Not a stitch of makeup and just in from a walk - I’m couldn’t wait to hop on to share this with you today. Watch to learn a simple way to start addressing that nasty little belief: I’m not good enough. If it resonates I encourage you to check out my eight week, online program, Sanctuary, now enrolling.
Watch the video to see why this was a pivotal moment of transformation and how it might relate to your life, especially if you have one of these beliefs: 1. The anxiety and uncertainty you carry is going to weigh you down forever; 2. Self-care is not important for me.
These are the exact type of self-limiting beliefs we work to reframe in Sanctuary. I invite you to check out the program to see if you are a good fit - we start in Oct. Click here to learn about Sanctuary.
This is an enormous weight you are carrying. The expectation alone is crushing, not to mention the energy it takes to get through the days. This is honorable work and your generous efforts are nourishing those that are closest to you. This is true even if no one notices or says thank you. Especially in those moments where you feel all alone while the rest of the world lives their lives on their own terms.
This is a season of life where it is hard to find time for yourself. Your mind is filled with caregiving to do's; it feels like you couldn't possibly put your needs above theirs because their needs are so great. There are never enough hours in the day.
Remember to breathe. If you have time for nothing else, take 10 seconds to close your eyes and breathe deeply. Light a candle as you get ready for bed as a reminder to do this, to help ease the anxiety a bit.
Remember to rest. When your energy is drained, you have less to give. You cannot serve from an empty cup. Rest is one of the most basic needs to address as we start to figure out how to take good care of ourselves.
Remember the things that bring you joy. Bring them into your days. These can be tiny things - they don't need to cost much (or anything). Play music you love while you are running from one task to another. Use the fancy tea cup and saucer each day. Go outside and notice your surroundings.
Perhaps above all, have compassion for yourself. You are still a beautiful soul underneath the weight of all that you are carrying. You are still yourself. Find a harbor in your mind that you can rest in each day. Allow yourself to set aside your burden and rest for a moment in your harbor.
Remember - your story is your strength,
Certain aspects of the day I was told that the heart of the 18 week old baby I was carrying was not developing correctly are seared into my brain. I don't recall too many of the words that were spoken or what I was wearing, but I remember how it felt to be left alone with my husband in the ultrasound room for an eternity. I remember the feeling of it gradually dawning on me that being left alone for that long meant something was wrong. I can still feel that slow realization; I knew from my prenatal training in graduate school that this was what happened, but it still took several minutes before my mind hatched the thought: "Something is wrong."
My memories of the next two years following that day are similar. I have trouble recalling names and faces, but the feelings that I felt in my stomach, the rising anxiety in my chest, those sensations can still bubble up when I think about going under general anesthesia when I was 23 weeks along for the in utero procedure to open Griffin's aortic valve, or when I picture the cardiac intensive care unit at Boston Children's Hospital.
For many years, I would experience things in my everyday life that set off these feelings in my body. Like, if I saw a family with three healthy teenagers at a restaurant, I would get upset that maybe my little guy wouldn't make it to that age. Or if I drove past a little league baseball game I would be triggered by the uncertainty of whether Griffin would ever be able to participate in sports like a typical kid. Life was a minefield; I could be triggered by almost anything and it would get my heart racing, the tears flowing, anxiety flaring.
This is what trauma looks like. Trauma is the way we recover from a stressful event or loss. It has to do more with how we respond to an experience rather than the experience itself. So, in the immediate time following the event we may have trouble sleeping, eating, going about our daily lives, but typically we figure out ways to cope and recover. If can't get there - if the experience overwhelms our ability to cope - this is traumatic stress. We worry about it because it could lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health problems.
I think many of us go through our lives, experiencing trauma and not recognizing it as such. We think that maybe the experience wasn't "bad enough" to qualify as trauma. We believe that trauma has to include death or sexual assault. But it's all subjective, meaning that the event itself doesn't have much to do with it and it's all about how you responded.
Once Griffin had arrived and was, in fact, thriving, I found I was stuck in the same thoughts that I had during the pregnancy. I had a hard time enjoying him (happy baby that he was) because of these intrusive thoughts. They were always near the surface, circling around in my mind like a broken record: "he's going to need several surgeries", "what if he doesn't survive", "how can I handle this".
Slowly, I recognized my need for help. Other events in my life actually helped push me to get help, otherwise I think I would have waited and tried to figure out the Griffin stuff on my own. I did lots and lots of therapy. I started my writing practice. I told Griffin's story, at first to small groups of students and eventually to a big crowd at a national conference. I started my creative business, Orchid Story, to help other women cope with their own traumatic events. The uncertainty that threatened to swallow me whole nine years ago is much more manageable now.
It took a lot of hard work. A lot of money. A lot of time. A lot of uncomfortable feelings. This is in no way an exaggeration.
