Anxiety & Parenting (What a Fun Mix!)

I get real quippy about my anxiety sometimes. Because it’s easier to be glib and light-hearted about anxiety than to admit that sometimes it threatens to suck all the air (and joy) out of my world.

And, also…

I’m fortunate that, over the years, people (qualified, professional people) have given me tools to cope with my anxiety, to reign it in, to flourish in spite of it. Sometimes, it’s relegated to the dark recesses of my mind. And, sometimes, my anxiety lives much closer to the surface. Close enough to remind me what it felt like to exist under it’s really shitty, tyrannical rule.

Because, let’s face it: anxiety is an asshole.

And anxiety really likes to harp on one particular topic: Jane. Which is some unmitigated bullshit.

Parenting is hard enough as it is, without anxiety getting all irrational. But that’s what it does–plays on your darkest fears, destroys your peace of mind, robs you of your joy.

Unless you say, unequivocally, unwaveringly, NO.

When I was pregnant with Jane, I coexisted–decidedly unpeacefully–with the fear of stillbirth. I’d miscarried once. And it had taken us TWO years to conceive Jane (doctors visits, shots, blood draws, inseminations). And now I was absolutely terrified of losing her. My therapist knew these things. But she also believed something I didn’t–that I deserved joy. And that Jane deserved a mother who was ruled by love, not fear. She gave me this brilliant piece of advice that I’ve carried with me since:

“You are afraid of stillbirth. Then she’ll be born, and you’ll be afraid of SIDS, cancer, accidents… When will it stop? How are you ever going to feel the joy of being a parent, if you live in constant fear?”

And in that moment, it became clear as day to me: fear is the death of joy.

But she wasn’t finished yet: “Our children aren’t really ours. They are on their own journey, entrusted into our care. Our job is simply to help them grow toward who they were meant to be. The job of a parent is to start letting go the minute they are born. Because they are only loaned to us for a short time.”

Every time my anxiety tries to keep Jane locked down, without enough freedom, too close to me for her own independent nature, I remember that she isn’t mine. It would be tragic for my fears to impede her journey. Wildly unfair. And I won’t let it happen.

I’m letting Jane go on an adventure with one of her friends this coming weekend. And I’m hella anxious about it. Like my brain keeps screaming, “HOLY SHIT! I CAN’T LET HER DO THAT.” But I can. And I will. Because she deserves great adventures and joy. And so do I.

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” 

― Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Bad things happen every day in this world. I am not naive. But I also know that fearing pain and loss don’t keep them at bay. Instead, they take the joy out of the NOW. Which is all we really have, isn’t it?

So, I’m gonna suck-it-up-buttercup & let Jane have a big adventure with her buddy. I’ll feel the way I feel. And I’ll let that shit go. I’ll keep my anxiety in its own lane, and let Jane navigate the world free from its fetters.

She’s so very worth it.

The Shark Stands Alone (with coffee)

One of my girlfriends, who I adored with what I’m now sure must’ve felt like stifling intensity, really enjoyed spending time alone.

No, not like time alone with me. Time alone. Like by herself.

This baffled me.

What did she think when she was by herself? Didn’t she get bored? What was going on in her head that required time without me?

If my response to her wanting a damn minute to herself seems a bit off-the-wall to you… GOOD. That’s likely because you’re a well adjusted human.

Good work.

I, on the other hand, was a college-aged kid who was terrified to spend a minute alone with my own thoughts. I was so afraid of my own interior life that I didn’t even believe I HAD thoughts to mull over. It never occurred to me that thoughts were supposed to be a precursor to conversation. Nope. I didn’t really analyze much of anything until it was flying out of my mouth.

I discovered a lot about what I thought and believed by hashing it out with other people. Which was great, mostly. But I still couldn’t stand to be alone. And I resented the hell out of my girlfriend for wanting a private thought life.  Or maybe it was less resentment & more jealousy. I wanted to be interesting enough to spend time alone.

