Did you ever play the game Uncle when you were a kid? The game where you interlace fingers with another kid and then proceed to try to break each other’s hands. You bend the fingers and squeeze them, twist them as much as you can until someone screams, “Uncle!”
It’s a torturous game really, but it’s so much fun when you win. Sometimes I’m a little competitive. I like to win.
Life, sometimes, is a little like that game. It wraps around you, squeezes you, twists you until it almost physically hurts. For me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one out there, saying uncle isn’t an option.
That, I believe, is a fallacy of yoga, meditation and mindfulness. Or perhaps I misinterpret it through my skewed lens on life. I’m a bit of perfectionist in one sense. I am actually just learning this about myself.
I’m a perfectionist in that I don’t believe I can show weakness. That I have to be strong at all times. That I can get through anything on my own. Without help.
That’s how I view the philosophy of yoga and meditation. It helps you overcome these weaknesses. You don’t get upset. You can face any challenge. You can breathe your way through anything.
But that doesn’t allow us to be human. I am fully human when I allow myself to be.
When I played Uncle as a kid, though, I refused to say it. I refused to give in. To claim defeat. I would squirm and twist and somehow slip my hand out of the grip. Technically, I think the other person won in that case, but I wasn’t going to own it. Allow it in any way. If I didn’t say it, they didn’t win.
Some of that is competitiveness. Some of that is stubbornness. I have a little of both in my blood. But some of it, I’m starting to realize in the middle of my life, may come from trauma. I mentioned a while back that I had been told I was traumatized in childhood. This trauma subconsciously impacts everything I do.
My dad had a temper. I couldn’t make too many “mistakes.” By mistakes, I mean, I couldn’t drop things or spill things or accidentally break things. I couldn’t be too loud. I couldn’t be annoying. If I did, I was yelled at. Not a little yell either. If I argued with my dad, he called me stupid. Once he hit me in the eye.
We all go through stuff, I won’t go into my life story. I loved my dad, but he wasn’t perfect. Of course, neither was I. That way of life, though, formed how I view the world and how I behave. I’m a fighter because I had to stand up for myself. I had to believe in myself when my father didn’t. I actually think he did believe in me, but his flaws didn’t always allow that to come through.
Being the baby and 5 years younger than my brother, who was closest in age, I didn’t get a lot of attention. People were busy. I spent my summer’s alone. No form of communication. We didn’t have a phone and I lived in the middle of nowhere. Both parents worked.
So I was home alone from about the age of 9 on in the afternoons and all day during the summers. My school bus driver bought me a birthday cake once. It had green and yellow flowers on base of white icing. No one had ever bought me a cake. I used to sit by him and talk instead of talking to other kids a lot.
I never understood why he bought me that cake until now. I think he bought it for me because I always got off the bus alone and there wasn’t anyone at home. Even my principal drove me home from school when I was sick. My parents didn’t come pick me up.
So I was alone a lot. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. I entertained myself. I fed myself. I took care of myself. I did chores. I learned to be independent and strong. I could do everything on my own. That’s is a good thing. That is positive. And I enjoyed my alone time, so from that perspective, it worked out.
But it also taught me I couldn’t depend on anyone. I had no one around to depend on. It taught me I had to take care of everything myself at all costs. My survival depended on it. My dad’s anger taught me I couldn’t mess up. Be too emotional. Be a kid so to speak.
I am a soft, squishy thing on the inside. Sensitive. Emotional. Kind of a bad combination with the parenting style I grew up with.
So that skews my view of yoga and meditation. Yoga and meditation are a way to help me control those emotions that flare up in me. Helps me work through anything life throws at me. Helps me be perfect on my own.
But I’m not perfect. I’m not superhuman. I think yoga and meditation help me, but they also trick my mind. I forget I’m human sometimes. When I finally lose it, I lose in an explosion of emotion.
Refusing to say uncle. The first time I realized I did this was when my dad was dying of cancer in 2016. My employer let me work from home while I helped take care of my dad. I went home to stay with my parents for a few months.
My dad declined pretty quickly. It started in June and he passed away in September. I was there for the last couple of months. It was tough seeing him in that shape.
He was always outgoing. Talkative. Walked 10 miles a day. A natural salesperson. Made connections easily. Generally a healthy guy, too. No medications or anything.
While he was sick, he couldn’t leave his bed. He couldn’t walk. He had cancer in his bones, mostly around the hips and legs, but it spread throughout. It hurt. He lost weight. By the end, you could see where all the bones connected in his skull. His eyes and cheeks sunken. He was sad. Didn’t talk much. Not at all like himself.
