Our Family is in a Big Transition. This is How I’m Navigating It.

by | Oct 11, 2020 | Anxiety, Empty Nest, Parenthood transitions, Relationships, Transitions - General | 49 comments

We’ve arrived at the end of a cycle in our family’s life. An essential and positive end, but an end nonetheless. And if there’s anything I’ve learned about endings in my nearly forty-nine years on this planet, it’s that they need to be grieved otherwise they manifest as anxiety, arguing and rupture. If we don’t move consciously toward the feelings embedded in transitions and contain them through intentional rituals, they move toward us by grabbing us by the ankles and dragging us into their unpleasant underworld.

What transitions are we in? Oh, so many. For it also seems that transitions often arrive in clusters, not just one but multiple endings and beginnings that collide to shift and grow us into our next stage of life. Within the last two months:

  • Our 16-year old son got his pilot’s license
  • He started public school online
  • He got his driver’s license
  • He started public school in-person two days a week
  • Our 11-year old son started full-time school in person
  • My husband started his second year of graduate school

I’ve watched as the emissaries of transitions have arrived: anxiety, yes, but also the emotions encased inside the anxiety: grief, relief, disorientation, fear, excitement, loneliness. I move toward these as best I can. Two days before Everest started in-person school last week, I wept both to my husband and my best friend: full-bodied, heartbroken, medicinal weeping as I grieved the homeschool lifestyle and identity that we’ve loved so much and has served us well. The grieving allowed me to see him off that first day as he drove himself to school and join him in his joy.

Before our kids started school at the end of August, I wrote a letter called “Dear Homeschooling Life…” and read it aloud to the four of us as we sat outside in the end-of-summer heat. I invited our kids’ grief to come forth as they witnessed my own tears. I created a ritual with the letter and sacred stones as the focal point so that whatever emotions they were experiencing could magnetize to the stones that they would carry with them into the world.

They’ve both expressed sadness many times. Several times at night as we snuggle before bed my younger son has said, “I miss homeschooling. I want to go back.” And I say, “Of course you miss homeschooling. We all miss things about it. But we can feel sad and also know that it’s time to move on. We had outgrown homeschool life and we all needed something more.”

It’s such an important lesson in life: You can both grieve what you’re leaving behind and know that what you’re stepping into is right for this stage. The grief is not an indicator that you’ve made a mistake or that you need to go back. Rather, it’s an indicator that it’s sad to leave behind an identity and stage of life, and this grief needs attention so that it can move through and make space for the joy.

Moving toward grief through ritual also highlights one of the basic premises of transitions that I often teach: the more we grieve on the front end before the transitional day – during the engagement, throughout pregnancy, while packing the boxes, before the birthday or the first day of school – the more we can celebrate the new beginning.

And it’s not a one-time experience; we don’t grieve once then neutralize anxiety and step into forever joy. When anxiety arrives for me now I utilize both the on-the-spot tools and the deep-dive practices that I teach.

For example, every time Everest drives anxiety sends me a catastrophic image (you know the ones ;)). I recognize that in those moment I have a choice: to feed the image and keep myself in an anxious state until he lets us know that he’s arrived safely at his destination (thank god for texting) OR to recognize that this is my worry-mind doing what it’s been habitually trained to do over thousands of years and instead choose a different pathway to strengthen in my brain.

Sometimes I fall by default into the first choice and find myself holding my breath until I receive the “I’m here” text. But more often I choose the second option and turn to my practices: imagining him surrounded by a bubble of light (I learned that from our dear neighbor who has watched our sons grow up and visualizes light around our son when he flies) and reminding myself that he’s a safe driver and it’s more likely than not that he’ll arrive safely at his destination.

I also imagine his joy at venturing out into the world on his own, for connecting with joy is more powerful than fear and when I tap into his joy, my own fear abates.

Another tool I use is putting my hand on my heart and saying, “I love him so much. Please keep him safe,” as I breathe into the wordless, boundless love I feel for him, reminding myself that embedded inside every intrusive thought and image is the fear of loss and that when we name the love and turn to gratitude we can dissolve the fear.

This fear of loss is brought into high relief during transitions, and I’m aware that the fear of him driving is bigger than a fear for his actual life: it’s emblematic of him becoming an independent adult in the world, one more way that he’s separating from us and charting his own course. How often I still see him as a baby, looking up at me with his big, blue eyes as we sat for hours on that bed in Los Angeles! How often I still remember how I grieved even then knowing that in eighteen years he would be off in the world. Here we are, sixteen years in, knowing that we only have a few years left where he’ll be living at home with us, where I’ll get to see him every day, tousle his head every night, hear about the details of his classes and the thoughts and feelings that traipse through his magical mind and sensitive soul.

