You’re Probably Wrong About Anxiety

Anxiety.

You keep using that word.

I do not think it means what you think it means.

“Anxiety” is a bit of a buzzword right now. I’m seeing it in a lot of memes, a lot of people are sharing their experiences and struggles on social media. I see it in headlines, in casual conversation, and in my own home. All of the talk has brought anxiety out of the mental health closet and into the more accepting light of the mainstream. People are more comfortable with admitting their inner battles and are acknowledging that they’re fallible. Anxiety has become increasingly discussed, increasingly common, and, I dare say, increasingly misrepresented.

In all of our freedom to discuss anxiety, we’ve watered the true meaning down from a diagnosis to a discomfort. 

So what is anxiety, really?  Well, first I’ll tell you what it’s not.

Anxiety is not just worry. It is excessive worry. Consuming worry. Worry to the point of terror or impending doom. Worry over situations that may happen, that haven’t happened, that will probably never happen. Worry over seemingly innocuous situations. Worry over the most catastrophic of situations. It’s dread. Anger. Hypervigilance. It’s not nervousness. Butterflies are not anxiety. Anxiety is being unable to stop the fear, oftentimes without anything having triggered the fear… or even anything specific to fear.

Anxiety is not stress. Anxiety causes great stress, and it is distressing. But feeling the weight of an upcoming project or bill does not an anxiety diagnosis amount to. Anxiety and stress are not mutually exclusive, but one can very much exist without the other. Whereas stress fades with the task at hand, anxiety is a chemical reaction or imbalance that will remain long after clicking the “submit” button.

Anxiety is NOT insecurity. Who knows if it’s the rise of social media, Photoshop, or the general public getting ahold of contouring, but we have become an image-obsessed and insecurity-driven society. Confidence has become such an exception that it’s often met with contempt. We have come to accept insecurity as such a norm that we joke about it, bond over it, and rather than build one another up we often resort to comparing our perceived flaws. This isn’t anxiety.

Anxiety cannot be turned off with happy thoughts. I cannot stress this enough. This is the main difference between situations that can cause anxious feelings and actual anxiety. Someone in the throes of anxiety cannot just “cheer up”, “find the silver lining”, “have a little faith”, “trust that everything will be alright”, or – and especially – “calm down”. When someone can’t breathe because their body is in the midst of an anxiety attack or when a child is overtaken by a fear they can’t explain, telling them to “calm down” is about as helpful as throwing a bucket of water on a wildfire. If only an anxious person had that kind of control over their reaction!

So what is anxiety?

It’s many things.

There are different types of anxiety. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, various phobias…. Did you know hoarding is an anxiety disorder? Did you know children can be diagnosed with any of these anxiety disorders? Anxiety is not one specific thing and is rarely the same for any two people suffering from it.

Anxiety can be triggered by anything… or nothing at all. Anxiety can be chemical, a misfiring of the brain – or even an imbalance of hormones – that causes an anxiety reaction. It can be situational, such as the fear of heights, crowds, spiders, germs. There are various techniques, therapies, treatments for anxiety, and results will vary by individual. The beginnings and ends are often unknown.

Your anxiety may not look like my anxiety. Some sufferers are able to calm their bodies with breathing exercises and distraction. Some are in need of medication to slow their body’s response to perceived danger. Some meet with professionals frequently, some require in-patient therapy, and some are so overwhelmed by the paralyzing fear that they have built their lives around avoiding any and all potential triggers. Some anxiety is eventually outgrown, some sticks around and wages war for a lifetime.

Anxiety often doesn’t look like what you think it does. My own counseling degree still left me completely taken by surprise when I encountered anxiety in someone who wasn’t just rocking in a corner, breathing and counting to 10. Especially in children, anxiety can manifest as anger, rage, irritability.  My son’s principal described him as walking through the halls looking like a wounded dog, ready to snap in defense.  What you see as a defiant child can be a kid whose body is telling him he’s in danger and he is instinctively lashing out in self-preservation. Where you see a pack rat, someone with a hoarding disorder sees all of the possible bad things that could happen if they let go of an object, all of the what ifs and eventualities they have covered by keeping something they may need or by giving in to their desire to acquire. What you may perceive as laziness, flakiness, or indifference to a friendship could very well be someone who is crippled by social anxiety or agoraphobia, who is terrified of going new places, crowded places, any places. Anxiety doesn’t always look like someone shrinking back against a wall or breathing into a paper bag. It looks like someone who feels a total loss of control over their world, like someone whose body is telling them to fight, like someone who feels the urge to run, or freeze, or avoid. It looks like someone who is exhausted, who can’t rest, who only wants to rest. Someone who makes frequent trips to the bathroom or who doesn’t want to leave it altogether. Anxiety can look like stomach aches, restlessness, rage, chest pains. It can look like a child who makes frequent trips to the nurse or the mom who can’t turn off her brain long enough to fall asleep. Anxiety is a shapeshifting, deceptive cloud that can masquerade as many things – no paper bag-breathing required.

Anxiety is one size fits all. While some populations and people are more likely to experience anxiety, none are immune. Anxiety affects men. It afflicts Christians. It travels down generations or pops up unexpectedly. Diet, age, weight, social class, gender, race, faith, level of education – none of these are safeguards against anxiety. Young people are often dismissed as “being too young to worry” or “not having anything real to worry about”. Wealthy people are often regarded as having nothing to worry about, as though you could pay anxiety off. Church members suffering from anxiety can be thought of as having little faith. Men experiencing anxiety can be viewed as weak. The reality is that anxiety can strike anyone, anywhere, from any background, and anyone’s opinion of their experience does nothing to help them overcome it.

