This is one of the four “strategies for the long haul” proposed by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky in her new book The Age of Overwhelm: Strategies for the Long Haul. This book is a much anticipated follow up to her first book, Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others. Both of these books should be required reading for all midwifery students.
The Age of Overwhelm came as a recommendation from my therapist, and at the perfect time. I’ve spent the last few years swimming (sort of) through the chaos of finishing midwifery school, parenting a newborn, and starting a new job. Then there was the election. And the #MeToo movement. And all the school shootings. And the family separations at the border. And the upcoming fight around the nomination of Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court…and about a million other small and large devastating tragedies happening every day.
I may have spent the past year like a turtle: coming out for a look every now and then, and then tucking my neck back into my shell, focusing on the things I knew I could impact right now: settling into my job, keeping my marriage alive, figuring out how to parent sustainably. I can already see how this comes across. Privileged bougie “feminist” engages in armchair activism, if at all. Yeah, I’ve been taking a Facebook break, too, so I’m not even re-posting all the latest political commentary. And I have to say, I have no regrets. The echo chamber was deafening and I couldn’t do it anymore.
But the truth is, the unplugging was not for relaxation. It was for survival. The last post I wrote on this blog was almost a year ago, and it explored what now endearingly call my “late-late onset postpartum depression.” Technically, that’s not an official diagnosis, but in my mind, that’s what it was. The radio silence on the blog and social media and in the midwifery repro justice community in general was me trying to figure out how to move from the overwhelm into a space I could breathe freely and joyfully again.
So, when Lipsky’s book fell into my hands, I drank deeply. Took a breath. And began to remember all the things I already knew about how to heal but are so simply and elegantly presented here, little gifts of clarity.
Less Distraction, More Intention
Disconnect Less, Be Present More
Less Attachment, More Curiosity
Less Depletion, More Stamina
Four simple principles to not just keep afloat, but to thrive…in an age when the world seems on the brink of completely falling apart. It may seem cliche or too corny or woo to some, but this was the framework that helped me understand what I instinctively knew and was grasping for this past year.
I first learned about Mindfulness Meditation when I was an undergrad at Mount Holyoke. Each Tuesday I would make my way to the Interfaith Sanctuary, sink into a cushion, and just breathe. At first I was so exhausted that I would often fall asleep. My friend Sandy and I joked that we should call it “Contemplative Alternatives to Waking Consciousness.” Translation: Nap Time.
Over time, I figured out the rhythm of the hour. The sitting. The walking meditation (sometimes on a beautiful hand-painted labyrinth made by students and staff from the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life). The dharma talk. More silence. For the three years or so that I went to meditation each week, that hour was a much-needed respite from the intensity of intellectual, over-stimulated left brain. Then I graduated over time, the practice slipped away. Life became “busy.” I was “too tired.” There “wasn’t time.”
Haven’t we all felt this? Isn’t this what we all bemoan to each other when we meet up (three months after we planned to) with friends for a drink?
So this past winter I took an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course. MBSR is a well-studied intervention for improving mental wellness in a variety of contexts including chronic illness, pain, and stress. It strips down the practice of mindfulness to its bare essentials and step by step, builds up the foundation for a sustainable mindfulness practice. Well, that’s what I was aiming for, anyway. Let me be the first to say that I’m not yet meditating daily (don’t worry, you’re not the only one!).
It was the piece about curiosity in Lipsky’s book that initially hooked me in. When I read that phrase, I realized how deeply I had fallen into survival mood. I hadn’t felt genuinely curious about anything, including myself, in a long time. And then, in the Less Distraction, More Intention section, there was a little sub-section entitled Protect Your Morning. A jolt of recognition flooded my body. I laughed out loud on reading it, and when my therapist asked what I was laughing about and I told her, she said something that give me chills. “You know, I’ve probably shared with a dozen moms so far. And Every. Single. Mom. reacted the same way you did.” There’s a potential in those quiet moments in morning that I want to reclaim.
I see it in my patients, too. We are all so deeply starved these days for real connection, for meaningful conversations, for a space in which it feels safe to be vulnerable (thanks, Brené!), for a sense of purpose and a feeling of being able to effectively make change in the world. And it may start with putting our feet down and protecting those first minutes of the day, a few precious moments to breathe and cultivate curiosity rather than dread, fear, anxiety, or just plain numbness. Before the children wake. Before the emails. Before reading the news, listening to the news podcast, scrolling through Facebook, logging into Epic.
I’ve mostly been avoiding the blog in the past year because I realized I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to be or what I wanted to do with it, and I didn’t want it to end up feeling like every post was the same. My first blog had a clear purpose: to chronicle my journey as a student. There was a beginning and a natural end. This one, I’m not so sure yet. But I’m still curious. I feel like sticking my neck out from the shell more often these days. But I want to be intentional about it. I have some ideas percolating, but until I have a bit more clarity, I’m going to give myself permission to go slowly.
Thanks for hanging in there, anybody reading this still. I’ve gone way over 140 characters, there are no clever hashtags for this rambling post. If you have any thoughts about what you would enjoy reading here, I’d love to hear them. I may end up deciding to make this blog private, more of a journal space for myself. I’m not attached to anything yet…something will unfold organically on its own time (just like all those post-term babies I’ve been catching lately).