I’ve watched anxiety try to take hold in other instances as well. As I was dropping off my younger son at school one morning and I watched him and the other kids putting on their masks, my heart filled with emotion: touched by the care that we’re taking of each other, sad that this is how my son is starting school for the first time in his life, grief that after eleven years of homeschooling and spending every minute of our days together I now won’t see him for the next seven hours. As I drove away, I felt a twinge of anxiety try to take hold as a fear-based covid-induced image entered my mind, but instead I breathed into all of the emotions that stem from the same place: Love. The love beyond words I have for my son; the love that we as humans have for each other; love for this life that is so precious and so fleeting.

As often as I can, I let my eyes fill with the tears that live in the well of my heart and when I do the chatter of mind quiets and the aquifers of soul refill. This is how it goes with grief and love: they’re twin flames in the pocket of the heart, which means that in order to fully experience love we have to be willing to experience the full range of emotions that live in the heart. And we have greater access to these emotions during transitions.

As always in parenthood, their transitions initiate my own. The first day Everest drove himself to school was also the first time since becoming a mother that all three of my boys/men were away from the house in different locations. After staying in bed longer than normal and enjoying the silence in the house with tears weaving through my joy and relief, I got up and prayed a prayer of gratitude: first to the trees and land outside my bedroom windows that mother and hold me, then I prayed in each of my sons’ bedrooms. I said thank you for watching over them, thank you for guiding them to this moment in their lives. I sang and moved in the full-bodied expression of prayer I’ve learned from my tradition. I stood in their empty rooms, as if they had just left for kindergarten or college, and chanted through my grief and joy.

The praying, the ritual, the singing contained the emotion so that anxiety didn’t have to take hold.

What I’m left with is silence and stillness, and I’m basking in both, bathing in this liminal time, watching my dreams and psyche closely for guideposts in terms of what’s next for me. I’m entering midlife, my sons have launched in a new way, my husband is gestating his own next stage, and I… I’m not sure which direction I’ll go in. Many are calling. I wait and listen and rest. I sit amongst the raspberries with my sister bees buzzing their song around me. I watch the habit of filling my time with a creative endeavor – a book, a course, a post – and instead choose to lie in my hammock and watch the yellow leaves flutter down from the trees.

The next path will reveal itself. It’s hard not to know, and I move toward the discomfort of not knowing. I trust psyche enough to know that she’ll guide me. I ask the question I’ve asked every day since I entered the midlife portal at forty-four: How can I best serve? The path will become clear with time. For now, I only need to be in the silence of an empty house and full yard. At the beginning of this transition I dreamed that I was pregnant and would give birth to a baby girl in May. Just as my kids are in a 9-month cycle with their new school year, so I’m in a 9-month cycle with birthing a new aspect of myself. A young feminine will be born in May. Just like a pregnant woman, my only task is to nourish myself, rest, fill the waters in the well that have been depleted by these years of intensive parenting and homeschooling.

My husband and I are also in transition as we navigate this new stage of our married life together. This is the first time in sixteen years that our kids have been away from the house without us, and it’s shocked us out of parent complacency where the primary focus has been our kids and demanded that we look each other square in the eye. We’ve poured ourselves into our children these past sixteen years, both of us leading with the same intention: to make sure that our kids feel loved and secure, to attend to their needs and protect their sense of self so that they enter the broader world with their self-trust intact.

But this has come at a cost, for the attachment parenting model is meant to be done in community. With only two of us tending to their needs, our own needs and the needs of our marriage have fallen by the wayside at times. Between long-term breastfeeding, extended co-sleeping, homeschooling, and tending closely to the heightened emotional life of our two highly sensitive sons, we didn’t always prioritize each other. Luckily, with our strong friendship as the foundation of our marriage, we still like and love each other despite the insufficient love deposits in the marriage bank! Luckily, we’re both giddy with excitement that we can nourish our marriage in a way we haven’t been able to do because of the structure of our homeschooling life.

And so… here we stand on this gorgeous fall morning in October, on another threshold in our family life. Have we walked through this transition seamlessly? Nope. We’ve had plenty of the “arguing and rupture” that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. And I’ve come to see that that’s part of the equation as well. We’re so messy, us humans. And we’re messier because we don’t have the cultural rituals in place to help us cross over these transitions in community and with the guidance of the time-honored traditions from our ancestors.