Someone’s disbelief in the sincerity or seriousness of anxiety does jack squat. You can’t disagree someone’s anxiety away. You can’t tell them to stop worrying and expect it to work. Reminding someone of all the good in their lives doesn’t heal them, either. “Calm down” doesn’t negate anxiety. Listing off facts about non-venomous spiders doesn’t quell arachnophobia, nor do statistics about plane crashes when flying. Your words and beliefs can’t and won’t dismiss anxiety, but….

You can help. Someone who is overwhelmed with anxious feelings or thoughts is hurting. They’re panicked. They need to feel safe, grounded, and heard. Whether you understand their fears or not, it’s important that they not be made to feel like a sideshow for them. The best thing you can do for someone you care about when they’re in the middle of an anxiety attack is to say, “I hear you. I’m here. You can keep talking to me if you want.” Not everyone remembers their breathing exercises (in the nose, out the mouth) when they’re crippled by dread. Medication can take a while to take effect. If you can help the person leave the situation that is triggering their feelings, do it. Keep them talking, keep them breathing. Don’t force anything, don’t rush anything. If they need to stay and put their back against a wall, shield them from judging eyes. If they need to talk about their worst fears, don’t cut them off with your rebuttals and statements of how unlikely they are. If they need a hug, give it. If they need space, provide it. They won’t die from the fear, but they’re not always convinced of this, so stay with them, breathe with them, be an anchor so they know they’re not going to float away.

More than anything, anxiety is not weakness. It is not an inability to control oneself, it is not a lack of faith or gratitude, it is not a measure of intelligence. It is not the fault of the anxious and cannot be dismissed by the disbelieving. Anxiety is hard. It’s a battle, and those fighting it are warriors. To live in fear and still step out takes a lot of guts, a lot of work, and sometimes a lot of (perceived) risk. Be proud of those you know who are fighting their battle, who are honest about their feelings, who work so dang hard at just getting through the day sometimes. It’s not easy living your life when your body is convincing you it could end at any moment. Anxiety is not weakness. It’s not trendy. It’s not made-up, attention-seeking, or frivolous. It’s real, it sucks, and someone you know is suffering from it.

My Kids Are Ruining My Life

Kudos to those of you who’ve made it this far and haven’t just passed a snap judgement about me based on the title. Hear me out, you’ll get it.

My kids are loud, ya’ll. Like, loud. They have big feels and leave big messes and have big fights and very big opinions about whether or not an apple is a snack. They don’t go right to sleep whenever bedtime rolls around, they don’t always eat their whole dinner, and sometimes they act out in public. They have to be told to do their chores, for cryin’ out loud. Some have special needs and some have weird hobbies. Some have a hard time making friends and some don’t ever stop talking. Some have medical needs. Some have to go to frequent appointments. One of them eats raw onions and one of them won’t eat any onions. All of them are fragile in one way or another. These kids, these loud, difficult, unexpected kids are ruining my life.

My perfectly-planned, Pinterest-inspired, magazine-worthy life. The comfortable life I’d planned, the easy life I’d imagined. Every day doesn’t end in a life lesson and a hug while emotional music plays unobtrusively in the background, the way I’d intended. My boys dress in bright, comfortable clothes without ANY regard for my love of sweater vests and the girl doesn’t have a British accent, despite how adorable I find them.

My life, ya’ll, it’s derailed. The youngest was born with those life-threatening food allergies that forced us all to change the way we eat. All this cooking I do now, I had to learn it, and all the go-to, easy, cheap meals we enjoyed are gone. All these groceries we buy now, we have to get the expensive stuff and read the ingredients and be mindful about what we put into our bodies. Insert eye roll, amiright?

This isn’t how it’s supposed to go.

The middle one has these special needs, needs I never anticipated or even knew existed. We’ve had to educate and advocate in ways I previously viewed as embarrassing. We’ve had to make changes and apologies and completely shift our views on education, emotions, discipline, nutrition, medication… basically everything we thought we had an opinion and a grasp on with regards to raising children. We’ve had to humble ourselves and admit how little we knew while navigating through a world that doesn’t want to be told they didn’t know, either.

This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.

I’m supposed to be pursuing my master’s degree right now, or volunteering, or meeting my friends for lunch, or working leisurely at a makeup store for the discount. My kids are all supposed to be in school, with nary a worry or phone call.  I sat out for 10 years, waiting for my youngest to start kindergarten so I could wave goodbye to staying home and hello to the new chapter. Instead one of those kids had some unplanned special needs and needed more of me than I’d ever planned on giving. There’s nothing about this on my dream board. There were no chapters about this in those parenting books. I don’t see any Instagram accounts featuring parents at home with sagging shoulders and tear-streaked faces. This isn’t the mom I set out to be.

Heck, if we really start pointing fingers, all the blame lies on my big one, the oldest, the unplanned one, the surprise baby I wasn’t supposed to be able to have and wasn’t prepared for when I did. I was supposed to be touring Europe with my husband, not recovering from an emergency C-section and caring for a colicky preemie. He’s a great kid and I really don’t have any complaints, but he’s not supposed to struggle at all, ever, right?  Hard days at school aren’t a part of my plan. Sickness, teachers, bullies… I didn’t anticipate any of these things going the way they sometimes do, and I don’t like it.

My kids were supposed to be “normal”. They weren’t supposed to have special needs, different needs, or need so much from me.

Days were supposed to be filled with memories and laughter and craft projects and cookie decorating. All of the days, not just the special occasion ones.

I was supposed to sign my kids out of school for surprise laser tag tournaments, not specialist appointments.

This isn’t the life I had planned. This isn’t the mom I was supposed to be.

