Use your voice

And use your voice, every single time, you open up your mouth.

(My Chemical Romance)

One of the most empowering moments of each week is at the beginning of my yoga class. We stand at the top of our mats, with strong legs, rooted down. As we reach up and bring our palms to heart center, our teacher invites us to gaze down or close our eyes. She tells us we are going to open class with the sound of a single ohm, and then she says:

“And as I always remind you: of all the things to fear in this world, do NOT let the sound of your own voice be one of those things.”

That reminder, that statement, sends chills up my spine. It makes me grow a little taller, breathe a little deeper.

I used to fear the sound of my voice. I used to keep opinions and thoughts and worries and fears and dreams and desires and stories to myself. It’s scary and it’s vulnerable to speak, to make noise. It invites in the possibility that we may be quieted, diminished, dismissed, ignored, berated. Amidst those possibilities, it seems safer to wilt and hide from the sun.

The thing is, nobody is every really ready to use their voice. Nobody walks into yoga thinking, “Today I’m ready to chant ohm with my class.” Nobody wakes up thinking, “Today I’m ready to tell the world my story.” If we wait until we’re ready, we will be waiting our entire lives. This is the truth.

So instead, we have to just do it anyway. Sometimes in small whispers and sometimes in loud bellows. Last winter I posted a baby step post, and then I told my stories, and then one day I just said, “It’s time.” And then I wrote it and sent int into the world.

Turns out, using your voice, speaking your truth, doesn’t break you. Quite the opposite, in fact. It sets you free. It connects you with others. It invites in conversation. It helps dispel others’ shame. It sets off a ripple of bravery. It’s all good, wonderful things.

The other day I said to Laura, “Remember when we thought that we would go to the grave with it as a secret? I never, not in a million years, thought I’d be here. But look at me – standing in the sun.”

Using our voice gives us power. It raises us up. Makes us grow. Dispels fear. Washes away shame.

So, maybe you don’t feel ready. It’s okay. Go ahead anyway. Chant that ohm. Tell your story. It will not break you. Stand tall, root down, turn toward that warm sun.

On not fleeing

Last week, my husband and I were flying home from vacation. I hadn’t been feeling well the morning of our flight – my stomach was a little upset and I felt slightly dizzy. On the way to the airport the car was warm and I overheated and felt faint, my pulse was high, and I was emotional about vacation being over and leaving loved ones. When we walked into the airport, Husband asked if I was okay and if I needed a minute, and I said I was fine – because I was, in that moment.

But as we waited in the line for security, I felt it start to come on. Fight-or-flight kicked in. While it almost always happens during medical situations, it can also occasionally happen for seemingly no reason at all. Shit, I initially thought. It’s panic or it’s a vasovagal syncope, but either way this is not good. My heart began to beat too fast, I started to sweat, and I felt that horrible hot sickening feeling wash over me – the one that signals, You’re going down. Literally. So I tried to lengthen my exhales as I took off my coat and shoes and put my carry-on on the conveyor belt. But that hot feeling kept coming in waves and I felt my stomach start to tighten – I was going to throw up, or faint, or need to use the bathroom immediately.

I evaluated my options – I had one person in front of me before I could go through security, and for a second, I turned around, deciding to let others go before me and sit down before it overcame me. But the security guard motioned to me, and told me it was my turn. One minute, I told myself. Hold on for one minute. And then, whatever happens, happens. I made it through security. And the minute it was over, I ignored my belongings, knowing Husband behind me would gather them, grabbed a nearby trashcan, and sat down on the ground, dry-heaving, spots floating in my vision, bowels clenching.

I stayed seated for a while and Husband came to check on me, but I was okay. A few people glanced at me but most didn’t give me a second look. One woman asked if I was okay, and I told her I wasn’t feeling well. She sympathetically smiled and moved on.

And then I was okay. And I didn’t spend the next hour ruminating on what happened and why and trying to understand every part of it. Instead, we got some cold water, walked to our gate, and then moved on.

Years ago, I would’ve fought. I wouldn’t have even made it through security because the thought of Oh heavens, somebody is going to see and someone is going to know, and they’re going to wonder what’s wrong with me, and I don’t even know what’s happening or why, and it’s going to be humiliating would magnify it immensely. And that fear of someone seeing, of knowing, and therefore of deciding I needed to fight it, just made the situation worse. But facing it, letting myself be vulnerable, is what helped it pass quicker than it ever would’ve years ago.

