I recently watched a television show that I’m a fan of that follows the (fictional) lives of three young women. I enjoy the show because it doesn’t follow the typical storyline. The show is diverse, inclusive, progressive, and is not afraid to dive into very vulnerable, sensitive, real life topics. Like the decision to have a child. Or not to have a child. The latest episode that featured the latter is what spurred this post.
This particular episode moved me and I felt extremely understood. Definitely less alone. Later, when a snippet of the show containing the moment one of the characters tells her husband she does not want to have children was posted to social media, I was interested in the comments that followed. Most people wondered why the character and her husband hadn’t talked in depth about kids before they got married. The commenters’ viewpoints were valid and true to their beliefs and experiences. Of course, that is probably the “ideal” order of things for most people. But being a person who completely related to the character and the events that unfolded, I saw the situation very differently and wished I could have responded to everyone that choosing not to have children isn’t always a cut and dry decision for everyone.
I was raised with this saying on repeat:
“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.”
So many of us heard this, recited this, believed this. Especially as the words became real and we watched it happen to the people around us as we grew up. This order of events starts to feel like a given. A truth. The roadmap to becoming an adult and creating a family when you are younger. At least for me it was.
Joel and I honestly did not talk a lot about the things you’re supposed to talk about before getting married. We are very much a day-by-day couple. We were in love, we were creating a life we were happy in together, and that’s all that mattered before and after we tied the knot. I think both of us assumed that kids would become part of our story. Until they didn’t.
I thought I’d eventually get a feeling. A desire to have a child. It never came. Our nephews and nieces came along. I thought, “holding them will give me ‘that feeling.’” I instantly loved them each beyond words, and am in awe of their mothers, but I still didn’t want one of my own. I would take prenatal vitamins and buy baby books and start baby Pinterest boards and talk to my family about having a baby. Not once did it feel authentic. Not once. I felt like I was doing and saying things just because I was supposed to. I almost felt like a robot spewing off words that I was programmed to say.
When I began to honor my gut instincts is when things got really hard. Even though Joel and I hadn’t talked about it, so didn’t have any concrete plans about having a baby, the thing that weighed the most on me was letting him down. Because he is an AMAZING man who would make an AMAZING father. When I finally came to terms with how I felt and was confident kids weren’t in the cards for me, for us, I slowly started to let him know where I was at. I don’t think we’ve ever had more difficult conversations. Most ended with me saying, “I completely understand if this is a deal breaker for you. It’s just something I can’t compromise on.” I wanted him to be fulfilled and happy, because he truly deserves that. I didn’t want him to resent me for the rest of our life together.
I had to understand and accept that in making this decision for myself, the results could be devastating to my marriage. That is the honest truth. That’s when I knew that what I was feeling was what I really wanted. I was willing to risk the greatest love I’ve ever had over it.
Fortunately, we navigated our way through and came out on the other side still together, happier with each passing year. I’m beyond lucky to have a partner who loves me in a transcendent way. He was willing to sacrifice any desires he had to have a child to stay in the life the two of us were only beginning to build together.
The reasoning behind my choice is obviously multi-faceted. There is no one reason. The lack of interest in the entire thought of parenthood being the biggest. Along with not wanting to pass down inherited and genetic mental health issues and trauma coming in close second.
I must admit, it’s a strange thing to be a childless woman. Especially a woman who is physically able to have children, but chooses not to. I think it is really hard for a lot of people to understand, and that’s OK. Reactions from others vary. At the end of the day, this decision is one I know I made the right call on. I’m proud of myself for diving deep, facing the uncomfortable, and discovering what I truly wanted, as hard as it was to face.
Life, and marriage specifically, has no roadmap. There are most definitely “ideal” ideas of how things should go, but most times, they don’t go that way. We can’t cast stones at other peoples’ experience. We always need to remember we are all on different paths, going at our own pace, making the best decisions for ourselves as we can.
I wanted to write about this topic, as difficult as it was, so other women having the same thoughts and experiences feel less alone, like the show I watched did for me. I also want young women to know there is another track they can take if they don’t feel that children are something they want. That feelings of not wanting to be a mother are just as natural and important as wanting to be a mother – even if it doesn’t appear that way.
If you choose not to have a child, you are not selfish. You are not lesser than. You are strong, and you are enough. Be brave, own your decision, and share your truth with others. Most importantly, know you can still live a happy and fulfilling life without children. I'm living proof.
Big hugs to all.
As I recently shared on my “Wren’s Pick” page, I’ve become a (late to the bandwagon) “disciple” of Brené Brown. There’s a reason she is a staple in the personal growth space. She knows her shit.
Finding the right person (or people if you are lucky) whose goal is to lead you through a self-help journey isn’t easy. I’ve read so many personal growth books by so many different authors, and although I have gained valuable insight, rarely was any of that insight powerful enough for me to feel deep in my soul. I maybe made it through a third of each book. Brené’s work has penetrated my heart and mind in a way that makes positive change actually feel attainable.
I am currently reading her book “Daring Greatly.” She has many books, so I looked at some recommendation lists online to find out which one would be best for me to start with. The list was right. I’m only halfway through, but man, I felt a shift happen within the first few pages. What really got me, and made me know I was on the right path, was that the book title is actually inspired by a speech given by one of my heroes – Theodore Roosevelt! I’m trying to read chapter by chapter so I can allow time for my brain to process and internalize what I’m reading, which is actually hard to do because this is the first self-help book I have ever read that I wanted to continue reading – it’s a page turner.