And... there is a happy ending. Of course, the happy ending includes Griffin playing in the pool this summer, just six months after his first open heart surgery at age 7. But that's not what I mean, because remember, that even if things look good on the outside - the experience of trauma is still subjective and about the recovery (my recovery) from the events.
The happy ending is that all the work I put into healing myself has helped. The intrusive thoughts are no longer swimming. I get triggered much less often and when I do, I can recover quickly. I was recently sitting with a new therapist, as I am learning Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) also known as tapping. She was teaching me the tapping sequences and we were going through all of those scenes of trauma from back when Griffin was diagnosed in 2010 and his early years, all the way up to his surgery and recovery in late 2018. When we were done she looked at me and said, "You really don't have much residual trauma related to his heart condition."
She could have told me I won a million bucks and I would not have been more pleased.
Do I have other issues in my life that I am still working on? Yes. Am I still worried at times about Griffin's heart and his future? Yes. The work is not done. The work will never be done. The important thing is that I am moving forward. I've come such a long way from that day back in the ultrasound room.
Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart = my fave concepts from this Brené Brown book.
Have you braved the wilderness? What did you learn? I’d love to hear about it.
Links to people and resources I mention in the video:
The doors for Sanctuary close on Monday April 22. If this work interests you, then come check out the program. Presence and self-compassion are woven into every aspect of Sanctuary. PLUS, we will practice how to find the time and then actually incorporate these practices!
Resources from this video:
This week’s video is based on the article, ““The Clinician as Neuroarchitect: The Importance of Mindfulness and Presence in Clinical Practice.” by Baldini et al. Click here for the link to the paper.
I adore these concepts because they help me understand the “magic” that happens when we share our stories together in community. Registration for my 8 week online program, Sanctuary, where we do just this, is open now. I’d love for you to join me in the next round.
Watch this video to learn about how sharing our stories actually changes the connections in our brains leading to higher levels of positive well-being. It’s fascinating!
It’s just been so much fun to dive into these books with you. Here are the two writing prompts I came up with from the second half of Inheritance by Dani Shapiro:
Are there things we know, subconsciously, before we know them? Why do we put of pursuing the truth or acknowledging what’s happened?
If we are striving for understanding and healing, maybe we must revisit our stories time and again. What story of your needs revisiting?
I’m teaching a new, free class next week. It’ll be different than these Facebook live videos - I’ll have slides (ooh la la), be a tad more organized, and I created a beautiful workbook to go along with the class. If you can’t attend live you can sign up to get the replay. Get all the details and sign up: https://www.orchidstory.com/
(This is an excerpt from a recent newsletter to my community - if you’d love me in your inbox every week go here to sign up.)
…self care is not an option, guys. When I saw a tarot reader for the first time this past summer she asked what I was doing for self care. I chuckled to myself, puffed up my chest and said, "I'm doing self care right here and I've been at this retreat center for 4 days!" She narrowed her eyes and asked how many other retreats I would be attending this year. The answer was none. She emphasized that 4 out of 365 was not enough and that I needed to get really serious about deep self care. I've taken those words to heart and I think about self care every day of my life now.
I opened the email and scrolled. Here's what you should do. Here's why that's not the right decision. Here's where you should look and who you should talk to.
When I first started getting these emails from people who do care about me and my family a couple of years ago, I would feel the need to consider and explore all the options presented. I didn't want to overlook something important or fail to consider an option.
Over the years, I've gotten much more clear about who has a say in the decisions I make for my family. Instead of "Thanks for your input!", I'm turning to "Thanks, but this is a personal decision and we are not looking for outside opinions."
I know some of you reading this today are in the middle of a big decision. If not a decision, perhaps a time of transition or a time of hardship/messiness/distress. Everyone and their mother wants to give you advice about what to do. Does this ring true?
I've made several huge, even life or death decisions for my family, and I'm currently in the middle of another big family decision. I thought I would share what I've learned in the event that you too feel like a sailing ship at the mercy of the waves and weather.
1. Who's on your team? You know, the decision-making team. It should be people you trust 100% without a single ounce of doubt. All other voices get shut out. Be ruthless. My therapist taught me a visualization where you picture a safe. Open up the safe, put all of those outside opinions in there, close it and LOCK IT.
2. There isn't a right decision. I mean, maybe sometimes there is, but in my experience, there is often not a perfect solution or an obvious right one. You are not allowed to beat yourself up for making the "wrong" decision later. I've been stuck in this trap before and it can lead to dark places that are hard to pull out of. I continue to work on untangling myself from the idea of a right or wrong decision.
3. Make peace with yourself and let go of the outcome. Even when we do all of the research and have the absolute best of intentions, sometimes it doesn't work out the way we want it to. Sometimes the decisions we make go against the wishes of the person we are making them for. Your job is to look at the absolute biggest picture, the eagle's view, and ask yourself no matter what the outcome is, will I be able to live with this decision?
