My cure for anxiety Pt. 1

Accident scene photo of my son's shoe lying in the road after he was hit by a pickup truck

My anxiety had gotten worse.

Thing had happened around me and to me that had caused me fear. And I always thought I was not like that.

I’ve been desperate for a solution when the anxiety turns on from out of nowhere and I can’t seem to shut it off even when I know with my brain that everything is OK even just writing about the feeling makes the feeling try to come again but I was so desperate for a solution that I found something that helps.

I found something that helps. It’s a realization and a remembrance. It is one of the good things that has come out of my son’s injury in the spring. When I saw him in the emergency room on that stretcher

and they couldn’t tell me he was going to live –

the actual experience of that moment couldn’t hold a candle to what I had felt in my imagination all the times I had worried about it happening.

This was what my desperation finally led me to discover: my imagination was conjuring up all kinds of calamity for me and that if any of the events were to actually happen, it would not be as bad as what my imagination had created and had caused me to feel.

I knew this because I had lived it. I had lived the worst – my son, broken and battered and hanging in the balance of a vortex of horrible possibilities – and in the reality of that I had been strong.

I had this realization right in the middle of an anxiety attack, and immediately all the power of the anxiety was drained out just like someone had opened a tap. I actually felt the anxiety leaving my body. It can never be as bad as what I have imagined.

I had to stop believing the lies that my imagination was feeding me.

When I realized how much better I could feel immediately if I would just stop believing my imagination, I started applying that mantra every day, any time anxious thoughts would come up

It can never be as bad as what I have imagined.

And when I started noticing those emotions created by my imagination I realized how often they were there. say the mantra How often my mind was creating an imaginary reality for me say the mantra and how I just stepped into it as though it were real.

So much of my life experience had been an imaginary construction of emotions. Powerful emotions from a vivid and creative imagination.

I had been living a life that was almost completely imaginary.

What could I do after this realization?

*the image shows my son’s shoe lying in the middle of the road after he’d been hit by a Toyota Tundra on May 24, 2019

I’m sharing my weakness

Coat opening time. Please pray for me that I don’t delete this later.

I can do a lot of things. I am strong, smart, creative, talented, and compassionate. So this is not a woe is me post. It’s just me sharing my weakness, a weakness that exists in and amongst my strengths.

One of the things I struggle with most is emotional weakness. My definition of emotional weakness: the inability to recover in a normal time period after exposure to an emotional stressor, and/or an abnormal or inadequate reaction to the stressor, i.e, a heightened sensitivity to emotional stress.

added later: I think this also could be *shame*

I decided that maybe I could use some techniques to work on strengthening my ability to deal with emotional events and trauma that are similar to the ones I have used in learning how to handle physical pain, because my emotional weakness is painful to me.

This is slow going. Trying to see my emotional vulnerability in the same way I see physical pain is really hard. I seem to have an extreme aversion to the feelings that go along with things that cause me emotional stress and therefore I resist. The idea that I need to just relax and let the feelings wash over me like a wave – well, that’s easier said than done.

There’s another layer to this: my fear of the fear of the pain. So not only am I taken down when something unexpected comes along, I also have a negative response to the *idea* that a certain situation or person or event could possibly cause me emotional stress or pain. I think this is even worse, because I am creating a false reality and trying to hide from that.

It’s this kind of anxiety that, when it flares up, can keep me at home, hiding, not making calls and not answering the phone or the door. I can get really snuggled down in my own little cocoon and disappear from life.

Or if I have a commitment, I will start to stress about it sometimes days in advance. This could be anything, even a visit from or to family. I’m anticipating the feelings I could have in that situation and getting anxious about that possibility. It’s a miserable feeling that gives me stomach aches, unease, and depression.

All in anticipation of something that may not even occur.

Just thinking about all of this gets me holding my breath.

It’s a hot mess.

And it happens a lot. Just ask my poor husband.

Here I am at 56, struggling with something like this that really holds me back.

I have quit so many things.

