September Anxiety

IMG_5108 (1)The slightly crisp air. The sight of school supplies lining the aisles of the pharmacy. The sound of the school bus. Autumn leaves. The loss of light at the day’s end. And my clients are suddenly sharing dreams about showing up at school without any clothes on or forgetting to study for the test.

Why would September bring anxiety? One reason is because it reminds us of school. And, sadly, for many people school was a place where their freedom, creativity, love of learning, and social exuberance were clamped down and, quite often, annihilated.

I often think about the one-room schoolhouse that my grandparents attended in upstate New York. Back in the 1920s, school was a luxury, a place where farm children could escape their chores, learn the essential skills that would help them elevate themselves and attend college, which would then secure a career away from the drudgery and physically-demanding work of farm life. (I find it interesting and ironic that there’s been a huge “back to the earth” movement in recent years. I wonder what my grandparents would say.) While still dependent on the luck of the draw regarding ones’ teacher, I imagine that, for the most part, school was an experience that kids looked forward to.

That’s not always the case these days. I, for one, loved school through sixth grade, but when I had to change schools in 7th grade I experienced anxiety and insomnia for the first time in my life. With the introduction of tests and grades, my genuine love of learning was replaced by the pressure to succeed. Being exposed to social hierarchy and cliques for the first time, which seemed largely based on being well-dressed, my social ease was replaced by the need to please. Where school had once been a place of joy and freedom, it now felt like a prison. September, once an exciting time when I looked forward to clean notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils, was now fraught with dread.

And my school experience was a walk in the park compared to what I hear from many of my clients. I’m always amazed and heartbroken by how many people who find their way to my work – struggling with relationship anxiety and self-doubt – suffered at the hands of bullies in their school-age years. If I had to give a rough estimate I would say that at least 75% of my clients and course members were bullied. Why would this be so? Bullies often target the sensitive, smart, introspective, and introverted kids, which describes my clients to a tee. Perhaps the bullies themselves were highly sensitive babies whose sensitivity was judged, shamed and trampled down so early in their life that they couldn’t tolerate the sensitivity in others. Whatever the cause, when you’ve been emotionally abused at the hands of your peers, it’s very difficult to trust your peers, of which your partner is one, later in life. When your heart has been shattered, it’s difficult to believe that it won’t shatter again.

Aside from school anxiety, September heralds the change of seasons, and the sensitives of the world are highly attuned to this sense of loss. Here in Colorado we taste the first intimations of autumn’s arrival in August. There’s a morning chill in the air before the day’s heat rises into the 90s. Some of the leaves respond to the shift in temperature and start to turn color. There’s an ending, a death, as the season of water and heat descends into colder and darker days. As the world turn inward, psyche follows suit.

The healing response, as always, is to turn toward the difficult feelings instead of pushing them away with judgement, shame, resistance or minimizing (“Silly self, why are you feeling sad when it’s still summer? Nobody else is sad. Get over it”). If grief arises, we breathe into the grief. If a bubble of emptiness hollows the chest, we breathe there as well. If memories of earlier transitions punctuate a moment of day or night, we make room for it and remind ourselves that loss triggers loss, transitions trigger transitions.

My clients often struggle with the idea that sensitivity is a gift. “Why can’t I just be normal?” they bemoan, hoping to be more like at least the external image of people around them who seem to accept life on life’s terms more easily. So I take every opportunity to point out the gift of sensitivity, one of which is that, when you’re highly attuned to the loss inherent to the shift in seasons, you’re also attuned to the potential for growth on the other side. With every death comes a rebirth, and this applies to loss on every level. The gift in this is that when you allow yourself to feel the losses fully, you also experience the joy and potential for new growth on the other side. Transitions shake up the terrain. Without these essential crossroads, life would remain stagnant. And when we dive fully into the fray of the transition, allowing ourselves to surrender to the feeling of being out of control, vulnerable, and groundless, allowing the tears to flow in response and transposing the experience into creative expression, we find ground in the underlying and overarching sense that it’s all okay.

Is My Partner The One?

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I feel like I’m settling. 

This doesn’t feel right.

I often feel irritated with my partner. Doesn’t that mean I’m with the wrong person?

When I think about leaving, I don’t feel anything at all. 

How do I know that I’m with the person that God has chosen for me?

There are all normal questions that barrel through the brain of someone who lands on the anxious-sensitive spectrum. For you, doubt is an inevitable aspect of any decision, big or small. The problem isn’t the questions or the doubt. The problem is how you respond to your mind.

If we lived in a culture that honored your sensitivity and taught you how to navigate through life with sensitivity at the helm of your ship, you would expect yourself to react this way in an intimate relationship and it wouldn’t rattle you. If we lived in a culture that taught you … Click here to continue reading…

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And Then He's Eleven

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As my son approached his eleventh birthday, I found myself sounding like those women who used to stop me on the street as I was walking with my newborn so many years ago: “Oh, sweetheart, what a beautiful baby! It goes by so quickly. Soak in every minute of it. I can still remember when my boys learned to walk like it was yesterday…”

Yes, it does go by quickly. One evening this summer, as the four of us took an after-dinner walk, I looked at my older son, whose head now reaches my chin, and asked my husband, “When do you think he’ll be taller than me?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe two summers. But maybe  next year.”

Each birthday brings an acute awareness of the passage of time. Then the memories tumble in, as they always do on the threshold of a transition.

I see him as a … Click here to continue reading…

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Death, Eventually

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There it is, beneath the thoughts, the chatter, the doubt, the irritation, the barriers against love in all of its varied manifestations: the fear of loss, the fear of change, the excruciating awareness that we will, all of us, ultimately, be separated from the ones we love. At times it seems one of the cruelest realities of life on this planet: that we can love so deeply, but eventually we will separate. Yet as much as we can rail against life, beat our heads against the walls of the universe, argue, bargain, and rage, at some point we need to come into acceptance of death if we are to live our lives with any measure of peace. Death is what is, and to resist what is leads to suffering.

And yet… the more sensitive you are the more acutely aware you will be of death’s many faces, and the more … Click here to continue reading…

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The Fear of Making a Mistake

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The fear of making a mistake and the fear of failure live at the heart of what keeps many people stuck. Whether you’re struggling with relationship anxiety, career stagnation, depression, or generalized anxiety, the fear of making a mistake creates a debilitating and frustrating state of paralysis where you simply can’t move forward and express the longings in your heart.

I’ve often received emails like the following, one of which sparked my initial inspiration to create the Trust Yourself program years ago:

I’ve been able to work through my relationship anxiety, but now I’m suffering from career anxiety. I long to move my career to the next level and start my own business, but my fear of failure and making a mistake get in the way. Every time I start to move forward, the chorus of negative voices start chattering in my ear about all the reasons why it won’t work, why I’m not Click here to continue reading…

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