I hope this brings you a little bit of comfort. I'm over here, in your corner.
The Orchid Story Community, in their own words.
Last Friday I took myself on a date to a little village called Lucketts, about an hour away from home. I went alone. I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by all aspects of my life: work, home, personal. I was approaching the end of registration for the class I am currently teaching and I had gotten myself into a frantic state of constantly refreshing my email and lashing out at my family because I was so wound up about people registering. I also had an important phone call to make that I had been putting off for days because I just didn't have the energy to deal and engage.
I went to a bunch of antique and garden shops out there in Lucketts. I strolled, admired, and moseyed my way around. In each store I went in I saw some version of this "gather" handlettering. It reminded me of fall holidays and being together with people you love. I came home and created my own version of it for you.
When I got in the car to head home I felt secure enough to make the tough phone call and, lo and behold, a student signed up for class while I was on my self-care date.
So here's what I pose to you this week. Two things:
Is there a word that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside? Use it as a mantra, make a handlettering, print it out from pinterest. Something so small can help us shift out of a rut.
Where can you take yourself on a self-care date? Oh no Rachel, you may be saying, you don't understand; I work long hours or I'm a stay at home mom/dad, there's just no way. There is a way. Can you miss one softball game this fall while your partner single parents for a morning? Can you ask the 8th grade neighbor to come over while you take a walk or get to the coffee shop? You are worth it. Your mind and soul need you to give them a little break.
I think and write a lot about living in the “and” of life. That’s the place where seemingly conflicting or contradictory feelings arise and the idea is to allow them both. Just because a feeling feels icky or maybe not what you “should” be feeling, you still allow it to be there and co-exist with your other feelings. I think we often stuff our feelings so quickly that we might not even notice them. We were told as kids, “It’s not scary” or “Stop crying, there’s nothing to be upset about” or “Everything is fine” and we ingest this for life.
My version of embracing “and” is about acknowledging and allowing the feeling. I think this is one of the paths to personal growth. I need some teachers along the way because this stuff is hard. I love to listen to Megan Hale’s version of this on her Wild & Holy podcast. Episode 12: The Underbelly of Expansion was all about how parts of us contract in the middle of expansion.
You know I always use myself as the guinea pig when I’m trying to figure something out, so I am going to use a recent anecdote to illustrate.
Back to School Night happened recently. The day of, I worked at my genetic counseling job, ran to the parking garage at 3:30pm, had my usual two hour long commute home, picked the kids up at their after care, brought my daughter over to gymnastics and then found myself in my kitchen with my husband and son. It was time to go to school for the event, but all I wanted was to sit down with them and rest. Going to school events can be challenging for me. No matter. I left with 10 minutes before the start of the session I was attending, plenty of time given the school is one mile away. Except I forgot about parking at school events. You would think we lived in Times Square. I parked about five blocks away, got out in my heels and started running. My good girl reflex kicked in and I didn’t want to make a bad impression on the teacher that might reflect poorly on my kid.
By the time I got the classroom I was dripping sweat and panting. Great first introduction. The teacher was lovely and calm, which eased my stress and I was feeling good by the time I pulled into the driveway back at home 90 minutes later.
Then my phone rang. I looked at it and saw the name of one of my mom’s caregivers. My stomach dropped, quick and hard. A very big part of my wanted to throw the phone into my bag and stride into the house to start the bedtime routine with my family, ignoring the call. Having been on the receiving end of these phone calls for the eight years since my mom’s diagnosis of a rare dementia, I have a strong hit of intuition when something is wrong. I just knew that answering the phone would lead to more action that evening. I didn’t want more action.
Let me pull apart here some of what I was feeling right in this moment:
Utterly exhausted from this marathon day and stimulated from a big shot of adrenaline knowing something has occurred with my mom.
Shameful that I wanted to ignore the call and proud that I can handle these moments of extreme stress.
Gratitude for having helpers that lovingly take care of my mom and resentment towards this disease that has taken over our lives.
I could go on. I think it’s so helpful to acknowledge and, as I’ve done here, write these feelings down. I don’t feel any shame now about these feelings. Processing them in this way is so helpful to me.
I did pick up the phone. There was an emergency. We dealt with it. Until the next phone call.
Your turn: Describe a scene where you had conflicting feelings. Then write out the actual feelings.
I'm getting ready for my Hero's Journey workshop this Saturday in Vienna, VA (we still have a few spots left! come join me!) and in doing so I've been thinking about both the literal and figurative journeys I've been on this summer. I had a deep realization in recent weeks what a privilege it is to be able to travel. Take a second to be filled with gratitude for the the places you saw, the foods you ate, the conversations you had.
