Monday, September 18, 2017

THE PATH FROM NORMAL TO WILD




The first 4 days I was on vacation in Accidentally Oriental, 
I slept from about 8:30 pm to 10:30 am.
Sleeping fourteen hours a night is a lot of sleep for an adult.
I slept as though I was ill or devastated by a tragedy. 
Possibly I was going through a growth spurt
or fighting off a jealous witch's curse. 
The path to exhaustion has often felt magical to me
but it's also felt normal.

Yes...it's time for me to accept that exhaustion feels normal for me.
I've been to this place called exhaustion so often that I don't need a map or directions or a reason to get there anymore.
I'm a homing pigeon and exhaustion is my home base.
I can auto-pilot there without any sensory tools or aids.
In fact...I am and have been dangerous to myself for years.
Taking myself right back to 'Normal'.

However, I have changed fundamentally....in a seemingly small way.
I listen to my BODY now.
I hear her speak to me
I can now recognize when I get to exhaustion 
and in spite of my many years of residency....
my old 'normal' no longer feels like a good place to be

Arrangement done by my friend Sheryl at Peak Church.  She radiates love in flowers..
So what do you do when you realize your go-to normal, is mostly self-destructive?
As far as I can tell, you have to do something different.
You have to change.
Take a different route, that leads to a different destination.
Go wild.

A while back, I made my first steps towards reaching a different destination.
I framed up some daily habits that I believe are necessary in order for me to be healthy.  
These habits are meant to be non-negotiable because they are the keys to everything else.  
A foundation of sorts.  

In no particular order, they are:
Daily Habits that only work if you actively DO them

Sounds like a good step right?
So how come I was exhausted again?

Well...what happened was.....
I didn't really DO these habits.
When I say that I framed them up...what I really mean is that I held them, 
half-formed in a list within my mind.
I dreamed them.
I thought about them and I wished them into being.
Like really wished.
In the moments in between....like right before I go to sleep at night...
I ruminated on these items.
I told myself I was going to do them but......
 I didn't change anything in my daily life to accommodate these habits.
Nope.
Are you surprised that this didn't work?
That all that wishing and intention
didn't actually cause me to behave differently on a daily basis?

There are many reasons that change is hard.
One of those reasons is that we don't actually do the work it takes to change.
We only do the first step-the dreaming of the change.
And we stop right there for a good long while.

Scott Stabile has a new book #biglove  I think you have to communicate with YOURSELF honestly first-.and that is pretty damn hard.
I wouldn't call this first attempt at a daily habit list unsuccessful.
My mind, body and spirit have operated separately for a long time.
Big changes in my life often begin as a series of little changes or adjustments- that gradually turn the trajectory of my life.
I can't handle a complete 180 turn...at least not with grace.
Sometimes a complete 180 turn is necessary......but.....
it always feels terrible, traumatic and grief-laden. 
I like to avoid trauma, withdrawal and regret.
I'm lazy like that.

What I ultimately did by creating this first attempt was
to highlight these vague ideas floating in an abyss for myself.
I focused on them for a while-
filling them with intention and preparing myself for work.
My dream (to be healthy) is something I want in reality-not just in dreams.
I tried these habits on for size before I committed to them.
That is an important step as well.
Well done I say.

NOW WHAT?

Well...post exhaustion...I committed myself.
I realized that I needed to move from dreaming
into doing.
For these habits to become fact, 
I would have to shift outside of 'Normal' into a kind of 'Wilderness'.

I decided to think about my life, dissect my schedule in a way that removed ambiguity or my own spin.  
Like a project-I took my life down to it's bones. 
with the goal of understanding what 'Normal' really was like.
The real 'Normal'.
Not the fantastical life that might be on display in social media.

I asked myself a lot of questions to obtain supporting facts and data 
from my actual real life.

Questions like:
What does my schedule look like over an average week?
What time do I get up?
What time do I go to bed?
When do I go to work?
When do I get home from work?
What am I eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
How often am I eating out?
How often am I able to work out?
How am I using my time and resources to support ME first?
What have I committed to doing?
Why have I committed to each of those things?
What is bringing me joy?
If I can only accomplish one thing in a day, what do I want that one thing to be?
Can I stack rank my commitments?

