Shake-offs and yawns and a rough couple years

Some things really stress Junko out. When she’s having more fun than she knows how to express and suddenly hears the words “Gentle–no bite!” When we won’t let her hunt the backyard bunnies. Or when, despite her curious, sweet puppy-dog-eyes, we finish the last of our human-food without sharing. When these things happen, Junko does a BIG yawn or a floppy shake-off, and then she feels better.

At a funeral in America, everyone wears black, and you may hear some quiet sniffles, and a few reliefy chuckles when someone “lightens” the mood with a joke the deceased would have appreciated.

When I walked out of the Addis Ababa airport, I witnessed grief given a voice: A loving crowd following a coffin, many joining their voices in ululation, some openly wailing for their lost loved one.

Back when I was aggressively hit on the bottom most days by my parents, to make me a better person, a few commands always followed: Some weird ones like being told to say “thank you.” And one particularly problematic one: “Cry quietly.”

It’s such a cultural thing you and I have grown up with: Emotions are to be not seen, and not heard. Especially the yucky ones, like anger or grief. We don’t wail.

When an antelope suddenly sees a lion spring out of the tall grass, it gets a sudden rush of hormones and it flies across the savannah. After a minute or two the lion tires out, and the antelope can calm down and return to grazing, the panicky energy having dissipated through its pumping legs.

Stressful experiences give us certain energies: Hormones like adrenaline, or emotions like sadness, fear, or anger. These energies serve purposes and have natural outlets so they don’t get stuck.

Animals are great at giving the energy an outlet to serve its purpose, run its course, and dissipate. Junko violently shakes her body to release the pent up frustration.

Some humans are great at expressing and releasing. Like people who wail, who dance, who punch, who scream into a pillow.

And some of us, instead, just manage the energy.

And slowly implode with unresolved, ever-growing stress.

~

Nobody is “doing well” these days, right? At least not many. The world is struggling. Our country is struggling. My co-workers and friends are struggling. I’m struggling.

COVID and masks and staying at home and no more hugs and over a million dead just in America. The election with all its still leftover yard signs and whatever the hell happened on January 6. Social media and hate. Family members that are seeing each other’s real values and not sure if they’re meshable. Inflation. Racism, arguments over whether racism even exists, hate crimes, police brutality, protests, national guard convoys, tear gas, and threats to use the US military against our own population. Oh and inflation. Short-staffing. Complete disconnect and hatred of left vs right. Russia and Ukraine and nervous questions about nuclear bombs. Mass shootings becoming tragically normal. Increasing suicide rates accompanying a growing mental health crisis. Texas blizzards knocking out power, paid for by all of us everywhere. End-of-times-looking wildfires in Australia. Hurricane force winds throughout the last month in my Minnesota backyard. Baseball-sized hail. All the biggest, baddest, unprecedentedest weather events in recorded history. Millions of traumatized nurses and doctors and teachers, arguments over whether their trauma even exists. And are the bees still dying? And now robots keep trying to follow me on Instagram and other robots are busy ringing a phone that I can’t get away from. Oh and did I mention inflation? And this is just scratching the surface of our universal sh**show–we haven’t even gotten to our individual heartaches, like losing jobs, losing loved ones, chronic pain and illnesses, and I still cry sometimes about Willoughby dying.

That is a lot of energy.

And it needs to go somewhere. Except you’re not supposed to wail.

~

All that energy. Where is it supposed to go?

Sometimes the energy gets so big and loud that people do really sad things to other people. But it doesn’t have to be like that. There are healthy ways you can use that energy.

Remember the scene in Footloose where he angry-dances? I want to be like that scene when I grow up. It is an amazing answer to life.

Did you know that scared energy and excited energy aren’t that different physically? When you’re about to speak in front of a group, and you start feeling a little floaty and buzzy and shaky and fluttery, it’s similar to when you see your crush.