I was supposed to be peaceful, never lose my temper. I was supposed to be GOOD at housekeeping. Laundry always done and put away, dishes the same. I was supposed to be the room mom, the Pinterest mom, the team mom, the enviable mom. The mom who always has snacks and sanitizer at the ready and definitely doesn’t leave the house in pajamas. Motherhood was supposed to be easy, instinctive. I was supposed to be well-rested and smokin’ hot and patient and full of joy all the time.

But that’s the mom I thought I’d be for the kids I thought I’d have.

The kids I do have need a mom who is fierce, who sacrifices, who researches and learns and prays and tries. They need a mom who can make the appointments, read all the labels, who is in touch with her emotions and can identify them honestly. They need a mom who will hold them when they cry and push them when they pause. They don’t need a mom who is holding tightly to an ordeal or harboring resentment towards reality, they need me, the mom who is as surprisingly flawed and different as they are. 

They don’t care if I’m room mom or sanitizer mom or laundry-always-folded mom. (They do care about the snacks, though.)

They don’t care if they never get peanut butter sandwiches.

They don’t care how young I was when I got started or how old I feel when they blow out their candles.

They don’t need a mom who gets 10 hours of sleep, they need a mom who will be there when they wake up in the night, or when they see the sun rise because they couldn’t sleep at all.

They don’t care about my level of education, they care about my level of involvement.

They’re (obviously) not bothered that our house isn’t always magazine-ready or that I drive the minivan I swore I’d never own.

They don’t think I’ve fallen short because I meet their needs instead of my expectations. 

They don’t know what my plans were or how different life looks from how I thought it would. They’re not comparing me to ideals or media fantasies. They don’t think I’m a watered-down version of an image dreamed up in the thick of naivete… they just know I’m their mom. And whatever I had imagined, whatever standards I’d set in place long ago and fail to meet almost daily, whatever my days look like, being their mom is infinitely better than being the mom I thought I’d be.

The mom I thought I’d be didn’t account for their personalities, their inside jokes, their talents and quirks. It didn’t anticipate their unique and life-altering needs, but that mom also didn’t know how much those needs would improve her. The mom I thought I’d be didn’t know how a challenge could become a blessing. The mom I was going to be wasn’t at home working, so she wasn’t able to discover a passion and a community that was waiting for  her. The kids I thought I’d have aren’t the ones I’ve got, so I didn’t know about the little freckles on their backs or ticklish spots on their feet. The kids I thought I’d have didn’t present any struggles, but also weren’t interested in the most unique things that expand our horizons. The kids in my dreams were compliant and well-mannered, and while I could do without some of the atrocities committed at our dinner table, I’d happily take my hilarious, boisterous, unique, and imperfect kids over the fantasy ones.

My life is ruined, ya’ll. Wrecked, destroyed, completely unrecognizable from what I thought it would be. And I love it.

I prefer it.

I cherish it.

These babies who changed me, who ruined who I thought I’d be and made me someone even better, I like them way better. These flawed, loud, restless, challenging kids are 100 times more preferable to whatever I thought I’d be getting. They’re worth changing my plans for. They’re worth a ruined life. They’re worth adjusting myself for. What’s the alternative – resenting my kids for not meeting my expectations? Making us all miserable as I try to force us into molds? Considering us all failures for being real people? No, my reality is wonders better than my expectation. It’s harder, sure. It’s louder. It has a lot more pee than I ever could have imagined. But it comes with my kids, my life, my family who rides in my minivan. This is what I have, and it is nothing like what I thought it’d be, thankfully.

This is the mom I am. I’m not perfect. I still mourn from time to time. I grieve what I thought I’d have or miss what I thought I’d do. I’m not smokin’ hot and I won’t be planning any class parties. But that’s not what my kids need of me. While I’m happy to let my kids ruin my life, I’m determined not to ruin theirs. I can’t parent pretend kids or hold them to my imagined standard. I have to let them ruin my life, tear down the expectations I had, so we can all build ourselves up together, so we can all grow in who we are.

The mom I thought I’d be was an expert. She knew it all, planned it all, cleaned it all, folded it all. She had everything under control and everything went perfectly as she’d willed it. But the plans I made about the mom I thought I’d be, were made  when I wasn’t even a mom. I was expecting expert-level mastery at the rank of apprentice. I didn’t become a mother until they came along.  Like building a house over the phone, I had lots of plans and plenty of imagination, but until I was in the dirt and holding a hammer, I had no idea what I was doing.

It’s easy to plan, it’s hard to implement, and it’s painful to amend. Our lives are ruined by reality, and it hurts to accept. We feel like failures compared to who we thought we’d be. But if we’ll give ourselves credit for who we actually are we’ll see that a ruined life is the most beautiful opportunity for our own unique one. If we can let go of our expectations and embrace our growth instead, our dreams will be ruined but our lives will be precious.

My kids are ruining my life, and helping me to knit together an even better one.

 

 

 

How Making My Bed Every Day Changed Me

I saw a video a while back, a speech that was going viral of an admiral encouraging graduates to make their beds every day. He was very moving, very convincing, he made a lot of sense and roused a sense of excitement for every new day. It was simple – if you make your bed every day, you will have accomplished the first task of the day, have a sense of pride, and could go on to change the world.

I was inspired.

Of all the ways we humans divide ourselves into two camps – political parties, mac vs. pc, north vs. south, Backstreet Boys vs. N*Stink – I had always lived firmly and unapologetically as a member of Team Don’t Make the Bed Except for Special Occasions. Heck, there were plenty of times as a teenager when I plopped into bed with corners of the mattress exposed and sheets crumpled against the wall. I’m an insomniac so I spend a lot of awake time in bed and never paid much attention to how it’s presented, only how comfortable it is and how many potential projects are within reach. I’m a thrasher and a kicker, bless my poor husband, and such a blanket hog that we actually have TWO king size blankets on our queen size bed. I toss and turn and have a pile of mismatched pillows ready to greet me at every twist. To paraphrase, my bed is a mess. Always has been. And my husband is a saint.

