Original Post: Wednesday 7/26/17
My chest felt hallow when I woke up this morning. My heart was in my throat and I felt like I was free falling from the sky. I couldn’t put my finger on what was making me feel suddenly so empty. As I dragged myself up for work, with only the energy to “baby wipe it up,” I began feeling anxious about what today would bring and afraid of what’s to come. I just couldn’t make any sense out of this funk I was in.
Curious, I sat with the feeling and let it speak to me, but I heard nothing… I couldn’t stop focusing on these somatic experiences seemingly without a cause. I suddenly felt overwhelmed, and I couldn’t catch my breath. My reptilian brain was telling me there’s something to fear and we should start freaking out now. It was activating my threat-protection system and put me in survival mode, and so the body followed suit. Meanwhile, emotions were all consuming and distracting, knocking my human brain offline and blocking me from staying present to problem solve the situation. I was already feeling exhausted and it was only 8:30 in the morning.
I felt confused and frustrated, what on earth am I feeling this way for? I had such a lovely day yesterday, one that made me feel really good about myself and boosted my sense of hope for the future, despite having to face the unknown. For instance, I met with a woman, Mrs. L, for lunch yesterday to talk about the prospects of joining her group private practice. It’s weird how this all just sorta fell into my lap…
I first met Mrs. L a month ago while at a 5-day intensive retreat on mindfulness self-compassion in Northern California, and we bonded over our similar approaches to the work that we do. At the retreat she had expressed a need to add folks to their practice and asked me to lunch when we returned to Ann Arbor. So during our lunch yesterday, she said that I have what it takes to fit right in with their mission and was excited to see herself working with me to make the business and our careers flourish.
Mrs. L assured me that I would be mentored with guidance and scaffolding as I navigate my way towards a comfortable living. This prospect has all of the things that would make me feel taken care of and satisfied with my job. If working there, I would get the privilege to be creative, autonomous, and have a flexible schedule. I left that lunch feeling really good about this vision of hers, and I felt energized that this may be the opportunity I’ve been looking for.
So, I had to ask myself, would I be a complete idiot for leaving Ann Arbor with this kind of an opportunity calling my name? If I ignore this invitation, it’s basically a giant fuck you to the universe? This job prospect sounds favorable, and I’m excited because I’ve also grown fond of Ann Arbor from having established some great pockets of community here. I see a lot of potential and I want to see where things go, and I’m making the choice and commitment to stay (compared to moving and transitioning once every year or two for about eight years throughout my graduate program, and having moved cross-country three times in last three years). I was used to not getting too attached because of the eventual separation that would cause heartache that I didn’t feel like living through, so I would keep myself at a comfortable distance yet also feel relieved that I had an out or an escape from this life when my year-long contracts would end.
If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
– Woody Allen
Earlier today, Mrs. L emailed me with a date for an interview at her private practice in a few weeks. Meanwhile, I’ll be ending my current gig next Friday, so I’ll be taking all my stuff out of the office this weekend. Things are really coming to an end.. and it’s a major turning point in my life, which is hitting me extra hard because it’s also the end of an era and a beginning of something new.. a new unknown, a new chapter of what’s yet to come. I’m no longer a trainee or a formal student who can get away with making mistakes when practicing under the license of a supervisor. I no longer feel protected or insulated, and I think this is also part of the reason why I feel like I’m free falling and my brain is telling me it’s time to start freaking out now.
My therapist, Mr. A, and my supervisor, Dr. C, both gave me feedback today that I could be feeling overwhelmed and burdened by carrying on the full responsibility as a licensed practitioner. I might be worrying that I would have no one to fall back on as an independent contractor. Thoughts like, “what if I suck as a business-person and the practice goes belly up? What if I suck as a therapist and someone sues me? What if I do or don’t do something that makes bad things happen?” have been around whenever I have tried approaching this current unknown, and it’s incredibly wearisome because it’s just another internal barrier that’s holding me back yet something I feel like I can’t quite shake.
Weirdly, I’m also feeling ashamed for staying in Ann Arbor knowing that this may not have been my parents’ dreams or expectations for me. I feel guilty because I haven’t spoken to them in the past couple of weeks. The last time I reached out to them about my fears in this major life transition, I ended up feeling worse than I did before I called. I know they didn’t mean any harm because I know they love me and want to be supportive, but I don’t think they really understand me or what I’m going through, and I didn’t want to half-explain myself (I can rarely finish my thought before being interrupted with unsolicited advice) before carrying additional guilt and shame with me any more than I already do. I’m essentially being forced to comfort and soothe myself throughout this major transition of life. But how the fuck do I do that when I’m in the middle of freaking out??
