Training My Butterflies

vivi with butterflyWhen’s the last time you had a stomach full of butterflies?  I’ve got a big change coming at work so my tummy has been fluttering a lot lately.  I have to remind myself that butterflies come from a GOOD place.  Unfortunately, anxiety and anticipation live next door to each other in my stomach and I’ve got to check in with the butterflies every now and then to corral them into the right zone.  

The first time I noticed their proximity was December 25, 2001….almost midnight.  I lay in a narrow wrought iron bed in my parents’ extra room.  Couldn’t sleep.  In the morning, I would wake and drive myself to the airport where I would meet Richard.  We were taking our first big trip together, to Amsterdam and Bruges for New Years.  I had joy and adventure ahead, but I couldn’t sleep.  I lay there with my stomach tied in knots and I asked myself, “Why am I so anxious?”  

I was one year out of a decade-long bad marriage to Fartbuster.  We had never managed to adventure much in our years together…not from any lack of wanderlust on my part.  I couldn’t talk Fartbuster into going out on a Friday night for pizza and a movie because it was just too much trouble for him.  We might SEE PEOPLE.  For 10 years, the only butterflies I got were from anxiety, that creeping feeling that something was going to go wrong and it would be my fault.   

But there I was, hours away from a grand adventure with someone I loved, who loved me.  Someone who had a lot of experience with adventuring and was excited about showing me how to step out into the world.  Richard lived by the mantra, “If it doesn’t hurt anyone else, why not?”  Lying there in that narrow bed, that’s when it hit me:  this isn’t anxiety; this is anticipation!  Maybe because it was Christmas.  Remember Christmas Eve night when you were a kid and you could try and try and try as hard as you could to fall asleep but you just couldn’t make your body stop being excited?  That’s where I was that night–32 years old and feeling the excitement of Christmas for the first time in my adult life!  So I lay there and let myself be excited and happy.  These butterflies were from the sneaking suspicion that something was going to go RIGHT and it would all be my doing!  

Mistaking anticipation for anxiety is simply a habit that I often fall into.  I catch myself interpreting all this nervous energy about my new opportunities and labeling it “anxiety” when really it’s anticipation.  I’m thrilled to have something new to do.  I’m excited to have a new space and new coworkers and new challenges.  I feel alive again.  But being alive comes with far more risks than living numb.  I have to retrain my butterflies to flutter over to the side of my stomach that is ready to grow.  

The best case of butterflies I ever had happened in February 2007.  I had been antsy all night and at about 11pm, I found myself sitting on the sofa with my hand on my belly…wondering why I was anxious.  After all, I had butterflies in my stomach and that equates to anxiety, right?  Then it dawned on me that that fluttering feeling inside me was my baby girl, stretching her wings in a way I could finally feel. 

So when WAS the last time you felt butterflies?  Anxiety or anticipation?  

13 thoughts on “Training My Butterflies

  1. Tara

    Taite was just talking about this yesterday. She said her dance teacher told them that the wiggly feeling they were getting about the recital meant they were excited. So Taite shared that she had the butterflies on our way to a pool for the first time yesterday. It was so sweet and now you share this. Love it. And the picture of your girl is precious.

  2. Lisa in Athens

    Mach 22, 2013 was my last encounter with butterflies – definitely anticipation. They lasted from about 7:00PM, during the walk from where I parked my car to The Last Resort downtown, until about 1:00AM when that first kiss happened right outside the doors of the Jackson Street Building on North Campus.
    Too much detail? 🙂

  3. Karen

    Thank you for illuminating the distinction. I am marrying my “Richard” in two weeks after 15 anxiety filled years with my “Fartbuster.” I keep saying I am having a lot of anxiety over all the wedding details and the work I need to get done for my job before the honeymoon. Now I can properly label the first anticipation, but the latter, still anxiety.

  4. maryhelenc

    Congrats on the big work change (you mentioned it was good butterflies).

    Last time I got butterflies was my first “first” date. It was a year out of the unholy union and with a friend and I was worried maybe it would be weird and awkward and not romantic. The relationship didn’t turn out how I wanted, but the first date butterflies is a memory I cherish.

  5. Heart To Harp

    I’ve had to make that same distinction between excitement and anxiety as I’ve been staring down performance anxiety. It’s so easy to misinterpret excitement for anxiety, and then set myself up for a crash-and-burn. labeling what I feel as excitement makes me want to play, while calling it anxiety of make me want to run madly away from the harp bench. Words are powerful things!

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