Navigating change. . . without completely losing yourself in the process

“The process of metamorphosis is scary and sometimes painful, but it is also the way to experience wonderful new adventures we weren’t even able to imagine in our “caterpillar” identities. Accept the process: care for yourself, dream big, work hard, and keep learning. Then don’t be surprised when one morning, you wake up to find that you have wings.” ~Martha Beck

C-H-A-N-G-E.

The dreaded “C” word.

Some embrace it.

Others, not so much.

The rest of us? I’m guessing we fall somewhere in between.

If you haven’t experienced a major life change yet, hang on, because–you will. It’s inevitable. Change is a part of life that we can’t skip over, no matter how hard we might want to. Maybe it’s a career change,  a new marriage, or a divorce. Maybe you just had your first child or grandchild. Maybe your baby is about to start kindergarten or they are leaving the nest for the first time. Maybe you are facing a sudden illness or injury or maybe you are facing the loss of someone you love. Maybe it’s something entirely different. Whatever you’ve experienced, change, whether it’s a welcome one or not, can be quite scary, messy, and difficult to navigate. (It can be joyful and beautiful too, but that’s a story for another day.) You would think that after living for a certain number of years on this planet we’d get the hang of it, right? But, we mostly don’t. At least in my experience anyway! Change is H-A-R-D and there is no getting around it, you can only go through. Unfortunately, there is no play-by-play manual that shows us the way, mainly because every change and every human are different. There’s no one size fits all model for being human and/or surviving change.

Last year, at the age of 47, I dove headfirst into a mid-life career change when I moved from working as a director of a nonprofit agency advocating for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, to working as a high school teacher. (Yeah, you heard that right.) This change came on top of a few other big life changes like finishing grad school and becoming a first-time grandparent for starters.  The career change was positive, one that I sought after and welcomed. I knew my transition would be a rough one but because I was well-versed on how to deal with change (in fact, previously, I had taught others about navigating life change) and how to take care of myself in the process, I wasn’t super worried the transition. In retrospect, the fact that I wasn’t super worried should have been my first clue that shit was about to hit the fan, but in the stress and angst of my change, I totally lost sight of my path. I couldn’t manage my anxiety like usual and I could feel depression aching to grab hold. A very long story short, I seriously thought I was L-O-S-I-N-G my shit for good. And I was a little freaky about it all. Prolonged stress had hijacked my brain and I was pretty sure I was on the fast track to derailing. My body finally shut me down (as in I had to take a sick day) before I began to get a clue what I was really dealing with.

The stress I was under due to the changes I was in the midst of, had taken a serious toll on my body, mind, and spirit. One that has taken months to recover from. It got so bad that about midway through the school year I actually thought there was something physically wrong with me (like I had a serious disease or something) yet, in actuality, it was my body sending a giant SOS signal to slow the heck down and figure my shit out. It took a few months and a lot of patience, but eventually, things began to get better. Now, several months later, I’ve gotten somewhat of a grip and I thought I’d share what I did to survive my mid-life crisis, although if I am being honest, I probably didn’t do any of this consciously at first as I’m pretty sure some innate, well-trained survival forces kicked in to keep me going. There is no particular order to what I have written as for me as these steps all kind of blended into one ginormous mess of a process. If you are struggling with changes, I hope you’ll find some value in my words. Take what you need now, and come back later if you need the rest.

