Wednesday Missive: The New Emotional Rulebook

Hello darlings,

The other morning, before the sun was fully up, I went into Jonah’s room. He’d been babbling for a few minutes and, armed with a hot cup of coffee, I was ready to hang out with my son. I walked in the door and was greeted by his sweetest smile. I smiled back, filled with love for this darling 20-month old human being.

Then he burst into tears.

What followed was the worst tantrum I’ve seen from him yet. He wanted to be picked up but, as soon as he was in my arms, he wanted to be put down. Then he was furious that he wasn’t in my arms again. He was sobbing so hard he couldn’t take a deep breath.

For ten minutes, as I watched my cup of coffee getting colder, Jonah completely freaked out. He screamed, repeating “NO NO NO!” over and over. Despite my best efforts, he couldn’t be consoled. All I could do was try to keep his writhing little body from hurting himself and wait for the tantrum to pass.

Experiencing this tantrum felt particularly appropriate because the night before Micah and I watched the Mr. Roger’s documentary. After watching, Micah and I discussed Mr. Roger’s profound vision. He truly saw children’s complex inner lives and gave them a much-needed space to freely express their real hopes, fears, and doubts about life.

I was struck by the simplicity of what he taught and how hard it can be to actually hold this kind of space for anyone who is suffering, especially my child, especially first thing in the morning before I’ve had my coffee.

Mr. Roger’s message also lines up with what I’ve been reading in Janet Lansbury’s books on respectful parenting and toddler discipline (we’re using one as the textbook for A Radiant Beginning, my early motherhood self-care immersion).

This passage from her particularly struck me:

“...all infants...can be trusted to grieve as an individual in a unique and perfect way. Infants demonstrate the authentic expression of their feelings when given the opportunity. If we can give them the space and time to express painful feelings instead of arresting their cries, and if we can steady ourselves to work through our own discomfort, then our children can be reassured that their true responses are accepted and appropriate.”

Both Janet Lansbury and Mr. Roger’s examples of respecting children’s emotional lives confirm what I’ve seen helping my clients with their self-care: If we are not given space to express our emotions freely when we are younger, these blocked emotions will continue to affect us and our self-care as we get older.

Our conditioned belief that our “negative” emotions are wrong can manifest in our adult lives as addictive tendencies, low self-esteem, and/or patterns of self-destructive relationships. We become convinced that because we feel these healthy, normal emotions, we are “bad” and aren’t worthy of care and respect.

From there, we may continue to engage in a lifestyle of numbing behavior (which only turns down the volume on our emotions rather than making them go away), usually choosing emotionally unavailable relationships which reflect our early learning about emotions. In these relationships, we can become terrified to say what we really mean or set boundaries of any kind, lest we become further emotionally abandoned.

(I think it’s important to say that these self-destructive tendencies can happen even when we are given other important forms of care during our childhood. Janet Lansbury’s experience of emotional denial within an otherwise healthy family is an stark example of the incredible importance of emotional self-care.)

More and more, I’m learning that self-care is about so much more than just our personal habits and routines. We can run marathons and sleep nine hours a night, but if we don’t know how to honor our emotions and set real boundaries in relationships, our self-care practices don’t truly work.

Our emotional shortages act like holes in our self-care bucket. No matter how much healthy stuff we try to fill ourselves with, the true energy of self-care always seems to seep out. Thus, a vital layer of self-care is learning how to honor our emotions and practice authenticity in our relationships.

As someone who didn’t learn a lot of emotional self-care growing up, I’ve searched far and wide to change my emotional patterns. I’m so grateful to have found teachers, traditions, and communities that affirmed the validity of my emotions and gave me the space I needed to express myself.

The following five self-care perspectives and tools have been particularly helpful for me in my self-care process. I offer them to you with the deepest hope that they might also inspire a new layer of your emotional self-care.

  1. All emotions are valid and necessary. Grief and anger are as important as peace and joy. If we deny one end of the “negative” emotional polarity, we also deny ourselves the other “positive” end. If we want to cultivate more joy in our lives, we also need to grieve more. If we want more peace, we need to unbury repressed anger. Allowing ourselves a full emotional spectrum is an immense act of self-care.

  2. Emotions carry a lot of vital energy within them. Denying my real emotions was also blocking my personal growth trajectory. By giving myself total permission to feel whatever emotions I am feeling as fully as possible, I’ve learned to harness the immense energy within them. Accepting my anger spurs me into passionate action. Accepting my sadness unlocks a new level of universal compassion. I’ve seen hundreds of clients begin allowing their authentic emotions and from there, their lives usually change very quickly. If you feel stuck in your life, consider what emotions you may be denying. If this idea is interesting to you, I highly suggest checking out the work of Michael Brown.

