What I want to tell you

Here is what I want to tell you.

That you don’t ever have to give me a reason for your struggles. There isn’t always one. If there is, you can tell me why. And if there isn’t, it doesn’t matter. It makes you no less deserving of a hug, of a listening ear, of a compassionate smile.

That you can say to me, “I’m so anxious,” or “I’m super down today” or “I’m miserable” and I won’t expect you to know why.

That in sharing where you’re at – to me, to someone else – you are engaging in self-care. Reaching out and allowing others to have compassion for you is self-care. It will in turn allow you to have compassion for yourself.

That you deserve to accept that compassion. That there is nothing so flawed about you that makes you unlovable. That we are all a perfect mess. That however much the fear in your brain tries to spin it, to convince you that you are not deserving of love, of compassion, of self-care, it’s wrong. And if you don’t believe that the voice is wrong, let me remind you it is.

That you will believe it some day. I promise you that.

That I, and many of us in your life, have walked this same path. And we’re still walking it. And we get it. And you are not alone, contrary to that voice in your brain that tells you otherwise. I know that voice. It’s wrong.

That there are no bad feelings. Hard ones, sure. Uncomfortable and painful and sometimes debilitating ones. But they’re not bad. And you’re not bad.

That you can feel what you feel, and walk through the path that you’re going through without judging yourself for it. That you get to  accept it and experience it mindfully.

That the goal of getting through a hard time isn’t to push away the hard feelings, thoughts, or memories. It’s to mindfully experience them. I know that seems counter-intuitive. But if we only embraced, enjoyed, and accepted happiness, joy, and content, we’d only be present for about half our lives.

So: Stay present. Through the pain, tears, memories, heartache, grief. Feel it all. It feels like it will rip you in two. I know. It won’t. I promise. You’re resilient and this will not break you.

<!–noadsense–>

None of us are broken.

I am not broken. I do not need to be fixed
I am not a glass sculpture that has shattered
into a million pieces
No
I have not shattered
Rather
I am a glass sculpture that has had dust and cobwebs collecting
in every tiny crevice
for years and years
And now
It’s time
To clean them out
To gently,
delicately,
prod and wipe at every nook and cranny
Until
Years of dusty pileup are removed
And I shine
and reflect
once more

The best story ever

I just have to share this with you all, because I love every single thing about it.
In speech/language therapy, some of my kids have been working on story elements – characters, setting, problem, solution. Last week and this week, they planned out their own story or comic, and then turned their story elements into an actual story. The goal of this activity was not to have perfect grammar or punctuation or spelling; we were focused on including salient story elements. Consequently, one of my fourth-grade kids wrote an amazing story, in which his own adorably unique use of words, grammar, and syntax, shined through. He wrote it as a “Flow Map” (step-by-step boxes) but it isn’t uploading well so I’m just going to type it into 6 small paragraphs.

Enjoy :)

The Story
Once upon a time in N.O.L.A. there are a family “lets meet the fam they are awesome the firt one is the twins Lucas and Joe they love to hang out with me.” “then there is that girl named Amanda she loves to play ball with me”. The mom and the dad and the cat. The Dad’s name is Ethan the mom’s name is Jenny and the cat’s name is Mazie. The cat Mazie is mi hermano.

When they woke up this morning there is some wind blowing hard and there is making a lot of storms. Baton Rouge is starting to flood. And Mike and Mazie have superpowers, and they can save the day. And then they can solve it.

During the hurricane we are outside to try to stop the hurricane but suddenly we heard an evil laugh. It was Schweinstiger the evil cat who makes storms and hurricanes. Schweinsteiger says “we are going to make the lower southeast region ruined!! hahahaha!!”

They said “never!!” And then Schweinsteiger was trying to attack them with his storm powers. Then they are dodging. Suddenly Mazie the cat got hurt by this lightning. Mike said “Are you okay?” Mazie said “is this god?” Mike said “No it’s me Mike! We need to stop Schweinsteiger making hurricanes to make the Gulf of Mexico have no more hurricanes!” And then they went back home quickly and tried to get them into their superpowers.

They are trying to stop them and then Schweinsteiger has really good dodging! They were trying to attack him and his health is 92…80…75…62…55…48…30…27…18…1…then Schweinsteiger is dead! But then there is still wind going on. How are we supposed to stop the wind? Our house is about to flood. And we have no power! Mike has magic and he made the weather sunny to make it warm and replace it and the rains are going back p to the sky and the floods are going back up to the sky and then they put it on the newspaper. The newspaper is called Hero Dog and then everyone was cheering and has pictures and some viral videos of it. And that’s the end of the story! No more hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. The End.