  1. Recognize the grief that accompanies change. Sounds weird, right? Why would there be grief attached to a change that I chose and welcomed? Well, often times we forget that every time we have a life change, we lose something. Change equals loss. Plain and simple. You can’t have one without the other. It’s quite obvious to see the loss and experience the accompanying grief when there is a loss of life, or job loss, or major illness, etc. but it’s not so obvious when the change is a positive one. For me, (nutshell version here) the loss of the comfortability in my previous job led to a loss of self-confidence in my new position, which eventually gave way to a total loss of my sense of self which created room for some pretty intense self-loathing. The stress of the unrecognized grief was tremendous. It was devastating to me for a while there until I figured out that I need to make space to honor what I lost when switched careers. By making space for my grief, I was able to open the door to celebrate all the new and wonderful people and things that my new career had to offer.
  2. PRACTICE GRATITUDE! Yes, those words deserve all caps and bold. I cannot stress this enough. Practicing gratitude has saved me from myself and has lifted me from the depths of some pretty unrelenting grief in my life. It truly is difficult to feel sorry for yourself if you begin to look at your circumstances in a different light. Apparently, through the angst of my career change, I’d abandoned the practice. When I resumed and began making a conscious effort to be grateful, even when I absolutely wasn’t feeling it, my outlook began to change and my mood began to shift to a more positive one. My self-esteem started to improve and my mental strength began to increase. Practicing gratitude had ignited the process of getting over myself (for the umpteenth time in my life) and that paved the way for a clearer path for me to keep moving forward. (For more on the life changing power of practicing gratitude, start here with this short read, 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round )
  3. Manage stress. Well, let’s just say this is a mighty, big topic, one that I will barely, and I mean, barely, scratch the surface on here. For starters, I’ll offer this. Did you know that we are not made to handle long-term stress? I repeat, we are NOT created to handle long term stress. Ever heard of the flight, fight, or freeze response? Well, in short, when we are stressed, the part of our brain designed to keep us safe from a potentially dangerous situation (our amygdala) is activated. When that happens, the part of our brain that we need to think critically, to process, to learn, and grow, etc. (our prefrontal cortex) shuts down, which makes things difficult because we need our pre-frontal cortexes to help us think through our current dilemma. Our fight, flight, or freeze process was designed as a short-term stress response to keep us safe. Prolonged stress damages our brain. (Science backs this up. Google it or message me for some research.) Because I was under a period of prolonged stress my brain wasn’t functioning as it should. It took me figuring some stuff out (at a much slower rate than normal) and then beginning to tackle some of my stress before my brain finally started to calm down. Finally, with some stress subsiding, I was able to start thinking more clearly, which made moving forward much easier. fofbraindiagSide note: It is important to remember that we all deal with stress in our own way. Nobody can tell you exactly what you need to do because we are all different. Regardless, do your homework on stress management and then learn to manage yours! For real. Get to the core of what’s causing your stress and figure out what you need to do to keep yourself healthy–body, mind, and spirit. BE HONEST with yourself. Retail therapy, alcohol, food, drugs, or the oft-touted hot bubble bath with a glass of wine, are only band-aids and band-aids are only temporary.  They stop the bleeding but don’t heal the wound. Does that make sense? (Go here for more information on what stress does to your brain. You’ll be shocked.)
  4. Find a mentor or a friend. REACH OUT! We have been conditioned in this society to believe that we can go it alone when times get tough, you know,  the ridiculous bootstrap mentality, (which I totally call bullshit on by the way.) We try to figure it out on our own because we don’t want to appear weak, or unintelligent, or unprepared. Or maybe we don’t feel comfortable burdening others with problems that we think that we should be able to handle on our own. Well, guess what? We are not made to go it alone. We need other people. Let me say it again. We need other people. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. (Thanks to the coworker that reminded me of that when I was struggling.) When I finally began to figure out what was going on with me, I mustered up what courage I had left and spilled it all to some of my new coworkers. I cannot tell you how good it felt to be supported and to hear the words “me too” come from some of them. There is so much restorative power in learning that you aren’t alone in your struggles. A good friend or mentor will listen without judging and be there to walk alongside you as you figure things out. (For more on the value of mentoring, check out this article. Eight Qualities of a Great Teacher Mentor.  Even though this is an education themed article, the qualities apply to all.)
  5. Authentic reflection. Equally as powerful in my book as practicing gratitude, is practicing authentic reflection. When you are honest with yourself about how things are really going, you can begin to lay the groundwork for dealing with whatever you need to deal with. What is going well? What isn’t? And most importantly, why? By taking the time to critically think about a situation or event, you can begin to see what you can do differently to navigate better. For the record, authentic reflection is not an easy task. In fact, often times, at least in my case, it sucks and is hard because for reflection to be effective, you need to be brutally honest with yourself and maybe face parts of you that you don’t really want to. (Or you might have to take ownership of your role in something instead of blaming others or something similar. Anyways, you get my drift.) On the flip side of that ugly stuff though, you might actually discover some awesome pieces to the puzzle that you hadn’t noticed before or maybe you’ll discover something pretty cool about yourself! Regardless of where your reflections bring you, remember that for reflection to be truly meaningful, for you to learn and grow, you must be willing to take action with what you discover–good, bad, or otherwise. (My actions over the past months were the steps above. You don’t have to change the world with your actions, just yourself. Not always easy, but always worth it.)change4.jpg

