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.

yes!

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 season of transition

here in michigan, we’ve lately had some “unseasonably” warm days sprinkled throughout the blistery cold. it’s been much welcomed, and it’s stirring in me the rumblings of spring. it’s letting me know that there’s a transition on the horizon. soon, in the near future, the scales will tip and the warmer days will be more frequent. the cold won’t seem quite as cold. and the snow will melt shortly after falling. we’re not there yet, but it’s coming.

being in this place is tricky, and i find myself longing for the change of seasons to happen much quicker than my logical mind knows it’ll take. rationally, i know that i can’t make the sun shine any brighter than what nature will allow. i can’t turn up the thermostat on the weather. i can’t melt the snow, grow the flowers, extend our daylight hours. but boy do i want to.

a couple years ago i prided myself on not complaining with the masses about how sick and tired i was about the weather. i thought, ‘there’s nothing i can do to change this, so there’s no point in complaining.” instead, i consciously chose to embrace what was and shift my focus to get cranky about a culture that doesn’t honor the natural rhythms of life. and while that’s still generally true for me, i’m desperate for the weather to break. i’m craving open windows and bare feet and being able to go out the door without having to take 20 minutes to get myself and daughter ready. i want to plead with the seasons – won’t you hurry up and change already?!?

and then i’m humbled as i think about how we do this to ourselves when deep changes are taking place within, whether that transition involves a clear life change or not. something inside senses a transformation before we ever really see it on the surface, and yet we want it to come to fruition now, this minute, damnit. maybe we feel restless, or bored, or easily distracted. perhaps we are more irritable than usual, quicker to cry or pick a fight with a partner. these are the signs, psyche sending signals that something is shifting inside. and yet we must sit and be patient, for it doesn’t do us any good to yell at ourselves about something that simply needs more time.

so, the work is to stay with it all. maybe you’re getting glimpses of the spring making its way into winter, or summer to autumn. notice how you grasp and cling and crave the change, yet can’t live it quite yet. can you trust that it’s happening, even without you having to do too much? can you create the space it needs to shift on its own? can you trust that your inner seasons will naturally change, just as winter always, eventually, turns to spring?

turn to adventure, seek out the darkness

in my counseling practice and as moderator of the Conscious Transitions Conscious Weddings/Break Free from Relationship Anxiety forum, i’m afforded the opportunity to work with people struggling to find their way into and out of the darkness. in our culture, we’re taught to fear the darkness, to avoid the negative, to push away what’s even remotely uncomfortable. we don’t even have any positive language, at least not in any kind of mainstream outlet, for the darkness and it’s potential to connect us to our truest selves.

many people will talk about this darkness as though it’s a place in which they’re trapped. a place they’ve sort of wandered into and just can’t seem to find the exit. while this may be true in some regards, what i believe is actually the cause of so much despair is the resistance to actually enter into the darkness. we naturally fear the unknown, and in this dark place, where it’s all unknown, we can stop at the entrance and stand there, peering into the shadows for all of eternity. we may know going in will serve us, somehow. right?

when our culture is void of ritual and practice for growing up, we naturally get scared when change comes calling. the change doesn’t have to be external. in fact, it’s often the internal changes that can be the most frightening. when we’ve learned to live a certain way for so long, anything different can feel completely beyond our reach.

so, then, the question becomes: how do we enter into the darkness? what does that look like?

i often think of it as being in a cave. or hibernation. or both. it’s cocooning your soul in such a way that growth can occur. it’s inviting in those others who can hold the container and space for you to fall apart and then rebuild. it’s saying, ‘i don’t know what i’m going to find in there, but i’m willing to risk it anyway.’ this is likely easier for me to say now that i’m out of my dark period, which lasted several years because i resisted it for so long. i get the ambiguity of the darkness, the “why the hell would i want to go there?” thought line. i understand the sheer terror of surrendering to some process that was completely foreign to me. i didn’t know how to walk into the woods of psyche. so psyche dragged me there herself.