A few weeks ago I was talking with my therapist, discussing an upcoming situation in which realistically I am likely to have one of these attacks/situations, and she asked what my goal was in envisioning how I’d like it to happen. Was my goal to “be okay” with what was happening in the situation and therefore not panic/not have my body respond in this physiological way?

No, I realized. The point isn’t to make it go away. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but the point is to be okay with whatever happens. So if I have a panic attack – it’s okay. If I throw up – it’s okay. If I pass out – it’s okay.

And deciding to float, to face it, and not to run or fight it – that’s what gets you through. That’s the bigger life lesson anyway, right? That we will be okay. Whatever happens. And we don’t have to run, because it will not destroy us.

Solstice.

Turns out that despite how much I love writing a new solstice post each year, my thoughts don’t change much.

Last year, I wrote:

The Winter Solstice is here.

Oh, how I love this day.

Today, after six long months of turning towards the darkness, we began to turn towards the light.

We gain a minute of light each day – and in a time where life can feel very dark, each minute makes a difference.

The earth begins to propel us towards the light, just as the waves in the ocean propel you to shore. We now ride the wave of the earth, as it cradles us and gently moves us towards hope, and energy, and life.

All of those are still truths I hold firmly in my heart.

And now, there are sunflowers too, in my head and on the wallpaper of my phone, reminding me that even before solstice, even before the world pushes us toward the light, we can move ourselves. We can stretch and grow so that even in our darkest moments we are always, always, always reaching for the sun and any light we can find.

Happy Solstice.

Towards the Light (author unknown)

By moonlight,
or starlight,
or in the sun’s bright rays,
I journey,
guiding my way
by keeping to the light
as best I can.
Sometimes all seems dark,
then I remember
how the poppy turns its head,
following the sun’s passage across the sky,
then rests in night’s cool shadows,
bowing in thanks
to whatever power
makes the stalk
stand straight and strong,
drawing deep from its roots
a wine dark love.
In moonlight,
the garden glows,
silvering the poppies.
And even by starlight
you can tell shades of darkness
if you try.
So do not lose heart
when vision dims.
Journey forth
as best you can—
bloom when you are able,
rest when you must,
keep your faith,
keep always
towards the light.

Just listen

The minute we got into the room, she put her head down on the table and, sighing heavily, said, “Parents are SO over-protective.”

(Hey, she’s 12. She’s allowed to say stuff like that.)

The role that she needs me to play, as I’ve quickly learned over the weeks, is to be a listener. Think about it – even as adults, all we want is to be listened to, right? Now think back to adolescence and pre-adolescence. We had people telling us we were being dramatic, overreacting, not appreciating what we have. But all we really wanted was validation. So that’s what I give her, while she complains about not being allowed to have social media accounts. She rants about the state of the government, and she talks about how “stupid” it is that people still think that girls and boys aren’t equal. (I know. She’s outstanding.)

We get through a little work. Then she groans again.

“Stupid getting dark early. The lack of sunlight messes with my pineal gland and makes melatonin at the wrong times so my sleep gets so messed up. Ugh. Stupid pineal gland. Sorry in advance if I get even grumpier. It’s not my fault.” I nod. I tell her I so get it.

We do a little more work. We get to a point where she’s going to need to read out loud. She muscles through, struggling to sound out words, struggling to scan to find the part she’s looking for. Most days she’d push through, maybe complain once or twice, but she’d get through it. But lately, things have been getting harder, and she knows it. She’s coming off a bad cold. She’s exhausted. She’s brilliant and struggling in school. And she’s 12.

On the verge of tears, she puts her head in her hands and says, “This is HARD. It’s not fair.”

“I know,” I tell her, as I tell her every week. “I know it’s hard for you. You work so, so hard.”

But this week she keeps going. “It’s not fair. I did so great in 5th grade. And now I’m doing horribly in 6th grade. Everything’s hard. It makes me feel stupid.”

We talk openly, as we always do, about her struggles in school. We talk about how 6th grade is harder. And how her IEP team, including her parents, are working to find out the best ways to help her. We talk about how even if school, particularly reading and writing, are hard, it doesn’t mean she’s not smart. She knows all of this, but we talk about it anyway. Because, how many times have you known something deep down but can’t trust it? Can’t believe it? Need to hear it from someone else? (Me? Only about every day.)

We get through a little more work and then I tell her we have 5 minutes left. She groans. “Why does time go fast when I want it to go slow, and goes slow when I want it to hurry up?” I smile. I tell her I can relate.