  3. We don’t need to act on all of our emotions or even really understand them. When we open to feeling our feelings, we’re opening to new terrain inside of ourselves. This inner landscape is rich, rugged, and fruitful. However, it’s not always logical. We may go through positive times in our life and still be struck by a deep sadness. We may get angry at someone who doesn’t seem to warrant our intense feelings. We may even sense we’re feeling feelings that aren’t quite ours. All of these reactions are just fine. As we become more comfortable with feeling our feelings, we learn that just because we feel an emotion doesn’t mean we have to act on it. (In the recovery world, it’s said: “Feelings aren’t facts.”) We can sit with our feelings for a while, see if there is any important information within the emotion which might warrant action, and move forward from there.

  4. Healthy relationships are ones in which we can express a full spectrum of emotions. I’ve spent my life tiptoeing around emotionally unavailable people, trying my hardest to be happy all the time so that I wouldn't be abandoned by them. It turns out, those dysfunctional people could never really be there for me anyway. A wise person in my life told me once that as a defenseless child, I could be abandoned by other people, emotionally or otherwise. But now, as an adult, I can’t. At this stage of life, I’m the only one who can emotionally abandon myself by sacrificing my needs to make other people happy. By choosing healthy relationships, I take care of myself.

  5. Emotions aren’t necessarily transferable. Growing up, I’d been indirectly taught that if someone around me was upset, I also had to be upset. Similarly, if I was in a bad space, I wanted the people close to me to be having a hard time. It’s taken me a while to understand that this is enmeshment. In a healthy relationship, I can be upset and my friend can be happy. We can both be okay that we’re in different spaces and still support each other as best as we can. I find this idea very simple and many times, very difficult to practice. These learned emotional patterns can run so deep! Still, I try to separate my emotions from others. These efforts feel like important self-care for me.

From this list, I invite you to take what serves you, leave the rest behind, and most importantly, find the emotional self-care that brings you the healing you desire.

***

On the morning of the tantrum, I finally remembered reading in a Janet Lansbury’s book that as parents, we should not only tolerate our children’s emotions but also encourage them. So, I said steadily to Jonah, “I’m glad you’re feeling this. It’s good for you to cry. Thank you for sharing your feelings with me.”

In that moment, his body relaxed. Still crying a bit, he pulled one of his books off the bookshelf. He leafed through the pages while sitting in my lap and seemed to calm down more. Within another minute he was talking about his favorite subject of airplanes and helicopters.

I rocked us both in the glider and exhaled the tension I had been holding. I stroked Jonah’s hair and wiped the leftover tears off his cheeks. As he flipped the pages and babbled on and generally came back to himself, I finally reached for my coffee. I sat there, loving my son and all of his emotions, and took a big sip.

I’m happy to report, it was still hot.

With care,
Gracy

Wednesday Missive: What a Self-Care Lifestyle Looks Like

Hello Darlings,

First thing: Check out my newest podcast with blogger and podcaster Myrrhanda Novak. We discuss what it means to be an integrated woman and how feminism and Christianity can fit together. Also, Myrrhanda shares the experience of losing her 16 month-old son and the self-care that helped her through this immensely difficult period. It was a profound conversation that I hope you enjoy!

Second: I’m teaching an in-person workshop on Self-Care for Overwhelmed Parents (with kids ages 0-6) at Circle Yoga in Washington, DC on Sunday, June 9th from 3 to 5pm. Learn more and sign up here!

And now, today...

For almost five years now, I’ve been writing about the many definitions and implications of self-care. At the beginning, I might have told you that I would someday run out of things to say on the subject or at least get bored in the process in trying.

However, it’s the opposite. The more I explore self-care, the more entranced I am by the subject. The deeper the rabbit hole becomes, the more fascinated I am by the journey into it.

I love how many ways we can use self-care to navigate our lives. We can use self-care to get through the hardness of heartbreak. Or, we can use it to accept our sexuality more fully. Perhaps most important of all, we can use it as a way to engage in a self-aware social justice practice (as this amazing graphic by Bobbie Harro on the Cycle of Liberation shows).

Today, as I appreciate the myriad of ways we can approach self-care, I’m getting extra macro with my lens. With the following broad swath of 80 indicators, I describe what an overall lifestyle of self-care looks like to me. I may use this as the response the next time someone asks me, “So, what exactly is self-care?” (A questions I always love to receive!)