Hopelessness soon arose when feeling like I couldn’t find a specific trigger to what caused this spike in chemical activity late last night that lingered into this morning and throughout the day. Frustration kicked in when I wasn’t able to physically calm myself down so that I could make more sense of things. It was time to drive to work. I felt worried and pissed at myself, and I felt completely helpless to shake this feeling before I had to interact with people. It wasn’t untilI checked-in with my “Quangel from Hell” who gave me permission to feel what I’m feeling and hold myself safe so that I could understand what my emotions were trying to say and feel more grounded to think clearly.
With the support from my Quangel’s attentive heart, I felt safe to explore the ocean of emotions making me feel like I was drowning. We thought, is it because I’m feeling lonely or grieving the happiness felt from such a good time with close friends the day before? Perhaps it was because I didn’t get very good sleep these past few weeks and I’m feeling anxious about making a commitment to staying in Ann Arbor, or I’m making a mistake by turning down other esteemed opportunities. Perhaps it’s because I’m taking on this venture of plogcasting knowing that I am not really cut out for the world of social media and that I’m essentially increasing my vulnerability to a vast unknown that I’m not sure I can handle.
(Which btw I’m learning a lot about podcasting, not just the nuts and bolts with recording, editing, and publishing but also the style, delivery, content, and energy that is required to make an episode that’s “good enough” for me. So far, I don’t really feel that this has been all that great. It’s been a bit frantic actually, and I’m feeling uneasy about that. It’s part of the reason I don’t feel competent in what I’m doing as a podcaster, and I’m fearful that one day all of this might bite me in the ass or that the details I reveal about my lived experiences will be used against me somehow. It’s not surprising that I feel low-key paranoid because I’m being transparent about my life and I worry that perhaps I’m over doing it.)
I got cold feet again about starting and maintaining this plogcast. I thought this must be the stupidest thing I’ve done yet, and what on Earth was I thinking tweeting Anthony Jeselnik a few nights ago?!? I’m not at all used to twitter and I don’t really know how to express myself on it just yet. My little Quangel tried to comfort me by validating my fears of the unknown and complimenting my courage to be vulnerable, which would inherently make anyone feel raw and exposed. They said that I’m presenting myself, flaws and all, on this grand platform, and I’m deliberately opening up wounds for the world to see and for people to be apart of. Of course I’d be freaking out , who wouldn’t?
The day went on. Before noon I had someone tell me that they devalue me when I speak of my humanity and added that seeing my vulnerabilities or weaknesses made them see the weakness in themself. It made me question: is my humanity or my vulnerability at stake here? Am I exploiting myself with this plogcast? Is perfectionism at work here, or this concept of “not-enough-ness”? Should I delete what I have so far and start over? Kinda like a take-2 of sorts? Should I bring my friends together who can help me as my sounding board to be more intentional about what I publish and what I keep private? And how do I do all of this exactly?
For instance, I’m still getting used to the art of editing, as I’ve been told my podcast episodes are too long. I’ve also gotten feedback already that the podcast isn’t enough, or that the visual is missing to enhance the quality or richness of the experience. While I completely agree with this feedback, I’m worried about adding video because it’s extra work and I’m already feeling overwhelmed just being in this major life transition. So, then I ask myself, should I have even started this podcast if I wasn’t ready or prepared? And why would I even need or want one? Wtf would people want to listen or watch what I have to say when there are a million other things they could be doing?
I couldn’t tolerate sitting in this unknown for much longer, so I was glad to meet with my therapist, Mr. A, for a quick lunch session. I explored what was lying underneath those tears, to explore the unknown of my pain and fears with a curious heart. I learned that my emotions were telling me that I’m actually completely fucking terrified of failing, of disappointing others, of making a fool outta myself.. I’m terrified of the aftermath of failure or the burden of maintaining the success if it happens, the constant feeling of exhaustion knowing that I have to live and work for my dream all the while being depressed and anxious. I’m terrified of killing myself. The doubt and fear and insecurities ring so loudly in my head, just as bad as my chronic tinnitus, yet the courage and strength are but mere whispers.. if I’m able to see the doubt and fear for what it is, as just noise, then perhaps I can also single out the grounded rumblings of hope and curiosity.
The anxiety of this unknown has kept my mind racing for weeks, which has made it really hard to fall asleep at night. In fact, since launching this podcast I’ve been going to sleep around 3-4 in the morning and only getting 4 hours of sleep, if I’m lucky. This isn’t helping my mood or stress levels, and it’s certainly not helping me go to work ready to do therapy with a handful of clients who expect me to by on my A-game.
All the while, I’m feeling immobilized from this life transition and am not following an effective self-care plan. I’m basically a hypocrite (who isn’t honestly), but it still doesn’t feel good to know that. Also, I’ve reframed the way I see my anxiety and have discovered that I feel anxious because I actually really do care about my life and because I want to do well. That’s why I’m staying up late to learn, create, and work. Still, I’m not getting the desperate rest that I need to feel refreshed enough to face tomorrow with fresh eyes and a clear mind.