If you don’t already know, Brené is a shame researcher. Her big focuses are shining light on shame and vulnerability. Which really boils down to doing the hard work of being unapologetically ourselves – because when we can do that – everyone around us is better for it. This journey isn’t easy, especially if you hate being vulnerable – Brené admits she does, and so do I. I’m not even going to try to get into the specifics of her work or guidance – that’s what her book is for. But I will share some of the ways her work has impacted me so far.
Before I begin, I do need to say that yes, I am only halfway through “Daring Greatly” – but I’ve also been taking Brené’s teachings in through her podcast and Netflix special. So in actuality, I’ve heard a wide range of her messages over the past few months. Not that I have to justify myself to continue – but look what I did there. I think I just want to state I’m not an expert on Brené’s work – but I’ve absorbed enough of it to have made fundamental changes in a short amount of time because of it.
The word vulnerability means many things to me as I continue learning about it. Brené says that vulnerability is essentially the same thing as courage – which I agree with one hundred percent. It’s scary for some of us to be vulnerable, so when we take a chance and open up – that’s courage. Truly, we can’t be one without the other. No matter the order they take place in. This is an important connection to make. What vulnerability is NOT is weakness. Have we been taught that it is our entire lives? Most likely. Do we have to continue following this inherited perception of vulnerability? No. We don’t.
Being courageous when it comes to taking up space *authentically* in this world is one primary thing I am working on right now. So many of the conversations and connections I have are based on what I think others want to hear – or – build me up in ways that I think would impress them. Look how smart I am. Look how good I am. All this is really doing is building walls. Even though what I am saying is most likely true and is never, ever meant to make another feel “less than” – it’s the way I deliver it that is the problem. Filtered through lenses of perfection. Which probably doesn’t make people feel connected to me. It makes them intimidated of me. I know this for a fact because I have been told SO MANY times that I am intimidating. Now I know why.
The other piece of this is my anxiety. It’s hard to be yourself when there’s a constant voice in your head overanalyzing your every action. “You’re losing them – tell them something they want to hear.” “You’re boring – it’s too quiet – say something entertaining.” “Remember, you think they think lesser of you because you let them down – tell them what a kind, martyr you are while handing them a casserole.” “You’re nothing if you aren’t putting everyone else around you first – perfectly – not missing a single detail.” “Don’t do that annoying thing you do – you’re so dumb!”
Yeah – as I continue to practice true vulnerability – these voices aren’t something I will miss. When I do hear them, I tell them to shut up. If I can’t be accepted for who I am as I am, then I’m probably hanging with the wrong crowd. It’s none of my business what others think of me. Especially when I remind myself that a lot of what I may be judged on ties back to long-standing, out-of-date, impossible, blanket expectations about what a woman “should be, should do, etc.” Those words can honestly kiss my ass at this point. Thinking about what I “should be/do” has exhausted me my entire life.
In trying to show up more vulnerably (right now, for me this means without every detail planned and talking points thought through, carrying the ability to laugh at myself, and the willingness to share more of myself) I have most certainly felt lighter. It has been nice to be present. And more importantly, able to walk away from an interaction thinking I was “too much” or "not enough" – or stupid or lame or awkward – the list goes on. I feel more like the person I know I can be.
Let me share a few examples of how I’ve recognized change within myself recently.
I do realize that the striving can’t and won’t stop just because I’ve seen small successes. Dedication to practicing being vulnerable is vital to a fulfilling life for me. I know this now. I didn’t before. In the short time period I have been working on this area of my life, as I briefly mentioned above, I have already experienced relationships deepening, the ability to be more loving and supportive to those most important to me, and the stability to weather daily stress at work a little better. All of which make me feel happier in general about my life.
For those of you reading this who vulnerability and being yourself comes naturally to, this all probably sounds a bit crazy. “Oh wow, you survived that insignificant moment.” But for me, these are breakthroughs. This is me practicing courage. The little things are big things and the big things are ginormous things for me. Irrational most times, yes. I realize this, yes. That is why I am so happy for these tiny victories and am dedicated to continuing on.
Are you a Brené fan? If you are, have you found any other people like her that you also enjoy learning from? I’m going to explore Glennon Doyle next because it seems that their messages are very aligned and appealing to me!
My word for 2019 has undoubtedly been “healing.” It’s hard for me to think back on this year without crying tears of both pain and pride.
I put in the work this year. After spending a lot of time thinking about what I could be doing to address my internal world, I threw my hands up and took action. What did I have to lose? The answer to that question is baggage, in every sense of the word. Except for the literal baggage I use for travel. Didn’t lose that. I need that.
The year started out pretty rough. I shared in this blog post how I finally made the decision to start depression/anxiety medication and regularly see a counselor. I believe this was the biggest game changer for me. From the moment I got connected with the wonderful providers I see at Unity Point, things I continuously struggle with in my life really started to shift.
Putting my foot down to address my mental health was very empowering for me. Caring for a mental illness takes maintenance. Frequent doctor appointments and every other week appointments with a counselor. All during work hours. I have put off so many doctor appointments over the years because I didn’t want to miss work. That changed this year. I scheduled my doctor and counseling appointments in advance so I had a thorough list of dates and times to give my boss. I didn’t ask permission, I told her I would be out at these appointments and would make up the time. She trusts me, supports me, and all she keeps saying is that she’s there for me when I need her. I’m beyond grateful for that.
