My post today is coming from my heart, my experiences and the stories others have shared in the past few days. It feels like both a public service announcement and a middle of the night phone call.
We are collectively swimming in a murky, choppy sea of events and emotions…..and we have been for nearly a year. Just when we think things will calm down enough for us to recoup, the sea becomes a tempest.
When we are already weary and stretched thin, our emotions get amplified and they multiply like rabbits.
My lifelong friend and I have been keeping each other afloat through this past year with one goal in mind — to be at our best so that we could help others navigate unprecedented times. Over the past few months, we have seen and heard just how exhausted and untethered our friends and family have been feeling. It is especially hard to handle normal life events in the throes of a pandemic and the country’s divisiveness.
When I was in my 30’s and 40’s, raising children, working full time, juggling all that life was throwing at me I used to describe that chaotic wild feeling like being in a canoe, trying to go upstream without a paddle. That image comes to me often when I am in conversation with friends and family right now.
Yesterday as I crawled out of bed, I found myself feeling like a balloon whose knot had just been undone — flying all about the room in a haphazard pattern and ultimately flat….deflated. I acknowledged that it was many emotions that I was feeling both for myself and others swirling in my head and heart. I have learned over these past five years that it is much more beneficial to acknowledge these emotions and to be with them than to dismiss them.
My “go to” remedies are hot tea and meditation. I did the meditation first. It was just as I expected — my thoughts were just like that balloon, flitting in and out, all demanding my focus. Clearly, this day was calling for something stronger — so, a double shot of meditation it was. I did drink the hot tea first — calming chamomile. The second meditation was better, much better. My first meditation was done while the intensity of my emotional swirl was strong. The tea break, the pauses I took….they were helpful in dialing back the intensity so I could take stock of all those emotions.
As the day unfolded, I was blessed with the opportunity to have deep, candid conversations with friends. It was not at all surprising to find that most of us were feeling “a little off”. What was surprising was to discover that a lot of old emotional baggage was beginning to surface — sometimes in the form of PTSD, sometimes in the form of now humorous memories.
While I think of myself as someone who has already peeled off a zillion layers of old emotional baggage and able to keep myself from “reacting” to triggers, it was a friend confiding about the events on the Capitol triggering PTSD for her that touched a similar nerve in me. I too had been feeling PTSD. Both of us sharing that with each other, in that moment when it was feeling so present — was cathartic — both a release of all those bottled up strong emotions and a comfort in knowing we were not alone.
For a brief moment, I thought how lucky we were to be able to “hold each other” in that present moment, safe from the eyes and judgment of the rest of the world, with a sense that it was just the two of us with such a secret. Later, upon deeper reflection, I became acutely aware that there are countless people who also are struggling with PTSD at this very moment — for reasons and experiences that are as innumerous as the individuals themselves. I am sharing this story for a compelling reason — someone you know may also be feeling PTSD. Be that safe place for them if you can.
My trust buddy and I have a lot of friends and family members right now who are dealing with serious life circumstances. A child in the hospital again for her rare disease, the sudden passing of of a loved one, an aging parent needing round the clock care, and COVID diagnoses affecting entire families. My neighbors could not be with their children for over three weeks and they missed spending Christmas together due to their own COVID experiences. Children fear that they may lose their parents or grandparents. My motivation for sharing these insights is to serve as a reminder that hard times continue to unfold every day. But they are even harder now. Be a helper, as Mr. Rogers would urge us to do. A small random act of kindness will be most appreciated. One of my lifelong favorite quotes is:
In the early evening, I was having a much needed decompressing conversation with my dear friend. She was reflecting on some old memories from her first job that sparked spontaneous laughter. (Note to self, laughter is good for the soul.) Her stories prompted me to share some of my own. Both of us were giddy with the incredulous antics of grown people. And then it dawned on us — that the common thread in our hilarious old memories was a lack of self control. We were pretty sure even the characters in our stories would have to agree that they acted without thinking and the results were anything but funny in that moment. What is now funny to my friend in her 60’s had her in near tears in her early twenties. These anecdotes shed a little light on the consequences to others when we act on impulse or react to intense emotions. A little self control will go along way in keeping the peace and our own integrity intact.
Just before I fell asleep last night, I was reflecting on the good role models I have had in my life. I often looked outside of my immediate family because of unstable, unhealthy dysfunction. Our childhood experiences often shape and guide us as we make our way into the world. I share this insight to raise awareness that our actions do speak louder than words. Our children are watching us. They are watching us in their own family dynamics and they are looking out on the rest of us too. Reflect upon the mentors you have had in your life. What attributes did they posses that inspired you to do your best, reach your potential and make wise choices? I remember this quote hanging on the door of one of my most cherished childhood mentors:
I have had countless conversations with people who are in struggle — and they did not bring the extra loads of stress and fear on themselves. They are experiencing the collateral damage that comes from the fallout of a world spinning out of control over this past year due to a series of unprecedented events. We could use some fortification. When you take stock of how you are feeling and reacting, it offers clues to what others are also experiencing. We need to help each other, now more than ever. Brew some tea and listen to James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend if you need a little jumpstart.