Yesterday I had a terrible day. After a 4 week family vacation I arrived home and I almost immediately felt my relaxation and hopefulness crumble. I was buried by unpacking, laundry, cooking, cleaning, my work, getting the kids ready for school -- the endless to do list in my head. The full force of responsibilities that I had had a break from for those glorious weeks came crashing down, and it nearly crushed me.
Being so consumed by overwhelm so soon after coming home was hard. Maybe it was because we were gone for so long, maybe because we were all a little sick and a lot tired. Whatever it was, it sucked, big time.
Last winter I noticed that I was feeling trepidation – even dread – every night before I went to sleep. Life had this Groundhog Day quality to it: get up, rush around, work hard, take care of people, maybe take care of myself, get things done but not finish it all. Then the whole thing would just start up again tomorrow. Going to bed was both a relief and a disappointment.
As my vacation was ending, I realized this familiar pattern of dread was creeping in.
It's in these moments that I've discovered I have a choice. I could dive into that feeling of dread and feel like I'll never get what I want. (I can really get into wallowing.)
Or, I could choose to face a different direction. I'm not talking about denial here because, as much as I'm a fan of denial as a coping mechanism, it can only go so far. I'm talking about being more conscious of my thoughts. Reality is the same—I'm still going to have go through my daily routine when I wake. But, I can choose whether to dread or accept. And right now, I'm working on accepting.
It has been incredibly freeing to know this and to practice this choosing. Life isn't doing stuff to me. I'm creating my life. So, if it's not working, I can look at it and figure out what has to change. What I've found over the past couple of years is that the change I was craving wasn't about the details of my life—whether we could move to a house, and get a new car, and enjoy the outdoors freely and all the other little details I could complain about living in a small apartment in Brooklyn. Rather, the change has been all about my mindset.
This is no easy thing. When the fears are big it takes a huge effort to move past them. This simple practice has made a huge difference for me. It just kind of cuts through the muck of avoidance and misery and presents itself as a simple choice. Fear and dread might still be lurking but, unlike in a horror movie, I choose not to open the door. I can walk right out the front door of that haunted house and leave the ghosts behind.
When I was a new mom, I fell into some pretty deep funks about what I didn't have—not enough money, not enough time, not enough energy. While I can still sometimes struggle with the downward spiral of lack, this practice of choosing to face a different direction has saved me.
There's a lot of talk these days about abundance, gratitude, scarcity and lack. What I now know is that even though these ideas might sound cliché, they really matter. If at night I go to sleep with a feeling of dread for another long day in the rat race, chances are, I'm not going to feel so great. If instead, I choose to notice the thought and then shift into another, I wake up not dreading but excited that I have another day to live on this earth.
I'm not denying pain and loss and heartache. There are no guarantees. Things happen, we lose stuff, we lose people, and sometimes you can turn in every possible direction and none of them feel great. Sometimes the loss is too big for the simple fix of a perspective shift. But I'm working on appreciating every moment I get to spend awake. And spending my time turning toward the feelings I want to experience, and away from those that don't serve. So that when the shit does hit the fan, I'm able to cope with presence and my eyes and heart wide open.
Do you ever dread the next morning? What helps you? Which direction do you choose to face?