Someone asked me, “Do you ever have a bad day? You’re so upbeat and positive as a coach. I just wonder … do you ever get really down?”
“Yes, of course!” I said. If you’ve read my new book You Don’t Owe Anyone, then you know that anxiety and depression and I go way back.
True, I’m proud of how I show up for my readers and coaching clients … and, I have dark days. It’s part of my job to be honest about that.
Yet the person who asked follows my work avidly, and the answer wasn’t obvious to them. So I thought, “Okay, I need to take a closer look.”
What I discovered was that I am like a bird — and perhaps you are, too.
Recently, my best friend Brooke Adams Law shared this quote from a zookeeper:
“‘Birds have a coping mechanism in which they always look like they’re fine, even if they’re not. If a bird is visibly ill, it’s extremely serious.'”
Brooke wrote, “We [women] have that coping mechanism in which we always look like we’re fine …. If we visibly look not-fine, it is really fucking serious.”
It’s our blessing and our curse, isn’t it? We look fine for much longer than we really are.
And allowing ourselves to be seen when we’re not well is both a relief and a terror.
This is me last Saturday. I took this picture after I’d spent 20 minutes sobbing in our garage.
Before then, I hadn’t cried for quite some time – not even after our toddler tripped over her high chair and screamed in pain 11 days ago.
She couldn’t put weight on her right leg, so Jonathan and I took her to the ER for X-rays and a temporary cast. After an exhausting weekend, we went to the orthopedist for more X-rays, a more substantial cast for the probable hairline fracture in her foot, and more screaming.
Then, with the help of some wonderful babysitters, we spent the week supporting our energetic, off-the-growth-charts 22-month-old who suddenly couldn’t walk.
We did so while working from home, recovering from the rigors of the book launch and audio book recording, and … preparing for the arrival of a new baby.
That’s right, friends.
As of this writing, I’m nearly 37 weeks pregnant with a new Baby Girl.
And it’s weighty in every sense. It’s hard to hold a 30lb toddler with a cast and have a 9-months-pregnant belly. And this pregnancy has prompted me to reckon with past trauma on a new level.
Which brings us to the next reason I was crying. You see, we had help last weekend – our in-laws graciously came to support us – but I was having trouble receiving that help.
All of my unhealthy codependent patterns were triggered. I wasn’t being direct with my communication, or asking for as much as I needed. Instead, I was hoping that those around me would figure it out without me having to ask.
Plus, I felt conflicted about being apart from our girl. I was desperate for downtime but reluctant to let her out of my sight. Despite my best efforts she didn’t nap, and I felt weary and victimized.
It was so frustrating, watching myself slide into the old self-sacrificing mode.
I didn’t ask Jonathan for help, but I did ask him for permission to go for a walk (?!) He was incredulous: Why didn’t I just go and do what I needed to do?
I did not know the answer. I did not know what I needed – or more precisely, I could not access the part of myself that DID know.
I was the apostle Paul, doing that which I did not want to do, failing to do that which I wanted to do. So I went to the garage and cried.
Sitting there sobbing with my enormous belly, I instinctively reached for the psychological tools I share in You Don’t Owe Anyone.
First, I allowed all of the big feelings to flow through me without resistance. Next, I noticed the terrifying thoughts in my mind, and gently questioned a few.
Then I did a brief dialogue with the essence of another person. I pictured Martha Beck, an author and coach I look up to as a mentor.
My mental Martha said, “Oh honey. You’re SO pregnant right now! Of course you don’t know what you want and need. Forget that! It’s completely okay not to know.”
I started laughing through my tears, because it was such a loving, funny way to take the pressure off.
Mental Martha said, “Your daughter was hurt this week, and you have been so brave for her, and patient with her. Let’s turn a little bit of that mothering energy towards yourself. You, too, are a soul who is worthy of love and care.”
So I went back inside and rested in Jonathan’s arms. And from that place of peace I remembered kneeling next to our daughter while she received her temporary cast in the ER. The nurses were as kind as could be, but our girl was terrified.
For a beat, I felt lost in fear, too. Then I took a breath and “mothered up.”
Whether or not you’re a mother in the physical sense, I bet you know what “mothering up” is. It’s when you channel every ounce of courage you possess. It’s when you show up because your beloved needs your bravery.
I spoke to our girl softly, soothingly. I stroked her fair hair and recited lines from a book she loved when she was very little. I locked eyes with her, and she relaxed into the steadiness of our bond.
(Photo from last summer; photo credit: Southmere Photography)
Gazing into her eyes, I felt a calm in the storm. It was like stepping into the exact eye of the hurricane.
It was one soul recognizing another, my soul shepherding hers through the inevitable pain of human experience. It was an ancient, sacred rite of passage.
I felt as though I was saying to her, in the language of spirit:
“Here I am, angel. Rest in my arms. There is pain in this life; it’s awful. And you can bear it. You are stronger than you know, and it’s okay to need help. We are held and tethered by love.”
I’d “said” that to Adeline in the ER, and then Jonathan “said” it back to me on Saturday. And today, I’m saying it to you.
From shimmering soul to shimmering soul, with no barriers between us:
You are stronger than you know, and it’s okay to need help. We are held and tethered by love.
PS – I’ll keep writing these missives as long as I can prior to maternity leave this summer. In the meantime, thank you so much for reading and reviewing You Don’t Owe Anyone! It’s the best gift you could give me. As of this writing, we’re at 69 five-star ratings and 62 five-star reviews on Amazon!