Breaking through the clouds

I have read and reread a vivid metaphor for many years now that has played a substantial role in my journey through life. It is about an eagle, attempting to reach her home in the midst of a terrible storm. The sky is painted dark, clouds are black and thunder and lightening surround her as she fights to stay aflight. As she flies she becomes exhausted and even confused, fighting to keep her flight path, being dashed about and pummeled by rain and wind this way and that, attempting to “sweep away the clouds” with her wings. The author graphically describes how she “awakens the doves… with her wild cries and vain endeavors to find a way out…” The story concludes with the eagle finally dashing upward, with all her might, into blackness and valiantly breaking through the clouds, finding herself above the storm and then “all is light”. That final scene is etched in my mind, and I replay it over and over, often with chills up and down my spine. Such a powerful depiction of a battle well fought.

Out for a run earlier this morning I was growing tired, finding myself wanting to slow down, perhaps even walk for a bit. I have been stepping up my mileage and my pace over the past couple of months and some days that is more exhilarating and enticing than others. Today as I was pushing myself rather hard, that little eagle came to my mind, seemingly out of nowhere. All i could think about was this little eagle, flying through a raging storm, beaten down, wet, confused, exhausted, yet flying with all her might. I could visualize the entire scene in my mind, I could hear hear screeching and see her straining with everything she had. I could sense the darkness and the cold and the desire to be in a safer, calmer space. Then the moment arrives, when she gives it all she has and with one final gust, she emerges through the clouds. Hard not to be inspired. To want to push through. To keep fighting.

The effort. The struggle. The fight. Sheer exhaustion. I cannot help but resonate with that. It seems that life is never short of providing us ways to practice building stamina, endurance and will power to push through. I have experienced many moments in my life where I simply did not feel I had it in me to keep going. I see a similar battle in my clients that I sit with from week to week. I hear their stories, see their emotion, sense their drive and admire their courage. A battle is not won by hiding. A battle is won by showing up and using all you’ve got to give, and not stopping until it’s over.

Many people say that “it is in your blood” or “you either have it or you don’t” when they talk about courage, will power, drive and sheer determination. Perhaps there is some truth to that. But I tend to believe that if we were not simply gifted with such qualities, we can certainly seek them out, learn them, even obtain them. Perhaps grow to become them…

I believe that we as human beings are capable of change. We are capable of growth. We are certainly capable of being motivated, inspired. So my question becomes; how does one share the power and possibility of breaking through the clouds with one who is still in the storm? How does one practice their way through life in such a way that renders one ready and willing to stay the course when the storm begins to rage? How do we as connection driven beings, assist one another in the plight… of life?

The following link provides a powerful reminder of how each and every one of us are seeking to feel we are not alone, that we are somehow seen, heard, even cared for by another being. That someone not only sympathizes with us, but actually gets it, feels it, sits with us in it. Brene Brown did a fabulous voiceover for this little cartoon, in which she describes the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Dr. Dan Siegel, neuropsychiatrist and researcher uses the phrase “feeling felt” in his body of work around interpersonal neurobiology, a fancy way of describing how people connect and why. Feeling felt provides an almost sacred word picture for me, as i contemplate the actual internal feeling I get when the person I am with seems to get what i’m saying or what i’m going through or where i’m coming from. It is so powerful, perhaps even softening to ones soul…. to feel seen, heard, felt, for who you really truly are at the core of you.

It is a rarity however, and a feeling that many people have never experienced. Most often we walk around feeling very isolated and alone, even misunderstood or actively judged, for not being enough… smart enough, pretty enough, athletic enough, intelligent enough, fast enough, creative enough… you name it, we mostly feel inadequate and not only judged by others, but often times judging ourselves against how we feel others see us. It can be debilitating if we do not find a pathway through it, that allows us to create a buffer. Buffer against the storm, buffer against others judgments, buffer against our own feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt.

In therapy, we often use the phrase “grounding”. We are referring to a technique that is used to help those of us who become overly anxious, unstable in mood, “flighty”, or disconnected from self or others. The concept behind grounding is actually quite simple; soothe the anxiety, fears and instabilities that cause the person to feel out of control or distant from the present moment. Quite literally it means to root or ground the person to the earth beneath their feet.

