This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.
If you’re a new subscriber to the Sunday Soother since I left to take my hiatus in May, welcome. I’m Catherine, the author and host of the Sunday Soother, this here newsletter and podcast, and I’m so glad you’re here. I’m a 40-year-old life coach, teacher and writer, based in and from Washington, D.C., though I’m writing this from the banks of a small river in Indiana, and I spent the past month in Wyoming. (We’ve been driving, masking and socially distancing.) This newsletter comes out every Sunday with essays and links about gentle personal growth, self-reflection, compassion, and more.
And yeah, I’m back. And I’m super angry.
The reasons I took my hiatus were multiple. I was, once again, burned out by starting my coaching and teaching business. I was not feeling excited about writing the Soother, which is always a solid burnout sign. I wasn’t excited about creating much. In fact, my burnout had been compounded by health issues and an intense bout of anxiety, depression and self-doubt.
So I told myself I was coming to Wyoming for the summer to work on healing. And I did, to an extent.
But all I can think about, in my experience the past 6–18 or, hell, 400 months or so, is this:
We’ve all been horribly duped, and society never had to be this way.
I’ll explain more what I mean in a bit, but first, I hope you will click here to read my promises to work on myself and this newsletter in efforts to become more anti-racist. You can also listen to a reflection podcast episode I did on racism and white supremacy here. This work for me is ongoing, daily stuff. I may not always write about it here each week but I am always thinking about it and doing small, concrete actions to change my racist conditioning, donate money where I can, and engaging with legislators around these issues. If any BIPOC readers of the Soother have ever felt harmed or unseen by what I write and how I write it, I am so sorry, and sorry is never gonna cut it because it’s actions, not intentions, that matter, and I will never stop taking the steps I can take to be more aware, and more anti-racist.
Now, my anger.
It starts with a lot of things, of course, but also with my health.
In January, I started feeling low. Real low. I’ve always experienced anxiety and sometimes depression to different levels, but this was starting to feel intense. The depression didn’t feel… I didn’t feel sad. I just felt flat. “I am starting my own business, in an amazing relationship, able to travel where I want (lol at past Catherine), and it just like… this is it?” was a daily thought pattern I was having.
And that wasn’t all. My hair was falling out in clumps. My finger and toenails had stopped growing. I had a months-long yeast infection (I’ve always been prone to yeast infections and UTIs, but this was not going away). I had digestive issues, bloating, constipation. I’d gained 15 pounds in the last two years. I’ve always loved working out, dancing, running, yoga, but I had no energy to do that. I had shortness of my breath. My skin was taking on an unhealthy pallor. Weirdly, I noticed that my lips and gums were pale, too.
Looking back, the most wrenching part is how I tried to talk myself out of the severity of my symptoms, and convince myself because I didn’t feel horrible, that this was fine, this was normal, I was aging, everybody was kind of sick most of the time, at this sort of low-grade, low-level, and who was I to try to want to improve it, probably I just wasn’t eating well enough, probably I wasn’t meditating enough, probably nothing was wrong with me, and if there was something wrong with me, it was probably my fault because probably I wasn’t working hard enough to try to fix it.
Finally, though, I did go to a primary care physician to treat the yeast infection and get a pap smear. She proclaimed yes, I had a yeast infection, gave me a prescription of Diflucan (which worked, yay), and sent me on my way. When I explained the other symptoms and wondered if she could give me insight into what was going on, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “It’s probably just stress.”
Just stress? JUST STRESS? This is 2020 and the best that modern Western medicine can give me is “you’re probably stressed”?!?
NO SHIT I’M STRESSED. I’VE BEEN STRESSED SINCE I WAS 4 YEARS OLD. AND ALSO WE’RE IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC AND AN UPRISING, DON’T KNOW IF YOU NOTICED, BUT I DON’T THINK THAT MEANS MY BODY SHOULD BE FALLING APART!
I decided then and there I was going to change things and I was going to have to do it myself.
First was the decision to spend the summer in Wyoming at my grandparents’ home in Laramie (my grandfather passed and my grandmother lives with my parents near D.C., but they’ve kept the house for a variety of reasons). I was not going to write, market, sell anything, I was going to step back from my business, continue serving my existing clients, and re-evaluate everything I was doing and how I was approaching business and my writing and teaching.
The dream had been, once you left the corporate 9–5, to do your own thing, feel empowered, create your own schedule, ???, profit! but things weren’t exactly panning out. I felt caught back into the hamster wheel of constant doing without many results, spinning in all directions, trying to prove what a badass life coach I was, but not spending a lot of time on like… feeling good about or enjoying the things I was doing.
