“People who need help sometimes look a lot like people who don’t need help.” -Glennon Doyle
I can’t say with any certainty that I am viewed as having it all together. I have, however, been complimented for my ability to remain calm or to calm others. In my days as a project manager, it was a strength often highlighted in my performance reviews. One supervisor actually used to mistake my calm attitude for a lack of understanding the urgency of the issue, until he learned I very much understand the urgency, but can’t address it if I get frantic.
During my application process to become a Hospice volunteer, the coordinator told me after speaking to my three references that she had never seen a single word used so consistently to describe someone. What word is that, I asked. “Calm. Every single person commented on how calm you are.”
Calm. That is a marvelous state.
Imagine how it must feel to be known for being calm and to hold a diagnosis of anxiety. It sometimes feels that my entire self has been taken from me.
How does anxiety present in me? My body feels tight. My breathing becomes really short. My heart thuds faster. I awake at 2 a.m. and remain awake until 5 a.m. That is assuming I even got to sleep in the first place. Every possible decision — from what action to take to what shirt to wear — becomes steeped with dread of making the “wrong” choice.
Then, when I lie in bed in the wee hours of the morning worrying about how I can’t sleep and noticing how short and fast my breaths are, I remember that my mother’s heart attack was preceded by shortness of breath (side note: women’s symptoms are often different than men’s; know your tells!). So I tell myself that it’s likely “only” anxiety. Calm yourself. I put on soothing music with nature sounds, I focus on my breath — which is oh my goodness, really short and rapid. What if it really is a heart attack? which, of course, only antagonizes the anxiety, which speeds up the heart, which shortens the breath, which… you see where this is going.
I have had two EKGs in the past 14 months. It’s not a heart attack (though I will still be mindful of signs). When I received the diagnosis of “general anxiety” last year, the doctor asked if there had been any changes in my life recently. I laughed a nervous, short-breathed laugh. In the previous year? Marriage ended. Single motherhood. New home — that I had to take care of all by myself. New town — where I knew no one when I arrived. New job. Ex-husband’s new girlfriend. New school for my son — who was starting kindergarten. New puppy. Nothing major there!
I thought I had been handling things rather well, all things considered. Sure, I had moments where I broke down and cried. That was to be expected. Most of those occurred behind closed doors, mostly so my son wouldn’t worry. People kept telling me how well I looked, how they would have been a wreck, how calm I was.
And mostly I was. Except when I wasn’t.
I got through all of that. I came out the other side. I used every tool in my arsenal to battle anxiety: medication, therapy, the gym, healthier food choices, yoga, early bedtimes, time with friends, time alone to unwind, prayer, meditation, gratitude. I beat it.
The thing about anxiety is that the other side is a bit of a myth. You don’t beat anxiety. You handle it. You manage it. You have really great days. You look calm. Because you are calm. Until one day you aren’t.
Anxiety doesn’t care that “calm” is your thing. It wants to know why you’re not frantic about any of the millions of things that could be going wrong right now. You could be having a heart attack! How can you just lie there? You can’t wear a t-shirt. What if it gets cold? During an anxiety attack, these worries carry equal weight.
It’s not easy, and it’s even less easy to talk about it, because what if people think you’re crazy? What if you are crazy? And some people will wonder what you have to be so anxious about. And some people will tell you to shake it off, which will make you want to shake them. But you won’t, because you’ll be too worried that maybe they are right and maybe this should be much easier to shake off.
This is what it’s like to have anxiety.
Someone you know and love may have this, and you may not even know. Because sometimes the people who need help look a whole lot like people who have it all together.
And honestly, that’s where I’ve been recently. So, I’m back to embracing the many tools in my arsenal. Anxiety isn’t a one-time battle. It’s a war, and I intend to win. Preferably, as calmly as possible.
Faith is a difficult thing. We are taught in school that theories need proof. We need to be able to support our arguments with hard facts and scientific data. And finding information is easier than ever, thanks to the internet -- unlike the days of my school reports, which required a library visit and rifling through a card catalog in hopes of finding something related to my topic.
Yet, we are still asked to have faith. To trust abundance. To surrender. To believe in a divine plan or miracles or the law of attraction or God.
This universe is a magical and scientific place. Sometimes it’s hard to trust what we cannot see for ourselves.
