Who’s Driving The Bus?

I’ve had something come up in a LOT of conversations lately – both professional and social, so I get this sense that maybe, just maybe it would be a good thing to talk about.

blur-book-girl-373465And because you know I like to make everything about me, I’m going to start with a story. I’ve been a little low in the last month (mentioned it a few times, I know, experimenting with vulnerable transparency – how am I doing?). There have been days when it just feels like a cloud in the sky – a partly to mostly sunny day. I’m still doing most of my things – maybe a little less social, maybe a little more tired, a little more inclined to pick up a book than have a conversation – you know kind of cloudy. Other days have been this swell mix of medical woes and misery that have been full on incapacitating storm conditions – like when all the power is out and you can’t leave the neighborhood, except without the nice part where you discover that taking a break from social media is a good thing.

Storm conditions when it is very clear that none of the things you planned yesterday are going to happen, and you can’t really remember what they were anyway. The ones you kind of remember seem stupid and you feel too sick to do anything about something that seems stupid. Yeah, like that. You’re down to one flashlight with batteries and into the canned goods. THAT kind of bad day.

Mercifully, it seems that both the physical and the emotional aspects of the storm are easing, and that has been an incremental kind of thing, each day finding one more battery, remembering the granola bar I hid for emergencies, reconnecting with one really good thing I wanted to do and feeling its importance deeply. And as I make this transition, I wonder about the difference between these two states. Some of it was purely physical. I won’t go into details, but it seems that everything that bothers me in a low-level chronic kind of way decided to show up at once at higher-levels. It’s been really fun. And the physical stuff certainly fed the emotional component. It’s hard to stay optimistic when your body is basically giving you the finger (and yes, that’s an intended pun for those familiar with my arthritic hands). It’s hard not to let your whole outlook be determined by your physical reality. And so, I gave up the keys.

A few weeks ago I decided to let my discomfort, my frustration, my pain, and my pessimism drive the bus. “I quit. Here you go. You do it. This is too hard. I’m too tired and I feel like I’m losing this battle, so I forfeit. You drive.”

This was not a conscious decision. And let me be clear. I’m not just talking about surrendering to feeling bad, because I think that’s necessary. I think all of those feelings need to be felt, honored, seen, heard – all of it. But that’s not the same thing as letting them drive.

In her book Big Magic, Liz Gilbert describes how fear can totally inhibit the creative process. Her remedy is to imagine that fear has a seat in the car of your process, but it does not get to drive. Others have expanded on this idea. A 5th grade art teacher worked with her students to create a painted chair that holds all of the fear while they do their work. I have a chair in my office that is designated the fear chair. I send fear there when I have something big and important that I really want to get done. She doesn’t have to leave the room. I hear her. I know she’s there, but she doesn’t get to make the decisions because if she does, I won’t do any of the amazing things that I am here to do.

We can all agree, I think, that fear is something that we sometimes need to put in a chair. What I think we’re not as clear on is the difference between putting something in a chair and stuffing it way down deep (think passenger seat instead of glove box). What I think we’re not as clear on is the kind of route that holding two disparate feelings and opinions sometimes requires. I also just don’t think we pay attention to what part of us is holding the keys. They just get tossed around willy-nilly like a hot potato and whoever has them when it’s time to move, well, that determines what happens next.

abandoned-automobile-broken-53161For me this month it was disappointment, discouragement, general darkness. For so many others it’s fear. And fear drives that car in some really strange ways. Fear can decided to just park it because it’s a big world out there. Fear can decide to give us lots of reasons to do sub-par work so we can blame our lack of progress on something other than finding out if we’re really up to the task. Fear can make us worry so much about what’s coming down the road that we miss seeing the horses running in the field right next to us. Fear is a shitty driver. Disappointment, discouragement, and general darkness really aren’t so great either.

We can have all of those feelings. We can feel them, honor them, notice them, respect them, have conversations with them. We can allow them to inhabit us, feel them in our bodies, notice what they are. We can do all of these things without letting them drive. When we feel them in the quiet, when we honor them but don’t make them all of us, don’t make them everything, we can hear that at any given moment, there is more, maybe a small still voice, maybe just a deep breath waiting to be taken. There is more and the way clear, the road forward will be there, the route will unfold. We don’t need to let fear drive just so we have somewhere to go.

