But Where Are You Now?

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“Worry…
Worry, worry, worry, worry
Worry just will not seem to leave my mind alone

…Worry…
Oh, worry, worry, worry, worry
Sometimes I swear it feels like this worry is my only friend…”

Yes, Ray Lamontagne says it best in his song “Trouble:” worry just won’t seem to leave my mind alone!

I sometimes wonder if being anxious is part of my nature or if it is something I have taught myself to do and thus have to unlearn.

I feel like I came out of the womb anxious. Infant Megan was probably already worrying about how she was going to eat or breathe or where she would go to the bathroom even before she was born. I’m not kidding.

At times it seems like anxiety is my default state, my equilibrium.

In fact, I’ve somehow gotten to this place where if I’m not anxious about something I feel anxious that there’s something I’m forgetting to be anxious about! Yeah, it’s a problem.

Lately whenever I find worries creeping back into my consciousness I force myself to stop and answer this question:

But where are you now?

Yes, you may have deadlines to meet and bills to pay and things to plan but where are you now? What does this moment in time look like? What does this breath, this one right here, feel like? Is the wind on your face? Who is sitting beside you on the trolley? What does the pen feel like as you write?

Last night on the train ride back to Philly I found my mind filling up with worry after worry– the final facilitation due for class, the Maundy Thursday service I’m planning, the animals I am caring for this week, the groceries I have to buy and meals I have to make, the trolley I need to catch when the train gets in, and the list went on until I forced my mind to stop.

Stop.

But where are you now?

I am on a train.

What do you see?

I see the trees rushing by, the sun setting in the distance, fields shaking off the slumber of winter, space.

What do you feel (besides worry of course!)?

I feel rejuvenated and reflective from a wonderful weekend filled with family and love. I feel relaxed because I don’t have to think about how this train is getting back to Philly, only that my body is here, in this seat, enjoying the last few precious hours of the weekend.

This morning on my walk to work I started thinking ahead to what I would do when I got to work, where I would take my break, what I would get at the grocery store, when I would take the dog I’m watching for a walk– I nearly had my whole day mapped out before I forced myself back into the present moment.

But where are you now, Megan?

And, truth be told, I think I’ve asked myself that another few times since then.

The term “being present” has become something of a trendy term like “artisanal” or “gluten free” or “certified organic” but, like all these others, it is a phrase rooted in deep meaning and importance.

Being present, feet fully planted in this current moment, mind and senses alert to all surroundings– this, my friends, is my desired equilibrium, the default state I long to find myself in. The sense of wonder and calm I experience in those moments spurs me on toward a full, vibrant life more than any moment of worry ever will.

That’s the funny thing about anxiety, we think that by rolling around all the things we have to do over and over in our minds we will somehow solve all our problems and make meaning out of our lives. But, in reality, all anxiety does is create more chaos.

The meaning comes from clearing our minds of the clutter, stopping in our tracks, breathing deep into our lungs, and asking, but where am I now?

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For My Love

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I have a vision sometimes

of you and me

running barefoot through a forest.

The moss covered ground

cooling and hushing our every step.

Somewhere in the canopy overhead

birds are singing.

And everything

is green

is lush

is dripping with light.

I reach back for your hand

clasp it securely,

draw it to my cheek,

draw you to my chest,

eyes closed.

A tear escapes and you ask

me why I’m crying.

And I cannot find the words

to tell you

or myself.

But somewhere beyond our vision

a river rushes by

and drowns out

the sound

of our fears.

Forest

SHE

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Your body – YOURS –

don’t you know she’s beautiful?

Your curves,

your lines,

your marks,

are a map.

Each scar and contour telling a story,

your story,

of how you grew.

You body is a tree,

strong and sacred and ever changing.

Don’t you know, tree woman, that your body is a temple?

And I don’t mean that in a shame-inducing way.

I mean that your legs are pillars,

Your arms, courtyards,

your hair a tapestry,

your eyes, fountains,

your smile, the sun.

Don’t you know your body is in tune with the tides and the moon?

You are the tides and the moon,

the sway of your hips,

the light in your soul.

Moon woman, tide woman, temple woman,

don’t you know your body is beautiful?

Don’t you know your body creates,

gives life, if you want it to,

is alive?

You are a unique piece of art,

a treasure,

a masterpiece,

a rarity,

a museum to which only you grant admission.

Your body, she is YOURS,

and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Unique woman, life-giving woman, masterpiece woman,

don’t you know your body is beautiful?

Don’t you know you are the only make of your model?

Your complexity is astounding.

But your body is not you,

your soul is you

and your body, your home.

She is the protector

of the sacred,

precious life within,

the source of her beauty.