This sounds very earnest and scientific and tidy.  
In the movie version of my life, 
this period would have a cute little montage with a snappy soundtrack 
to show just how clear and straightforward this endeavor was.
Hah.  
Reality looked more like me folding laundry 
sitting at the coffee shop, or driving long distances.  
I churned and poked and prodded at these questions for several weeks-
silently letting my busy mind chew on these questions until
the data percolated up in a way that I could face and absorb.
Thank goodness for PTO.

 After shifting through the answers, I wrote down all the things that I am committed to, interested in, excited about, anguished if I don't do.  
Wow.  
No wonder I was tired.
No one is capable of doing the list that I was trying to do.
My 'Normal' expectations and commitments
required a hero of mythic proportions.
How ANY of this was getting done was a mystery.

Not the actual list of expectations.....but a creative representation.


What did a daily schedule look like in 'Normal'?
Here's a glimpse.
.

Daily 'Normal':

Get up at 7:25am...in a groggy, semi-panicked state.
Run around slap-dashedly pulling on clothes and saying good morning 
and trying to greet each family member.
Ask any family members who are awake a random sampling of questions
to ensure that they are in fact awake and 
HAVE WHAT THEY NEED
to meet the day.
No family member actually needs me to do this...
this question barrage is my way of feeling needed.
Forget to grab breakfast...
so double down on coffee to shut up my starving stomach.
Lunch?
Oh crap. 
Forgot that too...which means going out.
Likely it will be large and 
comprised of something fried 
because I'm coming off a caffeine crash.
Since I didn't get to work until 8:30
I will feel guilty and behind the eight ball all day.
I will over-commit and stay later than necessary
because I don't feel focused.
I will likely leave for home about 6pm...again feeling guilty
because I know that home needs me too.
I will still need to work out so I will suggest the kids have a snack.
Post workout, I will work on dinner (with my spouse) and it will be ready around 8pm.
Between chopping,I will quiz my daughter because there is a spelling test tomorrow.
Post dinner, we will all clean the kitchen and then try to do a bedtime routine.
It's 9:30 when the kids can possibly get to bed.
Which is too late but connecting with them is important (am I right?).
I will stay up watching a show or talking with my spouse.
I will check work email (again) and social media (again).
I will probably work on several projects (creative and social) without getting them done.
I will pass out around 12:30 am because I won't be able to do one more thing.
I will assume that I'll make up the sleep deficit on Saturday morning 
(but I won't because there is fun stuff or committed stuff on Saturday morning always).

SHEESH.


No wonder I was exhausted.
I was not adulting.
I was not taking responsibility.
I was simultaneously hoping it would all work out and 
making sure that I never had time to see the disaster of my creation.
Things needed to change.
Actually BE DIFFERENT.
Normal sucks.

Over the rest of my vacation (and through the first few weeks back in real life)
I did several exercises to understand what part of this disaster pile I could shift.
I created a map of what I want my life to look like on a daily, weekly and monthly basis 
(in addition to the daily 4 habits).

DAILY/WEEKLY

I want to feel strong, healthy and vibrant (daily 4 habits fit right here).
I want 3 nights a week where I am not committed.
I want to see my high-schooler before he leaves for the bus at 6:30 am.
I want be able to pay attention to my younger one when she talks non-stop about her latest interest (Pokemon go anyone?).
I want to eat dinner with my family around our table while I still have the energy to laugh.
I want to spend time with my spouse having FUN not just dealing with the business of our life.
Simultaneously, I want to deal with the business of our lives directly and without unnecessary angst.
I want to participate in my community in ways that are self affirming and utilize my gifts.
And finally...I need to create so I can connect with my Creator.


More post-it notes came out.
I started sorting and resorting all the things.
I grouped things under some basic headings.
At the end of the exercise, I had several matrices that helped frame up what is intentional and important to me NOW
and what needs to be shelved until some future state.

One looked like this:


Next I mapped out days of the week to see how I could make the daily things that I want in my life a reality.
It turned out to be really simple.
One little change to rule them all.
Here it is...the magic tool that has turned dreams into reality...

I WAKE UP ON TIME.

