Are you asking the right questions?

Self-portrait, on a hike the other day

During those years of infertility (and the inevitable depression embedded in that experience) I had a few big aha moments. Mostly I was just miserable, but I had some breakthroughs along the way. Little nuggets of insight that felt healing, that kept me going during the worst of that time and that I still refer to today.

One was this: Are you asking the right questions?

After a few years of trying to conceive the “natural” way, I hit a wall. I had tried every alternative therapy under the sun (I live in the bay area, so believe me there are endless options) I tried acupuncture. I tried yoga. I tried talk therapy. I went to psychics, shamans and astrologers. I avoided hot tubs and wouldn’t let Matt near one either. I took my temperature every morning. I drank Robitussin. I tried to heal all my childhood wounds. (ha!) I faithfully drank bitter herbs — little dried bundles of sticks and roots I would take home from the acupuncturists office that I would boil into a witchy brew. I also did all the medical tests, but the doctors couldn’t figure it out. They called it: Unexplained infertility. (Very technical term)

And then I had a session with my life coach. And she said, “Okay. So there’s a lot of self-pity here. What about the anger? Where’s that? Aren’t you pissed off and frustrated? Where’s the ‘why-the-fuck-hasn’t-it-happened-by-now?’ Aren’t you mad at God or your body or somebody?!”

And that’s when I got it. As I stepped into the anger (okay, rage) I felt my strength, my fierceness, my aliveness in addition to my longing. I also saw how little power there was in the self-pity. The victim place is just that– totally helpless and impotent. And I had been there a long time. As we explored the anger, I found my feet firmly planted on the ground. I practiced role playing with her. We pretended people were asking me how it was going, and instead of my usual “It’s so hard…” and crying almost immediately, I practiced saying, “It fucking sucks!!! We’re fucking frustrated!!!”

And that felt better.

I got off the phone and threw all of my herbs away. I fired up the espresso pot and called off all of my appointments with various healers. I said Fuck it!!!!! Fuck being good and trying to deserve this baby! I don’t care where the help comes from, I just want help.

What’s wrong with me?

And it was at that moment that I realized I had been carrying a painful question with me for years:

What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me that this isn’t working?

Maybe I’m too depressed.
Maybe I’m not relaxed enough.
Maybe I don’t deserve this baby.
Maybe I’m too effed up.

I remember ordering a pair of pink, knee-high boots on the internet. When they arrived, I tried them on and immediately began to cry. I cried because they weren’t me at all. Cried because I could see that the reason I ordered them was that I thought I wasn’t feminine enough, womanly enough, motherly enough… and maybe these boots would help. I drove myself crazy with this. I figured if I knew what was wrong, I could fix it. In fact, I hoped something would come back positive on the tests, just so I could point to my fallopian tubes or some character flaw and say aha! it’s you! And then fix it. Fix me.

But then, in the wake of finally feeling all of the frustration and anger, a new question arrived. It was just as fierce, but a lot more loving: How can I help myself? Where can I get support? Suddenly, I didn’t care where the help came from. I just wanted help.  There was a journey on the other side of this doorway, but this was the first step.

What question are you carrying?

I am remembering this now, because I think I have found myself in that place again. Different circumstances but still asking the age old question– What’s wrong with me?

And well, this question can take you down a painful road.

I am looking for a different question to hold, one that will offer a new opening. What kind of support do you need? How can I help? These are better questions. What question are you carrying in your heart? And what is a more compassionate question?

 

31 Comments

  1. Natalie
    Posted August 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Am I doing the right thing for myself or for everyone else? When will I just get over all this bull shit and grow up and out of all my issues that stem from childhood? When will I not see myself as a problem anymore and as a problem solver? When will I give up trying to solve anything? When will I stop asking questions and just start having faith that everything will work itself out right? Am I doing this because its the universe’s plan or my plan? Who’s plan is more important?

