It’s Monday morning and I’m sitting in my office, outside of the house for the first time since March. I also dropped off my son, Dametrius, at in-person school at 7:15 AM today. After three weeks as my son and 10 months of e-learning, my baby finally walked into school. Up until a year ago, I thought the first baby I would give away to school was Henry; it sure doesn’t get any easier, even when they’re 15.
So it’s a new chapter in our lives; Dametrius is out of the house for school and I’m finally strong enough to pick up my writing on a Monday morning and leave my little sons with their grandparents. As many of us are recovering from trauma, leaving the safe space we’re created is hard stuff. It’s also incredibly brave.
The last time I wrote to you I shared that collectively we are all walking through trauma during the pandemic and that when trauma comes change is born. In re-reading “Untamed,” over break, I was reminded that there are two different types of pain. Glennon writes that the first type of pain is the fear that is born from working against the truest form of ourselves and the second type of pain is choosing to burn a life keeping us from the truest form of ourselves to the ground. This resonates with me deeply, I’d like to share more.
Dealing with Types of Fear
I’ve written to you about becoming a love warrior over the past six months; a person who knows in their bones they are good and true despite what the world is saying about them. I don’t know how much this still sits well with me today. I think there is such a truth to this, yet so much more to uncover.
You see, the first pain that Glennon writes about are the fears we all get lost in throughout our lives. It is the fear that propels us to abandon ourselves for the sake of others. The fear that tells us that fitting in and being accepted is the goal of life and once we finally listen we’ll be happy. This fear is a Goddamn liar. I listened to it for far too long.
As a woman, I’ve been raised to believe many lies and am lucky enough to have parents who never treated me differently because I was a girl. My mom is a feminist through and through and my dad is a champion of women. This gave me the courage to know that I was born equally but it didn’t give me the knowledge I needed to fight society as I entered into it.
I think that was part of my fear of sending Dametrius to school today. You won’t meet a wiser, kinder soul than my son Dametrius and my child has walked a path many of you cannot imagine. He’s still himself every day. “Don’t you lose you in there baby” I told him, “don’t fit in.” Me? I know school is where I began to lose myself and built up a series of lies from society from there on out.
Overcoming Personal Fears
Growing up, I believed from a young age that how I looked was the first key to acceptance from my peers. I developed an eating disorder in high school to lose the weight I thought was holding me back from fitting in. I believed that finding the perfect boyfriend-turned-husband would show the world how lovable I was and that marriage was the ultimate community and personal goal.
There’s more. I believed that I needed to be polite, accommodating, and put my needs second to everyone, including my children. I believed that the more I looked and behaved in a way that matched society norms the happier I would be. This is the first fear, this is what took me down the road of abandoning myself for so long.
I wrote to you all that I made the choice to buy a farm in Ohio this past summer in order to follow my true path. In reality, this choice was delivered to me from the universe to burn every fear I had to the ground and build a life worth living. My farm, family, and God have saved my life. When I couldn’t choose it for myself the second pain was chosen for me.
This past fall-into-winter I have done something I have never done before; I felt every single piece of pain I was walking through. I held it, felt it, breathed it in, and let it have a place. It was not pretty. At best it was animalistic. I spent hours crying on the floor while my babies slept, screamed to the skies while walking in my pasture, and succumbed to the raw pain that was needed to come back home to myself. I’m just now starting to see the clearing through the trees, and this clearing is not from the world: it’s from myself saying, “welcome home.” I’ve allowed this pain to shake me to my roots and began believing that the only thing that brings true joy is belonging to ourselves.
Someday I’ll tell you about the life event that has caused such a change in me. I’m not ready yet. What I am ready to do is tell you all that we can in fact do hard things. That this past year has been a collective of grief through the pandemic and personal pains. What pain will you choose?
Choose Your Pain and Come Home
Will you choose the pain and fear that tells you to succumb to the expectations of others? Or will you choose the pain, no matter how raw, that brings you home to yourself? If you continue to follow me, know this; I do not give a damn about what others think of me anymore and will ask myself “am I losing myself,” every second of the day I make choices. I will not put myself second just because I was born a woman or question the skills, talents, gifts, and passions that pulse through my veins. And I will not care if I make you or anyone else uncomfortable because I refuse to be uncomfortable with myself ever again.
