The winds are blowing… again.
It’s dry and hot… too hot and dry for April. We need rain. We needed moisture desperately in December before the fires blew through South Boulder. My heart aches every day for my friends who lost their homes.
There was a fire up the road a few days ago, and the neighborhood just North of us received evacuation orders. We were next, so we started to pack our essentials. My heart was in my throat; prayers on my lips. We brought our cat inside just in case. Asher asked every ten minutes, “Are we going to have to evacuate?” “I don’t know,” I replied. The I don’t know doesn’t sit well with any of us. We hung in the abeyance of uncertainty, grasping at news updates, seeking footholds however we could until we received the “all clear” and we could exhale.
As I sit and write, my sons are at school, and one is on a field trip. I watched my anxious mind attach onto a catastrophic story a few minutes ago, as it likes to do when I’m feeling vulnerable. I caught the story, thought of all of you, thought about a common question I’m asked by parents, “How do I deal with parenting anxiety and the fear I have that something horrible is going to happen to one of my kids?”
My short answer: Worry is the the work of parenting. (And the work of loving anyone. For those of you struggling with relationship anxiety, this all applies.)
My longer answer: Learn to name the intrusive thoughts/images as protectors and soften into the vulnerability of loving that lives at the core.
I practice my own words, but in that moment when the horrible image arrived my first thought was, “This is too hard. This is too much to ask of humans. How can we love so deeply when the possibility of loss exists?”
I’ve written it a hundred times, but the longer I sit with others and my own psyche, the more clear it becomes: the anxious, intrusive thoughts are protectors against the pain of loss, change, aging, and the fear of death. The more we fear the pain, the stronger and more persistent the thoughts become and remain. The thoughts are a tenacious, thick cloak that drape around your mind, luring you away from the tenderness and messiness of the heart. The more we can soften into the heart, the quieter the thoughts become. It’s not that they stop arriving, it’s that we become more adept at seeing them as messengers and dropping more quickly into the heart-space. With hand on heart, we watch the thoughts dissolve.
But how to soften into pain when it rips at the contours of the heart? How to drop into the body when the body hasn’t been a safe place to inhabit?
Slowly. With others. With a safe, trusted therapist. With long-term friends. With a partner. Dipping in then coming back out. Pendulating, is the trauma-informed word. I love that word. It reminds me of those desk birds that dip into water then come back out. Or a hummingbird that tips its beak into a flower and then flies away. When the pain is big and searing, we must dip into it slowly, then fly back to our safe space, which might be a head space. That’s okay. Next time you can try to stay with the pain for a few seconds longer.
in the heightened vulnerability of these times, I’m feeling the pain of being human more acutely, and the worry of being a mother and hoping my children are okay in the world seems to rise more frequently to center-stage. Of course, even if the world wasn’t on fire, I would still be feeling the ache of love and loss. With two teenagers, they launch out daily in some way, and the imminent launch of college for Everest, our oldest, edges more closely each day.
Last week, Everest went on a school trip and I watched anxiety sneak up on me the morning he left. Here’s the text exchange with my husband at 5am (that’s when he had to drop Everest off at school) when I became slightly panicked that Everest had forgotten his ID and wouldn’t be able to board the plane:
Me: Everest has his ID and wallet yes?
Daev: He just jumped out and went.
Me: Did you ask him if he has his ID and wallet?
Daev: I’m still in the parking lot. I can text him.
Me: Go ask him love.
Daev: He’ll get mad.
Me: He can’t get on the plane without his ID and he doesn’t have a wallet anymore so I don’t know where he’s keeping that. And he needs a credit card and cash.
Daev: He has a new wallet.
Me: I’m really worried about this. Can you please ask him?
This went on for a while. I was in the grip of this anxiety. Then my wise husband, who was holding the grounded role this time, said:
Daev: We have to trust. He’s very on it.
At the word trust, I was jolted back to some ground. Trust is an antidote to anxiety.
Daev: I see him. He’s got everything and happy.
Me: Phew. My anxiety had to attach onto something.”
But really it was my grief that had to attach onto something. Once I named the defense, I softened into the grief of letting him go, and cried.
I feel teary writing this now. Teary at how much I love these children, and what it takes to let them go. Teary at their successes and how happy Everest felt in that moment, anticipating a school trip with his peers. Teary with self-compassion for my anxious, mama-self, awake in the early light, eventually able to soften underneath the anxiety into my own grief around letting him go and then tapping into his joy and letting it be my own. Teary at the utter, incomprehensible vulnerability of being a human who loves other humans.
How is anxiety showing up for you lately, and when you can soften the stories and connect to the pain underneath, what do you notice?