Huh?
Yep.  It really is this easy.
And actually this hard.
Basically, to turn my dreams into reality, I start my day differently.
Before, I had a later start time and it was definitely negotiable.
I would have alarms going off at 6:30.
Then 6:45.
And maybe even 7.
I wouldn't actually get out of bed until 7:30 ish.
That started my day off without focus or intention.
I had lots of room for guilt and anxiety to creep in.
It was actually hard to see when I started heading back towards 'Normal'
because everything was kind of out of focus.
I wasn't clear on what I wanted
or what I was willing to change...
so I didn't have to be clear about whether it was working.

That is not the case anymore.
Now...I get up, physically am out of my bed
with my first alarm at 6:10.
It is not negotiable.
It is a foundation I can launch my day from.
It is a gift I have given myself.

That one change has taken me so far outside of 'Normal'.
I'm starting to see the shape of the 'Wilderness'...here's what it looks like for me right now.

Daily Wilderness:

Get up at 6:10.
Go downstairs to see my big kiddo before he goes to school.
Get dressed and grab some breakfast.
There is actually time to make breakfast if I want or actually DRY MY HAIR (small things people)
I might see the younger one but maybe not (she doesn't have to be at school until 9 am)
Take myself and my coffee right to the office....my goal is to be at work by 7:30.
I get at least 2 hours of focus in the office now before everyone starts dropping by to throw wrenches into my planned day.
I can be very focused at work.
I am not just reactive-but I have room to react to crisis moments if I need it.
Lunch may be leftovers or may be out.
But I am no longer starving or scrounging for it.
I leave the office at 4:30 pm.
I am home by 5:15 pm at the latest.
I can either help with dinner or clean up.
 I have time to work out or not.
I have energy to laugh and study.
 I have time before any weeknight commitments to connect.
I am able to work on my personal projects-but I've also eliminated several from the schedule.  They are not a priority.
I go to bed when I am tired (usually by 10) and I wake up without wanting to murder anyone or feeling completely chaotic.
I don't need to sleep in 3 hours late on Saturday because I am not in a sleep deficit.


It's been two months since I've been back from vacation and about 6 weeks since I've started implementing the 'Wilderness' approach.
I've had one night where I was really really tired because I decided to see 
May It Last and then stay up talking to my husband for 2 hours.
I felt tired all the next day until I went to bed at 9 pm for the next two nights.
It was worth it-but also had to be acknowledged and paid back.
That early morning wake-up call is not negotiable and is beautiful in the boundary it draws.

photo from http://www.avettbrothersfilm.com/ Great movie-go see it!

For me, the 'Wilderness' means I am planning and taking responsibility for my needs.
It's avoiding my 'Normal' chaos and over-commitment which leads to exhaustion.
It requires me to face down the minutiae in my life
and be a ruthless editor.
People have asked me to take on new commitments.
I have said NO because I am not willing to give up any existing ones.
I am at max capacity 
(so that I can have a minimum of 3 uncommitted nights in every week).

I love the Wilderness.
I actually have time to deal with life when it happens
and I am getting what I need.
I am NOT EXHAUSTED.
I am walking around in a new place-
probably for the first time ever.
Perfection is not the goal....meeting my needs daily is the goal.
I make it happen-or I don't. 
I am finally...maybe....probably...adulting.
And it is WILD.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

DENIAL OF SERVICE



"Denialism is rejecting an obvious truth for a much more comfortable lie"- Michael Specter


I heard these words on a  TEDtalk podcast called Truth and Lies.  
Michael Specter was talking specifically about how denial (and our affinity for it) 
plays into how we understand and absorb science.  
How our need for comfort overrides our ability to accept facts. 
The specific episode is embedded at the bottom of this post if you want to listen.

This phrase stuck with me.
Or I got stuck on it.
Whichever way...I couldn't shake it. 
I'm in denial about things often...
but how do I reject facts in favor of comfort?

I have learned that my go-to move
when I'm in denial about some of my own shizz
is pointing fingers at other people.
Remarking on all the things THEY need to raise awareness around.

The beginning of my own denial generally sounds like words 
said (or thought) towards other people I care about:
You should take better care of yourself!
You're tired, rundown, or actually sick because you will not hold your own boundaries!
You try to people-please so much that you harm yourself.

