(Snuggle up, 8 minute read)
The day before Mother’s Day, I ran away from home. As in, Mother’s Day 2019, like, a few weeks ago. At the time, I convinced myself that the absence of a “good morning” kiss indicated a massive marital crisis and I needed to leave and get clarity. By the time I was snot crying and singing “I keep going to the river to pray…” I knew that something much bigger than my husband’s antisocial morning attitude was weighing on me. I was stressed. And of course I was, I’m a budding entrepreneur, I’m saying goodbye to my childhood home, I’m giving away my cat… I’ve got stuff like the next person. So I just let myself go hoarse pouring my heart out with friends like Lauryn Hill and Kelly Clarkson. I had an emotional hangover the rest of the week. I had plans to go out of town for Philippe’s birthday and after our weekend away, I started to feel better…And I thought, yeah, this is what I needed- time away, to clear my mind. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Stress is like a disease, it starts small and festers. By the time you notice that you’re stressed, it’s already been growing for a long time. And with the same insidious nature that it creeps up on you, you need to fight it on a daily basis. When I recovered from the Great Run Away of 2019 and looked back to the weeks leading up to it, I would have cried over all the things ailing me if I was facing them in my journal, I would have sat with them during meditation, I would have worked them out on the treadmill, I would have talked them out with friends-but I’d slowly stopped doing all of the things that fill my cup. Stress management isn’t an occasional vacation, it’s a daily habit called self care. And self care isn’t an event like a cathartic drive or a weekend away either, it’s a way of life.
If you’re not taking care of yourself on a daily basis, when life comes at you with a vengeance, you’re screwed. I (un)fortunately learned this in my 20s when my mom got sick while on vacation in Vietnam. We got the call from my aunt at 10:15 at night with the news that my mom was hospitalized in Ho Chi Minh and it felt like my life was ending. You may remember that fateful day in November 2014 because I swear that the universe cracked. At the time, I was navigating what I’ll call happy stressors- planning the happiest day of my life, my wedding; buying a house; then all of a sudden breathing was difficult. There was nothing I could do about the facts of my mom’s illness or the distance. I had 2 options- die or push forward. And honestly, I didn’t know what the latter even looked like without my mom.
There’s a 12 hour time difference between Florida and Vietnam so unfortunately drinking myself to oblivion and sleeping off my problems at the end of the day wasn’t an option. By 9 pm, my “second day” started- sending paperwork and talking to doctors halfway across the world fighting to get my mom back stateside. My personal survival became an experiment. Do I journal? Do I exercise? Do I meditate? Do I pray? I discovered that the Bible is full of people suffering, it was great company to my misery. I also started journaling. As a writer, I’d started a lot of journals in my lifetime but this time felt different, I needed an outlet and I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my fears with my friends at the time, so I named my journal Faye and I wrote to her. I also started a gratitude practice, it felt like the only way to combat the feeling that the world was ending. Finally, I was working out every week day at 5 am at Orange Theory. These habits kept me alive as we waited for my mom to be flown back home. She landed in Florida the week before my birthday.
The Day the Universe Cracked in 2014 I learned how to survive through super-stressful times. That to put on my own oxygen mask before helping others meant I had to figure out what the elements of my personal air supply were. What I realized from the Great Run Away of 2019 is that the big cracks tend to be few and far between, most of the time stress is a slow and steady erosion. I was already in the routine of daily devotionals, exercise, journaling, gratitude and meditation but as things started to feel overwhelming, I gave myself a “break” from the gym, suddenly there’s a week’s gap in my journals, then I couldn’t remember the last Bible verse I read or the last time I even took a deep breath… until I found myself bawling down Ocean Avenue straining to hit notes I had no business singing.
Once I started taking care of myself again, things didn’t just get better. I am in a season of transition and the stressors I’m facing are real, when I wasn’t doing the basic things to take care of myself, I wasn’t giving myself the space to understand what I really needed to heal my soul.
Connection– Stress told me that no one would understand what I’m going through, that my problems would just be a burden to my friends and family and they have their own problems. Ring a bell? One of my very best friend’s mom got sick around the same time my mom did and we didn’t lean on each other, she didn’t even tell me because she didn’t want to worry me. You have no idea how much I could have used a real friend then and how much it hurts my heart to know someone I love so dearly suffered in silence. It wasn’t until I started journaling and meditating again recently that I even had this epiphany-5 years later- and noticed that I have a pattern of retreating when I’m stressed. I’m working on fighting that by reaching out instead. Thank God for maternity leave, entrepreneurs, and school teachers, I realized I have someone I can call every time I have a feeling.
Indulge intentionally– As I was unraveling, I started watching TV in the middle of the day, eating shitty food in secret and avoiding sex… I love me a solid TV binge session, a delicious burger and fries and masturbating but in this way, I was using these things to numb my feelings and then feeling ashamed about it, it was a vicious cycle. Once I was doing “all the right things” again and I still feeling depleted, I knew I needed some indulgences. So, I lined up a day of my favorite Rom Coms and watched them snuggled on my couch; went on a friend-date at my favorite burger joint; set the stage for some amazing orgasms (with and without Philippe). I also spent extra quality time with people I love; this used to be smoking pot and watching SATC, now it looks like returning a useless box at Home Goods and reading story books with my favorite 2 year old on a long after-nap car ride, I never knew I could be so heartened by running errands.
Feel the feels– Life won’t let us put a bandaid on our scars, the only way around pain is through it. I sat in a chair and let my cat climb on me for an inordinate amount of time while I wept. I take the long way places and listen to nostalgic music and sing at the top of my lungs (I have an irrational fear of someone recording me on one of my embarrassing Solo Karoake drives). I’m spending intentional time going through the yearbooks and journals and old backpacks from my childhood and feeling every moment. The happy, the sad… I’m not avoiding the pain anymore and it hurts less.
If you don’t know what the pieces of your oxygen mask are then it’s high time you figure it out. And my best advice? Try things, action brings clarity. I know that asking “what makes you happy?” in a season of confusion and sadness can be elusive- if you asked me what made me happy the day I ran away I would have told you that Philippe being nice to me in the morning was all I needed out of this life… So ask yourself, what makes you not crazy? What do you not hate when you hate everything? Your dog ? The beach? Talking to a friend? Dancing? Masturbation? A walk? Silence? What gives you peace? Start there. Rinse and repeat.