I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Personal Growth

What Would Jane Say?

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Saying Good-Bye

I had my last therapy session last week. For now. We talked about good-byes and how to make them meaningful. So many good-byes. I am saying good-bye to my daughter as she leaves for college this month. I am saying good-bye to my mother as she becomes more frail and unable to speak at the end of her life. I am saying good-bye to my younger self.

How do you know when it’s time to end therapy and say good-bye? You don’t. I am still anxious. I am still melancholy. I still wake up in the middle of the night ruminating. I didn’t change careers. I didn’t change spouses. I didn’t move to some exotic location. No – the changes were incremental. Maybe not even noticeable to others. But they are radical to me. I have learned to recognize my inner voice. You know, the one that speaks your truth. I learned to listen. I found people and activities that supported me. I found friends, making new ones and nurturing old ones.

Perhaps finding joy in one’s current life is the biggest possible accomplishment of all?

I wanted to mark our last session with some significance, to honor the therapeutic process, our relationship, and the personal growth I’ve experienced in the last (almost) three years. I found myself heading down my usual path of putting pressure on myself to come up with an amazing good-bye gift. But what do you give someone who has helped you so much? And, she pointed out, I had given much to her with my sharing and my development. Maybe a tchotchke was not necessary.

We reflected on what we had shared together. One of the big themes of our time together was what do I want? After spending my life, very successfully, being a good girl, a good daughter, a good student, a good employee, a good wife and mother, and reaching middle age wondering if this was it and alarmed at the hurtling pace of time, I needed to pause and probe who am I and how do I want to spend the next phase of my life? Our sessions were a place where I could practice saying what I think and what I want without judgment before testing it out in the real world with other people, other people who are less patient than Jane.

One of the tools she taught me was how to take a conversation at least one step further than I was used to doing. My habit was to accept whatever the other person said and leave my own thoughts to myself. As I would tell her my stories, she would ask questions. And I would say, “Ummm. I don’t know – I hadn’t thought of that!” I hadn’t thought to ask, to find out. I just accepted. Or she would make a suggestion for something I might do.  Differently. Something that would not have occurred to me, but was so obvious and natural once she suggested it. So we laughed at our last session. Perhaps one of the ways I could carry her and our experience with me will be to pause and ask myself, “What would Jane say?”

One of the gifts she gave me was to believe me. When I would tell her some of my fuzzier more painful stories, I would pause with self-doubt. Did that really happen? Maybe it didn’t happen after all. Maybe he didn’t really do that to me. Maybe he didn’t really do that to her. In one memorable session, she said, “Why would you make this up?” Why indeed? She helped remove the shame I felt from the more painful stories of my past and to understand and even be proud of the way I have coped. I learned that I could do things differently moving forward. Anxiety and shame didn’t have to be my go-to place.

It was a safe place, those weekly sessions. I could rant. I could cry. I could worry. I could share dreams, literally and figuratively. No judgment. Usually we just talked. She helped me knit together the stories of my past such that I could look at them with perspective as a broader narrative and not feel so caught up inside them. With some distance, I was able to find some understanding for the girl I was and the woman I’ve become.

One of the skills she helped me develop was to appreciate the impact I have on others. A greater sensitivity to what others are experiencing has helped me to be a more honest and compassionate wife, mother, boss, teacher, daughter, friend, though perhaps I am a less dutifully good one. (I doubt it – I am not sure I will ever be free of being a good girl.)

As I have developed my yoga, my writing, my expanding circle of friends, my voice, my intuition, she likened the process to growing a seedling. Tender. Vulnerable to swaying in the wind or being entirely uprooted. I needed to nurture this seedling with support and practice. Practice at being me – being grounded, honest. Only then, with established roots, could I think about saying good-bye. I could say good-bye to my identification of myself as anxious, overwhelmed, and sad. I could see myself as funny and cheerful and optimistic and loving and generous. (And anxious, overwhelmed, and sad. It’s all in the mix.) Me? Yes. I can feel. I can be me. Thank you Jane.

Yogini Guru

Plutchik-wheel

Help!  Get Me Out of This Tight Spot!

I am angry.  At my yoga teacher, Yogini Guru.  Which is a little like being angry at your therapist, or your most honest and compassionate best friend, or even a generous stranger doing you a favor, when they hold you accountable and don’t cater to your neediness.  Because they love you and want you to be your true self.

I have decided that identifying that I feel anger is a positive sign of personal growth.  Instead of numbing low-grade depression or frenetic ruminating anxiety, I now feel anger!  At everyone!  Constantly!  Is there a diagnosis of Generalized Anger Disorder in the new DSM-5 just released?  Because I am angry at the ubiquity of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and ready to free myself of that label – the one that has been with me for 30+ years – ready to free myself of being a good girl seeking the approval of others.