I tried that once… spending time alone. I went out to a cabin in the woods by myself. Not that I’d planned it that way. I’d been dating a girl for a couple years. We’d booked the cabin for our anniversary. Then we broke up a few weeks before the trip. I decided to go anyway. I was filled with all kinds of I-Am-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar independence. I’d go and relish the time alone. I was sure of it.

In the woods, by myself, I was struck with the most breathtaking loneliness. Even well over a decade later, if I’m outside when the light hits the trees just right, I can still feel the aching emptiness in my chest. Even thinking about the forest brings on this intense melancholy.

I wish I was kidding. I am not.

So, yeah, solo camping isn’t for me.

But being able to think IS for me. Digging through my internal landscape and using my brain to uncover what I thing about something before I open my mouth… yeah, that’s for me, too. It’s such a gift, this ability to be alone. To not be terrified what my mind will turn over and over if don’t fill every second with constant chatter. To like my own company. Hell, to like myself.

I’m so grateful that I reckoned with enough of my emotional wreckage to not ever have to wonder again why someone might need a minute alone. The peace that comes with solitude, and the connection to myself and the world around me, is a grounding force in my life. Running, yoga, meditation (which I’m awful at. So bad) connect me to myself. Which feels a little miraculous and a lot triumphant.

Because that’s what I’d been running from the whole time: ME.

 

 

No Idea Why I’m in a Picture with a Donkey (but I can guarantee I was drunk)

Getting sober is HARD. But life on this side of being a drunk is pretty damn miraculous.

I went to work one time–in my mid 20s–with huge red blotches on my legs. They were raised and hot to the touch. I acted like I had no idea how they’d gotten there.

It was alcohol poisoning.

My girlfriend and I got invited to dinner at my boss’ house. A super-casual affair. Just a home-cooked meal and the opportunity to meet her family. My girlfriend and I showed up drunk. I had to pour myself out of the car.

My boss and her husband had been sober for over a decade. 

I sat outside one warm, Florida night with my friends, several years later, drinking and talking at a party I’d thrown. I continued to sit outside and drink by myself, long after everyone else had gone.

In the morning, I had over 80 mosquito bites. I never felt them bite me. Not once.

This is such minor shit compared to some of the stunts I pulled. But these little things ate away at me, too. I carried the shame of these moments–and hundreds of others, big & small–with me all the time until I got sober. Oh, I didn’t act ashamed. I acted brash, like none of this mattered. I was defensive and angry. I acted simultaneously self-righteous and selfish.

I was terrified.

Because, let’s be honest, that’s not how anyone plans for their life to go.

And I had no idea how to change things.

Strike that. That’s a lie. I did know how to change things. But I found that even more terrifying. Because the real bitch of being a drunk is that giving up alcohol seems like the worst punishment in the world. That’s right. Giving up the substance that’s causing your life to be an absolute shitshow seems intolerable.

I had no idea how to move through life sober. None.

Layers and layers of unresolved pain–from my fractured relationship with my family, from breakup after breakup, from depression, anxiety, and intense feelings of worthlessness–loomed large in my world. If I didn’t have alcohol to obliterate those feelings, I’d have to face them. And that seemed way more terrifying than any predicament I found myself in while I was drunk (and that’s saying a lot).

Alcohol had so little to do with my alcoholism. And that’s the God’s honest truth.

My drinking, even at the start when I was just 16, was about escape. I never felt good enough. I never thought I fit in. I felt like if anyone really knew me, they’d be horrified at what they saw. I had panic attacks at school. My anxiety was making it harder and harder to leave the house. But drinking made all that go away.

When I drank, I felt sexy and smart. I could talk freely and laugh without reservation. Alcohol worked. Until it didn’t.

But the whole time, I was broken. And nothing could fix that but me.

Getting sober was terrifying because it meant taking ownership–of my life, my perspective, the whacked out shit I’d done, the pain I’d caused others, the very real pain people had caused me. I had to own my part in all of it. And then I had to choose to heal.

It was the hardest work I’ve ever had to do. And I talk about it and write about it so that I never have to get sober again.