Alongside getting professional treatment, I was taking what I was learning from my doctors and diving deep internally on my own time trying to navigate the heavy feelings I carry with me. There are some specific feelings I’ve had for 10+ years, others for 20+ years. I knew just what they were and what caused them, but I didn’t know how to get through them. I knew deep down there had to be a way.
I will say that getting through the negative feelings I was having tied to certain experiences and events relied heavily on forgiving myself (more self-acceptance) and setting boundaries without carrying guilt about it. I’m such a people pleaser and needed to let go of the self-expectation that everyone needs to like me. I don’t have the capacity to please everyone. With many of the choices I make, I’ll be letting someone down. But, in turn, I won’t be letting myself down by putting myself into situations that aren’t good for me. It’s a self-respect thing. Something I’ve never had a lot of as a person who is constantly bending backwards trying to meet everyone’s expectations of me 100% of the time. Doing this made me tired. So putting in the work to avoid letting this drain me any more than it already has in the span of my lifetime was key.
In doing this, the interactions I have with others has changed a lot. I increased my time and effort with those who helped keep me grounded, build me up, and fill my heart with love. I decreased or changed the way my time and effort looked with those who have continuously torn me down, belittled me, or don’t value me. I had to get real about my relationships and prioritize who I give my energy to, again, without carrying guilt about it.
This alone has been very freeing for my spirit. I have felt so much better taking more control of the commitments I do or don’t make. If there has been a commitment that caused me a lot of strife and anxiety for many years, I’ve had to listen to myself, back up, and start asking, “How can I show support and express love for others in a way that is more comfortable for me?” Maybe it’s keeping in touch on social media, sending a text, mailing a card, meeting for coffee, or inviting others into my space where I craft the environment. It’s a little more work, but it’s worth it. I have felt a lot happier showing up in my own way. And accepting that that’s OK. I connect with others differently, but that doesn’t make me a bad person, a person who doesn’t love her people, or a person underserving of reciprocal love.
Of course, all isn’t perfect and there are weeks, especially during this holiday season, when my schedule has been insane. Running from commitment to commitment. Some welcomed. Some not so much. But in these times, I still keep my well-being at the forefront. As I transition from one event to another, I force myself sit down for five minutes for meditation. To get my head right. To get my heart right. To release whatever I’m holding on to so I can start the next thing as fresh and ready as possible. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND TRYING THIS. It’s just five minutes. Five minutes. We all have five minutes. Even if it makes you five minutes late, give that time to yourself. If you’ve got a little more time – MOVE. An hour on a treadmill puts me in a completely euphoric state-of-mind. Everything that happened before I stepped foot in the gym is yesterday’s news. What I’m getting at is – put your oxygen mask on first!
The change I’ve seen within myself is palpable. I feel it. I see it. I appreciate it. I’m proud of it. I feel very much healed. Because I finally gave myself permission to feel that way. I’m not the victim if I don’t allow myself to be. I can be the person certain traumas end with. I'm willing to do the work.
The way we live our lives is completely up to us. And as I know I’ve said before – as long as we lead with love and kindness without malicious intent – that way of thinking is OK. Putting yourself first is not selfishness if it saves your sanity!
Ever since I can remember, I’ve supported the LGBTQ community. I don’t have any memories of a time when I didn’t. It’s probably because I didn’t think about it much until I was exposed to the community in my early 20’s. I know that’s late, but in the very small town I was from, if someone identified as LGBTQ, I may have suspected but it wasn’t a topic that was discussed, probably for several different reasons at that time.
My first real submersion into the community was when I started going to Kings and Queens, an LGBTQ friendly club in downtown Waterloo. From the moment I stepped in the doors I felt welcomed and comfortable. To this day it is still one of my favorite bars. The happiness inside is contagious because you’re surrounded by a bunch of people who feel like they can truly be themselves there. That not only applies to those who identify under LGBTQ, but also to cis gender, “straight” women like me. I felt like it was a safe space.
What made me most joyful was looking around and feeling glad that everyone seemed to be presenting their authentic selves. Outside the doors of that club, who knows what they had to hide, interact with, endure. I wasn’t naïve enough to think that the joy we felt there together followed everyone out into their day-to-day lives.
I was reminded of the hard truths of being part of the LGBTQ community at a training I recently went to for work. It was hosted by OneIowa (please check them out – they are competent powerhouses on this topic). I’ve never listened so intently to a training in my life. I had really been looking forward to it, but the topics covered were so valuable and interesting and heartbreaking all at once. By the end, my heart and mind expanded in ways they haven’t in a long time.
My number one takeaway was how much I take my privilege for granted. Although I am pretty sensitive and empathetic to the struggles I know so many people have to deal with every day, I don’t know if I fully realized how little I don’t have to “struggle.” From day-to-day tasks all the way up to finding and keeping a job. For the most part, it’s smooth sailing compared to what others have to think about and experience.
