All the de­ci­sions we make in life mat­ter, though some­times there are mo­ments of serendip­ity where we look back at life and pin­point a sin­gle mo­ment where a par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant de­ci­sion changed our life path, for­ever...

Lift Magazine - - Contributors - By Re­becca Coates

For me, the sin­gle mo­ment was when I was work­ing in an in­ner-city café as a 20 year-old un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent. I’d had a rough day at work, I’d had enough of my life, so I made the de­ci­sion to change. I changed my job. Made new friends. And in the process met the man that be­came my hus­band. At the time I thought I was making a good de­ci­sion.

How­ever, as time went by, I some­how got off my own true path and onto an­other, which led me to an un­happy and un­healthy re­la­tion­ship and se­vere de­pres­sion. My (then) hus­band and I bought a town­house and had a baby. I was writ­ing my doc­toral the­sis at the time, and hadn’t really planned to have a child be­fore I grad­u­ated. I tried to go with the flow, but the pres­sures of a new baby, my un­fin­ished PHD and a mort­gage were im­mense and our re­la­tion­ship didn’t cope. I felt like I had lost my­self and be­come some­one I didn’t like. I was ex­hausted from the emo­tional roller­coaster of my re­la­tion­ship, not only with my hus­band, but from my own in­ter­nal voices of self-doubt and per­fec­tion­ism. I didn’t feel re­spected or loved by my hus­band. De­spite this, I kept on try­ing to make my re­la­tion­ship and my life de­ci­sions work, and to make ev­ery­thing right and per­fect. I thought I had made my de­ci­sion to be with this man, I had his child, and now I had to stay. Things got worse though, to the point where, when I was 27 and my son just 18 months old, I felt like a ter­ri­ble par­ent and had no hope for the fu­ture. I felt stuck, trapped, and that there was no way out of the mis­ery and pain I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

I only started to see that there was an al­ter­na­tive when one day, a friend asked me very se­ri­ously, ‘What can I do?’ and then, ‘What are you go­ing to do?’ She saw what my sit­u­a­tion was do­ing to me and that I needed change, not just so I could be healthy and happy, but so I could also be a good mother by set­ting an ex­am­ple of how to be happy and healthy. So, I de­cided to sep­a­rate from my hus­band, not really know­ing what my plan was, just that I needed change. At this point I couldn’t see what the ob­sta­cles were in my life

to find­ing my true path and hap­pi­ness, I only knew I needed to get out of the re­la­tion­ship with my son’s fa­ther to feel able to breathe, think and to learn how to live again.

My son and I moved into a small flat close to the univer­sity, my son’s child­care cen­tre and his fa­ther. But, I kept on try­ing to do ev­ery­thing, to be per­fect, to jug­gle sin­gle-par­ent­ing, part-time work, and fin­ish­ing my PHD. Of­ten, I would be up at 2am ei­ther writ­ing, do­ing house­work or making healthy lunch snacks for my son, with­out think­ing about how un­healthy my de­ci­sions about man­ag­ing my life were making me. Hav­ing the emo­tional dis­tance from my son’s fa­ther helped, but the re­la­tion­ship was left unresolved and this bur­dened me.

Life got even harder when less than six months af­ter I left my hus­band, he lost his job. This left me with vir­tu­ally no fi­nan­cial or child­care sup­port from him, and I really strug­gled. Even­tu­ally, I de­cided to move about 40-min­utes away from the univer­sity, to be closer to my mother, and to live in a more af­ford­able unit. This worked for a while, but I still hadn’t let go of the idea of be­ing the per­fect mother and scholar. My own per­sonal pres­sure and that of my cir­cum­stances was un­bear­able. I kept on feel­ing like my hap­pi­ness was al­ways just out of reach, and that some­thing was in the way. I thought it was my un­fin­ished PHD, and that I hadn’t fi­nalised my di­vorce ap­pli­ca­tion. I was look­ing for a so­lu­tion to per­fec­tion, with­out stop­ping to find out what was stop­ping me from achiev­ing this. Ev­ery­thing be­came am­pli­fied around this time, and I couldn’t keep go­ing the way I was, with­out look­ing af­ter my­self, and with try­ing to make ev­ery­thing good and right, and most of all, try­ing to avoid fail­ure at all costs. I had a men­tal break­down and was ad­vised by my doc­tor to take time off work and study and have my mum look af­ter my son for a while. Af­ter some time of not work­ing, it seemed more vi­able to move in with my mum. So, when I was 29 and my son was 3-years-old, we moved in with my mum and her hus­band.