I'm sure it's the same with you. Lots happens over the summer - we travel to new places, we spend more time with people we love, we read lots of books (I read a ton of books this summer - maybe I'll do a roundup for you soon). Then, we get to the end of August and school is starting for the kids, we are rushing around trying to get everything ready and before we know it we're celebrating Rosh Hashanah and attending weekend soccer games. The summer feels like it was years instead of weeks ago. You don't need kids to understand and live this phenomenon. We are wired to be thinking ahead and planning for what's next, constantly.
Taking a moment for reflection fills your soul. It reminds us where we've been and what we learned. Or why that trip was so important for you to plan and take in the first place. One fun and simple way to access this journey of yours is to open up your photos on your phone. Pick one you love and give yourself 15 minutes to write a reflection on the photo.
Like the idea but know you won't actually carve out the time to do it? Check out my new calendar of events to see how I can support you in telling your story.
Starting in April I would walk out to my rhododendron and stare. This winter has been weird, I would think. The spring has been awfully cold. Are they going to bloom? The calendar turned to May, the month that the blooms typically arrive, but the buds were giving no sign of opening up.
Finally, in the week leading up to Mother's Day, when I was doing my series on co-authors in motherhood, the purple started peeking out. The full bloom image above was taken on Mother's Day itself.
This flowering bush seemed to be sending me a message. I was impatient with it, checking and re-checking every day, doubting its ability to bloom, wondering if it would reach its potential, and prematurely lamenting that the blooms only stick around for a short time.
Sound familiar? I couldn't ignore the similarities with motherhood. We want to be a perfectly formed mother immediately, as soon as we're bringing baby home from the hospital. We get impatient with ourselves as we make mistakes in mothering. After a hard day with yelling and dirty dishes and toothpaste all over the sink we wonder whether we will ever flower into the mother we thought we would be.
You have to give yourself time. You have to be patient and work with the process instead of trying to speed it along. (Right?) Not just in motherhood, but in whatever your struggle might be. You need water and sunlight and food. The beautiful bloom is there inside of you. It will emerge when its ready. Then the process will start all over again.
Happy Mother's Day!
For my final celebration of co-authors in mothering I am honoring the best mom on earth - my own. And the rest of my kick ass nuclear family that has steadfastly supported me these past nine years. It takes a village and I know how lucky I've been that my family is mine.
I write about how my relationship with my mom has changed due to her diagnosis. Before our family was hit with her condition she was the rock in my life. I think I called her almost every day during the first four years of my daughter's life. Those were not pleasant calls. I was either crying hysterically or screaming in frustration. She was my container for all the ugliness inside of me that I didn't know how to process at the time. I think back now on how hard and draining that must have been. She never wavered in her faith that I could figure out how to be the mom I needed to be for Carly. We have always been close and she has taught me so much throughout my entire life, but I think those early years of mothering may have been when I needed her the most. She never failed to show up and love me unconditionally.
The rest of my family roll call:)
Curt - the shore I rest upon after battling the raging seas. The voice of reason and sensitivity. The man who believes in me and always sees what is good in this world.
Danielle - my advisor on all things mental health. My confidante and best friend. Everything I could ask for in a sister. You get me.
Julie - the person who understands my daughter best. Everyone needs their "person" who will always accept you for who you are - thank you for being Carly's person.
Lydia - the caregiver above all caregivers. She lives by love and love alone.
Joe - a breath of fresh air. Always up for a game with the kids especially when the moms really need a break. Our kids are happier because of you.
Marc - the man I thank God for every day that you came into our lives. My little joke that is not really a joke at all.
Dad and Cliff - the patriarchs of our family whose love still guides us even though you aren't here to be the grandfathers we know you so badly wanted to be. We love you and miss your big personalities.
I met today's co-author in mothering, Jessica Lindberg, during my pregnancy with Griffin. Back then her foundation had a different name, but today it's known as the Ethan Lindberg Foundation, named in memory of her son, Ethan, who died of congenital heart disease. Jess was a mentor when we entered the scary world of pediatric cardiology - a place no parent wants to find themselves. She led with love and showed me and many other heart moms what it looks like to walk this path.
I learned most from Jess during the last months of Ethan's life. She wrote often during that time and took her readers on the journey of what it is to walk to the end of the earth for your child. I often talk about taking a flashlight to the dark, unknown places in life and Jess did this beautifully. My heart broke open for her. It was the first time I had been close to the intense mother's struggle for a child's life and what comes after for the survivors. What a gift this was to allow me and others into her journey.
Jess is one of those people in my life who I feel I was destined to meet. We have other connections too, that have to do with her youngest son, Bodey. There are too many commonalities for our friendship to have been a fluke.
Though I've known Jess for many years it was not until 2018 when we finally met in person. This picture is from that weekend. I can't imagine going through life and not connecting with Jess - and I never would have met her if Griffin had a normal heart. Another example that life-giving connection can come from the darkest places.