We all have collectively been stopped in our tracks because of the pandemic. I believe I asked myself the question “Jessie, are you going to keep living in the fears of the world or come home to yourself?” Right now I’m coming home to myself and leaving the pain behind.
Readers, what about you? Will you walk with me? Would you like to try? I can help you to stay true to yourself. I have walked through pain that I thought was deep enough to kill me and through feeling it I was born. It’s worth it, coming home.
In loving dedication to my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, mom, and dad who have all held me in their arms these past three months.
Last week, I wrote about our collective back to school blues. I’m still living through this; grief is a process and I don’t know that I’ll be fine for a while. In learning about all who are impacted by COVID-19, including my own children, I feel grief. Last night, I spent almost two hours on the phone with my aunt talking about homeschooling. In my heart, I want to pour every inch of my soul into Dametrius’s education. Also in my heart, I’m grieving that he may never know “normal.” From this paradox, I actually see a piece of myself. I’m going to share it with you.
That Nagging Feeling
Throughout my lifetime I have always had a nagging inside of me. The nagging says to me, “this isn’t it,” as I navigate life. While many people may equate this to anxiety and unsettledness, I know differently. This nagging inside of me is a combination of my knowledge and experiences and when I follow it I always unturn a new truth. The truths I find run the gamut from personal to professional but all of them guide me.
You see, I see the world differently, and when I follow the nagging feeling I can unpack both the loving-kindness and the lion inside of me. I think everyone has this nagging feeling inside of them and when I read “Untamed,” by Glennon Doyle it was confirmed. You may not be a lion but you know what is inside of you far better than anyone else in the world.
If we collectively listened to these nagging feelings, we could challenge ourselves and our leaders to unwind from a world based on fear and build a new one based on love.
So, back to my nagging, that piece of me that pushes me. My internal nagging has moved me through every stage of my life. It’s like a path I walk along, stopping for a while at a few spots to enjoy, fight, question, and then move on. I often meditate and see myself on a path with a deep light at the end. I know I’m walking toward that light in this life and not towards death.
During the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, my nagging had me under its thumb. I sat in the middle of my beautiful home, with my dream career, 3 beautiful children, husband, and dear friends and I was utterly confused. How could this not be it? I had to sit and take a critical look at my situation to discover what was ‘wrong.’
What is Normal?
I was living in suburbia because the world had told me this was the goal and I listened. The world doesn’t know have my knowledge or experiences, so it occurred to me that I have been listening to the wrong authority for most of my life. Shit. Well, once I knew that I was listening to the wrong authority, a mental pandora’s box was opened in my mind. What else had I been believing as gospel because society told me it was so? Shit. Again. How can I unpack what is truly me and what the world is telling me is me? How can we all do this? And if we all do this, can we actually build a new world?
Deep inside of me, I believe the answer is “yes.” We can change the narrative. We don’t have to keep living in a world built on the foundation of broken systems and systemic disadvantages. There are solutions to our problems and those solutions are in our hearts. Believing in the goodness of people as a whole is the light I see in my meditations–where I want to go. And I want you all to come with me.
In order for me to honor my own nagging feelings, I had to thoroughly unravel my life. I sat with myself and asked, “well what now?” Answer number one? Get the hell out of suburbia, you hate it here. While a great many people love the suburbs, I am not one of them. I need the country like I need air to breathe.
I also need my sister and my family. Like, I really need my sister and family.
I buried both of these truths while I built a business out-of-state and settled into the suburbs. So, I asked my team at Instructional ABA Consultants, “Can I move home to Ohio and still be a good leader?” I got a resounding yes, followed by a fabulous discussion about what all my leaders needed in their own environments to thrive. They shared their feelings. I had no idea what most of my team really wanted!
