Tag Archives: mental-health

A Rising Tide

rising tide

I had an ugly mental moment this morning.  I’ve been cultivating a sense of abundance this week.  Trying to focus on all that I have.  Chanting, “I am enough, I am enough.”  Rowing my little boat and keeping it low in the water, right in the middle of the channel.

This Voice of the Year thing on Friday is a big deal for me.  I’m claiming that.  Some days, I numb myself from the excitement so that I don’t confess that I am thrilled to have wanted something and gone out and gotten it. I’ve been trying to stay in a positive, happy place with it instead of moving straight into “I hope I don’t screw this up” territory.

This is not a left-handed plea for y’all to say, “You’re going to be fine!”  I’m just telling you where my head went because I learned something from it.  I learned that it’s really hard for me to accept attention for doing something well.  I crave that kind of attention.  I seek it out.  But when it comes, I am afraid that the rug will be pulled out from under me.  I am afraid that someone else will come along and take what I wanted so much just because I admitted that I wanted it.  I am afraid that the “You’re OK!” store will be empty by the time I get there.

I am afraid.

That’s the gist of it.  At the heart of perfectionism is fear.  At the heart of my anxiety is fear.  At the heart of my depression is fear.  It’s always fear that I won’t be enough.

I am enough.

And here’s where the ugly mental thing came in.  I saw that another blogger, who’s very creative and clever and funny, will be doing an event the same time I will.  My immediate reaction, instead of, “Oh, wonderful!  I can’t wait to spend some time with her!” was “Seek and destroy.  If you get near her, you will be less.”  Suddenly, I wanted her to fail so that she wouldn’t take any of my success.

What the hell????  I’ve never even met her.

Luckily, I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s book, “The Gift of Imperfection.”  I recognized a shame reaction as I was having it.  And even luckier, I had a therapy appointment already scheduled for today!

I made myself sit with the fear.  I checked my evidence and it proved that I have a right to be there, regardless of who else is around me.  I talked it through and realized that this once-in-a-lifetime event is also a big package of every inadequacy trigger I have, all rolled up into one.  People will see that I am old and overweight.  I might cry.  I might get short of breath and look like I’m panicking.  I might not be that good.  I might be good, but not the best.  I might ask for too much.  Maybe it’s arrogant of me to walk out on stage.

I’m reading a story about Richard and it might not be good enough to honor his memory.

These are my triggers.  Maybe they will make me sing and I’ll just black out altogether.

Part of going to therapy is letting these feelings come up.  Sitting with them.  Saying hello, then moving ON.  Even when they are scurrying to catch up to me.

I did my work with my therapist and I came back to the knowledge that there is enough of enough for everyone.  I don’t have to scrap with other writers for a limited number of readers.  I can be good.  She can be good.  You can be good.  We can all be wonderful together.

The creative life is not a competition; it’s a tide.  A rising tide lifts all boats.  When I occupy a space of abundance in my own heart, I can share it with others.  When I’m stuck in fear, I have nothing to give.  I am going to loosen my grasp, let the tide take me.  A rising tide, lifting all boats.

I’m not even going to reread this because I might chicken out on publishing it.  Just remember this:  fear doesn’t have to stop you.  It won’t stop me.

The Empty Boat

 

"Returning Home" Shitao  (Chinese, 1642–1707).  Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Returning Home” Shitao
(Chinese, 1642–1707). Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Today, I had a conversation with a friend that reminded me of the Taoist parable of the Empty Boat.  It is a teaching story attributed to Zhuang Zhou, a Chinese philosopher who lived 2500 years ago.  Here’s how I tell his story:

Imagine that you are in your fragile boat, rowing across the river at dusk.  Out of the gray darkness, you spot another boat heading straight for you.  You call to it, announcing your presence.  There is no response.  You watch helplessly as the boat floats ever closer to you, on a collision course.  You shout.  You wave your arms.  Your panic rises along with your rage.  You shake your fist at the boat but it comes right at you.  The boat collides with your skiff broadside.  Your boat is shattered and you spill into the water.