It’s funny. Even after writing all of this, I feel like it’s just the beginning of the story. I’m still reflecting on all of this, even a couple months after scribbling this all down for the first time.  No doubt I’ll be writing more in the future. For now, though, this is what I have for you and I’ll leave you with this. . . Remember that change, whether it’s welcomed or not, is often hard, and messy, and scary, but you will get through it. And maybe, just maybe, if you look for it, you’ll find some joy and beauty along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Facing fears and finding me…

The past few days I have spent some time reflecting on my weight-loss/health/fitness journey. And while reflecting on this journey is something I tend to do regularly, I have been extra reflective as I get ready to write down my 2016 goals. Adding to that, a good friend recently asked me for some weight-loss tips the other day which really got me thinking. . .

This was the very first honest post I wrote about my weight and my struggles. I wrote it on January 23, 2012 and I remember this night vividly. We had just returned home from Iowa after sending our youngest off to Oman to study abroad. I had looked at the going away pictures. I remember consciously trying to stand in a way that would make me look not as large as I was when we were taking the pics. Those pics were my tipping point. My surrender. Later that night I sat down to write this after I ordered my scale. Again, thank God for Amazon one-click or I may have chickened out. I am also not sure where I found the courage to hit the publish button that night. . . but I did. Facing your fears and owning your story, is the most empowering and freeing thing I have ever done in my life. Happy New Year. May you find yourself and be free.

Hangin' by a Thread



Part of truly being yourself is owning your story. Today, I’m owning a pretty big part of mine…


I did something today that absolutely T-E-R-R-I-F-I-E-D me, something I have avoided- successfully or not, depending upon how you look at it- for years. My heart is still pounding a bit, but thanks to one-click shopping at Amazon.com I didn’t have time to stop and think before I tossed it into my virtual cart. Boom, it was done. No going back. I had to face this once and for all.

Anti-climactic, I know, but the big, scary thing I did was order a digital scale, something I haven’t owned for years. For many people, hopping on the scale is not a big deal, but, as a person that has battled an eating disorder for a good share of my 40 plus years, the thought of owning and stepping on a scale is…

View original post 750 more words

For those times that you think you suck at life. . .

FullSizeRender (6)
Me, after a morning meltdown that resulted in me stating that I suck at life. I got over myself pretty quickly and made it to the office–grateful and happy. After all life it too short to be anything else. Right?

This morning, I sucked at life, or at least I thought I did. Thankfully, it was a temporary suckfest that all started when I didn’t follow through with my original morning plan.

I told my husband the night before that I HAD to get up when he did. HAD TO. I wanted to get my run in for the day before the sweltering heat returned. I told him no matter what I said to him in the morning that he should make sure that I get out of bed. He should not listen to any excuses that I may offer on why I am not ready to get out of bed. (And for the record, I am fully aware that it is nobody else’s responsibility but my own, to get out of bed. But that’s beside the point, right?)

Well, the time to arise came and went. When he finally reminded me that I said I was getting up with him so I could run and that the time had definitely passed, I told him that I was going to run later and that I already knew I was going to be sorry that I wasn’t up yet because the heat was going to suck. He replied, “Well, as long as you know.” (Perfect answer, honey, perfect answer.) 

I reset my alarm. A full hour and a half and three snooze button hits later, I rolled out of bed. I had already decided it was going to be a “bun” day for my hair so I wouldn’t need much time to get ready, which was good, because the three snooze hits had really set me back. Then the suck began to snowball. . .

The bun didn’t work. What I had planned to wear didn’t work either. I poured too much milk in my coffee, and I had already started the defeatist self-talk that went a little something like this. . .

“Why didn’t you get out of bed and run? You are lazy. What is wrong with you?”

Which progressed to . . .

“That shirt looks terrible on you and shows your rolls. Yuck, start working harder on your weight loss!”

And kept going. . .