Credits:
George Lopez as Mike the Dog
Jennifer Lopez as Mazie the Cat
Kiefer Sutherland ais Schweinsteiger the Evil Cat
Meghan Trainor as Jenny (mom)
Nick Jonas is Ethan (dad)
Ariana Grande is Amanda (daughter)
Chris Brown is Lucas (brother)
Jason Derulo is Joe (brother)

Mindfully being.

It’s no secret that I am an incredibly sensitive, empathetic person. Which, as we know, can be both a blessing and a curse. The news lately has been heavily weighing on me. Certain news stories are triggering hard emotions – but I can’t stop reading. Social media can do similar things. I adore social media and have found it priceless in my ability to connect with others – but reading about others’ experiences, often negative ones, as people tend to post on social media, has felt taxing. The other night, someone said to me, “Be careful what you let into your space,” following my explanation that the news is breaking my heart lately. She went on to say, “It’s okay to care about the world, and we all have stories that stick with us and we want to follow. But it can sometimes become hard to separate what’s happening with someone else from what’s happening with you. And it can turn into a little bit of an obsession. And it can take away from your own experiences and what you’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis.” Hmmm. I thought about why it is that I felt terrified about not being connected to the news or social media. Because I want to care, I lectured myself. Because people always talk about needing to know what’s going on in the world. Because I want to be educated and aware and able to hold a conversation. Because I want to know what’s happening with my friends. Because I want to be a part of people’s lives. Because I don’t want to only focus on myself, I want to be empathetic and care about everyone else.

Oh dear. A giant reframe was necessary, here. Stepping away from the internet and the t.v. doesn’t mean I don’t care. That’s a huge leap that my brain made, and one I can gently dispute. I care. I care so much. I care too much, sometimes. But I have to come first. My thoughts, my feelings, my memories, my emotions, my day-to-day life. Before I can take on the problems of the world, I need to be with me, first.

So then somehow, we were on the subject of multitasking, and keeping busy. I love multitasking. Often times, multitasking feels calmer to me than only doing one thing at a time. And some of that, I know, is just me and my personality. But I am wondering lately if part of that is a subconscious way for me to not have to fully be present in one experience or the other. Mindfulness is HARD. Because it means slowing down and being present and experiencing all of it – whatever it is. “It’s great that you love your jobs and you love to keep busy,” she said. “But maybe you need some time to just be. And experience whatever it is you’re experiencing internally.”

This connected right back to social media and the news for me. Because my downtime often takes the form of relaxing on the couch, checking the news sites, checking Facebook, replying to blog comments, posting new pictures on Instagram. And in a lot of ways, I love that. It’s comforting and calming and helps me feel connected. AND, I think we all have times where it’s actually more beneficial to not focus on what’s going on in our lives. We all need distractions sometimes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes a healthy distraction becomes an avoidance technique.

So on Monday evening, I turned off all of the “breaking news alerts” on my phone. I decided that I wouldn’t watch the news at the gym. I wouldn’t check the news sites. If something drastic happened that I needed to know about, someone would find out and someone would tell me. And if something happened in a loved one’s life, they would either tell me themselves, or I would find out when I found out. It doesn’t make me a bad friend or bad person for not stalking Facebook out of fear that I’d miss something important. I decided that I was going to separate my “down time” from my “social media” time. I decided to be mindful during my down time. I decided to use yesterday and today’s afternoons and evenings as a way to practice. So yesterday I left work, ran a few errands I needed to run, and went to the gym. But while I was running errands I didn’t check social media sites while waiting for the cashier. And at the gym I listened to music and didn’t watch the news. And in the car I didn’t listen to the radio, I listened to the sounds on the road. Then I went home, and it was only 5:00. I sat on the couch and didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to watch t.v. while I fooled around online while I snacked while I thought about the thank-you-notes I had to write. But I gently encouraged myself to do one or the other.

I lit a candle. I read. I opened the window. I cleaned. I didn’t have music on. I listened to the silence. I wrote thank-you-notes in silence. I walked to the mailbox to mail them. I cooked dinner. I splatter-painted. I noticed my breath.

And sure, at one point, I took ten minutes and looked on Facebook. But I did it mindfully.  And I could sense that difference.