Now, imagine that there is a person in that boat.  How do you feel?  What do you do?  You focus all that energy and rage on the one who has done you harm.  You have been wronged!

Then clear your mind.  Imagine the same scene–you on the river at dusk.  Imagine that other boat rushing towards you, but it’s empty.  The empty boat.  There is no one who has wronged you.  There is no one who ignored your plea.  Even as you tip into the shadowy water, there is no one to shake your fist at.

It’s just something that happened.

“It is what it is.”

“Shit happens.”

Many a time I have found myself dumped into the river by that empty boat.  Oh, when I got soaked by Fartbuster…I shook my fist plenty.  I shouted and cursed.  I waved my arms.  I wanted to blow up his boat with him in it to take my revenge.  I considered swearing off boats altogether.

Eventually, I quit focusing all my energy on the REASON I was in the river and just started swimming to the other side.  I let it go.  I remember confessing to my therapist that I didn’t want to give up on him after ten years together because I just KNEW he was about to turn the corner and become the wonderful person that he couldamightashoulda been to me all along.  She said, “No, this is as good as he gets.  He’s doing his best.”  She wasn’t running him down–she was encouraging me to live in reality instead of in the world that might be waiting around the corner.  She was right–he was doing his best and I deserved better.

Sometimes you have to throw a fish back in the river so it can grow some more.

Sometimes you have to swim for your life even when you politely have said, “No, thanks, I’ll stay up here on the bank because I don’t want to get my shoes wet.”

Sometimes you have to quit trying to figure out who is rocking the boat.  Let it go.

 

An Ounce of Quit

Have you ever heard the expression “an ounce of quit?”  I associate it with sports, some bandy-legged kid who has more determination than the rest of the team put together:  “That kid don’t have an ounce of quit in him.”  It’s a high compliment. 

Last night, when I set the alarm for 5:01 a.m., I gave myself a pre-sleep suggestion:  “Wake up feeling like a bad ass.”  Don’t hit the snooze.  Don’t sit there on the edge of the bed feeling tired and sleepy. Get your feet on the floor.  Put on the clothes you’ve already laid out.  Eat some protein and GO.  It may be 13 degrees outside and you only had six hours of sleep, but GO.  Don’t apologize, don’t half-ass it, don’t quit.  GO.  

And it worked.  Until it was time to run.  

When I run, I can’t escape the simple fact that I am carrying 40 lbs more than I carried back when I ran long distances.  Try doing something you like with a large bag of dog food strapped to your back and see if it still feels the same.  It doesn’t.  Still, I forced myself to focus on each footstep, on one victory at a time.  I didn’t think about anyone else in the gym–just myself.  But my calves were screaming and I wanted to walk, just for a little bit.  I wanted to quit.

That’s when another music moment happened.  As I was rounding a corner, Kelly Clarkson belted out:

You ain’t got the right to tell me

When and where to go, no right to tell me

Acting like you own me lately

Yeah baby you don’t know a thing about me

You don’t know a thing about me

(from “Mr. Know It All)

I’d like to dedicate that song to the voice in my head.  To Fartbuster.  To every other person, including myself, who ever told me I wasn’t quite good enough.  You don’t know a thing about me.  So sit down and shut up.  

I kept running.  It was only a couple more minutes.  I told myself, “You’ve done harder shit than THIS.”  In my head, I heard a color commentary football announcer voice crowing, “She ain’t got an ounce of quit in her!”  

The truth is, I have more than an ounce of quit in me.  I have many many many ounces of quit in me!  But “quit” is what I push out of my body every time I sweat.  Every time I put my feet on the floor and remind myself to choose to be a bad ass.  

I got inspiration this morning from some Wesleyan sisters who are bad muthas:

-Irene has lost 75.1 pounds and she ain’t quitting.

-Wyanne had to give up her tongue to beat cancer, but she kept her voice.  She’s sitting up in bed today and painting–she ain’t quitting.  

-Stephanie has spent 2 years learning how to walk again after she was almost killed by a driver who was texting.  This fall, she and her horse made it to Nationals.  She ain’t quitting.