XO,

julia

Masks Off, Feel the Love

I’ve been sick. I’ve mentioned it a few times because honestly, it has taken me quite by surprise. I don’t get sick very often – at least not in a way that’s worth mentioning and this spell has been a lulu. The migraine I’ve been struggling with may well be the worst I have ever experienced, and I’ve noticed as it persists, how it is impacting my mood.

alone-daylight-female-883441That sounds silly and obvious right, when I’m in pain it bums me out. But the obviousness of it all doesn’t really penetrate when we think about how many people are in pain all of the time, and how that pain begins to chip away at your sense of who you are, who you can be, what you’re here for. YES, it can get that dark.

To be fair I was not in my best headspace when this bout of crap kicked in, so there’s that as a shitty foundation. But I really think it’s more about the persistence of the pain coupled with the inability to do the things that I want/need to do, like think. It is tremendously frustrating, and this morning my tears were about all of that darkness rather than about the pain.

And so I did something I don’t usually do. I talked about how bad I was feeling on social media. I don’t just mean I talked about my skull splitting headache – I have no problem revealing physical pain. I talked about how I am feeling so poorly in my heart, how being mentally and physically confined has taken a toll on my spirit, my spirit that was on the low side to begin with. I shared all of that and then, gulp, I asked for help. I asked for affirmation. I asked for validation. I just straight up asked people to let me know if I have helped them because I’m just feeling kind of useless and alone. And then I pressed “Post” and almost threw up – not because of the headache, although there’s been a fair amount of that. I almost threw up because I knew I had just stripped naked on social media in a way I don’t usually do.

I share a lot of how I feel, in measured ways, with my beloved words. It’s not like I’ve never let anybody see my pain before. But I’ve never done it spontaneously like that and I’ve never (at least I don’t think) asked you all directly to be part of the solution in such a specific way. I’m pretty sure I’ve never asked anyone to tell me something good about me so I can feel better. Yep, that feels foreign and it was scary as hell.

And right after that moment where I almost threw up my brain punished me. “So what now, you need to ask people to tell you you’re good so you can feel okay? Nice, good work. Way to show off your mental health.” There’s more. I have a gifted bitch in there. She’s just as good with words as I am and nowhere near as careful before she hits “Post.” My inner critic explored all of the possible ways that my vulnerable stance could come back to bite me in my flat little ass.

I could be ignored and would then have to deal with feeling even worse. I could be SEEN, which is obviously worse. I could be SEEN and cringed at. I could be SEEN and thought to be cracking up, losing it, coming completely unglued – also therefore obviously not someone to turn to in times of trouble. There’s more here, but I think you get the point. My inner critic came up with lots of ways that this was a huge mistake.

So I got in the shower. It was what I had planned to do anyway to try to just make my body feel better even if my head and my headspace would not comply. And when I got out of the shower, know what I found?

beautiful-hands-heart-5390I found responses. I found kindness. I found validation, affirmation, and people reaching out to lift me up when I’m feeling low. The cringers, if there were any, kept quiet. And everyone else saw it all for what it was: a friend having a really bad day, well a series of really bad days, who needed a little support. And wow what amazing support was delivered.

I am so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life. And I am so grateful to be learning to be vulnerable in the tough times so that I can feel that connection, so that I can let people in even when it’s hard, so that I can love and be loved, right there on the inter- webs.

In the Dark Times

I can’t speak for other parts of the globe, but things have been pretty rough in the U.S. There have been horrific hurricanes that have left so many Americans suffering without vital services. There have been political controversies that seem to be rocking us at our foundations. There have been wildfires raging in and around communities in the West. There’s a lot that’s going wrong. There’s a lot weighing us down. There’s a lot to grieve, to mourn, to argue about, to consider. There are a lot of people facing the darkest emotions the human experience has to offer.

What Do We Do With Our Negative Emotions?

We are not taught how to deal with our feelingsUnfortunately, as a culture, we are not very well practiced at those dark emotions. We don’t often actively encourage people to feel how they feel. We prefer that they “pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again.” We have legends, books, songs, movies, stories, and cultural icons that show us that this is the way. The pause for grief and sorrow must be brief. And then what? Well, I’m afraid for many people, this means an awful lot of stuffing and swatting. We stuff our bad feelings in. When they rise up, we shove them down, often with food or alcohol, really packing them back in there and creating the dopamine buzz that will make us think we feel better. We stuff and we stuff.