Here’s an example that seems small but is actually really huge in the long-run. I don’t have to think about where I can go to the restroom. For a non-binary transgender person who does not identify as male or female, not having unisex restroom options causes stress. One of the presenters at the training mentioned how they have to think ahead when taking a road trip, trying to remember or identify rest stops/gas stations they could go to that have unisex restrooms. If they stop at one that doesn’t, they have to consider whether going into the male or female restroom will cause them the least amount of “trouble.” Because if they choose incorrectly, it could cause an uncomfortable situation and potentially negative confrontation from others. It’s happened to this person. Yeah. Just because they were trying to do something as simple as go to the restroom.
Barriers in place for the LGBTQ community only increase from there (depending on the state). There are laws in place in some states that allow people and businesses to discriminate against this group. If a man marries a man and your job finds out – you could get fired. For who you love and what you do in your personal life. Yet another thing, among many, I don’t have to think or worry about. If I want to move out-of-state, I don’t have to look at the laws in place ahead of time that might change the way I’m able to live (or not live) my life.
I hope with more education and advocacy, peoples’ minds will change about this group, and we start seeing more acceptance/compassion/empathy with less barriers.
Here are a few graphics that I think are really helpful in better understanding different sexuality, gender, and orientation spectrums:
In addition to the spectrums shown above, at the training we also got into gender pronouns, which was fascinating and I’m so glad I was educated on the topic. See table below. I think more and more you’ll start seeing and hearing other peoples’ preferred pronouns. Because it’s not just he and she anymore. The trainers realize that it will take time for people to learn how to use these pronouns, and offered some good advice if you use the wrong pronoun with someone. 1) Acknowledge that you used the wrong pronoun; 2) genuinely apologize; 3) tell them you’ll try to do better in the future. Simple as that. Don’t make the LGBTQ person feel guilty because you did not know or forgot. They’re going through enough and are probably misidentified multiple times a day. You were the one in the wrong. Respect their choice of pronoun and move on.
I could literally write about this all day because I’m learning so much, it’s very fascinating to me, and there’s so much to share. But to wrap things up, really what I was reminded of at the training is that seeing and respecting others for who they are is key.
As the world continues to change and people feel more comfortable sharing who they truly are (which I think is beyond wonderful), it is up to us to hold space for all of the different identities and to be advocates for the LGBTQ community. Allowing others to express themselves authentically and use language to describe themselves in an affirming way is something we all deserve.
Although I spend much of my time alone, when it comes to traveling, I travel in a pack nowadays. When I was in my 20’s I traveled on my own a lot. Work trips, visiting friends, etc. – I took off without hesitation. I was starting to feel like I was losing some of the zest for and comfort with traveling on my own since I haven’t had the opportunity to do it in a few years. When the chance came up for me to practice with and meet Yoga Girl for a second time, I purchased tickets without thinking twice about whether anyone could come with me or not.
I did ask a friend to come along, but that didn’t work out, so this trip did end up being a chance to flex my traveling solo muscles. As I’ve gotten older (and have watched WAY too much Dexter!) I’m a little more aware and afraid of the world around me. So many bad things can happen in an instant. I was stuck in that frame of mind just before I left. I packed a self-defense weapon and mace in my luggage. I tried to talk myself out of it. I felt like this trip would be it – I’d become one of the unlucky women I read about in the news. But I focused on sitting into these uncomfortable feelings and knowing the peace I’d find in the practice I was travelling for.
I packed up the car and set off on my five hour trip to Chicago. On the drive I reflected back on how many great trips I’ve taken to Chicago on my own, with Joel, and with friends. It’s a lovely city with so many positive memories for me. I felt proud that because of my many trips there, I know how to navigate the traffic and tolls with as much ease and little anxiety as is possible. It was my easiest trip in and out of the city ever. I must have timed it just right.
Unfortunately, my super cute Airbnb cancelled on my just a few days prior to my trip which left me scrambling to find a place in my price range to stay that was close to the venue so I could drive if I had to. I found a motel that looked decent and had a good price. Upon arriving, I regretted my choice immediately and wanted to cry! From the front desk to the room…the experience was terrible. To top it off, the weekend I was there was the weekend the TVs weren’t working due to some cable transition. Even the staff at the White Castle down the street was rude while I was there – and the food was gross (definitely overrated). It got to the point where all I could do was laugh. I blocked the two doors in my room with all of the furniture I could, left the one TV station I could find on all night, and slept like CRAP. But I survived and have this experience under my belt to talk about.
I had to start the next morning early so I could get in line for a good spot at the venue. The motel front desk person was different when I went for breakfast and was so kind, it made up for the previous night. I got an equally sweet Uber driver who was curious about where I was going and when he found out I was going to do yoga, started telling me about the moves he knew from reading a men’s magazine and was practicing himself at home. My morning was off to a great start thanks to these two gems who reminded me not everyone in Chicago is an asshole.
When I got to the Aragon Ballroom, walking in by myself was scary at first but quickly transitioned into a feeling of empowerment. I made the choice to come on my own, and that’s cool. We waited together until the ballroom was opened and we all rushed to get a good spot (in a peaceful, yogi way – no Black Friday vibes). I settled myself on my mat, savored the environment of the beautiful ballroom, and watched everyone get ready.
Yoga Girl walked out and the room exploded with a round of applause and smiles. She has a very powerful, Zen presence, and most everyone in that room felt connected to her through social media and her books. She put us through a pretty vigorous practice, which felt really good. We were all nice and sweaty by the end!
