It's Ok to Not Be Okay

 
This was my most popular letter in the What I See In Your Story series.    Sign up for my newsletter here to get my words straight into your inbox.    There’s lots I only share with my community via email!

This was my most popular letter in the What I See In Your Story series. Sign up for my newsletter here to get my words straight into your inbox. There’s lots I only share with my community via email!

 

Dear Orchid,

I know you feel so alone. I know you feel like the chaos and uncertainty surrounding you has paralyzed you. I know you feel stuck, unsure of how (or even whether) you will get past this season.

It's okay to not be okay. It's ok to be full of anxiety and fear. It's ok to have a bad day(s). It's ok to not be productive.

You are still the ambitious and creative person you are at your core. This trauma does not define you. You are not this loss.

One day you will be able to look back on this time and see your strength, see how resilient you became in the face of this. One day this story will become woven into the fabric of your life. One day you will turn around and be shockingly delighted to see the mountain you have climbed.

Until then, it's ok to take your time. Let this be your seed of hope.

Remember - your story is your strength,

Rachel

This Is My 40

Three life lessons from a tumultuous last decade.

1. Self care is no joke.

For a long time I believed that rest was for wimps. In college, I attended class all day, headed to a grueling three hour gymnastics practice, then studied at the library well into the night. I’d wake up for my eight o’clock classes and start all over again. It wasn’t that I was a human machine - one of my professors even called my gymnastics coach because I was constantly falling asleep in class. I simply would not acknowledge that I needed rest. After college, I kept this familiar schedule, working all day and coaching at night. Looking back now, I was running on fumes of anxiety. Down time terrified me. The expectations I put on myself were crushing and no amount of studying was enough. 

It took having kids and leaving a job in academia after almost a decade to help me understand that this pace was unsustainable. It wasn’t one moment or even several, but a slow realization that I because I was not taking good care of myself I was not showing up as the person I wanted to be in the world. I had an extremely short fuse, lots of simmering anger, and I didn’t have any clue about experiencing the present moment. I had one speed - GO. 

Gradually, I made big shifts in my life. I quit my job that had me commuting over an hour each way (with kids, full time). I started a new job from home. I went to therapy for the first time. I began my writing practice. More recently, after my migraines started significantly impacting my quality of life, I decided to try to get eight hours of sleep each night. I finally figured out how to nap. 

I did these things over the course of about five years. There was surely no magic bullet. But I can honestly say that most days I feel really good about what I’m doing with my time and how I am progressing as a person. I have so much room to grow, but I’m also really proud of the choices I’ve made to get myself to this place. 
 

2. Most of the small stuff doesn’t matter. Really.

Not long after my husband and I moved into our first home, a poorly built condo for which we paid way too much at the height of the real estate market before the recession, we had a toilet break. My parents were visiting. All of a sudden water starting coming through the ceiling where the chandelier was hung over the dining room table. I completely lost it. I was screaming at my family as if it was somehow their fault. I couldn’t calm myself down. My dad finally suggested I go out for a walk to cool down. This was my thing - get really mad, really quickly. Why was I so quick to boil over? Who did this anger serve? I guess I got a release and adrenaline rush when I let that anger go by yelling, but this was something I was not proud of. 

For me, it took experiencing significant life challenges to fully understand and agree with the idea that most minor annoyances of daily life are not a big deal. When you say goodbye to your newborn, delivered into the world just hours earlier, and watch him wheeled away to undergo a cardiac catheterization under general anesthesia; well, traffic and picky eating and email just seem like ridiculous things to be worried about. Practicing being grateful has helped me too. When I’m struggling mightily with being a caregiver for my mom with advanced dementia I try to recall how grateful I am that my sister and I are a team, almost always aligned in decision-making and having each other’s backs for support. Facing this disease without my sister is unthinkable. 

I lose sight of this one routinely, but I think I’m getting quicker in my recovery and I know my anger has decreased significantly. Just recently I arrived at the pool with the kids and noticed a hissing sound when I get out of the car. Turns out there was a screw in my tire. Instead of losing my cool, I thought about how fortunate it was that I noticed it and I quickly got the car back home before the tire was entirely flat. No biggie. 
 