A Lifestyle of Self-Care

Consume mindfully
Shop in your own closet
Cook your own food
Try new recipes
Eat the leftovers
Compost the leftovers of the leftovers
Bring your own container
Refuse most everything that doesn’t serve a function
Buy secondhand
Give your things away
Insist on beauty  
Question capitalism
Create art of any kind
Write
shitty first drafts
Remember that dreams never die (they just hibernate while we’re busy)
If you are able, walk around outside
Look up at the sky
Notice the miracles of the everyday
Create a morning routine
Create an evening routine
Drink room temperature water (especially in the winter)
Notice when you’re overwhelmed
Notice when you’re triggered
Notice when you’ve gone numb
Notice when you need to rest
Breathe more deeply
Dance, when possible
Get excited about the change of seasons
Have specific foods you eat at specific times of year
Touch the earth
Notice patterns
Look forward to things
Cultivate an adventurous state of mind
Plan gatherings
Create intentional warmth
Be festive
Ask questions
Tell stories
Listen to stories
Sit in more circles
See conversation as a teaching tool
Pursue intergenerational friendships
Pursue cross-cultural friendships
Get to know your neighbors
Attend community events
Chat with strangers
Pay people well (if you’re in DC,
check out this cleaning service that pays a living wage)
Be honest about what is important to you
Exercise your vulnerability
Use social media in a generative way
Go easier on yourself
Be intentional with whom you spend your time
Be willing to let go of relationships that have run their course
Learn the generative power of
occasionally fucking it all up
Give and receive feedback
Make personal growth a very high priority
Get excited about learning new things (always)
Celebrate yourself in progress
Demand an inspired life
Be thorough in everything you do
Stay in the herenowherenowherenow (notice when you wander, but don’t make it a big deal)
Feel your feelings
Experience your feelings in front of other people
Feel your grief about the past
Feel your rage at the status quo
Feel your fear about the future
Feel your powerlessness to change other people
Feel your faith and hopefulness anyway
Move forward anyway
Take risks in the name of social justice
Acknowledge your privilege, every single day
Hold people accountable, including yourself
Read books by people who don’t look or think like you
Promote women of color
Ask yourself who is not in the room who should be
Listen to those who hold less power than you in society and believe them
Take responsibility and clean up your messes
Take leadership over your life
Take leadership in our world
Inspire others to do the same

***

Thanks for reading. What resonates for you? What did I leave out? What do you disagree with? What big and small ways do you experience self-care working in your life and out in our world? How can we become more holistic in how we understand self-care?

Whatever your list, its contents are deeply important. I hope you can celebrate yourself for the self-care you’re already doing while courageously leaning into the actions that are calling to you next. Because really, we never get self-care done. It’s just not a box we just check off or something we fit into our weekends.

Truly, it’s everything. It’s our communication. It’s our relationships. It’s our politics. It’s our environment. It’s our world. Self-care is really freaking important.

Understanding this importance, we can keep moving in the direction of our beautiful selves. We can wake up with great care, do our best to live our days with great care, and put ourselves to sleep with great care.

We can surround ourselves with other amazing spirits who support us through the shaky parts of growth. Together, we can learn to truly love and value ourselves. In the process, we mature as human beings and become the role models that others look to in times of stress.

After we’ve spent a while on the path, we look up. Things have changed around us. Suddenly, miraculously, we are hit with the understanding that in our pursuit of personal growth, we’ve been shifting the world alongside us. We now have the power to become conscious change agents in our world. The personal becomes the political becomes the personal becomes the political.

This cycle of liberation is what we’re dancing around. This growth of self is why I keep coming back. This conversation reminds me that I’m so deeply grateful to be traveling alongside you.

With care,
Gracy

Podcast! What Powerful Women Do and Don't Do with Podcaster and Blogger Myrrhanda Novak

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Despite trying not to care what others think, do you still find yourself struggling with you "should" and "shouldn't" do as a woman? Underneath it all, do you limit your life out of fears of what might happen if you were to really be authentic? 

During my conversation with WOMENdon'tDOthat podcast and blog founder Myrrhanda Novak, we cover a lot of territory! We discuss what it means to be a modern, integrated woman and how live as a feminist against the backdrop of seemingly-conventional institutions, like Christianity. Also, Myrrhanda shares the experience of losing her 16 month-old son and the self-care that helped her through this immensely difficult period. 

To stay in touch with Myrrhanda and and connect to the WOMENdon'tDOthat movement, you can visit her website <https://www.womendontdothat.com and follow her on Instagram <https://www.instagram.com/myrrhanda/?hl=en>


Wednesday Missive: Self-Care for a Breakup

Hello Dears,

When I was 24, during my second year of living in Peru for the Peace Corps, I went through the worst breakup of my life. I could say a lot about this particular relationship and this particular time in my life, but for the sake of this story I want to share three specific things:

  1. I fell in love with this person in an unprecedented way. I had never before felt so attracted to and so attached to another human being. I suddenly understood all the love songs I’d ever heard.

  2. The intensity of these feelings made it very confusing for me to distinguish between the normal ups and downs of a healthy relationship and the fallout of unhealthy, codependent relationship patterns.

  3. At the time, I was from the United States living in a rural Andean village. I was in my early 20s and didn’t know that much about myself yet. Most days, I felt completely out of my comfort zone. All of this made it incredibly difficult to take care of myself.

Suffice to say, I really suffered during this breakup. We officially ended our relationship just as the rainy season began in the mountains. In the mornings, I woke up heartsick and shivering underneath my damp felt blankets. After lunch, it would really start raining. I sat in my room and watched as water seeped its way up through the cement floor. I desperately missed this person and felt terrified that my feelings of despair would never go away.

I also felt extremely isolated. Although I was surrounded by people, there were pretty strong cultural differences between me and Peruvians. I had no idea how to express what I was feeling to my host family or to the people I worked with, although I’m sure they noticed I was struggling. I lost most of my interest in food and dropped about 20 pounds without trying.