My friend Kristin wrote a post that resonated so deeply with me. It’s called I’m an ego driven skeptic and she begins, “My name is Kristin and I basically doubt everything.”
It’s definitely worth reading, so hop on over there. These are the words that I read over and over:
“I don’t usually believe in myself and I know I exist. I don’t have faith in myself, and I can see myself in the mirror. So why would I believe in something that I have to have faith in and I can’t see?”
I don’t usually believe in myself and I know I exist. I exist. You do, too. You can see yourself right now by looking down, just as I can see myself. We exist. That is easily provable. But do you believe in yourself? Do you believe you are worthy? Do you have faith in yourself?
Those questions are much harder.
Now go back to the second part of that quote. If you don’t have faith in yourself, and you can see yourself in the mirror, how do you believe in something you can’t see?
So much harder.
And yet, does operating from faith make the experience of life invalid or not worthwhile? Definitely not.
Faith is worthwhile even if it is hard.
Faith, when carefully placed, enriches our ego-driven, body-based experiences. It makes for a well-rounded life alongside science. Both are valuable.
Read Kristin's full post here: I’m an ego driven skeptic
I grew up in a place that I am realizing is somewhat of an anomaly. I grew up in schools where kids were white, black, Middle Eastern, Korean, Chinese, Hispanic, biracial. My friends, neighbors, and classmates practiced a variety of religions, or no religion at all. I had babysitters who were white, who were black, who were deaf.
Normal to me was that there was no normal. Everyone was different, everyone had a story, and it was worth learning as many stories as I could.
Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.
My mother sang that to me when I was little, and I knew that it was true because I could see so many colors and lifestyles around me.
As an adult, and especially now that I’ve moved around and seen other communities, I’ve realized my childhood was perhaps a bit different than what many people experience.
The gut-wrenching news stories we keep hearing prove we have a long way to go toward peace and justice. The racism and religious animosity that I “knew” were things of the past as a child, I know now are still issues.
With emotions running high, it’s sometimes scary to speak up because words with good intentions behind them can be met with disdain.
One of those well-intentioned words that I keep seeing is “colorblind.” As in “I am colorblind; I see everyone the same.” I understand what you mean.
But when I see that word, I question it. Because we are not all the same.
If I am colorblind, I am missing a very key piece of who you are. The color of your skin is part of what makes you you. It is part of what makes you beautiful. It is part of your story.
I absolutely believe we should all be afforded the same opportunities. I want to be clear about that. However, I can’t ignore that maybe you haven’t been afforded those opportunities. And that is unjust.
Your experience — whether or not you are white, like me — is different from mine, because we have different bodies, different histories, different racial compositions, different parents, different personalities.
I am not colorblind. I don’t ever want to be colorblind. I see in color. Full, rich, vibrant color. That’s what makes this life interesting.
A new chapter of my life is unfolding. It has been for quite a while now. It began with an uncoupling and a new home in a new town. With that came the desire for new friendships, and the question of where a woman in her late 30s finds other women to befriend.
The all-consuming question has been this: Who am I now? Now that I have no one to worry about but myself and my son. How do I spend my time? How do I keep us physically, emotionally, and financially secure? What does this life look like?
As I peel back layers and pare down possessions, I consider carefully what is me? What is me in this moment? What is part of the enduring me?
This is a time of exploration, and I the reluctant explorer.
I have lost some things: a live-in partner, a former book club, security, and predictability.
Then there is the new. I have become a Hospice volunteer. I have become a Reiki Master/Teacher. I have joined a local book club. I have started a new full-time job—my first in 6 years. I have been embraced by a church with abundant energy, where I am a minority. So much love and goodness.
The changes are sweeping—broad strokes that clear and clear until I am bare. From this bareness, this stripped-down-ness, my life continues on its new path.
So, if you’ve wondered why my words have been few, it is because I am still clearing. Still stripping to find the core of me. The truth that is me and no one else.
With that, I am also stripping this website. I am taking it down to its most basic form: a simple blog. I am removing offerings and “fluff.” I make no promises for frequency of posts. I simply know that, right now, I need to continue peeling back the layers.
Sweep. Peel. Strip. Clear.
The sun is bright and hot on the side of my face. At 8:52, it has risen above the tree, but not yet disappeared high into the sky beyond my wall.
These are the things I notice in this new (to me) home. Our relationship is a tender 3 weeks old. We are still becoming acquainted.