We utilize meditation, often guided meditation to bring the focus of the individual to the present moment. An example would be to focus on the chair one is sitting on, how it feels beneath you, supporting you, holding you up from falling. Another example would be to imagine yourself flying through the air like a kite, and to feel the gentle tug of the string as you are being guided back in for landing. The concept behind the technique is focus. Where one’s focus lies, has a great deal to do with one’s perspective on life, and the individual moments that make up the larger picture of the journey.

This concept of grounding seems to come into play as I think about the eagle desperately flying through the storm and eventually breaking through the clouds to the sunshine above. Perhaps if one can find a way to sense the solid ground beneath ones feet, when we feel the world around us crashing down or swirling up… Perhaps if we could shift focus, see the strength we possess and even the purpose beyond the present moment pain.  Maybe we could connect with a larger picture, even when everything seems to be falling apart. Perhaps if one could reach out and connect with another being when loneliness threatens to engulf… One could find strength to stay aflight amidst the storm.

Perhaps even break through the clouds.

My journey as a new mommy

I’m not gonna lie, my christening into motherhood was akin to baptism by fire. I had dreamt of being a mom, I had prayed to have the opportunity to have a child of my own. I prepped, I planned…there were spreadsheets with graphs- timelines, needs, steps to action. I have no problem claiming my type a personality- an equal blessing and curse.

While I have counseled parents, have studied child development, parenting techniques, striving versus thriving, the impact of helicopter parenting, the need for attachment and so on…. The importance of routine, consistency, confidence, self-awareness, along with the impact of stress, and the challenge to a marriage of the new addition. I read the books, I babysat my whole life. I loved being an auntie and spent countless weekends caring for my nephews and practicing parent-dome. Nothing could have prepared me for my own child.

I experienced an incredibly shocking awakening when I had my daughter. She quite literally shook my world, spun it around and then flipped it upside down and then smiled.

Neither my husband nor I had any clue how drastically our lives would change when we had a child. Of course we knew it would be different, but in our naivety, we thought we’d adjust quickly like we always have to change, and after a short pause of adjustment, life would resume as we had previously known it. We were educated, experienced adults…

Come to find out, becoming a parent is not something that one can really prepare for. Sure you can educate yourself and collect tools for the journey (this I would highly recommend) but aside from that, no amount of prepping, planning, reading, babysitting nor studying can stabilize you for the earthquakes and the steady occurrence of aftershocks to follow.

Very early on in my pregnancy I made the decision to be open and honest about my experience. This was inspired by the perceived lack of truth-telling that I experienced from other women prior to embarking on the journey myself. I wasn’t going to be that flowery overly positive, see the bright side mom- hadn’t previously been that kind of non-mom. Not gonna start now. 

The day I hit my 6th week of pregnancy, I was washed over by a wave of nausea, fatigue, exhaustion and huge slap of reality of just how quickly life was to be modified and forever changed… The next 14 weeks were a daily assault of life altering changes to my body, my mind, my diet, my exercise routine and my sleep.

I was asleep by 7pm nightly, and routinely slept till 7am the next morning only to be hit with an overwhelming need to nap by 2pm in the afternoon. I questioned my sanity daily… I began forgetting little things here and there and before I knew it, I was having to write down everything like an alzheimers patient.  I had low back pain and hip pain and sometimes my joints would ache like i had arthritis. I was sick to my stomach constantly and had heart burn that wouldn’t give up for the first time in my life. To top it off, although I felt like the world had ended and I must be barely hanging onto life by a thin thread, I barely showed the signs of a bump, so no one even knew or could empathize with me unless I told my tales of whoa. But here comes my positive note: I got a  brief break at around 20 weeks that lasted to about 28 weeks…where I didn’t want to curl up and die on any given day.