Mostly he was scared. That’s what hurt me the most. He was so scared. My dad hated thunderstorms. He literally acted like a child when one came through. He would curl up and cry.
His dad had left him alone on a hill in the middle of a thunderstorm. He screamed for him to come get him. Cried and cried, he said. He told me that story once. I always remember it.
So seeing him scared made me think of that story. How he seemed like a little kid. I don’t have children but I do have a mothering instinct. So I didn’t want him to be scared. I did everything I could.
My mom couldn’t quite handle the situation. They’d been married for 50-plus years. I can understand why it was hard. My sister as her own challenges, but I’m learning that my entire family does. Myself included. My brother just can’t deal with death.
So that left me. I needed to be the strong one. The dependable one. The one to administer his morphine every 2 hours. My mom helped. I don’t want to say I did everything. But toward, the end, the harder and harder it got, the stronger and stronger I had to be.
One day, I had not really slept for a week. I had not left the house in days. I didn’t go outside because I didn’t want to leave him alone in case he needed anything. I had to watch him too. Sometimes he would try to get out of bed. It’s a form of restlessness that the dying experience.
That day, I decided I was going to go to my home and sleep in my bed for one night and come back the next day. That was the weekend before he died. I didn’t get to sleep at home, but I did leave for a while.
A cousin of mine came to see my dad as I was leaving. He hugged my mother and talked to her for a few minutes and then hugged me as I was walking toward my car. I hadn’t seen him in years. When he hugged me he asked how I was doing.
No one had asked me that. I collapsed. My legs went limp. He had to hold me up. I sobbed like I have never sobbed before. It just came out. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t even know it was in there.
I immediately reeled it back in. Straightened myself up. Wiped my tears, but they wouldn’t stop flowing. He looked at me and said, “It’s alright. It’s OK to cry.”
That’s when I realized that no matter how hard I tried to be superhuman, I wasn’t. No matter how much I thought I could handle. How strong I needed to be. That soft squishy thing that lives inside me needed someone to ask how I was doing.
I stopped crying. I told him it was just difficult seeing my dad that way. Then I left. Perfectly strong as always. But on the inside, I was crumbling.
I’m going through something similar now. This change in my life. Being let go from my job for the first time in my life. Having bills to pay but wanting to change my life at the same time. Struggling to figure things out.
Yet again, I’m trying to face it head-on. I can handle this. I’m changing my life as I said yesterday. But the truth is, I’m scared to death. I have doubts, I’m afraid I’m screwing up. That I’m making all the wrong decisions. I know I want a change, but is this the right time? Am I going about it the right way? Am I going to lose everything?
I’m scared. I’m confused. I don’t know if there is such a thing as the “Dark Night of the Soul.” You read about in certain lines of thought. If there is, I’m going through it. Have been for a year and a half. If not, then I’m just in the middle of a crisis. Doesn’t matter what it’s called I suppose.
I’m single. My friends have their own challenges. My family doesn’t quite understand it. I have no one to talk to about it. I’m not alone, but I feel alone in this.
And that’s part of the fallacy. Yoga and meditation, as great as they are, tell you that you must go through this journey alone. From my perspective, that means, I can’t ask questions. Ask for support. Ask for guidance. The answer is in me.
Well, maybe the answer is in me, but I’m struggling to find it. I’m lost. Blindfolded in the dark just feeling my way around. Trying to find my way out. There are good moments and good things about the process. But there are some really bad ones too. I’m finally admitting it.
I’m finally admitting that I’m scared. That I kind of feel like my world is falling apart. And it’s OK. I’m human. I don’t have to be perfect.
So I’m adding my own rule to the self-care philosophy. Know when to say when. Know it’s OK to reach out to others. They can’t provide the answers for you, but they can support you. Make you feel less alone.
It’s OK to say uncle. So, I’m saying, “Uncle.” I ask that anyone who is reading this blog, if you don’t mind, pray for me if you pray. If you don’t pray, please send good vibes my way. I could use some support getting through this. It will be appreciated more than you will ever know. Because my perfectionistic ass has trouble showing weakness. But not gratitude. I am forever grateful for any kind thoughts someone sends my way.
And if there is anyone out there struggling with anything in life and you feel like you have to be strong. That you can’t be flawed and imperfect. That’s not the way you handle these situations with grace. Grace is knowing your limits. Knowing you’re human and allowing yourself to be human without waiting until you act out.
It’s OK to cry. And it’s OK to say, “Uncle.”