 

Stop It. That Cupcake is Not BAD.

What I eat does not define me. It does not make me “good” or “bad.” We’re selling ourselves short to think otherwise.

I dislike it when people talk about food.

No… that’s not quite right.

I dislike it when people imbue foods with odd mystical powers: like the idea that they can make you good or bad, if you eat them.

I hate it when I tell people I ran recently, and they say something like “Oh, then you deserve that cupcake.” Wait. What?

I get miffed if someone tells me how many calories are in something. Or, even worse, turns their nose up at something I’m eating because it’s not healthy enough or isn’t “worth it.” What the fuck?

I like food. Done right, food has the potential to be a communal gathering spot where we can come together to nourish our bodies and souls. Everybody’s gotta eat, right? And I think we should–by and large–eat foods that we love. And we can love a vast array of foods, if we expose ourselves to them.

But hell if I am going to eat something just to be thin. No. Not a chance. ‘

I spent half of high school walking around in an undernourished daze. I ate so little that my stomach hurt constantly. I couldn’t think clearly. I was anxious and depressed. It was horrible. Anxiety controlled what I was able to consume (which was very, very little). Then, later on, I grasped on to restricting my food intake as a way to control something in my life. Much of my pride and self-worth was tied to my thinness.

That’s a shit way to live.

What I eat doesn’t make me worthy. Or unworthy. Sure, I have a weight at which my body feels most right. Because that’s what’s most important to me: feeling good in my own body.

That’s why I run. Mentally & physically, it makes me feel better. I think more clearly. I feel more capable.

And when I eat, I choose my food based on flavors, preferences, and overall common sense about nutrition. I don’t think foods can be “good” or “bad.” That salad doesn’t make me a better person. Not even a little. And that cupcake doesn’t make me “bad.” Gross. I wish people would stop pushing that rhetoric on to the next generation of girls. Because, yes, they are listening.

I want to be healthy and strong. I want to have enough energy every day to really embrace my life. I want my daughter to see me eat food and appreciate it for exactly what it is: fuel to live the rest of my life. Nourishment. An opportunity to gather together.

And if my daughter asks me if I want to have ice cream with her, the answer is going to be yes. Yes, I want to embrace this moment of your childhood. Yes, I want to celebrate the here and now. And, yes, my life is defined by so much more than the amount of calories in this ice cream cone.

Holiday Hangover (No Booze Required)

Ever had a emotional hangover? Like from all the ups and downs of the holidays? Yeah, they’re real. And they’re hella tough. So, this Monday, take it easy on yourself. You’re worth it.

When I quit drinking, the first miracle was that long string of hangover-free mornings. If that doesn’t seem in any way miraculous to you… well, you’ve probably never spent half an hour deciding if an egg sandwich sounded delicious or like something you might immediately upchuck, while anxiety zips through your body like a high-speed train.

Just saying.

Sometimes, even a decade later, I wake up marvel over the fact that I feel GOOD first thing in the morning. It’s glorious.

I wish I was immune to ALL kinds of hangovers. But I’m not. I’ve had a sugar hangover. And a caffeine hangover. (I know. Cute, right? But, trust me, dehydrated & fuzzy headed is not a good look on me) But the worst is the emotional hangover. And there’s nothing like the holidays to bring on a killer emotional hangover.

For lots of us, the holidays can be fraught. It’s like life gears up for these made-up days that we’re supposed to be full of joy & gratitude and love for our families. And that’s great. Except when it’s not.

Like when Uncle Bob thinks tear gassing refugees is the way to protect ‘Merica.

Or when Cousin Sally wants to know if you’re still living in sin with your boyfriend.

Or when half your family is racist (sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, fill in any other thing that makes your stomach clench as you’re trying to digest your cranberry sauce).

Or when you’re just trying to work up the nerve to come out to your family through the entire holiday meal, but all you can imagine is your mom running away from the table in tears and your dad disowning you.

Or when you just don’t measure up to anything your family wants you to be. And you just wonder why they can’t accept you.

