Rebirth! How Beginning Something Can Feel Like Labor Pain

When I first start something uncomfortably new, I have major resistance to it. And not just slight, nervous resistance. Sometimes my body wages an all out down and dirty guns blazing battle to stay the way it was before.

This can manifest as anything from a mild depression to serious nausea or absolute panic. When these kinds of intense feelings arise, I’m easily sidetracked by the feelings and may not even realize they’re arising from the new activity or habit. I simply start dedicating all my mental space to “solving” the bad feeling(s),  instead of working on the new habit- which is precisely what my fear is trying to trick me into doing.

A bunch of alarm bells go off in my mind. When I finally trace the uncomfortable feelings to the new habit, I of course want to quit my new habit and go back to the old way I was doing things. Sometimes quitting a new thing is the right choice- the new habit may not be right for you, or it may not be the right time in your life for that challenge. Other times, staying the course just a little longer allows the feelings to pass and enables you to grow more than you ever thought possible. The hardest trick of all is to know when to continue and when to quit.

When I first started tracking every dollar I spent, using the app Goodbudget (Which I talk about in detail here, I felt vaguely nauseous every day. I felt this unreasonable, irrational panic for what I thought was no reason. I couldn’t figure it out. I’m not the type of person to get panicked or anxious for no reason, so I tried to track down the source of these feelings, and would you believe it took me more than a week to figure out it was my little money app??

So I’m walking around with these unreasonable feelings of depression and nausea and I can’t figure out where they’re coming from until one day I realize they’re stemming from fear and guilt as I write down where I’m spending my money! Once I realized that the panic was coming from my new money habit, I was able to actually relax a bit, the feelings slowly subsided, and now I have zero panic about using Goodbudget to track my spending. Instead, tracking my spending makes me feel empowered, and I’ve been tracking money for over a year now.

There’s a huge range of new habits that can trigger what I called “Labor pains” in the title -since you’re birthing what’s essentially a new version of you into the world. I’ve never been in labor personally so for the sake of experience, I’m going to call these pains growing pains from here on out. Some likely candidates for growing pains (and what have triggered them for me) include a change in exercise habits, dietary habits, spending habits, a relationship or a relationship status, a job or within a job. Also, tracking or attempting to become aware of any personal habits can possibly trigger new growing pains- so journaling or meditating or getting a Fitbit or going to therapy or seeing a new doctor or opening up to someone for the first time may cause strange new feelings to arise- and these feelings can occasionally be confusing or painful or uncomfortable.

It’s up to you to decide whether you want or need to push through these feelings and find out if there’s growth on the other side. It’s a hard call and I respect you immensely whether you take on the challenge or make the conscious decision that it’s not the right new step for you right now.  These kinds of growth challenges in our thirties aren’t at all simple.

I guess that’s why they call this adulthood, kids.

 

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When Self-Care Doesn’t Work

Last week for about the whole week, I had really, really bad anxiety. Like ‘a bubble bath and bottle of wine’ isn’t gonna help this kind of anxiety. It was strong and I didn’t feel like myself – this icky feeling possessed my brain (not Exorcist style in my body though, thank God!) in what felt like an unshakeable way. I’m not sure exactly what sparked it, but probably lots of little things that kind of exploded into a ball of overwhelm.

I tried everything. Watching my shows on Netflix, eating ridiculous amounts of pizza, drinking wine, reading cheesy magazines and books, taking walks – but nothing worked. My brain kept circling the same thoughts over and over again. Why didn’t I have more plans on Labor Day weekend? Am I going to live in this tiny studio apartment my whole life? Will I get get married and have kids? 

Those thoughts just kept repeating and repeating in my head, and I couldn’t shut them down.

I started getting angry at the idea of ‘self-care’ because it sure didn’t seem to be working for me.

So what do you do in these situations? Obviously, there’s medication, which I believe can be very helpful if you need it. But aside from that, what’s the biggest way to deal with moments like this? Now that I’m a little out of the anxiety fugue state, there’s one thing I know that works.

Riding it out. Accept that your (anxiety/loneliness/depression/fear/anger) may be PART of your life experience, but it’s not ALL of your life experience. It will pass.

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The More Time and Less Time of Stopping

I recently went through a period where I had trouble feeling grateful for things. I wrote about some of my struggles in What Happens When You Start Feeling Empty – I came to a point where I realized I was having difficulties accessing any feelings at all, never mind grateful, peaceful ones.