However just prior to 30 weeks the desire to curl up returned only this time I was large (to me i was whale like, to others i barely looked 5 months pregnant), uncomfortable and down right unhappy about it. Food became infrequent and small snacks at best, as I routinely felt like food just camped out in my esophagus, waiting to send up smoke signals. It was about this same time that my husband and I began a holistic birthing class- mostly comprised of individuals seeking all natural birth experiences, some specific to water birth (myself included). We went weekly, making dates out of the classes, having dinner after, discussing our fears, hopes and dreams. 

At our 36 week apt with our midwife we discovered that baby girl was still head up and didnt’ seem to be interested in turning around. We began a multiple week onslaught of exercises, putting my body in specific positions, acupuncture sessions, even going as extreme to use close-pins on my toes while circling them with moxa- considered a natural way to help the baby reposition (in eastern medicine). We did this daily and sometimes multiple times a day. I was committed to having a non-cesarean delivery. Daily acupuncture continued. Inversions, music near my pelvis, smoke rings of moxa around the toes…

At our 38 week appointment baby girl was still bum down, head up. I left my midwifes office, called my previous OB and scheduled an appointment to discuss options. After much debate, cautionary concerns and emotional turmoil, we made the decision to schedule another appointment 5 days prior to my due date, to do one of three things. Option one would be to see that baby girl had turned and could be delivered naturally and I go home- chances were below 30% according to my doctor. Option two would be to do a manual procedure called aversion, to try and force baby girl to turn- also very low percentages on success rates (can also be painful for mama and cause “distress” to the baby). Option three was to head into the OR and have a cesarean section to remove baby girl, avoiding the risk of going into natural labor with a breech baby (which apparently doctors don’t get super excited about allowing). 

There are very few words. I went from refusal to acknowledge the reality to a numb sort of acceptance. I didn’t want to talk about it. It was what it was. I felt withdrawn and compliant at that point. It felt like someone else’s life I was hearing about, not my own. I was beside myself with frustration while simultaneously trying to gracefully accept the route this was going. I was swimming in the dark.

I remember waking up early the morning of my appointment “to be or not to be” ringing through my head. I wanted to go for a walk. So despite the rain, I suited up and walked my regular 3.5 mile loop. As I walked I cried tears of anger and rage, then I smiled tears of acceptance and surrender. I sang songs of comfort… even prayed that I would start contractions, for some assemblance of “natural” or “as it should be” to occur. Then I sat by the river and just let all the emotion flow for a long while. And when I got up and finished my route home, I felt I had shifted internally. I was ready to face this. Bring it. 

I got home- showered and got dressed, pack a bag for my baby girl and myself, took my husbands hand and walked to the car. I remember it vividly. When we showed up to check in at the hospital, the receptionist was peppy and friendly and confirmed that we were there for an aversion/c-section appointment and I burst into tears. She apologized profusely upon seeing me self-combust, was so “sorry for upsetting you”, but I put my hand up and reassured her, she was fine, I was fine, all was fine.

After I was shown to my room, the nurse came in to see us. I was all gowned up- and calmly stated that I would like an ultrasound and if baby girl was still head up and bum down, than I would decline to try and turn her- I couldn’t stand the thought of even more distress and uncertainty and watching a monitor of a crazy high heart rate on my girl.

The doctor came in shortly after, we looked at baby girl, who had not budged an inch…. and honestly the next memory I have is of me walking across the hall from my room into the OR, cap and gown and IV pole. It was cold. There were a lot of people in there and it was time for my spinal IV to numb me from the chest down. 

I remember not even being able to talk. Nurses talked to me, even held my hand, Drs checked in, the anesthesiologist was kind and gentle, very personable. I said nothing. I just lay there on the cold table trying to breathe and avoid a full blown panic attack. I was an emotional wreck. 

It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I was fully awake and present and terrified. I could feel minimal movement in my body as they cut and wiggled and jostled and dug into my stomach to pull out her little bum.

My husband stood beside me taking pics of the whole thing, talking to me the entire time, letting me know what was happening. Then her little bum appeared first followed by her body and head and her legs, which were so tight by her head the initial series of pics showed her legs slowly lowering down to her waist but no further until much later. Both OB’s present for the procedure commented that she was like a sardine in a can, tightly knit in the womb and would not have budged regardless of any of our efforts. This entry into the world was meant to be. 

