First off, I can say, that no matter how much you want it, or how much time you spend thinking about it, planning it, and preparing for it, nothing will make selling your belongings and giving up your home easy. I have been shocked at how hard this has been emotionally, especially when it’s something that I decided to do. I mean, this was after all, my own fabulous idea. I had even planned to continue writing posts throughout the entire process to document and share each success and failure, but I simply found myself too exhausted each day and completely unmotivated to write a thing.
But, now that I’m on the other side of it all, I’m happy to report that I have learned (or become aware of) new things about myself with each phase of this experience. The most shocking to me has been that just like others, I experience extreme anxiety when going through change. I find this to be really funny in a very sad way, as I can now see clearly that with every single move I’ve experienced (23 now and counting) my anxiety has been off the charts out of control. For some reason, I couldn’t recognize and acknowledge it in the past. I’m sure this was because I had children, new schools, pets, cars, houses and finding a new job to sort out. So, I just forged through it all without any awareness, help, or self-care. Perhaps I was afraid to acknowledge it because then I would have had to stop and deal with it somehow. Just one more thing to add to the list I suppose.
Frequently, family members and friends would watch me and say things like, “Wow, you’re just so strong, not much phases you at all” or “You just excel at change, and seem to hit the ground running in each new place” when in actuality, I was always having an absolute panic attack on the inside, but completely afraid to let anyone know. It generally exposed itself as irritability and was paired with the occasional, completely random and painfully humiliating, emotional outburst. Isn’t it so strange that when we are scared to death, we put up defenses that naturally push people away? I’ve never understood it, but for some reason, this is what I do. It makes no sense, and just leaves me all the more alienated, and completely alone to deal with whatever is at hand.
My parents were really cool people in many ways, but parenting was not one of them. They couldn’t always be counted on to take care of basic things when I was young. Things like consistent physical presence (They were both prone to take off when something enticing presented itself.), paying the electric bill on time, or ensuring there was money to buy food, for instance. My father went off the radar when I was six to avoid paying a whopping $150 per month in child support. This certainly didn’t help my mother who experienced serious highs and serious lows that weren’t diagnosed as bipolar disorder until her last years. My entire childhood was feast or famine, and the tides rolled with my mother’s moods. When we were feasting, life was unbelievably good and there was generally a party and loads of people at my house, but when the money, or current boyfriend (usually both) went away, my mom simply went to bed and stayed there for days, or even weeks.
I think it must’ve been because of this that I developed a pretty serious fight instinct. They say people typically have two standard responses to things, fight or flight. Fight being to face the situation and try to deal with it head on without shying away and flight being the more avoidant approach. My theory is that children who grow up knowing their parents will be there to take care of any situation that arises generally get to take the flight or avoidant approach when they are young because they know someone is going to step up and take care of things. Whereas, a child who can’t trust their parents to take care of things learns that they have to step up and do it themselves. I honestly think I took this on at a very early age, and then as I got older I would let the anxiety I was feeling about difficult situations drive me to attack them head on. I rarely even stopped to consider the situation, I just dove in, fueled on emotion and ready to fight.
There were a few problems with this approach as an adult. First, my spouse was an avoidant personality, which meant that when anything even remotely tough came down the pike and I instinctively went into battle mode, he generally got super busy at work or, even better, had a sudden away trip come up. I honestly can’t blame him at all, I’m certain I wasn’t pleasant company. However, this just continued to reaffirm for me that when the going gets tough, others could not be counted on. I forged through illnesses, countless moves, childbirths, the illnesses and deaths of a dear friend and both of my parents, feeling completely terrified and alone. But I thought I was doing fine, being a ‘trooper’ because that’s what military wives are supposed to do, and I did manage to survive it after all. Never mind the misery, the crazy anxiety levels that would sometimes make me physically ill, the depth of sadness that at times seemed bottomless, and the moments I just couldn’t hold it all in. The times I burst out in an uncontrollable show of emotion because I just couldn’t carry all the weight any longer. It generally seemed to happen at the most bizarre and unmerited times, which didn’t help my case at all. Silly things would set me off, like when standing at the prescription counter after waiting over an hour with three sick little ones, and being told that they didn’t have the correct medicine after all, and we needed to go some place else. The tipping points were always little unexpected inconveniences that would hurl me over the ledge, and were usually so well timed that I didn’t even see them coming. “Mom completely flipped out on that person,” my kids would say. Then the shame and embarrassment that I would feel after, wondering if I was literally becoming unhinged. If it was possible that my mother’s mood imbalance had worked its way down the gene pool.
I’m very happy to say that with my current age, burgeoning self-awareness and this huge life leap, I was able to approach things much differently. When I started feeling the anxiety creep in, I got really quiet with myself and became selfish with my time. I was very selective about the people I spent time with or communicated with. I was also very choosy about the things I told myself that I HAD to do so as to not become overwhelmed. I took long walks on the beach and I read from my favorite books. I had people in my life who offered their help and I actually accepted it. Where it has always felt like a sign of weakness, I realized that it is actually empowering to let others lend a hand and it strengthened my relationship with them as an added bonus. I shamelessly celebrated every single thing that was a success or that brought good feelings. I ate my favorite foods and listened to my favorite songs. Most importantly, I took care to use kind self-talk when talking with others and to myself, as if I was a dear friend of my own who needed special care and consideration.
Now, as I sit here on this airplane, knowing that I just spent four stressful months selling most of my belongings for much less than they were worth and giving up my beloved beach cottage, I am proud of myself for so many things. I’m proud of the way that I handled every single curve ball thrown my way through this process, and let me tell you, there were some real doozies! From people who made commitments to purchase furniture items and then never showed, to mechanics who went on hiatus with my car, to moving companies who didn’t show in time to ensure I got the $1,900.00 lease deposit back, there were several opportunities for me to completely lose my shit. The younger me would likely be sitting on this plane feeling completely ashamed for flipping out at some point due to being ridiculously overwhelmed and painfully human. But the 46-year-old me was able to acknowledge my anxiety and practice self-care throughout the process. With much gratitude, I am now in this moment, bursting with shame free self-appreciation for the way I was able to handle this massive change in life, and sheer excitement for all the adventures that lie ahead.