It’s not for want of respectable bedding. We have a beautiful linen set with matching throw pillows. It’s fancy and fluffy and inviting, it’s just usually folded up at the foot of the bed.

So when I saw this speech shared again and again, I felt inspired to try something new. I decided to leave behind my slumming ways of slumber and tackle the world one pillow sham at a time. I was going to be a real adult.

So here’s how making my bed every day changed me: it didn’t.

I only made it two days.

Ya’ll, it’s such a waste of time.

Remember in Along Came Polly when Ben Stiller’s character figured up how much time he’d devoted to throw pillows in his lifetime? Waste, ya’ll. I didn’t feel accomplished on those mornings, no more so than I did after a cup of caffeine. And when bedtime rolled around I didn’t feel greeted by a crisp, pristine bed. No, I had to take more time to take those dern pillows off the bed and fold the fancy comforter down.

Besides, within 10 minutes of having made my bed look like a hotel suite fit for royalty, it had a kid on it. Sometimes up to 3 of ’em.

No, ya’ll. I can conquer the world without having to add more tasks that take more time. Why does my room need to be ready for visitors? Ain’t nobody havin’ any business in my bedroom, especially if they’re showing up unannounced. The only people who would be barging into my bedroom unexpectedly would be police officers or EMTs, and if there’s a need for them I sure ain’t worried about these throw pillows on the floor.

Nope. Nuh uh. Not doin’ it. With all due respect to the Admiral I can see how making a bed every morning can set a tone of accomplishment and check a box for some folks, but I’m not one of ’em. I need to worry more about remembering to wear shoes when I leave the house than what my bed looks like while my kids are wrestling on it.

Making my bed for company and holidays adds a stately air to the whole affair, so why would I want that special to wear off? I want my guests to know that if they see my bed made it was for them, I want them to know I took pains to prepare for their visit. See those shams? They mean you’re special, friend. If my pillows match when you visit me it is high praise. But if I’m getting up in the morning that’s task enough, and I’m not making my bed while I could be drinking my sweet tea.

Several months back I was given the INCREDIBLE and humbling opportunity to spend a work weekend with some really amazing ladies, women who I look up to and respect and who have their acts together. I showed up ready to soak up all the wisdom and knowledge I could, making note of everything I could possibly incorporate into my own life and writing.

They all made their beds.

Maybe it was for show. Maybe one of them did it because she’s the type of person who does that kind of thing and everyone else felt kind of guilty about not doing it so they did it, too. Maybe they all felt like they were under the microscope of these successful women and they needed to put their best image out there. Maybe they just were being polite guests. But they all did it. I’ll be honest, I did it, too. Not because I wanted to and not because it made my day start any differently, but because the mountains of blankets stood in stark contrast to the sea of smoothed sheets and I felt exposed for being so slovenly. Ya’ll, it didn’t change me.  It didn’t excite me or awaken me or get me going. No more so than sweet tea and rap music, anyway.

I learned nothing from making my bed, apart from the fact that I’m surprisingly passionate about not spending time arranging pillows. I didn’t become a better person and I didn’t see the world anew. I’m not suddenly more efficient and I didn’t remember to put my shoes on before rushing out the door for school pick up. So I’ll keep doing me and you keep doing you, and if you want to fall into bed every night having to search for the sheet you kicked down the night before, go for it. I’ll remain impressed (and slightly intimidated) by those of you who make your bed every morning, and you can fantasize about all the things I’m doing with the extra time I’ve saved not being bothered by those dern throw pillows. And the next time you’re at my house, if you see my bed made, you can puff your chest out and raise your head high knowing that it was all for you.

 

The Drain of Discernment

Some people call us empaths, intuitives. Biblically, we are said to have the gift of discernment. Still others chalk it up to wisdom. Whatever you call it, there exists in some people the innate, intangible ability to discern, to sense and perceive truth, motivations, emotions, and even sometimes the paths of other people. Not psychic abilities, not a parlor trick, but a genuine, God-given ability to recognize and empathize.

Before I knew what it was, I had this gift of discernment. As a child I knew immediately who I did and did not like, who I trusted, who was putting on a show. I felt others’ sadness deeply and mourned with them long after parting ways. I sensed their anxiety and insecurities. I bristled at their manipulations. I felt an intense connection with animals and more often than not spent birthday parties talking with my friends’ parents. I didn’t always like every one of my parents’ friends, and people who wore masks did not appreciate that I could see through them. In all, it made for a very, very cynical kid.

As an adult who now recognizes and trusts in this gift, I’m exhausted.

I’m almost the very definition of an extrovert. I absolutely love being around people, draw my energy from crowds. Yet I crave alone time. I thought it was because I’m a stay at home mom and it’s really freaking hard. I thought I was one of those ambiverts or an outgoing introvert. I could not figure out how I’m both energized and drained by human interaction to the point of irritability, fatigue, even sadness. Then I realized it – I’m tired because it literally does drain me. To be constantly searching others for their emotions, their motivations, to be hyper aware of subtleties and sideways glances. I’m never just around people, I feel people.