They suctioned her nose, wrapped a towel around her, and handed her to my husband and he brought her immediately to my chest so I could kiss her face. It was surreal to say the least. Here was this human being, cheek against cheek. She was tucked away tightly inside me for the past 9 months and suddenly she is beside me, touching me, nuzzling me. It didn’t’ matter where we were, who else was there nor how it had come to be. But she was with me, she was healthy, safe and my very own. 

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It never ceases to amaze me what we as humans can go through, even put ourselves through, and come out the other side… wiser, calmer, stronger, more resilient. I had no way of knowing during those early mommy moments, that this was only the beginning of a lifetime of adjustments, compromises, lessons learned the hard way about control, and the necessary acquisition of flexibility. 

Fast forward two years and here we are. I have a beautiful, strong, brave, highly engaged and ever present toddler whom I am more challenged by than I could have ever imagined and I am more in love with literally everyday of her life…

She has taught me to be present. She has taught me to be silly. She has taught me to laugh and shared her contagious smile. She has been the hardest thing that I have ever done, truly. She has challenged me to my core and made me put my actions where my mouth is. She has called me out, humbled me and changed me for the better. She has repeatedly shown me that she is not a force to be reckoned with, but rather a very delicate flower in need of daily sunshine and water, and ever present attention. 

I am aware that I am NOWHERE near the end of this journey through motherhood… but I have to pause in celebration and acknowledgement that we made it to 2 years of age. I feel this is a milestone worth commemorating, as it has been by far the biggest thing I have ever accomplished. Surviving the first two years of a human beings life makes graduate school look like a walk in the park. I think that Aristotle said it best when he said “the heart has reasons for which reason does not know”. I truly believe that no one in their right mind would sign up to embark on such an adventure if they knew ahead of time just what it would entail and just how challenging and life altering it would be. That is why the heart is more often the one that makes these decisions.

We are not all cut out to be parents, to grow and then raise a being. For those of us who do end up with such a task, I now see it as a privilege and a gift. It is a privilege of tall order, of great sacrifice and unending calling to become even more than you ever thought that you could be.

Suraya Elise, you have shaken and stirred my world to the core, and for that I am forever grateful. I am honored to be your mommy and filled with gratitude for all you have brought to my life!Image

 

 

Find your Song and Sing it

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Ever just find yourself incredibly frustrated with your own lack of follow through on something that is so unbelievably important to you, but you just repeatedly sabotage your own efforts? How is it that we can want something so badly, and yet thwart our own efforts so precisely that we often can fool ourselves into thinking that it’s not possible to accomplish the goal itself?

 At the end of a very long day of therapy sessions, I found myself spun up, impassioned and simultaneously irritated with the seemingly universal experience of the cyclical pattern of self-sabotage! I ask these questions and make this statement without judgment of self or others, but more with a very exuberant expression of “come on people, we have to figure this out, and get out of our own way”…

 I will be completely candid; It is incredibly disheartening that there is such a global experience of lacking self-acceptance… in addition to having ongoing feelings of discontentedness, and lacking the self esteem to push through and fight for something so worth fighting for! How is it that we have become such a lost and fragmented society of individuals that feel so alone and so inadequate? The world is quite literally at our fingertips and we have very little to hold us back from living life, aside from ourselves… yet so many of us are wrecked with feelings of “I’m not good enough”.

 I say this without judgment and instead with much grace and a hope for strength to push past the negative inner voice of “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t have anything to give” and instead, give like you have THE WORLD to give! Cause you quite literally do have so much to give- to yourself and to others!

 It might sound incredibly cliché, but the reality is that sometimes we have to fake it till we make it…. I don’t intend to say that we should stick our head in the sand or ignore any realities about our lives, or ourselves, but we get so caught up and stuck in our negative spirals of self-doubt and chaos that we miss out on SOOO much potential to actually live our lives!

