The Divine gift of solitude.

#RealTalk vol 20

I currently have six pieces of furniture in my tiny apartment living room, including two bean bag chairs I got from Walmart. Unlike the traditional bean bags you might remember from the 70s, these are concave-shaped into a chair. The rope covered ottoman I snagged on sale at TJMaxx is the perfect complement to the one I sit in to watch TV. Both the bean bag and ottoman are low to the ground, so it’s quite comfortable to sit reclined with my feet up. Plus, I have the added benefit of a workout each time I get up, which is excellent for toning the butt and thighs.

I’m on the second floor, so sitting near the window gives me a good view of the sky without obstruction. My cat Mr. Skimps takes my sitting there as an invitation to curl up in my lap, and I take his intrusion as a cue to slow down, take in some cloud gazing, and enjoy the moment.

And so I sit, in my Walmart bean bag chair, feet up on my discount footstool, gazing up at the sky while holding my purring cat, feeling grateful for this small slice of peace and serenity.

At this moment, I reflect and appreciate the journey that got me here. I’m in a good place. I’m safe in the city that I love and call my home, I’ve nestled in a great neighborhood in the cutest apartment, I have the support of friends I consider my family, my fridge is full, I have work and projects I enjoy, and my bank account isn’t overdrawn. Here is where I refocus and realign. My life is good, and I am happy.

As a child growing up, my cloud gazing was met with ridicule from my mother, “What are you doing with your head in the clouds?” she'd ask with mocking disdain as if I was just wasting time. She couldn’t see that I was engaged, thinking, and contemplating. Every time I looked up, taking in the vast sky, the billowy clouds, or far away stars, I would get a sense of connection to it all, and sometimes I’d feel a calling, or rather a knowing.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time feeling overwhelmed and out of place in the world. At times, my own thoughts were too loud, but watching clouds shift and take on different shapes was fun and gave me story ideas. And if you've ever watched clouds on a windy day, how they move across the sky, you know how pleasant and calming that feels.

It’s crazy to think we have billion-dollar industries devoted to helping folks relearn quiet reflection, mindfulness, meditation, and playful imagination, and yet, kids do it without instruction. If only we stayed connected to our innate sense of wonder rather rush to adulting, right?

I’ve learned that my cloud gazing is my time with God and the Universe, time for profound consideration, which is much more meaningful than daydreaming or fantasizing. Of course, as a child, I couldn’t offer that explanation to my mother. But even still, why would anyone want to interrupt or discourage that?

My mother’s reaction to my introversion still perplexes me and honestly pains me to this day. I wish my mother had wanted to understand me. I wish she had nurtured the shy little girl who desperately wanted to share her feelings. The disconnect I had with my mother is most probably why I’m still hoping and searching for someone who wants to understand me, the all growed-up me who hasn’t outgrown a need for deep connection.

If you have a child in your life who spends time gazing at the sky, please don’t ridicule or belittle them. Instead, encourage and praise them for being so fucking wise and brave. Or is this you? Are you a cloud-gazer, daytime dreamer? I hope you appreciate how fortunate you are because you, my darling, are a beautiful soul.

As adults, most of us are pained at the mere thought of time with ourselves away from our cell phones and the internet for fear of missing out.

Blessed are children and anyone who can be with themselves and their imagination, taking in gratitude, thinking, and contemplating the world and how they fit in it. Imagine if we spent less time gazing at our cell phones and more time appreciating the magnitude of our planet, the Universe, and how we’re connected?

My lurking mommy baggage aside, I am grateful for the little slices of Divine solitude I get while sitting in my bean bag chair, gently petting Mr. Skimps while gazing at clouds in the sky and listening for God’s calling.

It’s great to be back in your inbox. As always, thanks for reading. I appreciate you.

xo, jae

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No guts, no glory?

#RealTalk vol 19

I realize I crept back into your inbox this past Sunday without explaining my 6-week absence. My bad. Honestly, I didn't think you'd notice. If your inbox looks like mine, it’s easy to lose track of who to read. Given all that’s happened to me these past few weeks, trust me when I tell you that hitting overwhelm was bound to happen, which is why I neglected to write to you. 

See, what had happened was...after driving across the country, living with a crazy lady for a month, nearly annihilating my marriage, packing up and hauling my crap...again, moving into my tiny, over-priced downtown apartment, starting two new jobs and two projects in the same week, starting rehearsal for a play, and getting really sick… I crashed.  

Emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically I couldn’t handle the pressure of trying to keep all my plates spinning, so I checked out. This is different than a monthly digital detox (which I highly recommend) but rather an almost subconscious, involuntary emotional, mental and physical retreat. I wasn’t hiding per se; I disconnected. 

I recognize this pattern I’ve developed over the years. After maxing out my mental reserve and regain strength to realign my priorities, my psyche creates a myopic defense - the ultimate self-care protocol of deleting, unsubscribing, and blocking all distractions lacking feel-good energy. Mostly, I disengage from the “shoulds” and the “should-makers” (more on that later). 

The fight or flight response is basic human nature. We’ve all been there… when a situation is scary or overwhelming, we instinctively buck up and handle it or run. Over the last few weeks, I did both simultaneously, I dug in my heels, refusing to yield to my new normal AND I bounced, I ran, both figuratively and literally. The struggle of how that feels and the toll it takes are no joke. 

The process of disconnecting to the level that I did wasn’t a serene and joyful departure. I had days that bled together, creating a cluster-fuck fog of nothingness. I went numb. I mustered the strength to go through the motions allowing me to get from point A to point B. I didn’t have much more than that to offer, let alone write anything or engage with anyone. Yup, it was as bleak as it sounds, but I’m better for it. 

I’m not advocating that you push yourself to mental or emotional breakdown as a precursor to getting some downtime, it’s no fun. On the contrary, I recommend being mindful of your strength reserves before your mind and body force you to rest. You don’t need to push, push, push and go, go, go all of the time, there’s restoration in stillness.

New year resolutions, determinations, to-do lists, and the like feel like admonitions to get it ALL done - the pressure is on to DO it all - all of our hopes and dreams and plans for an entire year get top billing. Sure, I’m all for setting goals and mapping out strategies, it’s just for us overachievers we pay a hefty price for failing to take projects in smaller doses. 

Recently I told a friend that the most important lesson 2019 taught me was that the Universe only responds to forward movement. I was wrong. A caterpillar chrysalis appears void of change during its metamorphosis, and yet, we marvel at the resulting transformation.  

Sometimes you have to be still before moving forward. Sometimes you have to shut out the world, to turn it all off, focus on yourself, take the road less traveled, and quietly get your shit done to become your best self.  

Push through fear, develop the courage to move forward despite feeling overwhelmed, and dare to be uniquely you were my battle cries for 2019 and, for the most part, still are, but I’m adding take time for mindful stillness and fierce self-preservation to the mix.

My self-enforced mental and emotional hiatus reenergized my mind and heart. I now have the headspace to feel connected, to write and share with you, spend time with friends, and feel excited about 2020.  

What you determine for your life in the coming year is yours for the taking, I sincerely hope that you achieve your dreams and goals without sacrificing your sanity in the process. 

There are guts and glory in being still and steady, my friends. Happy New Year. 

“You’re a ‘storyteller’ so tell a story.”

#RealTalk vol 18

He wasn’t trying to be a dick or condescending; he was trying to be supportive in his way. But now, when I sit down to write, I hear my Hubs’ voice in my head, “You’re a “storyteller,” so tell a story.” He said this to me after reading a motivational essay I’d written. His words stabbed me in the heart. It’s hard to recover after sharing with him what I've written only to get heartless criticism. I’m sensitive and that shit hurts coming from him. I have to believe he means well and wants the best for me. 

In his defense, he’s German; he’s perfected the art of real talk to the tenth degree. My Hubs doesn’t beat around any bushes or walk on eggshells when telling me what he thinks, and most often, this is my preferred method of conversing. I'm not too fond of small talk and conversations lacking substance. Cheap talk favoring polite tones vs. anything of real value makes me gag. When I ask someone, “How are you?” I genuinely want to know. I’m not asking about the weather or what’s happening in sports, entertainment, and politics. Let me know what’s on your mind and how you feel.  

My Hubs gets this about me, and yet when he gives me unabashed realness about my writing, I feel defeated, judged, and lacking. I give myself a fair amount of negative self-talk (‘sup Lizzy), so I’d much prefer some encouragement or validation over what feels like harsh judgment. 