Friendships. Communities. Clubs. Educational endeavors. Anything that puts me face to face with people, or even makes me encounter the idea of being face to face with people. Because people have gotten in my face and hurt me. I know this is just what happens as part of being human but it seems so much larger to my heart.

I have deleted so many vulnerable, honest blog posts because I felt so exposed and I was sure that people were judging me. And I cared about that; I didn’t want to be judged in a way that I felt was inaccurate. Or even in a way that felt accurate to me. All of this has been speculative, mind you.

And when I have experienced the pain of actual rejection, which feels, I think, so much more painful to me than to “normal” people, those events have reinforced my expectation of future rejection and I don’t ever want to feel that again, ever, and so I go into hiding all over again. I am not resilient. I do not bounce back quickly or become stronger after hurts like these.

If I were to relate this to physical pain, it would be like stubbing my toe and having to spend days with my foot up to recover, then being afraid to walk for fear that I might stub it again.


So my task is to breathe, to go on what I know, to put myself “out there” because I refuse to create a speculative reality. And when I get hurt, when I stub my emotional toe, to breathe through it, relax my entire body, and just move through the pain.

Because my dis-ease is not only hurting me, it is hurting other people that I care about.

Opening myself to pain

I learned how to do deep relaxation when I was preparing for the birth of my youngest child. I’d had a homebirth a couple of years earlier that went well, but I screamed my way through it because as everyone on the planet knows at least circumstantially, childbirth is painful. I’ve heard it said many time there is no other experience more painful than the process of one’s body opening up to allow a tiny human egress. This could be correct.

Have you ever sat at the top of the highest peak of a dive roller coaster, waiting to free fall 200 feet? It can be difficult not to tense up. In fact, riding a roller coaster can be a very unpleasant (albeit short) experience, one that can at best be suffered through – eyes closed, fingers clenched around the bar, praying for it to end quickly with your life spared.

Well, that’s kind of how I approached my first homebirth in the summer of 1998.

Not the best plan for a peaceful, cozy, joyful experience. Oh it was still a momentous thing giving birth in my home with my husband there, and it was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment to have done it. But my method of dealing with the pain of contractions – to vocalize so loudly and deeply, was a bit traumatic for my husband and probably for my neighbors too.

So for my next pregnancy, I knew there had to be a better way. I started studying deep relaxation and the idea of moving through pain instead of trying to avoid it, get past it, and tense myself against it. In deep relaxation, you stop trying to avoid the pain and you embrace it by allowing all tension to leave your body. One way of describing the process is to imagine standing in knee’s depth at the ocean, facing the waves as they come at you. You allow each wave to pass through you, knowing there is a build up, a peak, and a regress. In childbirth it is much the same. A contraction, which is the vehicle of pain in a woman’s labor, is a wave with the same kind of build up, peak, and regression.

Instead of resisting the pain, I trained myself to go limp with relaxation, imagining myself simply walking through the wave without fear, letting tension drip out of my body through my fingertips. I imagined myself simply letting the baby out, and envisioned the inside of my body softening, relaxing, and opening.

Sound wonky? Maybe – but it worked. My labor with my youngest lasted only about 2.5 hours and it was peaceful – even with a 10 pound baby. You know, it didn’t even really hurt that much. I am still in awe of what a difference relaxation made on my fifth and final journey of childbirth.

Since that early morning on September 9th, 2000, I have incorporated this deep relaxation and the concept of “letting the baby out” into the rest of my life. I’m pretty good at noticing which parts of my body are holding tension and simply letting go. When I let go of tension, I let go of pain. I can envision the inner parts and communicate with my body that it is ok to relax.

For example, when I am stressed or anxious, it tends to show up in my body as a stomach ache. I have learned to close my eyes, go inside myself, and envision my stomach just relaxing. I let every part of my inner body get soft and open up. I walk into the wave of the pain instead of running from it or wishing it away. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Oh, and the roller coast thing? It’s exactly the same. When you sit at the top of the hill, hanging there, waiting to drop, trying completely relaxing your body. Just go limp. Just walk into it. Let your arms and legs dangle in front of you as you let your body sink into the restraint bars. Before you know it, you become the bird in flight, swooping, diving, and looping your way to the end of the ride. And it is over much too soon.

