Have you ever seen that diagram of what to do in the case of being in the ocean when a big wave hits? You’re supposed to dive deep in order to keep yourself from getting tossed around by the wave, filling your lungs with water and leaving you disoriented and unable to find your way back to the surface. I feel this way about big emotional waves.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time over the past several years learning to navigate the waves of emotions that used to take me under and leave me disoriented. These days, most emotional waves don’t take me unaware. I can see them coming early on and I have learned to move with them, becoming flexible and welcoming the shifts they bring. I starfish float atop even the most uncomfortable emotions and allow them to wrap themselves around me, settling into their messages and the wisdom they carry. They show up like passing clouds, sometimes casting a brief shadow on my day, but move on to reveal clear skies and a clearer path ahead.
They show up like passing clouds, sometimes casting a brief shadow on my day, but move on to reveal clear skies and a clearer path ahead.
It wasn’t always like this. For years I struggled with a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was at the whim of my nervous system which seemed to perceive threat everywhere around me. My body would fail me, I would nearly black out, all my senses would go offline and I would be left drowning silently while the world seemed to go on around me. It’s a scary place when you can’t trust the vessel that you were born into. It’s hard not to feel broken and inadequate to the task of adulting when simple things like making a meal or running errands require more capacity than you can muster.
So when the big waves hit and they catch me completely unawares, it’s challenging to not feel like I’m right back in that helpless state. My body feels like it is suddenly struck by lightning. Cold and hot run through my body simultaneously lighting up every fiber of my being. I lie awake at night, I struggle to eat, my mind races.
It’s in these moments I have to remind myself to dive deep into the wave lest I be swept up in the chaos and become disoriented and lost to myself
It’s in these moments I have to remind myself to dive deep into the wave lest I be swept up in the chaos and become disoriented and lost to myself. Sometimes it can take a while to remind myself to stop flailing about and to take a step back and listen. Listen so I can see the catastrophizing thoughts, all the “shoulds” and “shouldn’t haves”, the blaming, the personalization, my unrealistic expectations, and jumping to conclusions. I dive deeper until the water clears and I can see what lies underneath. The triggered feelings of inadequacy, the thoughts that I’m a bad person that will somehow be found out (or revealed to myself - as though no matter how hard I try, I am inherently not good). I can see the small child who wants so desperately to be accepted and loved, so she behaves perfectly - trying so hard to never make a mistake. I can see the fears of abandonment, the idea that there is no place in this world for me, that I’m a misfit and a failure of a mother, wife, friend…the list goes on.
In diving deeper into the discomfort and pain, I am able to speak to it. I am able to lovingly wrap my arms around the part of myself who feels like a failure and remind her of all that she has accomplished, all that she has been through and overcome. I remind her of her strength and resilience. I am able to touch the heart of the small child in me who feels alone and then reach out to a friend and ask for support. I am able to take all my negative self-talk and test its accuracy against the feedback of my friends and therapist. I’m then able to run myself a warm bath, pour myself a cup of tea, write my heart out, and give myself all the love I am needing until that wave passes and I find my way back to the surface.
In diving deeper into the discomfort and pain, I am able to speak to it. I am able to lovingly wrap my arms around the part of myself who feels like a failure and remind her of all that she has accomplished
That first breath of air after breaking the surface often reveals to me a sense of gratitude for all that it is to be human. The messy, the uncomfortable, the perfectly imperfect. I can see the brilliance in my moments of madness and feel nothing but proud of my ability to move through those waves, arriving more resilient and empowered on the other side. The hard truth is that if we want to move through our pain and discomfort, we need to turn towards it, embrace it, love it, and integrate it. We need to develop the skills to dive deep without drowning and find our way back to the surface. This is my work and my life path. To learn to dive deep, to discover the skills, and share them with others.