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Learning to Dance with Anger

July 14, 2020

This photo of a shattered dinner plate in my sink … this is anger.

Last week, Sophie and I got into an argument that left me extremely frustrated. I won’t go into the specifics of why we disagreed. Just know it was not a life-shattering situation, and we worked through the issue and moved on. After she stormed off, I went into the kitchen to clear my dinner plate, threw it in the sink and watched it shatter. I stared at it for several minutes, and then walked outside and sat on my patio as the sun set and I felt my body calm down.

That argument was really just the tip of the iceberg for me, as I’d already been feeling angry about several things during the days leading up to our confrontation. But if I’m being honest, it felt really good to throw that plate and physically release my frustrations. I almost felt like that by releasing it, the anger started to disappear from my body.

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For nearly all my life, I didn’t get angry. Of course I felt anger, but I kept those emotions bottled up inside me and tried to process them internally, making myself be the recipient of the emotion. I didn’t outwardly express it or tell people when I should have. That’s not a healthy way to live.

There are many reasons I suppressed my anger, but it ultimately came down to fear. I was afraid to get angry, to stand up for myself, or tell people (family members and friends) that I felt hurt by something they said. Why was I afraid? I feared loss of the relationships and abandonment. I feared someone getting angry at me, and in return, mentally shutting me out because of the feelings I expressed. I thought my feelings were not as important and worthy as others. And I didn’t want to hurt anyone, or have my words cause them harm.

Since last year, anger is an emotion I’ve felt more intensely and more regularly. I’m sure it stemmed from the ending of my marriage and all I carried with me until that point. This is not to say I blame my ex-husband or my marriage ending for my feelings of anger. But it’s as if once I faced that deep fear with respect to anger, I realized I could survive the aftermath. As such, I felt safer feeling anger and dealing with it.

When I started seeing my therapist earlier this year, I told her I wanted to express anger and frustrations in a productive way without a PTSD fear of the reactions and consequences. I didn’t want to hold it all in anymore. I had to start standing up for myself. My therapist said (and I’ve read a lot to echo this) that anger is a secondary emotion, meaning there’s usually another feeling behind the agitation (e.g. sadness, shame, jealousy, fear, love). That helped me understand where a lot of my feelings came from and how I can navigate them.

I’ve noticed that, for me, anger is often mixed with anxiety and it tends to be a precursor to feeling down or depressed. This also goes back to anger being a secondary emotion; that there tends to be other triggers for the feeling. I’ve come up with a few ways that I now deal with anger; sometimes they help and other times they do not.

First (and the hardest to learn), I verbalize my feelings when the situation warrants it. In January, a friend said one of her goals for the year is to have a greater acceptance of people and situations. I am very much a person who believes in the mantra that you can’t change others; only your response to them. And in most cases, I’m willing to accept people for who they are, even if that means they come with quirky behaviors or habits I wouldn’t personally embrace. That being said, there’s a fine line between acceptance of a person, and accepting a person’s behaviors that may not be okay.

Today, if a person says something that hurts or angers me, I don’t just let it go anymore. I’m not one of those annoying people that points out every agitation. But if I’m hurt or frustrated by someone, and it’s a relationship that means something to me, I will stand up for myself. This is HUGE for me, as it’s not something I would have done even six months ago.

People’s reactions to this have varied. Some have shocked me in their acceptance and unconditional care for me, what I say and feel (I’m still confused by this at times). And others have shown there are clearly conditions on our relationship. But both reactions confirm one thing: I can survive the aftermath of expressing my anger and my feelings are valid.

Second, when I find myself agitated and angry, I write down everything that’s heavy on my mind. The writing and brain dump helps. It doesn’t always make the mood change, but it helps with awareness and perspective.

Third, I try to physically get out of my head. I go outside, like I did after last week’s dish incident. I run; however, when I’m in a mental/physical place where the running is frustrating me, that can sometimes add to the anxiety. This has been my reality lately. It’s really difficult to go from something that I’m used to being a salve to being a frustration. I’m still working through how to deal with it.