My next challenge is to take this technique and apply it to my mind. I may be super tough when it comes to physical pain, but emotional pain is a completely different story for me. I may or may not fall to pieces when confronted with this kind of experience. So it is time, finally, to learn how to walk through and embrace emotional traumas – to “let the baby out” in this area of my life too. I’ll keep you posted.

Free Writing Tomorrow!

This writing is my work. I have to remind myself of that. It’s not like a job where you clock in, fulfill some expectations, clock out, and get paid. My writing is for me. It’s my heart work. It’s my art work. It’s my own battle that I’m fighting for myself.

The battle isn’t in the writing, it’s in what happens before I write. It’s the fight against resistance that happens to all creative people. Everything in my world is pushing back against my desire to do my work and I will rationalize anything to make myself believe that I don’t really need to write, I don’t really want to write, at least not right now. Later. Tomorrow.

There’s a little hole in the wall bar down the street from where I live with a sign out front that says “FREE BEER – TOMORROW!”. It’s always tomorrow when the free beer will be available, but the problem is, it is never tomorrow, it is always today.

That’s what I do to myself with my heart work also. I say, copious amounts of writing tomorrow! Because “free beer today” is too costly. And no mistake, sitting down to write costs me something. It costs me the pain of introspection, the reality check of putting words down that may or may not please me later, the frightening prospect of putting truth out there.

But over the long run it still costs me more not to do my work. I forfeit peace, purpose, groundedness, satisfaction, and accomplishment.

A quandary is this: There are things I need to express, work out, and put into words that could veer into the territory of “not my story to tell”. This has been a large part of my difficulty lately. I don’t want to expose someone else’s secrets or violate their privacy. I could write everything in a private journal but for me that doesn’t satisfy the cosmic requirement of putting it out there. Even if no one stumbles onto this blog, I am still putting my words out into the ether to be shared with the universe and that, for me, is part of the process.

So that’s difficult. I do think I am entitled to share my story even when it overlaps with someone else’s. I just have to be careful to tell it from my perspective and not try to state what was going on in someone else’s head and heart because I can’t know that and *that* is definitely not my story to tell.

My War of Art

Yeah, it’s been a long time since I posted anything. I read my “non-negotiables” here and laughed aloud. I’ve allowed life to knock me down too many times. I’ll tell you something, I’m tough when it comes to physical pain. Through the process of natural childbirth I learned how to pinpoint any area in my body that feels painful and just wash the pain away with deep breathing and relaxation. But when it comes to emotional pain, I am way too fragile. I kneejerk my way through any kind of situation that triggers my old wounds in this area.

And that means I have been neglecting my work, which in this case is my writing work. The work is for me, not anyone else, which of course means I don’t get any financial reward. But I do get to be sane for another day, and that’s a big thing. My emotional pain has been talking me out of writing for a while now, so it has become this cyclical thing – the less I write the worse I begin to feel and the worse I feel the more I allow this emotional pain to keep me from delving into the difficulties of being vulnerable on the page. Or if I do write, I then hide it from the world because either I think it sucks or it is wonderful but too raw, too honest, too personal.

But I am re-reading The War of Art and taking Steven Pressfield’s words to heart. I have to stop allowing Resistance to win this war. I have to sit down and do the work of writing even when it feels so painful to even try, when it seems like doing the laundry is ever so urgent, or taking a nap, or checking Facebook. I have to do it even though the words are halting, awkward, and just plain shitty. I have to be willing to sit down and write crap, every day, until the muse shows up to reward me for my diligence.

I’ve proven to myself before that this happens (after the first time I read The War of Art) – the angels come and give me my prize when I make it my first priority to write each day. Eventually the stars align and I look back on what I’ve written and I think it’s pretty good stuff. I feel so much more purposeful, settled, aligned, and content when I am writing every day. It is my Work. Whether it is crap or pretty good, whether anyone ever sees it or not, it’s something I have to do for myself.

