Look, here’s a slap in the face for you: what if what you thought was happy, wasn’t, and what you thought was your enemy, became your happy? It happened to me when I said, “Screw fighting stress!” I had to survive through cancer, being abandoned, compounded by enormous stress to protect my child who was crashing too. But we made it, and so can you!
This true story is simply one of the best memories over the last five years. It shows how negative emotions are brilliant. It shows how we can rise above such adversities! Our unfortunate tendency as humans to see negative things in one light pushed me to stand up for the emotion of fear. And to give my readers a month to month view of the last eighteen months: how changes came about when I listened to my fears. How each stage grew into a business that now sustains me. The journey that began formulating the ideas is a course in itself and I’m happy to share it in the hope it will give you the same hope it gave me.
To offer a bit of history, fifteen years ago, I was building another restaurant. It was a new performance in my life when suddenly, I sold my entire new performance to raise my newborn son. Life was never better despite being totally unsure of my future. I faced motherhood with fierce love, and got clean from all my impurities while opening the portal to my youth raising my child.
Then, four years ago, ten years after becoming a stay at home mom, I was diagnosed with cancer. Things changed. Just the vomiting daily for months consumed me. Simultaneously, divorce blindsided me, but the pain of either or numbed me, and I didn’t feel the separation from a great love – I felt nothing – empty – abandoned. What kept me alive was a will to care for my 10-year old and to feel again. When I looked at him, I felt him, and the solution to my hope was never to let him down. Screw fighting stress! I had to stop fighting, but what would I do.
My past successes, adventures, and fantastic life felt distant – but I did not give up – yet at the same time, I’d never been sick before. I wasn’t sure of anything. The next thing I knew, we were in Chicago. It was like a time warp from hell.
The story in this article began the night I gave birth to 52-Secrets, which was about eighteen months ago. If you’ve read other articles, you might recall, I called it “Fuck This Life I’m Finding a New Way” journal until I came up with the name 52 Secrets.
“I had postponed taking my doctor’s advice to treat my cancer, not by choice. When you need to feed a child, you do what you need to do.“
I’d gone through everything – so it felt. But the one thing controlling me was stress that turned to marose anxiety. It’s ironic, I’d always recognized bad reviews as our nemesis to improve, and fear or stress as our gods of success. In other words: stress is a message to help us grow. And I wanted to “grow” a good life.
If you’ve ever woke up and realized you were accomplishing the good life, you’d feel great “Let’s party,” and I’d accomplished this in the past and was again accomplishing it in Chicago, but felt no reason to celebrate. People I met spoke about my son and I like a gooey Christmas movie. (I do love gooey movies now and then for that absolute happy ending. A Star Wars moive is similar.) Ironically my life when “I” looked at it, took me back to childhood where I felt – hungry – terrified – determined to get out.
So many emotions bombarded me. One was, how could I be so ungrateful when many single moms didn’t even own a home. I fought myself every time someone reminded me how amazingly well I’d done. Yay. Fuck me. It did not feel safe or successful.
Success does not equal happiness. Just because you find success doesn’t mean happiness is inevitable. Success is an emotional decision of how we process our victories, and if we have met our standards.
Another emotion that bombarded me: I had postponed taking my doctor’s advice to treat my cancer, not by choice. When you need to feed a child, you do what you need to do. The point was, stress was pressuring me from many angles.
The afternoon before, 52-Secrets was born. I had just arrived from work, and my son’s friends were visiting our home. Our house has always been “The House” that everyone wanted to be in. My son tells me, “My friends think you a great mom.” But I did not feel like a good mom during these events.
“I’m stressed,” I whisper as I enter the living room where three boys are playing Dungeon’s and Dragons. I suggest they take the game to my son’s bedroom. I’m frustrated.
“Mom. We’ll be quiet, don’t worry!” (I don’t look happy)
“I need to work. Can you be quiet?” (My son nods staring at me.) Don’t let him see me sad, don’t let him. Don’t!
