When I am struggling in life, my end of the line often goes dead. I do my best struggling alone. I sob, I cycle through the poor me, why me, and when me. I view myself as alone, always, when I am at my lowest. Then, when I am ready, I pick up…..and I move forward. For me, it’s really when I do my best work, in regards to self-awareness, accountability, and empathy.
The problem with this form of struggle is for those who love us. Those who love us, love us when we are at our best. They love us when we are at our worst. They love us during the in between, mundane times as well. We bring them along when we are at our best, we bring them along for the boring, but the line goes dead during the struggle. Probably a bit confusing to those who process differently.
What does that say to our inner circle? What are they assuming is our motivation during this time?
This is where things can get sticky…..assuming motivations. Those who love us will either assume we are struggling and bear with us, or they will take it personally and it will create distance. It all depends on what story they bring to the table. It also depends on what story our family has created for us. Did our family provide a space for us to grieve? Did they provide a space for us to think on our own? Did they provide a space for the struggle? Do any of us know the right way to struggle? Is there a right way to struggle? How can we let others struggle in their own way, if we are not comfortable with our own struggling process?
Personally, and professionally I feel the right way to struggle is akin to the right way to experience self-care. Self-care should energize us, it should feed us spiritually and leave us feeling motivated and at peace for what comes next. Struggling is the same in my book. We all need to struggle, that is how we grow and create space for change. Struggling is an inherently personal journey. We all struggle differently. Some of us struggle out loud, and some of us struggle silently.
My best form of self-care is hiking. In the hiking world, fellow hikers build what’s called a cairn to let us know we are in the right place on our journey. A cairn is a small tower of rocks, marking the trail. When you see a cairn it reassures you, that you have been on the correct path and continue to be on the correct path. The cairn brings a warmth to my heart when I see it and reassures me that I’m okay, that I’m just on a journey and I will wind up at the place I am intended to. It soothes my anxiety about the journey, and just helps me to be present with the uncertainty of struggling.
So I thought……what if we took the cairn out of the mountains and brought it into our relationships? What if we used it as a marker, to let those we love know that we are okay…..just on a journey. The cairn could help us to bring clarity to those who process differently. The cairn could help define our motivations for those who don’t understand our different way of struggling. The cairn could be an offering of sorts, to provide a deeper understanding to those we love. That while we love them just as much, we process differently, and that is okay.
The cairn could tell them…
I love you…and I am in my thinking space.
I love you, and I am processing.
I love you, and am where I am supposed to be.
I love you and I need a little more silence, but I will get there.
I love you and please accept this as a bridge of understanding between us.
I love you and please don’t punish me for silence.
I love you and need you in my life, please hang on with me.
We could send a picture of a cairn by text, as that is our most often used form of communication these days. Sending it by text would continue to support our silent struggle for those of us who need it, but it would also support those we love, who struggle differently. It would be a smoke signal, of sorts, that would break the silence, while continuing to support our struggle space. The cairn honors all forms of struggling, all forms of motivation and bridges a gap of understanding that could create discord with the ones we love the most.
Those of us who struggle silently owe it to the ones we love to send a cairn, to calm their worries and respect their love for us. Those who love someone who struggles silently, owe it to them, to accept the cairn, and allow the space needed to move forward. It’s a love pledge of sorts, that while we may not struggle the same, we love each other just as hard and just as continuous. No explanation needed, no misunderstandings….just space for love.
Isn’t it amazing, how programmed we are in life? Over and over again, we let our anxiety get us worked up, knowing for damn sure that worry changes nothing. NOTHING. Our bodies are programmed to react with fight or flight. Our cortisol shoots up, our bodies tighten, and our brains are on fire, with worry.
Yesterday, I had a medical procedure done that made my body shudder with fear. Just the name of the procedure, sent shock waves through my entire being. I was scared, no doubt about it. However, my brain knew that rationally I would be fine. Rationally, the pain would be momentary. Rationally, I would get a couple days of rest and relaxation after, and we all want that right?!