Looking back, it’s hard to say when things got better. After a month of feeling horrible, I asked the Peace Corps for help. Our doctor arranged for me to go see a therapist for a session in sunny Lima. Although one hour wasn’t enough time for me to unpack even the surface layer of my feelings, it did feel good to get out of town, and the rain, for a few days. I arrived back home with the smallest glimmer of hope that I could get through the next few months with my spirit intact.

Other aspects of this breakup would take me years to get over. It was difficult to move on in my life. Opening my heart so widely and getting badly hurt in the process made it feel almost impossible to trust other people. I noticed myself comparing new relationships to the way I felt about my ex, and no one ever seemed good enough.  

But going even deeper than that, part of me still thought that I had been the problem in our relationship. If I had been lessy needy, less demanding and less emotional, we would have been able to stay together. The sh*tty voice in my head kept telling me that I wasn’t enough to make this person truly love me back. Back then, when I was feeling this way, I didn’t have the vocabulary to know that this was shame at work in my psyche.

As I now write this message at age 37, I feel so relieved to be in a totally different place in my life. After so many more romantic relationships—both big and small—and breakups, both intense and casual, I’ve landed in a wonderful partnership where I feel valued for being my whole messy, beautiful self. Right before I met my current partner, I spent three mostly single years doing the intense inner work of recognizing how shame operates in my life and learning to override it to find real self-acceptance. My sense is that even if I hadn’t met my current partner when I did, I would still be feeling pretty good about myself right now.

Now, as I look back at my 24-year-old self, waking up shivering and heartbroken under damp blankets, I’d love to tell her a few things to try to help ease her passage through this immensely difficult moment of life.

Here is what I would tell her:

Darling, I’m so sorry you are going through this. It’s so hard. Please know that you will survive the intensity of this heartbreak and live to experience many more beautiful relationships, with yourself and with others.

To you, I want to explain the mechanics of shame. Shame is a parasite that infects us before we are conscious adults, and these underlying mechanics continue to convince us that whenever we are hurt, it’s because we are the problem. Honestly, sweetheart, even though shame is telling you that you are the most flawed human being ever, you really aren’t that special. Either all of us are tragically flawed, or none of us are. We are together in this human soup, navigating the joy and the heartbreak with as much dignity as we can.

(I wish I could give you a copy of Brené Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection,” where she breaks all this down so beautifully, but you’ll have to wait until 2010 when it’s published.)

I also want to tell you how a healthy relationship works. This might be confusing, because you have never experienced healthy relationship dynamics before. Loving another person is not about minimizing your honest needs and authentic imperfections so you can appear more desirable for them. A person who wants you on these terms—on the facade of you being perfect—is not comfortable with themselves and will not be able to love you back in the way you need. This is a very painful, but supremely important lesson in your life. Keep practicing self-love until these dynamics change. They will change.

You are not needy. You are not too much. You are exactly right. In a healthy relationship, both people have needs as well as a laundry list of imperfections they bring to the table. Your ability to communicate your needs to your partner, and tolerate the uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability that exposing yourself will bring up, will be a sign of your readiness to truly love. Your partner’s ability to see these vulnerabilities as a sign of strength within you, and to reciprocate in kind, will be a sign of their worthiness to be with you. Keep doing your inner work, slaying your demons as they arise, and you will figure all of this out.

With this, I’ll add how great it is that you have such big emotions, especially around a topic as important as love. These emotions are not a problem. They are deeply intelligent, which will take you far in life. Emotionally unavailable people are the problem. You are attracted to people you want to save. Unfortunately, you will not be able to save anyone. Let them all go, every last one of them, and give yourself space to grieve their unrealized potential. Save yourself. Watch as your self-esteem grows and you attract someone who is already living out their potential.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s time to learn about authentic self-care. Self-care is not the rebound relationship that distracts you for a while but ultimately just confounds the pain. Self-care is not smoking pot every night so you can avoid feeling sad. Self-care is not speaking badly about your ex to anyone who will listen. These are all great examples of numbing behavior. Numbing only turns down the volume on your pain, but it will never fix the pain at the root.

Self-care will restore you at the root. Self-care means setting boundaries and practicing extra gentleness when you can’t always hold these boundaries as firmly as you’d like. It means knowing what is good for you (writing your morning pages, eating consistent meals, moving your body in the spirit of exercise, and putting yourself kindly to bed) and repeating that behavior as much as possible.

Self-care means reaching out, again and again and again, to the stable people who keep redirecting you back to yourself. These can be real-life friends, trained professionals, or beautifully written accounts from those who have endured heartbreak and survived.

(To this, I found one of the first copies of “Eat, Pray, Love,” then just published, during this breakup year. Reading about Liz Gilbert’s heartbreak and her magical journey gave me an indescribable amount of hope. So much so, that for the first time in my life, I wrote an author to thank her. To my great surprise, Liz sent me a postcard back! I still have it taped in my Peru journals.)

Mostly, self-care is giving yourself time and space to address the underlying trauma that is being triggered by your current heartbreak. Your willingness to feel is a sign of your healing, because as adrienne maree brown says, “In my experience, healing happens when a place of trauma or pain is given full attention, really listened to.” You are worthy of being listened to, but often, that listening has to start with yourself.