When I look back now, all I ended up do­ing in this process of change, start­ing from that mo­ment in the café as a 20-year old stu­dent, was run­ning and hid­ing from my chal­lenges. I hid in my stud­ies and work; for a while I hid in my re­la­tion­ship, and I hid from my friends and fam­ily. I put up such a façade that when I was a new, ex­hausted mother, with­out my de­fences and en­ergy to keep up the show, it all came crash­ing down. Af­ter I had the men­tal break­down I took no­tice and stopped when I got to the cross­roads, and I de­cided to look squarely at the ob­sta­cles in my path and take on th­ese chal­lenges.

I got on my healthy, true path. I be­gan to prac­tice yoga and really took some time to get well and think. I re­alised that my big­gest ob­sta­cle to find­ing my true path and hap­pi­ness wasn’t all the peo­ple and things in my life, though they cer­tainly played a sub­stan­tial role, it was me. Once I re­alised this, and be­gan to work on self-love and re­spect, and on build­ing my in­ner strength I started to get bet­ter.

Dur­ing the time when we were liv­ing with my mum, I was also able to fin­ish my stud­ies. Af­ter about six months, my son and I moved back to the city, I started a new job and also filed for a di­vorce. My son’s fa­ther also started work­ing, and was able to con­trib­ute both fi­nan­cially and in par­ent­ing time. We started a 50-50 par­ent­ing plan, and while I missed my son ter­ri­bly when he was away from me, hav­ing the time to fo­cus on my­self, and my re­search, really helped.

Af­ter th­ese changes, and tak­ing the time to re-eval­u­ate my life, I felt re­newed and

re­freshed, and much more bal­anced. Re­leas­ing the pres­sure off my­self to per­fect ev­ery­thing, and to avoid fail­ure was an im­mense re­lief. By tak­ing the time to ac­knowl­edge my own in­ner bar­ri­ers block­ing my path, I was able to move for­ward.

The changes I made weren’t at all easy to do though; in fact they were very dif­fi­cult. But, I had re­alised that I had been fall­ing in the same hole time and time again, through­out all of my adult life. The uni­verse was try­ing to teach me a les­son. So, fi­nally...i lis­tened.

It can be tempt­ing to con­tem­plate what may have been if I hadn’t made the de­ci­sion to stop and face the ob­sta­cles in my path. I know for cer­tain that if I didn’t de­cide to change my life when I was an un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent, I wouldn’t have met my son’s fa­ther and there­fore wouldn’t have the amaz­ing child I do now. I also know that if I didn’t leave and di­vorce my son’s fa­ther, and gone through the strug­gles I ex­pe­ri­enced, I wouldn’t be the mother and woman I am to­day.

What I learnt along the way about making de­ci­sions is that there’s no such thing as a good or bad de­ci­sion, the dif­fer­ence lies in how we choose to deal with the things that hap­pen to us, and how we deal with the out­comes of our de­ci­sions. If we are faced with a chal­lenge and we fal­ter or fail, this does not mean we have made a bad de­ci­sion, it means we are try­ing. If we get back up and try again af­ter fail­ing, it means we are suc­ceed­ing.

What­ever de­ci­sions we make, there will al­ways be good times and bad times. Life gives us times of hap­pi­ness and times of sad­ness. We feel pain so we can see the beauty of life. We can’t draw cor­re­la­tions be­tween the de­ci­sions we make and how much hap­pi­ness and sad­ness, or pain and beauty we ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause th­ese ebbs and flows of life will con­tinue, re­gard­less of the de­ci­sions we make. We can’t live try­ing to avoid the dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing times. Our only choice, and only way to sur­vive, is to learn how to grow from the dif­fi­cult times; how to get up each time we fall down, and how to see our fail­ures and short­com­ings as signs that we are will­ing, and try­ing, to grow and suc­ceed.

We, not just as moth­ers, but also as hu­mans, are all walk­ing along the same path, the path of shared hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. All the chal­lenges, the high and lows, the joys and vic­to­ries, the pain and de­feats, are part of the jour­ney of life.

Fig­ur­ing out whether we’ve made a good de­ci­sion in ret­ro­spect may not al­ways be use­ful. Find­ing our true path, in the end, may not be based on the types of de­ci­sions we think it should be. Rather, find­ing our true path may, in fact, be as sim­ple as ac­tu­ally fac­ing our chal­lenges and ob­sta­cles, and be­ing brave enough to make the changes needed to move for­ward.

Go for­ward bravely. Em­brace your fu­ture. Seek your true life path.


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