Then came the part I had read about online but was hoping maybe she’d NOT do at our practice…sharing our deepest feelings with a complete stranger. It turned out to be quite beautiful and helped me put into words things I haven’t verbalized to anyone else. Which in turn, gave me the courage to speak my truth upon getting home. We were asked to be active listeners, which was so powerful and made me realize how much I don’t truly listen – I am thinking about something else and/or my response. We sat knees to knees, had to hold eye contact without breaking it for several minutes, communicate non-verbally during some parts, and of course, share what’s going great and what’s going not so great in our lives. The important part was that we weren’t allowed to give advice. We just needed to hold space for them and listen. I had a great partner who was so wonderful and I’ll hold love for her forever. We don’t even know each other’s names.
We ended the practice gently and there were MANY tears. Such a huge release of both deeply rooted and superficial emotions. This quiet time was an incredible moment. All of us were there, connected in love. You could feel the love physically filling the room. It could have blown the roof off. I’ve never experienced anything like that. And when I close my eyes to relax at work or at home, I climb back into that moment on my mat. It’s dark and cool. My hand is touching the shoulder of the person next to me, my shoulder is being touched by the person on the other side of me. Calm music is playing. The universe is literally spinning above us on the ceiling. Tears are falling and I’m letting everything – the good and the bad – flow out. And leaving it there.
When all was over, I was able to hug Yoga Girl and have her sign her latest book, “To Love and Let Go: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Gratitude.” A book I’ll blog about on the “Wren’s Picks” page of my blog soon. I have so many “aha” passages I want to share.
From the ballroom, I hopped in an Uber with another great driver, grabbed some coffee from Starbucks, and was back in my car heading home. It was a whirlwind trip, but I loved every minute of it (in hindsight – because I survived the motel stay).
I was reminded in several ways that I’ve created solid ground for myself that I can stand on. I am an independent, powerful force who has the strength to persevere. I don’t always live in fear. I have moved mountains. There are moments where the woman I’ve been working on steps out and takes my breath away. “There you are,” I say. “You’re what all of this work has been for. I see you. I love you. I thank you.” I got to see her clearly on this trip and welcomed that version of myself to stay with me awhile longer.
I’ll start with this graphic because I love it (along with pretty much everything Emily McDowell does)and it perfectly outlines where I’m at right now!
A message that keeps presenting itself to me in various forms (including through the above graphic) has to do with relaxing into the uncomfortable. Anxiety/frustration/anger comes from fighting that which we have no control over. When we accept that what is going to happen is going to happen and find contentment vs. fear in that, we’ll be better off.
To further illustrate what I mean, I’ll share the affirmation card I have pulled (no lie) every single time I have sat down with a heavy mind/heart and sought divine answers: “You are the sky. Everything else, it’s just the weather.” We are the constant. Everything around us is unpredictable – warm, cold, sunny, rainy, ideal, disastrous. The question and challenge in this is how solid is our foundation? Can we weather the weather?
Because I know this concept is what the universe is daring me to do in order to test the foundation I’ve really been working hard to strengthen, I have been giving it a try. And you know what? I am pleasantly surprised by the results.
I have had time to let this message sink in as I have received it. So when it came time to put it into action, I was ready. I think I’ve mentioned before that I completely believe the world loses its shit when there is a full moon – and what I experienced earlier this week just adds more fuel to that fire.
Work threw some pretty wicked curveballs my way over the course of two days. My work is really important to me, I take it personally, and I pride myself on the quality and thoroughness of what I produce. When cracks start to show, my brain is hard wired to beat me up with the heaviest self-deprecating stick it can find. More like logs, or trees. It’s brutal. BUT, because I know we can choose what we want our mindset to be and redirect our hard wired reactions – I tested out relaxing into the uncomfortable.
In the moment, my mind did its usual explosion of anxiety and defensive tactics. I breathed through it and went back to my office. I told myself that if anyone was judging me negatively based on what happened, I lovingly gave that back to them. It wasn’t my burden to carry. I calmly thought through the situation, looking at it not as an example of my incompetency, but as a learning experience. Identified what was mine to own and do better with in the future. Every time an anxious ping, bad thought, or abusive language towards myself bubbled up, I took a breath and let a wave of relaxation wash over me. Repeating, “What happened doesn’t define me. I am all I need. It’s OK. I am OK. You are human. These feelings will pass. It is what it is, you can’t go back and change it. I will own what is mine to own.”
If I hadn’t listened to the messages being sent to me, my evening would have looked a little like this: ball of anxiety, chest pain, obsessive thoughts, spiked Arnold Palmer, constant venting, potential moodiness. And it probably wouldn’t have stopped there. I would have carried it through the rest of the week. Instead, I stayed calm. If I felt my bad habits coming on, I enjoyed my family, I stretched, I journaled, I pulled affirmation cards (which ended up being the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post), and I went to bed realizing tomorrow is a new day – an opportunity to be free of the burdens I was carrying.
By simply (well, not so simply really) relaxing into what was happening, working through it, and showing myself compassion – I was able to handle some really tough stuff that normally would have destroyed me. Proof that all the tough work we put in to become better people for ourselves and others sticks sometimes.
After I made it through all of this, I saw the message below and I really felt it. We should be proud of the triumphs we experience as a result of intentional thoughts and actions we implement – whatever they may be. I wish you all of the best in your continued human journey. Know I believe in you. I’m right there with you. And if you ever need someone to support you, I’ve got you.