Sensing others’ emotions and manipulations can really make someone skeptical, disillusioned, even pessimistic. That’s a hard load to carry, and often it’s carried alone. I’ve been accused of being judgemental, harsh, bitter. I’m not perfect, and I definitely wander down those paths sometimes, but when you voice your doubts about someone you tend to look like a jerk. When you don’t fall for shows it’s impossible to wear rose-colored glasses. I’ve felt so strongly before that certain people were not who they presented themselves to be that I’ve doubted myself. I’ve examined my motives, reasons. Was I jealous in any way? Had they slighted me? Do they wear Crocs regularly? I couldn’t put my finger on my uneasiness, especially in comparison to seemingly everyone else’s adoration. Once I even approached a person and apologized to them for the feelings I had that prevented me from developing a relationship with them. And you know what? Every single time my gut was right. Even the person I tried so hard to like, the one I embarrassed myself by approaching and apologizing to.  Every time, every one, they showed themselves to be toxic, harmful people. These alarms going off inside, the gut feeling, the voice of God, they were all discernment, and though I often stood alone in my feelings, I stood in truth. Questioning someone’s motives when you’re uneasy around them doesn’t make you any more judgemental than locking your front door does. But it does make you look like a pretty harsh person to others who don’t have the same sirens blaring inside.

So it gets lonely. It gets sad and hard to be the one who naturally mistrusts some people.

It’s also really sad and hard to empathize.

I love people. Genuinely love people. I want the best for them. I love to help, love to encourage, love to hug. Don’t get me wrong, I like my space and alone time and get really flippin’ frustrated in parking lots (where the worst of mankind always manifests), but I love people. I like talking with them, laughing with them. I cannot go anywhere in public without being drawn into conversation with a stranger. I earned my degree in counseling because I feel so called to help and get the most incredible rush from being able to do so. I can’t always offer my time, I can rarely offer money, but I can offer my empathy… and that mess is draining.

What a privilege to share in life’s greatest emotions with others, but what a struggle to also feel them. I would never wish empathy away, but I do wish for a nap after a particularly heavy conversation. I do wish I could watch movies about injustice or grief and not feel such overwhelming guilt. The feelings are deep. They don’t compare to what someone is going through, obviously, and I would never tell someone I knew exactly how they felt, but what I do feel is intense. Trust that if you have shared your struggles with me, I am feeling a tug for you all day. When I tell you I’ve been thinking about you or praying for you, it’s genuine. Taking on others’ pain, sadness, even joy means taking on more emotions than you yourself would normally feel in a day. You feel enough for one person and then some. I cry way more than I’d like to admit, and sometimes just from how overwhelming all the emotions are. It pulls from you, in ways that cannot be measured. Attempting to explain this fatigue can get you a lot of eye rolls and heavy sighs. It’s tough to explain just how much it pulls from you to care so deeply, but oh, what a wonderful gift it still is. While our hearts run the risk of hardening towards others because of mistrust, they remain tender with this concern we experience.

Ah, our hearts. Such tricky things. We straddle the line between doubt and empathy, using our energy to constantly evaluate those around us – though such feelings aren’t really quantifiable. We’re not ranking, we’re not judging, we’re feeling. And those feelings guide us to a position of silent power that can all too easily be used to manipulate. Our own hearts have to be examined regularly. We feel things others don’t, we know things others don’t, so we sit with this information and are faced with the question of what to do about it. Do we warn others? Do we approach them? Do we just avoid this shifty-feeling person? Or do we use these feelings, this “knowledge” to our advantage? Too many use the ability to read others for their own gain. They sense the relationships of the people around them and play them off one another. They pick up on the egos and the insecurities and hold onto them like poker cards. They lie with incredible ease and skill, knowing just what to say and how to say it. Because of the connection to others’ emotions, they can truly mean the untruths they tell, convince the trusting others. We must keep watch over our own hearts, that whole “with great power comes great responsibility” thing.

I haven’t researched it and I haven’t asked others who I know observe with discernment and empathy, but I have a theory about us: we’re beacons.

Those people I speak with when out running errands, they approach me. Every time. I’ve tried listening to my iPod, I’ve tried taking kids with me, I’ve tried Resting Jerk Face, and still I am approached by any and all kinds of people, chomping at the bit to share their stories and struggles with me. I’ve asked for years, how do they know? What about me draws them to me? Why, after a shift of seeing hundreds of people come through their line, did this cashier choose me to share her broken heart with?

It’s the empathy.

Because we all feel. We all experience emotions. And something about those who can feel the emotions around them calls out to those who are too overwhelmed to feel them alone. I remain convinced of my Father’s love by this, that He has placed people around us who are equipped to share the heavy load. These gifts we have were placed with purpose and intent. Some sing, some write, some do math, some speak, some dance, some paint, some teach, and some feel. It is a gift not just for ourselves, but the people around us. It can serve to both protect and heal, warn and serve. The people who need us will find us, and the people who don’t convince us will remain guarded. We can’t quantify this gift, we can barely prove it, yet almost everyone around us can recognize it enough to react to it.

So we find ourselves drained, emotions and doubt and anxiety and conviction having pulled so much from us. We can feel like we’ve lost ourselves, given away so much of ourselves or taken on so much of others. After 10 hours of sleep emotional exhaustion can still remain. The inability to turn off the radar, the intuition, to remain in a state of vigilance, it creates a state of emotional tenseness, always taut, always waiting, always feeling. We’re watchdogs. It can feel like more is taken from us than we freely give. We don’t often have the luxury of optimism to energize us, because this very surreal gift keeps us firmly planted in realism. And realism tells us we’ll be tired again tomorrow. We must seek out opportunities to be alone, to process these emotions, to be granted reprieve from feeling everyone in the room, from being sought out and so heavily relied upon. We must give ourselves rest, find others who pour in as much as others siphon. We must recognize the toll discernment takes on us and actively protect ourselves from becoming emotional roadkill. As you acknowledge this gift you have, acknowledge the impact it has on you. You know, since with great power comes great responsibility. Go forth, go feel, go rest.

 

The Bad Weather Friend

We all know about fair weather friends. We’ve had them, been them. We all have the the friend who is only a friend when times are good, fun, easy, carefree. Then life happens, the going gets tough and the fair weather friends throw up their deuces and are nowhere to be seen.

