This is the hardest thing i’ve ever done

I start this post with a double quote from two of the people who have shaped my psychic evolution — Carl Jung and Brenée Brown.

Brenée Brown writes, “Carl Jung called the paradox one of our most valued spiritual possessions and a great witness to the truth. He wrote, ‘Only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.’Sometimes beautiful. Sometimes terrible. Always deeply human.”

November is a month of paradox — one where we can both hold the wonder of fall foliage and feel the brittleness of winter slowly creeping into our bones. In New York, the first weekend of November holds both the darkening of days through the changing of the clock, and the celebration of wellness through the running of the New York City Marathon. It still baffles me to this day that I lived so many Novembers in New York City without ever realizing The Marathon was there. So many Novembers in a row where the start of November brought with it brokenness — and finally, one that brought complete shattering, and here I could have just walked into Central Park and imbibed life from the race. Now, I can’t imagine November without it. I run it to feel overwhelming love and energy cascading through the streets. I run it to help heal my Novembers.

For me, November is a month of paradox — one where memories of pure joy wrap themselves around flashbacks of fear, trauma, and danger in an attempt to suffocate them — erase them from existence in my memory. Each year, the flashbacks are less vivid, the physical triggers, the anxiety, and the countdown to the end of the year — that time where I can start again become less dramatic, less necessary. I infuse November with feats of greatness, of athleticism, projects, goals — anything to keep going on — and yet I still feel the river of anxiety flowing underneath — like a dormant volcano. I wonder at the end of each day, as the month progresses, why I have headaches, why my shoulders tense, and why my runs become more challenging — why my chest feels tight even when I’m not breathing hard. In November, I had relationships break year after year. In November, someone trapped me into a web of lies and abuse — this was almost my last November. Yet — 9 short and long years later, my first child was born in November — a feat of miracle that challenged all notions I had, and sharpened my focus on what mattered in life. November holds both what is beautiful, and what is tragic.

A few months ago, I ran a 50km race, which is roughly 32 miles. During the race — probably somewhere around marathon distance, I had this thought, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Then — I laughed. Already, running a 32 mile race on a 1-mile looped track can look ridiculous, now add me laughing randomly. The laughter sent a ripple effect through my body that had physical manifestations — my muscles relaxed — and something shifted in me, energetically. What was funny, you might ask? That running this race was far from the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Actually, in comparison to even one frayed string int the woven tapestry that is my story of trauma, illness, battles, recovery, and eventual balance, this race — was pretty low on the ladder of hard.

And yet — at that moment, it was the hardest thing I’d ever done! To be standing — well running — in the middle of this juxtaposition between perceived hardship and the memory of true suffering and to think, this is hard, was well — hilarious. Also — to know that I was in a situation where I was choosing the discomfort I was in, and also knew that I had the choice to stop at any point, allowed for that levity. I wasn’t trapped, confined, isolated, or shamed — I was in my strength, choosing to run around in a circle. It was pretty funny.

We find ourselves again in November. Here I am again, wondering why my head hurts, why I have heightened responses to everything, and why I feel compelled “to fix” what is in my world. With each year, comes more awareness, more presence, more spiritual growth — with more distance, I feel like I can breathe. Yet, each November holds these echoes, flashbacks, nightmares that may never go away.

So many of us live with untold traumas — whether those are untold to others, or untold to ourselves. Yet, for the most part -you would never know. Some of us go to therapy, some of us take medication, some of us run a lot, some of us cry when we are alone, and some of us spend our lives drowning time in 60 second reels. I try to be aware of what lies beneath the surface for those I encounter — and most of the time, I succeed. Sometimes, I am also human and am impatient, frustrated, or tired. I try to remember that what “November” is for me may be March for another, or a specific number, or sound, or smell.

If we approach the scripture in the Torah with joy, then we can read the nuances in the complex relationships and events — we can find the brotherhood between the words that tell of only strife. So, that race wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done, nor will it be the hardest thing I will ever do — but now almost everything can have levels of acuity and meaning.

November is still there with its echoes and memories — but it is also here with laughter, wonder, openness, and joy.

A poem of Novembers from 2013:

Another November
28th November, 2013

The stars cower in shame.
They cover themselves -
lest the wind strip them bare.
I stare into their blackened eyes,
as I would at the wall,
when my body knew violence.

In the distance -
car alarms howling.
They are the silent screams
of another night disturbed.

I hear them in my bones,
the memories of that November.
Yet here they lay with me tonight,
pounding me with their fists full of lies.

In lotus position,
I stare at my feet.
I cry in meditation and
beg myself for forgiveness.

My body replies,
With spasms from my head to my fingers.
My nerves have become
a lightning storm of confusion.

Every November,
I count sleepless nights.
I remember the ones
where I could do nothing right.

And where is she now?
God only knows -
but in my body she lives,
as every year the nightmares,
once again,

I live in the flashbacks,
and in the fear that my shame
will be discovered.
How can I tell you why
I’m afraid of your touch?

It’s not yours.
It’s her nails that I feel -
they cut me through my own hand.
Your kindness is stolen from me
by the monsters in my memory.
Yet even today,
my bruises are real.

When will I know
that I’ve finally grown stronger?
Perhaps when my heart,
in November,
is in anguish no longer.

Writer, Runner, Speaker, Teacher - Founder of The “I Am” Project