Grounding

Life has been flying past me lately. Or rather, I have been flying through life. I recently spent close to three weeks on difficult negotiations at the UN in New York (New York, where everything moves on hyperdrive anyway), working long, lunch-less days, only to return home and continue working on the same negotiations from here, with the same hours.

My son, meanwhile, has been at camp for five weeks, with one more week to go. I miss him all the time, but this weekend I missed him something crazy. I found out yesterday that he’d been feeling homesick over the weekend, too. When we got to speak and I told him he was better off up in the great Canadian wilderness than being in the city while I worked, he was silent for a moment then said, “But Mum, you should be enjoying your summer!” Oh yeah, summer. Quite right. I remember what summer is like…

But there’s much important work to do, work I believe in, and anyway, it’s preferable to keep busy while he’s away.

Of course, when you’re tired and stressed and overwhelmed and missing a part of your soul, all the negative is magnified and everything feels bigger, worse, more dire. So in the end, working more probably isn’t the answer.

If I can catch myself when everything becomes too overwhelming, when it all moves too fast and I feel as though I might drown, I try to focus on the small, delicate details of the world around me. I remember how aware I was as a child, how intimately I knew the flowers of a specific plant, the terrain of the earth beneath it, the patterns of its leaves. How I followed and memorized the veins of quartz cutting through granite. Or the positions of the stars in the summer sky.

This weekend, disillusioned and overwhelmed and brain-tired, I went out to weed, to reconnect with nature and escape all the words and all the screens, and this memory of my childhood familiarity with the world came back to me. I sat down in the path, got as close as I could to the plant beside me, and looked. I forgot everything else. My world shrank down to the size of the plant – variegated leaves, pink flowers, knobbly bumps of earth and mulch beneath. Briefly, I let that feeling of childhood wash over me. I tried to hold onto it but, after 40 years, it’s elusive. Perhaps it takes practice.

Later, as I sat on our rooftop deck and let my gaze sink into the indigo sky of evening, a plane cut across my line of sight. Small, toy-like. The sun glinted off it, turning it copper, polished, bright. The expansiveness of the sky, the minute plane, and I, smaller still. I felt again the way I had in the garden. Real. Small. Connected to something concrete.

When life is flying past, whether we let it because it’s easier than stopping and feeling, whether it takes over because of factors beyond our control, the best thing we can do is reach out and take hold of something, anything. Reach out and hold on – to the flowers, the trees, the earth, the stars. Let them slow the spinning, if only for a moment. Let them bring you back, bring you down, let them ground you.

Remember to look around, then. Stop thinking and instead, feel.

 

Back into the fire: an update on working and life

It’s been some time since I’ve written about my return to work, about how I’ve been managing. For a while – a long while – I was managing so well I didn’t need to think about it. There was nothing really to say.

So I can’t tell you when I stopped feeling comfortable in my skin again. Sometime between February and now, while I was looking the other way, thinking about other things and just trying to keep up, I lost part of myself. The part that puts down markers and holds fast to boundaries and says “no more” without fearing the consequences, without giving in.

Without resorting to desperation.

Without succumbing to panic.

Now, again, I imagine the judgement of others – which is my judgement of myself. I jump at unexpected sounds. I am immobilized by the need to make decisions. I feel fragile.

I know it’s work that has worn me down – or at least I know I’ve let it. I love my job but not to the detriment of my sanity. Others surrounding me are running around trying to keep everything afloat as well. Perhaps they are struggling like me, perhaps not quite – not yet. But the mistake I’ve made is allowing that to keep me in the fire. I’ve turned to them for approval when I say no. I’ve pushed myself to perform in return for recognition, acknowledgement. That amounts to putting my sanity in their hands.

Thankfully, I still have all the lessons I learned while on stress leave. Thankfully, I can now recognize the signs of impending doom, and can mark the distance from here back to my boundaries. There is hope, a way back.

I don’t know how to catch hold of that nugget that is my strength, to catch hold and expand it. But I know I have to.

Maybe the knowing is step 1. Maybe I’m already on the right path.

Maybe it is already time to search for step 2.

Veneer

This isn’t what I wanted to write today —
I thought gardens and sunshine and light —
but you know as well as I that truth finds a way,
like water searching for its route.

I stare out from this shell
this broken exterior you see as whole
I bind myself in here daily,
held tight with coloured scarves and pearl-strands
I put on a good show —
you’d never guess, any of you,
just how deep the cracks
how close to breaking open this shell
until, pushed beyond unseen boundaries,
I do,
and then you see.

I don’t mean to test your mettle
but your responses reveal your true nature
either cementing how we move forward, together,
or leaving me broken on the floor.

 

It’s not all as dire as it sounds… but it has been a tough week, pressure-wise.

From dark to light

This greening world, sweet and mild, soothes my knotted mind, silences the thoughts I’ve been worrying at all week. 

At 41, I remain amazed at my inability to control the direction of my thoughts, to turn off anxieties instead of following them down into the darkness, my inability to refocus on the light.

This week has been a trial, start to finish. I was hit with an awful cold but worse than that were the daily personality clashes and utter disrespect I suffered at work from someone I don’t usually work with but now have to report to. Thankfully it’s temporary; at the end of May, they move on. But it’s a shock to the system to go from being respected to being disregarded, my expert advice completely ignored, and for no real reason other than it is their personality to run roughshod over everyone without thinking. 

It’s not me, it’s them. But that doesn’t help. It still affects my work, and that affects my reputation. Returning home engulfed in righteous fury each night is unsustainable for a week, never mind a month.

But today it is the weekend. Mother’s Day weekend. My birthday weekend. The first truly Spring weekend. Fresh green leaves, snow-white magnolias and sunny daffodils have filled what was a dusty brown world only days ago. And I’m trying desperately to let all of that push thoughts of last week, and worries about the coming week, out of my mind.

My husband and I were up early yesterday morning planting roses in the front garden. It was warm, the birds were singing and the people who were out walking at that hour stopped to offer us kind encouragement. I enjoyed being out there, fingers in the dirt, fat earthworms winding their way in and out of he holes we dug, the elemental smell of nature surrounding us.

We took a midday break to meet friends for brunch down the street, then returned to the gardening for the rest of the afternoon. It was the best day I’ve had in a long time, full of earth and plants and far from work and screens. A soul-soothing day.

As I look into my thoughts now, with some distance from the problem, I am resolved to take action, to make changes, to seek a solution before the tide of frustration and anger carries me away. 

Because even if it’s them and not me, how I react still affects the situation. That’s all there is – my actions and someone else’s. And I can’t be as angry, as reactive, as I was last week for an entire month.

How not to lose it

Listen to your body
read the signs.
Take the time to stop
stop moving, stop thinking
stop clawing your way out;
it is ok to step away.
Rest your mind.
Focus on small things
objects of beauty
essences of peace.
Inspect the intricacies
of the world around you:
a flower’s petal folds.
Stare into the deep blue and
let it surround you
till there is nothing else
but you and blue.
Read a poem
hear its music.
Follow what makes your heart smile.
Disappear into a cup of tea
and wait, surrounded
by the mint-pepper-honey
its warmth spreading through.
Feel the ground beneath your feet
each step is yours
here, now.
Close your eyes
and just be
just be.

 

A how-to poem for how to stay sane in these busy, anxious days, for NaPoWriMo day 19