I hope with all my heart Ingrid makes her way to Paris while running our company! I know that woman can do it. Once I got the resounding message of “it’s OK, we’ll support your dreams because you are honoring ours,” I told my husband. His feelings aren’t there yet, but he’s working hard to find his own truths so when I change things up it won’t be too hard for us. He told me (lovingly) that if Ohio makes me happy and I need the country he’ll follow me there. I know we’ll struggle through this as he finds his own truths and I am so, so grateful that he’s standing beside me.
Saddling Up & Moving to a Farm
Once I realized these personal truths, that life could go on, I started looking for farms. And do you know what happened? We bought a horse farm. A fricking horse farm!* A realtor was supposed to line up properties for us to see when we traveled in June. One night we got sent information on the farm we ended up buying. I pulled the info up and if I had drawn a dream home when I was five years old this was it!
The universe honored my newly discovered truths and literally planted a 3-acre horse farm in my lap. The kicker? It’s only twenty minutes from my sister’s home! My dad agreed to drive over and see the property and within 24 hours, against all logic, we bought the farm (literally). It makes no sense! I can’t explain it to anyone, yet my heart is telling me loud and clear to go for it. For the first time in my life, I’m saying yes to my true feelings and believing that honoring them will guide me through all odds.
After we made the choice to move, a lot of other factors have come into play, as other factors tend to do. When you make a big decision it impacts everyone around you. I will deeply miss my dear friends here in Naperville. I’m grieving for my dear friend Dana who has been raising Henry and Declan for the last three years while Martin and I work. I don’t think kinder soul than her exists in our world and when she finds her true feelings I’m sure angels will sing.
Living two states away from her won’t be easy, yet I know I’ve gained a sister through our time together. It’s hard to change course, to follow a knowing beyond ourselves, but I know that the light promised by following my true feelings is real. Yes, I’m sad to leave and yes, I know that in following my path I’m honoring myself and getting ready to light the world on fire. To do this I need the country, quiet, and family.
On my farm, I’ll get to truly be myself. I will joyfully get eggs each morning, grow a garden, can food for the winter, sew, sit on a porch swing each night, and swim in the love of my family all around me. I will get closer to nature because I don’t like the accepted ‘speed’ of the modern world. I might even write letters to my friends. It’s a mystery to me what day-to-day activities will look like, which makes this unplanned future even more exciting for me.
I know to be true; when I honor myself I honor the world and the same is true for you. Your truth is probably not a horse farm in Ohio. Your truth also isn’t what the world has been telling you to do.
My aunt in Colorado sent me a quote, so I’ll leave you with this, “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise & get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” – John Lewis
- *I can’t bring myself to drop the F-bomb in my blog. Maybe I’ll get worked up enough someday…
Last week I wrote about a new chapter in life for me. I’m so excited to be able to share this with you as it unfolds. I’ve got a lot to unpack, reveal, and share. This week for my blog I want to take a side step into my work and experience as a mama as we all make decisions for the fall.
This past week has been a collectively hard week for every mama I know. Across our country schools are announcing what they are choosing to do in the midst of COVID. Emotions are high for a variety of reasons. No emotion is invalid and yet for the space of this blog I want to be clear on one thing. If you are in an emotional space where your fear is expressed by lashing out at others this blog is not a space for you today. Unfortunately, I’ve been on too many Mom Groups who have behaved unkindly to each other and teachers because they are operating in fear. We are all afraid at some level. These are new times. I’m asking that my readers take a collective deep breath and hold space for each other’s fears and don’t take those fears out on each other.
Okay. Whew, now that we’ve cleared that up, I’m ready to write. As I’ve said this past week has been a rough one. A lot of what I’m seeing is defeat and despair. We’ve all been collectively navigating COVID since March and I think the true wish is that we would be farther along. I know a lot of people are wishing that all the efforts made during Shelter in Place would have taken us back to a reality closer to pre-COVID. Our truth today is we are not going back, and neither are our children any time soon. That in itself is such a hard pill to swallow.
Now there are a great many valid things to be frustrated about as to why rates of COVID are not contained in the United States. I honor those deeply. However, I don’t believe me listing them will help anyone personally. My reality is, alongside many, that Americans collectively could be making some better choices and those who do not have the ability to make their own choices (think shut in’s in assisted living facilities or our children) could benefit from our better choices. Until we’re able to get to a spot where we are collectively dealing with the virus, we’re left to individually navigate a world with new limitations. It’s scary and sucks plain and simple.