when we’re on the brink of making changes in our lives (and i consider learning to accept all that is as it is to be a massive shift from the constant striving to be “different”), most people seem to think there’s a map. and not only is there seemingly a map, but that map only guides us to and through the places we actually want to visit. what we fail to recognize is that the trail often veers off into the wilderness. into the places that, at first glance, appear too scary, too treacherous, too out-of-our-comfort-zone. too unknown. we see the trail on the map that takes us into the mountain range, or the forest, or the deep blue sea. the trail ends at the entrance. the trail ending is the entrance.

it’s here we take fear’s hand. it’s here we rely on our footing, of taking one step at a time. there’s no way to see down the river around the corner; we must trust the water will carry us and that the path will emerge as we float with it. but to not ever get in the boat means missing out on so much.

i truly believe that we find ourselves in the darkness. we meet the parts unknown and hidden. unclaimed and restless. if you find yourself at Forest’s edge, stay there. contemplate entering, and then take a step. that step may look like calling a therapist and arranging a session, or picking up a book that’s been sitting for too long on the shelf, or telling a close friend the thoughts that scare you. it may also sound like, “I’m enough as I am,” or “There’s nothing I need to do or say or become to make me more lovable and worthy.” it could be picking up a paintbrush and taking it to a canvas without instruction. oh, the wonder that awaits…

whatever it is, it’s an opening. it’s the grand adventure of life to travel into the places that terrify and surprise, and to remember yourself along the way. the darkness won’t last forever, that i can promise you. as long as you keep one foot moving in front of the other (and a snail’s pace still counts as movement), you’ll make it. sometimes you’ll sit and wait, other times you’ll run for the sheer glee and madness of it all. but as the saying goes, this too shall pass. turn to adventure, seek out the darkness.

lean in

earlier this week, my daughter and i were in our bedroom. i was getting ready to go downstairs to meet with a client (i work from home, via skype/phone). as we were walking toward the door, i let her know that mommy would be going downstairs soon to work. she said something like, “no, no, no” and came closer to me, clearly not wanting to separate. what i did in the next moment nearly astounded me, because so often i want to pretend i don’t hear her pleas for connection, at least, or especially, when i have something to do or somewhere to be. i bent down, embraced her, and told her, “mommy will be back. i’ll always come back.” and with that we left the room and she easily went to her dad, waving bye to me.

admittedly, these lines were inspired by blog posts i’ve read about how to support the transition of separating. to remind my daughter that i will, indeed, return after being away seems so obvious, but i needed support in getting to that place. this was, however, really the first time i’ve successfully, fully implemented it. the first time i really met her emotion, took it in, allowed it to be there without trying to minimize (even if only to myself), and offered reassurance from a sincere place inside me. i slowed down to hear her. i leaned in toward her and her feelings.

this experience seems so simple, yet it’s struck and stayed with me as being quite profound. i have a history of not listening to my inner children when they’ve been calling out to me, screaming at me, tugging on me in some shape or form. it’s so easy to ignore, although that nagging anxiety in the background never really goes away when we’re ‘ignoring,’ does it?

what if, instead, we stopped to meet that voice? to crouch down to that two-feet-off-the-ground level and look ourselves in the eye and say, “i hear you.” we don’t have to talk ourselves out of feeling the way we do. or offer candy-coated reassurance that lacks any nutritive substance and only contributes and perpetuates the emptiness we feel inside (think, “everything’s okay” or “you’re fine”). to really listen. simply listen. to set aside our own agendas and acknowledge what’s happening in real time.

when we can truly lean in, listen, make space for what’s actually happening and needing to happen, many times we can find a simple solution, or genuinely reassuring word. just a moment of presence, of connection, is all that’s needed.

the risk of trusting

two stories : one moral

#1. lately, i’ve been thinking about trust and how hard it can be, especially after we’ve been hurt. i’m currently breastfeeding my almost 14 month old daughter, who now has some teeth. and teeth, you know, are good for biting. she hasn’t bitten me much, or too hard. thankfully. but, in one of the most sensitive of spots, and during an act that is quite a vulnerable experience for me, it hurts. it hurts when it’s unexpected. and it hurts because i’m feeding her and it’s a real shock to the system to be bitten when offering so much love.