That’s not what I am.

I’m a bad weather friend. The friend you call when life gives you lemons. The friend you message when you’re broken-hearted, hurting, in need of some kind. I’m not the only friend like this, I don’t begin to be so prideful as to assume that, and I’m not always as available as I’d like to be during the storm. But us, the bad weather friends, we’re the ones in the background, the ones deep in the message inbox because your life has been going well and you haven’t needed us.

I used to resent it, being a safe place. “Don’t tell Betty Sue,” you’d plead to me, “She has no idea I’m going through this.” A week later I’d see you on social media out to dinner with Betty Sue, at the movies with Betty Sue, with nary an invite for me, the person you trusted in your state of vulnerability. “Please help me,” your message would start, “I don’t know what to do.” The next week I’d see the read receipt on my lengthy and well-thought-out response, the words I prayed over and poured into, and see that you’d read them days before without thanks. “I desperately need your prayers,” you cry, “my life is in shambles and I’m terrified of what is to come.” I hold you, cry with you, pray with you, and plead on your behalf at the feet of God, to hear through the grapevine later that everything worked out fine. This hurt me. I felt used, discarded, like a friend of convenience. I was who you turned to in times of need but not times of leisure, someone you knew would be a friend to you but not someone you were interested in being a friend with. I got bitter. I got discouraged. I got jealous.

Then I had to wonder – why would God honor my jealousy? Isn’t there totally something in the Bible about not being jealous? Whatever my experiences and emotions, jealousy is never holy or righteous on my part. Whatever Betty Sue has with you that I don’t, it’s not okay to be jealous of. Because you know what? Betty Sue obviously doesn’t have something that I do. Betty Sue may be fun and may get all the girls nights out, but she doesn’t get you at your worst, she isn’t who you turn to when you need someone you know will be there. Also, Betty Sue is a lot more available to go to the movies than I am – I don’t have childcare or spare cash lying around, so I’m glad you have Betty Sue. I couldn’t maintain the friendship that you and Betty Sue have even if I wanted to, so I’m happy to be your person, happy to keep your secrets and know sides of you that few others do. As for the unreturned messages, well, I’m glad you got them. Those words were for you and I hope they helped. I didn’t offer my help in exchange for thanks, and I’m sure that in the moment you read them you were experiencing the chaos you first messaged me about. Your life was obviously upside down in one way or another, so I couldn’t have expected you to behave as normal. You messaged me in desperation and probably read my replies in the same manner… or you just really hated what I had to say, haha! And when I prayed for you I didn’t do so to gain an invitation into your life. Yes, I would really like to hear the good news, or any news, to follow up and know how you are, because I’m genuinely concerned. But I also understand that I’ve just seen you at your worst – I know your deep, dark shames, I’ve seen you heave and snot and wail. I know about your husband’s infidelities and your boss’ activities, your addictions, your failings, your criminal record. I know things that you wish others didn’t, so it has to be hard to feel comfortable around me sometimes, when things are good and you don’t want to look in the eye of someone who knew you when they weren’t.

On any given morning, I wake to about 10 messages in my inbox, not including invitations to check out whatever direct sales company my friend has joined. It varies from car seat and cloth diaper advice to marital problems, mental health issues, secret cancer scares, legal problems, and more. I receive texts from many others. On any given day, I will most likely not be able to meet these friends for lunch, go out to eat, see a movie, or come hold them in their living rooms. But what I can do, what I can offer them, is being their bad weather friend. I don’t always know what to say and I don’t always have an answer, but they do always have a friend. They always have someone they know they can reach out to, and how humbled I am that they know it’s me. I could feel petty and jealous that they didn’t invite me to dinner, or I can feel honored that they did invite me into their struggles. I can marvel that sometimes after years have gone by without a word, someone will think of me when they need something, when they need encouragement or advice, and know that I’m the person they want. Because my friendship isn’t for sale – you don’t have to buy it with nights out or mani/pedi days or even “likes” on a Facebook post. I’ll keep doing my life and you’ll keep doing yours, and I’ll be happy to help each time you need me to. Besides, it’s just not possible to be best friends with every single person we know.

So we thank you, friends, we bad weather ones who are waiting in the wings. We thank you for trusting us, for turning to us. We thank you for your confidence you share with us and the confidence you place in us. Most likely you come to us because you know we will be there, because something in us wants to be there. We want to help, you’re not a bother. We’d like an update when you can manage and we’d like to share in some of your good times as well, but if we don’t get it we’re still happy for you. Sometimes, just sometimes, we may ask of you what you’ve needed of us – please don’t run. Sometimes we need a safe place, too. Sometimes we need a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes protecting everyone’s secrets gets heavy and we just need someone to sit with. Sometimes we really, really want to go out to dinner, too. So I ask, friends, on behalf of all the bad weather friends, don’t forget about us until you need us. Let us be all-weather friends. We may not be Betty Sue, but we’re here for you, we care about you, and we’re cheering you on from wherever you’ll let us.

Resolution Writer’s Block?

Happy New Year, everyone!