A large part of what I see weighing on the hearts of so many parents is what to do in regard to school this fall. District by district different choices are being announced. The choices so far that I’ve seen are entire remote learning, partial weeks, or full weeks in school with the option to opt out for remote learning. There are vague statements about face coverings and sanitation procedures. What we all want is certainty and I’m sorry to be the one to write this; I don’t think it’s coming. This year is going to be all about making the best decision possible for our own children or grappling with the reality that the decision is beyond our control.
My simplest advice is give yourself and your friends grace
So, what can you do? What choice can you make for your children in a pandemic? I wish I could tell you the best answer, to give you that certainty but I can’t. I don’t have this for me. I can give you my advice, the best I have today as a mama and educator myself. My simplest advice is give yourself and your friends grace. To realize we are all in this together do the best we can. My next advice, if it’s at all possible for you, is to choose the education plan that creates the least amount of change for your child. I say if this is possible because there are many families who have no choice in this. There are schools that are announcing all e-learning regardless and families who have to send their children to school because they are working. If the choice is beyond your control, then focus on what you can control. And, for the families that will financially suffer through this, I am so sorry. I wish this was not the case for you. I realize I’m incredibly lucky to be able to choose what I want for Dametrius this fall because he’s an older child and I can still work if he does e-learning. I’m also lucky because if he were younger I could afford extra childcare. I know this is my privilege.
Ok, so back to choosing the least amount of change for your child if that’s possible for your family. I believe that in coming out of Shelter in Place what we hoped for was some normalcy following the restrictions. Currently that isn’t happening and so our nervous systems are overloaded with the ever changing information and choices. It’s wreaking havoc on all of us. I literally just told my husband he couldn’t ask me to do things today because I’m overloaded, then I asked him to cook dinner. Martin responded, “so I can’t ask you anything but you can ask me?” I paused, then a deep sigh, “yes that’s exactly what I’m saying & I have therapy at noon.” God love him.
If we chose an education plan for our children that would remain the same regardless of restrictions ever changing, we can eliminate this nervous system overload (hello anxiety) and create some calm. By choosing a schedule that you will least likely have to change for your child you can eliminate some nervous system overload for your whole family.
Keeping children with ASD in mind
I also want to take a moment and speak for children with autism. Because, you see, constant change is harder than it is for neurotypical children. My recommendation to create a stable schedule triples when it comes to children with autism. The ups and downs of every changing schedule is a ton for them to process. If you are a parent of a child with autism I would strongly recommend to rely on therapy schedules and clinic settings as the primary structure for your children. We are ramping up our own programs in Castle Rock, Naperville, and opening up a South Side Chicago location this fall to address this need. These won’t change in the midst of COVID and will provide a wonderful way for your children to continue to have structure, socialization, and make progress. This was true prior to COVID but even more so now I think these clinic structures are important.
Okay, so now we’re gone through the choices. The limited ones we have. You’ve heard my recommendation to limit changes the best you can. Now what? Grace, grace, grace. These are not easy times. Collectively and individually we are all grieving. Downplaying what is individually hard for you does nothing to help us all through 2020. Remember I wrote about this before? Personally I’m incredibly upset that Dametrius won’t be going in person to high school. He is a beautiful person, new to our family, and I want nothing more than for him to make new friends and play football on Friday night. It’s not coming. I’m going to need to grieve this. Henry will not be making new friends, he’s stuck with us. I’m grieving this too. Declan, well, he’s 16 months (today!) and for that I’m thankful.
All individual fear big and small matter. Make the decision best for your family, give your great big heart a hug, and feel those feelings. Then call someone making a choice different than you and let them feel those feelings too.
Over the last six weeks, you’ve allowed me to provide you with guidance during the COVID-19 outbreak. I’m so very grateful to be able to give you my take as well as speak my own truth. Last week I wrote about fear and the stories we make up behind those fears. For me, well before COVID-19, this river ran deep. It took both facing my fears and pausing during Shelter in Place to truly shine a light on them.