Fourth, I talk and share. I don’t like to complain, but if I’m feeling angry or agitated, I’ll text my sister or vent to a friend whom I know will just listen and empathize. I have a therapist. And I have online social support writing groups that allow me to share my feelings without judgment.

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Anger is such a interesting concept. I think society has conditioned us to not feel and express anger. I myself am guilty of that, and I find myself saying “Calm down” to Sophie when she gets frustrated. But I think it’s powerful to be able to feel and embrace anger, express it if need be, and then move on.

Whatever I do, I don’t want to sit with anger and have it envelop me. I’ve seen what that does to people and I won’t do it to myself (and I will not surround myself with people who do). I came across this quote recently that resonated:

“People who stay sick choose to keep blaming. They stand firmly in their anger and resentment and call it a revolution. They don’t see that humility is not an admission of weakness but a result of knowing exactly how powerful you are. It’s much easier to go down the path of self-righteousness, to be sure. Nothing is more gratifying. I fall into it regularly. But those who choose the other way? They get better. They get free. They soar, with soft dignity. They rise, without needing to announce it.” — Laura McKowen

I don’t plan to continue throwing plates, especially since new dishes are not in the budget. But I want to feel the anger – to express it – and then I want to let it go. Ultimately, I want to be free. I want to soar.

The Things I Carry

June 24, 2020

Sometimes a writing idea will come to me in minutes and I’ll feverishly draft the entire thing in the Notes app of my phone. Other times, it takes months for the idea to come to fruition. Or it starts as one thing and morphs into something else. This post is an example of a piece that started out one way, took a turn, and then became something else.

I had been playing with this idea in my head for a few months. … It started when I read “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien’s masterpiece on Vietnam War soldiers and the things they “carried with them,” both mentally and physically, as they fought in Vietnam and also went home. Around the same time I was reading that book, Mary Chapin Carpenter performed her song, “The Things We are Made Of,” as part of her Songs from Home series. The lyrics focus on the small, brief moments of life that create our memories.

That idea about what we carry intrigued me. I thought a lot about what I hold onto and what I carry with me … physical mementos, memories, beliefs, self-fulfilling prophecies, favorite songs and stories … all the things that make up a person. I couldn’t think of where to go with this idea, so I left it alone and moved on.

And then Monday, my Timehop app alerted me to a memory from four years ago. On June 22, 2016, I published a blog post about packing my San Diego house in preparation for our move to Indiana. During the packing, I decided to drink the souvenir bottle of Coke that I received from Disneyland. I’d been holding onto the bottle as a memento; but then I realized that sharing that Coke with Sophie while packing for Indiana would become a memory in itself. That was Sophie’s first Coke and the blog post became one of my favorites.

As I looked at that photo, I thought about how so much has changed in four years. I thought about how appropriate it was that I was packing my life away – all the things, hopes and wishes I would carry from California to Indiana – and here I am, four years later, with this kernel of an idea about the things we carry. And that’s where this post finally started to take shape.

So what do we carry? What do we hold on to, mentally and physically? What do I carry?

Let’s start with four years ago when I was, literally, carrying my life from one part of the country to another.

I was 40-years-old in the summer of 2016. Bryan had already moved to Indiana to start his new job. So I spent that summer packing up my house and all its contents. I was packing Sophie (who was 8 at the time), still with a big personality, but also with naivete and a missing front tooth. I was packing Casey and Cody, the two dogs that are still with me today, and Tess the cat (also still here). Box upon box, I filled with photographs, books (so many books), kitchen supplies, home decor, play room paraphernalia, holiday decorations, clothes, and everything else that makes up a family and home into a Bekins moving truck that would arrive in Terre Haute ten days later.

But while those physical items came with me, I also left behind so much I carried for 40 years.