Second was the decision to start seeing seeking alternative and holistic health treatments. I saw a naturopath, who did a deep dive on labwork with my blood and stool samples, concluded (as you may have) that I was having some thyroid issues, and put me on supplements and dietary advice that started to significantly help my symptoms. I’ll also never forget she advised me this: “Just don’t work out for the next few months. Maybe do some gentle yoga. But your body needs healing. Don’t push it.” My head went asplode because I had always associated high intensity, sweat until your brains fall out, sort of working out with peak health. But I leaned into her suggestions and merely went walking or hiking gently a couple times a week. I also started seeing an amazing acupuncturist in Laramie, and will continue treatment if safe and possible back in D.C. And I connected with a woman in an online community I’m in, who, facing her own health issues, mentioned she had been diagnosed with something called Pernicious Anemia, which means you can’t absorb B12 through your digestive system, and she suggested I might look into supplementing with dissolvable B12. This addition, more than anything, changed my mood and anxiety from night to day. Just a few days after starting my supplements (I use these, which dissolve under your tongue), my anxiety and depression were like, 70% better. It was astounding. (Update: Since I drafted this email a week ago, my nails have started growing at a rapid rate, my hair has stopped falling out, and a lot. of other things have resolved. I’ve learned a lot about the relation of micronutrients, especially B12, in relation to mental and physical health issues and I plan on writing more about this because 70% of Americans have a deficiency in this area and it is closely linked to mental health but nobody talks about it??? More to come.)
Third was the decision to confront some sad emotions I had been keeping at bay. While here in Wyoming, I realized I had never properly grieved my grandfather Francois, and in his home, with all of his belongings still here, I was faced with that deep sadness. I also, as always, was continuing to explore my history of shame and low self-worth, and realized I was, though I had changed a lot of things in my life, still subscribing to model of capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy that was keeping me feeling never good enough.
In short, I went deep on root causes. And thinking about that is what started to make me angry. How we’re a society so singularly focused on symptoms and waving them away, trying to convince its citizens that nothing is wrong, it’s all in your head. It’s normal to work 40, 50, 60+ hours a week and still feel like you don’t have enough money but also somehow always should be buying stuff. Drink a crap ton of coffee to work harder and do more, but then feel like you have to unwind with half a bottle of wine and continue to have shoddy sleep. Live alone as a marker of adulthood, and look askance at untraditional living situations with friends or family that create necessary support systems.
I’m angry at a health system and society who scorn alternative, holistic, Eastern and indigenous medicinal approaches (which I’ve started to realize has more than a whiff of racism about it) except the ones they deem profitable and palatable enough to appropriate with a pretty white face. I’m angry that we mock spirituality or people’s attempts to connect to something larger than themselves. I’m absolutely furious at the concept that we have to work 40 hours a week if not more to survive financially, or feel like we must prove our worth. I’m angry that I had what would have been called a “good” education and yet at age 40 I’m learning more from educators on Instagram about the actual history of this country and its systems. I’m angry that we encourage low self-worth, people-pleasing, second guessing, shame, confusion and lack of empowerment and identity outside of career or marriage in people, especially women.
I’m really angry that most of my clients come to me thinking that they feel kind of crappy because probably they’re messing up in some way or not good enough at their jobs, and if only they did better or got promoted or got a new job that everything would be fine, but the fact is they’re going to continue to encounter sexism, pay disparities, and a feeling that they’re never enough, which they’re going to believe they can solve by continuing to work harder at by opting-in and proving themselves to the capitalistic workforce.
I’m angry at a system that dismisses emotions, encourages numbing out, that acts as if humans are separate from nature instead of of nature, a system that pretends we have a body, not that we are a body, a system that wounds people so badly they inevitably cause some sort of trauma to the next generation, and the merry go round just keeps on spinning. I’m angry that what I’ve felt and experienced and am now awakening to is only a millionth of a fraction of what oppressed and vulnerable communities and populations have been subject to for centuries.
The root is rotten. And we’ve all been duped.
We’ve all been told that we’re the ones that need improving. That if only we hacked our lives enough, things would get better. Optimization, efficiency, it’s not about feeling better, it’s about doing more (but aren’t those one and the same, am I right?!). If we’re sad, we’re not creating enough gratitude lists. If we’re tired, we’re not eating well enough. If you’re not making enough money, you just have to work harder and fix your scarcity mindset. If we’re angry, we’re overreacting, everything is super duper great, why can’t you just see it and flip your worldview?
I keep thinking about this quote: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
This is the reality: if you feel sick, tired, sad, angry, bad, down, anxious, worthless, insecure, or any number of extremely real and extremely valid feelings:
You’re not the sick one.
The root is rotten, we’ve all been gaslit, and for me, it stops here.
How? Well, lol. I am not 100% sure. And that’s okay. If you read more about the tenets and culture of white supremacy, you know that it encourages perfectionism and not knowing exactly how to move forward as a method of keeping people down.
But I know this: I’m going to keep up with my calling of coaching sensitive people who somehow think their lack of vitality has to do with inherent flaws instead of a society that has steamrolled them into the ground and made them believe it is their fault. I’m going to keep teaching compassionate personal development (see a new course I’m launching below). I’m going to encourage personal responsibility and agency as much as I can, for myself, my clients, all of you, because nobody else is coming to save us and give us the different version of a life that we all deserve. And oh yeah, I’m going to keep telling people that they deserve the life they dream of, and more than that, it is possible to go after it, it’s more than possible, it is your absolute birthright.
I’m going to keep being angry. I’m going to rest when I need to. And I’m going to keep writing.
So, yeah. The Soother is back. Now excuse me. I have to go fucking meditate.