Day 60 – Thursday, Feb. 9th (60/306): Shifting gears and “unfreezing” the fear response

In the conversation with my friend Wednesday morning, as we talked about fear, she mentioned the paradigm of “fight or flight.” It’s a familiar paradigm to me. What was new to me was the expanded paradigm she described, which recognizes a third response: “fight, flight or freeze.” More so than taking flight, certainly more than fighting, “freezing” is a familiar response for me.

Such responses are embodied reactions to fearful situations for all of us. I bring them up here because I want to remember something my friend suggested – an exercise that creates a kinesthetic experience to help me (and my body) learn a new, healthier response to fear.

The exercise is simple and can be done almost anywhere. You begin by “freezing,” standing perfectly still in one spot, consciously, intentionally, for several moments – long enough that your body knows it has “frozen,” stopped in its tracks. Then you intentionally choose to look about, turning your head if you like, but keeping the rest of your body in the “freeze.” Next, you choose a spot, then very intentionally choose to move to that spot. The dynamic experienced by you (and your body) is one of creating a new practice of moving from freezing to action. The fact that you consciously choose to do this helps you to discover that you can choose new responses to fearful situations as well.

Our conversation was really quite interesting. She pointed out that things that trigger fear can feel like they are life and death to us, even when we know that, in reality, they aren’t that big a deal. In the grand scheme of things, they might even be ridiculously non-threatening. Yet that doesn’t diminish the fearful response we might be feeling. It’s important to honor the fact that our bodies can experience something as threatening, even as our logical mind tries to tell ourselves we shouldn’t be so frightened. I knew exactly what she was talking about.

We talked about how intense emotional reactions to current events, that seem out of proportion to the situation, are often connected to something from our past. Reflecting on the current situation and asking ourselves what it reminds us of from the past may help uncover what is triggering the disproportionate reaction. Even if it doesn’t, acknowledging that our response is disproportionate and that it may be connected to some event from our past can help us let go some of the fear (or anger or other intense emotion) and move through the experience a little more easily.

Today I received a call from a staffing agency about a temp position. The position would begin Monday and be virtually full-time (Mon-Fri, 9:00-4:00) for six weeks. It was interesting to notice my body’s reaction to the possibility of needing to suddenly shift gears – the EEK! response. If I get the job, it would mean a sudden shift in when I can do my work at my present job, with no transition period. Boom! I would suddenly go from 14 to 46.5 hours per week.

I really hope I get the job – if this is where I’m meant to be for a time. I truly need the money, and I like the organization and would appreciate the opportunity to work there. Could it be that my ability to adjust to this possible change so quickly – I “unfroze” rapidly after the initial call to see if I was interested – happened as a result of Wednesday’s conversation about fear and learning how to respond to it differently?

And I haven’t even practiced the freezing, choosing a spot and moving to it yet!

Action step(s):

  • Had lunch with a friend and did an informal “informational interview” with her about chaplaincy work. (Which led me to even more questions we didn’t get to!) Networking!!
  • Said yes to a possible temp position and became willing to adapt as needed.
  • Listened to my body’s need for quiet this evening.

Day 59 – Wednesday, Feb. 8th (59/307): Blessings and Self-care

I’m late in getting this posted. In fact, I’m late in getting it written. It’s amazing how much time can pass in such a short period.

Tuesday turned into a surprisingly good day. Not that I expected a “bad” day, but sometimes things happen in ways that bless and nourish unexpectedly. That’s what happened.

I came in early to work and submitted a job application. It’s for a full-time, temporary position. We’ll see if anything comes of it. Part of my ongoing challenge is being willing to let go this part-time job I love to make space for the support I need. I know that if I am blessed to find fuller-time employment, it will be a blessing for all, including my present employers. Whether or not I receive even a response to this job application (aside from the auto-reply “we got your application” email), it felt good to submit it.

Later in the morning, when I was the only one in the office (which seldom happens), a friend called. Since it was quiet and I had the time, our conversation ranged to the personal. We ended up scheduling a time for the following morning for her to do some energy work with me. Wednesdays have often been my day off from the office, so the timing was perfect.