3. Your story really is your strength.

Like lots of new moms, I joined a baby group when my eldest was a newborn. There were probably 20 mom/baby pairs in this group led by a breastfeeding expert. I remember watching with a kind of horrified fascination as all the moms laid out their adorable teal and white chevron baby blankets, placed their baby upon them, and then actually sat back and participated in the discussion. My own dear baby (the one who’s now 10), screamed bloody murder if you dared try to leave her on the floor by herself. She was usually screaming anyway, but the volume was somewhat decreased if she was attached in some way to me. I can’t recall a single positive moment from that group and I think I may have stopped going, unable to handle the feelings of defeat that came in waves as I tried to get through those sessions. My early motherhood was filled with these moments of feeling alone, separate from the other moms, aside from my closest of friends. 

We've since learned that this little baby, my daughter, Carly, experiences the world differently than most people you know. When she was a toddler she would often tell me she wished she was still inside my belly. The world was too much for her to bear. She needed parents who could let that be ok. Parents who could handle huge emotional hurricanes that roared through her little body. We were not those parents. Slowly, over the course of several long years, we changed the story of the parents we thought we were to become the parents Carly needed us to be. 

Back then I couldn’t have imagined how Carly would have changed my outlook on life, but now I see how she has rewired my entire brain. The experience of feeling isolated as an outsider was new to me and brought along a new perspective, a new compassion for other people and for myself. Seeing my own child struggle in every possible way and trying for many years to help without seeing much success also made me a more empathetic person with a capacity for holding space for heaviness, discomfort, and loss. 

This very thing I resisted, the ability to sit with the most challenging of emotions without changing or avoiding or shoving them behind the curtain, is the exact thing I bring to the women I work with in my business. It’s what I am teaching them to do with their own stories; look at the darkest of times square in the face and see the beauty in what you’ve become because you found your way through.  

Book Club: Michelle Obama's "Becoming"

Nuggets of wisdom gleaned from “Becoming”. This book is so good! I’m nodding my heading with every turn of the page.

Do you miss my writing? I’m still doing it, just sharing mostly with my newsletter list at the moment. You’re on the list right? If not, hop to it - join by clicking here. You’ll get my beautiful guide, Rewrite Your Story, just for signing up.

Book Club: The Orchid and the Dandelion Part 2

SIx Strategies to Help Your Orchid Child Bloom

from the book, “The Orchid and the Dandelion” by Dr. W. Thomas Boyce

Hand in Hand Parenting’s Special Time tool

If you love thinking in big strokes with real-life examples woven in, you need to get on my weekly newsletter here!

The next round of Sanctuary (Story + Community = Healing), my eight week online program, is coming soon. Get on the first to know list for all of the details.

Gratitude

This one’s for my sister.


Every inch of my body screamed, "I can't do this again. I need to leave. I can’t handle One. More. Moment.” I felt agitation running through my veins, anxiety rising in my chest. Resentment and anger came bubbling up as I thought of all the families sitting down to their Thanksgiving dinners while I found myself in a room alone with my mom, inside of the assisted living facility we had moved her into two weeks prior. She was downright refusing to get dressed and come with me to join the rest of our family for the meal. Or maybe it was her disease, the PCA, that was refusing to come.

I took a step back and tried to breathe to stop myself from yelling. I wanted to yell all the time, at anything and anyone. At the squirrels who got in my way on the sidewalk, at the aide who should’ve had my mom dressed already, at my kids to put their shoes on. In that moment I wanted to yell at my mom. Then my sister, Dani. “It isn’t fair that you get healthy grandparents”, I would scream. “You get to leave for the holiday and go on date nights with free babysitters and have someone cook for you while here I am, stuck in this room.”

The thing was, I really couldn’t convince my mom to come with me. While I was seeing red inside of my reptilian fight or flight brain, I knew enough to know that I was not mentally in a place where I was going to be able to connect with my mom, get on her level, empathize. Get her dressed so I could be with the rest of my family who were already together, waiting on us. So I called Dani.

Isn’t this what we do as siblings? I would do this to no one else on earth (well, except maybe my husband - sorry babe). I’m so resentful in this moment, I’m letting my emotions get the best of me by attacking my sister in my mind, I know she already feels horribly guilty about leaving me alone to deal with the situation, and I decide to call her?

And, you know what? She answered.

Thinking back on it now, I have tears in my eyes. Tears of deep gratitude for Dani. Put yourself in her shoes for a moment. After months of crisis, I mean crisis every damn day for weeks on end where you are pulled from meetings at work and bedtime with the kids to take care of our mom. Off to the neurologist, the psychiatrist, the ENT. Off to the emergency room. Off to a meeting you’ve been called to with the director of the facility. It is only us. Her and I. We moved her here away from her village and so it is us and only us who are responsible. Dani has finally gotten an opportunity to take a moment to breathe. A few days where she can be with her two little kids and focus on them with her full attention because she knows that even if she gets called she can’t physically come. It’s a huge weight lifted for a few precious days. And I evidently wanted to sabotage it for her.