Mr. A and I also explored this emptiness within me. We learned that it was really emotional pain in disguise and probably coming from the fact that good things don’t last. What’s worse is that there’s been a thought in my head that I’ve carried with me since I was a young child, which is that I’m eventually going to take my own life when I’ve reached my peak. I can’t seem to escape the romanticized or glamorized feeling it gives me, yet I’m also very distressed by this.
One of the major reasons to live is because I still want to be a message of hope and I want to contribute to systemic socio-cultural change as my legacy, yet I still feel this strange poetic reverie of slipping away when I’ve done my best to then be at peace with leaving this world knowing that my existence was meaningful in some way. I wonder too if this fantasy of escapism is one way of letting go, of not getting myself too attached to what’s here-and-now in fear of losing it all without my say or control. I’m running away from any kind of commitment or stability because I don’t trust it. I don’t now if I can trust myself. I don’t know how long the good feeling will last or how much work I have to put in to maintain that goodness.
I should clarify that these darker thoughts are more about the wonders of what would life be like if I were dead, so it’s more of an existential thought than a suicidal one. Don’t worry, there’s no plan or intent. Interestingly, as a child I never really dreamed of a fairy tale wedding or family or even full time job.. I kinda pictured myself as a wandering gypsy, one who learns about life and the world through traveling, socializing, and moving along. I wonder if the reason I don’t want to get married or have children is because I don’t want to abandon them if/when I finally decide to end it all. It’s terrible, I know. I’m the archetype of the “tortured artist,” and I wish it weren’t this way , but I’ve been learning how to come to terms with this, so I’m choosing to do something worthwhile with my life so that it can matter or count in some way. I also didn’t know how much I had been affected by the recent suicides of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington.. so naturally darker thoughts will emerge and put me in a funk.
Mr. A also wonders if I’m feeling this way because perhaps this podcast is a secret “fuck you” to the world. Essentially he means that by putting myself out there and trying to be “edgy,” I’m actually subconsciously welcoming hostility from the world because it’s a familiar form of punishment that feels deserving. Mr. A expressed that he feels protective of me that I may be over-disclosing myself to a larger audience too much and too soon, and has fears that I may be acting self-destructive. Following this “calling” as a complete novice that has a dream to rise to the top yet not expecting it to be difficult or to have a struggle at the start is foolish. And feeling so little of myself that I wouldn’t trust or have faith in my resilience or my strengths to keep my head up and stay in the game is demoralizing.
Before returning to work knowing that I had three more people to see for their treatment, I had to feel it to heal it so that I could put aside all the feelings from last night and this morning and whatever residue from my lunch session with Mr. A so that I could function and be present for my clients. I had to wash my eyes and drink some cold water. I took a brief walk outside and let my face feel the warmth of the sun. It was an exhausting work day to say the least.
Still unable to shake this feeling, I texted my good friend, “Mikachu,” after work and asked “can I come over and have a hug?” “I’m at CVS,” she replied, “I’ll meet you at the cube.” I didn’t want to burden her, I just wanted some physical affection from a loved one. I wanted to feel safe. Mikachu gives lovely hugs, and it was extra nice today because she had on a soft silk shirt. She hugged me tight and held me there. I was holding my breath at first but I just couldn’t help by melt in her arms. I took a big deep sigh of relief.
She listened with her compassionate soul while my voice shook, face twitched and quivered, and tears rolled down my cheeks. All the while in public, something she and I do often. What I admire and appreciate about Mikachu and Quangel, and one of the major reasons I don’t want to leave Ann Arbor, is because they are very good friends. I don’t want to leave that behind for a job that I don’t know will make me happier than I already feel with the healthiest support system I’ve ever created.
Being a good friend doesn’t mean that you have all the answers or can solve or fix their problems or take away their pain.. being a good friend means that you’re there listening with your whole heart and holding the other with your compassionate warmth , even if there is nothing that can be said or done to change anything. All can be felt and sensed by the mere presence of someone who cares about you. Her energy was incredibly comforting and soothing, and I immediately felt calmed because these actions activated the mammalian caregiving system within me, a mechanism that combats the stress response and relaxes our nervous systems so that we can regulate our emotions and think more clearly.
It also helped that we were outside under the trees and in the sunlight, which is a great mood booster, especially when there are factors of distress that are out of our control. We saw squirrels chasing each other around the tree trunk, and for the first time, we saw what a squirrel’s balls and weiner looked like..We didn’t expect it, and honestly, it was quite comical and an instant stress reliever. I realized that this is also what I needed. I needed to be out in nature, I needed to laugh or find the amusement in everyday things and to appreciate the here-and-now for what it is. I needed to get out of my head and live in the moment, so that I’m not continuously time traveling to the past or the future but instead making the best out of what is right now.