It didn’t matter what my brain was telling me, my body knew better. For weeks, I dreaded this procedure. For weeks, my body messed with my brain. I noticed my stomach being tight…. for no reason. My throat constricting….for no reason. My heart racing…..for no reason.
You might be saying to yourself, but you practice Mindfulness, why are you experiencing these reactions still? Because I am human. Mindfulness helps me on a day to day basis, with lessening my reactions to everyday stress. However, we are still human. We still have fear built into us. We still fight to be mindful, when our fear is at its worst, especially if we don’t set a plan for keeping mindfulness on track.
Yesterday was a fight.
The fight reminded me, I am still on a journey.
The fight reminded me, I will still have fear.
The fight reminded me, I am only human.
The fight reminded me, I fear death.
The fight reminded me, I love life.
What a beautiful message to land on. I love life. With all of its adversity, fear, negativity, and hardships……I love life.
While I laid on the table with doctors over me, Mindfulness brought me to the place of loving life.
I breathed in gratitude, love, and acceptance. I breathed out through my area of pain. Releasing, fear, anguish, worry, and the fight.
Instant relaxation. You see, while Mindfulness has reprogrammed my brain over the last few years, I hadn’t set any intentions for how I would deal with worry over my health. So my body reverted to old stories, old reactions and old habits. I was a worrier. I feared death, so I worried. My body remembered this, and reacted accordingly, telling my brain to worry. Going forward my intentions are different than how I dealt with this instance of fear.
I will take in information about my health, knowing that it is just more knowledge than what I had before.
I will recognize that knowledge is power.
I will use that knowledge, not to fuel my fear, but to fuel my resolve.
I will use that resolve to calm my body.
I will utilize a calm body to coach my brain.
I will employ my brain, to remind me I LOVE LIFE.
Even these parts of life…..the worry parts, the hard parts, the scary parts. Because, they are going to come friends.
A beautiful life includes rain……a beautiful life includes rain. Lean in to this. As it can guide your thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
I finally reached that mindful place, right there on the hospital table. I felt my brain relax, and lean into the pain. I felt my body release its programming, and I felt my heart swell with a deep, abiding love for my life, for the people in it, and for the future.
I beat fear yesterday, and I realize my peace could have come sooner, had I prepared appropriately. Had I set my intentions, and been mindful of following those intentions, I could have saved myself from days of fighting fear leading up to this.
Intentions are a plan, a plan to succeed. In life, in fear, in adversity. Intentions lay the foundation for a love of life.
My hope for you, is that you are able to use your love of life in all situations of fear.
Meet fear with love. Let love inform your body. Let love inform your brain. Let love lead your fight. Don’t beat yourself up for having fear…..invite the fear in, and meet it with love.
I have always been called blunt. “She certainly isn’t afraid to say what she’s thinking” women would say in describing me. If they are friends with me, that means that’s why they love me. If they aren’t friends with me……that IS why. It can definitely err on the side of foot in mouth disease, but these days I do my best to keep it aimed in the right direction. I think my best work as a therapist comes when I’m at my most raw and honest with my clients. When I let them know how they are perceived or exactly why I believe, they are experiencing the difficulties they are struggling with, is when I see the most growth. Because, if we are able to stand on the outside of ourselves on a regular basis, we are allowed this wonderful window to watch our behavior.
It ain’t always pretty, of course.
We are either impressed by this behavior, and decide we are happy with our choices. Or……we pinpoint the things we don’t like, own them and only then can we move towards the person we are supposed to be right now.
I reject the idea that you are who you are for 90 years?!
I invite the idea that we have many chapters.
