The message at my church this morning likened life to a card game. If you were dealt some cards that would guarantee you a losing hand, you would discard them. These cards might be resentment, failure, insecurity, fear, anger, or anything that hurts you (or someone else) or keeps you from being your best self. Often we hold onto those “bad cards” and can’t figure out why we aren’t winning. When we draw new cards, we can improve our hand and increase our chances of winning. In life, unlike a card game, we can discard as many “bad cards” as we wish and keep drawing until we get the exact hand we want. So go ahead and discard.
These pictures were taken a few years ago but they capture my brother’s personality, so I am posting them today on his 48th birthday. A kid at heart, my brother is always in for having a good time. He loves his nieces and nephews, and has always encouraged me.
There was a particular incident for which I will always be grateful to him. I had always wanted to sing, yet I struggled with extreme performance anxiety. My brother knew this more than anybody. One day, he called me on the phone and said, “I’m on my way over with some music for you to learn. You have two hours, then we are going into the studio to record it.” Although I was excited, I was also terrified. I had never sung in a studio, much less a song I didn’t even know. Shock was my overriding emotion, yet I was secretly grateful my brother was pushing me in this way. I knew he wasn’t going to take no for an answer, so I learned the song.
Panic set in when we arrived at the studio. When it was time for me to lay down a vocal track, I froze. As I looked at the engineer through the glass, my vocal chords constricted, my breathing became shallow, and my body began to tremor. My brother was determined not to let the fear stop me from doing what he knew I really wanted to do. He stepped into the vocal booth, grabbed my face and turned it away from the glass so I could look directly at him. He told me to look at him and nothing else. He said to watch him, and do what he did.
To somebody who doesn’t experience performance anxiety to this degree, it might have seemed like overkill, but it was just what I needed. I blocked everything else out and was able to get through the first song. By the time we completed the CD, I was actually having fun in the studio. I owe my ability to cope with my performance anxiety to my brother. I still struggle with it, yet I am willing to do it. If he had not insisted I go into the studio that day, I may have never stepped out into doing open mic nights, singing in coffee houses and churches, and simply doing something I love.
Happy Birthday to my brother! What a gift he’s been to me!
This is the post that I was so Frustrated about the other day. I have recreated it as best I could four days after I wrote it.
Yesterday, I accidentally hit the trunk button on my key fob when I stopped at the gas station. I didn’t realize what I had done until my trunk was flapping in the wind. As I pulled onto the shoulder of the busy road, a white work van pulled over more than 100 feet ahead of me. Then a tractor-trailer made a right-hand turn around me and whipped into the driveway just in front of me that I had not noticed until that moment. I was more than a little nervous.
Having been hit by a bus in November (on foot), I had no desire to now be hit by a car or truck. Because of my injuries, I don’t move very quickly so I was afraid to get out of the car on this two lane road without much of a shoulder. So I waited until there were no cars as far as the eye could see before I got out of my car, went around to the back, and shut the trunk. My heart was pounding the whole time, but no cars or trucks drove past until I was back in the driver’s seat of the car. Relief.
I turned on my left turn signal and then I noticed the van. It was still sitting there. As I prepared to get back onto the road, the white van made a u-turn back onto the road heading back in the direction from which we had both come. In that moment, I realized the man in the van had been looking out for me. I’m guessing he saw my trunk open near the gas station and was trying to let me know. He pulled over and watched to be sure I was okay. When he saw that I was, he went on his way.
I will probably never know who the man in the white van was. I will never be able to thank him personally. But I am grateful nonetheless. And I will thank him by looking out for someone else. And I encourage you to look out for each other. Help the woman in the grocery store who can’t reach the top shelf (that would be me), be sure the child between the clothing racks know where his mom is before you go on your way, and if you see a Taurus with the trunk open… I’ve hit the button on the key fob again!
Last night I had a nightmare and woke up so scared that I thought my heart would pound right out of my chest. Needless to say, I had a difficult time falling back to sleep. When I did finally manage to nod off, it was time to get up. Then I had one of those days where everything was a challenge. Now I am not one to wish my life away. But whatever lessons I was supposed to learn today, I hope I “got” them. I am not interested in taking those tests again.
If you’re going through hell, keep going. ~Winston Churchill
I chose this quote earlier this week. Ironically, nobody needs it more than me on this Wisdom Wednesday. Traumatic stress can be a real rollercoaster. Today I will ride it out, knowing tomorrow will be better. I just have to keep moving forward.
Well I know it wasn’t you who held me down
Heaven knows it wasn’t you who set me free
So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key
from Already Gone by the Eagles,
songwriters Jack Tempchin & Robert Arnold Strandlund
It’s funny how many times we can hear something and not really hear it. When I heard these lyrics today (for the fifty-blue-millionth time), it struck me how true they were. It reminded me that often the only thing keeping us from realizing our dreams is the six inches between our ears.
I am certainly an advocate of dreaming big. If, however, you don’t create a plan the feels feasible to you, there is less likelihood that you will follow through. I have experienced this myself.