We also swat our dark feelings away. We swat them away like they are insignificant as houseflies. “Now’s not a good time. Go away. I’ll think about that later. I don’t want to deal with that now. Oooooh… look, something shiny.” And then we distract ourselves. We distract ourselves with whatever our favorite and most effective distraction is. We distract ourselves with work. We distract ourselves with social media. We distract ourselves with television and movies. We distract ourselves with busyness. We distract ourselves with chores. We distract ourselves with personal drama because outrage often feels better than grief, loneliness, and insecurity. We distract ourselves with pedicures, lattes, and shopping. Swat it away; find something else to do.

And yet, there is only so much stuffing and swatting a person can do. There is only so much the body and the spirit can carry. Because when we stuff and swat, those feelings don’t go away. For stuffers, those feelings just build up.¬†Eventually, many stuffers explode. If you’re not an exploder, I bet you know one. I know a few exploders and have been the recipient of that eventual boom. There’s nothing cheerful about that scenario. What happens to the swatters? Well, the distraction of that one feeling, that one housefly just grows. Eventually it’s a swarm of houseflies (that’s pretty gross) and swatters can’t figure out why they’re having so much trouble getting things done. Why can’t I concentrate? Why do I feel so tired all of the time? Why can’t I seem to make any decisions? Because SO much energy is going into swatting those emotions away. SO much energy is being used to pretend to be okay.

How Can We Process Our Dark Emotions?

There is only one real course of action here, and if you’ve been playing along it will come as no surprise to you. The only reasonable thing to do is to feel those feelings. The only reasonable thing to do is to just freaking surrender for a few minutes, because in all likelihood that’s all it will take to start to feel some relief, to stop feeling the need to stuff and swat. Heck, even if it takes an hour that’s far less time than you’re losing to that feeling with all of that stuffing and swatting.

But I’m afraid if I let myself feel it, I will never feel good again….

If you don’t let yourself feel it, you will struggle to actually REALLY feel good. You may have temporary relief, but that shadow will remain.

But I can’t just break down. I have responsibilities.

Yes, yes you can. Your responsibilities can wait a few minutes while you sit on the floor and cry your eyes out. If it’s kids you’re worried about, maybe it’s time they saw an adult cry so they know that it’s okay. If it’s other adult responsibilities, lists of tasks, things that need to get done, I PROMISE you will be more productive if you let yourself take a few minutes to be genuinely honest with yourself.

But I’m afraid to feel it.

Yes, I know. But you can take it. You were made to experience the whole shebang on this planet, not just the good parts, and not just the shiny objects. You can venture into the depth of it and come out the other side. And every time you do, it will be less scary. You won’t stop having dark feelings, but learning that you can have them, handle them, recover – that’s priceless. THAT will change your entire existence. You don’t have to be afraid, or you don’t have to let your fear stop you from feeling how you actually feel. You are allowed to feel whatever you are feeling and if you finally write yourself that permission slip, things will change.

How to rise higher than you thought possible
But feeling and crying and doing all of that makes me week. 

Oh no my darling one. Allowing the fullness of this life to touch you makes you resilient, makes you whole, makes you a freaking Phoenix. You can never rise to your highest heights if you are always running from the flames.

Feeling Your Feelings

If you’re ready to try, there’s no official instruction manual, but I can offer you some tips. Next time you feel a big wave of negative emotion, get yourself somewhere where you can feel comfortable, and just focus on allowing it. You don’t have to do anything special, just don’t fight it. Don’t try to talk yourself out of it. Don’t ask it questions. Don’t analyze it. Don’t argue with it. Just allow it. If tears come, let them flow. If you need to make a noise and can do that safely, do it. Just allow it. Notice how it feels in your body. Notice that you are still there, that you haven’t been obliterated. Notice how your body changes as you allow the feeling. Notice how the tension falls away. Notice how the feeling diminishes in time. Notice that you are okay, that you are still whole. Notice that you didn’t have to act on that feeling to have it ease up a bit. Notice that you handled it and tell yourself what an excellent job you did.

If you are in a difficult situation, consider how much easier it might be if you just allowed yourself to feel it for a few minutes. I promise you’ll be alright. If you need someone to talk you through it, I’m here.