In calling out my fears and the behaviors around them I was able to see myself clearly. I’d like to share some of my experiences with you. I’m hoping that by doing this you are able to relate, unpack your fears, and authentically show up for the beautiful ride we call life.
Calling Out Our Fears
Sheltering in Place has been hard for me for many reasons. We talked about my fears related to COVID-19 in my last two blogs. What I haven’t talked about is that during Shelter in Place I have been forced to sit with my own thoughts on a larger scale. Like everyone else in the world, I am stuck where I am, with who I am.
For me, the first phases of Shelter in Place produced anxiety due to fear of the unknown. I spent a lot of my energy navigating the new normal, both at home and at work. This piece of anxiety was hard, as I was unable to control or even predict outcomes. On a surface level, however, it was not a deep fear; it was a guide to larger fears that would come up for me.
I’m wondering if this is true for a lot of us? Do we all have surface-level fears pointing to deeper fears? And if we only ever respond to the surface fears, do the fears underneath live on?
Let me speak for me. My primary surface fear was being unable to control the outcome of COVID-19, both in my home and my business. My fears first bubbled over in my perfectionistic tendencies at home (and a bit at work). At home, this looked like keeping a perfect house. I mean, I love a clean home (definitely more than most people), but when I’m cleaning to be perfect… it’s different.
Usually, I’m just jiving and creating a space I enjoy. At work this used to come out in micromanaging. Thanks to our current team, who I could not be more grateful for, I can’t really jump in and do this anymore. They would call bullshit and thank God for that! So this is my surface. I’m afraid of what I can’t control, so I will try to overcontrol what I can. Does this speak true for anyone else? Do you have surface behavior you engage in when you’re afraid? Does your perfectionism come out?
Avoid Feeling “Out of Control”
Once I can see what I’m really up to, I usually find I’ve been doing a heck of a lot of things to avoid feeling out of control. Perfectionism is one of them. Numbing activities like too much chocolate, wine, or Netflix is another. Forcing myself to be overly busy is a third. I do these things in order to ignore what my make-believe fears are telling me. And make-believe fear is always telling us we are not enough. It’s a tricky, awful fear but also a piece of the human experience.
So, what came up for you? Looking at your past month during Shelter in Place, what have you found is beneath your fear(s)? Are you overachieving at home to avoid it? Or are you purposely underachieving to try and relax? Are you really OK with everything that is happening in your world? All of your answers are OK. What isn’t OK is to notice that fear is driving you and to continue to allow it to be in control.
What can you and I do to fight these fears? Honor them. Honor the fear and what it’s telling you because even make-believe fear can guide us all. Fear is telling us very loudly that we are not OK. We have to realize that something lives beneath our fears that needs care and attention.
In speaking for myself, I have felt very deeply, for a very long time that what I am doing is not enough–that somehow I am wrong. It took sitting in place during the COVID-19 outbreak to finally be able to say this out loud. This comes from a traumatic childhood and being a survivor of domestic violence. Harmful circumstances occurred around me for a very long time and I wanted to prove I didn’t deserve them happening to me. That’s why in times like these when I cannot control outcomes, my fear tries to tell me I’m not enough. That I’m not safe. But I’m grateful for this fear and here’s why.
Learning from Fear
When my make-believe fears are present and impacting how I behave, it’s a signal for me to pay attention. To discover what I’m really afraid of; how I haven’t been honoring myself. It’s hard to write this. To write that I struggle with perfectionism and am a survivor. But I know that by saying this I’m honoring the badass woman I truly am. That no one deserves to be at the hand of physical violence. That we are not stories narrated by our fears.
I know this to be true. You are perfect just the way you are. Human, full of failures & flaws, and maybe some awesome eclectic tastes. But you are worthy of love, belonging, and a life you adore. I hope by sharing this piece of my story that you are able to look at your own. To get curious and ask yourself why you are afraid. What’s behind it? That in naming your fear and owning your story you are able to honor the beautiful person you are. Perceived imperfections and all.
I hope this piece of my story guides you to honor yours.