I left California, the place I spent 39 years of my life. I left my parents’ house, the only childhood home I remember separately from photographs. I left my mom and dad, whom I’d never really parted from. I left my three sisters, and my nephews and newborn niece whom I barely knew. I left my job as San Diego editor for Red Tricycle family publication, a teaching job and various other local clients. I left San Diego State University. And while I left that campus four years before, that university was a part of my life since my dad took his job there in 1979, and where my first real job at KPBS was located. It was my college experience, where I found true friendships for the first time, and where I met Bryan. I left behind the three homes Bryan and I shared and our foundational history as a couple.

Essentially, I left the only life I knew and my past. I left 40 years behind me when I packed that house and drove away. And while all that makes up who I am, those are the things I did not carry to Indiana.

What did I carry to the Midwest?

I carried hope for a new beginning. I carried ideas for a new life, and plans for how to make myself and those around me happy. I carried anticipation for meeting new people and having new experiences. I carried excitement for seasons, snow, fireflies, and crunchy autumnal leaves. I carried A LOT of fear of the unknown and for the changes that would surely come, and fear of the things that would not change. I carried loneliness, so much of it I didn’t even know I carried.

A lot has changed in four years. In many ways, I’m such a different person than that fearful girl packing up her home to start anew.

I no longer carry my marriage. I still carry my daughter, but I carry her differently. Sophie’s now an almost 13-year-old with her very own (BIG) personality and she’s so much stronger than I ever was. I live in my own home. And when I packed my belongings for this move, I took with me less than half the contents I started with; because I only packed my things (and Sophie’s, of course). I don’t even carry the car I drove from San Diego to Indiana. And I no longer carry 40 extra pounds of weight on my body.

I carry physical strength and the ability to run, to move my body outside in nature and against the wind, in rain and through snow and humidity, on trails and on roads. I carry the ability to propel myself forward through life with movement. I still carry the songs I love, the books that impacted me, the movies and shows that shaped me. And I carry my core beliefs, the ideas of myself, and the values that shape me.

But I no longer carry that deep loneliness (although it does creep up on me, from time to time, as a gentle reminder). Now I carry emotions I didn’t have before (or they were buried deep within me), and I’m not scared to express those feelings. I carry vulnerability and the special fear that comes with it. I carry deep and meaningful friendships and relationships with people, and feelings I never thought possible to have. I carry strength – physical and mental – that I didn’t know I was capable of having.

So here I am, four years from when I was packing my life to move to Indiana, and I carry much of who I’ve always been. But I’ve also left so much behind. And that’s okay, because we’re supposed to let things go to make room to carry so much more.

Something I think about often is what my life has in store for me. The truth is, I don’t know what my life will look like in the future; just like I had no idea what today would bring when I published that blog post four years ago. But I do know that my heart, my mind, body and soul will carry with it what it needs – all the things that make up my past, present and future – the things that make up a life, MY life.

Buying My “First” House and Living “Alone” at Age 44

June 3, 2020
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Other than my college dormitory rooms, I never lived alone; by myself. And one could argue that despite the fact I had my own dorm room, living in the residence halls is hardly living alone. My senior year of college, I shared an apartment close to the San Diego State campus with Heather. For two years after college, I shared a townhouse with a friend, Barbara. In June 1999, I moved into a two-bedroom apartment with Bryan, my boyfriend at the time. I was only 23 years old. We got engaged a year later and married in 2001.

When I was planning to move in with Bryan, my friend Tammy (whom I still consider one of my oldest and dearest friends) said something to me that has stuck with me for decades. She said, “If you move in with Bryan now and then get married, you’ll never have the chance to live by yourself. And that’s okay, but if you want to live alone for a while, do it now because you won’t have the opportunity to do it later.”

I assured Tammy that moving in with Bryan is exactly what I wanted and I was eager for my life to begin. I believed that then, and I don’t regret my choices at all. That being said, I think there’s a reason her words stayed with me all this time.