In the interest of raising our self-awareness, having empathy for ourselves and others, and looking through that all important window of behavior, let’s set some intentions for this place they call mid-life. While we’re at it, let talk about this word crisis! How about a mid-life chapter? Mid-life is but a chapter in our book! It doesn’t have to be a crisis! We are in charge of this and WE prefer to view it as a chapter that includes growth, introspection, self-care and awakening. We will show those who come after us how to do this thing called mid-life….in a way that supports mid-life issues, nurtures us as humans, and provides a light for what is to come in the future. What follows are 5 ways I believe we can provide that much needed window for ourselves. The window to see ourselves as others see us. The window that provides a launching pad for growth and change. The window that creates empathy for ourselves and others, in order to build a soft place for us all to fall. Here are my tips for a mid-life chapter we can be proud of.
1 – Believe you’re a badass.
Because without that, you’re not going to be able to complete the next 4 steps. You may not be where you hoped you’d be in life, accept that and move forward anyway. Your partner may not be what you hoped for…stop trying to change them. Change you. Don’t threaten to do it…..do it. Your body may not look how you wanted and the changes as you age can be tricky. Move forward anyway. Believe you’re a badass! Look what you’ve been through in your life….badass! Look how far you’ve come….badass! Look at what your body is capable of….badass! Complain less, enjoy more! Challenge yourself as often as you can, just to see how badass you actually are!
It’s gonna get hard, move forward anyway.
2 – Self-Care:
What do we enjoy doing the most (assuming it is both legal and safe) and how much time do we spend doing it each week? How about each month? Self- care changes us. Self-care is any intentional action you take to care for your physical, mental and emotional health. I like to say, it should energize you and feed you spiritually as well. Try your hardest to do this daily for yourself, if that isn’t possible, then weekly. Self-care provides an opening for growth. It helps us to get to know ourselves again, in a deep way. Did we stop growing?? Did we stop learning? Do we like ourselves? Would we be friends with us?
3 – We are not always right.
I know you don’t want to hear this…..but you aren’t ALWAYS right! Feels harsh huh? Become more self-aware of not just how you are reacting, but WHY you are reacting in that way. It sounds easy, and it’s not. We are so tied into the emotions of the issue in front of us, that we don’t allow ourselves to stop, take a breath and just think! Think about what you are thinking about. Mindfulness will help you do this by creating a level of self-awareness that fosters responding, not reacting. You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to. Sometimes as a “right fighter” we forget that no one wins a prize for being right, and forcing our opinions and thoughts down someone else’s throat just creates anxiety for ourselves and the other person in the conversation. Is this how we want the people in our lives to experience us? I want to leave people happier than before. I want them to feel more confident than when I walked in the room and I want to provide a light that they want to follow. Not because I’m right, but because I’m human.
4 – Stop “shoulding and musterbating”.
Start thinking of others as humans who are seeking like we are. Seeking love, seeking reassurance, seeking affection, seeking to be SEEN….not judged. They are seeking to be given the benefit of the doubt….in life… just like we are. Don’t spend so much time in the “should” zone. In therapy, we call this “shoulding and musterbating”. Awkward, I know! We should others and ourselves based on our beliefs about the world. We must others and ourselves into guilt and pressure. It’s so easy to look at other’s lives and say what they should be doing. It provides us a reprieve from looking at our own lives. We judge, it’s human and if left unattended, it takes over. We become this person who always has the answer and is always ready with what the other should be doing, when in reality, we haven’t walked in the other persons shoes, so let’s just stick to our own lives…and cultivating empathy for ourselves in this area. The more empathy we have for ourselves, the more we have to give away to other seekers.
5 – Cultivate the positive.
Speaking of giving away empathy. At the airport returning home from a quick vacation recently, I was seated waiting to board, across from, what appeared to be a lady in her late sixties. Think Betsey Johnson or Iris Apfel. Uber fashionista with gorgeous hues of blue through her hair and toenail polish to match. I couldn’t pass up the chance to let her know how gorgeous she was. Did I want to make her feel good? Yes. But more than that, I wanted the high as well! It is so much more than quotes on an FB page. It’s so much more than a share or a tag on something positive. No my friends, this is so much harder. It is genuinely wishing the best for others, genuinely wanting them to do what makes them happy, believing in the best motivation from people. Genuinely wanting others to feel good about themselves.