As a therapist herself, Mikachu validated that I’ve worked so hard to be the “good daughter” and am being so brave and inspiring to pave my own way, even if I don’t know what that is or how it’s going to turn out. Just the courage to show up and put myself out there is enough to say damn that’s strength. That’s living. That’s not playing small with myself at all, that’s not hiding or avoiding or numbing. That’s saying I’m here and I’m going to make the most out of this life by acting on what’s best and most true for me.
Tears welled up around Mikachu’s eyes as she expressed feeling proud of my courage and willingness to be vulnerable in such a bold and authentic way. I could tell that she could see the pain and terror in my eyes, and I could feel her sense of concern and helplessness or powerlessness to do or say anything that would take these “bad” feelings away or make them stop. Her validation that of course my brain is gonna freak out because I’m going through a big fucking transition in my life and I’m taking an unconventional route than what is expected of me.
For fuck’s sake, of course it’s scary free falling into the unknown, especially when you don’t have a job, you don’t know where you’re going to live or what you’re really going to do for a living or for money right now, and you can’t talk to your parents because the last time you did it didn’t go so well, and you feel like you have to carry all of this by yourself… no wonder you feel overwhelmed, and terrified, and alone.. no wonder all of this feels hopeless and pointless, no wonder you’re feeling down and anxious. Who wouldn’t feel exactly like this in similar circumstances?
But Mikachu, Quangel, Mr. A and Dr. C reminded me that I’m not alone. They reminded me of my strengths and the goodness within me. They encouraged me to modify what these internalized expectations from society and family have been telling me what to do and who to be.
With her help, I was reminded to practice mindfulness self-compassion – not to make myself feel better, but simply because I feel bad. I was reminded to pause and breathe. I gave myself permission to let myself cry and be freaked out right now. I could finally relax some of the tension I always carry in my forehead (showing concern in my facial expression all day as a therapist really hurts the forehead). I felt myself soften as I took long deep breaths and caressed my arms. I even placed my hand on my heart and intentionally sent myself warmth and love. I needed to feel safe in my own body. I needed to feel connected and grounded. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to center myself enough to effectively navigate this unknown and be prepared for whatever comes, not just in life but also within me.
I know that I can better trust myself when I’m centered, so that’s become a vital part of life and a value I try not to strive for but aspire to work on. I’m the author and narrator of my life, even though I can’t totally control or predict the elements or the things that are meant to be. Sure, I can spend my time fighting reality but that only intensifies my suffering and quite honestly makes me miserable to be around. By accepting reality as it is, which means I don’t have to like or agree with it, I’m making room for it to exist, and by virtue of this validation, reality becomes easier to tolerate and work with.
So we’ll see what’s to come, or more to be revealed, I guess I should say. The good news is that I’ve got a couple job prospects that lie ahead, like the group practice mentioned before, but also possibly running a workshop on Brene Brown’s curriculum for shame resilience, becoming an adjunct professor at a local university, as well as registering as a Lyft driver so that I can make some serious cash as I figure my life out. I’m excited and terrified to say that I’ve signed up for improv comedy class that starts next week and goes on for the next eight weeks with a big show at the end. And I’m gearing up for another Nerd Night performance in October. I’m also gonna try out some speed dating because it’ll be good practice, good exposure, and also, why not?
I’m going to keep up with this podcast while I try to study for this licensure exam so that I can become an independent practitioner, even though I still carry major ambivalence about carrying the responsibility of someone else’s life. I wonder, is this all too much? Is it too many things all at once? What’s the most reasonable and practical right now? Should I settle myself first and then do this podcast? Is this too high of an expectation to deliver every week? What if I write a book first, asked Mr. A. What if I recorded an episode and didn’t publish until I was out of the vulnerable state that I recorded it in, wondered Mikachu.
For today, and for however long, I must make room for the discomfort and uneasiness of the unknown and give myself permission to freak out. I must continue practicing mindfulness self-compassion so that I don’t turn on myself when I’m scared or when I feel like a failure. I mustn’t judge and criticize myself for not doing or being “good enough.” I must learn to accept that these unpleasant feelings are human nature and is part of life’s creative process. By embracing it all will I learn how to befriend my fears and work with them for what they are instead of sabotaging myself because I feel undeserving of good things. I can use my fears to push me forward rather than hold me back.
I’m feeling much better after the day I’ve had. This is something that always intrigues me about what tomorrow will bring and how I’ll get through it this time and to discover what I’ve learned about myself, others, life and the world. That’s really what makes life so interesting, and we’re the major players of our lives, so of course there’s going to be some dramatics, otherwise how else would we keep ourselves around this long, really.
I might not know where I’m going just yet, but I’d like to continue showing up and exploring to see what happens. If my curiosity is going to keep me here then I want to be apart of creating something so that I can share that creation with the world.
So, let’s see how this life unfolds. mtbr…