Struggling through a story arc

I’ve been working on a memoir for several years now. Oh how naive I was when I believed the “you can write your memoir in six months” mantra. I think the mantra was given with good intentions and the highest of hopes, but it just hasn’t played out that way and I think part of the reason for me is the story arc.

As someone who loves words and stories, I feel compelled to give myself a story that makes sense. I want to avoid just vomiting out a string of events and facts and circumstances in a strictly chronological way. That’s boring and it is not transformative.

At its most basic level, I believe memoir writing should be a healing of self first, and a path of self discovery for the willing reader, second. I’ve read a few memoirs that left me in despair, I think because they were simply a spilling of the facts and not a story that was crafted to move me. On the other hand, I have read some memoirs that were beautiful stories in the hands of expert wordsmiths.

I want – no I need – my life recollection to be a legit story and I have spent years and many tears and much rewriting and head scratching to figure out the underneath meaning, in the on the surface obvious things that have happened. I need it to be this way for me, not to be seen as a competent writer. Though it is always nice to be seen as competent, I’m writing this for me.

I need the story so I can tell myself the story and at the end of it I can nod my head and say, yes, OK, I get it now. I see the thread and while it may not make a perfect pretty bow at the end, I do have closure. I can be at peace.

After a really fun spurt of following the thread of my story that has happened over the past year or so, I am now at a place again where I have kind of lost the thread and I have to dig around through my memories and the data and find it. Sure I have facts and timelines and I know what happened, but I want to know what happened. The good news is that I have more of the story than I have ever had and I am satisfied with it up to this point.

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

Pulling up planks still, again, forever

I’m working on my planks. When Jesus said to take the plank out of my eye, He knew that if I took it seriously, the task could keep me occupied (and hopefully out of trouble) for the rest of my life. Working on myself means that I really should not have time to focus on the flaws of other people. Jesus said I have a big giant log in my eye but I want to try to pick the speck out of someone else’s eye first. That’s not going to work well.

Isn’t it selfish to think about myself so much? Here’s the thing: I can’t be what others need me to be without this important work of plank removal. As I am processing through whatever it takes to become a better person, I continuously become a better person for those who need me. As I grow closer to the ideal of truly understanding and loving myself, I am better able to genuinely love others. Jesus said I would see better after removing the plank. I’ve found that to be true.

I don’t think it is possible to love others the way they need to be loved unless I am in a mature place of self-love.

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

So I have some planks I am looking at this year. Some of them I have been working on all my adult life. Some of them I have only recently discovered. I can’t begin to list all my planks; the thought of that is overwhelming and way too much boring information for this venue. Suffice it to say that there are three general areas of planks that I’m focusing on this year.

Plank area 1: healing old wounds. There are a lot of old wounds that keep recirculating in my life and causing me problems in relating to other people. This is an old, known plank that baffles me at times. I have a lot of work to do in understanding myself and repairing the breaches inside. This year I am taking  a look at Internal Family Systems and embarking on some self therapy using the IFS model.

Plank area 2: physical health. OK, this is another area that is well known to be an issue with me. I’m healthy, I’m just not as healthy as I would like to be or as I should be. I quit smoking 25 years ago and ever since I have battled with my weight. I realize that I simply took away one crutch and replaced it with another. But it’s way more complicated to figure out than that. I’m using the IFS to try to figure out what is going on there as I once again eliminate sugar, increase protein, and keep moving.

Plank area 3: this one is more entertaining than the first two planks, which are not always all that fun. I am exploring my creativity as I try to reconnect to the flow of income in my life. My jewelry making exploits netted me some pretty good cash flow from 2008 until roughly 2013-2014,  shortly after one of Google’s algorithm changes, and I’ve never been able to get back the search traffic I once had. I’ve taken the opportunity to start sewing again, something I’d put away for 20 years, telling myself that it was because of my rambunctious, explorative son who was a highly curious and mobile baby/toddler/preschooler  who couldn’t be kept out of the sewing supplies and tools. Coincidentally, or maybe not, it’s also been 20 years since my mother died. She was the reason I started sewing as a girl. Tying back into plank area 1, I think there may have been a subconscious connection between her death and my laying aside of sewing.