“Okay…” I sigh inside, heading to the kitchen to make popcorn. The scent wafts through the house while I worry about finding a better job, let alone get ahead for college, or what about even a short vacation? How about visiting the family? Grandfather will not live long. How can I live with myself if we don’t see him?
“Your mom’s making popcorn.” One boy says joyously.
Passing out the bowls; there is a brief moment of relief, happiness pours through me for a split second. I love making the boys happy, being a mom. But the fleeting grace vanishes as I remind myself that I need to rewrite my resume. I must ensure the ladder climb to the top is covered. And call the doctor. And clean the house. And send emails to my son’s teachers. And finish a project that, yes, might get me out of this mess…
“Mom…. Mom!” (I must have drifted off.) “Thanks, Mom!” My son looks at me with gratitude.
“Sure, you’re welcome.” And they’re smiling playing their game.
Don’t let them see how stressed I am! Don’t ruin their fun, I thought again. “How about some chocolate?” I laugh as they shout out, yes. But I feel sick to my stomach, are they going to get popcorn all over the floor now? I don’t have time to vacuum.
“You okay, Mom?” I look at my son and nod with a small smile, but he knows. “For real – I’m good, just tired.”
I spend the next two hours checking off my to-do lists. My resume is meh at best. I’ll work on it tomorrow. I need a business of my own again – but how? 2 hours passed, and I didn’t get enough done. My son sat at the piano. “Lessons,” I say to myself, he needs lessons. He’s too talented! I shake my head and plop back deep into the sofa pillow. “I can’t go on like this day after day after day.
My son fidgets now; his friends have gone home. He sits next to me, and I can feel his worry for me. What have I done? I’ve created a worry circle. I worry for him, and he for me.
- Can we worry without drawing adverse reactions to our lives?
- Does worry change anything?
- Does worry get my resume or emails out quicker?
- Will I find solutions because I need them so badly that I will crash if I don’t get them? That’s an idea, force good things to come by crashing. Ha-ha
- How can I end the worrying? I stress dream, wake with it, breathe it during the day, and don’t remember why I enter the kitchen at times. I forget simple things while the deep scary fear of our future eats my life away.
These questions plagued me, and anxiety over three years had risen to a level I’d never experienced: fatigue, headaches, and sleepless nights. Frequent attacks of anxiety plagued me, particularly at night. I controlled pain with these lines. It will pass. Love and happiness are coming. Meditate that and this.
I’ll be honest; I spent more time confused than thinking calm thoughts, but it helped to try.
I’d never believed in self-help mantras that chant foolhardy: you’re okay, while you’re in a spiral downhill death dive – but I do believe in positive thinking. It has saved me over and over. The difference is – reality. If you’re on the table dying, pray, or do whatever supports your belief system, but screaming, “I’m beautiful, or I got this” probably won’t perform the operation.
When using positive to move from one place to another, a whole idea must be laid out with a real strategy along with support. This was why I analyzed my behavior. Looking in the mirror and telling myself I was okay was bull shit. I was too stressed to do this alone, but I was alone in a country I’d not lived in most of my life, now cancer, and divorce. I was not okay, and “I got this” didn’t work just by saying it. I needed a real plan, and answers, and maybe that meant getting angry and seeing reality. Makes sense? I needed to move my body, walk , think, plan. We each have greatness inside of us and to pull mine out took a a strategy that I didn’t give up on after a few self help cheers.
“I woke up tired and not willing to sleep again until I won even he smallest advantage.“
On this particular night, when things changed for me, I woke at 2:00 a.m., with no effort to return to sleep. Fuck the hymns and calm talking to myself. I was sick of it. I needed to analyze my behavior. Find the missing pieces.
Rubbing my eyes awake, the fleeting moment of popcorn flashed over my thoughts. I craved more. Why can’t I have more?
If you’ve not figured it out, popcorn brought back the memory of being a successful mom. I needed success.