I’ve started to come out of that funk, at least for awhile, and I think the return of some peace in my life has a lot to do with having gone through the emptiness in the first place, acknowledged it, and just stopped.

Stopped. Cold.

Instead of trying to push through the empty feeling and just get it out of my life by sheer force, I sat with it. I stopped what I was doing- the things I could stop anyway- the busyness and busy rituals that I felt I needed to do but actually didn’t. The emptiness was trying to tell me something and I needed to listen. Jane talks about sitting with feelings of sadness in her last post The Solstice and Acknowledging the Harder Parts of the Holidays. I think you can sit with any feeling, including an empty lack of feeling.

I turned the non-feelings over in my head. I wrote about them here. And then, slowly, painstakingly at first, the feelings changed. And I changed what I was doing. Tiny, experimental changes. I starting a new morning ritual instead of my beloved meditating. I exercised in a different way. I started seeing more friends and changed my work habits a bit. I read a different book.

I didn’t make major changes. Just small ones that felt a bit better. And then I started to feel a bit better.

I didn’t have any more time in my life to sit with my thoughts or change my routines or stop what I was doing. But time is a funny thing. It’ll expand when something is important to you.

Even though the holidays are busy and stressful sometimes, give yourself the gift of your own time for awhile. Peace will come.

And isn’t that what the holidays are all about anyway?

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What Happens When You Start Feeling Empty?

I guess it can happen when you least expect it.

At the end of a very productive week, after sweeping through almost everything on my to do list and checking it all off, and getting a crazy amount accomplished and even feeling quite together and on top of things, I started to feel empty inside.

I wouldn’t usually write about things like this, because I don’t know if hearing about emptiness is helpful to people. Also, I’m usually an extremely positive and driven person, so it’s kind of hard to talk about feeling suddenly empty in the middle of an upswing for no determinable reason.

However, I was thinking that if I’m feeling this way now, I’m sure there are others who are feeling this way too, and maybe it’ll help to talk about it.

Emptiness is a weird feeling, and completely annoying, because when you try to shake it, it only clings on harder. It came upon me this week after meditating almost every day, and feeling pretty good about things, so it was pretty random seeming. I guess it can come from anywhere at any time. It just felt hard to feel, if that makes any sense. It was hard to feel grateful and hard to feel peaceful for sure.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night with the empty feeling slathered all over me, like an unsettling grey cloud. It led to almost immediate fear thoughts about how even when I’m on top of things and feeling quite good, I can still feel this horrible lack. Just writing about this now kind of brings the fear thoughts back. Since I don’t exactly know the answer to how to proceed with feelings like this, I will only state some theories I have:

  • Feelings of emptiness come and go. There’s probably something I should pay attention to, instead of just pushing the feelings away.
  • Although I’m afraid of the feeling of emptiness, or not being able to feel peace and gratefulness, I think I’m afraid because I feel like no matter how hard I work, my feelings might not always be peaceful, and I can’t accept that.
  • I need to accept that my feelings won’t always be peaceful, and that sometimes I will feel empty and afraid. I won’t always feel this way, but it doesn’t help to pretend that I never feel this way.
  • The empty feelings and fear feelings that pass through me don’t define who I am.
  • Those same “bad” feelings (which I’m going to take the “bad” label away from now) can be present even while I forge ahead with my life. Their presence doesn’t need to set me back, though I always feel that if I feel empty and fearful, it must mean I’ve backtracked.

This has a lot to do with what I wrote about in the post It Hurts, So What? Sometimes I’m afraid to do something because I know it will hurt. For example, in that post I talked about being afraid to speak up because I knew the outcome probably would be painful anyway…but I needed to speak up. And I did, and it was very painful..but that was okay. Because so what? Sometimes things will be painful. It’s uncomfortable but it’s alright.

So perhaps I’m relearning the lesson of ‘It hurts. So what?” again and again. It’s okay to be afraid of the empty feeling, at the same time that it’s okay to be afraid of being afraid. It’s not a about being ‘beyond’ those feelings. It’s about letting them happen..because so what? Those feelings aren’t who I am.