Crying isn’t something I do a ton of. Teary eyed over a touching commercial or thinking about something special, yes. Full blown sob, no.
That wasn’t the case this week. I’ll be describing what I’ve experienced over the past few days as “heart openers” – moments that broke my chest open and released emotions I didn’t know were lingering just below the surface.
On the Spot
There are two things that completely traumatize me: meetings and public speaking. I try my best to manage my anxiety around these things and have made strides over time. But when I was put on the spot by a leader at work meeting, assigning me to a presentation in front of 140+ people, any coping skills I had flew out the window. Heart Opener 1: Release of pure terror about having to do something that is literally what my nightmares are made of. I somehow made it through the rest of that day in a fog, holding back the flood of tears. I became incapacitated from sobbing on the way and upon arriving home.
Joel changed his plans so he could come home and be with me. I cleaned up my face as well as I could and we headed into town for dinner. On the way to town, we happened upon a kitten lost on the side of the road. I didn’t know then, but this would be my third heart opener, which I’ll talk about shortly.
That kitten was exactly what I needed. It was the perfect distraction. It forced me to remember what is important and that I have so many places my heart can rest – like when I’m holding an affectionate, purring kitten. Divine intervention came to mind. It felt too good to be true in that devastating moment for me.
I continued on as I always do. Worked my butt off, including an event I worked on Saturday, which luckily turned out to be heart opener number two. I threw together the presentation and practiced it over and over again. Our CFO surprised me by stopping by my office, and after recognizing my fears, became an unexpected public speaking coach. He used to be in my shoes (utterly mortified), but forces himself to practice so he can speak in front of people comfortably. He gave me tips, he met with me to do a run through the morning of, he introduced me before I presented, and off I went. I think it went well (I’m a terrible judge of myself because I “black out” during presentations) and we gave each other high fives when it was over.
This heart opener has a few parts. Feeling the DEEP fear I have for public speaking burst to the surface. And surviving the presentation. Letting the fear flood out of my heart was painful and felt endless. But I lived. The pain I was feeling transitioned into pride, knowing that even though I didn’t give a Mel Robbins level speech, with shaky knees and racing thoughts, I stepped up and did it. I faced my nightmare. It’s still a nightmare, but it lost a little bit of its scariness. I was also able to connect with someone who I never expected to connect with and am better off for it.
Sense of Community
As I mentioned, I worked an event over the weekend. Weekend events are OK – but better when my buddy, Romina, is there. I expected it to be a typical event, people come by our table, take some freebies, chat a bit, leave. There was that, but it felt different.
The event was called “Take Back Our Community” and was hosted by two local men from Friends of Health the Family, Inc. who want to make our community a better place. The event’s focus was a “celebration of our neighborhoods, a renewal of our spirit of togetherness, and a reorganization of our progress in supporting our town, our neighborhoods, our homes, and our families.”
Heart Opener 2: Creating a new friendship with the organizers and feeling welcomed into a community that isn’t necessarily “mine.” Mike and Cory were attentive to our needs, thankful we were there, and their passion for our community was palpable. Attendees were receptive to our information and even if they didn’t stop by, they thanked us for being there. We were one of few vendors, so it meant a lot to them that we showed up to offer our support. I didn’t feel worthy of the gratitude we were receiving, and I forgot I was working. By being there – you were part of it. Welcomed with open arms.
We watched so many impressive performances by youth and adults from Waterloo. Proud of where they live. Wanting to live in harmony with their neighbors. Encouraging youth to find outlets that keep them off the street – away from drugs and guns and violence. This heart opener ran deep. With love for the African American community, the joy they spread, and the sense of unified community among them that is extremely unique and admirable. I felt privileged to be accepted into that community without hesitation on their part, when I easily could have been the “enemy” in today’s societal climate.
Now it’s time to get to the found kitten I named Percy (because he purred so much). Who won my heart immediately and broke it to pieces when we parted ways.
As I mentioned, I feel like it was divine intervention meeting Percy. This is Heart Opener 3 for more reasons than one: First, to break my fear thought cycle; Second, to remind me where my heart lies at the end of the day; Third, to serve as a reaffirming sign for something Joel and I had just started talking about.
We scooped him up from the side of the road. He was very small and malnourished, so we took him home and fed him. I called my sister who has farm cats and asked if he could stay with them. We took him over and he seemed to fit right in. He was fearless, curious, affectionate, and loving. He ate some food and drank some water while we were there. But each day, he seemed to get more ill. When I went to pick him up three days later, we was visibly sick and couldn’t walk well.
I thought he had passed away in the car, but upon getting home, he hadn’t. He was his happy, cuddly self. He wanted to be with me. So as I bawled, I called Joel to help me determine whether to let him pass away or take him to the humane society. We decided to take him to the humane society in hopes they could help him. Before Joel got home, I wrapped Percy up in a towel and held him close, walked to the backyard and petted him. Told him he was loved. I held him all the way to the humane society. With red eyes and tears all over my face, I handed him over. They must have thought he could recover because they did not put him down, but he did pass away overnight.
It’s amazing what an impact animals can have on us. I knew him for such a short time, but all animals are sacred in my book, and he didn’t deserve to die. But that happens. It’s just the way things are sometimes.
This heart opener was needed. Amid the fear flowing out of me, I needed love and hope to combat it. I loved this little one and hoped he would get better. Even though he didn’t, he was a significant sign for me and I’ll never forget him.