-Kristina is going home from the hospital today after fighting her way back to life for the last two months.  She’s going to be a teacher one day.  She ain’t quitting.

Sometimes it’s so easy to quit, to slow down–or to never try in the first place.  Don’t quit.  Don’t let that little voice in your head that wants you to be less win.  That voice may be inside your head, but it doesn’t know a thing about you.  

7-Muhammad-Ali

One Victory At A Time, Then Suddenly

Yesterday morning at boot camp, I teetered on the verge of crying.  Not from pain, unless you count the mental kind.  I could barely hear the complaints of my muscles over the cruel and negative messages in my head.

I was OK while we were warming up and doing squats.  I joined in the banter and the commiseration about it being 5:30.  Then it was time to run laps and my brain started thinking things about myself that no one should have to hear.  I imagined anyone ever saying things like that to my daughter.  Telling her she was fat and hopeless.  Telling her she shouldn’t bother.  Telling her it was never going to get better.  Telling her she probably didn’t deserve to feel better about herself.  That’s when I wanted to cry.

Because I was last.  Slowest.  The only one having to stop to walk in six minutes of running.  Marissa, who started coming to boot camp years ago because I encouraged–she lapped me.  I couldn’t catch up with April, who used to be my running buddy a couple of years ago.  New people, tiny people, genetically predisposed to speed, zipped past me, carrying on conversations with each other as they bounced along.  I lumbered down the lines on the basketball court and lurched around the corners.  Trying not to cry.

Here’s the kind of junk that rang between my ears:  It’s been TWO whole weeks since I started back to exercising and I’m STILL not in shape!  Everyone notices when I have to walk.  I’m really too fat to do this.  And it’s probably too late to turn this truck around–I’m 45.  I weigh twice what that girl who clocked a 3:30 marathon weighs.  I could be asleep but I’m out here embarrassing myself.  It’s never going to get any better.

Since there was no one behind me, I tried to think about the legions of people who aren’t there because they decided not to try.  That’s something, but it wasn’t enough to stop the chatter in my head.  The song from our coach’s ipod switches to Pink’s “Sober” and I truly hear the line:  “When it’s good then it’s good, it’s so good till it goes bad Till you’re trying to find the you that you once had.”  Yep.

That’s when April, the founder of WoW! Boot Camp hollered the thing that got through to me:  “One victory at a time!”

That was it.  I gave myself a tiny bit of credit for the victories I had already racked up since 5:01 when my alarm went off.  Getting out of bed.  Getting myself dressed.  Getting there.  TRYING.  Not rolling over and quitting.

My head was hanging at that point, but I looked at my feet in the running shoes that I bought for my last half-marathon, the one before Carlos was even on the radar.  I willed my right foot to run a step and it did.  Victory.  Then the left foot.  Victory. Each footstep a victory and I ran two fresh laps with my head up instead of walking because I was only thinking about the footstep that I was making, not the last one, not the next one, not the one I ran five years ago.  Not the one I will run six months from now.  Just this one, this victory.

waddle

While I ran, I thought about other “one victory at a time” moments.  My sister who chooses every day to stay sober.  My friend who doesn’t answer the phone when it’s a person who makes her feel bad about herself, even if that person is her mother.  The friend who can sit next to a smoker and not bum a cigarette.  The friend who resists the bait when a coworker fires an email at her with red caps and lots of exclamation points.  The mom who chooses talking over yelling.  The friend who sleeps in the center of the bed because it’s hers now.  One step at a time, not the whole race at once.

I finished the workout–at my own pace–and by 6:30 a.m. I was feeling euphoric.  I sat in the car, waiting for my butt heater to warm up and reading my email.  The daily message from Seth Godin popped up on my phone:  “Gradually, Then Suddenly.”  That’s a quote from Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises:  “How did you go bankrupt?  Gradually, then suddenly.”  Seth’s message was about how businesses fail that way–making small bad decisions that no one worries about along the way, then a sudden collapse that everyone sees.  The good news is that careers can be made the same way–years of slogging away, worrying that your tiny efforts aren’t having any impact then BAM.  You become the overnight success who’s been working hard at it for ten years.  Like when Shelby Lynne won the Grammy for Best New Artist for her SIXTH album!