Here are some articles I read about the empty feeling that made me feel a bit better and a bit less alone:

The Real Cause of Inner Emptiness (And What to Do About It- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-paul-phd/inner-emptiness_b_869421.html

‘I Feel Empty’: How to Overcome Feelings of Emptiness- http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/i-feel-empty-how-to-overcome-feelings-of-emptiness-1112145

Allowing things to

arise: http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble19.htm

Hope this helps someone out there. Remember, feel free to reach out to us if you feel sad or empty. You’re not alone!

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The Trouble With Thankfulness In Your Thirties

So Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we’re still here, facing the possible Black Friday carnage, and the insane cyber Monday heading directly our way.

We may have felt sincerely grateful on Thanksgiving for our situations and our families and our friends, but now holiday shopping is upon us, and work is crazier than ever, and it’s hard to remember the peace we may have felt for a second or two last Thursday.

I was talking to a friend about this the other day- how gratefulness slips through our fingers so easily, especially with years of built up stress and to-do-list habits. I can be grateful for a moment for one second, and then suddenly my mind will be racing with worry about something I don’t have or what I have yet to get done.

It’s extremely difficult to let go of the sometimes very painful old-feeling moments in life- those moments where we’re hit with a sad situation, or when we screw something up or feel guilty about something, or someone hurts us, and those same-old-feelings come up once again. It’s very hard to be thankful for all we have, when seemingly large problems are hitting us with 30-plus years of habitual worry once again.

However, I feel like it’s possible and actually quite necessary to feel thankful in my thirties way more than I have before. Every day I try to start again. It’s like brushing your teeth- you have to keep doing it- it doesn’t just last.

There have been some stressful work situations going on in my life lately where I’ve been angry and feeling wronged and hurt. Sometimes I’ve stewed in those emotions and sometimes I’ve expressed them and tried to be clear about what was wrong. All of that action had its place, and I think that it was good to express the problems and my feelings about them. However, after awhile, it became impossible to stew in the negative feelings anymore. I was causing myself unhappiness and grief. There was nothing to do but to concentrate on things that were still good- and there were many things to be thankful for.

I started feeling thankful for people who smiled at me when they walked by. For children who were adorable and quiet and sweet. For the cool breeze I felt as I walked to work. For the beautiful park I was able to run around in the morning. For coworkers who made funny jokes. For hot showers. For beautiful texts from my family and friends. For delicious hummus. For my Spotify playlist.

And I started to feel better.

We have so much and we forget. I think that forgetting is normal and natural. The habit of not thinking about the small stuff has been a survival tool that’s gotten us through more than thirty years of life. We want more and more- which can be great. We’re in our thirties- we have big dreams. We want an amazing career and an amazing marriage and maybe a family and a creative empire and a wonderful home and creative control and financial freedom.

And those big dreams are extremely important. Huge, in fact.

But we’ll never appreciate them if we can’t be thankful for what we have today.

Each moment is a win. Each day is jam packed with small and beautiful things. Don’t be afraid to appreciate them again and again and again- Thanksgiving is every day.

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Beautiful terrace view on Thanksgiving in Los Angeles 

The Paradox of the Unpacked Box in Your Thirties

I’ve been thinking a lot about boxes lately. This is probably because I just moved.

There are boxes all over my new apartment, most of them still neatly taped up. I’ve been beyond exhausted this month, as I talked all about in my last post, Is The Saturn Return In your Thirties A Real Thing?  So, the last thing I’ve wanted to do is unpack. image

This is unlike me, as I usually like to get things done fast, and all at once. But it seems I used the last of my energy to get the boxes packed, and now I can only stare at them listlessly and hope for them to magically put themselves away.

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Alas, it’s been four days in the new place, and nothing has put itself away yet. So today I decided to crack open a bunch of boxes.

And everything got a lot more messy.

The nice stack of boxes all sealed and piled up was so much neater than the messy pile of clothes and nonsense that I pulled out and didn’t know where to put.

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And for awhile I just wanted to put it all back into the boxes again and seal them up. Or I wanted to jump to the end and have everything all be done.

The hardest part is being in the middle of the unpacking process (still there now), where I have to make things more chaotic in order to progress.

Tonight, I was talking to a friend about how if you’re feeling sad or upset, you need to feel your feelings and express them in order to grow and move on from them. And to move through them. Fake positivity all the time just leaves you in a state of stagnation and  annoys all your Facebook friends.