I have a great idea, yet it somehow the end result or the way there doesn’t really “fit” how I can see myself. At first I am enthusiastic, but as the plan unfolds I begin to fall back into patterns that feel more comfortable. For me, I have learned that I will accomplish more over time (and maintain it) if I stretch myself within the realm of what seems possible today… stepping out of my comfort zone rather than into the Twilight Zone.
Today, one week after my granddaughter’s first birthday, she took her first steps on her own. She has been standing on her own and cruising around furniture, but anytime someone tried to coax her to let go and walk, she would simply refuse. Today, her mother “caught” her walking across the dining room. I joked that maybe she had been a “closet walker.”
It reminded me of when my own children were little and I was teaching them to swim. I remember other parents at the pool begging, scolding, or trying to reason with their own children to let go of the side, go under water, or jump into the pool. My style was to simply stay within arm’s reach and let them explore whatever felt comfortable. None of them were afraid of water. All of them learned to swim at a young age. And I didn’t push. I simply let them do what came naturally.
They all love water. I think it is partly because I loved water and I just let them be around it in whatever capacity they felt comfortable. Now I believe getting out of our comfort zone is good for us, but sometimes it just takes baby steps.
Recovering from trauma is a process, with it ups and downs… three steps forward, two steps back… and can be unpredictable.
Yesterday was a pretty good day until, on my way home from a trip to the store, a bus pulled up right behind us at a red light. I thought I had overcome all of my anxiety surrounding buses. Evidently, I have more work to do.
After having been hit by a school bus while walking to my car in November, I worked with a cognitive behaviorist who recommended exposure therapy. Right after my accident, the hair on my neck stood on end every time heard a school bus drive by my house. This was particularly difficult as three buses pick up children in the morning and the same three drop off children in the afternoon.
My therapist suggested I overcome my fear of the bus by gradually getting closer to it until I could tolerate the fleeting feeling of anxiety that always came with hearing it. After standing at the front door with my walker when the bus came by in the mornings, I eventually had my husband take me outside in my wheelchair when the bus dropped off my son in the afternoon. This strategy enabled me to pass buses on the road with no physiological symptoms… until yesterday.
When I realized there was a bus behind our car, I felt a bit queasy. Then I heard its brakes and almost immediately developed an excruciating headache. By the time we got home, I felt physically sick and cried intermittently for the next 30 minutes. I felt completely drained and remained on the couch for the next several hours.
Having participated in a trauma survivors’ class and individual therapy, I knew that I needed to talk about what I was experiencing. I talked to my husband and gave myself permission to feel what I was feeling. I forgave myself for having what I saw as a setback. Although I was emotionally exhausted, I was feeling better before I went to bed.
I slept late this morning, and woke up feeling calm. In fact, I had the thought that I felt unusually peaceful. Like a still lake, I felt emotionally placid. The day was peaceful and quiet, with no surprises. Once again, I am grateful for a good day and the fact that there are increasingly more good ones than challenging ones.
Today’s Daily Prompt, “Happy Endings”, from The Daily Post asked that we reflect on a time when we tried to quit something. It brought to mind the struggle I faced a couple of years ago with trying to quit a job. I was extremely unhappy, as were many of the people with which I worked. In retrospect, I was responsible for the position in which I found myself. Back then, I was convinced that I was a victim.
In my twelve years of teaching, there had been ups and downs. But during that last year, I dreaded going to work in the morning. By the end of the school year, entering the building brought on panic attacks. During the last week of school I sent my husband a text message telling him that I thought I was having a nervous breakdown. He immediately called me and asked what was wrong. I told him that I could not stop crying and I could not go back into that building.
His response helped me find the courage to start the “quitting” process. He told me that although he would not tell me what to do, he did not want me going back to that school in the fall… even if it meant not returning to work at all. I had talked about leaving, but only after my husband’s comment did I actually see it as a real possibility.
It wasn’t until then that I realized what was holding me in this miserable position wasn’t lack of jobs in the marketplace, or my lack of marketability, but the six inches between my ears. I had been in the same position for so long, I didn’t believe I could find another job. Looking back, I realize how ludicrous this was. What I also noticed was that lots of people I knew felt stuck too. I don’t know if this is a phenomenon found in other fields or if it is disproportionately represented in education. I do know that many unhappy teachers stay where they are out of fear.
So my happy ending began with quitting a job that held more cons than pros for me. I loved the kids, I liked what I taught, and hated almost everything else about my job. I had some colleagues I would miss, but I realized I could maintain these friendships regardless of where I worked. (In fact, I now prefer getting together for lunch with friends rather than commiserating with them at school.)
I made up my mind that I would not return to the school where I had spent the vast majority of my career, even if I couldn’t find a teaching job. Then I began my job search. I applied in three different counties, and ended up taking a position very different from the one I had held for so long. I also took a ten-thousand dollar pay cut.
In return, I cut my actual work day by forty-five minutes. I also gained (at least) another forty minutes in personal time since I cut my commute by half. This resulted in less wear-and-tear on my car and less fuel expense. I was also pleasantly surprised to gain a pleasurable, predictable ride to and from work.
By taking a leap of faith, I not only gained a job I enjoy. I also found friends in my new colleagues. I remembered what it felt like to be excited about Monday mornings again. Most importantly, I learned that there are always new opportunities just within my reach. All I have to do is choose.