Calm the inner storm for safer, smoother sailing for your family

The storm will pass

Are you done with 2020 and it’s never-ending challenges? Want to learn how to find smoother sailing for your family, no matter what? Then this blog is for you.

Recently, I had a big storm, emotionally and physically. I could not be more grateful for knowing how to find my calm, no matter what happens. I learned these skills when my kids were little and the storms seemed to be non-stop. (You can relate I suspect?)

My personal pandemic occurred when my kids were little. My marriage had become a place of fear and uncertainty. My inner mental storm was also threatening my existence on the planet.

In the end, the silver lining was I had to inward to find calm, and to keep my family safe. That’s the gift I want to offer you, as you deal with this ongoing pandemic.

Of course, when you can reduce the storm’s effects on your kids, say by building a shelter, that’s critical too. But when we are super stressed, we often can’t think clearly enough to see how to make a good shelter. That’s because stress puts us into our lower brain, our fight or flight brain, not our creative, powerful prefrontal cortex.  

We can’t help but have tunnel vision and make poorer choices when we are stressed out. You’ve heard that many drowning deaths occur in water shallow enough to stand up in? This is why even for our family’s safety, we should prioritize calming our inner storm.

Also when I don’t calm our inner turmoil, it can keep us from seeing what we can do to weather the storm better. That makes such a difference, including allowing us to enjoy the time in the shelter (more) instead of rallying against the fact that we are there.

My big storm was triggered by the fact that in the short term, I’m walking like I have a peg leg. I went tobogganing with my son, his girlfriend and my boyfriend’s kids, and did some serious damage to my knee. If you’ve ever participated in the strange ritual of jumping on to a board or something else slippery, and careening down a snow covered hill with very little ability to steer or slow down, you will understand how easy it is to get hurt.

My inner storm was telling me I’d never dance again, or walk, ski, workout or even walk normally.

The storm gained force as other thoughts joined the swirl. I had images of:

  • having gained a bunch of weight,
  • being in pain the rest of my life,
  • everything being not only so much harder, but beyond my endurance,
  • how it wasn’t fair as I’d suffered so many other challenges,
  • how I must just have bad luck,
  • how I’d never get past my tendency to dip mentally when things get super challenging, etc etc etc.

Other stresses combined to have me questioning the value of my life.

I wondered briefly for the first time in the 12+ years since I last was clinically depressed, if I should consider going on medication again. (I last went on meds for depression over 20 years ago. While medication can be so life saving, I have been very fortunate to be able to combine them with tools that dramatically reduce the duration of my depressed feelings, so that I could go off meds.)

Instead of calling my doctor to get depression meds, I turned to the tools that we teach at GPS.

3 Core Principles to Great Parenting Simplified:

First I did some work on my mindset, which is core principle 1. More on that in a minute.

Then I reached out for support, which is our 2nd core principle. I did that not because I believed it would be helpful in that moment. I felt so low I wanted to be alone, but I have a well worn pathway to working on my mindset and getting support in the moment.

I also utilized our 3rd core principle too, that we call alignment. This refers to attachment science, or the study of what makes us want to cooperate with and be like others. How does that apply?

I built alignment between me and my fellow coaches when I showed up at a meeting, shared my news and had a big cry. At the start of this journey I didn’t share even little hurts with people easily. It required a willingness to be very vulnerable. But in a storm, we need allies even more, and we don’t align or bond deeply with others by staying superficial.

Having my coworkers receive me, and seeing their empathy, was very helpful and healing. I could see that they didn’t think I was a loser, even though I felt like I was. Tears are powerful and critical for accepting what we cannot change, and making the most of what we can. In my experience, not only is it easier to cry with an empathetic ear, but it’s often more healing, as we get proof that we are still loveable and acceptable even when we are at our lowest, ugliest, or weakest.

Nothing is more important for our full development as human beings than to have others who truly know us. That includes the painful places in our hearts that we hide so carefully.

Our maturation, our ability to learn and grow dramatically expands when we are held by others who truly see us. So I’ve learned to show up real and raw. That means overriding thoughts in the moment that would stop me, such as that I’m the leader of this group, so should show strength at all times.

I’ve learned that there is great strength in showing our vulnerability when we are in a safe space. I’m passionate about educating others about how powerful, feminine leadership can look like showing up to a team meeting and bawling. That doesn’t mean I find it easy to do so; in fact I was planning to bail on the meeting, but I’m grateful that I went.

My main mindset work involved getting out my worksheets to do the Work of Byron Katie. I chose the thought “life isn’t worth living”. I am not joking when I said I felt clinically depressed.

I was in a black enough mood that one worksheet only shifted me somewhat, still that crack was enough for a bit of light to get in. (I love that the first piece of evidence I found for life being worth living, when I came to that part of the process, was my family. I’m so passionate about this work because when family is working well, everything goes so much better).