Is he intentionally being harsh, though? I ask myself this because, like my Hubs, I’m the first to offer my version of real talk to others as well-meaning advice. Sometimes what I intend as goodwill comes off snarky (ok, bitchy). In my mind (and heart), I’m offering pearls to help folks perform at their best. I look for ways things can be better, not to be cruel or judgy. I’m learning, though, real talk can be tempered with kindness and still be real.  

I’m also learning what others judge as best for you doesn’t have to become what you believe about yourself. 

For my Hubs, my best writing are stories detailing how fallible I am and how I don’t have my shit figured out. Ultimately, he feels my raw and personal stuff is my best work and what I should most share. I don't entirely agree. Those stories aren’t the sum of who I am, AND I don’t write in a box. I have layers, like a parfait.

Sometimes I write about not having my shit together, sometimes I write about how I figured out my shit, and sometimes I share bits that inspire and motivate me AS I’m figuring out my shit. Other times I share bits I’ve learned about business or being creative. There are times when I feel led to share something someone needs to read.   

Granted, my Hubs is not my target audience, and I don’t write to appeal or please him, but I share my writing with him before publishing to the world because we share life together. I want him to be a part of what excites me and things that make me feel proud and accomplished. It’s like when your cat kills a mouse and brings you the carcass as a trophy gift. Sure, it’s all gooey and gross, but you’re supposed to accept it with excitement, gratitude, and grace. Wait, that’s an odd analogy. I digress. 

I appreciate my Hubs’ vantage. He reads my work through a different lens filtering out less appealing bits. When I offer him my first draft to read, I’m still very close to it, the emotional wounds are fresh, so any criticism from him stings. I’m learning that his criticism, although sometimes dead and lifeless, is a gift; it’s helped me to be kinder in giving advice to others. 

In the end, as much as I may want for him to like and appreciate everything that I write, that’s not gonna happen. Heck, no one is going to like and enjoy everything that I write, and I’m coming to terms with that. I have to focus on giving my brand of excellence, my gifts, my real, my way. 

My brand of excellence means doing my best to be better than I was yesterday; my best and not someone else’s version. I strive to be better by staying true to my writing voice, working on my grammar, getting and staying on a regular writing and publishing schedule, and making genuine connections with others on a similar path.   

So, that’s the plan for this coming new year; I’m going to do my best to share engaging stories with you. I hope you find nuggets in my writing - accept, interpret, and use them as you see fit. 

As always, thanks for reading. I appreciate your support and look forward to sharing more with you in 2020 and beyond.

The truth about my fear of driving.

#RealTalk vol 17

Hi! You’re reading #RealTalk - A midlife anti-crisis featuring a collection of motivational essays and intentional living insights.

I was on a bit of a hiatus during my cross-country road trip from WA to FL so expect #RealTalk - the Digest to return next week. Thanks for your patience as I get myself settled into my new surroundings. New to the party? It’s great to have you here.

Today’s post is a bit of a carryover and some new revelations. Read on.

When last we connected, I made light of my fears to drive across the country with my brother and cat, Mr. Skimps. I aimed to introduce you to “Lizzy” for a glimpse into how I’ve learned to defeat negative self-talk. Lizzy is my embodiment of fear and self-doubt, a visual aid that I can cuss out or lock in a closet when I feel overwhelmed. The truth is, talking about Lizzy was also my attempt to lighten the heaviness of why driving scares me. 

In high school, I found that I could make folks laugh in uncomfortable situations, and since then, humor has become my go-to deflection method. Making people laugh is my trick to avoid being the focus of ridicule. Who judges the clown who makes fun of himself? Rarely does anyone care to look beyond the jokes and self-deprecation. 

Sometimes jokes are just smoke and mirrors.

My driving fears started a few years ago after landing a gig as a producer for a daytime talk show. I loved most aspects of my job. I enjoyed booking talent for the entertainment segments, the logistics of keeping the show on schedule, and the benefit of eating great food in the kitchen segments. Still, among other things, the hours were long and stressful. Days at the studio started at roughly 7 a.m. or earlier if I had to do an off-location bit before going in and ended at 6 or 7 p.m. Within a few short months, I went from excited about going to work to dreading it. 