A similar experience this afternoon. Initial thoughts of, I’m supposed to just BE? To think and feel and exist with myself? Um. No thanks. So not appealing. But I did it. And at one point I checked out a particular news story I’ve been following. And as I did, I scanned my body, and felt my stomach slightly constrict, my chest get slightly tighter. My body was telling me something. So I put the news away. And I cooked dinner. And I went for a walk, with my earbuds in but no music playing. Listening to the world. Being.

The point isn’t to never multitask, to never check the headlines, to abandon social media. I love all 3 of those things, and that’s okay. The point is to find the balance between good distraction and avoidance. Between stress and mindfulness. Between focusing on others and focusing on myself.

And really, I just need to BE. Whatever is working, whatever isn’t working, whatever I need, whatever I don’t – to embrace it and live it. Colors haven’t been working for me lately – so rather than fighting it, I’m wearing a lot of neutrals. And who cares, because neutrals are colors, too. Today I wore all black, and sparkly gold shoes and earrings, and felt (among other reasons) calm and comfortable. So it works. Whatever it is.

Does this resonate with you at all? What are your thoughts on multitasking? Do you ever find it hard to just BE?

Grounding my body.

I have been thinking about the point where the body and the mind split.

Usually I would never try to do that. I’m all about bridging the two, integrating, getting everything in balance.

But lately I’ve been in an interesting space, where pulling the two apart is necessary. And it’s hard to find that point.

When I think about “grounding,” historically for me it has meant bringing me back to the present, getting my brain remembering where I am, what’s going on, and focusing on the here and now – rather than spinning years into the past or miles into the hypothetical future. Grounding for me has been like meditation. Focus on the here and now. Focus on the 5 senses. Focus on what you can see, hear, and feel. Grounding for many I know means taking a deep breath when your brain is taking you to places you don’t want to go. It’s taking a minute in your office to center, or going for a walk during lunch. Grounding – almost literally – is bringing yourself back to the ground, rather than floating off into the abyss of memories, thoughts, worries. I would imagine that many of you reading this are nodding, saying that you do this all the time, even if you aren’t consciously participating or realizing it.

Lately, though, none of those strategies have worked for me. And it’s easy to immediately react with why not, why isn’t it working, let me run through everything I’ve tried, why am I still anxious, why am I still going over past events and memories, why am I stuck on certain thoughts, why why why. (Shockingly, that doesn’t seem to help.) What I’ve realized is that all of my brain/mind grounding strategies are continuing to work wonders. I do them without even having to think about it, more often than not. But it’s my body that needs grounding. And that’s harder, because that’s not something you can control with thoughts. It’s also harder to talk about, for me. While I have spent the last few years sharing the thoughts and inner workings of my brain, anything to do with body feels vulnerable and scary to share.

Grounding techniques help my brain stop spinning. But they don’t stop the anxious pit in my stomach, or the tornado that whirs around in it. They don’t open up my chest so I feel like I can breathe again. They don’t stop the pounding in my eyes and in my head. I believe that we all have experienced something traumatic, or extremely emotional in our lives. Thinking about that event in your own life, can you now see that difference in how you’ve experienced it over the years – sometimes ruminating, thinking, obsessing, remembering, grieving, in your brain, but other times feeling it, literally, in your stomach, in your heart, in your head, in or on your body? Whether it was the death of the loved one, a car accident, a traumatic injury, a sexual or physical assault, an invasive medical procedure, a disease, an intense altercation at work, an emotionally-taxing event – it goes on and on, and it all had an effect on both brain and body. And just as you might keep reliving it in your brain, you might keep reliving it in your body, too.

So. How do I ground my body? What do I do in those times when I’m happily going about my day, and my brain is quiet and calm, focused on work and life, but my body is stuck?

I actually don’t know.

Yoga helps. Bodywork helps. Massage helps. Sometimes exercise helps.

But the rest, I’m still figuring out.

Does this make sense? Can you relate? What do you do to ground your body?

Cold.

Did you know that there are different types of cold?

There’s dark, dreary, bitter cold. In the depths of winter, when your body wilts, when it hunches over, curling into itself, trying to conserve energy from moment to moment. This is the cold that wears you down. It’s when you come straight home from work and collapse onto the couch, under a heap of blankets and pillows. You contemplate making tea, but your body begs you, Just don’t move. I don’t have the energy for even that simple task. It’s an emotional, energy-zapping cold.

There’s raw, piercing cold. During a pouring rain in the late fall or early spring. When one moment outside sends stabs of ice into every molecule of your body, no matter what clothing you protect it with. When you’re certain the raindrops will freeze onto your body, forming an ice outline. When the wind shoots raindrops sideways into your face, when the wind and the rain join evil forces to freeze you from the inside out, shattering your Self into zillions of broken ice shards.