She asks if she can draw a picture. She tells me, “This is going to be a picture of what life is like for me.” And she starts to title it (H – E -). She pauses, looks at me, and asks, “Do I need to keep going?” Knowing that “hell” is one of her favorite words, one she usually works into our sessions at least once because she knows I won’t tell her parents, I tell her, “I think I know what you’re going to write.” She then draws the picture. Frustrated with herself for not drawing it correctly, she tells me, “This part is fire, and this part is water. Fire for the horrible and hard parts. Water for the parts that I guess are okay.”

I run with it. “So what are the parts that are okay, or even good?”

She rolls her eyes and recites, like a little performer, “I’m healthy, I have food and water, I have a roof over my head, I have a lot to be thankful for.”

OH, I so know this. Raise your hand if ever you were told those things as part of a reason about why you shouldn’t be anxious/depressed/upset/traumatized/heartbroken/etc? Yup. That’s what I thought.

I look her dead in the eye and I tell her, “No, not those things. What are the parts that each day are good? That you truly love, that make you smile? The smaller things.”

She thinks. “My family,” she starts. “And art.” Her face lights up. “Pottery. Making things.” She names a few other specific things that she loves. She looks at me.

“I’m glad you have those things,” I tell her.

The hour is up and her dad comes in. We fill him in on the work we got done, and in general terms, that we talked about how 6th grade is hard, and how school is feeling really frustrating and more and more difficult. He looks her in the eye and tells her he knows, that they’re working on it, and that they will keep working to help her. After we all chat for a few more minutes, he tells her that they’re picking up pizza on the way home. Her face lights up and as we all walk out, she negotiates for a soda, listing all the reasons she should be allowed to have one.

I just adore that kid.

You guys – when anyone, but especially a child or adolescent, talks to you – really talks, and tells you their thoughts and their feelings and their fears and their hopes – listen. They’re trusting you with their inner storm, and most likely, they don’t share it with just anyone. I promise you – they don’t need you to give perfect advice. They don’t need you to fix it right now. They just need you to listen. To tell them you get it. To hear them. To give them time. To hold space.

No different from what we want, right?

Duck tolerance

Once upon a time, there was a school of ducks. Throughout the day, Teacher Duck worked with many different classes. One of her classes was a group of 3 ducks – 2 boys and 1 girl, if labels were necessary in the pond.

This class swam into Teacher Duck’s room and found their seats.

“Teacher Duck!” Johnny Duck exclaimed. “I know this is really off topic, but can I show you and the other ducks what I have in my backpack today?!”

“Hmm,” Teacher Duck thought. “Can you tell us what it is first, so I can make sure that’s a good choice?”

“I brought my dolls!” Johnny Duck exclaimed. “And I did their hair and it looks sooo good, and I want to show everyone.”

“Okay,” Teacher Duck agreed. “Let’s take two minutes for you to share and then we’re going to get started with the lesson.”

Johnny Duck swam over to his backpack and pulled out his dolls. He showed each of them to Billy Duck and Susie Duck, pointing out the complex braids he gave them, and the fashionable clothes he dressed them in.

Susie Duck said, “Cool! I like their hair.”

Billy Duck said, “Nice. You love dolls. I love Legos.”

Johnny Duck laughed. “I LOVE my dolls. I didn’t start collecting them until a few years ago, so I’m a little behind. But I just love them and I love playing with them and I love how beautiful they are.”

And Susie and Billy Duck smiled, because Johnny loves dolls, and they make him happy, so they had no reason to feel anything other than happy about Johnny.

Teacher Duck began the lesson. Partway through a creative writing, Billy Duck said, “Johnny, I’m going to make you a fairy in my story.”

Johnny Duck beamed. “I LOVE fairies! Can I have glitter and sparkles too?”

“Sure,” Billy Duck nodded.

A little while later, Teacher Duck was explaining the next task, when Johnny Duck glanced at Teacher Duck’s flipper. Though there had been a ring on it for many years, it only just registered with him.

“Teacher Duck, I love your ring!” Johnny Duck exclaimed. “Are you married?”

Teacher Duck nodded.

“So you have a husband?” Johnny Duck asked. “Well, of course you do, what else would you have?”

“Well,” Teacher Duck responded, “I could have a wife.”

“Yeah,” Susie Duck chimed in, who has a Mom Duck as her parent. “And if a girl marries a girl then if they want a baby they might have to adopt. Same with a boy who marries a boy.”