Sometimes that means sweeping a floor – cleaning the garage – scrubbing the bathtub until hands are raw – finishing any small project. Remembering our past successes can work as well – it’s a way to spark the right balance of hope. So, if you’re ever depressed, finish something small, it will help move you out of depression. (Have you ever wondered why so many women clean when they are pissed off, sad, or depressed? Cleaning is accomplishing, and it changes the mood.)
For two and a half hours, I scribbled on random pieces of paper. Answers – I wanted them! I didn’t realize the solutions were fogged in by worry. But the more notes I took- the more the fleeting moments became a kind of success strength.
“I sit regularly at my little drafting table and create the pages of 52-Secrets with what feels like beads of crimson from my veins. It’s a part of me now.”
I now had a glass of Scotch in my hand sitting at my drafting table; I needed to go back to sleep, a shot would do it. Wrong. I continued writing and pulled out my journal examining my stress. Yes, I’m a compulsive chart keeper – and I couldn’t deny what stressed me; it was logical. The subjects I stressed over were real: health, bills, fitting in, career, family, and so on.
Stress wasn’t the bad guy. Stress was the obnoxious “theft alert” that blares on your car when someone tries to steal it. But it gets better. The kind of alarm that saves lives in a fight or flight situation.
Hell, it was my personal, fucking bodyguard announcing the future I needed was being stolen from under my eyes. And the future I’d been building was no less than a gag reflex.
But it was a Christmas movie to those looking in.
When confronted with excess suffering, sleep deprivation is inevitable. I barely managed to pay my bills the prior year. It made me physically sick daily. I look back now, and it cracks me up, I was never sure if I was ill from physical issues or mental, both were all over me. The following year I’d tripled my wage. That didn’t say much, but we were almost safe. I was climbing the corporate ladder! It seems insane not to relax with these accomplishments – almost safe should have felt better! Yet, the car alarm would not shut off. It was an endless floating pain. People worse off than me made my head swirl. I felt guilty about being unhappy. I felt powerless.
But my conclusions were, I didn’t care about the rest of the world at this point. I cared to send my son to Harvard. I thought over the years of mentoring others, remembering how negative emotions were the key to success for clients, friends, myself. Really? How could I have forgotten that? Why did my advice to others not apply to me in kind? And if stress was a good thing – how would I keep from drowning in this good thing? I was on the bottom of the pool.
Looking at the empty Scotch glass and the pyridoxal knowledge of stress, I went for a glass of milk and cookies, knowing I was going to dread getting up for work, but I brainstormed further. What about Pavlov! Yes, Pavlov’s Law, I should classically condition myself to smile when worry showed its ugly face. It cracked me up. I was desperate – but it did apply! I knew that how I perceived stress, and how I was going to be grateful for it, would help me plan my way out of what stress was warning me about?
I taught my son to laugh and find solutions every time worry came? We did silly things, “The Dance of Joy.” in gratitude for the weirdest stuff. It was insane that I wasn’t taking my own advice. I needed to think harder, think less, and enjoy every moment as if it were our last. But that is so easy to say over the easy to do. If you ever come to this point, you must confide in a friend, get help.
We can be addicted to STRESS!
Have you figured it out? I was a stress addict! I’d conditioned myself over the three years to became a different person at night while I remained the right person for my son in daylight. Doesn’t work; it’s confusing.
I call it the vampire error! Not era!
Confusion attracts a wide variety of problems. Balancing becomes a crisscrossing search for things right under your nose. Having been a student of focus and success so much of my life, my interest to hang on to worry had a purpose, but simultaneously I needed to focus positively on that worry. In other words, I needed to worry but enjoy it. It took months of journaling to realize I’d focused predominantly on how to get my son where he needed to be in five-years. Collage. But it was NOT focused on how to make us happy, or cradled in what we truly needed or wanted.
