the gift of getting yourself help

we live in a world that has a strange relationship with asking for help. on one hand, we’re taught that we should be able to do everything on our own. that being a successful adult means we don’t need others and that shouldn’t want companionship for the sake of companionship. relationships might be a nice add-on, but they’re not a necessity. on the other hand, we struggle to really take responsibility for our own lives because we expect others to do the heavy lifting for us. we (and i truly mean ‘we,’ as i’m no exception to this rule) blame our parents, our childhoods, our partners as the reason we don’t feel fulfilled, filled up from the inside. we think that if only we had x, y, or z we’d feel better because x, y, or z wouldn’t come with all the extra work seemingly required. life would somehow feel miraculously easy, our minds could finally rest.

both of these belief systems are faulty, though, because they keep us disconnected from our own vulnerability. whether we think we should do it all alone or that it’s every else’s fault we feel the way we do, it doesn’t really matter. either way, we don’t dip into that scared place inside that’s desperate for guidance, for assistance, for a hand to lovingly hold as we walk the walk through the dark and thorny forest. both of these thought patterns keeps us separate from what we’re experiencing in the moment.

the truth is that we all need help and, i believe, a lot of it. Google has become what was once a group of tribal elders; people revered for their wisdom, their tolerance of uncertainty, their ability to guide without directing. but, Google is no elder. it’s a false front for fake answers. there’s no wisdom in instant knowing. there’s no universal rule applicable to every person in every situation. life is too complicated, too complex. so, what do we do when we need another human to sit with us in our mess? what do we do when we finally admit that we can’t do it alone?

in my case, i hired a professional organizer (just one person among several i turn to for help). for as long as i can remember i’ve struggled for various reasons with organization and staying on track with projects. it’s been hard for me to know what to do with my stuff. even more so, approaching it all alone has felt too overwhelming, putting my mind in a stress response which left my brain incapable of truly rational thought. i’ve needed help in this area for a long time. but, there was shame around getting it. ‘i should just know what to do,’ said my mind. ‘why is this so hard for me and not for other people? what’s wrong with me?‘ it continued. i’m glad i didn’t let those voices win out anymore, because hiring the organizer (Holly) has been one of the best things i’ve done for myself. it’s about how she’s helped me in my physical space, yes, and also about the deeper meaning of what saying yes to this want and need means for me. that ‘yes’ has rippled…but that’s a story for another time.

but this is what we do: we deny ourselves what we truly need. we do this for many different reasons: past hurts that still need attention; internalized cultural messages that tell us we’re weak or indulgent for getting help with something we could do on our own; the fear of being judged by others. is there room, though, to dip below the mental chatter and connect with the feeling you get when you say yes to something you really want? when you allow yourself to invite in help from another, to show another person your soft spots, your clutter (whether literal or metaphorical), your messiness? you don’t have to do life alone. the gift of getting yourself help can truly be the best gift of all.

anxiety is a thought pattern

***for those struggling with relationship anxiety, i write this to encourage you to think about your thought patterns as just that: a thought pattern. consider how your constant questioning, comparing to others, thinking there’s one “right” choice spans more than just your relationship. it’s easy to put the reason for our suffering onto our partners, when really the issue lies in our own mental processes.***

recently, i’ve been exploring preschool options for my toddler and found one in the community that seems to be highly aligned with my values and beliefs when it comes to transitions and attachment. they offer parent/toddler classes to support the child in his or her transition into school, acknowledging that this can be a challenging time for young children. most places will agree that it can be tough, yet often take a ‘rip the bandaid off’ approach that is akin to crying it out (something we don’t do at home nor do i agree with). i’ve decided to sign us up for the class, without really exploring other options, without knowing what the hell i’m doing, or if this is the best place for us to be.

i’ve noticied, though, that despite the alignment of values and warm, caring environment of the school, i’m fighting this transition internally. am i tapping directly into the grief of what this all signifies? not quite.

instead, i’m questioning. i’m questioning my decision, the way many of you do when it comes to your relationship:

-did i make the right choice? what if some other place would be better?
-what if my daughter would be happier somewhere else?
-how can i be sure when i didn’t explore every possible option?
-what if i end up not liking this school?
-what will we be missing out on by saying yes to this one?
-i like that school better because of x, y, z…but this other one has these things to offer…but how will i support her emotionally in the same way this school does?…why can’t i have everything???

does any of this sound familiar? the point i want to really make here is that this same thought pattern, the one that drove me crazy for SO long way back when around my relationship, is showing up again in a different context. it’s a reminder that it’s not the relationship that’s the issue, it’s my brain. and, more importantly, it’s what my brain does when i’m feeling a certain way: vulnerable.

i’m at a growing edge here. i’m doing something i’ve never done before, with limited support or people to talk to about how to navigate these waters as a mother. there’s this unspoken expectation that this process be an easy one. you just find a school and send your kid to it, right? (just like you (seemingly easily) find a partner, get engaged, then married, right?) but it’s not that way for me. just as it wasn’t that easy when i was in the marriage transition (or any transition for that matter).

i rage against the passing of time. my natural instinct – or probably a learned strategy growing up in a family that didn’t talk about feelings – is to bury my head in the sand and avoid what’s really going on. i spin in mental circles instead of feeling lost and alone. i tell myself stories and compare myself to others (why does everyone else seem to have such an easier time with this???).

all because i’m so deeply vulnerable right now.

are you?

when you find yourself hooked into the anxious mind, ask yourself if you’re feeling vulnerable. or alone. or lost. consider the other situations in your life where your mind hijacks your sense of peace and you question it all. noticing how the thoughts flare up in other scenarios is one of the best ways to remind yourself that this anxiety lives in you.

it’s yours to work through, and it’s here to help you connect with your deepest self. because when i can see the anxiety for what it is – a signal that there is much more going on within me, under the surface layer of thoughts – i can process what’s truly needing attention: my little baby, the one who i birthed only 2 years ago, is growing up. yes, she’s only 2. but this step signifies the expansion of her world and a step out of what has felt like such a cozy little cocoon all this time. things are changing, and i struggle to wrap my mind and heart around it all. my heart aches for and grieves her babyhood. we celebrate and cry all at once.

what is the anxiety signaling within you? what is the touchstone waiting to be seen, shining through the waters of grief and longing? your anxiety is yours. it’s not the relationship. it’s not the preschool. it’s the feeling underneath that the thoughts are guiding you toward.

the path reveals itself as you walk it

one of my favorite metaphors is this: the path will reveal itself as it’s traveled.

what it means is this: we must move forward (or backward, or sideways) to get more of the view of the path ahead (or behind, or to the side of) us.

the key being: WE MUST MOVE.

when i’m working with clients struggling to make a decision, and in my own experience of indecisiveness, there’s a longing to just know what’s next. will i still want this choice in 5 years? will it still feel the same later? what if i don’t have enough information right now to decide?

keep moving. you’ll learn more as you go.

think about when you’re driving. or if you’ve even been on a river. you can’t see the road, in it’s entirety, at the start of your trip. you don’t know what, exactly, is around the next bend – could it be rapids? perhaps there’s a fallen tree? the more you drive and paddle, the more the path is revealed. movement is necessary in order to be able to see what else there is around us.

how this translates into life? we put one foot in front of the other. we make choices and then we get new information. we say yes to something and see what doors open, and which ones close.

seeing as we’re not birds (and even birds can’t see it all), we don’t get to know what’s way ahead of us until we move in some direction.

so notice: are you feeling stuck? if so, are you stuck because you’re wanting more information in order to move in some way?

if yes, what’s one step you can take today to create some kind of movement?

as you ponder and lean into identifying a step to take remember: trust that you’ll learn more as you go. the path will continue to reveal itself as you walk it. the only way to know what’s next is to step into the unknown.

wave that bubble wand

the other day i was driving around my sleeping daughter feeling rather grumbly about life. i was tired, i was triggered, i was not wanting to drive for hours just to keep my baby sleeping (yet also needed her to nap).

in the past i would’ve enjoyed the chance to explore, to look around at houses and see parts of town (including private roads!) that i normally don’t get to see. but not this day. it was just one of those days when life was getting to me.

