Strength in Numbers

4619b404ca4cebbc2c5a4ed7cbf419e8After lying in bed for three days because of a mutant flu strain, I have finally reentered with the real world. Being down for the count is not something which happens often for me. I am usually the type to push through and suck it up for the sake of productivity, however this time it was just not possible. In my horizontal state and febrile state, I got to thinking about all of the times in my life when I felt like just could not get through things. Apparently my dramatic side enjoys a good fever. We all experience times when everything seems so challenging and our chances of making it through are slim to none.

Sometimes events outside of our control can trigger these emotions. Other times situations bring about this thinking. Life can be difficult, especially when dealing with other people. I have found that my perception of reality is often at the root of my difficulties. How I think about things is the most accurate predictor of how the rest of me responds to challenges in my life.

Many triggers can feed this negative thought process. Guilt, shame, and fear are at the top of the list. Feeling overwhelmed by life reduces our ability to remember certain truths about who we are at our core. When I am physically down, my brain is all too willing to veer off the road and crash in to the ditch when it comes to how I feel about myself and anyone else who happens to be in my thoughts. When we are overwhelmed our guard is down. Shifting in to survival mode is one way that we, especially women, seek to protect ourselves from whatever circumstance may be in front of us.

Existing in survival mode brings about its own unique set of triggers. The fruit of the “I am not good enough” tree ripens quickly during the times that bring on the “just cannot get through the day” feelings. In our worst moments, we tend to spend our energy building the case against ourselves and digging emotional holes in the dirt. To get a clearer view of who we are and what we are capable of handling, we need to put down the shovel and climb to the top of the hill to see the above the tree tops. The view from above reminds us of our strength and the beauty all around.

Being able to take a breath and recharge is an important part of getting through even the worst of times. Unfortunately, self-care is the first thing to drop off of our list of things to do when we feel defeated, tired, and emotionally exhausted. Mothers are notorious for filling everyone else’s cups while theirs run dry. I fought feelings of guilt when I took time for me on many occasions, especially after everything changed five years ago for my immediate family.

The lesson can be lost when trapped in the there is always something you could, or should, be doing for someone else mindset. It is also extremely hard to reconcile the need to take care of yourself with the needs of your family when you feel burdened by the changes that occur at home after coming out later in life. Guilt is a daily companion and can derail even the most determined among us.

I know many women struggle to take much needed time for themselves, for a myriad of reasons. Balancing self-care with the needs of our loved ones is the universal challenge for many of us, especially moms.  However, there is a distinct difference between being selfish and practicing the art of self-care. Think about it. Choosing to ignore the importance of self-care creates stress and often feelings of wanting to get as far away from things as we can.

When we feel like running away or just throwing in the towel in defeat, we must step back and consider it an opportunity to reset our thinking and recharge the batteries. When life is hard, the temptation to turn inward and struggle alone in the muck rises up. Fighting the urge to retreat is an important step in taking care of ourselves. Often forgotten during those particularly challenging times is the enormous strength we all possess. One way to tap our well of strength and courage is to connect with others who are facing many of the same circumstances.

Recently I became a part of a growing community of women who are at various stages of coming out later in life. Some have been out for a long time, others are just at the beginning of the journey. They are mothers, wives, ex-wives, and grandmothers. The most remarkable aspect about this group is despite the turmoil, uncertainty, and hostility many are facing on a daily basis, there is never a day where laughter and encouragement is absent.

Fortunately, when one is down, there are others are willing to offer words of love, share their experiences, and speak with sincerity. This is a rare find in any arena. I am floored at the number of women who have this shared experience. When I came out, I truly felt like I was the only person to experience this oddity. When I wrote Switching Teams, I did so with the intention of reaching out and helping just one woman avoid the loneliness and isolation I felt when I came out. Finding ways to feel supported during difficult times is a tried and true method of successfully moving through the rough spots and fighting the temptation to give up.

We all have bad days. This is a fact. We also all have the ability to get through even the worst of days if we remember to take care of ourselves and one another when times are tough. We can get through it all, even if we do not think we can. The past few days were definitely not my best, but during the worst of it, everyone in my house was at their best. Instead of feeling weak and defeated, I felt nothing but love and gratitude for my tribe rallying around me. The most profound moments in our lives are often the most unexpected or simplistic. I challenge you to commit to practicing one act of self-care per day for a week. Then a month. Then a year. In the end, you will not believe what a difference it can make.