I keep looking at this pic of Joshua and I at a black tie wedding last month. I look totally normal. And we had such a blast that night! But there was so much going on below the surface that you couldn't see. Over the last year I have been:
Having debilitating anxiety and panic attacks
Struggling to connect and feel vulnerable in existing and new relationships
Feeling lost at work and like I have no idea what I'm doing
Feeling lost personally and like I have no idea who I am
I spent so much time and effort trying to control and avoid the things that were triggering my anxiety that 45 days ago, I finally realized I couldn't keep going that way. I hit rock bottom. At first, it felt like weakness to admit I was feeling that way, or to even have anxiety in the first place. But now I'm absolutely sure that it's the definition of courage to be open to confronting our past trauma, the root of our fear, or whatever it is that is holding us back. Not to ignore it like I did for so long, not to yell at it - but to sit with it calmly in the darkness and ask: "What are you here to teach me?"
In this conversation between Oprah and Gary Zukav, he describes our soul as a fleet of ships. Our purpose is to follow the mothership, which guides the path of our soul, in order to fulfill our life's purpose. Over the last year, I've gone through a raging storm. Many circumstances in my life right now are bleak, and I'm facing some very real challenges and problems that I need to solve. And in that storm, I lost my true north. I let doubt creep in. I didn't just wonder if I was going the right direction, I started to question: "Am I even in the right boat?"
Forty-five days later, most of my circumstances look exactly the same, but I feel so peaceful. I am excited about life again. I know that I am in the right boat and going the right direction (bad circumstances and all - those things don't happen in spite of your journey, they are an integral part of it). I'm steering this little boat, so I can choose to get back on course, and leave the path of the storm (I just needed to find my way out). I have absolute hope and confidence about the future, because I have faith we, as a fleet, are going somewhere great again.
Which is a lot of blah-blah fluffy stuff so here's what these past 45 days really looked like. Here's how I turned my life around in a month and a half:
Admitted I needed help - This is not just something people say, you really have to admit it first. I thought ignoring anxiety would make it better, that I could outsmart it, that I could trick my brain into just letting me do whatever I wanted to do. Nope. Doesn't work that way. I was thinking "I don't have time for these issues right now with all these bad circumstances," but later I realized that those circumstances were actually because I haven't been paying enough time and attention to the issues in the first place. I had to stop focusing on the triggers and get really brave about confronting the ugly stuff underneath.
Appointed a leader - I couldn't steer my own boat anymore, I needed a shipmate to take the wheel for a bit. So my next step was entering into a relationship with a therapist to help guide my progress and hold me accountable. This could also be a friend, mentor or pastor.
Spent copious, selfish amounts of time on getting well - Trust me when I say I couldn't afford to take this time financially or schedule-wise, but I also couldn't afford not to. I let myself get to rock bottom so I didn't have any other choice. Setting up time in your schedule before that happens is certainly ideal and and more manageable. Copious, selfish amounts of time looked like 4-6 hours a day for me (I was barely functioning anyway so I was either going to use that time to sulk, or use it to get better), but for you copious, selfish amounts of time may be 15 minutes a day.
Unplugged - I was very intentional with all that time: No personal use of social media. Skipped many social functions. Took many days off of work. Stopped watching TV. In essence, I deliberately (and at times painfully) stepped away from "numbing" behaviors - which for me are being busy and working, but also things like watching television. In place of those activities, I spent time doing yoga (often 2 classes per day), praying, connecting with friends one-on-one, talk therapy, praise and worship, reading, and listening to inspirational podcasts.
Found the source - It took all of these activities for a solid month before I found the really gritty nuggets. Things buried so deep just saying them out loud for the first time was terrifying. Think of it like deep cleaning your house or fixing a car - sometimes you gotta really get in there with some elbow grease.
I've heard lots of messages that I really needed to hear in these last 45 days, and I've got pages and pages of note-taking and journaling as a result. (Writing things out was an especially helpful part of the journey that I would recommend as well.) The thing I really needed to hear most for my situation though? It came from Oprah: people often say they don't know out what their purpose or calling is, but they already know. They know deep down. It's already in there. They are just too scared to admit it because it's not going how they want it to go right now. That was the "hit upside the head" moment I needed. My true north has been there the whole time. I just needed to find it again.
- This book by Brene Brown. Helpful in sorting through the pain and numbing behaviors and really figuring out the root of it and what you're running from.
- This book about trauma. If you've ever felt unable to control emotions from past hurts and trauma. Turns out science supports this. Trauma changes our physical brain, and just like any physical injuries that might need a splint or cast for, therapies like EMDR can help your brain hit reset so you can finally move on.
- Oprah's SuperSoul podcast. Inspiring, riveting first-hand experiences of other people's journeys and how they navigate the same waters.
- This poem, Ithaka. Which reminds me a bit of The Alchemist. For when lyrical, poetic inspiration about forging ahead on our life's journey hits the spot.
- This book, The Seat of The Soul. It just came in the mail and I haven't read yet so I'm cheating a little here, but it's the source of the ship metaphor, and a bestseller for 25 years.
- Whatever books and materials you need for YOU and your specific journey. Learning more about yourself and interpreting what makes you tick, is what empowers us to be able to relate and connect with those around us. I found the book Quiet to be especially helpful in understanding being an introvert. Dodging Energy Vampires was my introduction and ah-ha moment of being an empath. And Ted Talks like Growing Up Gifted made the connection between what seemed like arbitrary classes I took as a kid, with real ways it affects my life today.
The light within me honors the light within every one of you. I hope you found some inspiration here today for your journey!