Again, lovely you (lovely me), this is a rough time. There is no way to minimize or sugarcoat that reality.  However, you will not only survive the tough years that are to come, but you will use them to grow in your capacity to feel compassion for all beings who are suffering. Heartbreak is perhaps our most relatable shared trait, and within it there’s a deep well of connection. It might be the place that saves our world.

Soon enough, you will realize that this compassion goes deeper than loving and being loved by another. Compassion is the bedrock of your being, the truth of your truest self. The only way to find it is to lose what you think is keeping you afloat. You will flail wildly upon letting go. However, when you hit bottom, it won’t be at all like you thought. It will feel solid to the point to of unbreakable, but it still be soft. You’ll finally find yourself in the only place that really feels like home.

With care,
Gracy

PS: While writing this missive, I’ve enjoyed using “them” and “themselves” to express a singular person. More and more, I’m discovering how much language dictates our ability to express our authentic identities. I feel inspired to expand upon the set rules to create more possibilities for us all to exist.

An Imperfectly Imperfect Spiritual Practice with Buddhist Teacher Annie Mahon

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Do you wish you could "do" mindfulness better? Do you find yourself getting perfectionist about your spiritual practices? If so, please listen to this conversation to find much-needed relief!

In my conversation with Buddhist Teacher Annie Mahon, we share our own messy, real-life stories of spiritual development, and together, debunk the myth that spirituality should look any certain way. We discuss Annie's concept of "raw mindfulness", our experiences of authentic leadership, and the self-care practices that keep us truly grounded in ourselves.

Learn more about Annie's work:

At her website: <https://www.rawmindfulness.com>

On Facebook: <https://www.facebook.com/rawmindfulness>

On Instagram: <https://www.instagram.com/annielakemahon/>

Wednesday Missive: It’s Okay to Wait a Week (Inbox Self-Care)

Hello darlings!

First thing: I recorded a new podcast with creativity-focused life coach Helen McLaughlin about ways to bring more self-care and joy into the seemingly never-ending to-do list of being a responsible adult. Check out our conversation here.

Second: Save the date! The March Women of Color Self-Care Roundtable (now monthly!), led by Elsa Dure and Reba Thomas, will be this Sunday, March 17th from 10 to 11:30am ET. Please share this widely and freely with all women of color. I believe empowering the self-care of people of color is a great, beautiful act of resistance!

Finally: Last Friday, I led a free call about Self-Care and Early Motherhood. In it, I share the three pieces of self-care that have kept me afloat over these past two years. With that, I am currently gathering a Self-Care and Early Motherhood pilot group of 10 mothers (from early pregnancy to mothers of young children). This eight week-self-care immersion - from April 1st through May 26th - will support mothers in creating a strong foundation of self-care to serve themselves and their families. Read more about the program here, forward it along to other mothers who could use it, and please let me know if you have any questions!

And now, today…

I have a wonderful friend, let’s call her Leela, who takes about a week to respond to any non-urgent text message I send her. When we first became friends a few years ago, I felt a little anxious with how long she took to get back to me. Did I make her upset with my last text? Did the lag time reflect how she felt about me?

Alas, no. I (somewhat) quickly learned that is just how Leela responds to text messages. In addition to being an inspiring and loyal friend, she takes her time with her correspondence. This makes sense because she runs her own business, is close to her family, and has great self-care practices.

Watching Leela’s communication style was quite the education for me. In my own life, I was so busy rushing to respond within minutes to every message I received, that it never occurred to me I was allowed to take my time. Somehow, I had equated a slow response time with some kind of negativity.

I share this story for two reasons: 1) I think a lot of us are cutting corners with our self-care so we can respond quickly to every message that comes into our phone or inbox; and 2) All of us cutting those corners is creating a culture of hyperimmediacy, which makes it even harder to take a pause in our communication.

To me, what feels hardest about hyperimmediacy is that it’s self-perpetuating. The more we think we are expected to answer messages quickly, the more we feel something is wrong when others don’t. The more we equate a slow response time with perceived wrongness, the more likely we are to cut any corners necessary to hit “send” as quickly as possible. Thus, the pace keeps getting faster and everyone cuts more self-care corners to keep up.

A constant fast pace is hard on our nervous systems. When we feel we are in threat - as being rushed tells our bodies that we are - we naturally kick into a hypervigilant somatic response. Our cognitive decision-making function is impaired and we are more likely to perceive any stimulus as threat. Blood moves away from our internal organs - making both sleep and digestion more difficult - so we have the power and energy to run away from all these perceived threats. Once triggered, it can difficult to reset our nervous systems back to normal functioning. Thus, many people are living in a state of chronic stress and dealing with the health issues that brings.

As you read this, does a hyperimmediate society sound like the kind of culture you want to live in? Do the people in this fast-paced culture seem like they would make reasonable decisions with necessary foresight for future implications? Or does it feel like any response might be scotch-taped together in a defensive stance that only perpetuates any problem that’s happening?

(That last one is what I think.)

