You Think You’ve Gone as Far as You’ll Ever Get

Anxiety has been a companion for much of my life. People don’t always easily see it, as one of the ways I’ve coped with it is to not let others see. When I was a child, I would sit with worry, eventually bursting into tears, with my mom having no idea that anything was wrong in the first place. I still find anxiety in my life, often in little things, “what if I’m late?” “I can’t talk on the phone, I have no idea what to say.” “I don’t want to bother them; I can figure it out.” I sometimes feel like I have an antennae for anxiety; when a highly anxious person is around me, it feels like an aching, raw nerve is excited within me. It’s a much more familiar feeling to me than I care to admit.

As I look at myself, I realize that I have often let this trait define me. I find myself judging that I haven’t walked through more fear in my life. I’m very aware of the pockets of fear that currently hold me back. I want to try creating my own programs to share with others, but more often than not, I let myself be distracted, as I’m afraid I will fail.

The other day, I was sharing a story from my childhood with a friend. The house next door to me growing up had a steep hill that led into the side of the house. This led to the potential for exhilarating, though frightening, sledding after a good snowstorm. I remember my brother and his friend telling me that I had to pay them a penny to sled down the hill (why I needed their permission can only be explained by the unwritten rules of siblinghood, I suppose). I paid them two pennies, with the idea that I could go twice. I went down once, and survived (I’m sure you guessed that already). But I decided to not go again. (For those of you wondering, there were no penny refunds, so that second penny was indeed a lost investment.) I’ve always looked back at that story with judgment toward my younger self. I knew I could do it, and yet I didn’t. My friend had a different perspective. She simply said, “you went once, and you didn’t enjoy it, so you didn’t do it again.”

Her words had shifted my narrative from one of cowardice to one of knowing myself and choosing to operate from that place.

As we talked further, I explained that I’d been thinking about that sledding story recently, as I’ve been equating it to my decision to quit my job and move to Cayman (which felt bold) and then returning, and feeling like I’ve done nothing with my life (yes, perhaps dramatic, but self narratives aren’t always gentle). I felt like I tried something, and then ran away in fear.

Again, she looked at my life, at my experiences, and gave me a different way of thinking about it. “You’re a risk averse person, yet you still take risks.” Looking at things I’ve done, IMG_20180120_070015_717climbing Kilimanjaro, completing an overnight camping trip on my bike, moving some place where I knew no one when I graduated from college, traveling around the world, quitting my job to move out of the country, none of these felt easy. I did them anyway. It helps me understand a bit more why others have more than once called me brave, even though I’ve never really felt that way.

So when I feel the anxiety, rather than letting the narrative be that I’m a person who succumbs, and hides away from life, I think the new narrative needs to be that I’m afraid, but I’m a person who is strong enough to do it anyway. That’s a person I’d like to be.

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Only Guessing ‘Til I Get There, Then I’ll Know

As I sat on the bus on New Year’s Eve, tears were running down my face. I was feeling anxious. The fact that my being always seems to hear the message that New Year’s is a marker of all the things I haven’t done, all the ways I haven’t grown, all the loneliness that hasn’t melted from my life, left me feeling a bit of a mess.

This past year has felt like a hard one. There was nothing grandiose that left me feeling that way. It was a combination of a voice saying I still hadn’t figured out my life (that “still” there feels like a harsh critic), my finances were still tight, and honestly there was some medical stuff that left me feeling sad and fatigued for the majority of the year.

All of that left me here, on a bus, going to meet people for the first time, on a holiday that left my soul feeling a little tender.

I turned to a place of solace that has felt a bit more absent in these past several years: music. While music has been my emotional companion for much of my life, something in my relationship with it has shifted within the past few years. In this moment, I reached through my memory to find a song to give me solace. I settled in as I listened to Gabe Dixon, as he sang “All Will Be Well.” As the chorus played, I heard the words, “all will be well, even after all the promises you’ve broken to yourself.” And I let that resonate.

I don’t know what I expected my life to be. If you had asked me at various times, I probably would have given you different answers. I do know that I didn’t expect to be here at this point in my life. Feeling stuck. Feeling like I don’t know what direction to go. I hear all of these feelings as a failure.

So I listened. All will be well. Even if I haven’t taken the path that I thought. All will be well.

And for the past week and a half, as I’ve entered the new year, I’ve been listening to the messages in the music that I have loved, that gave me peace, that reminded me of the beautiful parts of myself. I’m feeling a bit more refreshed, a bit stronger.


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I’m trying to remind myself of that strength that I’ve felt before. Even these words, and the words I have written here in the months and years that have come before are evidence that I am not a failure. I’m just a person who has fumbled at times. I’ll find my way, hopefully remembering the best parts of myself as I go. I’m optimistic that this year will be a better one.

Walk on, walk on, walk on

You’re doing it wrong.

This is the message I keep hearing. From my friends, who I assure you are not saying that, even if it’s what my brain hears, and from the voice in my head.

It’s amazing how persistent that message feels right now.When I fall into the cycle of these messages, I tend to feel even more stuck. Stuck. I use that word lot in my life.

When uncertainty meets me face on.

When I feel like I’ve made a mistake.

