Remember a few years ago when everywhere you looked, there was a woman reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle? Women in Starbucks, women on airplanes, women on the beach, all heeding the call at the same time? I didn’t read it. As a rule, I avoid any book that is wildly popular because those books are usually poorly written and I end up annoyed that I wasted time and money on something millions of people mistakenly claimed was “life changing.”
I didn’t read it until my sister recommended it to me. My sister doesn’t usually recommend things to me, probably because we have very little in common I’m unlikely to accept her suggestions for running trails and laser facials, but she insisted this book would speak to me, so I downloaded it right away.
Sarah is a Boss Bitch. She overseas many people at work, wins awards and accolades for her performance, and she doesn’t have time to go around pushing lame books on family members, so her suggestions are thoughtful. And I liked the book. A lot.
Glennon Doyle’s voice is approachable and easy but also full of truths you need to hear, and I was on the last page a day later. It was great, but I didn’t jump up and say I am a CHEETAH like you’re supposed to after you read something so empowering. Often, those messages don’t feel applicable, and at the time I wasn’t in a very cheetah place. I thought, “this is great for women! But…not for me.” I mean, I’m not a cheetah, obviously.
After I read Untamed, Brene Brown was the new source of all things self-reflection and emotional gymnastics, but I didn’t bother to investigate, knowing it would be more of the same — amazing insights! But not for me. The thing is, if you’ve got an always, every day, uncontrollable external force blocking your every effort, no amount of “you go, girl!” is going to help. These felt like messages for someone in a rut, or unhappy with their life choices who needed a confidence boost to turn things around. No amount of confidence would turn my situation even one degree.
This year, in the midst of unprecedented fatigue and other challenging symptoms, I went in search of the Glennon Doyles. I am a Peloton member and a huge fan of their content, but where I would usually look for an instructor who would push me, I could barely pedal some days and just wanted to be told I was doing great no matter what. Their instructors are so good at that. Sure, you have to know who to pick, but you can absolutely find a gentle stretching class where the instructor will repeat in soothing tones, “you’re doing fantastic. Showing up to stretch today wasn’t easy, but here you are! You’re amazing.” When I could finally take a short low impact cycling class, I actually found myself thinking I can do hard things, the famous mantra from Untamed. Then I picked an instructor known for leading rides with introspection and self love and ignored every suggestion to increase resistance while she told me I was an athlete and athletes need recovery. I don’t think athletes need to lay down after pretending to pedal for ten minutes, but still.
I have an anxious brain so I’m not a great meditator, but I enjoy the process. My mind is generally jumbled and fuzzy so guided meditation is the best option for me, and the more the instructor speaks, the better, because any moment of silence and I’m off down a winding path of worries. Today I picked a gratitude meditation, which was surprisingly specific. You’d think the prompts would be about general thankfulness, but it was actually about being grateful for your body and everything it can do. Of course, I can’t help but think but what about all the shit it can’t do?
She starts all her meditations asking us to relax and feel rooted and comfortable in “the safety of our own containers,” and I want to raise my hand and say help! My container is busted! It’s totally unsafe in here! And then she says something like, “check in with how you’re feeling, scan your body, and know that whatever you discover is just fine.” I should have figured this meditation on a fitness app would be about gratitude for all the amazing athletic feats my body can accomplish, but I wasn’t expecting that sort of acknowledgement that even athletes aren’t always happy with themselves and we all need to take stock of what’s going on and know that whatever it is, it’s fine.
When I’m berating my body for being a burning trash heap, I feel guilty for not being grateful that it gave me three healthy children. I had three difficult but healthy pregnancies that made absolutely no sense, based on my level of disease and the medications I took to keep it in check. Then I feel angry that I have to give this broken down jalopy credit for anything when it’s entirely unreliable and throws a tantrum if I sit near a crisp vegetable. Let me live, bitch!
I am truly thankful for the huge variety of programming on the Peloton app, and that I got the chance to take classes with every instructor before I started feeling ill so I’d know who to turn to when I needed a specific tone. I go to this guy for motivation, I go to her when I need to be pushed, and I seek out these other folks when I want to be told everything is alright, I’m a hero for lying still on a mat, and taking time for myself is crucial to healing. Opening the class list on a good day when I feel like doing something, anything, I’m literally thinking, “who will be nice to me today.”
Tonight, I finally watched the Brene Brown Netflix special. First of all, she’s from Texas so she is immediately likable. But also? She is hilarious. Her message was insightful and I especially identified with her words about joy, and the way embracing joy requires you to be vulnerable. I didn’t want to hear it, but apparently I don’t let myself embrace joy because it’s too scary to love my children or celebrate good health so instead I imagine terrible things happening to my kids in recurring nightmares and obsess about how everyone will get along without me if I’m in the hospital or in an urn on the mantle. It was an emotional ride.
I probably need to reread Untamed now that I’m in a mental place to hear that I am a cheetah and I can do hard things, even if the things that are hard for me are not even a little bit hard for most people. Reframing is key, and so is timing, but I’d recommend both Brene Brown’s Netflix special Call To Courage and Glennon Doyle’s book to anyone in a mental or emotional place where they need to be told they are brave and good and strong even when they don’t feel it themselves. And of course, I recommend the Peloton app to anyone looking for virtual friends who teach you to touch your toes and tell you you’re a hero for pressing play.