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My Turtle Shell

 

It’s so hard to stay focused on my own journey, and recognize my own accomplishments, when I’m too aware of how other people are racing ahead of me. I want to congratulate myself for taking the synagogue school teaching job, and for performing with the choir, and for self-publishing my novel, and graduating with a Master’s degree in Social Work and earning my social work license. But instead I’m berating myself for all of the things I can’t do.

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“Want some help with that?”

I am getting by, and functioning to the limits of my current capacity. I know that. I’m not setting the world on fire (as I’d hoped), but I am sending out resumes for social work jobs, and submitting essays to literary magazines. I am writing (though never as much as I think I should), and I am prepping for synagogue school classes as if I were teaching full-time instead of two hours a week. I am studying my languages, and practicing ukulele, and doing my breathing exercises, and trying to exercise my body when I can. But I feel like a failure on a constant basis. I am always trying, and, it seems, never succeeding.

 

People still look at me funny when I say I’m only looking for part-time work, because I seem fine, to them. I feel guilty for “imagining” that I am still struggling in any way, as if I’m choosing to suffer longer than is reasonable, and I should choose not to suffer anymore. I don’t know how to do that, but people keep saying it’s a choice and that I’m making the wrong one.

And yet, I saw a picture on Facebook a few weeks ago, of a turtle who had been in an accident and lost most of his shell, and he resonated for me. The headline of the story was that someone had built the turtle a new shell, with a 3D printer, and painted it in beautiful designs and colors; and with his new shell, the turtle was able to go back to living his very slow, very long life, with his safety and dignity intact. And I realized that I am just like that turtle. I’ve been rebuilding my shell for the past twenty-five years. I don’t know if it never really grew in the first place, or if the one I had was so battered and bruised that it barely lasted into my teen years. And my shell still isn’t whole, and it’s definitely not painted and decorated to my liking, but after twenty-five years, instead of walking around naked and unprotected from predators, I have most of a shell to cover me.

turtle with 3d shell

The 3D shell

I still feel the rain too quickly, and I still take in too much of what other people say to me; I still bruise too easily, and recover too slowly, but I take more risks now. I can even go outside on a rainy day and do a slow little dance between the rain drops.

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“Dancing!”

I’d like to think that, even at my slow pace, I am living my life with dignity, and feeling safe enough to do things in my own unique way. And maybe, someday, I’ll finish growing my shell and even decorate it in a way that celebrates my long, slow, full life.

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“Slow is good.”

 

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

73 responses »

  1. Great analogy. I’m sorry that you’ve been missing your shell for so long. Be proud that so much shell has grown these last few years! Woot!

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  2. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    Try not to be so hard on yourself!

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  3. It’s not a good idea to compare against others. We each have our path, even obstacles are part of it. This is why I love Zephaniah 3:17. You have already an incredible life!

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  4. Be sure to leave portals in that shell where love and friendship and all the good things that nourish you can enter and grow in your heart and mind.

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  5. Suffering is not a choice. It’s a condition. Congratulate yourself on continuing the battle to overcome the condition. Many things mend slowly. Your shell is responding to your willingness to take a few more risks.

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  6. You are managing things on your terms and that’s all that matters. We are all our worst critics! Nice, honest piece!

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  7. It’s been my experience that the questions you ask indicate you are in fact on the path that you should be on. Going through life questioning ourselves is better than bragging. Have you ever read Lisa Anne Tindal? Her blog is Quiet Confidence. She is a neighbor and friend. You two are kindred spirits.

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  8. Self-publishing your book took tremendous bravery, and piecing together the truth of your childhood in the fiction was brutally honest. You’ve made some incredible small steps, and trying to rebuild yourself is the most important thing.

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  9. Rachel, I have wondered why you are such a faithful reader of my posts, and I am grateful. The latest post is specifically for you and a couple others http://www.shirleyjdietz.com/you-are-special You are special. Let other people tell you that, and believe them. Oh, and I am reading your book and your writing is good. I’ll be glad to write a review.

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  10. It seems to me that you have been very successful, more than most people, really. Better to pace yourself than burn out.

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  11. It’s funny how we can be so hard on ourselves even while being kind and understanding to others. Only you know what you’ve passed through and what you’re still coping with. You’ve already overcome so much to get where you are and should be proud of all you have accomplished.

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  12. Wounded healers are the best healers. Their empathy is genuine and it makes them better at what they do, clients sense it and respond on an intuitive level. You can tell which therapists are genuine and which are just technique. Your pain is also your gift to others and eventually you will see, to yourself. You will learn you are good enough just as you are. It takes time and you deserve all the time and space you need. God Bless the turtles. They are gentle, sweet creatures and harm no one. How amazing is that?

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  13. This really resonated with me as I fall into the comparison trap from time to time as well, and often feel like I’m falling behind my peers in certain areas of my life. Be kind to yourself, we don’t all start out on a level playing field, you’ve had unique challenges that other people haven’t had to deal with. It also helps to remember most people only show the highlights on social media so you’re only seeing the parts they want you to see, there’s often more going on behind the scenes that they’re not sharing like health issues, relationship problems, family feuds, work stress and so many other things. Try to focus on how far you’ve come, there was probably a time when everything you’ve accomplished seemed impossible but you’ve achieved so much, be proud of yourself and keep moving forward. X

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  14. I’d say you have plenty to feel proud of and stop beating yourself up. Oh, and the doggies agree with me!