When the critical voice in my head decides to speak up.

This week, a friend brought me camping in Burlington. She’s been wanting me to travel with her for a while now, but my finances have felt constricting.

Stuck.

IMG_20170704_144407_892I agreed to come up here, as a tent felt like a modest way to explore a new place. “Maybe you’ll like it there,” she had encouraged. “You could move there.” While here, we’ve been exploring the city, tasting maple cremees, and watching the signs of Americana (this is the week of July 4th after all). And each time my friend has suggested I talk to someone or consider something new, something has pushed back, “don’t tell me what to do.”

Stuck.

On Monday, my friend and I went to a donation-based yoga class. As always, I appreciated the chance to be in my body. To slow down, breathe, and remember the lessons yoga brings me. As I bent and stretched, reached up and grounded down, I faced a window. Framed in the window was the flowing river and a metal statue of a woman’s form. She stood in dancer’s pose, one bent leg raised behind her, held by one hand, the other hand reaching in front of her. Beautiful in her complex simplicity. I felt calm. I’m realizing that despite the fact that I’ve had more open time these past two years, I haven’t allowed much space for myself.

As I folded forward, the teacher came over and asked if I had any more room in my neck. I wiggled my head and felt my neck elongate. “There,” she said. “Sometimes you think there is no more room; you’ve gone as far as you can go, and moving just a little can free you up.”

Stuck… move… unstuck. The process and the solution appear to be one and the same.

Two days later, I walked up a mountain, and I remembered how good it felt to move.

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All of These Lines Across my Face, Tell You the Story of Who I am

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of story and narrative these past several weeks. I’ve heard stories people tell themselves about who they are and who others are. I’ve heard how easy it can become to hear what one wants to hear. I’ve heard how a viewpoint can totally shape an experience, and how that can impact people deeply.

I was recently talking to my therapist, who commented that I am brave. “Really?” I responded. At this point in my life, I’m having trouble seeing it. I feel like I’ve spent the last year wasting away time, living as a shadow of my best self. As I write that, it feels extreme to say, but I know that this is the story I have been telling myself. I’ve been doing a much better job of telling myself that I can’t do things than telling myself that I can.

I have barely traveled. I’ve struggled to figure out my next steps. I’ve used up savings accounts. I have felt discouraged and disheartened, as I have felt the best parts of me slip into hiding. While there have been beautiful experiences, such as spending extra time with my sister-in-law just after my nephew’s birth, I find myself hearing the story of a failed year (which I sometimes forget is not the same as me being a failure).

That said, as my therapist challenged me, she reminded me of the other parts of myself that I tend to discount with speed.

“You went to Africa and climbed Kilimanjaro,” she commented.

“You’ve traveled the world,” she continued.

“You quit your job and moved to the Caribbean! I wouldn’t have done that.”

“Yes,” I find myself thinking. “These are all parts of me.” Somehow, I’ve let myself believe that this past year of uncertainty negates all the other things I’ve accomplished in my life. My narrative has become quite limited in its scope. I find myself wondering how I can shine a bigger focus on the moments of pride and joy. How can I let these points in my life carry equal weight in my personal narrative? And perhaps more importantly, why don’t I give them that measured weight naturally?

It’s fascinating to me how my mind creates this story around who I am, and how often it doesn’t account for the parts of myself that I most value.

In another conversation with my therapist, I mentioned qualities in others that I so much admire. I find myself drawn to people who have broken from the stereo-typically straight path in life. I find myself drawn to people who follow their inner voices. I tend to admire those who are brave enough to step out of their comfort zone. As I talked about all of these traits with my therapist, she commented that when we are inspired by others, we are recognizing traits within ourselves that have yet to emerge. This idea totally shifted my mind. I was immediately drawn into and in love with this idea. I went home and wrote out a list of traits I admire in others:

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Exploration.

Telling untold stories.

Taking risks.

Following a passion.

Creating something new.

Taking the unusual path.

Listening to your heart.

Is it possible that all of the things on this list are actually descriptors of me? I hope to think so. And I hope that I can continue to weave them into my story. That’s a personal narrative I would feel proud to live.

Open Your Heart to Me

About a week ago, I had the feeling that I was in line with the universe. Somehow, I felt open to what it had to offer, and I found the universe seemed to understand and reciprocate in turn.

As I walked through the park, I ran into a former colleague, and was able to express some percolating ideas for the first time. She gave me positive feedback, and I was grateful for the opportunity to articulate my thoughts in that manner.

I texted a friend to say I was thinking of her, and she responded that she was a mere block away. It led to an unexpected meeting with a friend I rarely see.

I saw a play by an amazing playwright, whom I admire greatly, and was reminded that so much of what I admire about him is his ability to give voice to those who don’t always have one in our society. It ignited an ember of passion in me. “This. This is what I want to offer to others,” I thought.

I volunteered to sing at a large mass meditation, and found myself amidst hundreds of people, coming together where the World Trade Center once stood, to connect and foster community. I sat, as the leader elicited images of the ashes that were once there in contrast to what stands there now. The phoenix. Rising from the ashes. How much have I felt this past year that I was that pile of ashes. Could I have faith that I would once again rise?