“That’s called gay,” Billy Duck added.

“Yup.” Johnny Duck confirmed.

And then they kept writing.

Teacher Duck looked in awe at her brilliant, compassionate, loving ducks, who loved each other for who each other was, and didn’t question it. Because a duck is a duck – and beyond that, it just didn’t matter.

Where we go from here

One of the greatest lessons I learned over 10 years ago is that emotions aren’t just an “or”. They’re a “but/and”. One of the most wonderful things we are able to do is feel two things at once. Think two things at once. Do two things at once. I can feel tired and still go to work and do my job. I can start laundry but also start dinner. And I can feel terrified and devastated beyond words, and feel hopeful.

Yesterday, in the midst of tears, of fear, of panic, of spinning about what-ifs (something I’ve spent years un-learning), I had moments of hope and of clarity.

Things sometimes – often – get worse before they get better. I sure did. And maybe our country will be the same. People come together in a tragedy. People come together during a hard time. People come together when there’s heavy emotion. And people are coming together right now. If you have ever gone through a hard time, you know that though it may seem odd, there’s something special about a hard time. Hard times mean closeness, an ability to freely express emotions (we always have that ability, but it becomes universally more acceptable), more hugs and love, people checking in on you, and an intensity that is actually pretty special.

I feel afraid for what’s to come – and I feel hopeful that things will be okay. I feel sad for myself, for loved ones, for so many individuals out there for various reasons – and I feel that we will move through this and ultimately emerge stronger. Already many of us feel a sense of a community, of being less alone, of belonging.

I have hope for our kids. I have hope for the next generation of young ones. I have hope that people are starting to Get It. I have hope that people will understand the “both/and”. I have hope that amidst our despair, we will trust. I have hope that we can take this one moment at a time. I have hope that we are much more resilient than we think. I have hope that We Belong To Each Other.

And I have fear and panic and worry. They co-exist. And isn’t that a beautiful thing?

We can sit and hide – and sometimes we’ll need to do that. Sometimes, that’s what self-care looks like. But we will also have moments where we will know:

Nothing lasts forever. Not fear, not hatred, not the tides, not the moon. And things especially don’t last forever when we stand up, take a breath, hold hands, and walk forward. We can do hard things. We WILL do hard things. And we’ll do hard things together.

sunrise

When being different is so hard

I had a conversation with an 11-year-old last week that I can’t stop thinking about. It tugged at my heartstrings because while my story wasn’t her story, I just so get her and I get it.

The minute we sat down together that day, she immediately said, “I’m like a multi-sided die. There are so many parts to me and I’m still trying to figure it all out.”

She happens to be one of the most introspective, super awesome girls I know. She’s brilliant, with an IQ that likely surpasses mine. She’s hilarious. She’s socially awkward. She has trouble in school. She has ADHD. She’s awesome.

She proceeded to tell me about all of the different parts of her – the nerdy part, the quirky part, the studious part, the part who likes art. “And there’s probably a lot more parts that I’m trying to figure out still,” she added.

We got down to work, but later on, seemingly out of the blue, she blurted, “I’m an odd duck. Strange. Peculiar.”

“What makes you think that?” I asked her.

“Because I’m not normal. Because I’m weird. And I have ADHD.”

“That doesn’t mean you’re strange or peculiar,” I responded.

She rolled her eyes. “All adults say that. They say I’m special and unique. But special is just a word they use to mean ‘different’ and unique just means ‘not like anyone else’. It’s just sugar-coating.”

I paused. “I wasn’t going to say that, actually.” I told her. “I was going to say that having ADHD wouldn’t make you strange or peculiar. It’s just a thing. Everyone has things.”

“No they don’t,” she slumped in her seat. “Everyone else is normal.”

I know. I so know exactly how she feels. Think. How would I have wanted an adult to respond to me? 

I took a breath. “Here’s the thing. And you have to trust me on this because I’ve been there. Okay? As you grow up you’ll realize that everyone has something. Everyone HAD something. You just might not know it right now.”

She slid a sideways glance at me. “Because it’s inside. Not on the outside.”

“Right.”

She thought about it for a minute.

“I wish I had x-ray vision so I could see what everyone else has…”

“I don’t blame you,” I told her. “That would make it a lot easier.”

“….but, then I’d be a cheater when I play Battleship.” she finished.

Excellent point, my little friend.

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