For some, including me, the end of the calendar year brings a lot of reminders of how much pain we’re experiencing. Gathering with family can reopen a lot of old wounds. Not gathering with family can cause heartache too. The list of reasons to be grieving is long…
I could sense in myself the dread building up as the weather got colder this year, and I really felt like I had to name it or I’d explode. For those of you who know about my job, you know that I basically get paid to look at everything through the lens of race and have courageous conversations with educators about how race is at play in their classrooms. I have really built up muscle for naming my noticings and wonderings, and many of them require me to be both bold and vulnerable. Elena Aguilar taught me that I coach for transformation, and so I do very much value conversations that promote and encourage reflection and growth.
So I decided to do something that many families would find awkward: I decided to initiate a courageous conversation about my mental health and how I’m genuinely doing with my family before seeing them.
I sent an email a couple of weeks ago that started like this:
Dear ________________________, I am writing this to you as a heads up of how I’m doing before we see each other at the end of the month. My intent is to offer some clarity on how I can be best loved this season, and I apologize in advance if it impacts you differently than that.
I wrote a few paragraphs about some of my current anxieties, fears, and thoughts with a few more details on what my heart and mind experience when I come “home” for the holidays and a few requests on topics that I’d prefer to be off limits so that my amygdala can relax.
And then I concluded the email with this:
One of my favorite Brene Brown quotes is “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” I say this to you so you have some clarity on how I’m showing up, and I’m telling you because I’d like a healthier relationship with you.
What I’d love from you now is just a simple reply of “I got your message, and I understand it” or “I got your message, and I have some questions.” Love, Bek.
I sent this email to ten people, and I heard back from everybody. Besides a couple of questions, it felt really validating to get a response that said they understood. To be honest, just composing the email lifted weight from my heart, and clicking “send” freed up some of the tension inside my brain even more.
I’m really hoping to hold space for both joy and pain as I look towards a new decade and a new year. I’m constantly realizing that everywhere I look, the people around me have stories and their lived experiences are informing how they show up. As I look at the news and at our country politically, the temptation to divide is great. One of my favorite movies is Beatriz at Dinner, and in it, Salma Hayek’s character tells John Lithgow’s character: “You think killing is hard? Try healing. You can break something in two seconds. But it can take forever to fix it.”
As an adult, I want to model for my children what it looks like to tell the people who I love how I want to be loved. I would hope they would tell me too. We have permission to change, to grow, to hurt, and to heal on our own timelines. And we need spaces where all of that is granted to us.
Are old wounds opening up for you this season? What are questions you wish your loved ones would ask you? What are topics you wish they would not ask you about? Who is someone you trust and love that you can you initiate a conversation with about how your heart is showing up when you are together? My hunch is if they are causing you pain, they would want to know. And there’s a way to let them in on it gently.
And if you have capacity, it’s worth thinking about harm you may inflicting, even if it’s unintentional, and posture yourself in gratitude instead of defensiveness that someone you love would tell you their truth.
Wishing you an abundance of peace, joy, and space to hold your heart this holiday season. Thanks for reading my blog and engaging with my reflections this year. See you in January. 🙂