As I meditated, I found myself sinking into images of gratitude. The eight minutes we sat meditating seemed to fly by, as I thought of all of the people who have touched me in my life. I thought of the fortune I’ve had to see so much of the world. I thought of my family, who has supported me through my less than typical life choices. I felt gratitude. And tears fell down my face.

This past week, I decided to end a connection I had been a part of for several months. The dynamic had felt familiar, but it hadn’t felt healthy. I worked it. I navigated it. And I realized that it was  leaving me exhausted and angry. So I said what I needed to say, and ended that connection. Less than twelve hours later, I felt a new, healthy connection form. It was a such a clear reminder to me that when I’m able to let go of things that aren’t serving me, there is suddenly room for things that will.

So I think about the things that I may still be holding onto- old relationships, ideas of myself, ideas of how my life should play out- and I think about how to let them go.

Open myself up.

Let myself rise.

And continue to feel gratitude for the gifts the universe sends my way.

Don’t Pay No Mind to the Demons, They Fill You With Fear

It’s been a while since I’ve written. I feel a little bit like I’ve lost my way over the past several months. I’ve learned that in many ways, the most challenging part of my return to New York was the voices that live in my head. There has been no distraction from the doubt, insecurity, and judgement that lives there. It makes it hard to move from that place.

I’ve been acutely aware that this week that I hit a year of being back from Grand Cayman. A year since I my international life adventure came to its conclusion. A year since that person, excited, anticipating a new life, returned. And in that year, I’ve felt stuck, uncertain, lost.

One of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab once did a piece discussing the process a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly. This metaphor, the caterpillar spinning into its cocoon, and emerging into a butterfly feels like a classic tale for change. I’ve been hearing it since I was a child. It always seemed pretty basic to me: caterpillar goes into shell; caterpillar grows wings; caterpillar is now butterfly. What I learned from listening to this podcast, however, was that this process is not how I always believed it. When the caterpillar is enveloped by the cocoon, it actually becomes mush. When a cocoon is cut open, it shows no signs of the caterpillar that once was, nor does it resemble the butterfly it will become. It truly becomes a gooey substance, resembling not much of anything.

That said, they were able to see that the newly emerged butterfly still held some of the memories of the caterpillar. If looking at this process, one might guess that going through this mushy process leaves the butterfly as something completely different. But it still holds a part of itself.

And that’s the image I’m currently carrying with me. This year has felt mushy. I’ve tried various odd jobs, some of which I’ve loved, and some of which I’ve hated. I’ve interacted with people old and new, which have led me down unusual, and sometimes disheartening, sometimes beautiful, paths. One year ago, I didn’t have a vision for where I would be in 365 days. I’m still working to find that vision. Somehow though, marking this year anniversary, a part of me remembered that strength lives within me. While others have assured me of my strength for months, I’ve somehow felt that obvious strength was not so obvious. I’m startingç feel a glimmer of hope that lives within me, and I want to foster it, and let it grow.

img_20160619_094957During this year, I’ve seen a new cast of characters emerge in my life, some offering listening ears, some offering new insights, some inspiring me with their abilities to be true to themselves, and in turn making the world a better place. And seeing that reminds me that that’s what I want for myself. I want to reconnect with my true self, my strongest self, the self that adds to the world, simply by living my truth and touching others along the way.

And with that, I again sit and write. I start to sort through the mush, and hope that with that, I can once again begin the process of growing wings to fly.

 

I’ll Keep Checking the Horizon

It’s strange to me to think that it was just about a year ago that I accepted a position in the Caribbean. I’ve now been back in New York about as long as I was away. The life I led before, waking up daily to go to a hospital to do music therapy sessions with children and their families, feels foreign to me. I shattered that existence when I decided to quit my job to try something that was both figuratively and literally foreign to me. I shook my world up, then returned to New York to start anew. That said, I don’t think I’ve found my new normal.

At some point after my return, I realized that the things that had always grounded me before had shifted. I don’t have a regular job. My relationships have shifted. The identity I had created for myself no longer was. Thinking about this helped me find compassion for myself and the topsy-turvy world I felt myself navigating. And I realized that I would need to shift my focus, instead of looking for grounding to come from my surroundings, I would need to start looking inward, to find grounding from within myself.

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I’m guessing that seems obvious to many people. I, however, have always felt myself susceptible to the people and things that surround me. I pick up others’ emotions easily. While that’s a helpful tool as a therapist, it can also lead to feeling a loss of self, which takes some practice to find again.

And listening to myself feels like the most important lesson I want to get out of this adventure. As I resist applying for jobs in institutions, I hear my being telling me that I want to be creative, following my own path. As I think about the regularity of going to one place, day in and day out, I find myself fantasizing about continuing to travel. In my days at the hospital, I felt the days mold together, one into another. Now, as I lead music classes, do yoga, spend time with family, my time feels richer, fuller, more fulfilling.

So I look to myself, listening intently. In a recent yoga class, the teacher reminded us that 85% of the practice is simply showing up. So I continue to ask myself to show up. Be present. Try to trust not only the journey, but to trust myself. I look forward to seeing where it takes me.