i began to think about this experience, and how it’s now tinged with the slightest veil of fear because i don’t know if she’s going to bite me again. even though she rarely bites, and only does so playfully, there’s still fear on my part because i don’t want to get hurt. so, i’m on guard more. a little more tense. a little more weary and on edge. i’ve been hurt a couple times now during breastfeeding…could i be hurt again?

i went to a mom’s group for a little while when my daughter was younger and ran into one of the moms in a restaurant a while back. i chatted with her and her husband, and she was telling me how her son was growing some teeth and how nervous this made her feel as it related to breastfeeding. her husband chimed in and said that his mom stopped breastfeeding the first time he bit her.

just like that.

it’s so easy to give up on something after we’ve been hurt, isn’t it? it’s safer, feels like we’re in more control. as least we have the guarantee that it won’t ever happen again. right? to go back after being hurt puts us at greater risk. at least ego would have us believe that. yes, we’ve been hurt before. but really, it doesn’t spell doom for our future. every time i breastfeed i could be bitten, but i’m not bitten more than i am. and still, it would be easy for me to want to run with the fear.

i’ll admit that i don’t really fear being bitten every single time. but i will say that it has changed the experience. i’m aware of the “danger” yet choose to risk it. i have to choose to trust that my daughter isn’t going to make a meal out of me (well, i guess she is, but i’m assuming you know what i mean) every time she nurses. i choose to trust because the alternative is constricted fear, an avoidance of something so special because of the what if lurking in the recesses of my mind.

*****

#2. today my husband and i took our daughter to the library to play. it’s an easy play area. and free. win win. at the library was a 15 month old little boy who became an instant friend. at least friend in the sense of sharing space together and interacting as toddlers do: staring at each other, babbling at each other, getting a little curious about each other’s faces and clothes. they parallel played for a bit, each doing their own thing. coming together and moving apart fluidly. then out of nowhere this kid just walked up and pushed my daughter in the chest, knocking her over.

she cried a bit. my heart ached and wanted to lash out i’m sure. and then again, it got me thinking. thinking about a lot of things, actually. it made me think about how little control i have over bad things happening to my daughter. there was nothing i could do to prevent this, aside from never letting her interact with other children. i didn’t see it coming. nor did my husband, or the kid’s mom. it was impulsive, toddler behavior. he probably felt like pushing, so he did.

after a short cry and time spent with me, she was ready to get back in the play. she went back to playing with him. back to looking at him, open to engage. perhaps it was resiliency in the making. i thought about her willingness to risk again, despite this kid having just pushed her.

*****

the moral:

life hurts, and there’s not a whole lot we can do to prevent it. in order to love and live fully we have to risk getting bumps and bruises, heartaches and heartbreaks. we can choose trust over fear, even if fear tells us to run or hide or bury because we can’t bear to feel that pain again.

and that’s the lesson: just because we’ve been hurt before doesn’t mean we’ll be hurt again. it’s the heart of vulnerability. to open despite the scar. to wakefully walk into the fire, knowing our heart is on the line. to trust that we’ll be loved, that we can risk the pain to live fully, openly.

lessons from labor

near the end of September 2016 i gave birth to a little girl. a baby. a child. and on that day, through the hours of pushing and screaming and crying and sleeping, i was born with her.

we birthed each other on that day. she wouldn’t be born without me, nor i without her. it’s a relationship like i’ve never experienced. this symbiotic, perfect, little relationship that has been growing from seed to bud to blossom. the roots are deepening each day, each hour. each smile as we meet eyes across the room. each little chuckle and gurgle as we communicate through spit and sounds. through words that us adults have forgotten. when will google translate tackle baby talk? oh, but the magic would be lost then. i prefer the mystery of the wonder. when we don’t get lost in the meaning of words….