 The way I see it, the goal should be to live as genuinely and authentically as possible. If there is something that is getting in the way of that for you today, then figure out how to get rid of it or push through it, because it is causing you to live a stunted and unfulfilled life.  A life in which you are held back, restrained and confused when you want to be able to be passionate, engaged with others and interactive in your world.

 If your inner voice is asking you to shrink, or disappear, to be quiet or to hold back, then perhaps it is time to tell that voice to shut the hell up, and show yourself just how present, loud, and alive, you are capable of being.

I have a 16-month-old daughter who just so happens to be really good at letting her presence be know, her opinions and what she would like to contribute. It’s just so natural for her, that we actually designated the song “Roar” by Katy Perry as her theme song. If you haven’t listened to the song, perhaps today is a good day to put it on and turn it up loud and dance~ But regardless of whether this is your song or not, my challenge for you this week is to Find Your Song and Sing It!

Little Fish, Big Pond

I had the honor and privilege of attending a Gottman conference in Seattle, Washington this past week. This was not my first Gottman training, nor will it be my last, as I have come to have a profound respect for his research and clinical expertise! For those of you who have not been introduced to John Gottman or his wife Julie Schwartz Gottman, I will provide a brief description…

John Gottman has over 40 years of relationship research under his belt and is world renown for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction. He was most recently listed as one of the top 10 most influential therapists of the past quarter century, and has published 190 academic articles and has authored or co-authored 40 books. John Gottman PhD co-founded The Gottman Institute, with his wife Julie Schwartz Gottman PhD in a desire to share their research and clinical expertise in marital therapy. Julie Schwartz Gottman was named Washington State Psychologist of the year and is widely recognized for her work with distressed couples, abuse and trauma survivors and substance abusers along with their partners… So as you can see, their collective resume is impressive and incredibly humbling for us neophytes in the field of psychotherapy!

Coming back to my experience last week; sitting two rows from the front, where John and Julie were providing case consultation on real life cases one after the next, modeling their interventions and techniques with precision and a confident humility, the title for this blog post came to me.

There I sat surrounded by clinicians far more experienced than I, finding myself feeling rather small and inadequate. I sent a quick text to my girlfriend sharing this, and she responded with something along the lines of “just keep swimming”, a favorite line of mine from the movie “Finding Nemo”. I quickly decided that this line would be my motto for the entirely of the workshop and jumped back in, fully engaged and ready to soak up everything I could.

Little fish, Big pond. Just keep Swimming.

I have a dear friend who is embarking on a journey to community college to complete her associates degree, and my hat goes off to her for her diligence and stamina as she has been through a lot…. Scaling obstacles and fighting battles have become her specialty! While talking with her the other day, I heard her lamenting some of the same feelings and doubts that I had felt while at my Gottman conference…. “What am I doing here?” “How did I even get here?” “What if I fail?” “Is this really the right thing for me to do?” I heard myself respond to her saying, “We all have to start somewhere, and you are right where you’re supposed to be, just trust that.” Followed by some other familiar line like…

Little Fish. Big Pond. Just keep Swimming.

We’ve all heard the phrase “sink or swim”, and perhaps some of us feel more versed in this life experience than others, but as I thought more about this concept of swimming as a small fish in a large pond, I realized that this is where the weak get separated out from the strong… Sometimes we have to give it all we have simply to keep our head above water and we fear that we won’t be able to do it for much longer, but here is where will power and sheer determination come into play. One day we realize that our neck and shoulders have come out of the water and there is a tad bit less effort involved… and perhaps a little later we find ourselves actually wading through the water, possibly even enjoying the feel of the sand beneath our feet. A confident humility in knowing the effort it took to get there and strength it took to keep going.

We all have moments where we feel insignificant, lost and or out of sorts… We all have seasons where we are humbled and reminded that there is a whole world of knowledge yet to learn, and life yet to live… It’s what we choose to do with these moments and these seasons, how we choose to react that sets us apart. Do we quit swimming and start sinking? Or do we fight for dear life and kick like hell!

We are all just fish learning how to swim.