Then I thought about the boxes, and how in your thirties, all you want is to feel like you’re on top of things and like you have things figured out. You want things to be neat and squared away. Boxed away, perhaps? But the real truth is that in order to get things squared away for real, you have to get messy and uncomfortable. It’s not going to feel good and is not going to look good when you take things out and they get everywhere for awhile. And maybe people will judge you when you’re in the middle of that. But screw those people. You have to unpack the neat boxes, get messy, and see what’s inside.

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It’ll likely look like chaos and maybe feel even worse, but only then can you begin to put it away.

And move beyond it.

What are some of the boxes in your life?

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Are There New Feelings In Your Thirties?

Do you ever feel like you’ve experienced the full spectrum of your feelings by the time you’re in your thirties?

You may not know how you’re going to feel in every scenario, but when a feeling arises, you’ve probably felt it before. After all, once you’re in your thirties, you start recognizing different versions of the same scenarios repeating again and again…so you start to get familiar with the feelings that come up again and again…like a familiar mix and match.

I never consciously felt like I’d experienced the full gamut of my feelings, but unconsciously, I thought that there were no new feelings under the sun for me.

Then today a wonderful and very exciting thing happened and I sort of couldn’t believe it. Afterwards, I almost went into shock. I felt all tingly and almost exhausted, but also sort of glowing and dreamy and unreal. It was a new feeling, which I dubbed ‘happy shock.’ I didn’t remember feeling it before. I knew ‘bad, unhappy shock’ or just plain ‘shock’ but ‘happy shock’ was a new one. And it was really exciting.

Later, I saw a play that a friend of mine wrote. It was extremely sad, and I couldn’t stop crying throughout most of it. Usually, even when plays are sad, it’s very rare that I cry and feel so connected to and affected by what’s happening. The play was extremely well-written, so that was definitely a part of it, but I think the new ‘happy shock’ feeling earlier just opened me up to my emotions in general. Perhaps one new feeling can start a bunch more.

Do you ever experience feelings you’ve never had before? Are there multiple ones yet to discover?

How Do You Really Want To Feel?

I just want to start this off by saying Happy New Years Eve! Thanks so much for reading and being part of this! We appreciate it immensely and we can’t wait to hang out here with all you guys in 2015!!

So, I’ve been thinking about resolutions for awhile and what they really mean. I covered my financial ones in the last post, but I have some different resolutions I want to share with you here.

Two weeks ago, my workload finally started to lighten up and my holiday time off began. This should have been a time for celebration, but instead it provoked a time of anxiety. This always happens to me- I somehow thought my thirties would start off differently, but they didn’t. My to do list filled up quickly with all the items I hadn’t been able to do because I’d been working out of town. All the major projects (write my one woman show, learn to code HTML, take 6 new classes, find new sources of income, see every friend I’ve been wanting to see plus family, etc) I’d been thinking about came to the forefront and made their way onto my to do list. Plus, there were all the little to-do items like clean the apartment, get laundry done, make more to-do lists, and other small things that still take up time.

At the peak of my anxiety, my roommate casually asked me how I was doing. I told her that I should be doing great, because I have all this time off, but instead I was just worrying more about all the random things I “have” to do. My nerves were fraying when they should be resting.

My roommate told me that she used to get anxious about things like that, but a few years ago, she started concentrating on how she wanted to feel instead. She picked four feelings that she was really after, including feeling alive and abundant. When she started getting anxious or obsessed with to do lists, she went back to her feeling list. Was she feeling alive? If she wasn’t, she simply concentrated on her breathing. When you’re really concentrating on your breathing, you truly have to begin feeling alive- breathing is the literal definition of being alive! It’s at least a great start.

When she was feeling down, she remembered how she wanted to feel abundant. So she made lists of thing she was grateful for and good things that had happened during the day- they could be as small as ‘my apartment is warm. I’m so happy to have my coffee today.’ There’s always something that can make you feel abundant. Most of us live in first world countries- true abundance!

So I’ve stolen her idea (well, she generously gave it to me.) She even said I could use the feelings she chose. So I took ‘abundant’ for myself and you can too if you like. This year, my goal is to go back to the feelings I want to feel even if I’m feeling blah or anxious. Even when I haven’t done it for awhile. Even when I’ve forgotten for weeks. I don’t have to stay down- I can choose to feel differently.