Tuesday afternoon, I went to a check-in at JVS. When asked how I was doing with my job search, I could feel my body tense up. I had expected a check-in around using the computer lab, not an all around check-in. As the conversation continued, with only three of us in the group, I found myself struggling with fear and resistance, feeling of inadequate for not doing more.

When I asked what the instructor included under the umbrella of “networking,” she said she considered any contact with other people, especially in person or at least by phone, to be “networking.” The way she described it started shifting my perception of networking. Suddenly I saw networking as being available to me anytime I’m talking to someone else and am willing to mention that I’m looking for work. It was rather like what my pastor calls a “BFO” – a Blind Flash of the Obvious. Yet it hadn’t been obvious to me before. As I continued to think about the conversation, I realized that finding opportunities through people I know has actually been true for several of my employment situations over the years. I just hadn’t noticed it till now.

Thus, Tuesday became a day of unexpected gifts – little things that added up to a pretty nice day.

As for Wednesday’s activities… What can I say? After the lovely time connecting with my friend in the morning to receive a most welcome Reconnective Therapy (“RCT”) treatment (see http://www.reconnectivetherapy.com/start.htm for more information), I gave myself an entire day of relaxation. I know little, as yet, about RCT, except that I trust this friend and have had wonderful healing experiences through many forms of energy and healing work. Not surprisingly, the topic of fear came up. Also not surprisingly, the area of my body where she was led to begin treatment was the very place where the fear and trauma of a particular experience when I was a young child had been held in my body’s memory. I had uncovered the trauma some years back; now my friend was bringing healing to this area. What a gift!

I was having a touch of digestive unsettledness already, so when she talked about how I would be integrating this experience and would need to hydrate a lot over the next few days, something told me to listen to my body’s need to simply hold still. I’m not sure I remember when I’ve ever let go of “responsibilities” for a whole day before, but I did this day. I spent virtually the entire day enjoying Columbo movies on DVD and enjoying a beautiful jigsaw puzzle I recently received as a birthday gift. It was lovely.

Action step(s):

  • Submitted a job application!
  • Followed-up on monthly billings at work and cleared out the erroneous papers that I’d been afraid to toss too soon (i.e., cleared out the chaos and created order!).
  • Attended a follow-up workshop at JVS.
  • Connected with a friend and availed myself of a wonderful healing session.
  • Gave myself an entire day of self-care.

Day 57 – Monday, Feb. 6th (57/309): Coming out/Breaking Out

Before you leap to the popular understanding of what “coming out” means, let me start by saying that I don’t happen to be gay, bi or trans, though I count my many LGBTQ friends among my “heroes.” They have had to break through many (valid) fears and barriers to claim who they are. Whenever I’m around these friends, I wonder, how long will it take me to claim who I am, to be the person God created me to be?

I’ve carefully avoided talking about queerness in any sense of the word. And just in case you haven’t been hanging around academia in places like Berzerkley and other planets, queer is actually a term used and appreciated in academia around gender studies and the like, to explore the ways we push against the status quo and notions of the way things are or have been (as if they ever were a particular way). But I am not an academician, so I won’t even attempt to go there. I offer this point merely as a way of quieting, hopefully, the discomfort or concern some people feel about using the word “queer” in connection to notions of sexual orientation or gender.

I might as well tell you right now that I enjoy using the word “queer” because I rather like pushing against, well, lots of things that make some people uncomfortable. We are too often told what we “should” or “shouldn’t” do or say by others and that in itself is a good reason to question the way things are. (It’s also the nature of Aquarians to be a bit contrary.)

But my queerness – or lack thereof – is not what this is about for me. What I’m trying to do is to keep pushing at the boundaries I’ve built around myself that keep me from breaking through my fears. When I began considering bringing up LGBTQ topics (like, this morning), I balked. That’s not really what my blog is about, I thought. I don’t want to derail the conversation (even if it has largely been one-sided) that is here to help me break through my fears. Then I noticed that bringing up a subject about which I feel passionate (as in supporting LGBTQ people) brought up fear. Oops! And I thought this journey was merely going to be about organizing and purging the paper piles and finding adequate employment…

“Coming out,” for me, is about breaking through my fears and not being afraid to be who I am. I have so many friends who have had to face far worse fears than I do to be who they are and they are not only fine, they are amazing and often wonderfully successful because of who they are. The fact that I am so drawn to my lesbian and trans-women friends made me wonder about myself. Eventually I realized that the attraction I experience is not what I experience toward (“straight”) men, but rather the admiration for those who have had the courage to become more fully themselves.