Eh....yep...this is sounding familiar.
Self-care, self-worth, judgement and righteousness are all facets of my favorite denial-ism.
I call this Body Denial and I am generally in some stage of it.
I have talked about here and here.
I'm likely to keep talking about it for a good long time.
What is newly interesting (to me) is the idea that this attitude persists
because I am getting some comfort from this behavior.
I am comforting myself (mentally) by being uncomfortable (physically). 
My need to push all my physical boundaries is rooted 
with the idea that I'm not worth behaving differently.
Maybe that is true for many of us who have this same pattern.

How can I apply this new wrinkle to the work of my life?


One of my known challenges is over-working.
Working so much that I forget to recenter, breathe, or take care of myself.
The summer is often filled with obligations and stress.
This time of year is the peak of busy-ness in my industry.
This is also the time of year where my social life escalates-
the kids are out of school, let's get together/
lead vacation bible school/work some mission trips/
BBQ this weekend/go to the pool/see a concert/visit some relatives.
This is life and it is noisy and needy.

 I am definitely comfortable in this dynamic.
In fact, I used to approach this time of year with an attitude of a warrior.
Time to armor up!  
This is what I am made for!
I can be so comfortable in the battle-gear
 that I can forget it's not meant to be worn all the time.
There hasn't been a summer in the past twenty years that didn't wear me out.
I have done so many of the things that were asked of me
without actually asking if my Body or my life could endure it...much less enjoy it.
That needs to change if I want to be more comfortable in my Body.



So... this year I was especially proactive.
In January, my family and I planned a big vacation for the summer.
TWO WEEKS OFF.
Yep.  
TWO WEEKS.
At our favorite, most laid-back haven on Earth.
The place where we love to be and never seem to get tired of being.
Ocracoke Island.
Two weeks outside of my normal life,
outside of the routines and expectations that I make for myself,
during the peak season of busy-ness.
This monster of a beautiful life was going on hiatus.
See ya later alligator.


We were planning on spending those two weeks at Ocracoke
but things worked out better than planned.
We went to Oriental AND Ocracoke.
Because I had already created the space
for the break to be allowed-
there was room when things didn't go exactly as planned.
Because I already knew it was important to have this break
I didn't compromise or waver when things got a little wishy-washy.



I have decided to be less in denial about the comfort 
I feel when I'm over-scheduled.
I have decided to create a new normal of comfort that prioritizes my Body and my health.
I don't want to over-work my Body, push it past all limits
until it falls apart in an epic tantrum.
Been there.
Done that.
Often.


I've just spent two weeks sleeping, eating, and connecting with my crew.
Two weeks of listening to the Body
and doing only what I want or feel called to do
in that moment.
However imperfectly my listening skills may be when it comes to my Body
I made progress towards my goal.
It was enough of a breather
for me to see how run down I've let myself become again.
Again.
It was enough of a breather to let me have time to forgive myself for that.
Again.


It was enough of a break from the stage of my life
to let me make more proactive adjustments.
I have been able to plan to support myself during the chaos
and I've been able to consciously choose to let some obligations go.
More importantly, the things on my list are each  
beloved and cherished work that bring me joy or contribute to my overall health goals.
(Including the mandatory nights within each week where nothing is scheduled.)
I can't get this clear about the present when I'm running from facts.
Denial serves something, but it doesn't serve a healthy life.

Strategy Sessions....

I have some strategies that I'm applying
to real life now that I think will keep space in my 
life for me, for self care and the Body.
If these strategies don't work
(and they might not)
then I have time set aside already 
to review and develop new ones.
I am reclaiming the importance of myself
in my acts, not just my words.

 I was recently catching up with a very accomplished, 
graceful powerhouse (and an incredible human) that I know.  
She wanted to confirm that I had actually taken 2 whole weeks of consecutive PTO.
She has never taken off more than a couple of days.
We discussed this sickness of BUSY-NESS
and the self-centered idea that our lives NEED US.
We shared our experience with trying to do all the things.
I suggested that two weeks is not that much time.
Maybe she will try it-maybe she won't.
It helps to have conversations like these-
ones that help me remember that 
I am not alone in this struggle.
I am working actively to move myself off this hard edge
into softer, more forgiving spaces.
#winning

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

ACCIDENTALLY ORIENTAL

Dragon in the canal in the center of Oriental

Before your mind takes you someplace strange....
this is a post about a place, not an ethnicity.
A place that I never intended to go-
much less spend a week.