Over the course of 20 years, Bryan and I shared an apartment and bought three homes together. Until we separated last August, I never physically lived by myself. Yes, I still had Sophie living with me. But when she started spending nights and days at his apartment, I was truly by myself and physically alone for the first time in my life.

We sold our Indiana house earlier this year, and I went on a search for a new home for me and Sophie. I came upon this little blue cottage-type house that was just over two miles from my former neighborhood, and still close enough to parks and paths that I can run from my front door. The minute I walked into this house, I knew it was destined to be my home. This was like no other house I’ve lived in. It had a front porch and a beautiful green backyard with a back patio with the perfect sitting view of the moon in the night sky. Every room or corner had character, and there was no denying the vibes and warmth I felt inside. Sophie loved it too, and quickly picked out her room.

Fortunately, my offer was accepted and I bought my first house, all on my own. When I signed my closing escrow documents in March (just days before we were forced into COVID-19 quarantine), I took Sophie with me because I wanted her to see her mother signing loan papers and buying her own home. She was bored and sat on her phone the entire time; but I have to believe that she’ll remember that experience one day.

After the final paper was signed and I was given the keys, I pulled out a keychain I bought myself months before. I wanted a new keychain for my new life. It’s inscribed with the words, “She built a life she loved.” I attached the key and Sophie and I went to look at our new home.

I’m proud of the homes Bryan and I bought together. But it was a completely different feeling buying this house and moving just for me (and Sophie). I’m now responsible for things I never was before. While I always paid the bills when I was married, this mortgage payment is all my income. I solely provide for my daughter.

I started mowing my own lawn for the first time in my life. I troubleshoot home maintenance issues, such as when my air conditioner needed a repair. It was up to me to figure out why the porch awning wasn’t working or how the outside garden lights are configured. It’s not that I felt incapable of doing these things when I was married. But I feel confident in a new way that I was not before. And I want Sophie to see that confidence and know that she can also own her own home one day, if she chooses that path.

After moving into my house, I was reminded of a scene in the 1980s movie “St. Elmo’s Fire,” in which Mare Winningham (who played the kind of awkward one of the group) is talking to Rob Lowe in her first apartment. She tells him she woke up in the middle of the night and made herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And it struck her that it was HER OWN kitchen, in HER OWN own apartment, and it was the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich she ever had. That scene has always stayed with me, maybe because I never lived physically alone before either. But when I found myself making my French Press coffee in MY kitchen in MY house for the first time, I knew exactly how she felt.

Reasons, Seasons and Lifetimes of Relationships

May 27, 2020

When I was in my early 20s, I had a friend named Karen (name changed). We got along so well because we had tons of similar interests; she was hilarious, made me laugh and was never boring. We could hang out for days in a row and never get tired of each other. Friendship with Karen was the best … until it wasn’t.

I enjoyed my friendship with Karen for years because, for the most part, I got so much joy from our interactions. I had fun and she fulfilled a need in me. For reasons I won’t go into (because it will make a long story even longer), I stopped speaking with Karen because she crossed a line with me. This happened eight years ago and I haven’t spoken to Karen since. I made peace with the end of that friendship, yet she still pops into my mind every now and then, especially when I find myself facing similar people and situations in my present life (amazing what the subconscious will do).

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Since my friendship with Karen, I’ve had several meaningful relationships and friendships. I got married and then divorced. I’ve had close friendships with people in San Diego, as well as in my new home in Indiana. These relationships have their ups and downs. Some have lingered and some have gone by the wayside. And some are deeper than others.

I’ve talked extensively to my therapist about the concept of friendship, and the relationships I’ve had that have changed over time. Some of these changes have troubled me more than others and I was struggling with understanding why I was experiencing foreign emotions with people that I had not before. Why was I suddenly seeing people in a new light?

My therapist shared with me a poem entitled “Reason, Season, or Lifetime.” The anonymous author writes that people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

When someone enters your life for a reason, it is to meet a need and for the reason you need them to be there. And then without any wrongdoing, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. What we need to realize is our need has been met, this person served their purpose, and now it’s time to move on.