until i turned the corner and saw exactly what i needed to see:

a man, at least in his mid-seventies, standing in his open garage doorway wearing nothing but a pair of shorts waving around a bubble wand.


immediately i smiled and relaxed, remembering that life doesn’t have to be so serious all the time. when i’m tired and triggered and just grumbly, life is way too serious. but this man waving around his bubble wand was the antidote to my pessimism. what made it better was that he was all by himself, not caring what others thought (this was on a fairly busy street), and it was the middle of the afternoon.

how random, yes?

play can be such a healing medicine. go wave that bubble wand.

the slow decent into darkness, the return of light

Here in the northern hemisphere, we’re tilting back toward darkness. We’ve reached the apex of light, and now it’s time to return to the cave.

the opposite will be true for those of you in the southern hemisphere. You’ll have reached the peak of darkness, and more and more light will slowly be making its way into your days.

How are you feeling as more darkness or light enter your world?  It’s not that either are new; we go through these shifts year after year, month after month, day after day, and sometimes, it seems, one moment from the next is fraught with fluctuation that leaves us feeling chaotic and out of control inside.

when our souls are calling us into the cave, notice how easily you welcome the invitation or how strongly you resist it.

When our souls want to rush out into the world in leaps of celebration, notice if there’s anything inside nipping at your heels or, like usually is the case for me, grabbing you by the ankles trying to keep you stuck and ‘comfortable.’

Wherever you find yourself right now, you’ll be finding yourself in transition if you open to it. It’s true we’re always in transition, yet there’s something different during the months of anticipation as summer turns to autumn and winter into spring. Death and life looms in the distance, visible now on the horizon. We can see the storm and sense its impending waters and thunderclaps. We can smell the sweetness of the roses making their way through the solid, frozen, thawing ground.

what’s happening inside you right now? What wants to come out? What wants to stay in? We need time to incubate our selves, time to marinate on images and metaphors, insights and wonderings. We also need room for expression, clearing space for new life to grow. All of this involves some kind of stillness, of sitting in the in-between spaces that might feel a little, or a lot, uncomfortable. But sit we must, until what’s next makes itself known.

The daffodils are dying OR Perennial Love

the daffodils are dying and i don’t want them to go. i don’t want the newness of spring to be wearing off, and i don’t want to leave the infatuation i have with this time of year. it feels like ‘falling out of love,’ that fall from fantasy, back to reality after the high and buzz wear off.

for as long as i can remember, when spring came around i’d put my focus on the trees. i’d check them for buds and leaves, and when i didn’t see any it came with such a sense of relief, a reminder of how much spring there still was left to experience. now, there are fully grown leaves on the tress, and, as i said earlier, the daffodils are dying and spring is happening. it’s here, and that means it’s passing.

of course i made a metaphor out of it (what good is anything if it can’t be made a metaphor?). where i landed was on relationships, and how i feel when spring begins is so much like the infatuation in those early stages of a relationship (which isn’t a requirement for a healthy relationship) or even the calm waters settling in after a rough (sometimes very rough) patch. in the beginning, there’s so much hope. when the storm passes, there’s so much relief. “When spring comes I’ll feel so happy,” i’ll think. “I’m going to do so much and really get organized,” i’ll say to myself. there’s so much promise of something different. until i realize that time passes and i’m still the same, with the same habits, the same tendencies, the same stuck points. i do make progress, yes. but not the kind of whimsical, magical, frollicking kind of progress. not the “i’m a new person” kind of progress. in short, i’m not rescued by spring.

and that’s because spring doesn’t last. tiny buds turn into blooms. the daffodils die. spring loses its newness, it’s sense of promise to make everything right in the world. i fall back into despair at moments, beating my head against the wall as i try to figure out how the hell to be better at time management and organization. every year i think spring will make me feel whole again. and even more than that – i actually do feel whole again, but it’s fleeting, a mirage of permanence that still continues to feel like a hard fall from grace every time i learn this lesson of impermanence.

