Do you ever feel like you’re spending most of your time braced for the impact of what’s potentially around the corner?
I know I am.
Any corner, too. At work, with family, health, friends, relationships...I, for one, am always expecting things to take a turn the second I get comfortable, and around that corner is likely a sharp punch to the baby-maker.
In those moments I find myself putting on my armor to prevent the anticipated pain. My suit of armor is the thick skin I’ve developed to absorb the blows of life.
It’s just that I see now that it’s just not that helpful any more. It’s just getting in the way of knowing who I really am, and from letting anyone else see the parts of me under the suit.
I’ve heard this also called developing a “space-suit self.”
I’m one million percent sure that psychologist and meditation teacher, Tara Brach, first inceptioned this into my brain. She’s cool. Google her.
So the idea is that we’re all born naked and raw - just who we are, and without any protection from the proverbial elements. Slowly we develop this protective emotional armor based on the experiences and perspectives in our world - a space suit, if you will. It keeps us safe from this harsh environment that sometimes seems as if it wasn’t meant for us to live in.
The space suit isn’t the problem, we all have them, and we all need them to an extent. The problem is more when we don’t know it’s a suit, and we think it’s who we actually are. The problem is how many layers of the suit we build based on what hurts. How long were our needs unmet? How long was our exposure to the harsh environment in our corner of space?
It’s the functionality of the suits we designed that helps us forget it is the suit - not us - that everyone sees. We begin to think the suit is our new identity. The suit of anxiety and/or depression that kept us safe, or the suit of high-functioning stress addict, or the suit of compulsive dater, or the suit of the do-it-all mom...these are the things we do, not who we are - they’re our suits, not the weirdo inside.
It’s scary - to put it simply, because I’m tired - to try and shed a suit you don’t even know you’re wearing.
It’s scary, and it’s a lot of work because self-awareness is a real bitch sometimes. There’s a lot of looking in the mirror asking who you are...who you ever were...who you want to be. It’s the worst. And when did that hair get there?
To me, taking the suit(s) off to find myself sort of feels like one of those game shows where they pull back the curtain to show you the prize you’ve won, but there’s a very big chance that what’s back there is a very cheap set of pots and pans, and not the Kelly-green Jeep Wrangler of one’s dreams.
And yeah, I’m a red-blooded American girl...I want what we all want: awareness of my emotional self without the weight of wearing that self as an identity.
Well, that and the aforementioned Jeep Wrangler.
The thing is that identities are not all they’re cracked up to be, and somewhat of a slippery space slope, if you will.
<Listen, stay with the space theme for a minute. I forgot I owned Apollo 13 on Amazon Prime, and well, you know how I feel about Tom Hanks, ok?>
The more we shoehorn ourselves into an identity, the less peace or freedom we have. Why? I’m glad you asked. Well, I guess because something in us knows the whole thing is very fragile. The identity we’re wearing as a mask isn’t impenetrable. That’s the tensing up for what’s around the little river bend thing.
I *so* get it though - I pretty much put the tits in identities. Don’t we all want to be the person that the suit makes us look like we are? I certainly want to be the person that I seem to be in print. I can promise you, my darlings, the closer you get to the creepy alien under all the layers, I very much am not what my space suit would have me pretend to be.
Not all of our identities are as super glamorous as neurotically writing a world renowned (#lol) blog every week. We can (and often do) wear the suits that other people seem to have picked out for us. Some of us think our identity is as a failure. Or a quitter. A fuck-up. A disaster. Depressed. Anxious. Addicted. Fat. Loser. Lazy. Spoiled.
What else do you see in the mirror?
What else has someone else told you to see?
Is your job your identity? Is your sexuality? Your role in your family? All of the above?
How the hell do you take off your space suit, when you didn’t even know someone made you wear one? How do you put up your visor when you have evidence of your repeated bad behavior? How do you not make your failure your identity?
What, exactly, would happen if I didn’t believe the things I was telling myself? Why is it that I don’t believe the people I love and trust, but I believe this jackass voice in my helmet? She’s the worst. Who would I be if I ignored this dummy?
Shit. Is this one of those things where we’re supposed to want to take off our space suits and/or one of those sayings where they say that the desert winds can destroy, but only by them can we uncover the beauty unknown?