It’s 2014, and my Facebook newsfeed has been full of friends and family making promises and vows about what their new year will look like, what the new them will look like. There’s the classic weight-loss resolution, the empowering getting-out-of-debt resolution, the humblebrag volunteering resolution. For every three resolutions that are shared, however, I’m also seeing opinions on resolutions – people rolling their cyberspace eyes at them, those who automatically assume no one will achieve their goals, those who don’t see the point. This blog post is not for those people. I personally love New Year’s resolutions. I think that any time someone takes an opportunity to examine themselves truthfully and challenge themselves to be better is a cause for celebration! Will they make it? Who knows. But the effort alone is something better than what they’d done before, so bra-flipping-vo to them. Every day is a new chance to try again, so if you’ve gained a pound by  January 2nd, so what? You have more than 360 days (I’m pretty bad at math) left to work at it! So I would like to challenge everyone who reads this to make at least one resolution, one vow to better themselves or the people around them. It can’t hurt to try, and it will only help if you do it! Well, except for my oldest, who announced that his New Year resolution was to get a Nintendo 3DS. I told that joker he better resolve to get a job. Below you will find some suggestions for resolutions. Most are pretty simple. I’m not numbering them, because I’m not Buzzfeed and everyone these days LOVES to number their suggestions. 10 Things to do after 10 PM? 17 Ways to Tell Your Mail Carrier Thank You? I’ll leave the numbers with skinny jeans, Crocs, and Pinterest in my “avoid at all costs” pile.

Anywho, please consider choosing a resolution to try! If it doesn’t work, pick a new one. January 1st isn’t a magical date (good, because today is the 2nd). Any time is a great time to be better! Tweak it to make it your own. Involve your whole family. Share it with others to keep yourself accountable or quietly do better. Either way, let’s all plan to do better in 2014. And please, leave your own suggestions in the comments!

 

Try a new trend.  It only takes guts!

Stand up straight. Throw those shoulders back and stare at the world head on. You’ll be surprised to see how much better posture positively affects your mood. Walk around like you’re supposed to be there, not like you were defeated before you got there. And while you’re at it, smile at people as you see them.

Chill out with the selfies. One every now and then is fine, since we want to see your happy, smiling face. But let’s be honest – if you post a weekly selfie, we get it already. And if you post one a week, or even – gasp! – daily, my New Year’s resolution was to hide you from my newsfeed. Self confidence is something you have within yourself, not something you choke others with. For the love, please stop driving and selfie-ing.

Take more photos with you in them. I know, this sounds like it contradicts what I just said. But there’s a difference between taking a photo with a friend or a nice family photo and sitting on a bathroom counter to show everyone what your hair looks like that day. Some day, many many years from now, your children or friends or family will want photos to remember you by. Your grandchildren will want to know what you looked like, be it overweight or skinny, hair done or not. They’ll want to laugh at how silly your clothes looked and marvel at how they have your nose. They won’t want a duckface bathroom mirror picture hanging in their hallway, and you don’t want a picture of you driving, pretending you’re not taking a picture of yourself, blown up and on an easel at your funeral. Jump into the picture and document this time in your life, regardless of how you feel about your appearance. If not for yourself, then for the people in the future who will inevitably want it.

Encourage someone daily.  Send an email or text to someone, compliment your cashier’s hairstyle or nails, pull aside a new mom and tell her she’s doing a great job. It doesn’t have to cost a dime. Take the time to tell a manager about exceptional service you received, send a note in the mail. It takes very little effort, and the smile on their face will almost always result on one on yours. I’ll be honest, I’ve taken screen shots of sweet Facebook messages I’ve received that have made my day. Everyone is always so busy, working so hard, so consumed, and it’s easy to let isolation or routine swallow you up. You may never know the impact that a simple affirmation can have on someone.

Yell less. Unless you’re at a sporting event or being attacked, how necessary is your outside voice? I’ll be honest, I struggle with this myself, often out of frustration at my kids. Yelling may make my words louder, but it rarely gets me heard.

Cook more. I’m grumbling as I’m typing this. I hate cooking. Well, I hate juggling three kids while cooking. I would much rather decide what sounds good and have someone else cook it for me, often better, and much, much faster. But cooking always saves us money, is almost always healthier, and sometimes even leaves enough leftovers for a pretty sweet lunch the next day.

Get involved in a child’s life. If you have a niece or nephew, a grandchild, or even a close friend with a child, please make the effort to be a part of their life. Kids are fascinating creatures. They’re only this age today, tomorrow they’ll be a little older. Children love and need attention, to be made to feel special. I am an only child, so I get extremely jealous and sad when I see or hear of children who have amazing aunts and uncles who are involved in their lives, who call them, babysit them, get excited about them, cheer them on at events. So make a phone call, make the effort. Go to a soccer game, ask them about themselves. Babysit (for free!), CARE. Investing time into a child will ALWAYS be worth it.  Children don’t know how to maintain a relationship when they are young, so you’ve got to do the legwork.

Stop asking me to do things without my kids. Let me clarify: Stop forgetting that I have kids. Without naming names, there is a couple in my life who I should have a better relationship with, but they keep forgetting that I have children. Three of them. Yet this couple’s closing statement the 2-3 times a year I see them is “We should go to dinner, just the four of us.” As stated above, I don’t have an abundance of people in my life who will step up and love my kids for a few hours while I hang out with you. And the babysitting I DO get, I like to use to get a rare date night with my husband. If you want to get closer to me, embrace my kids. Would I love to have a leisurely lunch without them? Oh yes. But if you make it a condition of our relationship that my kids not be present, you can kiss our relationship goodbye.

Plant something. A flower garden, a Topsy Turvey hanging tomato plant, or your feet on the ground, make something grow this year. Make the earth better. Make the air cleaner. Eat produce that you grew. Pick flowers that you watered. Take ownership and pride in something that can nourish your body or soul.

Vote. Learn about issues, local and national, that you can get passionate about and have a voice in. Not everyone has the right to vote, so make sure you appreciate and exercise yours!

Have a garage sale. This will clear your home of unused and unnecessary clutter, force you to give yourself a deadline if you set the date of the sale, and get you some extra cash. You can join together with friends or neighbors to help share the workload. Craigslist is spotty and Ebay takes time, but a garage sale is relatively quick and easy to pull off. How could your life not be better with less mess and more moolah? Bonus – Use the cash to pay off a bill!