i want to make it so crystal clear that this is what we do with people, too. we think we’ll be saved by them. we think their budding love for us will take us from the winter freeze that hardened our hearts and melt the ice into a pool of easy, warm comfort. and for a time, it might actually be that way. just like with the budding daffodils, there’s so much to look forward to (unless there isn’t; relationships are deeply triggering and i don’t want to make this sound like the beginning should be all, well, rainbows and flowers). it’s easy to be blinded by the future growth we see emerging all around us. the fantasies seem as real as the scent of the flowers.

but, the point is to remember that the scent doesn’t last. flowers can actually turn quite ugly when they’re dying and recharging. the leaves turning yellow has to happen in order for the bulb to gain energy. isn’t that interesting – the plant gives itself the fuel it needs a year in advance to make it through the long, hard winter. this process is necessary if they’re to come back again next spring. we must go through the hard times in order to come alive again. death is necessary for rebirth.

this reality sometimes feels nothing short of impossible to take in and believe, let alone accept. we have years of stored pain around relationships, likely from our own families of origin as well as in the collective. we probably have more experiences of pain when things get hard than of repair, so our trust in it all is meek and tenuous. to do something new and different is an act of bravery, because it can feel as though we’re going to be annihilated if we step out of a familiar pattern. when we step into the unknown.

so, as i conclude this somewhat random, twisty post, i want to assure you that the rough patches in your relationship are going to settle back down into a place of more ease. it might not be quick or happen tomorrow, and things might have to turn ugly first before there can be beauty again. but if we allow ourselves to learn from these moments, we actually get something from them. there are deep lessons here: about ourselves, our partners, our relationships. we can take these times and use it for our advantage. our love can be like the perennial: blooming year after year no matter how long, cold, and dark the winter might have been.

when the road curves into the woods and we can’t see what’s next…

not long ago, someone asked me to write a post about career paths that don’t happen as planned. when they’re twisty and curvy and nonlinear. when it doesn’t go from A to B to C in a simple, planned fashion.

our world likes to move in a straight line, and when the path ends up being a little more unclear it’s unsettling. we’re told that if we go to college and get the degree there will be a job waiting for us like a pot of gold. we’re led to believe that life just falls into place in this way, and it’s even more frustrating to see that it does, indeed, happen for some just so. we’re left feeling agitated, comparing ourselves to others and sifting through our psyche to find what the heck the problem could be. we determine that something, indeed, must be wrong.

fret not. there’s nothing wrong with you, and in fact, this time in your life might be just the lesson you’re needing to learn. of course, in the midst of a job search and potential financial stress, it doesn’t feel like an ‘opportunity.’ no. it feels like a setback, a punishment from the universe. but really, it is a good thing.

why? because you’re learning that life isn’t pretty. you’re learning that the path moves differently for different people. to experience hardship can shape you in ways that getting things easily just don’t. i know it’s frustrating when you just want to get on with life and it seems to have chosen stagnation instead. thats’s the ego getting caught in the trap of constant movement, in the belief that if things aren’t happening then…well, things aren’t happening.

but, try to shift your focus and view this situation from a different lens. where’s the window? do you have some more time to yourself before having to be at a job right now? this can be a great time to get to know yourself better. to see where your mind goes when it doesn’t get what it wants (which will happen repeatedly as you continue to grow, i can promise you that) can be quite illuminating. and to learn to work with that now is truly a gift.

one of the best realizations i’ve ever had is this:

there aren’t any rules.

no rules! yes, there are the standards of human decency and laws we must follow. but, it’s not a law that you must be in your career fresh out of school. it’s not a law that you must be married with a kid by 30. these ‘rules’ were created by a society and it preys on our need to belong. to break the ‘rules’ triggers our fear of not being accepted. it challenges our self worth, but that’s mainly because we’ve made our self worth dependent on our accomplishments.

so, with that, i will remind you: there aren’t any rules. consider what you’re learning right now as life unfolds in ways you hadn’t predicted. you might want to throw a chair through the window you’re that frustrated, but once that rage and impatience and fear subsides, consider the lesson. because these lessons comprise the foundation of adulthood. and a solid foundation, while hard to come by at times, is the ground upon which your life is built.

the ice cream date

oh, ice cream. this week i took my daughter, Willow, to get some ice cream and it was quite magical. there’s a sort of specialty ice cream parlor here in Ann Arbor (called Blank Slate; check it out if you’re ever around, and be sure to let me know so we can meet!) and it opened back up recently for the season. i was having a craving for ice cream, so we went.

this trip was magical for several different reasons:

1. before my daughter and i left the house i asked her if she liked ice cream. she said, rather seriously and quietly and after a brief pause to let my words sink in, ‘yeah’ while gently nodding her head (meaning, nearly her entire upper body; so cute). this is fairly new for her and anytime she does something new it’s worthy of a fireworks display. or, ice cream. this was confirmation that we had to go.

