Sometimes, nothing works better to shake up all those stuck emotions than getting up and dancing to your favorite music. Dr. James Gordon uses dancing as one of his techniques to help people with depression become Unstuck. Why not give it a try? Now, you may remember that I have a special place in my heart for Stevie Wonder . . . seeing how he was really there for me during postpartum. So, we’ve gotta start with some Stevie on this first Wonder Wednesday. If you’re self conscious, wait until you’re alone; close that office door; or better yet, invite people to come dance with you! At our house, dance parties can happen just about anywhere. Come on now, turn it up and start moving!
Happy New Year!
I’ve been wondering what to write lately. I thought I’d be bursting with prose after the workshop. The busyness of the holidays hasn’t helped, either, but as I read recently, we all make time to do the things we really want to do. You know, like thinking – if only I could find time to keep my house clean and exercise as I plunk myself down to check email.
I think I’ve been avoiding fully processing what I took in that weekend and what I have to do from this point forward. I know I went in having an unrealistic expectation — the hope that I would drive to North Carolina early that Saturday morning a person with an anxiety disorder and come home Sunday night cured for life. The truth is, as Dr. Wilson said, anxiety disorders span the life cycle – which means, much can be done to cope with anxiety and it’s very treatable with the latest techniques & research, but it will always ebb and flow throughout our lives. That’s not what I wanted to hear. He also emphasized that the best way to conquer anxiety is to choose to enter anxiety provoking situations on purpose; want to get anxious; want the symptoms to be intense; and want the symptoms to stick around for a long time. Basically, you’ve got to learn to love your anxiety. On top of that, you gotta drop all the crutches you use to protect yourself from feeling anxious and just feel it all .
I had a chance to practice this provocative approach when driving to my Mom’s recently – a nice opportunity for regular practice. It was raining cats & dogs & sideways. I thought about taking the back roads, but picked up the girls from school and began driving on the highway toward my favorite bridges in West Point. Adrenaline surged, went away and came back again in concert with tired old thoughts and images of freaking out on the bridges. It’s so easy to ride around in circles on those well worn thought grooves. I just kept chanting in my head, “I want it. I want it.” I didn’t employ my usual crutches of favorite music or engaging conversation – I simply expected the anxiety & tried my best to want it to come, be intense and stick around. I also tried to drop the need for certainty and just reassured myself with, “Whatever happens, I can handle it.”
When I finally approached West Point, I saw the first bridge and crossed with no problem except for anticipating the bigger one. As I came up on the ascent of the second, the rain pounded against my car and, this may sound crazy, but I greeted my anxiety, like Reid suggested, and asked it to make my symptoms stronger (“Anxiety, I’m so glad you could meet me here! I need more adrenaline and pronto!”). I looked straight ahead, added the mantra “More” over and over again & remembered “I can handle this”. It wasn’t easy, but I did feel proud afterwards. A few months before, I wouldn’t even consider driving over these bridges on a sunny day without my cell phone within reach and Stevie Wonder cranking on the stereo. And, now, here I was, crossing them with my 3 kids on a dark & stormy afternoon.
Ok, so maybe this work never gets easy. But whatever happens, I can handle it. And, if you’re reading this and struggle with anxiety – you can handle it, too.
As we step into 2009, I invite you to look at what’s holding you back in your life. How will you work with what ails you, whether it’s anxiety or something else? Who will you share this with and who will walk by your side in community or as support?
This is the year to not let yourself off the hook. Don’t spend another moment living a smaller life than you dreamed.
Ok, so I’ve been a bit slow with writing lately. But when my lovely friend Patience mentioned me in her PBS Supersisters Blog (which you should check out if you haven’t already), I knew it was time to start carving out more time. If you have a moment, scroll down to the post on How Stevie Wonder Helped Me Get Through Postpartum and listen to two songs that always got me up and dancing. I bet you can’t listen with out getting up and shaking your booty – well, at least tapping your toes. Enjoy!
I remember sitting on the kitchen floor talking with my husband and brother, who was visiting from out of town, when “Uptight (everything’s alright) came on with that amazing horn section. It was like something switched on in my body & I couldn’t help but get up and dance.
I had pretty normal postpartums with my other children. So, I was surprised when postpartum was harder after my third baby – especially since she was a dream child. I felt overwhelmed and in my head way too much. I experienced my first ever bout of depression and my anxiety skyrocketed. For about a month I cried a lot, had panic attacks at night and wondered when I would feel like myself again. Feeling connected to my kids was never an issue – if anything, I felt like a Mama Bear, hypervigilant & wanting fiercely to protect my young. But I worried about what was happening to me. I worried about the kind of world I had brought them into. And, I wanted an off switch for my brain. The harder I tried to think my way out of this funk and sleep deprivation, the worse it got.
Dancing with Stevie became a family affair & helped get me out of my head & into my body. Many mornings, I’d set the alarm clock to wake us up to this music. At 7 o’clock the horns would begin, and even if I woke up feeling off, my legs would start twitching to move and I would get myself up to dance. Slowly the other sleepy heads who had made their way into our bed in the wee hours would begin dancing, too, and it was a party. My 6 yr. old always wanted to hear Signed Sealed Delivered & we would shout out the lyrics as we swung around the room.
As I look back on that time, now, I still remember how scary that unfamiliar emotional terrain felt. But, there were also many gifts in the challenge. Times that take you to your knees can be catalysts for opening, positive change, and surrender. Each child, it seems, helps loosen our grip on control and frees us to live more fully in the moment. And, I’ll always have fond memories of all of us dancing like crazy – the morning sun reaching in, touching us all with its golden light, inviting us to reach for higher ground.
