Home > Family, Health, Parenting > simply … pausing

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?

I googled “activating your parasympathetic nervous system” and confirmed my hunch, incidentally via a PDF written by … Rick Hanson, author of one of my favorite books.

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.

ppd sf top

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?

ppd sf bottom

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 …


  1. April 10, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    Heartfelt hugs and oceans of caring.
    And loud cheers. You are a LOT further down the path to wellness than I am. And inspirational.

    • April 11, 2016 at 5:45 am

      Thank you. Where am now would have been inconceivable to me where I was only a month and a half ago. I’m curious and excited to see where the next month and a half, and six months, and two years will take me! Best wishes to you in your pursuit of wellness. ♥

  2. April 10, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    Your words dropped all the way down into my hole in the ground. Thank you.

  3. April 10, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    I admire that you have taken charge of your health in such a positive way. Self love and self care are essential to our health.

    • April 11, 2016 at 5:49 am

      Agreed! A couple of years ago, I started getting the idea that positive change mostly had to come from positive inspiration–not from hatefulness or discontent toward whatever wasn’t working or didn’t feel right as was. I got the idea then, but I sure didn’t get that close to applying it!

      • April 11, 2016 at 6:10 am

        I think having insight is a huge step. Practicing and perfecting the application make take a lifetime but it will be a better life…in my opinion.

  4. April 10, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    Oh woman who constantly reads my mind, holds my heart, and hears my cries. This ‘post’ hits home for me. (In which I say over your coffee free lifestyle while we sip imaginary fruity drinks with umbrellas on top…that home just doesn’t feel like home but I know I’ll get back to that place and time, in time.)
    Your illustrations were spot on, and I am right there at the bottom. Thank you for this post, the posts within it-I’ve read them several times over. Keep being you. You are brilliant and loving, and I hope you really do take the time to see that I ‘follow’ you because of that.💜

    • April 12, 2016 at 3:39 pm

      This is what I meant when I thanked you for your comment. Sometimes I get caught looking at something one way, and I just hit the same wall over and over and over again until something jars me into trying from around the corner. This post–bumbling around my brain–finally came to fruition due to the little clicks into place from reflecting on your words. Thank you for that (and being so honest and articulate in ways that so greatly ease loneliness).

      As always, the writing itself is a release … and the words in response to the writing another beautiful relief on top of that. ♥

  5. April 10, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    It totally makes sense if you stop and think about it but how many of us take the time to pause? I really hope you continue to feel more positive (even without coffee).

    • April 12, 2016 at 3:43 pm

      Thank you! Actually, the day I wrote my last big coffee post (“Coffee and history,” I think) was the big turning point for me. Since then, I haven’t given much thought to coffee, apart from in reflection about how everything’s happened as it has. I still give Anthony’s coffee grounds a good whiff here and there, but have no desire whatsoever to actually drink coffee. Yay!

  6. April 10, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    This post could not have come at a better time for me. I have been struggling with depression for years and though I feel fine now I have had constant anxiety for the past few weeks. It’s driving me crazy and I finally found the courage to seek help. Though the road to recovery scares the hell out of me I need to take the step.
    Love how you are overcoming.

    • April 12, 2016 at 3:56 pm

      I don’t know what caused my anxiety to spike, but the last couple of weeks have made clear that it was a slow, steady build, not really a spike out of the blue. (I’ve drawn another stick figure illustration for that in my brain, but it’ll be a little while before I draw it with my hand!)

      In a way, I’m glad for that. It’s easy to ignore a subtle sense of wrongness. Sometimes it takes EVERYTHING FEELING WRONG (caps required) to realize things are amiss and begin fixing them. I’m pretty astonished by how much good change can happen in the course of a few short weeks, with a commitment to really, really revving down at least a couple of times a day.

      Also, there was one seemingly small, recurrent, new-to-my-life thing that did really help push the needle up to a point where I couldn’t ignore that something bigger was wrong. A couple weeks ago, exposure to that small thing sent me into a tailspin. Now, a couple weeks later, I’m able to reflect on it peacefully and move along. There are still those moments of anxiety, but I recognize them quickly and send them on their way.

      I wish you well in your sending anxiety packing! Life is so much better without that sense that something is always just about to go horribly wrong.

      • April 12, 2016 at 4:14 pm

        I’m glad you’ve found some peace in the darkness that anxiety is. I hope I can find some and soon. I’m pretty sure I know where it stems from. I don’t know how much I can do about it. But I am committed to talking to my therapist about it and our first one on one session is tomorrow night.
        Thank you for the positive vibes. I’m looking forward to reading more about you.