Yep, we’ve lost that haven’t we?
Somewhere along the way, we just care a little less for our fellow human. I’m just suggesting we bring that back and watch it work its magic! Let’s spend time everyday growing happiness in our heart for others. This can be in the form of a mantra during meditation, prayer, or just a mindful moment.
Let’s go easy on ourselves friends. Those that came before us may have handled mid-life in a way that scares us or is at the very least a caution sign for this time in our lives. Move forward anyway. Move forward with the knowledge that you have this under control. Move forward with the excitement of a new chapter unfolding before you. Move forward with confidence that you ARE a badass, and you will turn this mid-life chapter into one you can be proud of. In the meantime, be aware that if you accomplish a beautiful mid-life chapter, you just may be changing cycles in your family…and that is badass.
As young girls, we are taught we are perfect, just the way we are……until society gets a hold of us.
As young girls, we dream big, we dream long and we dream hard…..until society tells us what they value in our gender.
As young girls, we have big ideas, we feel we know how to get this done….until society tells us we sound like a bitch.
As young girls, we are confident, in our place in the world……..until society asks “who do you think you are?”
Chip…chip….chip. Society slowly chips away at our daughters. The daughters we willingly hand them.
We buy the magazines with impossible beauty standards.
We watch the television shows that personify girls in a lesser role than boys.
We buy into the stereo types that girls are caretakers at heart, and their emotions rule their brains.
We encourage our sons not to cry, because that is okay for girls, but not boys.
We use the words “I’m not friends with women, they’re too much drama or too catty”.
We teach our daughters to cook instead of change a tire.
We talk calories and fat to girls, but protein and muscle to boys.
We view society as something we can’t change. It is stagnant, that’s just society right? We view society as something we are thrown into and, we either conform, listening to the loudest voices, or we are a bit of a trouble maker. What if we viewed society as something we create? What if we become more Mindful of our thoughts, words and actions surrounding these stereo types? What if we had the control?
Are we being Mindful of the messages we are sending our daughters? Not just what we are saying verbally. What are we buying? What are we watching? What are the messages, we say to ourselves? How do we treat the women in our lives?
Young eyes are watching us ladies and gentlemen. Make no mistake, they are watching. They may be dormant for a while, but they are learning.
How important am I in this society?
What is my value?
What is my role?
Mindfulness around this subject, led me to set my intentions.
- I want to be a role model of self-acceptance.
- I want to live authentically so our daughters know it is okay to be who they are.
- I want to shed the mask so our daughters will never wear one.
- I want to love and accept my body, but not be overly concerned with its size.
- I want to personify strength, in body and mind.
- I want to speak of other women in an uplifting, encouraging manner.
- I want to laugh and roll my eyes at the misogynistic magazines that line the checkout at the grocery store.
- I want to get dirty and messy…..and NOT be in a hurry to clean up.
- I want to set realistic standards, and not ever expect perfection of myself.
- I want to support women loudly and consistently, not tear them down with stereo types.
- I want to ensure my words never demean the boys in our life, as building myself up does NOT include tearing boys down.
So today, let’s say to our girls:
- You are strong….and soft, and that is exactly who you were meant to be.
- Your body was created a certain way, for many reasons. Love it, get to know it, and honor it.
- Test your limits daily….you will be blown away at what you’re capable of.
- Challenge yourself, you can’t imagine who you are at your core.
- Don’t mistake kindness for weakness. Our empathy is but one of our strengths!
- Your dreams are worthy, your dreams are unique, and your dreams are a reality only if you make them a reality!
- You can do ANYTHING you set your mind to!
- Don’t ever let society speak for you! You have something to say? You better make sure you say it. No one will come knocking to hear it.
Your Mothers, Fathers, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, Sisters, Brothers, and Friends.