    Thank you Andrea, I think you just opened a vault for me:)

  2. Posted August 6, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Sending you love Natalie! so glad this topic opened something up for you. xo

  3. jane
    Posted August 6, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    this is heartopeningly beautiful Andrea… my questions swirl around like this “why are you still sitting in smallness” “what permission are you waiting for” “why is it so hard for you to step up”…. and your compassionate questions offer me a safer place to fall… thank you

  4. Posted August 6, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    My question at the moment is: how is the fastest way to dissolve the pain which comes from the dissapointment, that we trusted our life and whole hearth to the wrong person for many years?

  5. Angie
    Posted August 6, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Feeling it all. Thanks for sharing this. xo

  6. Posted August 6, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    Do I really want the things that I want?

  7. Posted August 7, 2012 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    Bottom line – you are a fantastic writer and story teller, and you welcome me into the close circle of your thoughts, yearnings, prayers, and questions in irresistible ways. Your wise words move me into deeper places within myself and often come up in conversation with others as well. This piece about asking the right questions will keep me asking some good, hard questions for a good long time.

    Just the other day, I was telling somebody about your piece on how we write our stories into the silences around us. My friend took notes as I spoke (!) and said she’s gonna look at your website.

    Thank you, my friend. Thank you.

    PS. The Synergy dresses I ordered ages ago per your recommendation get compliments every time I wear them. You can be my fashion consultant anytime, girl. Any old time.

  8. Posted August 7, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this here and now. Your remarkable honest has me thinking about LOTS of stuff. At this moment it’s kinda’ rocking my world because I want a job/lifestyle change and this just nails it. Woah!

    Thanks for your courage and strength!

  9. Posted August 7, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Your life coach’s question is very, very different from the response I remember getting from people when I was longing for something that seemed out of my reach. When I felt angry, I was often told anger was ugly/out of place/you name it. But I like how your life coach did not play that shame game with you. Instead, she helped you embrace your power, and that power was in your anger.

    This post makes me realize I am carrying a similar question (what is wrong with me) about a particular situation in my life. I am going to sit with the idea there are better questions I can ask myself. Thanks!

  10. Posted August 7, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I had to really stew on this Andrea, which is why I love coming to your space.

    For the last 3 years, I have been asking myself, “Am I just a mom with a camera?” (aka am I a photography hack?)

    Through all of your classes, you have helped me change that question to, “What can I DO to change the things that make me feel inadequate in my photography?”

  11. Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    this post went straight to my heart…feeling it heavily right along with you, andrea…and with the same question i so long to reframe. xx

  12. Allison
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Andrea, did you know you are one of my angels?

    The questions I so often ask myself is what is wrong with me.. why did my marriage fail, why do so many things I attempt fail?

    Instead perhaps I should ask myself what brave new thing do I want to attempt today? …and be happy I am brave enough to try.

    xo Allison

  13. Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this insight.

    I blogged about the question I’ve been asking in my heart:
    http://e14studio.blogspot.com/2012/07/its-about-path-im-on.html

  14. Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I saved this post for a day because I was sure that it was going to be just what I was going through … um, that doesn’t exactly make sense, but I am hoping you know what I mean.

    In fact, I sat down to write myself a letter (right now it seems to be the only way I can get stuff out) last night with just these sentiments … how I have been wondering what’s wrong with me … or worse, what have I done to deserve this?

    I needed to acknowledge that those were the questions I had been asking … the questions, unvocalized, that were torturing me…

    I don’t know what the right questions are right now, but I know that those questions are not the right ones.

    I am trying to gently open up the boxes holding the other questions… trying to allow myself to ask for help, and, in general, being gentle with myself.

    Thanks for this.

  15. Kimberley McGill
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I read this and the tears came fast. I knew immediatley that what I have been feeling for a couple of weeks is exactly “what’s wrong with me?” What’s wrong with me that awful things keep happening for 5 years straight? What am I being punished for? —– and intellectually I know I’m not being punished. I said to someone yesterday I needed to grieve —– but I feel like I have grieved over and over and over again. I think I need to just get pissed off and find whatever energy in that to move forward, sideways, in a wiggly line, in a cricle, – just move.

    thank you

  16. Posted August 7, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    This hit home for me for sure.

    Im always questioning too… “whats wrong with me? why am i holding back? why cant i live fully?” …this after having just fought cancer. Shouldnt I be thrilled and excited and ready to live life again!? But I still cant seem to get happy and dont give myself permission to.