So we do the best we can. We name. We grieve. And sometimes we argue (especially if you have a fiery personality, as several of us do in this family). But at the end of the day, when we meet each other at the dinner table or the breakfast counter, we look at each other and shimmer from the love that runs between us knowing that, as Alanis Morissette sings in Ablaze that “this cord is unbreakable… this bond, beyond unshakeable.”

The umbilical cords that tether us together will see our boys into their furthest endeavors, just as it’s seeing them into this one. Off into the world they go as my husband and I re-find each other, lighting up in each other’s presence, taking walks and planning special dates, knowing that it’s the love between he and I that birthed these boys and this magnificent life. Oh, how blessed we are.

Thank you, dear readers, for sharing so many of our transitions with us. Thank you for reading. Thank you for being the beautiful, sensitive, empathic beings that you are. May you cry and scream and shake and pray and sing and love yourselves across whatever transition you’re in right now, including the transition of life, always remembering that you’re being held, you are loved, you are a river of light, and that you’re never, ever alone. I love you all.

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49 Comments

  1. Sheryl, you are the BEST! I felt like this was a grand finale post or something as I was reading 🙁 but I know it’s not. It was so raw, honest and loving all wrapped together. I loved every word and felt something deeper beyond what I can express into words as I read and took in everything your heart spilled out. Thank you so much for sharing your gifts and wisdom with us.

    So many transitions have happened for everyone like you’ve said but if there’s anything I’ve learned from you and other healers, is that we’re truly never alone and we’re always in transition no matter what stage of life we’re in.

    I’ve said this before but am so grateful I found your work during my relationship anxiety transition. It led me to a community where I felt seen, to my therapist you recommended who has helped me exponentially and now both of these being a grounding place as I continue to encounter more transitions throughout my life.

    My heart is full from nature this morning, hugging my husband and dog tight and now reading this post. Happy fall to you and to letting go! <3

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    • Jessica: It’s not a grand finale post but I can understand that it felt that way! Thank you for sharing your words, and I’m so glad you’re in a good place, full of gratitude and love.

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  2. Thank you Sheryl for your words. They always touch my soul and especially this morning, as I transition into another week in a brand new job. I had to stop the tears from flowing onto my mask.

    It’s so easy to get caught in the fear and anxiety, I found myself doing that over the weekend. But when I could just let myself sit in stillness and cry I felt a relief.

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    • Thanks for sharing Sheryl ❤️ Love the ritual that you shared with your family to grieve the end of home schooling!

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    • I’m so glad you found your stillness and were able to cry, Julia. It’s such good medicine :).

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  3. Thank you, Sheryl, for sharing your journey with us. You are a role-model of grace through transition, and your words help to express so much that is common to all kinds of transition! You help me to recognize where I am, to place myself, to embrace the now and it’s beauty and gifts. You help me to be patient with life, and also to dig deep for insights and joys at each stage. Thank you!!

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    • This is beautiful to read, Lori. Thank you.

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  4. I love you too Sheryl. Thank you for being so authentic with us. Your life and work have meant so much to me – and done so much for me – over the years. Thank you. I pray that this transition births wonderful things for you and each of your family members.

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  5. Thanks so much for sharing Sheryl. I always look forward to your Sunday posts and this one was timely just as the others have been. I’m currently 24 weeks pregnant with my second child and also am watching my first leave toddlerhood behind and become a full on kid. I really appreciate the guidance and wisdom you have shared here. Sending you all the love and light for your own family transitions.

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    • If you haven’t done so already I recommend reading some of my early posts about my kids, especially those that centered on their transitions and becoming a family of four (mother of two).

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  6. Thank you for this and for all the ways you model healthy growth. I read this while nursing my five-month-old son. I’m grieving his transition from the bassinet to the crib tonight, and thanks in large part to years of engaging with your work, I can both feel the heartbreak of increasing separation and also feel grateful he is healthy and growing. Thank you for sharing so sincerely and deeply about your family’s journey—I wish everyone well and am curious to discover what is next for us all.

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    • Beautiful, Christina, Thank you.

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  7. Congratulations, Sheryl! Good luck to you and your boys – I wish you all so many blessings for your next stage and, having just moved house myself, relish your welcome advice to nurture oneself at the start of a new developmental cycle!

    Thank you for inviting us to the witnessing and goodbye to your old life. I’ve followed your blog for many years and felt real shock and surprise at the news, as well as excitement for you. Thank you also for the wisdom you’ve shared today and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

    Kindest regards xxx

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  8. Sheryl,

    Thank you for sharing this! I also have two sensitive boys and we are about to transition back to school in person, though I may choose to keep them home for four more months. I feel your heart speak; I feel the intense, vulnerable love you have for your family. It is inspiring to see how you move through these transitions allowing all the emotions to pour out of you while creating a space for your boys to spill theirs too and still being able to enter the new places with openness. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Your book, the course, and everything you share speaks to my soul. May these transitions bloom and bring you even more love!