For me, as someone who has considered herself to be shy most of her life, part of my “coming out” will be to embrace the closeted extrovert in me. I remember remarking to my pastor once that I was shy. He looked at me with a puzzled expression and said, “You’re shy?!” The memory of that moment stayed with me. It is only in the past couple of years that I have come to recognize that my shyness has really been about fear and being afraid to be who I am for fear people would dislike or reject me

There’s so much more to say on all this, but I’ll stop for now. Be prepared, though, now that I’ve brought up one of my favorite topics. (See, Aquarians really do like to be contrary and, I suspect, do a bit of trouble-making!)

Have a blessed and wonderful day being yourself!

Action step(s):

  • Writing a birthday card to my birthday “twin,” even though it’s a bit late.
  • Giving myself permission to perhaps regularly get to work early and take some time for my own tasks before “clocking in” – like writing this post.
  • Bringing up the “Q” word in this blog – despite the fact that I feel extremely nervous doing so. (Have I lost you now? ;-))

Day 56 – Sunday, Feb. 5th (56/310): Getting unstuck

The past three days have been full, indeed. “Coincidental,” you could say, defined as being when God wants to remain anonymous.

Thursday afternoon, I met with my sponsor and she helped me see how much I was trying to shrink myself to fit into the tiny box called my present finances and circumstances. I’ve been stuck in small thinking and small acting as fear and worry overwhelm me. During the meeting, I talked a blue streak. At one point, we read from Al Anon’s Courage to Change – a reflection indexed under “worry.” It talked about choosing not to figure out my plans for the day the moment my eyes are open and, instead, taking time to listen and enjoy the morning (p. 95).

That night I read the article “How to Get Unstuck.”* In this helpful and insightful article, Bolles looks at how our “Safekeeping Self” (the part that wants to stay in its familiar, comfort zone) takes over our “Experimental Self” (the part that would gladly pursue and leap upon networking, job hunting and other adventures) when we are making changes that are scary. Normally, these parts of us function in balance, with one or the other being more active at any given moment. But as I read, I easily recognized how my Safekeeping Self has my Experimental Self in a death grip. Talking too much, as I’ve been doing a lot lately, is just one of the symptoms.

What I’d read from Courage to Change about taking time to listen in the morning instead of planning from the second I wake up echoed a recommended strategy in the article: change some of the routines we obsessively cling to when the Safekeeping Self is overreacting. So I did.

Friday morning, I again gave myself time when I first got to the office to do some personal work before beginning “work” work. I paid several bills (online). Since I had already mentally subtracted these payments from my paycheck, it was surprisingly easy, almost fun to pay them! It felt more like marking off a check box, than taking money out of my account. I don’t believe I’ve ever had that experience while paying bills before. 🙂

Yet Friday was also a day of feeling confused and overwhelmed much of the day. Confusion, btw, is the Safekeeping Self’s favorite weapon. Talk about frustrating! So I let go, relaxed that evening, and read several pages from Courage to Change right before sleep.

Saturday, I let my morning unfold. I journaled (in my “regular” journal) for quite some time, mostly reviewing what I’d read in Bolles’ article. Hunger arrived, so I fixed my breakfast and enjoyed some jigsaw puzzle time while it was cooking and while I ate about half of it. I wrote a bit more while I finished my breakfast. Then I took a shower to help wake up my body after all that sitting.

In the article, Bolles suggested that if you’re a person of faith (which I happen to be), you might pray for God to lead you through all confusion. I was ready! After my shower, I went on a search in my Bible and filled seven 3×5 cards with over a dozen verses and passages  that remind me that God is there to lead me out of the confusion. Then I did my “scripture reflection” before heading to the office to pick up my forgotten planner, to do one work task, and to do some internet stuff. From there, I went to my Al Anon meeting.