    And then I often am wondering “what did i do to get cancer at 28?” “what did i do wrong? is it a punishment? did i deserve it for something i did? what have i done differently then other women my age to get breat cancer?”

    A lot of beating myself up type questions.

    Mostly I think it’s just the “what’s wrong with me.” I think I just need to get angry too. Time for coaching session perhaps! Your coach sounds similar to mine! It’s good to get mad sometimes!

  17. simone
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    I love the question, “am I getting the right help for this? Where can I get the right help?” So much more helpful and focuses me in the right direction. The “why” questions never really help much…it’s kind of like when you ask your child “why did you….” Why is very complex. Why questions make me feel stuck I guess. Thanks for the post!

  18. Posted August 7, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Am I enough? What is my value here in the world? As a woman without children (infertility too), I wonder, “What will be my legacy?” Will people remember me when I am gone? I have a great job, and a great family, good friends.

    I also am a cancer survivor, struggle with depression and anxiety, have back trouble – and am divorced? I seem to bounce back from it all but what alternative is there? But what does it all mean to who I am? Is what I have, who I am enough?

    Interestingly enough I have been plugging along relatively happy and ignoring delving into all of this too deeply

    Ah seems I am rambling now :-) thanks for the thoughtful questions, this might be worth my very own blog post.

  19. nina
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Holy cow. Just closed on a house today after losing home, etc. four years ago. About a month ago, I decided no more ghetto rental. Done with that. I’d been trying before, but quietly going through the steps. Taking whatever the system told me because we had a short sale when the economy began to tank, took the punishment. Then decided enough. There was anger about the situation, but I think it was the sudden and drastic shift in consciousness that propelled me forward. It was the movement from black to white that said I meant business. My realtor is still a little flipped over the way it just came together. I still hear “Why am I such a fuck-up?” but it’s getting quieter.

    As always, thanks Andrea. You manage to help me articulate just what’s going on when I need to connect with it. Love to you as you dig deep. XO

  20. Posted August 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Ugh; thank you so much for this! It’s exactly what I needed today. Thank you thank you!

  21. Tami
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    How can I feel sad, angry, self pity, anxiety…when I do have a life, a home, friends, health…? I feel guilty even asking the questions. But I feel those ways and I feel the weight of it all so then I easily get to THE ONE question-What is wrong with me? Then the guilt cycle starts all over again. What a nasty trap! Ugh, I want to get angry “and throw away the herbs” but I feel blocked like I can’t give myself permission to because I really should not be here in this self doubt or pity. Andrea, I totally get it and I wish you the “right” questions and the best answers. I wish you the sunshine and the clarity. I wish the same things for myself and all of those sweet commenters above. I know we will get there because we have already overcome great loss, extreme pain, and failure. I think an answer for me is- faith. I have one of Kelly Rae’s creations hanging on my wall and it says, “faith, belief” and it reminds me that it does not all make sense, there is not always a reason that things happen at least that we can see right now. We just have to trust and have faith that we can find a way through. That in the end we will learn something and grow stronger.

  22. Posted August 8, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful, insightful post, Andrea! Thank you so much.

  23. Lumina
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I wondered and debated with myself whether I should post this comment. I decided to post it, because for some reason I need to get this off my chest. If I seem rude, please forgive me – I like you and I am just frustrated with my own situation. But your infertility story made me feel like, “Shit, then what should *I* be feeling?” You got pregnant on your first medical intervention attempt?! SO lucky!!

    I read the post you linked to, which was written so beautifully, by the way, expecting a tale of the horrors of navigating the medical system and months or years of being on added hormones, and necessary breaks from the hormones so your body and mind could reset themselves. So your relationship could go back to normal. Or normalish. Whatever life with infertility does to a couple. You know. But I would love to have your story: infertility, yes, but magic results with your first medical intervention.