That’s when I finally cried all those tears I had refused to cry when I was feeling bad about running in last place.  I sat in the dark parking lot, in the privacy of my car, and cried with relief that I might still have a Suddenly in my future, even if the Gradually was tough.

Gradually, then suddenly.  One victory at a time.

victorious

Your Voice

This is one of my favorite quotes about speaking up for yourself:  

Maggie Hahn, social activist and founder of the Gray Panthers.

Maggie Kuhn, social activist and founder of the Gray Panthers.

I had heard it as “Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes.”  Then in the course of researching who said it, I found the full context of the message–Stand before the people you fear.  Insist on being seen.  Insist on being heard.  Use your voice even if it shakes.  

When’s the last time your voice shook?  

“I” Statements

This morning, I was razzle-frack-a-lackin around (remember the sound Fred Flintstone made when he grumble cussed?) while I got dressed.  There’s this… situation…in my life where I have to bite my tongue, shut up, suck it up and let it go.  Y’know, what we grownups call “a Tuesday.”  The situation is causing me some uncomfortable moments because I’ve spent 12 years in therapy trying to learn to speak up and now I’m practicing the shut up.  It all seems so counterproductive.  

WARNING:  Here comes some language.  Good old fashioned Olde English.  If you don’t like cussing… I suggest you squint until you scroll down to the picture.  

I first started talking to a therapist when Fartbuster and I were splitting up.  After 10 years of keeping the world OK for him, I had surrendered my voice.  Not only did I not speak up for myself, it never dawned on me that I should speak up for myself.  Or that I might have been allowed to expect something out of our relationship.  I bit my tongue.  I shut up.  I sucked it up.  I tried really really hard to let it go.  And that never really took 100% so…therapy YAY!  The first thing my therapist asked was, “So what do you want to learn how to do?”  

Without even thinking, I blurted:  “I want to learn how to say “Fuck you!” if that’s what I’m thinking.”  

She laughed and said, “Oh, we’re going to get along just fine.  I kind of have a reputation for teaching women how to do that!”  It was a solid match.  We’ve made great strides.  If you don’t believe me, well FUCK YOU.  

During that first year of sessions, we worked on me finding my voice as I separated from Fartbuster.  One session right before the holidays, I told my therapist that I was anxious about the people I would be seeing.  This whole speaking up for myself thing was fresh and it was starting to feel a little shaky.  She thought it would be beneficial to practice some of the things I could say to protect myself in uncomfortable situations.  

She asked, “So what is it you REALLY want to say to this person?”  

I snorted.  “What I really want to say is ‘Shut the fuck up.'”  

“True, but they won’t be able to hear something that aggressive.  How about a more polite way to convey that same message?”

 I considered an alternative.  “How about ‘Soooooomebody needs… to shut the fuck up!'”  I wiggled my eyebrows and smirked.  

It was her turn to snort.  “OK, OK.  How about you try expressing this as an ‘I’ statement?”

“Oh!  I think somebody needs to shut the fuck up!”  

Nailed it.  

Maybe that’s why it’s been 12 years?  

My Capstone Project From 12 Years on the Couch.

My Capstone Project From 12 Years on the Couch.

So the razzle-frackin continues, even though Tuesday is in the books.  The only I-statement I can come up with today is “I feel like punching you in the throat when you breathe.  I would like you to shut the fuck up.”  

What’s your I-statement for today?  Share it in the comments!  

Body Wisdom

Today’s writing prompt is:  “Something my body (or someone else’s) has taught me.”  Dena Hobbs, yoga instructor and author of “Lighten the Darkness:  An Advent Journey Through Hope” thought this one up and I’m glad she did!

When I first read it, my reaction was that I’ve never thought about my body as a teacher.  It’s a vehicle.  A warm blanket.  At times a burden.  Ballast.  Buoyancy.  A hideout.

body wisdomFor the first 30 years of my life, I thought of my body as the thing that carried my brain and my heart around.  My brain got things DONE.  My brain got me attention, acclaim.  My brain made progress.  My brain achieved my goals and moved me forward in life.  My brain got me the grades that won the awards that led to the scholarship that got me the fellowship that landed me the job.  Then the next job and the next one and the next one.  My brain pays the bills.