Once we have established a culture of hyperimmediacy, it can be very hard to roll the collective pace back to a manageable one. Many workplaces, especially where I live in Washington, DC, have come to expect that their employees should be watching their inbox most hours of the day. It’s not seen as unprofessional to be working at 2am - as I really believe it should be - but rather this “all hours on deck” mentality carries an odd badge of honor in the professional world. Deciding to slow down and turn off might have negative professional implications.

And yet, although it can be challenging to reset a pace, I don’t think it’s impossible. I’m on year two of facilitating a self-care series for educators at a wonderfully progressive elementary school in my neighborhood. As we’ve worked for many months to peel back the layers of collective staff self-care blocks, the staff culture of hyperimmediacy has been named as a culprit. During our last leadership meeting, we identified how stressful it feels to be expected to reply to any message RIGHT NOW and how much this expectation detracts from present moment attention in staff meetings and beyond.

We haven’t had our follow-up meeting yet, but I have a sense of how we will begin to counter the hyperimmediacy culture of their school. First, we will congratulate ourselves for coming up with easily-accessed vocabulary that describes the frenetic pace of communication and the stress that can bring. Once we have a word to name it, any affliction usually loses its power to unconsciously control us. Now, when any staff member feels overwhelmed by their messaging, they can say that “hyperimmediacy” is causing the overwhelm, not their own inability to keep up with an unreasonable pace of communication.

Once we have named it, we will have the power to decide if hyperimmediacy lines up the school’s greater values. As I mentioned before, this school is wonderfully progressive and full of immensely caring individuals. When asked, I’m sure each person would say that it’s ok for someone to wait until they are calm and present to answer their non-urgent messages, even if that takes a few hours, a day, or a week.

As we discuss this together, we will create a shared agreement that the school’s collective well-being is important and worth honoring. By agreeing, we will establish that there aren’t penalties for waiting to respond. As each individual accepts this agreement, they will become more present in their communication, whether that be in-person or electronic. This will slow the overall culture down and provide necessary self-care relief for everyone involved, including the children at the school.

What does countering hyperimmediacy have to do with saving our world? Well, our current cultural pace of non-stop information is overwhelming to our systems. When we are too busy trying to keep up, we forget to check in with ourselves. Disconnected from ourselves and overstimulated, we make decisions that are out of alignment with our deeper values of shared humanity and collective progress. We lose ourselves and allow the world to lose itself alongside us. In our efforts to go faster, we create a lot of unnecessary gridlock and self-care collateral damage.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can notice the pace around us and decide how many corners we are willing to cut in order to keep up. We can examine our fears of disappointing others as we pause to take care of ourselves. If we are in a leadership position, we can examine how a culture of hyperimmediacy is hurting the people we lead and courageously make the necessary adjustments. We can ponder how shifting our own communication habits could help everyone around us.

Because with time, not only did I become comfortable with my friend Leela’s pace in responding to messages, but I adopted a more relaxed attitude about my own communication. As I practiced this more spacious approach with a few other people in my life, I learned that it was completely fine to wait until I was ready to write back.

The part I love most about this story is how Leela’s self-care educated my own. Having a friend in my life who honors her self-care showed me how to slow down. This helped me make the decision to send out my Wednesday self-care newsletter every other week (instead of weekly), has instructed how I help this wonderful school find more self-care in their communication habits, and will probably inform other people’s self-care along the way.

So, now it’s your turn. Where are you struggling to keep up with the pace around you? Where can you practice courage and make the decision to slow down? How might slowing down revolutionize the many people and cultures that surround you?

I hope you take a risk and find out. My sense is that many amazing feats - from your own self-care to the care of those around you - may depend on your choice to pause and connect more deeply to yourself.

With care,
Gracy

A Radiant Beginning - a Motherhood Self-Care Immersion, 4/1 to 5/26

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A Radiant Beginning - an Eight-Week Motherhood Self-Care Immersion

What self-care helps you find a workable, enjoyable experience of motherhood?

Or, are you struggling to even know what self-care means right now?

How do you know the balance between caring for yourself and caring for others?

Or, do you usually feel tipped way in one direction and it's wearing you down? 

Are you able to tell yourself an empowering narrative about being (or becoming) a mother? 

Or, does even thinking about your motherhood journey feel stressful or disappointing? 

For those of you who are struggling, I want you to know you're not alone. This mothering work is HARD, by far the hardest work I've ever done. We mother without important support from our government and often, without support from our extended families. Even with a strong emphasis on my self-care, I still feel at my personal limit most days.

For you who are struggling, you can get support. For you, I've created a new motherhood self-care program which will debut on April 1st. It's called A Radiant Beginning. 

With A Radiant Beginning, I will help you transform your experience of motherhood. Ten mothers will join together in a small, intimate circle of support for eight weeks of in-depth self-care training and support. Some of these women will be preparing for childbirth and others will already be in the throws of caring for young children. Together, we'll learn the self-care that we need to not only survive this period of life, but to thrive as mothers and women.  

