2017 04 05 16.23.41

The Why Of It…50 for 50 #6


April 20, 2013

I stare at the paper in front of me: The Whole Person Wheel. I can already sense where this project is headed and want no part of it. I haven’t felt whole, whatever that means, since before this ordeal began and don’t see how a sheet of multipurpose will change that fact. But I have no choice. I will complete this assignment because I was told to; I am excellent at following directions. And I will complete it because I need to; my diligence could help save my daughter’s life.

The circle, a symbol of wholeness, is divided into 6 equal slices. Each slice is labeled with a word that represents a human potential—as if the fundamentals of humanity can be reduced to semiotics. Self-worth, I am told, is the result of all six potentials being fully met. My mission is to color the slices to the degree I’ve reached my full potential in each category. 

Imagine the circle as a wheel. Should part of the wheel become damaged, it’s easy to see how the function of the whole would be impaired. I want to raise my hand and lodge a complaint. I don’t need this experiment to understand I’m impaired, to understand my wheel is actually a flat tire. A tire that for years has been punctured and patched and patched some more until it has finally worn out. What I need is a scissor jack and lug wrench, not some broken crayons and a statistical chart.   

My jaw tightens. I long to lie and to convince myself that I have potential-ed the hell out of my potentials. Six possibilities at 100 percent is 600 hundred percent of awesomeness! I won’t lie though. I can’t. A history of lying to myself is, I believe, one of the reasons we’re at this treatment center. I take a breath, steel my nerves, and reach in front of me for the purple crayon, my favorite. 

To start, I choose the most concrete signifier: Physical. To what percent have I met my physical potential? In my mind’s eye, I envision my head and scan one feature at a time down to my feet. I am more vulnerable now than at any other time in my life, blaming myself for what love alone cannot fix. I cut myself no slack and, with surgical precision, focus on one imperfection after another. To each, I assign a correlating weakness of character. My body has always been my preferred weapon of choice and now my daughter’s is hers. I tally up the figure. Sixty-five percent. It’s the highest I can go, and color in the slice. Contemplate. Color. Contemplate. Color. Repeat.  

The mental energy necessary to complete my work exhausts me. I drop my final waxy tool and fall back against my chair. Not for the first time, I feel an intense desire to flee, but there’s nowhere I can go to escape my own self. I take the only kind of break available and close my eyes. 

Rainbows are glorious things. Manifestations of nature’s bounty. A phenomenon created by light. They are also optical illusions. I understand that my Whole Person Wheel should be the Roy G. Biv of potential. A full color rendition, created by me, of respect for me. My daughter’s illness is not my fault. I’ve hyper-exaggerated my culpability and know I have. The heart of me beats true. Yet, during the time since her diagnosis, I’ve become a stranger to myself. Maybe this experiment is just the catalyst I need to make repairs, as complicated as they might be. 

I open my eyes and confront my white space.

In the white space,

I taste the salt of tears

     I hear the wail of cries

          I smell the lead of blood

               I feel the scorch of hope

                    I see the scars of shame  

                         I intuit the path of health.

In the white space, 

                         I taste a tentative connection

                    I hear a higher calling

               I smell a bittersweet freedom

          I feel a prolonged endurance

     I see a way forward

I intuit an unexpected miracle.


When I left the treatment center that day, I was forced to accept what was and was not within my control. I acknowledged I had taken every conceivable action to help my daughter recover except help myself do the same. It took time. The challenge became learning to lead by example, showing her how to love herself by learning how to love myself.  

Five years have passed between that day and now. Much has changed. My girl is well, away at college and thriving. I made significant progress inflating my wheel, and have taken several expeditions to test its strength.  I’ve learned what it means to live a whole-hearted life. I’ve grown. I’ve embraced. I’ve healed.  But I’ve also hit blocks, sharp detritus strewn across my roadway that threaten to deflate my journey. 

For 2018, I chose the intention of self-care because I’ve come a long way, but have further to go. This time of transition, as my girl launches into a new mode of self-sufficiency, is an opportunity to re-examine where I was, what worked and what hasn’t worked. As I approach the milestone of turning 50, my next step is to learn about the remaining debris and how taking care of myself can maintain and sustain a clearer path to the future.


  1. I love how you're making self-care a priority, Tracey. It can seem self-indulgent, in a bad way, when one is a wife, a mom of young children, and/or the child of elderly or sick parents. We feel we must put other people's needs above ours. Always. But that's not fair. We have needs, too!

    Life will always have its ups and downs, yet the better you take care of yourself, the easier it will be to traverse the hard times. And if you don't take care of yourself, it's possible that what could have been some great times do not manifest as such.

    I speak from experience. I spent so many years not taking care of my emotional self. Sure, I'd learned at home & at school how to do a lot of things in order to get a job and be self-supporting, how to cook, etc. But taking care of my feelings was not something I learned as a child. As stress piled up in college, and not knowing how to parse out my feelings and deal with them in a positive way, I got depressed. Of course, I felt miserable a lot. Not all the time, but a lot.

    Fast forward over 35 years to the present, and I'm so much more able to deal with stress and find ways to take care of myself. It's taken therapy, antidepressants, an open mind about feeling self-indulgent and a commitment to focusing on me for a change. I surely wish I'd learned this lesson a long time ago. But the up-side is that I have learned to take care of myself better. Taking care of yourself (refueling your energy, filling your spirit with joy…) makes it easier to take care of others.

  2. Thank you for this lovely and heart-felt comment, Sue. I, too, received a message early on that I was selfish. Yes. That it's indulgent to put one's own needs on the to-do list of life, let alone to place it at the top! When my daughter was young and my father was dying and my husband was MIA due to excruciatingly long work hours, there were times I felt as if I was losing my mind. I knew I wasn't taking care of myself. In fact, I knew many of my behaviors were downright harmful, but that didn't stop me from engaging in them to ease my mental anguish. Or so I thought anyway. It's shocking how easy it is to mis-judge what we think will nourish us body and spirit. Or maybe it's just shocking how easy it is to not think of ourselves at all. I wish I'd learned this lesson sooner as well. If I had, I don't know what would be different today, but I'm sure it would be several things. This is not to say I'm wallowing in the what could have beens. Oh no. This is to say thank goodness for the waking up and paying attention I have learned to do and continue to learn to do. Hopefully, by the end of this year, I will have taken several more steps in the journey to understanding and experiencing the social, emotional, and spiritual benefits of this "experiment." XO

  3. Tracey,
    Thank you for your honesty, insight, and authentic offering of your innermost struggles. I share them. I love your poem about The White Spaces!!!! It's where the magic is, isn't it? Those open-hearted vulnerabilities unnamed, untamed where only uncontrolled color can arise as we hug and share them.

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