Take Up Space - Part Two
I got sick.
That makes it sound as if I suddenly woke up one day and my life changed. That is not accurate. A bunch of niggling health issues, repeated knee dislocations, joint pain, debilitating periods had been gradually turning up the volume. I had been told that I would require surgery on both my knees in the coming year .
I was busy taking up space
I got busier and busier. I was in the final stretch before the ‘Day job’ was coming to its end and I had a plan to make a living after and have time to do all the amazing things that I had discovered the courage to do! Sea swimming! Roller derby! Feminist events!
I had a sharp pain in my hip that radiated around my body. I wondered if I had bursitis , if I had somehow damaged a muscle. I went to see the GP who told me to take ibuprofen and consider losing weight ( more about THIS another day) the pain didn’t go and 48 hours later it felt as if my entire body was burning and my hip was on fire . I had developed a rash and I was so tired that lifting my head off the pillow felt like an olympian feat. I dragged myself back to the GP who told me I did indeed have shingles and gave me antibiotics and told me to rest.
I took 2 weeks off work and rested the best I could. It was 6 weeks before my work came to an ended and my first knee surgery - an ACL reconstruction using my hamstring. The shingles nerve pain decreased, but I didn’t seem to be able to get my energy back. Pain that I’d been living with in my knees and pelvis had been somehow enhanced, ramped up beyond what I could bear. I would walk the kids to school and by the time I got home my whole body would feel as if it was on fire. I pushed through fatigue and pain as I was sure that my knee surgery would fix a lot of it.
Spoiler- it didn’t fix a lot of it.
Did surgery solve all my problems?
Nope. Surgery was painful and recovery was painful. My energy did not return. After my knee op, I had numerous other procedures and then when we went into lock down, I was still in pain. Read more about that rollercoaster in another blog.
I tracked my symptoms and the flare ups and began to notice patterns in the pain that seemed to be cyclical. The GP eventually listened to me.
Suffice to say I am writing this now and I do still experience pain daily. I have had extensive pelvic surgery, including a hysterectomy and excision of endometriosis. I am on the waiting list for my 4th knee surgery which may or may not come around this year. Currently it’s the ass-end of the summer of 2021 and although my pain is dramatically reduced from how it was even 3 months ago, I still have to pace my energy and we are still living the daily negotiation of working / parenting/ living in the pandemic.
What Take Up Space means to me now:
SO the Taking Up Space version of myself, the imagined future me that I have been working toward doesn’t exist. It’s taken a bunch of surgery, a pandemic, the sudden end of all the ‘activity’ that is ME, the closure of the spaces I was taking up for me to start to learn this.
In order to fully ‘become’ who I have the potential to be, it is necessary to learn to fully and radically accept the way that things are. To learn and lean into some quieter spaces. Oh how hard the lesson learnt in 2020 that the ‘best self’ that I had channelled all my energies into becoming - working her dream job - life so full and exciting that it didn’t matter that I was lurching from burnout to burnout, because i was having so much fun doing it .. that once this Katy was no longer taking up those spaces… she barely existed at all.
My best self was nothing more than the reflection mirrored back to me of what other people could see. That everything was fully being projected out Taking Up Space - like the great OZ, the wo-man behind the curtain stayed hidden.
Devastating? Maybe. What was I left with when the world closed down?
A reckoning of sorts
I am sure that I am not the only one who experienced a dramatic reckoning of self during this past year. I am grateful that I am alive and those that I love are also alive. I am not the same person that locked-down in March 2020. Being home and away from people forced me to get to know myself in a way that I have been resisting for most of my adult life. And this required, and requires, a bunch of things that I never knew that I had been denying myself all this time.
Compassion. Acceptance. Curiosity. Connectedness.
I would have been furious had anyone suggested I was lacking in these things before. I had them in buckets. But my supply came from other people. From being with friends, from meeting with people, from physical routines of being physically in community. Left to myself I had no skills or tools for creating these things, (which I really believe are essential to our own souls! ) for myself.
I wish I was able to give you a tidy listicle- ‘the 3 things I did to learn self compassion’ or ‘How I turned acceptance from what I thought into what I practice’. I wish I was able to tell you that I was able to identify that this was ‘my problem’ and work towards fixing it. It’s not a neat and tidy story and honestly - it is still being told
Taking up space looks a little different now
So, perhaps this has all got a bit Eat, Pray, Love. I would have died of cringe even thinking these thoughts a few years ago. But what Take Up Space means to me now? It’s about pressing into the spaces in which I need to grow.
It’s about radically accepting the circumstances before me and learning how to navigate them. It’s advocating for my own healthcare and it’s really really learning to rest. It’s throwing off all over again expectations of how I should be, in business, as an artist, as an activist, a mother. Throwing off both expectations of the world and the ones that I have grown myself, that often trap me.
Take up your own space
The space I wish to take up, the one I long to inhabit the most, is nothing more than my own space in the world. There will be times for breaking down barriers, or taking centre stage, perhaps, in the future. If all I have learnt in the last few years is the urgency of paying attention to being fully present and open in any circumstances I find myself in, then that is enough.
If you want to think about developing compassion, connection, curiosity and acceptance I can't help you, I am not a therapist. Maybe get a therapist?
But I can drop this list of books that I have found useful on the way.