Stop the Facebook game requests. Seriously. I can count on my hands the number of people I have ever deleted as a Facebook friend, but the majority of those few chosen were due to excessive game requests. Yes, now I know I can block requests from individual people, and believe me, I do. I once received over 20 requests in a single day… from a single person! The craziest part? All of the game requests – every single one – are from adults. Grown dang people. People with jobs and families. If you send me multiple game requests, I WILL simultaneously block your ability to do so and question what you do with your life. I’ve also noticed a correlation between the people who send large amounts of game requests and the people who complain about their lives. I’m not SAYING the games are the cause of unhappiness in their lives, I’m just saying maybe if they spent less time being grown dang people who play computer games and more time being grown dang people who engage in their real life, they’d see that there are blessings all around them.

Park better. If you find yourself with the wheels of your vehicle over the lines of the parking spot in 2014, take the time to back out and try again. Otherwise, someone else may resolve to key your vehicle or leave you a nasty note. Or just resolve that you’re not smart enough to park between two straight lines.

Listen. If it’s a child telling a never-ending and nonsensical story or an elderly man talking about his grandchildren in the grocery store, they’re telling you because they want you to hear it. Just listen.

Volunteer. Not to humblebrag. But to offer something that is invaluable and always there, no matter what your bank account says: your time and your heart. If you can’t give, help. Contact local food pantries to see if they need items or help stocking shelves. Contact local churches to see if they have outreach ministries. If you’re involved in a church, pray about what department you feel strongly about and could offer one day a month to help with. Mentoring or tutoring programs with schools or libraries. Women’s shelters. Nursing homes. Soup kitchens. Homeless shelters. Prison ministries. Pregnancy centers. Children’s hospitals. Do yardwork for a widow or even just mow your neighbor’s yard while you’re already out there doing yours. Contact someone who hasn’t been to church in a while and let them know they’re missed. Babysit – for free! Hug someone who has been hurt. Share your love as passionately as you do your political beliefs. Give of your time and heart and make a difference.

Accept people for who they are – not who you think they should be.  Many of the times in my life that I have been disappointed by someone, it is because I expected them to be someone else, or at least behave a certain way. If someone has always been a flake, then I can’t expect plans with me to change that. If children are inherently selfish, then I can’t expect mine to not struggle with sharing. My mother is bipolar, no matter how much I wish she weren’t. Loving someone who is bipolar is as much a roller coaster for you as for them (and I may blog about this alone in the future). But I was reminded by my aunt that she is bipolar no matter how much it affects me. I can either accept her as she is (and remind myself that sometimes there’s more illness than individual), or not at all. Yes, sometimes people just ARE that dumb. But getting angry about it won’t make them smarter or help either of you. The sooner you let someone else’s choices or quirks roll off your back, the happier you’ll be. Someone being rude to you has nothing to do with you – they’re just rude. So don’t take it personally and move on. My younger son does not behave the way my older son does. The sooner I accept that he is NOT my older son, the sooner I can appreciate what makes him so different. If someone is living a lifestyle different than my own, they are not doing so as a personal affront to me. I do not have the right to be offended that someone is different from myself.  Accept people for who they are, and your life will get infinitely happier.

Buy small. Maybe there’s a cute boutique in your town. Maybe you know someone who sews or embroiders or paints or builds. I’m sure you know a mechanic who works in a small garage. A hole-in-the-wall local favorite restaurant. I have dozens of friends involved in direct sales, everything from Scentsy to spa products, wine to supplements, jewelry, purses, home decor, makeup… I challenge you this year to use your dollars to support small businesses, small business owners, and local favorites. If you’re going to have to buy something anyway, see if you can support a friend while doing it. The customer service you’ll receive will almost always be better, products will almost always be higher quality, and your community will be directly influenced by your support.

Watch Impractical Jokers. Just once. You’ll laugh so hard you might pee yourself.

Reduce your ingredients, not your pants size. If you’re going to resolve to get healthier this year, do it to be actually healthier, not smaller. Diets are temporary. Changing your lifestyle will have much greater impact. Denying yourself a Snickers for all of 2014? Good luck with that. But educating yourself about the ingredients you introduce into your body will make you much more passionate about your health, and will probably have the added bonus of wittling away at your waistline.

Accept responsibility. The sooner you stop blaming others and accepting how your own actions affect you, the sooner you can do something about them to change whatever you’re unhappy with. Are you mad at the guy driving slowly in front of you? Maybe if you’d left on time you wouldn’t be so rushed. Friends keep letting you down? Maybe you asked too much of them. You have the worst parents in the world because they won’t upgrade your iPhone? Maybe you’re a spoiled brat. Accept that we’re all human, all fallible, and all capable of messing up our lives. Accept your responsibility. Then go a step further and do something about it.

Love on your pastor. And his wife. And his kids. Don’t have a pastor? Then find someone who pours into your life, encourages you, gives of their time, and love on them. Ministry is a largely thankless job that is definitely not pursued for the money. I’m sure this will end up being a blog post of its own in the future, as well, but for now, just know that pastors deal with a lot. While you’re at it, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and many other professions where someone leaves their family to help yours is worthy of the occasional thank you. Muffins, gift cards, notes, hugs…. Take the time to thank someone who took the time.

Welcome troops home. Go to the airport, make a sign, and prepare to cry your face off. If you can’t make it to a homecoming, then adopt a soldier. Send cards or letters to deployed soldiers. If you live near a base, offer your home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or really any meal for someone’s son or daughter who misses home badly. Their job is harder than yours, and they don’t see their loved ones as often as you do, so reach out, thank them, and do what you can.

 

As usual, I’ve gone on much longer than I expected to. There are countless ways to do better this year, so let’s hear your suggestions! Good luck everyone, and Happy New YOU!