All the planks are connected and I’ve got a lot of work to do. I might never get around to your speck.

Photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash

Advice: surprisingly, not everyone wants it.

One lesson I have learned the hard way is never to give advice unless I’m asked directly. Believe it or not, people just do not hunger and thirst to have the benefit of my experience or intelligence. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me a few decades of life to come to that harsh realization.

Do you know how hard it was at first to keep my mouth shut when someone close to me was sharing their problem, dilemma, or challenge? Especially when my kids were confiding in me, it was very difficult to learn to be quiet and listen, all the way, until they are through. And then to still not say anything.

It has gotten easier with practice. But it doesn’t mean I am any less eager to share my tips for life with my people. I just have to wait for the ask. Many times the ask doesn’t come and I have to be content with the role of sounding board, confidant, hugger, and space holder for my dear children, friends, and family.

Every now and then the hoped for question comes: What do you think I should do? Even then, I must tread carefully instead of charging out of the gate with my “wisdom.”

I thought you’d never ask.

Instead, I have to carefuly consider: what does the other person really want from me? Sometimes people just want you to agree with them or support their idea, and that’s OK. It’s hard to figure this out ahead of time, but it helps to know the person well. I try to use past experience and a little bit of MBTI temperament theory if I can.

Very few people ever want to hear the blunt truth about their situation, even after they’ve told you that’s what they want. I’ve blundered into that mistake with a very close friend or two. At the time, I got mad at them because I felt like we had signed up for that kind of friendship but when it came down to it, I found out we hadn’t. Unfortunately, we’ve drifted apart because of our philosophical differences.

I’m not mad at my friends anymore though. I understand that it can hurt deeply to hear someone’s contrary opinion of your situation, and that in theory it seems nice to have the kind of relationship where we can hold each other accountable, but in practice it’s just too scary and painful.

On the flip side, I’m one of the weirdos who wants to be told the truth even if it stings and makes me cry. Even if I retreat for a while into my aloneness to process the information. And that scares people too, especially tribal temperaments like those who use extraverted feeling. I understand and appreciate that.

To everyone who wants to tell me flat out what the deal is, please know that I will value your willingness to share. You can tell me anything as long as you tell me with respect and kindness. I will honor your authenticity and I promise to treat it with respect and honor. Even if I cry a little. Or a lot. I will deeply consider your words of advice, especially if we are close. And if we are close, I will come back and report my findings as authentically as I am able to.

To my children, don’t be afraid to ask me what I would do in your situation. I’ve been through a lot and done a lot of stupid things and I promise I’ll be gentle. It’s not my first rodeo – but if it is, I’ll tell you that too. I won’t expect you to follow my advice. Just let it sink in, add it to the list of ingredients that go into your decision making process. And if you don’t want to hear what I have to say, I promise to be a good listener and hugger.

I am always praying for you and thinking of you.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Hi Mom (A post from the archives)

It’s almost five years since I wrote this and posted it at my other blog.  In  many ways I feel like I am still stuck in the same place. But I also know that I have  made progress in my journey toward wholeness.

When I wrote the post below, I had recently turned 50. In a few weeks, I’ll be 55. Kind of a milestone birthday, one that is arbitrarily dictated by society, but a milestone nonetheless. I am still learning to accept myself as I am.

You could get away with calling me a navel gazer. It’s true. But I believe my introspection helps me to be a better person, which directly accrues to the benefit of my family. That’s really good. And it keeps my belly button lint free.

I’m fifty.