By 8:30 pm, I was done for the day. I normally go to bed 2 1/2 hours later, but emotional work is exhausting. I hoped to feel some lift in the morning.

To my surprise and delight, I woke up feeling not just better, but back to my optimistic self! Another thought in my inner storm was that I’d be grieving the loss of my leg for ages too, and was stressed about how I’d fit that into my life! Instead, I woke up feeling pragmatic, and with a sense that even if I have pain and reduced mobility for life, I could handle it.

I’m open to the despair coming back. So far in my life it always has, in some form or another, and it also has gone more and more quickly. I wish I didn’t dip ever, but that pain is nothing like that of those who get stuck there for long periods of time.

My empathy for addictions including being on the phone too much, or eating or whatever is your numbing preference, is profound. We naturally numb out from painful feelings and thoughts if we don’t have tools to move through them. I can imagine living with despair, as I did when the kids were little, and it sucked so bad that now I recognize that fear of going back there makes me plunge into despair more quickly. What a vicious circle, that I know is all too common.

I’m sooo grateful for tools that can make the visit from depression brief, instead of me having to adjust to a long-term visitor. Depression is a horrible housemate, as is anxiety. Both have gifts too, so short stays can be helpful. Longer stays can become unbearable, hence why people die by suicide.

When we can go deeply into our emotions, we can move into acceptance, and then to changing what can be changed. When we instead avoid our emotions, what we resist, persists. Yet without a structure to help us get to the other side, it can be foolhardy to venture into emotions like my despair. Our kids are getting stuck in their negative emotions, in part because they don’t know how to move through them. We can be their guide, and we are much more effective if we have gone before them.

For me, after I accepted what was, I was able to take action to solve some of the other problems that were getting me down. I also started to learn more about my injury so I could treat it. It felt so good to be back in action, and in the present, not mired in the future that had looked so dire. When I’m present, I can take actions to make the future better, whereas when I’m stuck in my anxiety or depression, I am like a zombie, moving towards a future I don’t want, but unable to look away.

I’m starting to find the gifts too. This morning, I started to feel gratitude for having two legs, one of which moves very easily, the other of which provides balance and helps in other ways such as allowing me to walk without crutches, thus keeping my arms free for other uses.

The trick for me is not to force gratitude. I was NOT grateful at all on Monday.

When a loved one reminded me that this too shall pass, it felt like a platitude; I felt her good intentions but it was not helpful. A gift of this experience is I hope deeper empathy in the moment when someone is not yet ready to see that truth.

In the moment, I needed to acknowledge and allow the very real inner storm. I love that the Work is not about telling ourselves that the opposite is true. Instead, after going deeply into the pain we feel in the moment, not only allowing the pain to be there, but giving it a voice and encouraging it.

After letting all of the inner storm out, THEN and only then, we look to see what else is true. For me, that is almost always a variation of this too shall pass. But if I don’t go into the storm first and face it full on, that statement rings hollow and/or feels forced and untrue.

Again and again, the Work has brought me back from the abyss, not by forcing myself, but by diving off the cliff into the abyss with a guide. That guide is always the structure itself (the 4 questions and the turnarounds) often augmented by a person to ask them to me. I can brave going into the abyss because I am given tools to get me to the other side safely.

A few days later, I remain optimistic. That’s despite renewed pain from having exerted myself by hobbling for a short way yesterday. Also I have a growing awareness of what I am missing out on in the short term due to lack of mobility.

Want some help with finding your inner calm, no matter how bad the storm you face?

If you want to learn more, we are starting a monthly GPS group to do the Work. Many of our graduates from our Inner Circle program would like ongoing support to do the Work. We’d be delighted to have you join us if you’d like!

In my experience, it takes awhile for most frantic parents to become convinced that it’s worth slowing down to do the Work. It’s not a quick fix. If a quick fix will work for you, follow that path! If you’ve tried a number of short-term fixes, only to still be struggling, and are getting discouraged and losing hope, maybe you want to try a different path.

If a quick fix will work for you, follow that path! If you’ve tried a number of short-term fixes, only to still be struggling, and are getting discouraged and losing hope, we’d love to have you join us on a different path.

I desperately wanted short-term fixes when my kids were little and my marriage was falling apart. But clinical depression has a way of prioritizing mental health, so I learned that even though my mind would yell at me that I didn’t have time to stop and do a worksheet on my thoughts, I needed to take the time anyway.

Overwhelm is a mindset. I explain more what I mean in The best way for mamas to slow down?Thoughts that you don’t have time to slow down to get help, are part of that mindset. Comment below about how this post resonates with you, and share any questions that you have! Much love.

Jacqueline Green, founder of Great Parenting Simplified Nonprofit Cooperative.

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