(I’m very certain I didn’t just make that up, but obviously can’t remember where I heard it. #citation)
How do you take off one suit without putting on another?
That’s the spot I’m in, if you must know.
I got weird with all the anxiety stuff that took me by surprise. It sort of forced me to take off one big ol’ space suit (insert welcomed cat-call here), but I found myself putting on another - the wise one who had it all together.
Now, in the Year of Our Lord, twenty-eighteen, I find myself looking at my suit in the mirror and wondering who in the actual hell is looking back. It’s something else. Wish me luck.
I have good news, though. Or at least I have a theory.
97% of life is habit and choice. And even if we sometimes get out of bed, not because of a zest for life, but out of duty and an instinct for survival and for the sheer force of will to do the things we believe we must - it stands to reason that through the building of habit we may actually grab that illusive brass ring of wellbeing.
Like a fancy fake it till you make it situation.
But this is where our suits come back in. There are habits we can build, and then there are the space suit habits. Maladaptive habits, as they say.
(I have no idea who “they” is.)
Or, as Brene Brown (Hallowed Be Thy Name) says, “Desperate times call for desperate measures, and desperate measures are often fertilized with bullshit.”
Cowgirl, take me away.
Maladaptive habits are the ones that are more harmful than helpful. So, waking up and stretching before you check your social media - good habit. Waking up in a hurry and checking how many “likes” you have on that selfie before you open both eyes - maladaptive habit. Finishing dinner and taking a walk - #winning. Finishing dinner and having a second dinner of a large DeFazio’s pepperoni pizza by yourself - maladaptive habit (this is also known as “my Tuesday.”)
So, if we’re all waddling around in these clunky space suits, and somehow by the grace of the baby Jesus we see that it’s not who we actually are but an identity we zip into every morning, how do we get out of it? How do we loosen the grip on the identity we’ve created? How are we limiting ourselves with how we’re clinging to these identities?
Yeah, I don’t know either. Mostly because there was a really interesting documentary on about the ballistic analysis of “The Magic Bullet” in the JFK assassination, and you know I couldn’t possibly turn away from that….so, we’re in this together, man.
Here’s what I do know: sometimes the space suit quite literally keeps us breathing. Sometimes it’s only because there is a suit to put on, that we are able to stay alive in this world.
And I also know that a lot of the time, we didn’t choose to put the suit on. We were handed an environment so inhospitable that we would have never survived the first day without protection.
And let me just say that it’s not fair that you have to wear the suit. From the bottom of my soul, I am sorry that this is your cross to bear. It’s not fair, and it’s not your fault. You are perfect inside your little helmet. You’re not flawed or wrong for not being able to breathe the air where you are.
Wait a minute...maybe that’s it...maybe it’s not about taking off the suit and letting space do its worst to us, maybe it’s about knowing where to take your suit off.
Stay with me.
I mean, astronauts don’t take a Tesla into space and then take off their helmets whilst on a stroll in the stars because it’s important to be vulnerable, right? But they do get in the space station with their other astronaut BFFs and take off a few layers at a time whilst they drink Tang.
Maybe that’s what we need to work on - knowing where your space your space station is...knowing who you can take your helmet off around...then put that crap right back on to make sure your eyeballs don’t get sucked out when you’re in an emotional vacuum.
I guess don’t know much else, but I do know that when building all this habitual hooha, it’s important to be with the uncomfortable. Like, just sit with it. Feel the grief of the past. Feel the fear of the future. Trust that your mind and body want to be whole.
Trust that somewhere inside your cold, dead, black, Grinch-esque heart that you have inherent goodness - no matter what they told you when you were little and putting on your space suit for the first time.
Well, at least I hope that’s the work I need to do. You see, my brand of hope is not that all of my suffering will go away. I mean, #lol, there really always is something around the corner.
Hope - to me anyway - is taking off my suit, but believing that I’ve built myself the right kind of flexible shield with the suffering I’ve already endured. Hope is to know that my little raw and naked self underneath my space suit is all I need to weather any storm, and that I’ve got backup when needed.
Hope is the certain knowledge that I’m not alone out here in space...and the belief that I will find my space station so I can take off my helmet and breathe some fresh air for once.