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  15. We could all do more, but we could also do less. Be thankful for where you are, and give yourself a pat on the back for all you’ve done to get there. Stand still and enjoy it for a while.

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  16. My own experience is that we re-grow our shells constantly, thickening them against what life throws at us.
    When things are going well, we pop our heads out of them to enjoy that change for a short time.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  17. Every time I read one of your blog posts, I’m amazed at the person you are! Based on what I know of you from following your blog, I think it’s pretty awesome that you put yourself out there each and every day and never lose your enthusiasm for self-growth! We are all our own worst critics, more apt to look discouragedly upon our failures than shine happily at our successes. Read your own blog and count up how many successes you’ve had in this crazy thing called life!

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  18. Love your story of the turtle. So very true in a lot of instances. Another lovely post from you Rachel.

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  19. When I read the list of things you do I can’t imagine thinking it is not enough. Each of us is unique and have our own pace. You are comparing and comparisons are odious!

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  20. A lot of others say that I’m very trying.

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  21. Thank you for putting this out here Rachel!!! 🙂

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  22. Wow, from your description of all the things you have going on it sounds like you are doing more than most people, not less.

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  23. What a lovely analogy that feels so right. I think it’s natural as we take more risks to experience push back from our trauma. I’ve recently come to think of it more as a needed reminder to take things slow and steady and stay vigilant of my mental health. My philosophy is that every step forward is a win and every step back is a lesson to help us move toward the next. It seems to help a little and I’m less likely to judge myself for it or compare myself to others. Gentle hugs to you. I really think you’re very brave for all the changes you’ve made. Xx

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  24. Such a great post. I believe that when we’re younger, too many of us push ourselves to do things we are just not cut out for. With maturity comes wisdom and self-knowledge. We know who we are what is important to us!

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  25. Pingback: Shells | sparksfromacombustiblemind

  26. You sound so much like my son, he has the same thoughts about not having achieved what he thought he would. He is just so hard on himself, he would never be like that to anyone else, but he’s like that to himself.
    By the way, I really really loved your book, truly one of the best books I’ve read in a long time x

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  27. I think you are doing very fine. You said you are living your life in dignity and you are living a full life, Keep doing what you think is fulfilling and important to yourself and the people you care about.

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  28. I agree with Don Ostertag. Live your life with dignity and you’ll come out of your shell when it’s the right time. Nothing wrong with slow. Sometimes slow is the best way.

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  29. Beautiful post and I love the reference to the turtle (and I also love the kind human that came to his rescue ❤) I remember reading a book to my girls when they were small and the moral of the story was: slow and steady, steady and slow, that’s the way we always go. And that motto brought him all the way to victory. I like to repeat that to myself whenever I need it. Progrss is progress no matter how small 😊

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  30. It’s the sensitive, perceptive heart you describe in the paragraph above your adorable pup labeled “Dancing” that makes you such a good writer and enables you to touch the lives of those with whom you interact day to day. I love how you are able to see your growing shell. One that is stronger because it’s been given time and space to grow.

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  31. As an old dog, when i look back on my years, I find that i do not regret having come up short on accomplishing goals that seemed important at the time. I do carry regrets for times missed with people who are no longer in my life.

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    • I learned with Butterfly to soak up every moment of love while I still had her in my life. Ellie thinks it’s weird that I randomly hug her for making my cute noises, but she’s learned to tolerate it.

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  32. What a wonderful analogy, Rachel! I think you’ve accomplished quite a bit at a young age. Keep moving as slowly as you need. It obviously works for you. Keep growing your beautiful shell. It obviously works for you too.

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  33. This post resonates w/ many trauma survivors. ❤

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  34. Your shell is amazingly beautiful, my friend. My mantra lately has been, “Progress, not Perfection.” (I admit to finding it on a binder separator page, but it resonated so I’m using it.) You have made amazing progress and so what if you’re not perfect? Who among us is? Keep painting your beautiful shell, you’re making great progress.

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  35. You are building a beautiful turtle shell if your own.

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  36. Thank you for all your posts, Rachel. I’ve been following you for a long time, and I don’t often reply to posts, but this one resonated, but perhaps not in synch with the point you were making. The idea of keeping one’s own pace, or not being compelled to keep up with the ‘rabbits’ of this world… i.e., emulating the turtle, reminded me of a story from a couple of first responders to the 9/11 attack. I’m not sure if this was a local story (I lived in NYC at the time), but (as I remember it) the story goes: a couple of responders slowed their pace to help a victim that couldn’t keep up. That action ended up saving their lives. I think about this often.

    So I was able to connect with your post, in an oblique way.

    Thanks again!

    Jack

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  37. Hi dear, your blog is awesome. I have nominated you for Sunshine Blogger Award. Hope you will accept my nomination and will enjoy my questions.

    Reply
  38. If you’re making God smile, Rachel, that is enough. 🙂

    Reply

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