  7. April 11, 2016 at 7:26 am

    I have no doubt n my mind that you will find your way out Deborah.

    • April 15, 2016 at 4:59 am

      I’m occasionally frustrated that it’s not just a matter of magically teleporting out, but then … I’m heartened to see what good progress I’ve made with a few weeks of effort. That’s inspiration to keep going for sure. Thank you!

  8. April 11, 2016 at 7:54 am

    So interesting, I feel like I’m going thru a similar thing. I actually just contemplated giving up coffee as well. I definitely cut down over the last 2 days but not completely cut out. Anxiety has been going on here too. So thanks for your post!! 🙂

    • April 15, 2016 at 5:01 am

      The more I’ve read (and the more I felt physically my withdrawal from caffeine!), the more I see the merit in slowly decreasing coffee consumption instead of going cold turkey. If I didn’t have a history of saying “I’ll only have a half-cup daily” and then immediately upping that amount, I’d just go along nursing that half-cup daily … and be far better off than with 2-3 cups a day!

      • April 15, 2016 at 5:14 am

        I switched to tea for now. I just was drinking so much coffee that I slowly took it out throughout this week. I’m just checking to see how my body feels without it. If I could drink one cup a day that would be great but I’m kind of an all-or-nothing gal

  9. April 11, 2016 at 9:50 am

    One of my life goals to work on this year is my daily devotional and motivation time – and normally I am good at structuring my days, I start work at 7 am, and read work and personal emails, answer what I can immediately and save the rest. Then I review my must do’s, and start my day. By 9 am I’m ready for my morning snack, so I go brew a cup of green tea and bring it back to my office to cool while I meditate, on average 15 minutes. I’ve been up for 4 hours by then and it’s a good time to stop.
    But, some days, my schedule gets interrupted, or I have a project due, or any number of reasons… and I forget – or when my timer goes off to remind me, I tell myself I’ll do it later. And that is all okay. Until I have the thought “I don’t have time to meditate today” and the moment I have that thought I stop, step aside and go meditate for a minimum of 5 minutes. It is important to me that I have some quiet time, some time to refill myself so that I am able to care and nurture others in my life, so I’m glad to hear you are embracing some quite time for you – and even if it’s just 5 minutes of rubbing your ear lobes, what a difference that can make!!

    • April 15, 2016 at 5:05 am

      The me of 3-4 weeks ago was completely skeptical of how setting aside two minutes twice daily could do much–or any–good. I have so much to do and so much to get done over the course of any day (and so much that never gets done, because there’s just not enough time) that I began those quieting, soothing exercises with high confidence they wouldn’t do much. I was astonished when even thinking about massaging my earlobes four or five days in left with feeling palpably more relaxed. Now it’s already proving easier for me to avoid the red zone and to find my way out quickly when I do get there. Those moments of downtime don’t seem like they could possibly be enough, but whoa! The difference they make, all taken together!

  10. Strays Welcome Interfaith Ministries
    April 11, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    I read this neat quote one of my friends posted last week. It was to the effect of how we, caught in the maelstrom of our busy 21st century lives, have lost patience for the mundane tasks that go with (tie us to) daily living. Over the last couple years, I’ve reconnected to some of those mundanities: cooking; cleaning; driving kids to and from school . . . and have been surprised to see that I take joy from tending to the garden that is my life. As a human, as a woman, in this shell that is a body, not enduring, not captured, not imprisoned, but simply here now. Taking care of the things that a woman (a human woman) does in fact take care of when she’s here. I used to resent many of these tasks. But there’s something calming to my soul, to my heart, to my very being . . . in covering baked potatoes in Reynolds’ Wrap and placing said potatoes before a fire that will turn those brown ovals into sustenance for my offspring. Funny, that! And gratitude–mine! Hope you’re well. Love and miss you.

  11. April 11, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    Oh, dang. Well yes. Double well yes. Needed to be reminded, worth protecting. No hard hat. Time out, peace. Need…dang, yes.

  12. April 11, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    I’m on the same path with you, been doing a toxin elimination diet. Amazing how changing a few foods can bring up emotional stuff. I’ve been taking more time to relax too. Even though I feel like I can’t afford to relax, or stop working, I have to allow myself that space for the sake of my health and well being. What’s the point of working if it’s killing me with stress anyway?

  1. July 3, 2016 at 8:29 am

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