I sit at my desk until I can no longer stand it. Until I can’t keep my eyes open against the blaze directly on me through bare windows. I gather my computer, my books, my journal, a few pens (because just one will never do), and move 10 feet. Those 10 feet transport me further than you might imagine. Those 10 feet are the difference between light and shadow, office and dining room.
For a while, I work in this shelter. A room lit just enough. The dimness and close walls turn me inward. I contemplate my to do list.
At 10:08 a.m. I return to my office. The sun has passed my window and now illuminates the floor. My chair is warm, like clothes fresh from the dryer. The office is bright. I can see again.
It is time to look outward again. Time to shine.
Some days breeze by. Everything flows easily. You are giving. You are receiving. Things get done. Family gets cuddled. Ideas abound. Life is a beautiful journey and you sparkle with the magic of it all.
Some days are heavy. Everything feels like a slog. You don't know if you can give. Things need to get done, but you want to hide from it all. The beautiful journey and all of its hope from yesterday feels like wishful thinking.
The schedule you had imagined for today--wake at 6:30, shower, start your day, wake your child at 7:30, start his day--goes out the window when he arrives in your room bright-eyed and bushy tailed at 6:00 a.m.
You haven't gotten out of bed yet, and the schedule is already ruined.
Instead of hiding, you try to start over. You shower. Grumpily. You dress your child. Briskly. He's smiling. He's chattering away as if it's the best day ever. Because maybe it is.
You start to think maybe the schedule isn't totally blown. In fact, since the little one is now dressed and ready to go earlier than normal, you have time to water the community garden before you drop him off with the sitter, thereby freeing time after.
So you drive to the garden. Pulling the hose from flower box to vegetable bed. Everything is blooming. Eggplant purples in every shade. Tomatoes from green to red. Squash just barely yellow.
Then you see the wildflowers. The patch where many months ago you and other beautiful women gathered in a circle tossing seeds. The patch where you all remembered and gave thanks. That once barren patch is bursting with life now.
This day can be saved. It has been saved. Because you and the wildflower patch aren't much different.
With renewed energy, you snuggle your son who eagerly helped you water every last plant. You drop him at the sitter's and decide there is enough time after all.
Enough time to grab milk and cereal for the hungry teenagers who will be waking from their sleepover soon. You get fruit, drinks, sandwich fixings for lunch. Everything you might need to get through the day regardless of how many may or may not stick around.
As you drive home you realize how grumpy you were. How grumpy you aren't anymore. You started fresh. This day can be saved. It has been saved. There is still plenty of time to do all that needs to be done.
Then you realize you forgot the milk.
You may have to start over a few more times today.
I am priviliged. I didn’t know that when I was growing up. I thought the kids who were buying their clothes from The Gap were priviliged; not me with my Goodwill finds and Kmart specials. But I was priviliged even then.
As a child I understood racism to be a thing of the past. How perfectly normal that I had friends of all different ethnicities, that we all went to school together. Skin color was simply a descriptive feature: black, white, Korean… like hair color--black, brown, or blonde. I didn’t understand the stories of slavery in history class or why segregation had existed in my parents’ time. It was an absurdity. Practically a folk tale. How could that have been real, I wondered. I’m glad people figured it out, I thought.
But more and more I realize it isn’t all figured out. There is so much hurt and anger that I don’t realize from where I stand. The news stories that keep popping up around the country confuse me. There really isn’t another way to say it. I’m confused. I’m confused that people are trying to make their point with violence. But I am also learning how many other people are trying to make the same point peacefully. That media highlights the disastrous results of the few and not the quieter resolve of the others.
At least this is the point I see people making in my very limited way of viewing media--mainly from stories shared via Facebook of people I know and respect. I haven’t watched the news. I never watch the news. I never follow news stories online. I see my friends posting updates about their sadness over Baltimore, a city we grew up next to, so I seek out what is happening in Baltimore. But I don’t follow the story. After seeing a headline about riots, I mutter about the craziness and move on with my day.
Then I follow it only through what people share on Facebook and I see stories and photographs of people standing in peace. I see citizens trying to keep others from damaging police cars, looting, or attacking others. I see citizens cleaning up the debris. I also see my cousin’s office spray-painted with F--- Police. I see her husband’s car with windows smashed, tires flat, roof bashed in.
I see all these things. Different sides of a surely incomplete story. And I am sad.