Because, it's only when we're thriving ourselves that we are able to inspire our children and our families to thrive for themselves. We teach, not with our words, but by our example. When we practice excellent self-care for ourselves, we will teach others how to do the same. (And we get to enjoy the whole process!)

Are you interested in finding this kind of mama-specific self-care support for yourself? Are you ready to transform your experience of motherhood into one of true self-care and real joy?

This April 1st through May 26th, consider joining a motherhood self-care immersion to help you deepen and enjoy your experience of motherhood through the power of self-care. 

Click here to learn more about A Radiant Beginning!

Adulting and Other Creative Acts with Life Coach Helen McLaughlin

Are the little things in life - the errands and chores - burning you out? How can we make the everyday stresses of "adulting" a creative act? During this episode, I speak with creativity-focused life coach Helen McLaughlin about ways to bring more self-care and joy into the seemingly never-ending to-do list of being a responsible adult. 

In our conversation, we discuss our views on this recent article about the "burnout generation", ways to bring more creativity into a 40 hour work week, and why it's so important create joy out of the monotonous acts of parenting. 

To learn more about Helen's work, visit helenmclaughlin.com and sign up for her weekly newsletter: helenmclaughlin.com/theinsiders. Also, she's on Instagram at @wonderinghelen  On the second Friday of every month, Helen hosts a free co-working event called Get It Done Day. They've been going strong since November 2017! Folks need only to register (at that link above) and then show up with a handful of their most dreaded tasks, or those things they've just avoided doing for too long. Together, we get our stuff done...and have some fun in the process.

Wednesday Missive: Can Mothers and Non-Mothers Come Together in Self-Care?

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Hello Dears,

First thing: After my last email, The Sexiness of Self-Care, my brilliant LGTBQ-sensitive therapist friend Huong emailed me to say the best practice for supporting the non-gender binary and trans community is instead of sharing your “preferred pronouns” just say “pronouns.” Huong wrote: “The feedback I’ve gotten from the trans community is that using “preferred” makes it seem like gender is a choice and preference. The example I hear is: “I prefer Sprite over 7up,” but I don’t prefer to be a woman. I am a woman.” Thank you Huong!

And now today....

In my early 30’s, my then-boyfriend and I decided to end our relationship. After three years of dating and a year of living together, we knew enough to know that although we both really cared about each other, we weren’t going to do well as life partners.

He moved his things out of our apartment and I began my next few years as a single person. Part of this new life meant watching most of my friends partner off and have children. At this point, I felt ambivalent about having kids. Although I had always imagined myself becoming a mother eventually, starting my business felt way more exciting than the idea of being pregnant.

But despite this ambivalence, as a non-mother, I did feel left out. Although my friends always did a great job of including me in social events and asking about my life, I started feeling more and more separate. My dating stories didn’t seem to hold up to their birth stories. My problem of an overpacked travel schedule felt insignificant when compared to their struggles to balance work and family.

The more I denied my story in their presence, the more I felt like my life was fading to the edges of the cultural narrative. I didn’t like this feeling, but also I didn’t know how to change it.

Then, by a twist of fate and some faulty fertility awareness, I got pregnant. (Long story short: My now-partner Micah and I got accidentally pregnant after two months of dating and decided to say “yes!” to parenting together. Now that our son Jonah is 18 months old, I can assuredly say that I’ve never made a better decision.)

As a mother, the view is different on this side of the river. Many of my assumptions about motherhood were correct. Yes, it’s truly a challenge to balance my work, my family, and my self-care. I’ve had to sacrifice a lot, and I’ve needed to talk about those sacrifices along the way. Also, my birth story feels incredibly powerful and I want to share it with the world.

And yet, what I couldn’t see as a non-mother, is how isolating motherhood can feel. Yes, I am checking off the societal boxes, but within having that cultural approval, I still feel like my life is fading to the edges of the cultural narrative. Jonah is at an age where he is not easy to travel with. Staying home cuts me off from the world, but it also feels like the best choice for our family most of the time. I say “no” to so many social invitations that I get afraid people will stop inviting me.

Within this struggle, I also see how easy it is to separate myself from my non-mother friends. I assume that they might not want to hear about my sleep training stresses, and I can get jealous about how much time they can invest in their careers and their self-care. It takes a lot of active consciousness for me to remember how I wanted to wall myself off in a similar way before I became a mother.

As women, I think we have the habit of dividing ourselves into two camps: mothers and non-mothers. It’s very easy to romanticize or demonize the other side and begin to feel excluded. These divides seem to deepen as we get older and our lives are further formed by the realities of whether or not we became parents.

I’m having this realization at the same time that I’ve seen a few articles unpacking the many challenges of modern motherhood in the United States. (Check this one out.) These articles discuss how difficult it is to raise a family under a government that offers the bare minimum of parental leave after the birth of a child and continues that negligence by refusing to help in our daycare costs and so many of our medical expenses. Taking time off to care for sick children, at best, hurts the parent’s career, and at worst, means going without other necessities like medicine or food.