I’m sitting here today having such a hard time doing anything productive. I’m doing a lot of thinking when I really want to be doing. I’m supposed to be writing a book, but I’ve just been thinking about it all day long. Thinking about how unqualified I am. Thinking about how I don’t have enough material. Printing out all the writing I’ve done over the last 15 years to prove to myself I can write 50,000 words for a book. Not believing it. Not buying it. Checking my email, checking my Facebook; checking anything else I can think of to avoid having to write something because I’m so damned afraid and why? Why am I afraid?

Someone said, “life sucks and then you die”. And it’s not really like that; my life hasn’t sucked, but there are elements of it that are disappointing. Kids don’t stay kids. They’re not supposed to, but it hurts when they leave. Youth goes away; whether it is your child or your body. And sometimes, when it is a rainy day and there’s no sun to warm your head, you start to wonder if any of it is worth it. And this is not a good thing to be wondering when you have a book to write that is supposed to encourage, enlighten, and motivate people by the dozens. Or more.

So you reach out to a group of people who are writing books too and you share your insecurity and you get back a comment or two that just make you feel more shitty. And you think, well, should you have expected any different? And it is ok. But you delete your reaching out post and try not to feel inferior all day. And the Mac tells you every hour that it is another hour later in the day and you haven’t done anything yet of value. You wonder what the heck is wrong with you, why can’t you live in the positivity and flow with optimism and… what do you really believe anyway? Maybe, you start to think, maybe the reason you can’t write anything is because you’re trying to be something you’re not. Maybe you’re trying to be all Eckhart Tolle in an effort not to be John Hagee. But maybe you’re somewhere in between and maybe you need to just be that. And maybe it has been far too long since you were just you.

So, hi mom. I just wanted to write you a letter and tell you that I understand how you must have felt. I’m about the same age as you were when all the shit of your life hit the fan and I want you to know that I know how it feels to be this age and to feel like you’ve done some things you wish you could undo. I know what it feels like to struggle with things that you can’t seem to shake. I know how it feels to start feeling the wrinkles and the dry skin and the hips and hurting feet. Oh, and I know how it feels to have teenagers and big flashing billboards flashing in your face about how you failed here, and there, and there. I just wanted to tell you that I understand it must have been supremely difficult. My husband didn’t leave me like yours did. On top of everything else, you had to try and live through that. And I get it. It was really just too hard. I just wanted to tell you that it is ok, I’m not mad at you and I understand. And I love you. Wish we could have coffee together some time.


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

You’re not falling behind; you’re getting wiser

As I have grown older, I’ve felt the distinct slowing in my being. The world seems to be speeding up all around me and I find myself not wanting to keep up as much as I used to. It takes too much energy to follow every trend and stay on top of new things.

Those fast moving things don’t feel so important to me anymore. I want to be relevant so I listen to all kinds of music and expose myself to new technologies as much as I can stand it. But it doesn’t seem so vital or even very easy anymore.

The pace of life seems so much faster now than it was when I was younger, before technology zoomed us into hyperspeed all the time. I find myself craving a slower pace. I like the move toward slow food and the trend toward disengaging from autopilot. I saw an article about slow making the other day, going back to the older ways of building things and putting things together by hand instead of completely relying on other machines to make it happen.

There isn’t much that can compare, for instance, with a hand tailored suit, where the lapel interfacing is sewn in manually, curved over the seamstresses hand to give it the shape needed to make it a fine garment.

As a writer, I feel left behind some when I look at what magazines are publishing, magazines that I used to write for and feel perfectly comfortable with knowing in my knower what the editor wanted. Now, I’m a bit lost. The topics don’t feel so evergreen to me now, instead they are fleeting and flying by, and they don’t feel so weighty.

As a writer, I find myself gravitating toward more classic themes, like character, old fashioned customer service, the importance of family and self-awareness, natural treatment of disease, and independence.

I just need to remember my pull to the timeless whenever I start to feel overwhelmed by the transitory. It’s going to be OK. I have a lot to offer to this hyperspeed world and I am really settling into my voice. Life is good.

Photo by Maite Tiscar on Unsplash