Your body is home, light, life.

Embrace her.

Cradle her.

Be kind to her.

She is sun, moon, forest, temple, tide, art, creativity exemplified.

She is beautiful.

She is alive.

She is

yours.

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It Comes and Goes in Spells

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Contrary to what someone who has never dealt with depression might think, a person who suffers from depression isn’t depressed all the time; depression comes and goes in spells. Sometimes a depressive spell can last for a day or two but sometimes it lasts for weeks at a time. Right now I’m scared I’m in the midst of the latter.

Depression manifests itself in different ways from person to person and is triggered by different things. Sometimes a depressed person can’t even put their finger on what triggered their most recent spell. It just happens.

I think I can put my finger on where mine started, though. I wrote recently about having a really difficult time leaving a long weekend with Chris behind. The Monday I was to head back to Philly I sobbed– I sobbed while he napped, I sobbed in the car, I sobbed myself to sleep. And I’ve been in a funk ever since.

It’s not that I am constantly mourning that one moment all this time but that one emotional, difficult experience triggered something in my brain that has caused a depressive spell.

For the last week and a half I’ve been weak and tired. I’m often tired and exhausted but a depressive tiredness and exhaustion is on a different level. Getting out of bed, writing, going to work, dealing with difficult people, grocery shopping, even doing the dishes can feel like nearly insurmountable tasks. My apartment is a mess right now and, try as I might, I am struggling so hard to clean it.

Work has been equally challenging. It doesn’t help that I hate my job and I have a difficult relationship with my boss. But when I’m depressed even the work itself, even the simplest of tasks, seem so hard to accomplish. My brain is in a near constant fog.

And tears come almost daily. Or hourly. In fact, as I write this, I am holding back tears and I really can’t say why.

Depression compounds every difficult thing. When I’m not depressed I can deal with stress and responsibilities in a mostly healthy and measured way. But when I’m depressed, everything seems to snowball and I feel myself running on a wheel that steadily increases in speed.

For example, I’ve been sick off and on since early February which already leaves me weak, unmotivated, and tired. Depression amplifies and increases these feelings. And then mixes them with sorrow and hopelessness. These feelings pervade every area of my life from home to work and everything in between and leave me immobile.

Last night I should have cleaned my apartment, should have worked on a big project for the class I’m auditing, should have prepared for worship leading this Sunday, should have cooked for the week, but instead I sat on my couch and binge watched a Netflix show.

The icing on the cake is that I’m a perfectionist and need to always be doing something, accomplishing something. And right now my biggest accomplishment is dragging myself out of bed.

So when will this spell be over? Only God knows. And I hope it’s sooner than later.

Bright Spots

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This morning was another one of those times I was experiencing the whiplash of leaving a wonderful weekend with Chris behind and returning to the reality of life in Philadelphia. Tired and full of sadness, I begrudgingly began my walk to work today.

After trudging about five blocks in a melancholy daze, I heard the delightful voice of my dear friend Rebecca calling my name from across the street. Rebecca is one of those people who embodies joy and you can’t help but smile when you are with her. She is strong, bold, and full of courage, even when dealing with difficult times.

We walked together for a few blocks, chatting and catching up on each other’s weekend experiences. Before parting ways we stopped for coffee, which she treated me to, and chatted a little more.

I left our encounter feeling much lighter and happier, still tired but certainly more positive about the week ahead. I’m sure she had no idea what an impact her presence had on me this morning until I told her so.

I was reminded yet again of the power of community and neighborliness. You never know when your presence, your smile, your conversation, your cup of coffee may be in bright spot in someone’s day.

Rainy Days and Wednesdays

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Everyone seems to talk about how long, dreadful, and awful Mondays are and I don’t entirely disagree. I always mourn the close of another weekend and the start of another work week at a job I dislike but nothing seems to get me like Wednesdays.

On Wednesday morning it feels like it should be the halfway point of the work week but there’s still a whole day looming in front of you before you can call the week half over. By Wednesday night it feels like the next day should be Friday but there’s a whole other day looming in front of you before the weekend arrives (have I ever told you I’m the real life Debbie Downer?).

It’s so easy for me to get lost in my mind, to let the wheels of worry or dread spin round and round while I trudge through another day. And then the “if onlys” start: if only I enjoyed my job, if only I made more money, if only the days went by quicker, if only I could travel more, if only I was using my degree, if only, if only, if only.

One of the things I’m trying to adopt as a Lenten practice is recognizing when these thoughts come and turning them in on themselves. When a negative thought comes to the front of my mind, I stop to process why it came and what I’m feeling in that moment. Then I utter a prayer of guidance and gratitude– guidance for positive thinking and gratitude for the things, people, and gifts I’m blessed to have in my life.