Or maybe you suffered a loss this year, and nothing is the same. And it won’t be. And you have to navigate that hard truth as you walk through the emotional landmines of the holidays.

Here’s the thing, some version of one (or a fun mix-and-match set) of these things goes on in most families I know.

So what does that mean?

Maybe that you love your family but that they drive you batshit crazy. Or maybe that you have to fight falling into old patterns just to emerge from the holidays virtually unscathed. Or that the holidays leave your wrecked and depleted, instead of joyous and renewed. Or that you call out bigotry in the middle of the Thanksgiving meal & let the chips fall where they may.

All these BIG (and conflicting) feelings can add up to a massive holiday hangover.

Holiday hangovers leave me feeling especially stuck. And vulnerable. It takes me days to get over them. My inclination is always to muscle through, to woman-up and show them.

This NOT a good plan.

If I’m a frazzled mess (hypothetically speaking, of course), the last thing I need is to start trying to prove something. Because no one is watching. And there’s no one to prove anything to but ME.

So, I’ve tried to talk myself into being less black and white. Holidays are not good or bad. There are good & bad parts to everything (which really helps me delve into the moments of joy without wondering when the other shoe is going to drop).

And I try to remember that everyone’s got their own shit going on. And sometimes I don’t  now anything about it. So a little grace is required. Sometimes, a lot of grace.

But most importantly, I remind myself–frequently, consistently, insistently–that I write my own narrative. No one can take that power from me. I do not have to play a part in someone else’s drama. I can throw out the whole script and start over. And that knowledge shines bright when things get tough. It helps me hold on to who I am, instead of being called back into who I used to be. And who I am now is a helluva lot better than who I used to be–and it’s worth writing a whole new script for.

On this Monday after Thanksgiving, be gentle with yourself. Especially if your holiday didn’t look anything like you wanted it to. Your worth isn’t determined by how much you accomplish today. You ARE important. And worthy. Connect with someone that makes you feel that way. Do something special for yourself. And don’t let anyone else write your narrative. Not ever.

Getting Unstuck

I’ve working on getting myself unstuck from a pretty significant rut. But good news… I found 5 relatively simple things I could do to reconnect with myself & the world around me.

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I’ve spent the past few weeks re-examining my life a bit. I guess that’s to be expected since I’m (ahem) . . . middle aged. (WTactualF?!?)

I first realized there was a problem when I caused a online scuffle on Facebook with some other folks, and I was completely unable to let it go. Like hella unable. As in not-gonna-let-that-shit-ride. As in personal interior devastation and destruction.

Holy shit. Hello, outsized response to criticism. (Let’s be clear: I’m talking about my own outsized response here. I’m not trying to take other people’s inventories.) So, yeah, something was WAY wrong with my internal balance. And upon further examination, I realized my personal growth had kind of stagnated. And I just didn’t feel the same muppet-like enthusiasm for life as usual.

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(Actual footage of me on an average day)

How’d I get out of my rut? So glad you asked. Segues are SO hard.

5 (Relatively) Quick & Easy Ways I Got Emotionally Unstuck

  1. I got me a therapist. I am 100% on board for therapy. We’d all be much happier (and more well adjusted) if we ALL had a therapist. Sure, they require an investment of time, money, and emotional energy. But (and I think as women we sometimes forget this) I am worthy of that investment. So are you. Yes, it’s hard work sifting through some of the past events and current hangups that landed me in emotional quicksand in the first place. But you know what happens if you stay in quicksand too long… (I mean, as an adult I haven’t really encountered quicksand as much as I thought I would. But as a kid, I knew all about the hazards of quicksand. So, I’m always prepared for a quick escape)

2. I delved into my spiritual practice. Over the years, my spirituality has looked wildly different–depending on where I was in my journey. Right now, it looks a whole lot like reading a lesson from A Course in Miracles each morning, practicing the exercises throughout the day, and finding a crystal that resonates with me (I them to set intentions and to return to as a touchstone so I don’t wander during the day). I’ve had to learn about 100 billion times that a spiritual practice is crucial for me. Like, I absolutely cannot exists happily without it. And, you know it’s kind of the whole foundation of my recovery:

It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.

