Not Afraid to Catch Feels
Post written by Lilly
“You’re so adventurous!’ “A free spirit!” “I admire your bravery!”
I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to hear compliments like this from people I love and respect. On my better days, I believe it about myself too. So long as I’m near my people.
For decades, only a few people knew about my separation anxiety. I’m totally ride-or-die, as long as I’m riding next to a person I feel safe with - my origin family when I was little, my family unit now and a few choice friends. Without them, I’ve been in the most engrossing, beautiful places and distracted by an obsessive nagging that, since I’m not with the people that are important to me, everything is likely to fall apart.
I know the backstory here - the highlight reel includes a return from a two-week trip abroad immediately followed by my grandfather’s sudden passing. Right on the heels of that was the instability of family life with a sick parent and over or under on about 5,000 articles I’ve read on my responsibility to stay safe in a world that does little for the epidemic of violence towards women.
I’ve called home from high school sleepovers for a pickup, I’ve sabotaged fun weekend getaways and declined more exciting invitations than I can count. I’m not a huge FOMOist - I’m a JOMO (joy of missing out). But the SOMO - shame of missing out - is unbearable.
“Everyone else travels with friends, travels alone and is completely capable and fun.”
“Think of all of your friends raising kids as single Moms who would think of how pathetic you are.”
“This. is. ridiculous.”
I tried to ignore my anxiety. My shaming thoughts would enter and I’d say, “You’re right. I’m going to ignore my dumbassery and stop this Bologna Joe. I’m going to act like there’s nothing wrong with me and I’m just as capable as everyone else.”
And then, after stuffing down my anxious thoughts, I would find them taking over and cornering me in a bathroom as I called my husband sobbing in a panic attack.
About a year ago, we had a situation. I had asked the Universe for a plan on how to figure out more open-hearted communication and understanding in my marriage. I turned my palms up to receive and found exactly what I needed and the opposite of what I was looking for: the ManKind Project New Warrior Training Weekend.
Three straight days with Markus somewhere in the woods in a situation neither of us knew much of anything about, with no ability for us to communicate with each other.
For Pete’s sake guys. I was the one who asked for this. I was the one who said we (he) would try anything recommended to us by good counsel. So why did going the longest period without being able to talk to Markus in twelve years sound less like hope and more like a prison sentence?
The imaginary wise, talking owl that perches nearby in these moments laughed at me. “Watch out for scheming little plans to help the people you love grow up,” he said, “because you may find it’s time to do a little growing up yourself.”
Thankfully, my realization that I was in a pickle brought on one of those down-from-the-gut thoughts. This was too much to try to keep in a corner of my head and pretend to ignore before combusting. I needed a plan, the type that can be assembled when I just look at something for what it is without shame, by calmly determining my needs and getting it done.
We were going to need a really good hotel.
“Remember! This is hard...for you! And that’s ok! Set yourself up for success!” I said as I booked a room for my four year old and I at one of the most coveted rooms in town.
The weekend still crawled by, and I still felt silly scared of everything and nothing at times. But we did it - on high thread count sheets, with a beautiful pool to splash and laugh in with my daughter, with good food and with a few complimentary glasses of champagne.
Before long, it was over. Markus brought home an incredible experience from his retreat, and I had one too. I hadn’t stared at my phone, paced the floors of our house or lost my nerves. We had a great time. I was also a New Warrior - and our little girl still talks about our girls’ weekend in the city as one of her favorite memories.
And all it took was once, go figure. We’ve done longer times apart since that weekend with no issue. Now I see it coming, I own that this is a growing spot for me, I get a new face mask or make dinner plans with a friend. We all come back together again.
I’ve come to notice that shaming voice in my head around other worries or emotions we tend to label societally as silly or unpleasant. Thoughts come around such as,
“I should be grateful instead of upset.”
“No one likes a mope.”
“Angry women are unattractive.”
Without shame’s temptation to dismiss and ignore, I’m better equipped to get curious about the feeling and why it might be there. Is it time to take a closer look at a past event that’s still affecting me, take my lessons and make my peace with it? Do I need to make some changes or set some boundaries in my life? (I can’t tell you how much actually letting myself feel angry now and then has helped me know what does and does not serve me and change my life for the better. And, as far as I can tell, I have not turned into an old hag.)
I don’t have to attach to every feeling I have, but I don’t have to deny them either. They’re passing through to help me make informed choices.
This past week, I did one of the most emotional things in my life. I sent my daughter to Kindergarten.
To me, Kindergarten occupying this much of my mind and heart seems stupid. I’ll save the details for later, but I’ve seen and walked through some shit in my life that should make this a cake walk. She’s five, the school is perfect, the timing is here. From my basic understanding, almost everyone goes and lives to tell about it. If I’m being honest though, for some reason, to me, it is a big deal.
Thankfully, Kindergarten requires many logistics. Things to buy, things to wash, things to label, things to pack, things to gift wrap, things to be orientated on. I was able to keep myself quite busy in a state of distraction and keep those blubbery feelings that one might identify with a less capable Mom than I tucked away. Until, I realized these busy days were the last of our summer. I had a choice.
I could run myself ragged in distraction acting like my feelings weren’t happening. I wouldn’t feel the sadness, yes, or the happiness either. Or I could ride it out. Live in the present moment as much as I could. I cried reading bedtime books here or there, but I probably took even more mental photos in my mind of tiny, precious moments - the two freckles on her face, her cheeks rising up to her eyes when she laughs, the way she says “squirrel” - than I plan to take on the first day of school tomorrow. It was a ride, but I knew if I didn’t surrender and participate, my SOMO would be about missing these little moments by trying to avoid some of the uncomfortable feelings that came with them.
Instead of being something to be ashamed of, those feelings are now the cue I could use a little more care, and I’m just the person for the job. Running away to a hotel again felt like a good idea, but most often I’m amazed at how things as simple as putting down my phone for an hour or making myself a glass of water make the things I need to be present with come to the surface and lets the rest float away.
The last thing I’ve learned about feeling those nasty feelings: without having to say anything, by just recognizing the state I’m in, however sorry it seems, I always find the comfort I need.
With Kindergarten, I felt excited. I felt relieved. I felt sad for the end of an era. I felt overwhelmed of the blank slate of life ahead of me after a slower two years of making myself available to our girl. I felt afraid - that as my baby’s dependency on me lessened, our connection would go too.
That last one was tough to admit. And then as I brushed my daughter’s hair, she so casually said, “I’m lucky that you’re my Mom and my friend too.”
I know it’s only been one day, but I feel like I already know I’ll remember that forever. It’s that flashback that will play in my head at college drop offs or maybe a wedding (and to be honest, that one time she dares to call me a bitch in front her friends).
She probably was going to say that anyways, right? But after looking at that fear, I heard it in a way I’ll never forget. Connection without dependency is friendship. We all have a great shot at being more than fine.
I really wish I was Super Mom, but I’m more human than I like to admit. Every one of those pesky human emotions tried to call shotgun as I drive through life - happiness, contentment and confidence are regular riders, so is sadness on occasion, anger when I could probably stand up for myself a little more, and even for a fist up, “fearless” female like myself, a little fear.
Sometimes to be as perfectly fine as I say I am, I have to tend to the thoughts that want to tell me I’m not. They don’t need to take the wheel, just get a pat on the head or, every twelve years or so, a night out at a five star hotel. My fears rest more easily on a really good mattress. And if Socrates was there, he’d stir the almond milk into my room service coffee, tuck me in and commend me on a great job of knowing thyself.