Afterwards, I discovered my aunt had called. My uncle had fallen and been taken to the emergency room (in an ambulance); my aunt was at home, waiting for a report. Ultimately they turned out to be minor injuries (he’s a tough old bird), but she and I wound up staying awake till 2:00 a.m. waiting for a call to confirm his status. Today has been about waiting for more updates, then finally getting him home. He’s napping now (when my aunt isn’t talking to him – she cracks me up!); she’s continuing to check in with family; and I’m trying to stay awake till (an early) bedtime.

These past few days have been about recovery, discovery and finding my way out of confusion – or at least to a door to a better path. I’m already doing some of the things suggested in the article (it is worth reading) and look forward to making more progress this week. Yesterday, I found myself looking at job postings with more interest and enthusiasm than I’ve felt in long time.

What a difference it makes to read things that nourish my spirit and let things unfold. And what a blessing it turned out to be to have had so much grace before the excitement of the past 24 hours!

Action step(s):

  • Read “How to Get Unstuck” article and began implementing strategies.
  • Read from Courage to Change before bed.
  • Paid several bills online – joyfully!
  • Spent 45 minutes at work catching up on something that’s been hard to do during the week. (Yay!)
  • Did some job-searching online and found a few possibilities. (It’s a start!)

 * What Color is your Parachute? 2009 by Richard Nelson Bolles, “How to Get Unstuck” in Appendix B, pp 339-350. (Btw, I have not seen this article in the later editions of Parachute. Check with your library if you want to find it. It’s worth the effort!)

Day 53 – Thursday, Feb. 2nd (53/313): Gratitude and patience

This morning I awoke with a desire to write about gratitude. One of the best antidotes for me when I’m feeling down or having a particularly rough time is to make a gratitude list. It reminds me of the blessings I have and the things that are going well or at least better in my life.

Here are ten things for which I’m thankful in this moment:

  1. I’m grateful to have awakened at 5:55 this morning. The days seem to go so quickly that I appreciate it whenever I awaken between five and six without my alarm clock.
  2. I’m grateful for giving myself a day off from work. I will easily get in more than my allotted/paid fourteen hours this week.
  3. I’m grateful for my job. Work provides a social environment, a distraction from other concerns, and an opportunity to feel and be useful, as well as a steady paycheck to help me through the month.
  4. I’m thankful for the increasingly present comfort in my neck and eye. (I have thyroid eye disease. Stress leads to neck pain, and neck pain often leads to eye pain.)
  5. I’m grateful to remain so consistent in doing core exercises and a bit of stretching virtually every morning. I vary it a bit, taking advantage of the extra time on mornings where I don’t need to be out the door quite so early. I know my body is appreciating it.
  6. I’m grateful to have made small steps toward finding work yesterday. No matter how small the step, every step, for me, is healthy progress in a journey that feels too slow at times.
  7. I am truly thankful for what I call my “scripture reflection” time. This journaling process continues to yield insights into thoughts and behaviors that help me to change and grow. I am frequently blessed by responses from God. And I appreciate the value in taking time to hold still and to consider how I want to be in this world.
  8. I’m grateful for increased flexibility in my upper back, which I’m noticing more often. For decades (perhaps since childhood), there was one spot that refused to budge under chiropractic care, except on rare occasions. Could increasing willingness and flexibility in other matters be making space for increasing flexibility in my upper back?
  9. I am grateful for my paycheck and for the opportunities it provides to pay what I can and let go the rest.
  10. I’m thankful even for the depression that sneaks in from time to time. For it allows the tears to flow and the difficulty of this journey to again be released. What follows more often than not is relief from the struggle and an openness to resume the journey with a little more hope and a little more courage.

This morning, I sought out one of my favorite verses to remind me of the gift of patience: Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:4 NKJV) These words never fail to remind me that this is a journey. It takes time for me to learn new practices, develop new behaviors and discover that I can do more than I thought I could.