    I’ve done all the ancient and new age stuff, acupuncture, diet, massage, sour concoctions that I could barely get down my gullet, awful advice, and months of medical intervention. The medical stuff is the worst part, the most inhumanizing, depressing part. So I was surprised to read that it only took you one try. I feel like you made it sound like it took so much more. I know you suffered a lot, though I think there’s a difference between the disappointment we feel on our own and the experience of feeling that plus going through the cold scientific process with unfeeling professionals on top of it. I feel a lot of compassion for what you went through; I just expected to be able to relate more. And instead I feel towards you the way you felt about that sign at UCSF prohibiting children in the fertility center. If only I could have that…

    I wonder, if I could go through what I am going through, plus losing multiple loved ones, plus being a caregiver, plus having to stay at my toxic, stressful job because I also have the pressure of being the breadwinner in my home, if I can get through all that and still keep going, then I must be doing pretty well! And here I am feeling badly about myself so often! I guess I am pretty strong.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am going to have to change my perspective.

  24. -L
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    Andrea, I never fail to be so amazed by how parallel our lives seem to be going on so many levels. These are questions I am currently dealing with. The funny thing about what your coach asked you . . . my 1st therapist asked me that nearly 20 years ago! Seeing her was my 1st attempt at healing PTSD (@ age 22) from growing up in an abusive home. I saw her on a sliding scale and she was wonderful. She helped me kick off what ended up being the beginning of my healing journey. She would listen to my stories of the hell I walked away from at age 18. She was so compassionate to me. I finally, for the first time in my life felt like someone really cared and was really listening to me. I would leave in tears wishing my sessions could last longer or that I had insurance or better yet insurance that would totally cover my need for healing. I was suffering terribly. Some of the hardest darkest times in my life. So she would say to me often, “It’s amazing L that you came out of all that the way you did and that you are making healthy choices and are so caring but . . . WHAT DO YOU DO WITH YOUR ANGER?” I truly could not answer her most of the time because I really had no idea. I was, of course, beating myself up. I was criticizing the hell out of my body, my intelligence, my worthiness. I was ashamed as hell! I was scared to death!! I felt alone. I had friends who I loved. I had a boyfriend, a job, I was always in school trying to concentrate, determined to put myself through college while fully supporting myself in a new state where I had just moved to, to meet the father who had abandoned and rejected me before I turned two. The one I never knew who felt entitled to what I could be to him but expressed no remorse for how he left me. I was very nice to him. I tried hard to be acceptable.

    Here’s what I know 20 plus years later, I have always struggled w/ the question what is wrong w/ me, what can I do to fix this mess? There must be something I can do to make this all better so everyone will just love each other and be nice to each other. I must make everything better. I had NO control over all the insanity in my home as a small child. I was blamed and shamed and so I thought as a little one and young adult that it was all my fault. I was angry but I internalized most of it or pushed people away. I compulsively thought about all the negative aspects of what had happened to me, I replayed it all in my mind and wondered how and why? Of course, a child does that. As an adult, of course, I know it was NOT about me! I had no control over it then and there are just some things that try as we might . . . we can not fix! It’s in the acceptance and the new way of seeing things that we can find grace.

    We have to heal that addiction of the need to control the outcome! There I find the hardest questions for me: Can I accept the things I can not change? Can I forgive myself for not being able to fix them? Can I accept myself for who I am right now? Is it safe to let things go and forgive others who hurt me without them ever acknowledging it?

    (I do believe I have the courage to speak up for the things I can change but do I have the wisdom to know the difference . . .?) We see things through the filters of our childhood wounds. What’s wrong w/ me? What have I done to deserve this? Sometimes things happen that are so oppressive, so wrong and unjust but not because of anything you have done or because of who you are! In these cases struggling w/ it only makes it harder on you! So ask myself . . . What if I don’t feel like I HAVE to do anything? What if I just let it be? (at least for now) Can I just let it be? Can I feel it, be angry, be sad, grieve and make my peace with it? Can I then give that little one inside of me what every child deserves?? Unconditional love and comfort!