Last week in my blog I wrote about compassion and grace. I hope it served you. After identifying my own fears, I realized that so much more was going on behind them. It took guts to accept this followed by a bit of hard work to find what was really behind them.
Let me backtrack for a minute. There is nothing wrong with fear itself. Fear is a very useful instinct and absolutely necessary to survive. Fear tells us when we are in danger(remember, the amazing Tara Brach teaches about this). Fear told us over 10 thousand years ago how to survive; it’s instinctual. The problem with modern-day fear is it often becomes a story we’re making up versus a true danger. Sometimes it’s a little bit of both. So when we go behind our fears we have to sort them. Is the fear real, a story, or a mix? How do you know what type of fear you’re dealing with and what do you do with the fear once it’s named?
Let’s start with the types of fear we deal with as humans. The first is physical fear within our control. This is a lion charging at you, a car that ran the red light, and anything else that could cause you physical pain or death. Our limbic system kicks in when we are dealing with these kinds of fears. Fight, flight, freeze. Our body ramps up to tell us how to respond and protect ourselves. If we have the right resources in that moment of fear (ex: brake pedal for the car coming at you) we can protect ourselves from the threat. This fear is super helpful and protective. However, our other fears like to dress up like physical fear and, in this guise, tell us they too are helpful. Let’s talk about them.
The next type of fear is fear beyond our control. This fear is a threat that comes into our lives that we cannot control. There is no brake pedal for this metaphorical speeding car coming full speed at you. These fears are almost always medical or life-altering in nature. These fears are a cancer diagnosis, heart disease, a baby born too early, divorce, being fired, a house burning down, etc.
These fears present themselves to let us know they are there. We usually have some options available to us to address them, but fears we can’t control often have outcomes we can’t control. When you or a loved one receives a cancer diagnosis, you/they can choose the treatment course with medical guidance. But what we can’t control is how the body will respond.
If you are fired from a job you cannot control working there again, but you can find new options for employment. These fears hurt. They just do. We see them, do what we can, given the resources available, but the outcomes are almost always beyond us. Not being able to control an outcome when a threat is present is hard. COVID-19 falls right into this category.
Rejecting Irrational Fear
This leads to the last type of fear; make-believe fear. This is the sticky, icky fear that we, as humans, create to try and cope with physical fear and fears beyond our control. It’s the story we’re making up and it causes anxiety. Make-believe fear tells us it’s helpful while driving us absolutely crazy at the same time.
As an example, let’s look at sanitizing per COVID-19. The truth is there are good sanitizing measures we can all take to reduce our exposure to COVID-19. A story you may be making up is that you need to sanitize your high touch areas 10 times a day and that if you don’t everyone in your family is going to contract COVID-19. Let’s look at another one. If you are afraid of how you’re parenting during COVID-19 you might tell yourself you are failing terribly. In response to this, you either step it up or scale it back to validate the fear. In both cases, you’re exhausting yourself mentally and putting yourself down. The reality is you can’t control kids being home 24/7 but you can just show up and do the best you can.
Is this making sense? Let’s keep it simple. Each fear we hold that is a story we’ve made up is not helpful or kind. This type of fear convinces us that if we behave a certain way that the fear will magically disappear. But it’s not gone–it’s amplified! The fear is driving the car. To put this fear down for good we have to name it, shine a light on it, and stop engaging in the behaviors associated with this fear. When we stop engaging in the behaviors associated with the fear it always hurts. That hurt sucks but is far kinder than tearing ourselves up in behaviors to avoid outcomes we cannot control. And in that hurt is a truth about what we really, truly need.
Using Fear to Stay Safe
Each story we’re making up is unique to all of us but as humans, it’s usually along the lines of needing love and belonging. To be seen. To be accepted. To be safe. Here’s the thing. We can be safe by identifying real fears versus stories. We can be seen by others once we see and know our authentic selves. Being accepted. That lives in your own heart, not anyone else’s. But when you love and accept yourself you can honor what you need from others.
This is my ask beautiful ones. Take this week to find some of the stories you are making up. Then put down the behaviors surrounding those stories and pick up some behaviors that show yourself some major love. Find a way to take care of yourself and through this, I promise you’ll be able to care for those you love too.