    Danielle Carlson

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    • Thank you so much, Danielle. Your comment warms my heart.

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  9. Thank you for your wisdom, Sheryl, as always. I was laid off from my job 2 months before my 10 year anniversary there, and 2 weeks before that we had signed a lease on a new apartment. I’m proud of myself for finding a new job a week later, but as we’re nearing getting out of this apartment we’ve lived in for a long time, I’m grieving. My husband and I made a good life here, and I’m also grieving the loss of my job, because I really had it good. The schedule, the shift, the pay, and now I have to start all over. My new job starts tomorrow, and all I can do is just breathe. I know things will be okay, but waiting for all of this to pass by is the hardest.

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    • Sending you love as you transition into this next stage.

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  10. Thank you. It’s been hard to allow tears and quiet time lately. This helped.

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  11. I feel this way a lot with your posts, but again, I’m not sure how this came at such a perfect time.
    My husband and I married after I took your “Break Free From Anxiety” course, which changed my life, and we used your pre-marital course… thank you for those.
    We spent the first two years of our marriage blissfully happy in a small town in Pennsylvania. We made amazing friends and created a home of our own and spent so much time building our relationship. Now, we’ve just moved back to the Midwest where we’re both from, to be near family as we move toward having children (I’m not pregnant, but we are entering that phase of life). I have been having such a hard time, missing the home and community we left behind, and feeling like I need to hold in my grief so that we can do all of the practical things that need doing, and also because it’s primarily my family that we moved back for, so I feel like I don’t have “permission” to sometimes wish that we hadn’t moved.
    Your post reminded me that necessary changes can be sad, and scary, and still just as necessary and good.
    Thank you again.
    I wish you well as your family navigates this next transition, and whichever path you eventually choose, I know you will leave wildflowers and wisdom in your wake.

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    • Thank you for this beautiful and poetic response, Nicki. This is IT: “Your post reminded me that necessary changes can be sad, and scary, and still just as necessary and good.”

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  12. We love you Sheryl! Know that just as you are there for us, we are all here for you too. This time will pass too, even though it’s hard. Thank you for always being so real with us. We all are here to heal together.

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    • Thank you, Gina :). I’m actually in no rush for it to pass. I’m enjoying the tumultuous, beautiful ride of this transition and excited to see the changes unfolding in all of us.

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  13. Thank you so much, Sheryl. I feel with you. This is so special and beautiful, thank you for sharing. <3

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    • Thank you so much, Jamie. Always good to hear from you :). x

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  14. Thank you for this post, Sheryl. I’ve been deliberating whether or not to move to a new city next spring (LA to NYC). Worldwide pandemic aside, I’m reluctant to move because it would be my first time ever living in a city away from family and I am scared.

    I want to move not only to pursue a career in the arts, but to also achieve the independence I crave (I come from a traditional Filipino family where personal boundaries aren’t a thing). But I also know that I will miss my family terribly and worry that someone will get sick, injured, or even die while I’m away. If I’m being honest, that’s the only reason why I’m even hesitant to move. I have no other anxiety relating to finances, making friends, finding a job, etc.

    If I were to move in the spring, what are ways I can grieve the transition so I can celebrate the new beginning?

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    • I encourage you to read my book if you haven’t already as I have an entire chapter on transitions. I also have many posts on this site that may help answer your question.

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  15. SUCH a great post. One of the best. Thank you!

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  16. Thank you thank you Sheryl for sharing this so beautifully 💕
    Your post came at the right time! I was grieving yesterday about the fact that my 4,5 yo has not yet adjusted to his almost 6 months brother. Despite all my efforts to connect and fill him with love, it just seems like he’s been having a very very long tantrum since his brother was born, or an allergic reaction (it’s never directed at the baby though). He was a very high need baby and I realized yesterday that I just have to let go and accept his reaction. Maybe he will never be thrilled about having a brother. And with this comes another layer of grief – the sadness about not having two daughters, or at the very least one. As I let myself grieve all this and give the space to my eldest to fully be who he is, your post gives me another piece of the puzzle (how could I miss this?;) Seeinv all this as a transition – his reaction is not a reaction to his brother, but to the change. And I am also grieving. I grieve and miss the easiness of being able to just focus on him. And I realize that 6 months is nothing. Maybe 9 months will do it’s magic 😜 or not!!
    Thank you again for your vulnerability. It helps all of us process our own transitions and grief. Lots of love ❤️

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    • I’m so happy this post shed some light on your son’s transition, and I’m sending you lots of love. xoxo

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  17. Dear all, whenever I read Sheryl s words, it relaxes me. Yes, I start to relax. For the storms and winds and hurricans inside of me, I often still have no words. But with these words the “inside me” comes into consciousness and I can say: ah yes, this is what I feel, this is what is going on in my own life, ah yes, now I see.
    How good! Thank you, Sheryl!!