    I think with every difficulty or challenge in life I am facing this process but each time it’s a little easier, I’m stronger, I know more, I react slightly calmer, I remind myself after a neurotic moment that I’m slipping back into a pattern . . . so I do what I do for everything in my daily life, I go for a walk and listen to all kinds of self help pod casts or just the birds and neighborhood sounds. Somehow I always come home feeling less anxious and more relaxed (that’s also what I do w/ my anger these days, mainly walk, stomp or run it out whenever I can. Thank you for letting me babble Andrea. xoxoxo Thank you for being so very real and non judgmental or assuming!!! It’s what makes for a safe place to share. So grateful for you<3

  25. Posted August 9, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    Reading this entry and the comments it’s spurred, I am yet again amazed at how much alike ALL of us are on this journey of life, yet we feel so isolated, so alone sometimes that we can barely breathe. I wish there were more opportunities, like your blog, for people to come together and just nod and say “yes” and understand how alike we are. :)

    So my negative question (in addition to “what’s wrong with me?”) that I’ve been focusing on a whole lot lately is “why are you so lazy/unmotivated in everything?” I feel like I’m just half-assing my way through life. Starting projects and not finishing them, taking up hobbies and never mastering them. Avoiding work tasks like the plague. And instead I’ve tried to reframe the question to “what is it about the other choices that you’re making that is so appealing to you? Why are you choosing them? Is it such a bad thing that you do?” And when it comes right down to it I know the reason I’m choosing NOT to do something (finish a project, work on a particular task) it’s because my mind, body, and soul can’t take it right now. All three just need to relax and be, and they’re finding a way to do it subconsciously. They know I don’t need to prove my self to anyone, that I’m fine just the way I am, that I don’t need to accomplish more, do more, be more. I’m already enough and I just need to relax and be. I just need my conscious mind to catch up. :)

  26. Sarah
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    My question at the moment is how can I continue to live in the same house with my husband as we go through the process of divorce. I know deep down that I will find a way… still a difficult road though. I’m searching for others in this same situation, reading self-help books, googling for more info, etc.

  27. Posted August 9, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Maybe you could ask: How do my blog readers see me? And the answer is: As someone who is incredibly wise, honest, talented, beautiful and compassionate. As someone who changes lives for the better and, even when she is hurting, uses that feeling to connect with and help others. Honestly, as someone looking in from the outside, it’s hard for me to imagine how or why you could ever doubt that you are an amazing person who is on the right path.

    I guess that’s the same advice I’ve heard from many a meditation teacher: Talk to yourself as a kind friend would. In any situation, the words are the same: I’m sorry this is hard. How can I help? I love you.

  28. Posted August 9, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Such beautiful and raw honesty you shared. Thanks for being brave.

  29. Posted August 9, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for such a heartfelt post. :)

  30. Mel
    Posted August 12, 2012 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    I am done with healing my childhood wounds! No more therapy for PTSD, no more “how could he do that!” no more any of that!

    The question I asked myself was “how can I get better, feel better, overcome this!” and this is so painful because I cannot undo what happened, because it did happen!

    The new question: How can I help and share my experience of being a survivor with other people so they can live with their scars and pain!

  31. Posted August 12, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this post! I found out this last week that I have an ectopic pregnancy, and an ovary the size of a small grapefruit full of cysts, after my first attempt at clomid. This is after loosing a baby @ 21 weeks 3 years ago and battling Hogkin’s lymphoma right after. I’ve waited so long to overcome these things and to see those two lines on a pregnancy test and grow my family. I’M TICKED OFF. I’m mad. I keep trying to see the blessing in this (still trying) and to be positive. But the truth is that I’m mad. Reading this made me feel like it’s okay to be mad. Sometimes we can’t just pretend that the crap that happens in our lives is okay. That we can just get over it. It’s okay to be mad.

    I’m going to take your advice and figure out a good question. Right after I’m done kicking something ;). Thanks for letting me vent (not like you had a choice… sorry). Thanks again for the post!

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