The good and the bad in life is constantly giving your body energy to respond. It’s revving you up for something. You could let it out by hurting people. Some do. I think you don’t want that, though. In fact, I think you’re trying so hard to not do bad things with all the anger and fear and sadness and stress that you’re holding it tightly deep in your chest. For years. And each day it’s getting a little harder.

What if you could let that energy out before it makes you sick or explodes at the people you love?

What if you could dance?

Or run?

Or sing?

Or drive hours into the dark night, letting the tears flow, or write it all down.

Or play a loud, low, angry sounding key on the piano, like sweet old Mr. Rogers in the movie It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

What if it’s actually really healthy to scream in your car?

What if you could laugh harder than you’ve ever laughed over a game with your friends until your stomach aches and you feel lighter than you’ve felt in 3 years?

What if yoga would help you release the heartbreak?

What if swimming underwater could calm your body? (It does. Google “diving reflex.”)

What if you could just SAY that frustrated truth you haven’t been saying to your partner? And not watered down?

What if something as simple as humming could let out all that overwhelming energy?

I was raised to cry quietly. I bet you were, too. We Americans are conditioned to be tough and pleasant. Until we snap.

But when she’s upset, Junko yawns and does a shake-off. Some cultures wail loudly for their lost loved ones. Both these options look and sound weird, but they work. They’re so healthy.

I think that we all have a lot of hard energy right now. Sad. Angry. Confused. Overwhelmed. Exhausted.

How will you release it?

(No seriously, tell me–we all need ideas right now.)

~

We need each other these days. If I can be there for you through this blog, put your email below.

Attention-seeking

What if half our problem is that we’re not asking for attention?

Junko is a handful, but she’s not complicated. She is a 2-year-old very-puppy who has no qualms about putting her foot down (literally–like on top of us) when she needs . . . . . or even just “wants” attention. (Is there really a difference?)

On the other hand, I’m super cool, but I’m complicated as hell. My deepest wish in life is for people to give me the exact sort of soothing care I want, at the exact moments I need it, without my having to say anything. That would be best, right? If people could just predict what I need?

Or I could do it the Junko way and say “I want a hug right now please and thank you.

When little kids “act out,” we like to call it “attention-seeking.” When 20-, 30-, 40-year old little kids have an outburst or stop showing up for work or start saying sad things all the time, we also sometimes call it “attention-seeking.”

And my goodness, what if we all could seek attention? Not just the ones who are honest about their needs.

What if your little kid doing whatever they know how to do to get your attention is actually asking for exactly what they most need, just in the only way they know how today?

And what if your friend or co-worker is literally just reaching out in the dark to see if someone still cares enough about them to pay attention and care for a minute?

Sure we could all be a little more like Junko and say things directly instead of throwing tantrums, giving the silent treatment, hinting for days, or all the other indirect ways we ask for attention.

But could we maybe appreciate “attention-seeking” for being one of the healthier self-interventions that someone’s able to do in a lonely moment? And provide each other some loving, caring attention instead of labeling each other needy or dramatic or annoying?

What if instead of saying they’re “attention-seeking,” we would say “they have unfulfilled needs”?

Because I bet if we’re all being honest, we need some attention, too.

What if you were allowed to ask for attention? Would it maybe help?

~

Do you need words and encouragement and hope sometimes? I’d love to write for you:

The not good enough thing

I haven’t met a person that really, deep down, is always confident that they’re good enough.

Nobody thinks they’re doing enough.

And nobody thinks they’re doing it well enough.

And nobody thinks all their efforts are good enough for them to be loved,

let alone good enough for them to not be exposed as a fraud.

It’s not just you. We’re all “not good enough,” and it seems like that may just be good enough to keep the world spinning and people hugging.

/*-+++++++++++++++++ <- Junko typed all those symbols. She really wants to go for a walk. Junko also is good enough.

~

Can I send you a copy whenever I write stuff about being human?

Baby steps and struggly downward dogs

“If your legs aren’t already straight, don’t try adding this in. Don’t ever force yourself. Let your muscles and tissues grow and change over months and years.”

