Risk Forward

I love this phrase and I love this book. Victoria LaBalme has written a book that helps the reader create space for their own discovery of purpose and unique direction. It is a visual wonder; each section engages the right and left brain to help the reader sit in spaces of confusion, tension, discernment, and yes, risk!  The design of each page stirs and invites the reader into out-of-the-box thinking and bolder consideration that mere words would do alone.

Risk Forward has become a contemplative tool for me. The book does not have to be read/experienced in order, so, on a day I’m using the book, I’ll refer to the “circle of contents” and choose a section that pulls at me. Then I go to it and engage it slowly, trying to notice what is coming up for me. That’s the power of this book. During this season of trying to refine my own direction with writing and other projects, Risk Forward has been a welcome companion and guide, helping me risk forward in more way than one.

Most recently, I took a bold, risky step forward by starting a group for four exceptionally talented women. Every element of doing this felt like a risk forward; committing the time, praying for what to do with the group, inviting each person, and even deciding what to make for lunch during our first meeting! But…using Risk Forward helped me realize that developing leaders was essential for me and currently missing in my life. The messages in the book helped me challenge the personal blocks that crept up as I considered putting myself out there as a leader.

My question to you is, is there a risk out there that you’ve been afraid to take? Or a step that you’ve talked yourself out of? Or a dream that you’ve avoided developing? The back of the book says, “some people in life know exactly what they want to achieve. Risk Forward is for the rest of us.”   I hope you’ll benefit from it as much as I have.

Can We Re-Up?

3 Things That Will Help

            I just did something I’ve never done before. I turned in my completed draft for the book I’m writing to my editor! It was a momentous thing that was accomplished by a stunningly ordinary click at the end of a very regular looking email, but man! What the attachment on that email represented for me…

Lots

Of

Work

            I’m not sure why I had this impression that it would be a month or so before my editor got back to me with edits and revisions, but somehow, I thought I’d have this gap-month where there would be nothing to do on this project that has been so consuming for the last year! I could think about things I’ve put off… “Janice, just wait till your draft is submitted” has been a bit of a mantra of late. My mentor group has pressed me, “write your book, Janice, don’t get distracted!” And so I did! And I was expecting this break between submission and the next big effort. But you know what happened? My editor said, “ok, let’s set up a meeting next week to talk about it.”  NEXT WEEK?!?!?! What happened to my month? And…yikes, what are they going to say? I suddenly realize I need to be prepared to hear their feedback and actually face what will undoubtedly be another round of…

Lots

Of

Work

            Does anyone relate to this? I think we have all been expecting that COVID was behind us, that we could forget our masks when we went out, and that we could be confident of in person, indoor stuff happening…I dunno, forever?! But no. We have to re-up our efforts and watch those delicious freedoms get rolled back in order to keep people safe. Not what we were expecting. What do we need to re-up? I was thinking of this in relationship to my book project and three things cross-over.

  1. We need to remember our why. I’m writing this book for so many reasons, but a huge one is to help the suffering humans learn about the kind of self-care that will actually sustain them. That can get a little lost for me when intimidation stares me down. For all of us—let’s remember our why—we wear masks and we’re careful again because we can all spread this new variant even if we are vaccinated. And this one is impacting kids a lot more. There’s a big ‘why’ for all of us to claim.
  2. Be impressed that you’ve come this far. When I look at the work ahead of me, I can lean on the fact that I got this book written during the Pandemic with a really big client load. Similarly, look back at the resilient and strong parts of yourself that showed up in the Pandemic. You still have those now and those parts of yourself can help you make it through the next challenge.
  3. Get your cheering squad in place. To get this project done, I have absolutely needed my tribe in place who encouraged me to this point (you know who you are—THANK YOU!!). We all need encouragement to do what we do in the world with the challenge of prolonged COVID realities. Who is your tribe? Talk with them about how to be connected and what types of encouragement are best for you. Make a pact that you will lean on each other and help each other press through this phase.

Hanging onto these things will help us all to come together and re-up for the challenge ahead. Together, we can do it.

Look for my book coming out in the fall of 2022. The working title now is, Living Better: Self-Care for your Inner World.

Life, In Person

Starting in June, I began to see some of my clients in the office. A first in nearly 16 months and…wow. My clients are beautiful. That’s what I keep thinking as I sit with them. The subtleties of their eyes and gestures…they way they hold tension in their bodies and catch their breath with emotion…there is so much I miss through the screens. I had one client say, “yeah, I will definitely be coming in person from now on. I get so much more out of therapy this way.” While I cannot say that our conversation that day was qualitatively much different that the ones we had in May, I knew exactly what she meant. The connection felt different. The energy went back and forth with more ease and I could feel our brains mapping each other in a way that is just harder over Zoom. It was just…organic. Easier and more flowing.

            I realize that some of my clients will never come back to my office. The ease of meeting online is a huge plus; no pressure to get a sitter for my couples, the ability to meet during a lunch hour, not having to deal with traffic or a long drive.  I have many clients that I’ve never met face-to-face and as I review the month, the ones who have come into my office are clients I had seen before the pandemic hit. They know how meeting face-to-face felt before and they are the ones opting to make the trek back to the office. We are so happy to be in the room together again that we share many dumbstruck, grinning moments, marveled at the normal feeling so novel!