I was convinced at one point that I would die; therefore, my life was a measurement, not a life. I had a couple of years to build something for my son, so I chose a path for the finances and did what everyone around me was doing and suggesting. My focus was so distorted that I built a train track to a distant location without realizing what it would do to me when my hopes and dreams were in the opposite direction. Hell, I was living in Chicago, six thousand miles from my home. It was like waking up in the middle of a desert after a time-machine mishap.
Imagine realizing three-years of work were shit and worthless – and trashing it was the only option. It was a pure nightmare – but it was also time to stop worrying and get busy. I’d faced the worry, tore it apart, spoke to it, and learned its truths. I felt like Luke Skywalker blowing up the worry ship.
Difficulties cause us to want to worry. The addiction! And thoughts like these came to me:
- Is it okay to push worry away? What if that means I won’t be prepared for fires to come?
- If I don’t worry, will I not push myself?
- If I don’t work night and day without breaks, how can I ever get ahead?
- I did ask myself over and over, “Would I regret fooling myself to believe all was okay, and I was now on the right path?”
- Day after day, I told myself that when one worry ended, another came, and every day that I allowed fear to prevent celebrating, was another day I built sad memories for my son to look back on. This thought inspired me.
- Maybe I didn’t deserve to be happy? Perhaps this was my punishment? But for what?
- Could I admit I’d fallen to such a low place to myself?
- What if I couldn’t do this, what if I couldn’t smile, what if I failed regardless? Maybe I should stay on the wrong path because it’s paying the bills.
The weeks passed. Work and a teenager consumed me, and finding time for me – ha-ha, showers were my only me-time! And even then, I’d get knocks on the door. “Mom! Mom!” But, I continued journaling regardless if it meant I didn’t sleep. That’s ironic, too; I couldn’t sleep. I was discovering new things about myself or things I had forgotten – but in each discovery or recap, I found emotional freedom. Answers began surfacing that helped me reclaim a lost happiness. It was the tiny light at the end of the tunnel growing exponentially.
I posted a picture of Pavlov’s dog in my journal. Yes, this is a gooey self-help thing to do. But CEO’s do this! I guess we are all gooey.
“I journaled: Days I was happy. Days I was sad, up, down, this that, and added in notes on what would make me happy, us happy, pasting stars on the special moments, as if dreaming for something we’d never have. Or could we?“
I journaled: Days I was happy. Days I was sad, up, down, this that, and added in notes on what would make me happy, us happy, pasting stars on the special moments, as if dreaming for something we’d never have. Or could we?
I’d validated my determination, with research, planning, talking to others, and following mini habits to change my way of thinking.
What we focus on is what we feel. What we love is what we are best at.
I chose to find a way to do what I loved, not a path showering me with financial gain, or an easy solution. And my choices did not look lucrative, but a blissful feeling and satisfaction stuck around. I chose me – my dreams, and in return, my son was finally happy again as well. Ironic, I was doing it all for him when all he wanted was to see me follow my dreams.
I stopped figuring out how I would accomplish goals and focused on why these goals made me happy.
I was able to make these changes by questioning the things that made me happy.
Why are we happy with our jobs and our relationships and our this and that? Why should we question the happy things? If you’re in a great relationship, should you skip examining it? No.
To recap: Since my popcorn epiphany, more than six months had passed. I’d created a support system. I didn’t have friends here, so I turned to an activity. Sketching. I sketched, and every finished picture was a success. It revived me each week. Stress can be so heavy that you need an anchor, things to remind you of your goals. Sketching reminded me of what I loved, which worked in unison with Pavlov’s stickers and all the things I did. Trust me – one thing won’t do it. You will need a city of ideas and support.
Also, I’d come far in a new job while I continued my own plans. I was smart: I’d remain in my fake little career until I paid my bills off and could invest in me. But, I worked arduous! I gave the best of the best. I’d established myself in the community with great friends and had a beautiful relationship. My income was above average now, and I had choices. Every goal I’d set for income materialized with arduous effort, but I did it. That made me HAPPY! So, upon questioning why I was happy in this area, I did not expect to feel overwhelmingly stressed when I began breaking it down the first month I started the 52-Secrets.