While my brain got things done across all those years, my heart decided WHAT I should do.  Even with my practical streak, I spent plenty of time following my heart.  I chased after it all those times it went chasing after a boy.  I carried my heart right out in the open.  I needed to be loved.  I delighted to feel it swell with friendship and love.  I went down in the depths when my heart was broken.  My brain couldn’t keep my heart from doing what it was going to do.  My heart, my heart, my heart.  Even as I exercised my brain and it grew stronger, I relied on my heart to decide–I felt my way through my teens and 20’s.

Then I hit my 30s.

That decade was a doozy.  I ran into the parts of life that my brain couldn’t think my way out of.  I hit the spots where my heart led the way and got shattered.  After Fartbuster and I had been separated for seven months, the phone rang one night–his girlfriend calling MY HOUSE, asking if he was there.  WTH???  I had already hung up the phone by the time I was good and awake.  My heart lurched with the familiar heartache.  My brain tried to kick into overdrive–was that a dream?  Did that really happen?  What does it mean?  Where IS he?  My brain began to calculate whether that was the final straw.  My heart flopped and wrenched and twisted–it didn’t flip off like a switch.  But my body?  My body was so tired from months of his foolishness that it just went back to sleep.  I woke up knowing that I was going to get a divorce and my heart was calm.  The late hour eclipsed the brain and the heart–the body took over–and my life got to a better place.

That’s what I learned from my body–get the brain to hush, get the heart to sit still, let the body do what it does.

When Richard got leukemia and we spent 10 months walking side by side towards The Door, my brain was at its peak–I kept it all together.  My body kept me moving, traveling back and forth, tending to him, tending to me, holding down my job.  My heart…well, I’ll write a book about that one day.  After he died, my brain couldn’t think its way out of the grief.  My heart needed time.  My body kept going.  I remember standing at the kitchen sink at my dad’s house on the Easter Sunday a few weeks after Richard died and asking myself, “How did I get here?”  The kids were playing in the backyard.  There was a ham on the stove.  I was dressed.  My car was in the drive.  The neighbor had come across the street to give me her condolences.  My body was there, living.  My brain and my heart didn’t know what to do.

A few years passed.  My heart had wanted a child for over 10 years.  My brain knew that the clock was ticking.  My body?  My body said, “I got this.”  After my first date with G, I called Andrea to talk it over.  She asked, “Was there chemistry?” and I giggled, “Girl.  He’s got a PhD in Chemistry!”  No need for the reproductive endocrinologist.  Saved that copay.  

The first baby was born.  My brain had read the books.  My heart loved her before I ever saw her tiny heart beating.  My body stitched her together with no regard for all the alarmist messages my brain found in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”  My brain knew I was supposed to have a typed up birthing plan.  My body said, “Hush.  I am doing something here.  Watch and learn.”  My body knew how to feed her.  My body was her refuge and still is.  The love we have for each other has nothing to do with my brain.

The month I was turning 40, my brain decided that my heart and my body needed to get into shape.  I joined boot camp with the goal of being able to do a military push up on my 40th birthday.  I did three!  I didn’t think my way or wish my way to those push ups…my body did the work.  I learned to run long distances by keeping my heart steady and my brain quiet.  It’s the brain that wants to stop long before the body has to.  It’s the heart that is afraid to even begin.  When I let my body begin to move, it took over and took me places I had never believed I could go.

Now I’m 45.  I have learned that there will be times when my brain has to think my way out of a snarl–like planning dinners so that the produce all gets used up before it turns mushy.  There will be times when my heart leads the way–like when I want to ignore that “Mama!” cry at 3 a.m. but that’s ME he’s calling for.  Other times?  My body will know just what to do.  Like now, when I need to sleep so I can get up a little early tomorrow and do some push ups.

What has your body taught you?