It sounds so simple, so cliche, but the best way I’ve found to stop my pessimism dead in its tracks is to remind myself that all hope is not lost, that there are still blessings to be found in even the hardest of times, that beauty is all around me. And sometimes there’s a struggle in letting go of the negative thoughts because pessimism is a very self absorbed activity and, as humans, our nature is to dwell on ourselves.

But gratitude turns our lens outward, away from ourselves and our fears and worries. It reminds us that the world and our very lives are bigger than just us, a shocking revelation I know.

So on this Wednesday morning, as melancholia started to take over, I paused to think of a few things I’m grateful for on this very day, in this very moment: rain boots, a pause in precipitation during my walk to work, early morning exercise class, trees, laughter with co-workers.

I’ve been trying to take the words of poet Mary Oliver to heart:

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

What are you, on this wet and weary Wednesday, paying attention to, astonished by, grateful for? Tell the world about it!

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Life, with a Side of Triggers

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As the title suggests, this post needs a trigger warning for those who have experienced sexual trauma. This post also contains explicit content.

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This post is about to get real, very real. As I browsed back through my blog post history I realize there is one piece of my life that I have not really touched on since I started this blog in 2011. And now it’s time to talk about it.

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For anyone who’s suffered abuse in the past there are triggers that can bring you back to the awful moment(s) of the abuse, make you feel waves of emotions you’ve tried to suppress, take away your breath and ability to think clearly.

The worst thing about triggers is that you don’t know when one will happen or what will cause it. In fact, the trigger itself doesn’t have to be frightening or traumatic to make a person recall a traumatic memory.

Take IHOP, for example. I hate IHOP. I hate hearing about it, seeing an advertisement of it, driving past it. There’s nothing wrong with the place itself, in fact, I used to love its chocolate chip pancakes with lots and lots of whipped cream. But IHOP was where we ate the night he raped me. And now, I hate IHOP.

It was Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007, college night at IHOP. A small group of us sat at a booth, mostly friends of his. We left at 2 am and headed back to his place where a group of us were going to watch a movie. There was no group. There was no movie. There was no going back to life as it was before that night.

A person never fully gets over something like that. Please don’t misunderstand me, there is so much healing, beautiful, releasing healing, that can happen. I’ve witnessed it, I’ve experienced it. But, as other survivors know, the memories still linger below the surface, no matter how many years have passed. And that’s why triggers are so scary.

In May of 2010 I went with a group of mostly female students from my university to Morocco. The country, the language, the landscape were beautiful but I was not prepared for the amount of sexual harassment that I would experience. We walked around in pairs, wore loose clothing, and even tried to cover our hair but nothing dissuaded the young harassers.

Sometimes they would stand in groups and yell and whistle at us. Sometimes they would follow us, whispering in our ears. Sometimes they would grab us. Once, I was walking with my roommate and one of the men who was following us grabbed me by the elbow while whispering obscene things to me.

I lost it. “GET THE FUCK OFF ME!” I yelled, jerking my arm out of his grasp. “Don’t fucking touch me!” I let out an exasperated cry as tears of anger flowed from my eyes. The group of men stopped, astonished. Then they dispersed. That type of harassment is hard for any human being to deal with but, for me, every time someone said something explicit to me it took me back to that night in October 2007. The night I felt like the most worthless piece of shit.

“Shut up, bitch, stop talking,” he had said. “You’re talking too much.” So the words “no” and “please stop” were too much? They were too much?!

I think this is also why I have such a visceral reaction to street harassers. I’d had a violation of my being, my body, and my spirit and the notion that someone would try to violate me again in such a public space infuriates me beyond belief. For a while I even had a hard time when men would smile at me on the street and whenever a man would open his mouth I’d assume he was about to harass me.

I also had, and still have, a hard time with crowds of men, especially on the subway. The side seats leave you facing outward toward the throngs of people standing and when many or all of the people surrounding me are men I get nervous. From where I am seated my face is directly in line with their genitalia and I suddenly am petrified that one of them will grab my head and push it to their crotch.

When a trigger hits you it can be debilitating. You can feel your breath restricting, the room spinning, and you just need to get out and find space to breathe. I watched the movie For Colored Girls in college with a friend of mine who is also a survivor. It was a powerful, intense film with a rape scene that nearly made you vomit. We sat in my car afterward and I held her as she shook, the trauma of that trigger taking over.

I was so grateful to the professor of a film class I took who warned us when films may be difficult for certain people to watch. I approached him once after class and told him I could not see the upcoming film or join the discussion because it would trigger too much trauma for me. And he let me miss it, no questions asked.

