This week, I audibly sighed. At so many things. Near the top of that list? A few of the questions posed to the Hon. Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo woman nominated to serve as the next Secretary of Interior. Not just the Indian Affairs part of Interior, the whole Department of Interior.
I processed some of my feelings this week via social media snark:
“When there’s a Native person on the verge of leading the Department of Interior, you bet there will be push back. Interior holds a trust responsibility for, and immense power over, Indigenous nations + people. Even the idea of that shift in power is unsettling, to some settlers.“
I was not at all surprised by the nature and/or tone of some of the questions. I knew Deb would handle everything with grace and poise. She has no choice but to do so. She can’t clap back. She can’t raise her voice or be visibly upset. She has to be near perfect. She has to be the model of civility. She has to be really strong in THIS moment.
As we think about wellness and dealing with stress, whether that’s the type of pressure Deb is carrying for all of us, or whether it’s less visible issues inside our home communities, it all takes a big toll.
Part of why I started this blog was to provide a small dose of tonic for a small segment of Indian country after months of COVID, particularly in light of all the grief, sadness, stress, strain it brought to our homes and communities. Stress that is uniquely held by our women.
It looks like we might be nearing the downhill run from COVID. Tribes are doing a phenomenal job in pushing out the vaccine, both from the execution and mechanics standpoint but also from the culturally-appropriate marketing side of things. Only our people, can effectively speak to our people, about the “why” we all need to take the vaccine. The Indian country messaging and delivery, has been spot on.
We are on the verge of Spring and we are coming out of our long winter hibernation. I know that many of your wellness journeys will be tied to this “long hard thaw” that is starting now. It’s time to lace up the shoes and have the sun shine on all of us.
It looks like Deb has the votes and she will likely shatter a glass ceiling for all Native Americans, with a special wink to the Native women, the Aunties out there. There will be broken glass to pick up as she embarks on the hardest part of her new journey, the day to day hard work under a bright microscope of her every move.
But I also want us to talk about something we have all experienced at some point: picking up the pieces of our broken hearts.
We’ve all done this in some way, at some point. The devastation that comes when relationships can’t be mended, when a a kid goes through troubled times, or the death of our loved ones. The unspeakable devastation and trauma our ancestors endured, but survived. Moments where we can barely breathe and hardly function. I suspect in the last year, many of you have had a few of those moments.
How do you draw strength and energy in those moments? Particularly when you feel alone and at your most vulnerable place? I don’t purport to have all the answers. But I’ll share one of my stories in raw way, in hopes it will help just one of you, start to turn a corner.
In the 2009-2010 school year, I was at a breaking point. The sadness of a failed marriage. The realization that I would mostly be a one woman home, raising an infant alone. Acknowledging I was in a place of privilege in that I had (several) really good jobs, but also knowing that each of those jobs required me to put on a shiny near perfect public face, no matter what I felt like on the inside.
I was totally exhausted physically, mentally and very strained spiritually. One evening, I was just laying on the couch in dirty clothes, in a pile of tears, with a cranky crying toddler sitting on the floor in front of me.
My biggest confidante finally had to say something to me, that I was wholly incapable of telling myself at that moment: “Get up off that couch. Go take a long hot shower. Stay in there for an hour, if you need to. Wash your damn hair. When you come out of that shower, be a new woman. Go take a walk outside. You have a son to raise and big things to do. Get. Up.”
And that’s what I did. I washed the heavy weight of a broken heart off in that hot shower. The next morning, I started running again. Even guilted one of my Mvskoke friends into walking a 5k with me in Tulsa. She later told me that she couldn’t say no to me when I asked her to join me, because I just looked so sad. Now we can both look back and laugh at that stupid 5k.
I’m sharing 2 pictures of me at the very bottom of this page. They were taken about one year apart. A really rough patch in life, followed by my slow and steady climb out of it. Some of it was certainly post-pregnancy physical and emotional weight. It’s hard to say if it was postpartum depression (likely) or if it was the crippling effect of my broken home (likely). It was all going on, at the exact same time. It doesn’t need an exact title or diagnosis or a square box to fit in.
The climb out of my funk was not immediate. It was a million baby steps, day after day. Over the course of most of one year. Getting my mind, my spirit and my body back on the same page, pointing in the right direction.
Exercise, sunshine, prayer. All of it. And the good energy from other people. And as you can read in my more recent health story – I have had my cyclical ups and downs since then. But at the very core, intellectually, I know exactly how to dig back out. And I think you do, too. It’s the doing it, that is really really hard.
So what on earth, does this random story of my divorce rebound, have to do with Deb Haaland’s confirmation hearings?
I’ve had few friends and colleagues ask me to write a blog post about life skills and achieving professional goals, based on their perception that I am good at “doing it all.” How I’m able to juggle so much and manage my time.
In a different context, I might share a few hacks I have learned along the way about all that. Spoiler alert: I don’t “do it all” well all the time. In fact, I have yet to meet a single person who “has it all together.” There are no 100% grownups. Everyone is flawed in some way.
I think it’s just as important for us to share the moments when we have been, actually and metaphorically, crushed. Flat as a pancake. Not everybody needs to blog about it, and I’m not about to share all the details of it. Trust me, it involved much more than that one hot shower.
Deb is strong this week. Shouldering the strength of several generations of Indigenous women at those confirmation proceedings. Send her some more good vibes. She makes it look easy, but it’s not.
I am so proud of Deb. It is remarkable to witness an Indigenous woman succeeding in a predominately white male space. She must be iron clad in these moments. Part of why I love Deb so much, is that she IS iron clad when we need her to be, but she is simultaneously being, exactly who she is.
There our thousands of Deb Haalands (in countless different contexts) throughout Indian country. It’s why we have not, and will never, be defeated or erased.
In her honor, I want us to all consciously think about the good energy we send to people. She knows we have her back. Are there other women around you, that also need to know you have their back? Let’s be cognizant of the power of the positive and the negative energy we throw off. We are powerful.
Sending my love, strength and power to Deb. And also to all of you that are laying on your couches this week. Take your time, and when you can, go take YOUR long hot shower.