And then. There’s beautiful, refreshing cold. This is the cold on a bright winter day. Sometimes after a fresh snow. The sun shines, reflecting off each flake of snow. Your body rises up once again, remembering how tall it can be when it has light. You bundle up, protecting your body, but the cold energizes and revitalizes you. The world is still. The wind has gone to sleep and everything is calm. The only movement is you. Maybe a bird here and there. This is the cold that you breathe in, and it expands into your lungs, filling you with life. The sun and the cold, seemingly opposite life forces, form a partnership that saves you. This type of cold is the one that you crave when you are anxious, when you can’t slow down your mind. You step outside to leave work, or run an errand, or get a change of scenery, and the partnership of the sun and the cold immediately reset you. Rather than painfully freezing you, they gently, but quickly, shock you into an alternative state of being. A reset button. A saving grace. Beauty. Hope. Stillness. Calm.

So. Let them play.

The characters: a thirteen-year-old 7th grader and a ten-year-old 5th grader. Both cognitively impaired, to a degree. One with a syndrome. One with severe ADHD. Both with language disorders.

The setting: free play time, on the rug, with a huge box of Legos.


The two play together so well. They dig through the Lego bin together. They take turns digging, as both of their sets of hands don’t fit at the same time. Did you hear that? They take turns. They realize when they need to wait. Please tell me you get how big that is. Over the weeks they’ve developed favorite Lego pieces, favorite characters. They hand each other the ones they know the other likes. I know. It’s huge. Their favorite thing to do is find all of the characters and set them up. Sometimes making them look funny, with a mis-matched outfit, or two heads stacked on each other. They say to each other, “Hey Arianna, look at this!!!” They share with each other. They want to show each other things. They giggle loudly, together, when something is funny. Occasionally they call me over, wanting to show me something one or the other found or created. But mostly, they play on their own. Together.

Here’s the thing. I know there are people out there, various people of various professions, who would say, very confidently, “None of this is age-appropriate.” Such people would talk about how pretend play should be a thing of the past. They might add that a thirteen-year-old girl should be connecting with other thirteen-year-old girls, and that a ten-year-old boy shouldn’t be her go-to playmate.

But can say very confidently, that those people would be wrong. There are no “shoulds”.

Yes, pretend play fades out at a certain age in most neurotypical brains. And yes, most individuals with neurotypically-developing brains would connect with peers their own age. And yes, maybe those individuals wouldn’t sit together showing each other Legos, passing characters back-and-forth, and giggling about it.

But. These two kids don’t have neurotypically-developing brains. So why place neurotypical demands on them? And guess what else? While pretend play develops for so many kids in toddlerhood, it didn’t for these kids. So they’re catching up. Their brains are filling in the steps that they missed. These are kids who didn’t know how to connect. Didn’t make those friendships, didn’t have language until they were in elementary school. So, of course they’re still doing pretend play. They never had.

If I learned a new language right now, that I had never learned before, I’d be at the one-word and two-word stage. I’d sound like a toddler, trying to communicate, in telegraphic speech. Sure, maybe I could memorize a few phrases. But  that would be about it. You would never say to me, “Jen, you’re 27. You need to be speaking in sentences and conveying your thoughts in a much more eloquent way. You need to connect with other adults your age and talk with them.” It’s no different with my kids. They’re not going to magically skip developmental steps that everyone else goes through. And why would we expect them to?

To the people who expect them to “fit in” and participate in “age-appropriate” conversations and activities – the reason that they don’t is because they can’t. Because they’re not there yet. And maybe they’ll get there and maybe they won’t. But whatever happens – let’s just celebrate where they’re at. The new skills they’re developing and applying – it’s no less significant than a baby learning to point. It’s just happening at a different time.

So. Let them play. Let them script. Let them laugh. Let them be thirteen-years-old and need to learn how to use words and not push. Let them be ten-years-old and learn about compromising. Because, their brains need to. Because, their brains never did. Because, they’re learning. Because, they’re connecting. Far better than forcing them to sit and talk about things that they don’t understand and things that they don’t care about.

And if you worry about them not fitting in? They do fit in. Just maybe not with whom you expected them to. But that’s okay. We all make different friends. We all have different connections. The important thing here is that they do fit in. They have peers. They have playmates. And that’s worth embracing. That’s what matters.

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