This morning’s yoga class felt a little different. It was very slow and mild with an emphasis on finding the edge and then not pushing it. A little was enough.

I trained with an absolutely fantastic trainer way back–it felt like studying with a guru. He really knew his stuff. Honestly I probably couldn’t have found a better source of information and direction. Except my body. My body is also would have been a great source of information for me, but I ignored its signals. After some quick progress, I pushed too far, shrugged off the pains and the not-quite-right feelings, and hit a wall. Usually it took a couple days for my muscles to feel recovered. This time, my body felt overwhelmed by pain and weakness and just . . . tension for days and days and then weeks and weeks and by the time the pain had subsided, an “I-can’t-do-that-again” preemptive pain had taken its place. And I stopped. Completely. I had tried too fast. I hadn’t listened to my body.

Maybe that speaks to you, maybe it doesn’t. Since a concussion turned my world upside down, I’ve been really surprised at just how much one person’s response to being pushed differs from another’s. Once upon a time, I was the type to push myself to the max and then past it. And it felt like I had bottomless energy.

When I was a teenager, I would bring my glove and a baseball out to the rock wall in the back. I’d wind up and throw as hard as I could. A hundred times. And then a hundred more. (For context, you’re not supposed to pitch over a hundred pitches in a row every day. Especially as a 13-year-old. That’s ridiculous.) And then I’d head inside with just as much energy as I’d had before. It worked when I was a kid.

Then I moved up to the Twin Cities and dove into running. I started with a mile or two, then six. Then 13.1 out of the blue. Somewhere around mile 11 my left hamstring didn’t really work, but with a forwarder tilt, gravity pulled me forward the last couple miles. I wasn’t ready for it, but I found ways to compensate, and so it sort of worked. My core and hip flexors were weak, but my legs were strong, so I moved 13.1 miles again and again for the joy of it. And there was so much joy. Then I learned that you can push your pace when you run. Learn to breathe through the stress. So I picked up my pace.

One evening, with Marvel film scores playing in my ears, I set out to push my 13.1 pace. Halfway through, the Winter Soldier beat dropped and my pace picked up. It was electrifying. Until about mile 10. Then my body said “Absolutely not!” and I slowed to a walk that was more like a crawl. I could hardly lift my arms. I took a shortcut home and collapsed on the couch. Dizzy. The nausea and stomach cramps hit like a tsunami. I have never, ever, ever felt that absolutely terrible after a run. In a weird way, it felt worth it, like . . . look at how hard I worked! In another way, it slowed me down. A lot. Nervousness replaced excitement, and it was a while before I tried 13.1 again.

And then I had a concussion. And I stopped moving at all for months. And the strong compensation muscles I had became weak, so nothing was ready for a run anymore. And then my head finally felt okay, so I ran a mile. Then I ran two. And then I ran 8. . . . 8! And that was the day I felt a new kind of leg and back pain that I’m still feeling three years later.

I always try things long before I’m ready.

Because that’s how you be a badass.

And it’s worked at some points in my life. For some things.

And then at other times, it doesn’t. Especially after a concussion. Or especially after getting in touch with my deepest self. Sometimes trying things before I’m ready ends up hurting or scaring or discouraging me. Knocking the wind out of me. And the attempted leap forward turns into five steps back, or fifteen if you watch closely as I subconsciously sneak further and further away from my goal because I just can’t get near that awful feeling again.

~

Pizzeria Balognett was a little hidden garden of a restaurant in the hills above Italy’s Lake Como, where they plopped down freshly picked eggplant and tomatoes sprinkled with olive oil and salt in front of you, whether you asked for them or not, while the pizzas baked. The pizzas were perfection. So we went back for lunch the next day, and left with at least four more pizzas boxed up to enjoy on the next day of our honeymoon. Our rental host, a British expat, stopped by our little apartment, and when he heard how many pizzas we had brought home, he grinned and said “Such Americans!”