2. i was having ice cream with my daughter. my daughter. the weirdness of having a child has yet to fully pass. i don’t think it ever will, as i think life is just generally weird. all of it all the time. i describe everything as weird, so this likely won’t change. anyway, i was having ice cream with my child. or, should i say children? because my inner child was the one fully immersed in the pleasure of it all (or at least the consumption of the ice cream).

3. there were very few people in the store. this was heaven for my introverted, highly sensitive self. my daughter had enough people to stare at while i could just sit and indulge myself and just be.

but there’s something deeper to this experience, what i’m now referring to as ‘ice cream date’ experiences. it was a rather spontaneous trip, one born of craving and desire. i allowed myself to lean in, fully, without guilt or shame or resistance (and i’m usually resistant to most things, on some level). the deeper part was allowing myself to experience pleasure. period.

time slowed down for a bit during this visit at the ice cream store. Willow sat in her high chair, looking around and scooping herself a little more ice when she wanted it. it was raining outside. it was quiet inside. we were having fun, just being together. i was having fun, just being with myself.

it’s in these little moments when my heart breaks open and i’m flooded by life and the beauty and pain it holds. the awareness that these moments with my girl will be so short-lived is heartbreaking. that i wasn’t able to hold on to her babyhood, and won’t be able to hold on to her toddlerhood either. most memories will be eventually pushed out by new ones over time. it’s both wonderful to know there’s more goodness to come, and devastating to know there’s so much slipping through my hands without any say on my part.

so, i suppose the work of integration is to fully allow the despair to settle so my heart can open wide enough to let these memories leave a mark on my psyche, soul, heart, and mind. to let myself love these moments means i also have to let them pass. because love is what’s here now, in this moment. tapping into anything else is resistance or fear, creating the illusion of control or certainty, and keeps me from being fully awake to my experience.

this is new for me. i typically disconnect from many experiences because every time i open wide i cry. i cry about birds flying in the sky getting food for their babies, about fish swimming with plastic, about the hate in the world, about time passing. what happens when you allow yourself to open? what touches you in those soft places? what holds you back from going there?

as my final note (instruction?) here – allow yourself to enjoy the littlest of moments. when you’re waiting in line for your coffee, smile at someone and share in your humanity the need for love and to be treated with kindness. when you’re on the subway, get to know your neighbor. or, just breathe deeply for 5 minutes and be glad you can be carried home rather than driving your own car. there’s beauty everywhere.

even in the ugly.
even in the dark.

and if you don’t see it around you, look within. consider that YOU are the beauty in the situation. own the beauty you bring to the world.

do nothing

too much of our culture is about             
doing something:
be different.

how about:

we’re wired to grow and evolve,
and yet we believe it’s something
we have to make happen. that we have to fight
and create.
instead, can we clear the space
necessary for the changes to
take place on their own?
yes, some work from us is necessary and helpful,
but what’s even better is
allowing the work to work itself out on
through us,
within us.

this is why i believe
doing nothing is the first step to doing anything.
we need to land in our lives
we need to know where we’re at so
we can make informed decisions
about where we’d like to go next
so we’re not left at the mercy of the wind
to carry us on it invisible
strings and tendrils.

to do nothing is to come home.
to be with what is instead
of run from what we wish wasn’t.

everything in our world
tells us to do differently.
to go for it,
to work hard at becoming the
person we want to be.

to do nothing, though,
can mean we open to the reality
of who we already are.
we can see we’re enough,
and okay, without needing to change
because changing anything from a place
of fear only reinforces our lack.
our damage.
our brokenness.

do nothing and become everything.
or simply be okay.