Some people come into your life for a season because we need to share, grow or learn something new. They bring you an experience, give you peace, make you laugh or teach you something. It is joyful and it’s real, but it’s only for a season.

Finally, lifetime relationships teach you lifetime lessons. These are things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what you have learned to use in another relationship.

Reading this poem changed the way I look at friendships and the people in my life. I realized that every person, every friendship and relationship I have serves a purpose and important reason. Every person is here to teach me a lesson, help me grow and fulfill a specific needs.

Some of those relationships/friendships will never go back to what they were in the beginning, because I don’t have those same needs anymore. I’m not the person I was when that friendship first started. And that’s okay, because in order for us to grow and evolve, we need people to serve those roles and give us the opportunity to learn those lessons.

The difficulty, however, lies in society’s idea that friendships and relationships — especially marriage, but also family bonds — are “supposed to be” forever. And change is scary and hard! I could have easily stayed in my marriage; a relationship where I was not happy, but it was “safe.” The future was certain and I didn’t have to be scared of the unknown and what change would bring.

Yet change is inevitable. Growth occurs whether we want it to or not. And it happens every single day, all around us. We see it when the sunny day turns to clouds of rain. We see it seasonally when the leaves on trees turn brown and gold in autumn, fall to the ground and grow bare in winter, and then return to green in the spring.

We post Facebook photos of our kids on the first and last day of school and the most common remark is, “Look how much she’s changed!” We think nothing of it when our kids outgrow certain friends. So why wouldn’t adults, friendships and relationships also be expected to change?

Life is change. And we need to grow and move on, so we can continue learning life’s lessons and put those lessons to use in other relationships and areas of life. We don’t have to stop loving the people that have been in our lives for reasons and seasons and lifetimes. We just need to embrace what they’ve given us and continue to grow.

Memorial Day Running: Pain Becomes Truth

May 25, 2020

Memorial Day 2020 • Today was a warm morning as I pushed myself out the door to run. All the fair-weather quarantine walkers and runners were nowhere to be found in the early midst of summer weather. Physically, today’s run was cursed before I got out the door. My heart was racing before the heart monitor went on. My breathing was a struggle, rugged and shallow even while walking. Anxiety ran through my blood with a vengeance and I was yawning, despite the fact I woke up not long before.

But mentally, my mind was determined to go. I knew yesterday I would run. Something was pushing me outside. It was a force that was relentless. I had to run. I even knew the route I would take. The reason why was unclear, but knowing I needed to was clear as day.

I pushed through the heat and humidity, which wasn’t terrible, especially under the trees and shade. And then I got to the third mile and my body felt like it was giving up. The anxiety never quite left my body. Running turned to walking, followed by shorter bouts of running. My heartbeat thumped in my ears. My breath was nowhere to be found. My stomach turned on itself and sips of water did nothing to quell the pain.

But through it, I ran around the memorial stadium lined with flags of the fallen. I kept pushing. There was a moment when I didn’t know if I’d make it around that mile. But my mind had a plan, and far be it from my body to stop it.

And then suddenly, when it all became too much, my legs stopped. And I had a moment of clarity that transcended everything. It was why I came out today. I saw it all; the truth, reasons and directions were right there. I momentarily parked myself on a bench and wrote all the truth in my phone notes. This was the gift the pain gave me. And I wouldn’t have found it had I not pushed beyond my limits.

At the end of the year, I publish a blog post that includes photos and the word that characterizes my year. That word comes to me when I’m not expecting it. Last year’s word, endurance, hit me while I was running the Smoky Mountain Half Marathon in September. Awakening, 2018’s word, hit me late in December of that year. My word for 2020 came to me during that moment of clarity on today’s Memorial Day run. I won’t share it until December 31, but I know without a doubt, it’s my truth.

I typically publish these “micro-blogs” exclusively on Instagram. But I’m breaking my pattern and publishing it here so I can refer back to this day when I write my 2020 wrap-up post.

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