We in America, as a culture, are maximum. Always. We’re never halfway, we’re always the most. And that can be wonderful. Like eight of the best pizzas we’ll ever eat.

I’m afraid that we as a culture push ourselves and each other a little too hard, a little too fast, though.

And it’s complicated by the fact that it seems to really work for some. So we just push. Everyone. All the way. “No pain no gain.”

~

My therapist recently congratulated me for making a fairly forceful ask in my life. The change I want to see, he explained, happens slowly. Very slowly. The bigger the change, the bigger the pushback. So sometimes a clear, hard push is needed. But not because the change should (or even could) hurry up. Just because the change needs repeated reminders and remotivating.

But then, when that push has been pushed, I need to remember that the change is still going to be a slow process. Yes, we need to push and we need pushing. And then we need to accept that the wheels will turn slowly. Sometimes they need to turn slowly. Sometimes if you force them to turn fast, it hurts a little too much, and they stop turning at all.

Like when you decide you’re an exception to the wisdom about building up to 13.1 slowly. Or like when your trainer enthusiastically shouts that “you’ve got this, keep going!” without first having a two-way discussion about what is good discomfort and what is too much overwhelm or even pain. Or like when you decide the answer to beating social anxiety or loneliness is to fill every corner of your schedule with all the people all the time. Or like when you decide it’s time to cut out every single happy food forever, starting today. Or like when you decide you want to be a reader and then force yourself through three brutally boring hours in a row and find that you can never quite pick up the book again.

~

Maybe you’re the type that changes fast. Maybe. Although if that’s how you’ve always thought of yourself, but you keep finding yourself giving up or worn down or discouraged, then maybe you also could give yourself some extra time for change, too.

Or maybe you’ve already acknowledged that you need time. That you can’t take big leaps. That baby steps are what work for you.

At risk of sounding cliche, remember the tortoise and the hare? “Slow and steady wins the race.” Because slow and steady doesn’t burn you out, injure you, freak you out, or overwhelm you.

Yoga this morning was a great reminder to let time play its part in your growth. We’re all so damn frenzied about our lives. Goals. Progress. Growth. We need to get this, fix this, stop this, change this, find this, and it needs to happen with same-day delivery!

We know better by now about about muscles and fitness. But do we accept this about our core selves, too? The core selves we so badly want to be, to grow into, to experience, to find.

Is it okay that it’s going to take me three brutally long years to learn how to express negative emotions? Is it okay that it may be summer by the time you’ve actually finished that book? Is it okay that when you join all the flexible, toned 30-year-olds at the yoga class, your downward dog will honestly look more like a malfunctioning twerk for at least a few weeks, and that you’re the only one not wearing designer joggers?

~

So what’s your thing? The change you need. The growth you’re planning. The relationship or communication skills you want to develop. The goals you’ve set for yourself. How you want to take care of your body. How you want to stretch your mind. How you want to show up for the world.

And is it okay that you may be in this “getting-there” stage for a long, long time? Maybe for the rest of your life?

And if you let the change happen slowly, do you think you may give up less?

You’re trying. That’s enough. That’s a lot, honestly. So be gentle with yourself. Don’t push yourself too hard. You still want to feel safe enough to show up tomorrow. And you won’t if you push yourself past what you can be okay with today.

You’re human. And that’s going to take time.

Take a deep breath, give yourself a little hug, and accept where you are today.

Tomorrow can be just a little different.

<3

~

P.S. If you struggle with taking it slow and giving yourself room to grow and permission to take baby steps only–I strongly recommend looking for a slow, gentle yoga practice somewhere near you, and making showing up your only goal each time. When you soften into change, it’s amazing the pressure you find your body’s been holding, and how desperately it’s been wanting gentle care.

P.P.S. If all this slow change is too slow, look back a year or ten and see just how much it has been adding up. Keeps adding up. Trust the process.

~

Let’s grow slowly together?