For 2015 I’ve chosen to feel present, abundant, joyous, and radiant. It’s a lot to bite off at once, I know. But I will concentrate on one at a time.

I know it’s hard. I know it doesn’t always work- sometimes sad and anxious feelings take over, and that’s okay. It’s good even. Let them in! But you don’t have to make them permanent guests. Go ahead and choose abundance!

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Not Feeling It During the Holidays

Every year around the holidays, I wonder why I’m not “feeling it” the way I used to. Even though I’m now thirty, I find myself doing the same thing I did during the holidays as a teenager, and all throughout my twenties- trying to pull up an old feeling. You know that feeling. It’s that “magical holiday feeling”…remember it?

It’s an old memory now. Maybe I used to have it when I looked at the sky and was positive Santa was about to come. I guess I was awaiting something special…feeling that anticipatory glow. It came from expecting presents to appear out of nowhere…that wonderful moment of waking up and knowing something special has arrived…the feeling of barely being able to wait a moment longer. Now the closest feeling I have to that is when I open my email inbox after a long time of not checking it.

No, that’s sad. There are definitely times when I eagerly await something better than email.

But during the holidays, I guess I don’t know how to get that anticipatory excitement back the same way it used to be. So I performed my holiday traditions as usual- I got out my holiday stuff.

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My holiday soap

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My holiday socks

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My holiday owl tea mug. Yes, this is holiday related.

I lit my holiday candles and filled my room with pine smell. I made pumpkin everything. I played my Indie Holiday tunes Pandora station.

And I felt happy. I love all my little holiday traditions.

But I still didn’t get that old feeling back that I wanted so badly. So I sulked, vaguely disappointed. Every year I’ve sulked, feeling my special holiday feeling was just a hairs breadth out of reach.

And then I remembered something actors say to me all the time when I direct them in plays. They say, “Laura, I’m just not feeling it.”

And you know what I say back? I say “It doesn’t matter if you’re not feeling it! You’re not always going to feel it! Do the scene anyway! Just go with it!” I usually say this in a nice way, of course.

So with that in mind, I took a walk in Woodside at night during the first holiday season of my thirties.

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And I laughed.

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And I looked. And looked again.

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And I felt something mild, and silly, and light. A subtle feeling. Older in a different way. Something like peace. Possibly hope.

The old feeling was gone. It had been gone for a long time.

And that was okay.

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If I looked closely it had been replaced.

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Happy holidays to all of you. Let in anything you’re feeling right now. It’s okay.

Horror of the Day

I’ve lost my tolerance for scary movies. When I was a kid, I used to laugh at friends who covered their eyes when zombies popped out of closets. I was fascinated by the psycho clown that lived in the sewer system. Haunted hotels were intriguing to me, as was time traveling pursued by monsters, or ghostly hitchhikers, or possessed televisions and children of the corn.

Sometime slightly after college, I started to have nightmares following a scary movie binge. I became worried about pale dead hands reaching out from under a bed to grab my leg. I checked the bathtub and closet to make sure they were empty before going to sleep. Hotels, places I consider my home almost half the year, started to make me look twice around corners- I thought of bloody twins beckoning from the ends of long hallways: ‘come and play with us.’

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So I stopped watching scary movies. Letting these types of films into my psyche always seems to cause lasting fear (at least for a few days). I’ve been abstaining for years. Even when previews for horror films enter my sight, I attempt to look away, and especially to cover my ears. I’ve found that the sound is actually the scariest part of a movie- not the visual, as you’d expect.

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Once I started avoiding those movies, I became less scared in general. I was no longer very worried about dark hallways or creaky hotels or desolate alleyways. I mean, I have a healthy sense of danger avoidance, but thoughts of ghosts, monsters, and serial killers with chainsaws enter my mind much less often. Although I know it’s healthy to face your fears, I think there are times you can avoid them entirely. Yes, scary feelings are to be faced, but scary movies are absolutely avoidable. In fact, I’ve faced my scary feelings by cutting scary movies out of my life. I think that counts.

It’s sometimes hard to know what we should let into our minds and what we should keep out.  Last night, I watched the pilot of a new show, Penny Dreadful, not realizing that it was a horror show. I wasn’t really scared in the moment, so I kept watching. But last night I woke up from a dream about someone cutting out my stomach and watching turtles hatch and crawl out of it. Yeah, I don’t really need dreams like that in my life.

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