Here I am on the other side of these moments. Head above water. Still breathing. Changed. These moments were so saturated with meaning, they stood out from the day to day. They challenged me and scared me and warmed me and humbled me. They happened. And for that, I am grateful. My heart is open in three new ways. That’s significant. That’s needed. For all of us.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but if you live in Iowa, you know this past winter was LONG. Painfully long. The entire state was going stir crazy. Then all of a sudden it was summer and here we are in July already!
Winter is a season I welcome because life quiets down. Our calendar opens up, allowing for a lot of staying home and settling in. Spring and summer always catch me by surprise. I like to ease into things, but our schedule becomes completely insane the moment the last bit of snow melts. The <gasp> social events start lining up back-to-back, consuming every open block of time we have.
I’m trying my best to shift my perspective toward all of the social interaction that has happened and is to come this year. When I’ve wanted to say, “No.” I’ve said, “Yes.” For the most part – boundaries still have to exist and when I’m drained, I have to crash. Three events in one day is my max. I’ve showed up when in the past I would have freaked and stayed home. No matter how scared I feel, I push myself to be present.
This decision has had both its good and bad moments. I feel very rusty socially. Like I’m flexing my social muscles for the first time in a long time. I say this because I’m trying to use them in a different way – showing up as myself for better or worse vs. just being a warm body in the room.
Even though I’m social 40+ hours a week at work, when it comes to being social in my free time, “being good” at it is hit or miss. I can do robotic, professional conversation with ease. But when it comes to unscripted, unplanned conversation that <double gasp> involves talking about myself, revealing unseen pieces of me – it’s tough. Because this, all of this:
Check, check, check…External validation, baby. My number one nemesis. I will bend backward until it hurts with a smile on my face if it means you’ll think I’m perfect.
One item that really stuck out to me, that may explain why I feel like being more social has felt rough, is: “Changing the way you present yourself to accommodate those you are with, only to realize that you no longer know who you are.” That, 100%. That has been on my mind a lot lately. In my effort to find genuine connection with those I’m spending time with – attempting to share more of who I am to do this – I find it hard to do because I have these stock responses ready that I know are acceptable, but I’m bored of saying them.
Smile. Laugh. Insert generic responses here. Trip over a word. Say something “dumb.” Stop talking because I don’t want to make a bigger fool of myself. Become consumed with how I’m being perceived. Lose track of the present because I’m in my head. Count the minutes until I can exit the situation.
All for the sake of trying to be perceived the way I suppose deep down I want to be perceived and the way I suppose deep down I believe others want to perceive me. Enough perceives for you? I promise I won’t use that word again. In this post.
I will say though, that even though it has been uncomfortable for me to put myself out there and try to be a more present person for those around me, I am proud of myself. It’s been really frightening. It’s forced me push through challenging moments that I normally ruminate on, because I’m off to the next event and need to be there, not inside my head. It’s giving me a bigger glimpse into who I am while I simultaneously try to find some pride and confidence in what that looks like.
It hasn’t been all doom and gloom. True relationships are starting to take shape. A better one with myself. A better one with others, old and new. Although my old habits haunt me, I’m trying to stay the course. With each social encounter, attempting to shed some of the impossible standards I have for myself in order to "fit in," allowing my true “tribe” to stick around and others to fall away.
I know I’m not alone in this struggle. Tell me how you navigate being authentically YOU!
Good golly, we’ve done SO MUCH since February of this year, which I recapped quickly in the beginning of my last post.
We took an awesome family vacation with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and niece to Arizona in February, right when it was terribly cold and snowy here in Iowa. It was good to be removed from it enough to laugh at everyone who was stuck with it while we soaked in the sun! But, you better believe we were paid back upon arriving home.
Every day was a new adventure. We went to so many fun places! Here are a few pictures. If you are interested in anything you see us doing, let me know and I can give you more specific details.
One of the things we really enjoyed was riding horses out in the desert! It was so beautiful. Just Joel and I went, and it was a great time. He’s officially a true cowboy in my eyes because his horse tripped on the way up a rocky hill and Joel just somersaulted right off him like a PRO! He popped up, totally OK. It was scary/amazing/funny, all at the same time. Here we are (as you can tell, Joel's horse was crazy to begin with):
While we were away in Arizona, it got even better. We got a call from our realtor that after being on the market for less than a week, our first home (turned rental property after we moved to the acreage) had an offer! We were thrilled, especially because we went over 12 months the first time around with not one single offer.
From there it was full steam ahead getting the house fixed up and cleaned out for the next owner! The new owner was so excited to get into the house and we couldn’t be happier that someone who truly loves the home is making it their own. We are also very relieved we don’t have this expense hanging over our heads anymore.
It was emotional to let go. I had a pretty tough time, trying to spend as much time there before closing as I could. Appreciating every corner, finish, and flaw for everything it had given us in over 10 years of living there and owning it. First homes are special for so many different reasons, but that house was especially good to us.
Two weeks to the day after closing on the house, I was on a plane to Washington, D.C. for the second time in my role at the nonprofit clinic I work for. We go every year to advocate for community health centers because we depend on federal funding to keep our doors open. There is a “Day on the Hill” portion where we meet with legislators followed by a day or two of conference sessions.