So, yeah, NBD… spirituality is just the key to EVERYTHING.

3. I started striving toward being fully present. During those two days when I was so in my head about a conflict going on in the ether, I couldn’t even participate in conversations happening right in front of me. This undercurrent of ugly self-talk, picking arguments with ghosts, and just general bullshit that my brain pulls sometimes had me miles away from where my feet were. It sucked. So, I made a conscious choice to be more curious about my immediate surroundings. What did I hear, see, smell, feel? What made this moment unique? Where could I find joy, or love, or hope, or connection? The pictures at the top of the post, they’re where I’ve been the past 2 days: physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are real. They are here. The present matters. It’s all I’ve really got. So, I sure as hell am going to make an effort to embrace it.

4. I put down my damn phone. Well, I put it down MORE than I had in any recent memory. Suddenly, it seemed foolish that some flat rectangular object could have that much pull over me. Instead of enhancing my life, it was really bringing me down. So, I cut it loose(ish). And I created some hard and fast rules for myself about engaging on social media. It turns out that it’s MUCH easier to be present if my nose isn’t always pressed up against my phone. Who knew?!?

5. I made it a point to connect. I love people. Which is why I love social media. But nothing beats looking someone in the eye and really connecting with them. Small connections, seemingly inconsequential interactions… they make up so much of our lives. The way we move together in the world and develop empathy and understanding can be truly beautiful. So, I committed to letting more of that beauty into my life–to really see people, to interact with them in ways that are kind and compassionate, and to laugh. In real life.

And these 5 things, well they’ve got me feeling a lot more like this these days:

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So, when you find yourself in an emotional rut, what do you do to get unstuck?

Running as Spiritual Practice (Wha???)

Running is sacred for me, like meditation or yoga is for some folks. I check in with myself when I run. I get real. Like, real real.

Running is sacred for me, like meditation or yoga is for some folks. I check in with myself when I run. I get real. Like, real real.

When I’m running, I can’t lie to myself. Who’s got the energy for running AND lying? I get honest when I run. It’s the time I can best see through my own bullshit.

Truth-finding at it’s finest.

This summer, I committed to approaching each run with curiosity & wonder. Atlanta’s got a rich tapestry of complex beauty to explore. But I can’t really engage with my surroundings when I’m tripped up on things like time and distance. So, I stopped struggling to meet goals that required miles of continuous running. And I started taking pictures. Instantly, running became an adventure. Taking time and space to connect with the world around me really upped the ante on running as a spiritual practice.

Now, (on most days) I emerge from a run with an honest, peaceful connection with the space that surrounds me.

Pretty damn cool.

 

Running has also honed my ability to listen to myself. I often set out on a run with some loose goals in mind. But, most of the time, my body has plans of its own. Sometimes that means a farther run, because I’m feeling good or I’m trying to work through something–and I need the mental space and/or the boost of triumph that a long run provides. Or it could mean altering my pace, running faster for a shorter time or plodding along just taking it all in. Running is teaching me to trust myself again (drunks are notoriously untrustworthy. It’s been years since I picked up a drink, but I still struggle with self-trust. Running helps).

Today, on this bright and sunny summer day… I didn’t want to run. It seemed like a helluva lot of work–especially since leaving my house for a run requires running uphill no matter which direction I head. I procrastinated. I rationalized. But I had no good reason to not run–so  I finally hauled my ass out the door. And for the first 500 feet, I was miserable. Then I told my brain to suck it. I needed the time outside. I needed a self-check in. And spiritual practice is, well, a practice–not an if-I-feel-like-it situation.

And I’m so glad I hung in. Because today I found this:

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It’s a splash park, y’all!

I ran through the water (spontaneity! Usually I’m AWFUL at spontaneity). And took a picture. And felt really grateful I’d come on this run after all.

Running’s about discovery for me. And about being a better version of myself.

And, c’mon, a spiritual practice that involves splash parks…that’s rad.