I've been listening recently to stories of people not in their groove, not "in" their life, not in their "happy place" -- whatever you want to call it. I was reminded of this poem from many years ago -- written about adjusting to life with a child with a disability but definitely applicable to adjusting to a life different in all kinds of ways from what we imagined. Let us know if it strikes a chord with you!
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
by Emily Perl Kingsley. c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley.
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new
language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and
Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.
It's a weird guideline, but starting your weekend of gratitude with the simple question of "what would I not trade for a million bucks" can spark some intriguing conversations - and some welcome moments of appreciation for what we have in our lives.
Our pain, rough days, hard choices, un-deserved misfortune, are the glue that binds us all together. They're inevitable and expected. But our ability to experience gratitude--for our loved ones, the parts of us that still work, any moment we feel joy, happiness or peace, is what sets us apart. Our gratitude is what sustains us, nurtures us, and enables us to keep moving, even on the hardest of days.
Nothing gets a moms heart racing faster than the phrase, "the other moms are...." In a split second, a woman’s brain can completely spaz out…." The other moms are what? Cooking meals and not crabbing about it? Helping with homework without gritting their teeth? Showing up early for the class party? Successfully keeping their daughters from wearing butt-hugging leggings? What? What are the other moms doing that I’m not!!?”
In a case this winter, they were getting their act together to send Valentines Day cards to their teenage sons who were away together during the holiday weekend. I’m pretty sure my kid could care less whether I sent a card or not, but I'm sure as heck wasn't going to say no. What better motivation than “the other moms are…!” I’strangely motivated to send a home baked cake out there as well. Who knew silent fear of being the "less-than" mother could be such a strong incentive?
A couple friends and I are starting a “just say no to sweets” club. We’re texting each other daily inspiration to encourage abstinence from chocolate and other exciting goodies. I think we should change our tactic from a team-building message to a more simple, stress-inducing approach like “the other moms are not eating cake today…how about you?” I think it could work. Who says shame and guilt are dead?
Dealing with your own shame and guilt? Or know someone who is? I offer a free get out of jail without judgment card. Book an appointment online and find a better motivator than shame and guilt -- though shame and guilt are pretty darn hard to beat.
"If there’s a habit you really want to accomplish, it’s very helpful to schedule it first thing in the morning," writes Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project. Self control, and the willpower that feeds it, is high in the morning. Note how many of us eat sugar free cereal and organic eggs for breakfast and dive into Oreo's and ice cream by 10pm. As the day goes on, we tire, and so does our commitment to change. Our stress rises. We are more inclined to want to reward ourselves and less inclined to push towards a goal. Does "I've had a long day. I deserve re-runs and a glass of wine" sound familiar?
New habits require energy. Set yourself up for success. Try a morning "habit change" routine and see how it goes. Try these suggestions and see how they work.
Negative thoughts are like quicksand. They drag us down. The harder we fight them, the stronger they pull.
Imagine you disagree with your boss. You get mad and slam a door. Then it's over. If you're like many others, your brain doesn't like to sit quietly in the aftermath of a fight, so it starts thrashing, sucking us downward in quicksand: Will I get fired? Can I find another job? Will I have to move? Will I end up in Mom's basement? The more upset and anxious we get, the more recovery eludes us.
Here's that tree branch to help you get out: tolerate the negative feeling, and focus on the present versus the imagined future. A few minutes of tolerating negative feelings for what they are, of sitting with them and allowing them to just "be," allows them to be processed and move on. Complicating them by frantic creation of hypothetical, worst-case worries sinks us too deep to get out. One inch deep in upset about work hours -- you can tread carefully and get out. Five feet down with visions of unemployment checks, you better pray for a passerby with a strong rope.
Try this: take a deep breath and visualize the words "I feel upset" floating out to sea to where you can't see them anymore. Do this for 2-3 minutes. If your brain starts to sink deeper with other negative thoughts, calmly bring it back to the image of those words floating over the horizon. Continue breathing slowly and deeply. Stay in the present.
Next, soothe yourself for feeling rotten- as you would comfort a young child. Tell yourself how yucky it feels to feel devalued at work; how sorry you feel for yourself ; how you know it will turn out okay and that you can deal with it. Be compassionate and loving with yourself. Keep breathing deeply.
Uncomplicated by a million other worries, we can cope with whatever's threatening to pull us down, our family, our work, anything. Accepting and sitting quietly with negative thoughts--resisting the urge to thrash and make it worse -- keeps us from sinking, reduces stress, and enables us to resolve situations for what they are.
Is your brain sucking you under? Book an appointment today and get out of the quicksand. Rescue rope provided.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, here's a possible solution: realistic expectations.
We want fulfilling work, a connected marriage, high achieving kids, organic meals, great abs, healthy finances…all at once. All the time. But what if we defined success differently?
What if we agreed we are the ultimate parent if our kid goes one day without tripping on LSD? We are diet gurus if we limit ourselves to four Oreos instead of the whole pack. Our marriage is awesome if the day ends with only one episode of sarcastic sniveling. OK, maybe we can set the standards a little higher than that, but you get the point.
I blame two phrases: “work/life balance” and “having it all.”
Who started the idea that work/life balance means that work life and home life are equally magazine-shoot flawless? That's not balance. It's a pipe-dream. Balance is giving energy to both, not letting one or the other take over, and not expecting either to be "perfect."
My sister, new mom to a beautiful three month old, wept recently as she talked about her recent return to work. “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” she said. “I’m at work but less productive. I’m with him…but for a lot less time. Balanced. But not the balance I sought.”
But I think that balance might be exactly right for this point in her life. Having a work life and home life that are going okay, with occasional moments of amazing is a very reasonable definition of balance! Holding out for balanced flawlessness in all areas at the same time holds us back from ever feeling we have achieved it.
We further punish ourselves with aspirations of “having it all.” What is the definition of “it?” If “it” is fulfillment and achievement of our life’s purpose, we are bound to be disappointed. But if we redefine “it” as “having totally mixed feelings about competence in all areas of our life,” we’d be there already! Achieved. Checked off the list.
Again, our definitions keep us down.
We control those definitions. Aim for what can work in your life and preserve your sanity. Let’s redefine success so we experience it.
If you know someone struggling to find joy in their "good enough" life -- send them my way!
Debbie Granick is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and a Therapist in Raleigh providing both counseling and medication to reduce anxiety and depression and improve mental health. She is available to speak about wellness to groups of all sizes.