This morning when I looked in the mirror… Well, wait. Before I get to that, let me take you through what led me here.

Do you pay attention to your thoughts? I mean, do you go slowly enough to notice what you’re thinking? In my travels – by which I mean in my reading – in psychology, in Buddhist thought and in self-help – I’ve encountered the concept of observing my mind. Observing my thoughts, my reactions and my words. Simply noticing myself, my inner self. And I’ve learned a lot from doing that.

I’ve found that if I observe myself, I learn things about how I think. Like when I’m watching TV I noticed that it seems to be automatic that I’ll be thinking ‘oh, I like their hair’ or ‘ew, what a weird color shirt they’ve got on’. Stuff like that. Assessments. Judgements. Comments. Sometimes humor that makes me giggle. Seemingly out of nowhere, things jump into the forefront of my mind. Try it. It can be fun, interesting and sometimes surprising in both good and bad ways.

This morning when I looked in the mirror, I stood there for a couple minutes. Much like when I watch my thoughts carefully, I intentionally thought about who I saw. I didn’t look at myself through anyone else’s eyes but my own. What I mean by that is that I wasn’t looking critically at my reflection, as if I were judging my appearance by other people’s standards. I didn’t think things like ‘oh, you ought to put makeup on’ (my mother), ‘you’ve got more wrinkles now’ (my sister), ‘you’ve gained some weight since summertime’ (my ex-husband). This morning I simply looked, non-judgmentally, at me. And ya know what? I like what I saw. After all this time and a lot of practice, I saw a person with kind eyes, a warm smile and a genuine heart. I saw a person who tries their best to love gently and aspire to their best self. I recognized someone who’s been through a lot of pain, many trials and who keeps going even if they want to give up sometimes from the weight of it all.

What I also saw this morning is that I was WILLING to stop and be there with myself. There was a time when I would have been in a hurry to go somewhere, do something. Rushed with no time for staring in the mirror. Hurrying forward taking no time for me.

So what changed?

About two years ago, my life truly crashed and burned to the ground. My husband and I were homeless. We were trying to find somewhere that we could afford to live on a couple of part-time online jobs that provided far less income than when we both were working in full-time, good-paying jobs with benefits. And I couldn’t help anymore. I couldn’t work because I was deflated and beaten down. Depressed and depleted. Completely out of steam.

See, I live with chronic complex PTSD. It started in my childhood. I lived through physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. It was exacerbated and made worse by my ex-husband, who was emotionally abusive, manipulative and unkind. And, though I was getting support from psychology and psychiatry and reading and working to understand and heal, this time I crashed. Several things happened in late 2018, a long Spring of illness, a couple more traumas and a broken dream. And I could not cope anymore. Not with anything or anybody. My (second and very loving and supportive) husband, yes. Anyone else, no. I had nothing left to give anyone. It got to the point where all I could do was stop. And wait. And be with myself.

These last 2 years, unwillingly, but out of necessity and fatigue and a battle-weariness I’d never known before, I spent a lot of time in solitude. With nothing formal to do anymore, I lived absent of rules and obligations. My children are adults now and on their own and I had left a job and the school I was attending behind. We had moved in an effort to find a way to start over. We finally found a small town where we could afford an apartment. We were barely making it, but at least we weren’t living out of the car anymore. We had an air mattress, a couple of folding chairs and two tray tables we ate off of and watch shows on our laptop in the evening. Talk about going back to basics.

I found a therapist here, thanks to this state’s healthcare for those who have no insurance. And – in a moment of sheer good fortune after years of application and interviews – a few months later, my husband landed a great job. Remote. Full-time. Benefits. The whole enchilada. In therapy, though, I kept talking about how I had to find work. How I had to help my husband by earning my share of income. My therapist asked me why. I said because I’m ‘supposed to’. She asked why again. I didn’t really know. I just thought I was ‘supposed to’. She suggested that I let go of that expectation of myself for a while. She kept saying I might consider stop expecting so much from myself. It took some time, but I started trying it. Ya know what? It wasn’t easy. I wrestled with guilt and recognized how deeply I was programmed to perform a certain way. How I had bought into the formula that my parents and others had convinced me were the way to live. After some time, I became comfortable with it. The ‘no rules, no expectations’ method of doing my life.

What I’m saying is this. I took the time to be. Simply be. I took the time to get to know myself and live from the very center of my being, following what I think and know from the core of me. I began to find more energy and do things that I like to do. THAT took some time to figure out, too, but it evolved into me rediscovering artistic interests and taking time to write and dance. I’ve been painting and drawing and exploring my creative inclinations. I adore yarn and crocheting. A lot. And I love to dance, so I dance. With no one watching, I can’t tell you if it’s good, bad or just eh. But I have fun. It feels really good to nourish my soul in these ways.

What I’ve managed to do is get to know myself. I’ve gotten to know the me that existed before all of the criticism and advice and marketing and how-tos that the outside world imposes on us. I’ve gotten to spend time with me. After all, how do you know if you like someone if you don’t spend any time with them?

And all this has led to today. This morning I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, ‘Hey, it’s really good to know you…’ And I’m thinking it’s time to dance some more.