If you find yourself in a situation where a trigger may arise there is nothing shameful about removing yourself from it. In fact, it is an act of courage and strength. It’s an act of knowing and loving yourself. Triggers will come and they will go but you can’t live life in fear of them. A life lived in fear is not a life lived at all.

Some of the most resilient, beautiful, bold souls I know are survivors and they’ve experienced pain you can’t imagine and you better believe they experience triggers. But they are strong, so strong, even when they don’t feel like they are. They are strong because they push through, they love anyway, they hope, they cry, they strive, they fight, they don’t give in and they don’t give up.

A friend of mine shared with me recently about her experience with sexual assault and how she didn’t want that to be the defining piece of her life story. And I fully empathize with that. It is a risk we take as survivors to tell people our stories.

I have shared so much with you in my blog that I’m sure there are many words you could use to define me: victim, suicidal, depressed, neurotic, pessimistic, hopeless. But I would hope the words survivor, empathizer, lover, dreamer, bold, brave, and open also come to mind. But if I’m being really honest, I don’t really care what your labels are because I know my worth and the worth of my story. And no label or abuser or trigger can undermine that worth.

God, the Painter

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One moment I am scouring my fridge for leftovers and bustling around my kitchen and the next I am caught off guard by vivid strokes of pink and orange, purple and blue, yellow and gold suddenly pouring through my kitchen window.

I stop, enraptured, craning my neck to see over the buildings and tree tops. Barely visible at first, the colors slowly build and glow until the sky is ablaze with light. God the painter is at work again.

I wonder if she, like me, gets done with a long day’s work and needs to let loose a burst of creativity.

I picture her like a seasoned artist, apron covered in patches of paint, some fresh some old, brows furrowed with focus, eyes glistening with delight, as she sends another streak of fiery color across the sky.

Maybe this is God showing emotion through creation. Maybe God’s tears aren’t really the rain; maybe they are bursts of burning color that cause us to stop dead in our tracks, reflect a moment, appreciate, even take a picture.

Or maybe if God’s tears are the rain, then vibrant sunsets are her laughter.

Either way she reminds me that in something as ordinary as the passing of another day, there are still miraculous sights to behold.

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Whiplash

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I often find my heart torn between many worlds. I’ve written before about how I’ve left pieces of my heart in different places, with different people, and I’ve never fully gotten any of those pieces back. Some pieces, despite the pain, I’m glad to have scattered; they keep me connected to those I hold dear. Others, I grieve the loss of, wishing I could have those precious pieces of myself back.

At this time in my life, I find my heart being mostly torn between my hometown of Greencastle, PA and Philadelphia. When I am home, my heart beats with my family and my partner and there is nowhere else I’d rather be in those moments. When I am in Philly, my heart beats with my church family and community and I feel a sense of belonging and purpose.

My boyfriend and I have been in a long distance relationship for over a year and while the distance is relatively short (3 hours) in the scheme of things, it is still nearly unbearable at times. We try to visit each other every few weeks, him driving up or me taking the train down.

We often talk about how we wish would could just do mundane things together whenever we feel like it– he’ll do the dishes while I’ll fold the laundry, we’ll peruse grocery store aisles for meals to make together, we’ll laze around on the couch in the evenings.

When we do get to see each other it’s always a whirlwind weekend– go here, visit there, make the most of every possible second. Then, a train ride or car drive later, it’s over and, in the silence of my apartment, the familiar lump rises in my throat and my heart feels as though it will burst.

It’s like whiplash, just when I have settled into place I am jerked back into another and my heart never really has time to heal. It aches and yearns and loves and longs and sometimes I just wish it would cease. But isn’t this part of life and part of love, the longing, the aching, the embracing? If not for the whiplash, the sense of grief and the sense of rapture, I would never know how deep and rich love truly can be. And that, my friends, is beautiful.

For These

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For butterflies in the warm summer sun

For the sound of a pebble breaking the surface of water

For a warm cuddle on a cold morning

For a cool breeze on a warm night

For hot coffee in a mug

For rising up singing

For leaves crunching under foot

For giant snowflakes slowly falling

For bare feet in cool grass

For breathing deeply

For laughter

For candles glowing in the darkness

For holding hands around a food filled table

For fond memories

For family

For hands cradling dirt

For wandering in the woods

For climbing a mountain

For chopping vegetables

For picking flowers

For jumping into cooling water

For getting lost in a captivating book

For loving and being loved

For deep conversation

For seeking peace

For the embrace of the Divine

For companionship

For rest, for community, for love, for hope

For these I am glad to be alive.

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