woman with her head (literally) in the clouds

My Word for 2023: CURIOSITY

Normally at the beginning of a new year, I come up with a word – a focus for the year ahead. But when January 1 rolled around this year, I was drawing a blank.

I was in a bad place at the beginning of this year. Well, really since earlier than that. But everything sort of culminated in January. I had poured my heart and soul into trying to get pregnant in 2022. I felt like God or the universe (or someone) had given me signs that it was going to happen. And then it didn’t.

When 2023 started, I was so angry. I felt like I was angrier than I’ve ever been in my life. Angry at everyone, I hated everything.

I told my therapist that I was tired of hurting, I wanted to feel better now, but I didn’t know how to make that happen. And she told me that maybe I was doing exactly what my body and mind needed me to do: simply being in a horrible, bad place and just feeling my feelings.

It reminded me of the practice of mindfulness. I needed to be aware, without judgment, of my feelings and just sit with them for a while. If I repressed them or tried to pretend that they weren’t there, I wouldn’t be able to move past them or heal.

Feeling my feelings was not the answer I wanted to hear. I wanted a pill, a drug, a quick fix to my problems. I had felt so many feelings already and it was exhausting! How could I make them go away?

We left that therapy session and I (jokingly) told Dean, “what are we paying her so much for?” She hadn’t solved my problems, she hadn’t fixed my pain. But I found out about 3 weeks later that she was 100% right.

For 3 weeks, I burned with anger at God and the world. I resented hearing about any new pregnancy announcements. I was lethargic and unmotivated about most everything – with the exception that I decided to start training for a half marathon. That was my one goal, my one distraction that kept me grounded. And I had so much anger that running was a good way to get it out, or at least to fuel my runs.

For 3 weeks my body worked through a lot of the hurt. I grieved. I processed. I survived a faith crisis (that’s a whole other story). And then suddenly it started to not hurt as much. I hadn’t “done” anything in particular. I had started exercising (good), I had done a lot of journaling of my feelings (also good), and I had shared and cried with some of my closest friends about my sadness and grief – and because they are wonderful friends, they listened without judgment and offered me grace and compassion.

I’m not going to pretend like it doesn’t still hurt, it does. But the constant feeling like someone has kicked me in the chest has gone away. The clouds have lifted and I’m feeling more like myself, the Erica before joining the infertility club.

Honestly, I had kind of forgotten who I was before becoming so obsessed with trying to get pregnant. It had taken over me. It seemed like all the fun, spontaneous, and happy parts of me had gotten lost, and the only parts left of me were the ugly, angry, and bitter ones.

In that same therapy session where I told my therapist I was tired of hurting, I also told her that I wanted to get another tattoo. “Another tattoo?” she said. She hadn’t even noticed the one I had on my wrist. I then told her that I kind of wanted a sleeve, but that I wasn’t totally sure what I would get – maybe I’d let my tattoo artist help me decide.

My therapist was floored. “Erica,” she said. “That is so shocking to me. I feel like I’ve discovered a whole new side of you.” The Erica that goes to counseling is typically the angry, bitter, and hurt Erica. The Erica who is anxious and wants control of every situation. Getting a tattoo seemed out of character for me, because she didn’t know that I also had a more creative, adventurous, and fun side. (Maybe you didn’t know that either…)

That conversation was so eye-opening to me, because it made me wonder if other people were also only experiencing the worst parts of me. And I also realized that if I took away my obsession with trying to get pregnant, I had kind of forgotten what to do with myself. What would I do with all my time if I wasn’t constantly charting temps, timing ovulation, and overanalyzing every possible pregnancy symptom?

For those of you who only just met me or interacted with me in the past year or so, I worry that you experienced me at my very worst. You may have seen the ugliest parts of me rise to the surface. And I’m sure there are people out there that I owe apologies to for just being a jerk. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that I know that I probably required extra grace from anyone who spent any amount of time with me over the past year, and I’m just grateful that people were so kind to me when I most likely didn’t deserve it.

So, back to my word for 2023. I decided that I wanted this year to be a year to reset myself. A year to get to a healthier place mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. A year to rediscover the fun side of myself and to share that side of myself with others.

I didn’t have a word to capture that until yesterday when I was simultaneously reading the books Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown. And they both discussed the subject of CURIOSITY.

Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty.

Brené Brown

“Surrendering to uncertainty” is not a strong suit of mine. I hate uncertainty. It scares me.

But unless I can learn to look ahead to the future with curiosity, I am setting myself up for disappointment again and again. Having such rigid expectations for life and not being open to different possibilities will inevitably leave me disappointed and angry.

And as Brené also points out, our expectations for life are often set on outcomes totally beyond our control (Atlas of the Heart, p. 43). Getting pregnant is out of my control. Getting hired for my dream job is out of my control. Whether or not people like me or hate me is out of my control. I can do my best to influence things to go my way, but ultimately I have very little control of much of anything. And I need to learn to be okay with that.

Instead of getting mad when things go differently than I had planned, I need to be CURIOUS. Is there another way this situation could play out that could still be good? Or even better?

Elizabeth Gilbert says, “interesting outcomes are just awful outcomes with the volume of drama turned way down” (Big Magic, p. 247). When things seem awful, I need to stay interested in the outcome. I need to say, “Wow! That totally did not go like I thought it would – how interesting! I wonder what will happen next?”

Maybe that’s a bit optimistic for me. The reality probably looks like me getting angry and throwing a fit and THEN remembering, “oh yeah, I’m supposed to be curious about this outcome, not pissed off.”

I know I will fail again and again at being curious, but that’s okay. Each time I forget to stay curious, I can give myself grace and try again. And each time I try again, I’ll strengthen my curiosity muscles and (hopefully) it will start becoming something that happens more naturally over time.

Thanks for reading!

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