“Why do you have a closet full of clothes that make you look terrible? You supposedly had that all figured out. You need to get better organized.”

And so it went. Two pairs of pants, two hair-dos, six shirts, and three pairs of shoes later I was finally ready to head out the door, a full half-hour later than I needed to be. At least I was dressed and out the door, right?

At some point during the fiasco of the morning, I stopped the madness to check the time, which at that time should have been the time that I was leaving work but I was not yet dressed nor did I have hair that was anywhere near work ready. It was at that point that I said, “WTF, YOU SUCK AT LIFE!” And at the time, I believed it. Dramatic, I know. Ridiculous, yep. Nonetheless, I had went there and it really hadn’t taken that long, after all, I’d only been out of bed for a short time. Suck sure multiplies quickly if you let it.

I sat in that yuck for a minute or two and then took a breath and began to shake it off. I thought for a minute about the struggles that I had this morning and realized pretty quickly that it was no surprise that I had ended up in a mini mental suckfest. Life has been a little bit more intense than normal for me the last couple of weeks. This morning’s meltdown was simply the by-product.

For starters, there have been some big personal and professional happenings in my life, all good thankfully, but these goings on have zapped my energy. All of that has added stress to the usual amount of life stress. The added stress has taken a toll on me mentally. To add to all of that is the constant ebb and flow of grief in my life, which right now, of course, is flowing like a raging river. To top it off, I am trying really hard to cut excess sugar from my diet and to actually follow a running training plan, both of which are new for me. After reflecting, I realized pretty quickly that I did not suck at life (which I knew) but I was simply having a tough morning, which was the result of a few tough weeks. I took a deep breath and focused on the things I was grateful for (at the moment I was grateful that I had a closet full of clothes that fit me so I had options during my meltdown) and extended myself some grace for my shortcomings.

By the time I finally got my butt out the door, my mind was racing. I am a physically, mentally (although not this morning, obviously), and spiritually healthy person with an amazing support system and a stable life. My life is really good and yet I STILL struggle sometimes. Soon, my thoughts wandered to those times in my life that I have not been in a good place. A morning like this could well have triggered some really yucky emotional stuff that could have quickly spiraled out of control. Then, I thought about all of the people that struggle with this every day that are maybe not in a good place. What do they do when they can’t escape the suckiness?

I kept thinking about it while on my commute and soon realized that no matter where you are or what you have going on in your life, there is always a way out of the suck-fest.  I promise you that if you mindfully practice the following, you may begin to see the light at the end of the suck.

To begin with, BREATHE. Yes, BREATHE.  Close your eyes, inhale deeply, hold it in, then exhale forcefully. Repeat this. Again, and again and again.  Then repeat some more. Eventually you will begin to feel calmer. When you are calm, you can think more clearly which creates space for reflection. Besides, breath is a life-giving force, literally. Use it your advantage.

Next, with your newfound clarity, take a moment to REFLECT. Why are you thinking the way that you are? Any changes in your life recently? What is your stress level? Have you been practicing self-care? By taking the time to reflect on the happenings in your life, you should be able to figure out why you are feeling the way you are right now. Be honest with yourself and you will be able to gain some clarity.

After that, take a hardcore GRATITUDE check. The absolute quickest way to get yourself out of a funk is to make a list of all the things in your life that you have to be grateful for. Gratitude is the antidote to self-pity and every single one of us has something to be grateful for. If you can’t think of anything to put on your list, start with this. . . be thankful you have the ability to read this, that you have access to the internet, and that you are breathing.

Lastly, learn the meaning of the word GRACE. Life is hard, so hard sometimes! Most of us though, are doing the best we can with what we have been given. We can’t always choose what happens to us in life but we can choose how we respond to what does. Start by choosing to go easy on yourself. We are all human and we all struggle. Practice showing grace to yourself first and then learn to extend it to others. Eventually, you will find that grace is pretty amazing.

If all else fails, B-R-E-A-T-H-E again and remember that this day is only 24 hours long. You can get through it. For the next few hours, give yourself to permission to sit in your suck and then vow to begin the next day with a fresh perspective. Breathe in the good and breathe out the suck. Sleep it off, and the next day, start anew. Life is just too short and amazing to let it be otherwise.