Not only did she answer the phone, but she answered it free of hostility, even though she had to know it was an SOS call from me before she picked up. We had been answering each other’s calls with, “What happened?” for the past two months. But on Thanksgiving she sounded happy and peaceful when she said hello. Immediately upon hearing her voice I started to relax. I put her on speaker and she spoke to our mom in the way that I wasn’t able. She soothed and listened and comforted. After we hung up, I got mom dressed and off we went. 

For years people have told me, “It’s good that you have your sister.” For a long time, I wanted to respond by saying that having a sister doesn’t make the pain go away, you know. It’s still the hardest thing I’ve ever faced. “You’re reminding me of my sister because you want to create distance between yourself and this hardship I’m in; it’s easier to sugarcoat it with my sister rather than acknowledge the pain, isn’t it?” I wanted to say.

This year though, a deeper level of gratitude than I have ever felt before, came into my life. We have walked through the hardest days together, Dani and I. Facing the depth of this disease together, the stripping away of the woman we both love dearly has bound us together in the most beautiful way. We have chosen, time and again, not to scream at each other. Not to take our pain out on each other. But to support. To be the other person’s person. To love.

Now when people tell me how lucky I am to have my sister I close my eyes and say a prayer. Thank you for Dani. Please keep her safe. Please protect her energy and bring her peace.

This brave person shared her story with me.

Remember the prompt I sent out a few weeks ago: What is one thing that motherhood has taught you this month? Our friend Michelle wrote on the prompt and sent it to me! You guys - this is what I have been asking of you and one of you actually did it - YAY!! Please use Michelle as an example and try it. You don't have to send it to me, but if it's as awesome as I think it will be, I would love to share it. I really hope to add other voices to this newsletter on more of a regular basis. 


Questions by Michelle Small

The other night I saw something that just didn't seem right.  I ask, "What happened today?"  Silence follows.  I ask, "Did this happen at recess?  Who were you with?" She stares at me with her lips as straight as a line and her eyes completely glossed over.  I tell her I love her and I am only trying to help and she holds her hands up to her ears and walks away.  Exhausted, I want to just yell after her “Fine! Forget it!!”  I look down and there is my five year old, laying on the ground incredibly lethargic - an instant sign sickness is coming since he rarely ever is still for more than 20 seconds. 
 
I give my daughter some space for a moment while I try to get my son to get up and put on his pajamas, knowing tomorrow I will likely be taking him to the doctor’s office.  He refuses so I ask him “What hurts?”  “How do you feel?”  “Are you hungry?”  He stretches his arms out and whines, “Momma.  I want momma.”  I give him a hug and then he lays back down.  I let him lay there while I go search for the thermometer and check on my daughter. She is in tears and yells, “Don’t ask me anymore questions!!!  It is too hard to talk about it!!!”  

Reflection on my quest to help them both, I am realizing that asking a bunch of questions - a strategy that always helps me and also my students with their comprehension - is not always helpful.  In motherhood, I am learning, sometimes silence can produce the answers.  Sitting quietly with my son after taking his temperature (he didn’t have one at the time), I was able to check in with my gut feeling to know he needed to go to the doctor (he wound up having a high fever the next morning and an inflamed throat that needed medicine).  Since the blow up with my daughter, I have stopped the constant peppering of questions and wait for her to cue me she is ready to talk.  Amazingly, last night, she asked if she could read to me a part from a book she was reading.  This book is one I actually recommended to her and, for the first time EVER, she took me up on the recommendation, AND now she wants to show me a part she likes and connects with.  I feel like I finally have a win.  

I learn and grow by questioning, but I am learning that isn’t how my kids necessarily learn or grow.  It also does not seem to be a method to helps them to open up to me about what is going on in their lives.  For my kids, the more questions I ask, the more unwilling to share they become.  My daughter gets tense and stressed and my son just flat out ignores me and/or dances around (sometimes with underwear on his head) repeating my question or words in a sing song voice and refusing to answer them (He is feeling better today!).  

It is SO hard for me, but I am learning to look for those opportunities to sit in silence or just side by side, waiting for them to be ready to share.  I won't stop asking questions, but I will start pausing more before I do.  It will help me decide if the questions I am bombarding them with will produce the answers I am hoping for.   