I am sad that not everyone has as peaceful of a day as I am having. I am sad that there is a need for a hashtag #blacklivesmatter. I am sad that people feel hurt, angry, or less than. I am sad that any one person feels unheard or scared.
I am sad and I am confused and I am sorry that this world isn’t as simple as I once thought it was. This sucks.
Meditation has always been somewhat of an enigma to me. I know a lot of people make it a regular practice and I have tried to meditate with little success and little return. I just didn’t get it.
Recently I read Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life by Karen Maezen Miller (I highly recommend this book, by the way) and in it she spoke of meditation in a way that made it sound easy. Her method is simply to count your breaths—inhale one, exhale two, inhale three, and so on—until you get to ten. If you lose your place, start over at one. If you get to ten, start over at one again. It is a practice in focusing on breath.
I gave it a try. The simplicity of it appealed to me. It was something I could do anywhere, anytime. I did it while washing dishes one day. In that moment there was nothing but me, the dishes, and my breath. What surprised me the most was that was enough. Miller encourages focusing just on what is in front of you. Her method of meditating helped me do that.
On the heels of this discovery, Carrie Ann Moss announced a 10-day Kundalini meditation course through her website Annapurna Living (a site I adore). It was explained as an easy form of meditation that anyone can do amidst their full, busy lives. A short and sweet daily practice with an easy 10-day commitment. I signed up.
Today is day nine and I realized something. This meditation has become almost comfortable for me. (I say almost because I’m still not ready to do it in front of my husband. Only my four-year-old has witnessed it. He plops himself down between me and my computer so he can watch the video.)
For three minutes each day, I sit, I breathe, I chant. (It’s the chanting that makes me leery to practice where anyone might hear me.)
On the first day I felt pretty darn silly, but at the end of the three minutes I felt I had done something worthwhile. I think it was the closing words I liked most: “May the longtime sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you guide your way on.” Repeat that a couple times. I bet you will feel your mood shift.
The second day I felt a little silly, but I knew what to expect and felt a little more familiar with the words. Later that day my four-year-old was repeating some of the words from the meditation. When I caught his eye he giggled, which, of course, made me giggle.
The third day I felt almost familiar going in to the meditation and each day thereafter was a little more comfortable. What’s more, I realized that chanting made me hear my voice. Really listen to it. To hear when it wavers and to want to speak with more strength. I found myself saying the simple sounds with more conviction.
Today I realized how much I was looking forward to the meditation. It feels like a reset, like my day can properly start (or restart) when I do it.
I don’t know if meditation is something I will continue daily forever. I do know that for now I am enjoying this practice. Whether I follow Moss’s three-minute chanting meditation or Miller’s counting of breaths, I feel a bit of peace afterward that probably benefits my family as much as it benefits me.
In Hand Wash Cold Miller puts it this way: “With my meditation practice, I can see that I’m still a cranky person, but I try to be a kinder cranky person.”
Seems worth it to keep trying, doesn’t it?
Snow has quietly covered our corner of the world again. Not much. About 6 inches or so. Enough that it required clearing before my husband could drive to his office.
So out we went—he with the snowblower, I with a giant broom—and we cleared. He slowly, methodically cleared one strip of snow after another. I carefully brushed snow from our vehicles, taking joy in each puffing sound as it landed at my feet. Then I moved on to shoveling the front steps and skimming the end of the driveway.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, I realized I was at peace. I didn’t mind the work I was doing. Because I had bundled up properly, I wasn’t even cold. I was doing what needed to be done. My husband was outside working with me. The kids were inside. No one was asking me for anything.
Once inside there would be breakfast to make, sons to tend to, things to be cleaned, and deadlines to meet.
Outside this morning there was nothing to worry about but the snow. That singular focus brought more freedom and peace than I ever would have imagined.
Rain is washing away our blanket of snow. Last week our landscape was smooth with light and shadow playing on the surface. Today it is patchy- wet grass mottled with white slosh in the dull of a gray sky.
Snow makes everything appear cleaner and tidier. Rain washes away debris and leaves a sheen. Yet somehow snow and rain together makes everything feel sludgy.
I am trying not to soak up the sludgy feeling. My mood tends to sponge off the weather and the moods of those around me. So I am practicing saying, “What’s mine is mine. What’s yours is yours.”
Today I wish to feel light, spacious, and heart-full. The weather may do as it wishes.