By now I have many, many clients that I’ve only ever treated online. For them, they don’t know me in the flesh! I’ve only ever been their telehealth therapist. I wonder if the motivation to come in to the office will ever come? We’ve gotten to know each other through the screen and we’re in a therapeutic groove and so, maybe we just keep it this way. That thought makes me a bit sad. 

I think of the couple that murmurs to each other during our sessions while I ask helplessly what they are saying. Or all the times I think that someone has reached over to touch their spouse, but their hands are out of sight. I’m slower to know if my dear clients are tearing up or getting disregulated through the screen as well. I can’t see a jiggling leg or wringing hands or see a quivering lip as easily. And I suppose they are missing much of me as well.

            And so, my field has forever changed. We all now settle for ‘not quite as human’ experiences because we’ve trained ourselves to cope and even prefer them. For now, I’ll keep celebrating the gentle thrill of my in-person sessions and soaking in all the humanity I’ve missed this long year.

Momma Driving Camp

Raising a special needs child (now young adult) is not for the faint of heart. Those in this tribe with me know the worries about the future, the constant questioning of the current game plan, and the grinding heartache of seeing our other children coast through the world with such ease while our special dear one struggles and almost every turn. Now I’m the lady on the Northeast Regional train from New Haven to Baltimore weeping as all the tension drains out of me. I feel like a puddle of goo. I’ve just spent nine days with my daughter, solidifying her driving skills so that she can get to her  job independently. I drove a little hybrid car to leave with her (too small??) and now I’m coming home (too soon??) after covering as many car lessons as I could think of (enough??).

Here’s the insurance and registration

Here’s how to get gas…no, never diesel

Yeah, double parking is technically against the rules…people break that one

Yep, I hate it when you suddenly find yourself in a turn only lane too

Here’s where we’re hiding a key in a magnet box under the car

Here’s how a squidgy works

Here’s how the rear window wiper works

Let’s practice setting up navigation once more

These tags are temporary and here’s how you get the new ones on when they come…never mind, get help on that

Oh no, we didn’t go over how to adjust the mirrors! #*&@!!

Brenna has been living in an independence development community in New Haven for three years and man, was that a game plan I questioned at various points! The place had no system for screen limits and I insisted Brenna have some, leaving our relationship battered. She deeply believed I created the depression she experienced mid-way through her second year. And…maybe I did. That’s all part of it. Constantly questioning the game plan.

But today…today I feel imminently grateful for her program! She is in a job that absolutely suits her, assembling and packaging defibrillators, now part time, but they want her to transition to full time! They love her. THEY LOVE HER!  Brenna and I went over who would take which bills and she can actually pay some! Crazy.

And still…I’m tyrannized by wondering if I’ve done enough, if the plan is airtight enough, if she’s ready enough. Several times in the last couple of days of my visit she said, “I’m going to miss you!” This is after three years of “I won’t miss you. And you ruined our relationship anyway.” and me wondering if maybe I did. Oh, hearing this change…I thought my chest might crack open from the swell inside of blended emotions; love, relief, regret, hope. I can scarcely believe we are here. And…we may not stay here, there have been more twists in the road than I can count. But as for the driving, my greatest assurance came when Brenna said, “the voice in my head that might be God is telling me it’s going to be ok.” To that I said, “sounds like God to me”. Then she wiped her tears away, gave me a rib-cracking hug for which she is famous, and she drove off without me.

Reopening Ambivalence

“If I’m excited about life returning to normal, then why do I feel so tired? I mean, I’m happy but I feel so intimidated!” My client was in tears as she mucked through her confusing mix of feelings

I’ve had a number of conversations with clients this month who are struggling to understand how they can be so happy that there may be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel while also feeling so confused and stressed at the prospect of doing things again. I feel it too! I was thrilled to be able to have a backyard BBQ with my small group last weekend (we are all vaccinated!) but I was unaccountably exhausted afterwards! Not only are we out of practice, we have loads of questions to deal with around what is and is not considered safe, what the new rules might be, and how appropriate it is to ask whether folks are vaccinated.

Krista Tippet interviewed Christine Runyan on March 18th this spring and discussed “What’s Happening in our Nervous Systems”. I highly recommend this podcast because she explains so well what so many of us feel right now; tired, foggy, irritable, emotionally fragile…and she validates it as normal. Our bodies have been on long-term alert and we are feeling the cost of it. So, watch yourself if you are tempted to berate yourself or ruminate on why you don’t have more energy. Now you know! And accepting the reason can help you be more kind with yourself.

I encourage us all to be patient with ourselves. Re-entry will be a journey and our bodies are still stressed from the long months of being on edge. And consider all of the events of the year that pulled on our nervous systems! Not only the threat of the virus, but all the strain of being separated from loved ones, a national reckoning with racial injustice, an unprecedented election year, and now Derek Chauvin’s conviction of murder while news continues to pour in of shootings and death. We are more than a little frayed.

Christine Runyan suggests that we periodically breathe in and exhale slowly for a long time. I tried it and found it to be regulating, like she said it would. But it also felt like I was cleansing my insides. That exhaling for a longer time felt somehow fitting, as if too much junk had gotten tied up inside. We’ll be metabolizing the impact of this year for a long while yet. Sometimes all you can do is breathe.

Click here to hear Christine Runyan’s podcast.