I respected my executive producer, but I hated her ideas about what made “good TV.” Sure, she had three decades of talk show and reality TV experience, but I wanted our show to have integrity and heaps of feel-good experiences. Instead, there were too many occasions where the show focused on gritty or shocking celebrity crap. Plus, there was a bunch of back-biting, passive-aggressive behavior, and underhanded prejudice happening behind the scenes - all the makings to drive my highly sensitive introverted self to the brink of exhaustion and overwhelm. 

Our show aired at 4 p.m. however, we recorded at 10 a.m., so I was able to take a break for a couple of hours in the afternoon, the time I used to run errands or take a much-needed nap. One afternoon while driving back to the studio, I had the worst experience. 

Approaching a stoplight, I got a kind of gray haze in my vision, I could see, but things were fuzzy. To not totally freak out, I figured I should apply more pressure to the brakes, which seemed the obvious thing to do, right? The problem was at that moment I couldn’t remember which pedal was the brake and which was the gas. Naturally, this is where I started to freak out. 

In a panic I lifted both feet, I didn’t know what else to do. Thankfully there wasn’t a car in front, behind me, or the adjacent intersection.

Because I was already slowing down, my car drifted out of traffic and stopped with a gentle bump at the curb. I was safe. I hadn’t hit anyone but the thought that I could have hit someone, hurt someone, a child even - it was that vision that broke me down. I became hysterical, sobbing at the life I could have ruined. I laid my head against the steering wheel and just cried. 

It took a few minutes before I could get myself together. I was a snotty mess, but my vision cleared, and I was able to get back in traffic and drive to work. 

Could I shake it off and get back to work? Yeah, no. 

In all of the time I’d worked with the show’s EP, she was a hard-ass, but upon seeing me when I got back to the studio, she immediately sent me home. I must have looked far worse than I thought because she had sympathy and fear in her eyes. 

I made it home without incident and then stayed in bed for a week before going to see a doctor. I felt weary and depleted, and too afraid to drive again or leave my apartment. As I look back, it's a good thing I didn't have the chance to try to shake off what happened. Not taking the time to rest could have made things worse. 

It was my doctor who suggested my job was the cause of a panic attack. Oddly I didn’t make the connection. I genuinely believed that I was going crazy or suffering from a brain tumor. 

Even with therapy, fear of driving paralyzed me; in fact, I sold my car and Ubered for years before I got the courage to drive again. I kept that painful little nugget of truth to myself for a very long time. 

The panic attack compounded by poor night vision terrifies me; this fear isn’t Lizzy feeding me negative self-talk, my driving fear is muscle memory I grapple with every time I drive.

Fear, real or imagined, still feels like a lousy ride you don’t want to take.

My very patient therapist helped me to understand how exhaustion and my attempt to work in a job that ran counter to my sensibilities was the root cause of my anxiety. She helped me to make sense of everything that led up to the day I lost my senses while driving because short of a brain tumor, I blamed myself. I carried guilt for working myself so hard and guilt for a crime I hadn’t even committed. 

Now, practically every time I drive, I remind myself that I haven’t hurt anyone and that any awful thing I could imagine isn’t real. 

Some days I drive without giving that terrible day any thought, and yet other days, the days when my heart races as I start the engine, I tell myself, “You’re okay. You’re safe. Your fear isn’t real. Get out of your head.”

My secret is out and look, nobody died.

I told my brother about my panic attack during our cross-country drive, which might explain why he did most of the driving. To his credit, he didn’t give me grief about my incident or freak out. Something else I have to remind myself of, generally speaking, folks don’t judge our mishaps, we do that to ourselves. 

There's so much atrocity and evil happening in the world, why do we burden ourselves with guilt and anxiety? I’ll go out on a limb here and say we don’t purposefully invite fear, guilt, or anxiety into our psyche. I certainly don’t. Panic attacks caused by stress can happen as a result of sensory overload exacerbated by physical, emotional, and mental depletion. 

Excessive worrying over things we can't control, failing to practice restorative self-care, and not speaking out and asking for help feed stress and anxiety.

I'm obsessive, I hyper-focus, and I'm an overachiever. I know first-hand the dangers of stress and overworking, but knowing isn't enough. Staying on the right side of healthy habits takes consistent dedication.

Also, speaking up and letting others know when you’re going through something is a strength, not a weakness. I’m still working on that one.   

Have I completely overcome my fear and anxiety? Nope, it's a constant battle. Every day I remind myself that I'm blessed and grateful, which makes it easier to manage.  

Thanks for reading! xo, Jae

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