Marathon Monday

On April 16th my husband, Curt, ran the Boston Marathon. Throughout the entire training process, every time I talked about the marathon I said "we," as in both Curt and me, as if I was running the marathon too. It just came out. I am not a runner and in fact I can't quite stand running. I think it's because when our partners decide to commit to something big, we feel a stake in it too. We want it badly for the person we love and we often have a significant shift in our daily schedules too.

Because he was running for a charity, Team Frannie of the Ethan Lindberg Foundation, this added to my feelings of connectedness to the race. I wanted to give back to this organization that had been alongside us since my son Griffin was diagnosed in utero with congenital heart disease (CHD) seven years ago. 

Also, the lives of several children who had died of CHD were integrally woven into this race: Ari, Chase, Ethan, Frannie. Their moms, dads, and siblings would all be present on race day. 

On race day, Curt got up early and headed out. The weather was as bad as predicted. The kids and I sat in the hotel restaurant watching the elite runners and wheelchair athletes at the starting line.  The rain was already gushing in torrents over the hotel entrance, soaking passersby. I was anxious about Curt having to stand in the wet and cold for hours before he started. I was anxious about all of the runners having trained so intensely to show up for this weather. Then they did a tribute on tv to the five year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing and my kids starting asking what had happened. Yes, I was anxious about that too.

We headed up to the hotel pool and I watched Carly and Griffin play. My heart was hurting, confused and joyful. Hurting for the pain that CHD has caused these families and my own. Confused about how some kids make it and other kids don't. Joyful that we had the once in a lifetime opportunity to be in Boston that day and participate, in our own way, in the race. 

A little while later, we arrived downtown. We stepped out of the uber and within ten second we were drenched. The kids starting complaining immediately but we went up to Beacon St. to watch the elite women pass. At mile 25, they were almost done. 

We stayed inside for a while, keeping warm. But, I had only one chance to see Curt and I didn't want to miss him. So, the Team Frannie crew headed out to Beacon St. Again, fully drenched within seconds. The rain was coming in sheets, sideways. By now the runners were slowing down. Many were walking. Several were already wrapped in the silver thermal blankets they normally receive at the end. Some were in between two runners who had their arms wrapped around the middle runner, almost carrying the person along. A double amputee made his way by on his prosthetics. I could see the pain in his clenched face.

About 15 minutes before we expected Curt, I took my hand out of my glove and held my phone, with the camera open. I wanted to capture the moment on video. This meant that my hand and arm were sopping wet and frozen and that I couldn't follow Curt on the tracker app because I wanted to keep the camera ready. 

The 15 minutes came and went. By this time Griffin was crying hysterically. He was freezing and wanted to go inside. Carly was ready to give up on seeing Daddy too. I couldn't hug them because we were too wet and I was holding an umbrella and the Team Frannie sign we made and the phone. I tried picking Griffin up and putting the umbrella down but that made things worse. 

I needed to make a decision and quick. Should I let them go inside and get warm? My mother's instinct said yes, especially for Griffin whose health could really be affected by this weather. But my human instinct said no. Their dad had undergone a grueling training for this day. The families standing next to me had undergone weeks and months of hospitals stays for their sick children. And, even if they didn't feel it right then, my kids would always want to have the memory of seeing their dad at mile 25 of the Boston Marathon. So we stayed out.

I started wondering if we missed him. What is he wearing? the Team Frannie supporters wanted to know. I didn't know or couldn't remember, the anxiety getting the best of me by this point. Is Griffin ok? they asked. I wasn't sure.

Finally, we spotted him through the driving rain. He looked fantastic - a big smile on his face and a great energy in his stride. I instantly felt ten pounds lighter. The kids switched from crying to cheering. I pushed the red video button on my outstretched hand. 

He gave us a each a kiss and then he was gone. I looked at my phone and realized it hadn't recorded the moment. I tried again as he ran off towards Boylston St, the final stretch the runners dream of. 


All the struggle and pain and beauty and transformation of life was happening right in front of us that day. Feeling so many emotions at the same time IS life. I was filled with pride and love as I watched Curt run past. Then I turned to take the kids in and caught the eye of my friend Jessica, mom of Ethan, and became filled with sadness for the loss of his life. 

Life is not black and white. It's not either or. It's messy and gray, confused and beautiful. I'm lucky to be here, right in the middle of it.

Help me decide!

I'm squirreled away hard at work getting my class content into a new format for my online class coming this spring! I'm making great progress and would love your insight. 

Which of these versions do you like best for the title slide? Let me know in the comments. Find out more about class here. Hope to see you there in a couple of weeks.