Be Careful Out There

Whew. 2019 was such a mixed-bag year. Lots to be grateful for: My son got married in a beautiful wedding service to the love of his life. Work was a banner year. My children and grandchildren are thriving and doing well. My sisters and I spent some quality time together. I made a new friend. The mixed-bag part?

Well, it’s a list too, but let’s go straight to the finish line.

The Monday before Thanksgiving Thursday I fell on icy steps and fractured my sacrum which resulted in my oldest sister showing up on week three following my injury to see how I was doing and telling me she was taking me to the doctor. Since I’d already been to several doctors, I asked why. She said, and I’m quoting, “Tell your doctor that you aren’t able to live your life right now.” Fair enough. I was a hot mess–physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. I still am, though I am beginning to sort it out a bit with the help of some much-needed drugs.

I’ve had anxiety for decades. Blessed be me that I am a horticulturist because that helps to manage it. I don’t sit at a desk. I’m outside all day, sunshine or rain. My job is physical. And, I spend all my time in gardens around plants. All of this works together to reduce the anxiety hugely. But, I forgot that with the anxiety diagnosis I was also diagnosed with depression. It doesn’t rear it’s head as often, but when it does show up, you don’t miss it. There was something about falling down at the end of my 60th year that unraveled me. It was like watching a spinning top slowly come to rest after it had knocked over everything in its orbit.

The depression had been coming for some time. I look back now, over the last few years, and there were all sorts of signs but I wasn’t paying attention. Just like the day I slipped on the ice. I was in a hurry, headed to a meeting, ignoring the warnings around me. And, hey, I have great weather apps that actually tell me, as I am walking out the door, it’s 29 degrees and icy. Be careful out there.

Be careful out there.

My superpower is validating people. When someone trusts me enough to tell me their story, I am very helpful because I don’t try to fix anything or figure it out for them. I don’t lecture. (Lord knows they’ve probably done enough of that to themselves.) I don’t give loads of advice. I don’t judge. I validate and I am good at deflating the pressure. I give them permission to be who they are right then. They can mourn, be angry, quit, give up, whatever they feel like at that moment. I’m a big believer in quitting and giving up which is the one thing most people tell you not to do. I think when you finally do quit, whatever you need to quit, new doors can open. I believe rock bottom is a beautiful place because your coping mechanisms are shattered there and you can’t even make a plan. But boy, you’re paying attention now.

I don’t use my superpower for myself, though. I am very hard on myself. I heap the lectures on. I criticize. I ask myself, what were you thinking?

When I moved into my little house after my divorce I decided I would not be fazed. I would prove to myself that I could go it alone. I was going to make “it all” work. Honestly, I don’t even know what “it all” is or was.

I think it looked very much like a movie where the heroine falls on hard times and then conquers her sad situation and buys a house in Tuscany. Which I’m still game for but the reality is well, slim. I never allowed myself to stop, to even consider what “it all” actually was, or to give up. I’ve told others countless times, yes, you can quit if that is what you need to do because I believe in the resilience of the human spirit, but I pushed myself to extremes without permission to quit–or even rest. I isolated myself. I did not want people to see my failures or my fears. I had a lot of ground to cover. Divorce at my age leaves a lot of gaps financially and I was determined never to be a burden on anyone. I was going to make it work. But, I forgot about time.

Turning 60 was like a megaphone going off in my head, saying you’re out of time and you’re out of options. You don’t have enough time left on the clock to make “it all” work.

Fear has been my constant companion this year as I tried to prove that megaphone wrong. Isn’t age just a number? Aren’t you as young as you feel? (I so hate those cliches.) Surely, I still have time to make anything I want to work. Then I fell and a random ortho guy said, “Well, at your age, the healing will take longer and if you fall again, you’ll need surgery.”

Here’s what I know about myself. I am not a go-getter. I am a slow-getter. I have a Cinthia pace. It’s methodical but slow and mostly involves matters of the heart. Head knowledge doesn’t interest me as much as heart knowledge. I’m a solid nine on the Enneagram personality assessment but I’ve been trying desperately to be a three these last seven years. (Look up Enneagram if you’re drawing a blank.) Three personalities are go-getters who can make a hundred decisions in the time it takes them to put on their pants in the mornings. Nines are peacemakers who make good diplomats and mediators if they aren’t comatose from trying to please too many people at once.

I’ve always fallen in love with threes because they seem so capable and in control. But this time, these last seven years, I wasn’t falling in love with a three, I was determined to be one. Screw the nines. I needed a home, a retirement account, a way to not be a burden on my family. I needed independence and self-sufficiency. These are things threes excel at accomplishing. They can make all that happen while catching up on a football game. I set about to change who I fundamentally was because how else was I going to make life work? Nine are too busy praying for peace, or whatever.

It didn’t work. Instead, I had a complete breakdown and spiraled into depression for a spectacular ending to a complicated personal year.

So, my year is winding up with me mostly in bed, in pain, and talking to my oldest and dearest friend, Donna, who is dead. She died a few years ago from an illness. My college roommate and lifelong friend, I talked and talked and talked to her, telling her how badly I failed and now I was out of time. It was a great pity party, but she is my best friend, so I’m allowed. She listened. She didn’t give advice or lecture me. Then she said something she used to always say to me, “Have you done your best?”


She asked again, “Have you done your best? Cinthia’s best?

Oddly, as a nine grows and becomes more integrated into themselves, they do exhibit character traits of a three. But, that doesn’t make them a three. They’re still a nine.

There’s a story of David, a Biblical character, who was on the battlefield headed out to slay a Philippine giant. He was given much advice, some scorn (ridicule since he was far from being a giant himself) and even a soldier’s uniform that didn’t quite fit him. He removed the uniform, tuned out the voices, and took what he had, a slingshot. It was the slingshot he used to fight off many a lion while watching over his father’s sheep, and with that slingshot, he killed the giant.

It’s a simple story that illustrates and speaks to Donna’s question. What does Cinthia’s best look like when she isn’t trying to wear some other soldier’s uniform? I honestly don’t know. Right now, I am still trying to get up from that icy fall, feeling pretty wobbly, and a bit dazed. Donna said that was okay. Step one is to get up when you’re ready.

Then, see what’s next–Cinthia’s next.

And, oh yeah, be careful out there.