These articles propose that under these immense financial strains, mothers are baring more than their brunt of the pressure. We are the ones who are societally expected to be full-time caregivers, and yet many of us must also financially provide for our families. And despite all this work, when things go wrong, mothers are quick to be blamed and/or to blame ourselves.

Although mothers are most affected by it, I really believe that the lack of governmental support for families hurts us all.*** When the well-being of children is compromised, everyone’s physical, mental, and spiritual health suffers. We all lose out when the quality of our schools decline or when children do not receive the nutrition, medical care, and daily attention from caring adults that they need to thrive. As mothers struggle to care for their loved ones within a system that refuses to care for the well-being of families, we all suffer as a society.

(***I want to speak about privilege for a moment. As a white cisgender mother with the support of a white cisgender male partner, I have so many privileges that help me and my family. This privilege means that I need to speak out about how incredibly tough our current set-up is for mothers and families. If me and my college-educated, professional-job-working friends are reporting such high levels of stress, then you know even tougher problems are rolling downhill to those who are struggling for a minimum quality of existence for their families.)

So, amazing women out there, I have a message for us. I know that we all want to live in a world where the next generation is full of energy, empathy and creative inspiration. If we are ever go to change our culture—which most definitely affects all of us—we must support each other in raising our families well. To do this, it’s time to come together in a new way. We need each other so much right now!

Here are a few things we can do to come together as women and begin changing our culture:

  1. Talk about the places you’re struggling. We suffer most when we think other people have it figured out better than us. We imagine that life would feel manageable if we could just be a little more like that kid’s mother whose hair always looks great and and shows up on time for school events. Or we hear about a single friend’s trip to Thailand and get jealous about the freedom she has to live her life. Or we think everything would be great if we could just meet our dream partner and finally have kids. From talking to a lot of women, I know we all have times when we feel ambivalent about the choices we’ve made. Sharing more openly about these struggles helps others know that there is no perfect life choice. By telling the truth, we begin to understand that although we have a lot to appreciate about our lives, it’s normal to feel like we are missing out on some level.

  2. Ask for help. If you are a non-mother and feeling lonely in your life, call up one of your mother friends. Chances are that, despite other beings depending on her to get their needs met, your mother friend is also feeling disconnected. Hold her baby while she makes tea. Drink the tea while you talk about how tough and wonderful life can be. Mothers, this goes for you too. When you are having a bad day, call up one of your non-mother friends and ask her to help take care of you. We all want to feel needed, within reason, and sometimes asking for help is the gift that makes another person feel better.

  3. Refuse to internalize. When life is feeling like too much, notice what your brain begins to do. Do you start beating yourself up for not being able to find work/life balance? Do you think of every wrong decision you’ve made in relationships along the way? Understand that although there is a lot of personal responsibility we can take in our lives, if you are doing your best and it still feels really hard, it might be because you are getting set up to fail by dominant culture. Don’t get angry at yourself. Get angry at the powers that be. Talk to your mother friends and your non-mother friends and get fired up together. I truly believe our collective anger as women will set us free.

  4. Advocate for yourself and others. You can advocate in so many different ways. Instead of sneaking out of the office to grab your kids from daycare, announce loudly that you’re off to get the little ones. Caring well for our children makes us better professionals and we have no need to hide this. Watch out for other women, too. If another woman in your office is just back from maternity leave, check in on how she is doing. Get her a cookie (nursing/pumping makes you ravenous), and ask her if she feels comfortable pumping at work. If not, approach HR about making a more comfortable pumping space. She may not have the emotional energy to advocate for herself in this tender time of transition. Mothers, encourage your non-mother co-workers to shut down their computers at a reasonable time. Even if they technically don’t have to leave to pick someone else up, they need to tend to their post-work lives. Sometimes it’s helpful to be gently reminded to take time for ourselves.

  5. Relish your self-care. In a society where we are taught that our productivity equals our worth, self-care doesn’t have a real place. By consciously practicing self-care anyway, and seeing how much it helps everyone around us, we begin to create a society that honors and cares for all people.

With this, I really want to invite all of us - mothers and non-mothers alike (and men too!) - to “The Self-Care of Early Motherhood,” a free call I am hosting on Friday, March 8th from 3 to 4pm ET, (also International Women’s Day!).

During this call, I’m going to share the self-care that kept me grounded and sane during my first year of motherhood. I’m also going to share what I wished I had known about early motherhood as a non-mother, so that I could have supported my new mother friends in the way that so many people supported me. I’ll offer a family-friendly framework that will help us all find more connection and joy in our lives, regardless of our realities around parenting.

Sign up for the call here!

Truly, this call is for everyone and I hope you can join! Please invite your friends too.

***

Culture changes, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. I sense we are on the brink of some big cultural changes that will make life easier for mothers, which will make life easier for all women (and men, too!).

This change starts with us. It starts with getting and giving support. When we have the support we need to fully own our stories as women, we gain the power to lift ourselves out from the edges of the cultural narrative.

Together, as mothers and non-mothers, we can create a new story that honors the many incredible ways we care for ourselves and others, every single day. This new story will guide us as we continue creating the world that we really want to hand over to the next generation.

With care,
Gracy