What place am I talking about?

Oriental, North Carolina


Population:  ~ 900
Location:  East down highway 55 until you see water and sails.
Where the Neuse River meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Home of sea dragons, a gazillion sail boats, and very few cars.
Place where zinnias and dolphins may be found in equal measure.



A place I remember vaguely from 4th grade history 
but a place I have never been before or ever considered going.
Even my dad 
couldn't place it when I told him we were headed there...
until I told him it was 20 minutes from New Bern.

So how the heck did we end up in a place we never knew existed?

Well-it was an accident.
Not our accident so much as someone else's....
Someone accidentally severed the power line connecting
 Hatteras and Ocracoke Island and effectively shut down the southern Outer Banks.
The day before our two week vacation on Ocracoke was scheduled to start.
#OBXblackout2017 was trending for a while
and pissing off the northern OBX beaches who were fully open.
Watching this catastrophe unfold on social media was
harder than normal because we were all packed and ready
to relax for two weeks at our favorite place on earth.
Until that door was suddenly slammed shut.
Damn.


 Ocracoke wasn't available....
so we had to make some choices.
Stay home
or try somewhere new
(that might also suck).
Bridges to cross that lead to places unknown are not my favorite.


We considered a stay-cation for the interim
but quickly realized that it would be impossible for us to truly disconnect at home.
Our beloved church family,
the community gardens we're involved in,
the mail, the laundry
and the home improvement projects...
all those voices were going to be too difficult to ignore.

Vacation for our family has always been about slowing down
disconnecting from the rat race and the agendas.
We focus on seeing each other-something that gets harder as our kids get older.
Our best vacations have always happened
when we were AWAY from our actual real lives.
So stay-cation was off the table.
Assuming we could find somewhere else to be.


Small BnB cures most everything.
After a day of grief in Pittsboro 
(Small BnB is a great place for a family war counsel)
 we started checking the web for weekend rentals.
We were of two minds about it....
scrap the coast altogether and go to the mountains
or
get close to the shore in some other location
hoping that Tideland Electric would work their magic quickly and
we would be staged for re-entry.
Hopefully re-entry would occur in days, not weeks so decided
we preferred the coast.

We had two dogs, two kids and not much money.
After a careful perusal of our online options...
we realized that we only had two options on the coast.
One of those was this little house in Oriental.....
where the heck is Oriental?
At this point, it was just a spot on the map.
We'd get there and figure it out.
It was only a weekend after all.


You can rent this adorable cottage by clicking on this link.


We accidentally ended up in Oriental NC 
and decided to stay for a while.
We initially booked for 3 nights.
Then we immediately extended for 5 nights.
Then finally a week.
Why?

Because Oriental is a balm for chaos and stress.
In the midst of all the not knowing-
 when (or if) the power would come back on
 if the insurance would cover the cost
what our vacation schedule would entail....
we were able to exhale.
Our family was wrapped in a cocoon of comfort.
Everything we need is right here....

The things is....we like water but we aren't 'beach' people.
We like to fish, crab, watch the sunset.
We want to bike, walk, fish, float, dig, cook, laugh....
we don't want to lay out, visit a boardwalk or putt-putt.
We love the ingenuity and creativity
that develops around water communities-
places where people are scrappy and connected with nature.
We want to meet those people and chat for a while
about what matters to them.

Oriental meets almost all our criteria
in a well-appointed wrapper-
it could not be cuter, safer, more peaceful 
if it were created on a movie set.



By day two in this little town
we had settled into a regular rhythm:
walk in the mornings, 
bike ride in the afternoon, 
fish off the public docks in the evening.
The 'serious' fishermen in our crew


In the middle, we played with our dogs in the back yard or took naps. 

took a fishing expedition with a local


The back yard from heaven




Had snacks at The Bean

The ice cream counter at The Bean

Looked for dragons at every single house

A dragon lurking behind the hedge...

Found each dragon egg nesting site









After a week....the ferries to Ocracoke opened back up.
We made it on island in record time
and were ready to jump into the second half of our vacation
because Oriental had let us rest up first.
I found myself thinking:  
Was this accidental?
Or were we supposed to find this little spot
in this little time out of life?

I don't really believe in coincidence but I know 
that next time won't be accidental.