only recently have i started to sink into the reality that yes, we birthed each other on that day. we did this, together. through giving birth to her something was born in me, too. and i don’t mean me as mother was born. no. while yes, i technically became a mother on that day, the mother in me wasn’t hatched overnight. or over 3 nights, for that matter. it’s been a slow awakening, an even slower deepening and revealing.

what i write about now are the most poignant details of my labor and delivery. because, true to form, everything is metaphor.

push. then push some more.

when my water finally broke, i suddenly felt the intense urge to start pushing. it happened unexpectedly and quickly and there was no questioning what i was experiencing. my doula, Sierra, encouraged me to go with what my body was telling me to do. so i pushed. for 3.5 hours. at one point, my midwife, Sarah, told me that i would have to keep pushing after my body stopped giving me the signal to push. that was hard to hear. i thought my eyes were literally going to explode. but i did it.

this was important to me, especially upon reflection, because we often talk about listening to our bodies and only doing what our bodies want to do. to a certain degree, and in certain cases, yes, that’s true. but sometimes we do have to push ourselves beyond our perceived limitations, beyond the signal to stop. this is true whether we’re laboring a real or metaphorical baby. it’s the ego that uses this “only do what your body is saying yes to” as fuel for resistance. because i can tell you i was not eagerly wanting to force myself to push, probably because i didn’t think i could do it. and there’s the gold: the “i don’t want to” or “i don’t feel like it” is really, “i’m scared and doubtful in my ability.” that glorious soft underbelly known as vulnerability.

waiting and doing: a dance

so, while Sarah was encouraging me to push, and then push some more, she was also patient as my body revved up to push again. i would push, and then push some more, and then wait. there was nothing i could do, and sometimes i wondered if the urge to push would even come back. but, we all waited. sometimes i fell asleep (Sarah and Sierra were full supporters of this, the body being the strange wonder that it is). sometimes i just laid there, wondering, waiting. and sure enough, i could feel it as one can watch a wave rolling in to shore. the slow build up, that little inkling of something on the horizon. and i was fully in it again. this dance continued: push and wait. push and wait. it was one of the biggest lessons from labor – there’s a time to push and a time to wait.

in the waiting is the trusting. it’s a total surrender. to not know when the next urge will come. or the next heart opening. or the next cry. if i had pushed when i didn’t feel the urge to push, i may have done more damage. or worn myself out completely. or who knows what. it could have gone just fine. but, that wasn’t my way. i had to wait for my body to give me something to work with, but once that ball was rolling, only then could i push it a few feet further. it was the most beautiful dance of masculine and feminine. doing and being.

it’s all about choice. even when you think there isn’t one.

after it was all said and done, one of the nurses said, “you were so in control.” to which i responded, “i’m glad i have experience with meditation.” really, i think meditation got me through with most of my sanity intact. (thank you Susan Piver!) i was able to direct my attention on to something that helped my mind not go completely bonkers. sometimes it was on my breath, mostly it was on counting through the contractions. but, the ability to focus attention truly is a superpower. when i could have shut down completely out of fear i was able (though not each time, not going for perfection here) to choose to lean in.

i talk about meditation here because in these moments i could have easily chosen to focus on how scared i was (meditation has taught me otherwise, hence the connection between meditation and choice). how much i didn’t want to feel the pain. how i wanted to run from it. how doubtful i was i could even go through it. of course i voiced all of this, somewhat reluctantly (my own issues were surely present with me, too – didn’t want to scare anyone else by saying i was doubtful about going through labor while in labor), but at various moments i clearly remember stepping into my strength when most of me wanted to shrink into the bed.

and so, i say this to myself and to anyone else terrified about change: it’s okay to be scared. it’s okay to not know if you can do it. because you’ve never done it before. you don’t have to know how it’s going to play out (this was another big lesson from labor). in fact, there is no way to know how it’s going to play out.

life is a beautiful evolution. the future is something we live into one day, one minute, one breath at a time. we are stronger than we think and softer than we acknowledge….all worthy of love just the same.