There are moments when it feels like I’ve been on this journey forever, instead of barely two months. In some ways I have. In some ways, we all have. Yet each stretch of the journey has its own rhythm, its own purpose. I remember one person I heard years ago, or perhaps I read it in a book. This man took a journey for one year, during which time he examined what he had done each day that he wanted to have done better, differently. He recorded his insights in his journal each night. It became a year of transformation for him.

I hope this journey will be one of transformation for me. Finding more gainful employment and beginning my own consulting work would be outward manifestations of “success.” Letting patience have its perfect work would be a much greater reward.

p.s. A few more for the gratitude list:

11. I’m grateful that I wrote all of the above this morning, before the day got bumpy with fear around financial matters.

12. I’m grateful to have met with my sponsor this evening. She always gives me some helpful perspectives when I’m feeling too overwhelmed to think clearly.

13. I’m grateful to my son, for having pointed out a great article on moving past the blocks that come from fear. I’m going to start rereading it in just a few minutes.

Action step(s):

  • Ate a different combination of grains for breakfast. (Too often I eat the exact same thing every day; a varied diet is much healthier.)
  • Balanced my checkbook.
  • Took out cash from the ATM to better monitor my spending (I hope).

Day 52 – Wednesday, Feb. 1st (52/314): Super-admin? No wonder it’s exhausting just looking!

I went to bed last night, anticipating a productive day of submitting an online job application and perhaps finding new job opportunities. I figured I could either use my uncle’s computer (if my aunt played tennis and he headed to the club for his usual walk) or go to the library and use the computer there. As it turned out, his computer was available for me.

I spent several minutes reformatting my resume, in case I needed to copy and paste it into an online form. Then I felt myself feeling hesitant by the time I got online. I went to the website where I had found the position I was considering – not a lot perhaps, but I figured the application online process itself would be good practice.

The position was already two weeks old (which, sadly, is rather old in this fast-paced market). So I decided to look at the recent job postings. As I read some of the position announcements, I felt a mix of frustration, fear and deflation. So many job descriptions look like a potentially good fit (i.e., I’m qualified), until I get to one or two things I don’t have specific experience in doing (i.e., maybe I’m not qualified). For example, I’ve never done international travel arranging or even planning, per se. Even though I know I could learn to do these, might enjoy the learning, and even do them well, part of me feels intimidated at the prospect.

I’m no longer young and might not be seen as someone ready to eagerly learn new skills and looking for a career. (I’m always willing to learn new things and actually prefer to stretch my horizons, but I’m not looking for a “career” in office work.) I’ve felt so overwhelmed by this whole job-hunting process that I’m often tired and feeling “highly motivated” (a popular requirement in job descriptions) is rarely how I feel.

Then there’s the list of other requirements emphasizing superior skills that feel all the more intimidating when I’m tired and reading descriptions that are clearly not my dream job: highly organized, strong attention to detail, excellent multi-tasking ability, highly punctual, strong written and verbal skills, enthusiastic admin to support a dynamic investigator, demanding and fast-paced environment, highly responsible…  That’s not even counting further requirements, such as the writing sample and three letters of recommendation to be submitted with the usual cover letter and resume in one description.

In short, best intentions aside, I soon felt overwhelmed and exhausted after reading only a few position announcements. That, in itself, was deflating.

I try to tell myself that I’m doing the best I can, given the circumstances and my experience. It doesn’t always help. So I cast about, thinking of what I was willing to do today and took a few small steps. I posted my updated resume on a job-search website and made it more searchable. I discovered that 33 employers had read my old resume, even though I didn’t know it (which tells me I needed a more impressive resume and/or profile). I later spent some time developing content for my consulting website. It’s a small start, but a start nonetheless. I even helped my aunt break up branches and scoop up leaves into containers for the compost recycling.

I’d like to put more energy into my job-hunting efforts, so I think I’m going to have to cut myself some slack when I don’t have the energy to tackle it like gang-busters and accept the fact that small steps, hopefully coming more often, do lead me in a helpful direction.

Action step(s):

  • Posted my updated resume on a job-search website.
  • Did more work developing my business website and plan.

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