In between the work, we do get to sight see a tiny bit. This year I got to go to Arlington National Cemetery, ride the Metro for the first time, eat lunch in the art museum, and visit the zoo. Arlington was especially moving. You have to see it in person to believe it. It’s an overwhelming experience to physically see the true cost of war. Lives. So many lives. I felt privileged and humbled to be there, wishing I could personally thank each and every one of the people buried there for their commitment and service to our country.
March rolled into April which brought some nasty storms and damage to our acreage. We lost a good chunk of shingles on our roof and a large tree uprooted, falling on the corner of our shed. Definitely could have been worse, but I’m glad it wasn’t. Very thankful for my husband and brother-in-law for busting out some hard tasks to get everything patched and cleaned up. Stuff like this can be fun if you’re in good company, which I was.
In April I also flew a kite with my amazing cousins, did some DIY projects, got our yard set-up for a summer of fires, and had our garden tilled. Although I don’t have any pictures to share yet, we became an aunt and uncle again as well. Welcome, baby Will!
The best highlight for me from April was Joel’s solo show in Des Moines. My heart just burst from pride seeing him shine so bright. He is so, SO talented. A gifted songwriter, guitarist, singer, and more. The attention was all on him. The kind words people shared with me afterwards were beyond complimentary. I felt happy to be surrounded by people who saw his musical talents in the same light I get to see them every day in our living room. I never take for granted the front row seat I have to his musical genius.
We kicked off May in the best way – at the cabin in Lansing! Was so nice to spend a short but sweet weekend there with Joel and the dogs. We’re hoping to get up there as much as possible this summer. It is truly our happy place outside of the acreage.
Although it’s been a whirlwind, I feel super grateful for all of the good and bad things that have happened so far this year. I’m trying harder and harder to be present for it all. Closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, and opening them to the sights and sounds of the people and places I love.
I hope you are doing the same. Sending lots of love to you.
Phew! What a whirlwind the past few months have been. We vacationed, we sold a house, we took work trips, we celebrated milestones with family, all while working our butts off at both work and home. The signs of Spring have us feeling relieved that Winter is finally (knock on wood) OVER. We keep saying that “next week” things will get back to normal, but we have a feeling that it’s full speed ahead until Winter returns.
Although we made it to the other side alive, navigating the hustle and bustle of the past few months has not gone without its challenges. I started going back to a counselor at the start of the year due to returning panic attacks. Maybe my body was sensing what was to come in February and March? My anxiety and depression levels were also out of whack, to the point where I knew I needed professional help. Having candid conversations with my counselor was very valuable. We dove deep and tried to identify the root of my feelings. I love her and the new tools she has given me.
In addition to counseling, I started thinking about taking medication again. If you’ve read past posts of mine regarding my mental health, you know I’ve tried medication but did not like 1) depending on medication to function, I like to handle my mental health naturally through meditation, yoga, etc. and 2) how it made me feel. But in conversations with my husband who, bless his heart, knows the deepest darkest part of this illness, brought up a good point. He asked if I’d rather continue riding this rollercoaster of anxiety/depression/panic attack ups and downs, or start medicine, maybe experiencing some side effects I don’t enjoy, but overall being able to better cope with life.
I sat with this thought for weeks and came to the conclusion that yes, I wanted to try incorporating medication into my holistic mental health efforts. So I talked with my counselor and scheduled an appointment with my primary care provider. When we got to the point of talking about why I was there, I confidently told him that I’m ready to start medication and stick with it. No more quitting when I “feel better.” That’s not how it works. I won’t “get better” or “be cured.” This is a lifelong deal. My doctor confirmed this in the most powerful way and I could have hugged him for it.
Here is what he said to me, “Augusta, I have been seeing you since 2007. Back in 2007, you came to me with these same concerns and we put you on medication. (Which I quit.) When we discovered you had issues with your thyroid (I have hypothyroidism) you never questioned having to take medication for the rest of your life because I could show you on paper that you need it. I can’t show you on paper that you need medication for your mental health, maybe for the rest of your life, but I think you are a person that does. Some people just need more of what only medication can provide.”
He has supported me over the years and is not a “pill pusher” – it’s always, “exercise, diet, spirituality – if something’s causing you pain – get rid of it, quit it, etc.” So this coming from him meant a lot and solidified my decision. He was so right. I am very science/data driven. I need proof. And proof is something he is never going to be able to give me.
So here I am, enough weeks in to start feeling the effects of the daily medication. And I’m feeling better. It doesn’t erase everything, but it eases it. I also have a medication that will help with panic attacks when I feel them coming on. Simply knowing that I have these makes me feel more at ease because I don’t have to suffer.
I was already taking daily medication for my thyroid and my vitamin D levels, so I decided to buy one of those Sunday – Saturday pill organizers so I’m religious about taking my medications every day. Because I truly need them to be the best version of myself. Whether I have “proof” for all of it or not, I know my body, I know my mind, and I know there is NO SHAME in taking medication to help them both function normally.
If you have had the same struggles over the years, going back and forth about whether or not to start taking medication for your mental health, I’d be happy to talk with you about it. It took me so many years to finally feel it in my bones that I needed to start it and stick with it. You have to be ready to commit. You can’t let others’ opinions be a factor. You can’t quit when you “feel better.” You have to do what’s best for you. You don’t have to let yourself get to a place you don’t think you can get out of. There is so much out there to help.
Wishing you all the best and sending hugs!