not able to afford to care for.

So I  reached out.  I asked for help, as so many people have encouraged if I needed it. And I need it. I presented my case. I made a post on my Facebook page. People asked me, “What can I do to help?”

“Share my page post,” I responded. I don’t expect anyone to buy things they don’t want or need, but sharing my post would help get the word out, and perhaps reach and audience that could help. It costs nothing and is easy to do. But then, I always seemed to follow it up with, “If you can’t, then I understand.”

I don’t understand. I don’t know why I  ever said that. To be nice? To give them permission to ignore it? To make them think that we weren’t in as tight of a situation that we are? Or maybe I’m just an idiot. I really don’t know why I said it that way, but that’s what I do.

When I went to see my psychologist and he asked me how I was, I said, “I’m great! Thanks! How are you?” – which I then had to admit that I lied. When he asked why I said that if I didn’t mean it, I admitted that it’s a trained response after growing up in a place that didn’t admit to weakness. I believe working retail also encouraged said response. Customers don’t want to hear how great you’re not. They’re there to spend money, and that’s all. It’s just what we are trained to respond with in order to maintain courtesy, and I’m trying to retrain that response. It’s not an easy thing to stop doing, especially when my defence mechanisms are locked and loaded at the moment.

Anyways, Some people shared my post.

And some people never responded, and never shared it. I see so many people share things supporting other events and complete strangers, but have not supported me where I need it most. Sometimes with excuses explaining the reason of their lack of support – which I appreciate, since at least I know where they stand. Most often the response was silence, however, and it’s the silence that hurts most of all.

And that hurt contributed to my downward spiral, which also caused worsening symptoms and an emotional meltdown, which made my spiral even worse. I spoke with my internist. I was so tired. Frustrated. I was falling apart. He assured me that he believed there was something happening and that we needed to push through just a little longer to try to find some answers. He brainstormed some ideas, agreeing that I needed a break. He prescribed something to help me sleep – something I do not get nearly enough of – and agreed that a service dog would be beneficial to my case. 

This helped alot. The reassurance from both him and my psychologist made me realize that I was spiralling down the hole of other people’s perceptions and expectations again. They told me that I’ve been holding myself together so much better than many other people might in my situation. I don’t know how true that is or not, but I hung onto it. It’s been a source of strength for me to keep pushing forward.

During one of my appointments, I was asked what I would do if I had all of the power in the world. 

I answered that I’d give it away to someone who would use it well.

Then I was asked what I would do if I had all the agency in the world.

I had to think on it, but eventually I answered that I’d use it to become a better person.

Thinking on this…. I HAVE all the agency in the world. That’s not something anyone can control, change or take away from me – only I have the power to do that.

Which gives me all the power on the world to do what I said I’d do. And that’s not a power I’ll hand over to someone else, regardless of their intentions.

I need to stop giving away my power. It’s the only thing I can truly control when I keep it as my own.

I needed that challenge. And I was able to use that to find my calm once again. And my power to become that thing I want to be.

I let things be. Kept my post up, and just gave it over to the universe. A friend of mine told me, “The universe gives you only that which you can handle.” I responded that the universe has more faith in me than I do, but there was an important point in that, and one that I do agree with, even if I struggled with in that moment.

And then the most amazing thing happened. Or, rather, person, and things seem to be progressing in a way I never though I’d see.

I had asked for help, and held unrealistic expectations of others. It was never about them, however. Those expectations were based on my own disappointment in myself and my situation. Once I let go of that disappointment, as well as the expectations of others, things have changed quickly. People have taken my call out seriously and I have found myself surrounded by more support than I had hoped for. There are still those in my corner that hold silence, which is disappointing, but I hold no grudge towards anyone. No one can possibly know how the situation truly feels, and I hope they are never in a position to fully understand – which would mean being in my situation. There are those that do understand it, because they’ve been through a similar experience already. And I have never held more compassion, empathy and understanding for them than I do now.

It’s hard to accept help. Harder than asking for it, especially after the disapproval of some people. But people find themselves in situations, sometimes, and need a leg up. This time, it’s us. Now that help has been incoming, I find myself wanting to offer things to pay them back – knowing full well that we’re not able to. It’s been difficult to say “yes” to the help offered – but I have been. I’m breaking out of old habits and routines, and finding a new way to be.

And once I’m able, I’ll find way to pay it forward again.

The universe knows my gratitude, my fear, my uncertainty and my feelings of personal failure. And I’m learning to trust it to catch me with grace as I’m falling, so that I can later catch others with that same grace and help them back up.

It feels similar to performing the “Angel Walk” at the end of the YTT training during graduation. I may have been short 10 hours from a signed certificate, but I graduated in so many other ways than I ever could have expected.

I reached out for help. And now, I’m learning to accept it with gratitude, and no expectation.