I’m quickly learning that one of the problems with blogging is that you’re accountable. But then, maybe that’s one of the reasons I started writing.
So, this week my husband was out of town for work. Grandma came to visit the first half of the week. The second half, I packed up my mini-van with 3 excited girls and we traveled about 90 miles to Grandma and Gramps’ house, which happens to be on the water.
About 4 or 5 years ago, I would get pretty anxious driving the highway route to her house that included two long, but low bridges. I worked on it first by driving with my husband as a passenger. Then I graduated to following Grandma’s car while I drove my own. And, finally, I took it on by myself (that is, me with the kids).
Just when I felt like it was no problem & couldn’t remember why it seemed so difficult, this particular town decided that they needed bigger bridges to let the passing cargo boats go through. “Dammit”, I said, “Why would they destroy those sweet little bridges? There’s no way I’ll ever drive over those huge monsters.” I was really irritated. Why would the town do that to me? ‘That’s fine, I really love the scenic views of the back roads’, I thought. ‘There’s no shame in driving that way.’
Well, over the past year I’ve driven over the new “monster” bridges with my husband riding as a passenger & cheerleader. It’s been predictable – real scary at first (I hate the ascent); then not so bad; and finally no big deal as long as someone was with me.
So, as Mom & I drove our separate cars this week she checked in.
“Which way do you want to go?”
“Let’s drive through the point.” I said.
“Wanna lead or follow?” she asked.
“Alright. See you there.”
As we approached the first bridge I felt a flutter of adrenaline, but it was alright & I felt good. But, my mind was already thinking of the return trip. I could always take the back roads and it would be no big deal. Then again, I’d started this blog and had been talking about facing your fears. Didn’t I just say that I didn’t avoid anything in my daily life anymore? Well, this route was not part of my daily life, but avoiding anxiety in general does tend to feed the beast.
Over the visit, the thought of crossing those bridges stayed with me, popping up here and there in the middle of otherwise fun events. This morning I woke up feeling anxious, but also feeling like I really had to do it. It was important not to run away. But, a chorus of voices offered differing points of view.
“You have to do it. Avoiding fear makes it grow exponentially.”
-Well, I don’t HAVE to, but the 2nd part really is true.
“Just take the back roads. It’s not big deal. We’ll be back next week & I can really take the time to practice and do it over and over again. That’s a good idea.”
“Looks like rain. No one would expect me to drive over big bridges for the first time in bad weather.”
–True, but Gramps’ says the rain isn’t coming until much later.
“Then again, not doing it today will make it harder next week. What’s the difference. If you’re going to do it next week, why not today? Getting to the top of the bridge will take 30 seconds & it’s all downhill from there.”
-But what if I can’t. What if I have to stop on the bridge with my babies. (Insert image of kids crying on top of the bridge while I’m frozen with fear. Fast forward to images of them all in therapy because of me).
-Ok, in the 12 years I’ve been dealing with this crap, that’s never happened. In all my
experience and in all the books I’ve read, the thing you fear never happens. It’s a hoax. Am I going to let myself be tricked today?
“Do what will make you proud later today.”
-Alright, I’m still anxious, but bring it on.
As I packed my bags, I scribbled out a new coping card to carry with me. I looked over some notes from a pain coping class I’d taken as we prepared for baby #3 (the same philosophy that I teach to expectant parents — I’ll post later about how amazingly similar childbirth support & prep are to working through the sensations of anxiety). “Looking good man, keep going” is from a sweet note my 8 yr. old made for me before her baby sister was born. You have to read Ina May to get the horse lips reference.
We began our drive. I looked at the faces of my sweet girls. They weren’t worried. Why should I be? I told them that we were going to drive through the point and over the new bridges. “Remember how Mommy’s been working on driving over those bridges? Will you help cheer me on like last time?”
Silence at first. Then a request for food. Then music. Finally I heard from the back, “Go Mommy Go!”
“Yeah! Ok, I wonder how many seconds it will take to get to the top of the bridge and then all the way over?” (I was thinking 30 seconds to the top, max). “Will you help me count?” They were sold. Now I had to work with anticipation.
As we drove the 30 miles it took to get there, I had some waves of adrenaline and visions of getting stuck on the bridge. I was still looking for a way out. I countered those unhelpful thoughts with mantra’s – I can do this. Up and over. Don’t fight it – that’s it. Lean into it. Watch the feelings go up and down. You are stronger than these sensations. I remembered uttering some of those same words, with compassion, to a powerful Mama in labor just last week.
3 miles to go. I called my husband for a little support and he didn’t answer (you needed to do it without me, he later said – which was true). I thought of my friend Melissa, who I teach with, as she leads parents through contractions and heard her voice, “Get up in the face of this sensation. Don’t look for a way out. Do it like your life depends on it!” It may sound dramatic, but my life does depend on it.
Now here’s a funny twist about anxiety for me & many others. The moment I saw the incline of the bridge, I felt relief. The anticipation was far worse – it always is.
I turned on Stevie Wonder (who helped get me through postpartum) and we counted to the beat of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”. It took 22 “Stevie Seconds” to get to the top & I yelled out, “Woohoo!” out of relief, put one hand in the air and did a little dance. We kept counting – 46 seconds was how long it took in total. The second bridge was 21 seconds to the top and 64 total. I thought about how I could have not done this today, but I did. I felt proud.
The rest of the ride was quiet and uneventful. I threw in a book on CD for the girls, they played peek-a-boo and entertained the baby, we talked about what the world would look like if we could create it ourselves. And, in small, but life changing ways, we can.