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    • I’m so glad my words help you find that place of clear feeling and seeing. I’m sitting here smiling as I read your words :).

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  18. A very personal post thank you so much for sharing with us. If there is anyone who can navigate such transition with grace and wisdom, it’s you. All best, Mariam

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  19. Wow. I’m in deep awe. I was standing in a book shop in my new hometown in Aotearoa, talking about Your Anxiety Beast and You, by Dr Eric Goodman. I lovely girl came up to me and told me all about how, and your work. I feel like I’ve come across you in a wooded glade, sitting by a quiet pool on my rivers journey. So much of what you talk about here resonates so strongly. My whānau too are in this place of transformation and transition. I’m talking away from your post so many many things. Aroha to you sister. Xxxx

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    • How lovely to meet you in the wooded glade, and what beautiful synchronicity that brought you here!

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  20. Thank you for this post. I am crying now as I type because this hit on a soul truth for me as I navigate through my own time of transition and not knowing. Thank you for the light you bring to others.

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    • I’m so glad the post brought healing tears :).

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  21. Sheryl, you continue to always bring all of yourself and share it so beautifully. So many have already said it better than I could but I needed to post to thank you personally for all you have done for me in my life! You are such a role model and you have helped to shape me into my best version of myself. I love your posts and your honesty about your life. It has helped me so many times. This one was one of your best…I am happy to see so much goodness happening in your life and that you are feeling ALL of it. You are amazing! Thank you! – Love, Jen

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    • Thank you so much, Jen. xoxoxo

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  22. Oh my, what an epic transition and your reflection of this moment in your life!! I felt your grief and the immensity of this transition in your post. The part about simultaneously feeling sadness and grief/longing, yet excited for the new transition because it’s the right time for it – I totally related to that. Been in that situation so many times…cried so much over my decisions even though I knew they were right for me at the time. Gosh it feels so lonely to be in that position, so what a gift that you were there for your sons to help them through those feelings! You executed your roles as “physical” parent and “inner” parent wonderfully! Love you so much Sheryl, and thank you, always, for sharing your invaluable wisdom, using your life experience as a teaching moment and opportunity for reflection for us readers on practicing the amazing work you do. 🙂

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    • I love this reflection: “You executed your roles as “physical” parent and “inner” parent wonderfully!” Thank you! XOXOXO

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  23. Transitioning during a pandemic is proving even harder than it usually is! Now that we in the UK are in the midst of another round of lockdowns (thankfully I live in Wales which has slightly different rules to England that are much clearer and make more sense!!) it’s all about navigating the new regulations again and endeavouring to take care of oneself as best as possible in an ever changing landscape.
    What we as a couple are finding hard, 6 months in, is that our tanks are so depleted individually that we want to support each other through this difficult time but are at a loss as to how seeing as we ourselves are suffering. In my case I live with anxiety but, although I’m used to it by now and have the tools at my disposal to tend to it with grace, global events are naturally taking their toll and I’m finding it doubly hard to fill my inner well as best I can. Then with my partner, he thrives on being outdoors, hiking in the hills, and has even taken a course to become a Mountain Leader recently so that he can take others to savour the joy of the mountains with him. But, now that local borders are closed again, he’s unable to access that activity which fills him with joy and acts as a soothing balm to attend his own shadow places, and he too is suffering, feeling almost like a caged bird now he’s unable to leave the area (the mountains are in a different county to us and we’re not allowed to travel). It’s so hard, but we both know it’ll be okay in the end. Patience is what’s needed isn’t it, and the will to carry on caring for ourselves as best we can so we can best serve each other during these testing times.

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  24. Sheryl– Thank you so much for sharing with us! I learn so much from you and I truly feel like you a role model for navigating transitions. Such wisdom here and a reminder of the importance of turning inward and reflecting on our own lives. And you have such a positive tone that seems to say. (at least to me) ‘everything is OK and exactly as it’s supposed to be, even if things feel shaky and disorienting at times’. So affirming!

    Reply
    • Thank you, Cassie, and yes that’s exactly the tone I hope to import :). xo

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