simply … pausing
“Let me wash the dishes,” my husband said over my shoulder yesterday morning.
“Naw,” I replied, continuing to scrub. “This is zen washing.”
“You need a sign,” he told me as he left the kitchen.
I contemplated that as I kept scrubbing. Do I really need a sign? I wondered. I feel like the distinction between my two types of washing is pretty obvious.
There’s the zen kind that’s pretty sweet. I could zen wash dishes for hours.
Then there’s the other kind of dishwashing. The why-can’t-one-gorram-thing-in-my-life-be-tidy-and-neat-and-go-even-halfway-as-planned?! washing. The go-ahead-and-take-over-while-I-stomp-around-the-neighborhood kind of washing.
I gave up coffee five weeks ago. I’d already been eating clean for most of a month.
I thought that would magically cure everything for me: I’d get a few weeks out and all my anxiety would magically dissipate. (Or is that–go down the drain?) Eating clean for a week or two usually has me feeling like a new woman, but this time it didn’t nearly. I figured the badness had to be in the coffee … right?
Strangely, I found myself more anxious without coffee. From my heightened anxiety, I discovered that I’d been using coffee to mask how very, very weary I otherwise felt.
I read the book Caffeine Blues as I contemplated stealing others’ mugs of coffee. I decided giving up coffee was right for me, even if it felt crummy short term.
I started reading Is It Me or My Adrenals? Normally the title alone would’ve had me cringing, but I needed anxiety relief and I needed it stat.
I was almost immediately soothed by trying some of the relaxation exercises it offered.
Rubbing my temples to relieve stress a few days after finishing Is It Me?, I wondered: Am I activating my parasympathetic nervous system by doing this? That’s what Rick Hanson is always writing about, right?
What I was doing by taking minutes out to relax was physiologically putting the brakes on my stress. As I wrote my sisters in the shortest form possible, hoping to increase the chances they’d read the article I linked:
Long story short, we are supposed to spend most of our lives with our parasympathetic–calming– nervous systems engaged, with stressors only briefly activating our sympathetic–panic–nervous systems. Life these days involves constant activation of the sympathetic nervous system, at great cost to short and long term well being. The more you can do to consciously, repeatedly activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the healthier and happier you will be over the long haul. This is more than just a moment’s distraction; it’s a cumulative investment in you.
Someone (whom I adore!) wrote a few days ago that I’d seemed to be missing something within myself the last few weeks.
I thanked her for her comment, which got me thinking–over dirty dishes, natch–about why that wasn’t right. I dried my hands of dishwater, drew up some stick figures, and replied with a comment that concluded, “What you’ve witnessed has been byproduct of healing, not itself the problem or a sign thereof. :)”
The last few weeks have been painful, but they’ve been a good kind of painful. They’ve been the kind of painful involving looking at scary things and discovering they’re not so scary, instead of always running away from them–always being exhausted by the neverending run–for fear the scary things are even half as awful as I imagine.
I’ve seen that, though I escaped post partum depression, I didn’t truly escape. I was still caught up in the idea that my key role in my home was to bring home the bacon. It wasn’t important how I felt, or if I felt anything at all, or if I had anything to give myself, just that I kept going … and going … and going … ensuring a roof over my boys’ heads and food on the table. Like my mom before me, I took very seriously my obligation to provide come hell or high water, and took as natural that life wasn’t meant to actually feel good.
I looked for silver linings instead of trying to find my way back to silver, lost to how deeply I’d fallen into deep, virtually relentless gray.
(Not that you could tell it from the outside. As a mom, it’s my job to be up even when I’m not up … isn’t it?)
I fell into a pit.
I thought I’d found my way out, because here is lighter and breezier than the where-I’d-been-before.
I heard people murmuring somewhere above and around me, but didn’t bother shouting for them. Why would I? My burdens–past and present, physical and psychological–were mine and mine alone. If I asked for help, wouldn’t that be failure? Wouldn’t that mean I, alone, was not enough?
Instead of climbing out and escaping them, I simply braced myself against the pebbles dislodged by my plowing. I did so by fashioning and wearing a hardhat of (coffee,) rocks, mud, and twigs, and kept tunneling forward instead of climbing up …
until I paused.
Two weeks ago, I did not believe I could find glimmers of peace by doing four or five minutes of calming exercises twice a day. Even as I began the exercises, I scoffed at the idea massaging my earlobes for a couple of minutes here and there could really do much of anything against a monster so daunting as Incessant Anxiety.
It did. It equipped me to face that anxiety, and in so doing, recognize and begin to defeat fears and worries I’d never recognized were even there.
I decided I don’t like always running around. I don’t accept that life should be about constantly achieving something more, new, faster.
I decided I’m OK as I am. I’m worth more than the bills I pay.
I decided I’d rather stand clear of landslides than wear a hardhat against them.
A few months ago, I wrote that you are worth protecting. In facing the scariest of my what-was and what-is have I come to this conclusion:
I, too, am worth protecting–in heart, word, and action–as much as anyone (else) I love.
And I reached this conclusion, strangely enough, by first simply …