Yogini Guru doesn’t know I am angry.  I haven’t told her.  She probably would not be surprised.  She knows me pretty well.  I imagine her laughing knowingly or hugging me with acceptance and compassion or simply wondering why I wouldn’t just talk to her directly.  My reasons are based on old habits and are constructs in my mind.  I have twisted what she has said and fabricated what she is thinking in my mind and haven’t given her the opportunity to be her self.  For what it’s worth, Yogini Guru is petite, funny, self-deprecating, inclusive, loving, supportive and not at all austere.  I want her to tell me I’m good, a good yoga teacher, but she knows I need to feel my worth without her validation.

After graduating from the 200-hour yoga teacher training program that she directs – essentially a masters degree without the bells and whistles of academia – and apprenticing with a more experienced teacher, I auditioned to teach for Yogini Guru.  I was nervous, serious and stiff.  She stopped me after just a few minutes and we discussed what I needed to work on.  Chagrined (and angry), I wondered if I would ever be a teacher worthy of teaching at her studio.  This is the type of obstacle – feedback that suggests I am less than perfect – where I feel overwhelmed and give up.  Rejected! Fuck You!  I quit!  But I love yoga.  I love Yogini Guru.  I knew this was another crucial crossroads where I have given up in the past.  I had to fight through it.  It was time to move past depending on others’ evaluation of me to feel good about my self.  It was time to feel good about my self.

What I imagined I heard from Yogini Guru:  You are a terrible teacher.  Worse than I realized.  You are a failure.

What she actually said:  I like your theme.  Your assists are good.  Your students trust you.  Eliminate the repetitive language so that you are more succinct.  Keep practicing.  You’re not ready yet.  Have fun and be joyful.

Another year later.  (Personal growth takes a long time.)  I am teaching once a week at a near-by gym refining my teaching skills and my teaching style and nurturing my growing group of beloved students.  I have signed on to take a 30-hour continuing education module of teacher training.  With Yogini Guru of course.  One of the requirements is that I video myself teaching a class and critique it.  Then she critiques it.  Good God.  This is torture.  What if I am still not good enough?  I schedule time in her studio to video myself, inviting some of my regulars to be my students for this videoed class.  I succumb to my anxiety and tense up.  The class is well-designed, but flat.  I am too mechanical.

I reach out to Yogini Guru:  What is the goal of this video?  Can we work with my stiff anxiety or should I keep trying?

I wanted reassurance:  Oh Sally.  I can’t wait to see your video!  I am sure it will be fine.  Don’t worry if it’s not perfect.  We’ll talk about it.

Instead, she is holding me accountable for the decision and not catering to my neediness.  She said it was my decision.  After spending three days alternately fuming, panicking, and on the precipice of giving up – which would sabotage my potential for success – I videoed a second class – my regular class at the gym.  It’s not perfect and it is a less well-designed class than the first video, but I was my self.  And that is all I can be.  My anger (at least at Yogini Guru) is resolved.  After all, she has done nothing except be true to her self and compassionate to me.  She deserves the same from me.  Besides, if and when I teach at her studio, there will always be another challenge, another obstacle, another achievement, another rejection.  I need to do this for my self.  Not for her or anyone else.  Which changes my perspective on the process.  If I am not attached to her evaluation of me as a teacher, what is my goal for teaching?  Can I enjoy teaching for the sake of sharing my yoga with others and feel confident, in my grounded self, that yes indeed I am a good teacher?

Thanks on the road to personal growth goes not only to the teachers, therapists and coaches, family, friends and enemies (they always have lessons), but also to the random strangers who help you along the way.  The other day, as I was leaving an early morning session with my therapist – who was encouraging me to voice my anger in a safe and constructive way – I discovered that my car was blocked in.

I had the new car and had carefully parked it in a corner spot where it had less of a chance to get a ding (and less of a chance to incur the anger and dismay of my husband who adores this car).  I fumed and panicked.  My instinct was to call my husband.  Help!  Get me out of this tight spot!  My instinct was to run in and implore my therapist to find the offending parker.  Help!  Get me out of this tight spot!

I took a breath.  I spied a woman in the car parked next to mine and asked her for help.  She willingly jumped out of her car to direct me out of the spot (such a good woman).  I maneuvered carefully back and forth.  She assured me that I could do it.  I fumed, panicked and was on the precipice of giving up.  She went into the building to fight my battle for me (such a good woman) – to find the offending parker.  No luck.  Back to the maneuvering, she assured me that I could do it.  I fumed, panicked and was on the precipice of giving up.  Then it was my turn: I went into the building to find the offending parker.  No luck.  When I reemerged, she had left.  My alter ego was gone.  I fumed, panicked and was on the precipice of giving up.

On the verge of a panic attack (does this nascent feeling of anger lead to increased anxiety?), I took a breath.  I decided to trust her confidence that I could do it.  I decided to trust my self.  I got in the car.  Maneuvered back and forth.  Got out of the car to see how much room I had.  6 inches.  I got in the car, maneuvered back and forth, got out of the car to see how much room I had.  5 inches.  I did this a seemingly endless number of times, not quite sure I was going to succeed – kind of like personal growth.  And then I was free.  I inched past the obnoxious, self-absorbed car who had parked in the non-spot blocking me.  The relief flooded over me.

Who was that woman who helped me?  I didn’t get her name.  Generous woman in a black dress – I thank you.

Image is Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

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