My wife handed me the phone and a wave of fear washed over me. My doctor was calling me back with the results of some blood tests. But it was Sunday night after 7 p.m. and I thought my doctor's calling me so late on a weekend couldn't be good. I went to take the phone from my wife and my head started spinning. What if I received bad news? I couldn't stop my racing thoughts and then my 10-year old daughter ran up to me to tell me something just as I said hello to my doctor. I shooed my daughter away and rushed into the downstairs bathroom to be able to hear my doctor.
Change can be hard. Really hard. There have been times where I have had to deal with mental or physical changes and then there's the normal rumble/tumble of life. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like the last two weeks have been extra difficult.
On the work front, I went through a major reorganization at my work that included a different role/title and my direct reports being shifted to another group while I would need to hire new team members.
At home I'm learning to deal with the emotional roller coaster of having a teenage son who's testing his boundaries with a rebellious phase. But what really hit me hard was my daughter's 10th birthday. Like her brother, once she turned 10, she wanted to repaint her room to something that would be more to her now near tween status.
Before my daughter was born, my wife and I hand painted hundreds of leaves all across the ceiling and the walls of her room, anchoring the scene with a tree in each corner. Our inspiration had been the children's book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. In the space above her door, we signed the work with: "XOXOXOXOXOXO Love, Mom, Dad, and G." We also put the span of two months to mark how long it took us to paint her room. That was 11 years ago and now it seems like a lifetime away.
Everything is changing. The fear of the unknown is sometimes hard for me to take when I feel like I'm getting hit from all sides. And I wonder: Have you ever felt like this? That everything around you is changing and there are problems seemingly coming out of the woodwork and you simply want to have some time to catch your breath and relax?
That's hard for me to do. I grew up in a dysfunctional family, and as the oldest, I have always taken on the lion share of responsibility and overcompensated. I push myself hard in all areas of my life and leave little time to recharge my batteries. Over the years, I've learned to be better about this, but remembering self-care can come in waves. It's always hard to remember to take time when busy, stressed with work, and juggling many things.
When I'm lost in my own little world, I found that there are two things that will help me. As an introvert, these things help me a lot because how I process and see the world is often extremely personal and intimate--it's charged with feeling and emotion.
Might seem counter-intuitive, but to let the stress go and realize that the chaos and the problems around me are divided into two buckets: My own issues/problems that I can fix and those that I can't. Understanding the difference between the two is often hard. When I'm up against an enormous problem, I focus on letting go. I just imagine the weight coming off my shoulders and shrugging it off. I can't solve other people's problems. I can't fix a culture of dysfunction in a group. I can't do it all.
The overachieving part of me often doesn't like to let go because it feels like I'm giving up. But there are times when I need to look around me and focus on what I can control: My own actions. How I treat others and myself. That's a fine distinction. I might not like being stuck in a maelstrom of change and, in the end, I either have to learn to accept the change or be stubborn and try to resist. But resisting often causes me more problems.
To let go and trust that things will be okay is an act of faith. That faith for you might be in God, a higher power, the universe--whatever gets you through the rough times.
When my head is swirling and am being hit with problems all around, there's a simple solution to getting through the rough times. When I need to work late, or my kids are sick, or I'm up against a deadline for my next book. Sometimes I can prioritize issues that come up and can work through them, but to be honest, there are times when something stupid puts me over the edge. Helping to paint over my daughter's room hit me in the gut because not because all the hard work we put into the forest painting would be gone, but because I was experiencing getting older and my daughter was growing up and becoming more independent. As a parent, you're used to taking care of your kids. Now I'm entering a phase where they don't need me to bathe them each night. They can make their own lunch, put their own clothes away. The natural ebb of time has turned a page and it hit me: I'm getting old. My kids are no longer little children. They're expressing their own wants, needs and setting their own paths in life. There's nothing wrong with this, but with all the stress that I've been going through I felt the passage of time much more keenly than normal.
When I'm stressed out with work, possible health problems, family issues, there's a way that I've found to center myself and put everything in perspective. Years ago (okay, many years ago now) I stumbled upon an amazing song by Tori Amos that helped me in times of great stress. I love her work and she writes some of the most thought-provoking lyrics out of any artist I know.
On the B side to her big hit "Silent All These Years" (if you haven't heard it, please listen to it. I've created a free Tori Amos playlist on Spotlight. Just fire up the free Spotify app on your phone and listen to 12 of my favorite Tori songs.) was the song "Upside Down." I'm a big fan of that song as well. I remember listening to the song for the first time and smiling. The song reaches this emotional high as it builds and builds until at about 2 minutes and 54 seconds in Tori sings:
Well I found the secret to life
I found the secret to life
I'm okay when everything is not okay
Did you ever hear a song that hits you emotionally and is just what you needed to hear at that exact moment? Those lyrics just clicked for me. If I can stop and put the chaos off to the side, I KNOW, deep down, that I'm okay when the world around me might be spinning apart (work crisis, family issues, whatever). It takes a lot for me sometimes to remember this, but when I had the phone in my hand and I waited for my doctor to give me the results to my blood tests I started to remember Tori's words of wisdom. If she said that I had something to worry about, then I would be okay. No matter what the issues, I would need to find a way to come to terms with them and still get on with my life. I would need to believe, truly believe, that I'm okay.
My doctor rattled off numbers to me, explained what they meant, and thankfully, all was okay. I needed to be mindful of what I ate and focus on my exercise, but things were good. And if I had received bad news, then what? I would need to focus on remembering that no matter what I was going through that I would be okay. That's a hard concept for me to take in. And it's not easy to put into practice when I'm really hurt or sick. But it's something that I try to remember and work on.
These are the sorts of things that go through my mind when I write my books. Recently, a fellow reader reached out to me to let me know that she shared one of my Cinderella stories with someone and the person really like it saying that it wasn't what she expected. That's exactly what I want to hear.
We have these preconceived notions of our heroines and how they're beautiful and wise, but they're also flawed. When I write, my characters are flawed--sometimes annoyingly so in the beginning. But they grow and learn, just like I have over time.
I wanted to share this email with you today because we all go through rough times. Maybe you're going through one right now. If so, I hope the Tori Amos playlist might help brighten your day.
Thank you for reading my books and being part of my journey on this little blue dot.