So, upon questioning why I was happy, I did not expect to feel overwhelmingly stressed when I began breaking it down over the months.
The subject of my career was simple: The only positive light in my career was the money. That right there says, get out! Another exciting event was realizing how, when we are in the wrong career – job – environment, we create unrealistic expectations. It’s painful.
And upon reviewing my relationship, I had a great one, and he loved my son. My son loved him back, but when I asked why I was happy in this perfect relationship, I expected a hands-down positive answer. What I discovered was twisty. There was a long list of all his attributes, accomplishments, education, kindness, how much fun we had, how I added to his life, but I couldn’t list how my strengths were growing in me? I couldn’t recall a real secret I’ve ever told him. We want to talk to the ones we love. I had to question why, with this person, I remained stagnant?
We can’t find our secrets until we talk to our fears, then we need to soften the fear to a concern that will allow us to strategize and repair these concerns. While we repair our lives, AKA, concerns, we can create better habits, responses, reactions, and of course, learn to be who we truly are. I know, it sounds scary or easy – to each his own. This short paragraph in real life is like shoveling shit from one place to another until you find the dump and bury it for good!
We harm ourselves when we don’t face or understand our fears/stress. The pressures in life are real, and the writing on the wall for me was clear: sleepless nights, headaches, fatigue, tension, irritability, worry, confusion, and unrealistic expectations. But doing something about it was hard work, and change didn’t happen overnight.
When you face these fears:
- Tomorrow the pressure will not change. Some days will be worse.
- Be honest
- Learn your desires – it truly brings you happiness. Be grateful for everything – but ask yourself:
- Where is your train track going? Why it’s going there?
It takes 21 days to change a habit. Chart it out in a journal and cheer yourself on! But establish support for a continued 300 days!
Don’t overthink it. When you’re sad or down or worried – keep validating your plan to smile while you fearlessly examine the negatives. (Biggest Secret: examine the negative like it’s a candy store.) Smile even if you think it’s not working. Smile and be grateful regardless if you feel you’re failing. It is key to stay positive while examining the stress. Don’t stay down, get up, go out, even for ice-cream, a walk, to visit a friend, to have coffee.
Don’t fight the worry, cheer on the progress.
When the worry creeps in, don’t challenge its message if you have validated its reasons, it will win. Example: If you worry every day because your boss hates you. In this case, you might lose your job. Don’t fight the worry feeling, fight for a new job. If you worry that your new job won’t last – but you’ve been there two years, then wake up, move your worry to an appreciation for a great job.
Complete your checklist of duties, whether that be the laundry or the resume, but add in one more thing. Ten minutes of fun, five if all fails. Something you dream of doing, love to do and smile for those short few minutes. This contagious seed will grow!
Practice makes perfect.
Remember when you were a kid? You would do the things you loved. You never thought to yourself, “Am I practicing?” You just ran around life and did stuff. My crazy love was finding bugs in the grass, studying them — building forts and climbing trees, and of course, hiding from the pirates. We discovered our secrets, they didn’t scare us, and we told our friends. I wanted to be a writer, a biologist, and a psychologist, comparing nature’s bugs to humans.
Remind yourself of these youthful years while you make goals that should not feel like practice.
Happiness means being happy, regardless. It’s bull shit to think happiness is a magical bean. It’s not; it’s a plant that needs nourishing, curiosity, and pure honesty. We know what we want, AKA, our secrets, we know ourselves. Ask yourself questions and ask others to help you answer them.
- Think about what you do have. Cheers to that glass of water if need be.
- Tell yourself why you choose to be happy.
- Find what’s real.
- A hot shower is real.
- A warm meal is incredible.
- A family talk is fantastic.
- Walking, moving
- A cup of coffee at daybreak while everyone sleeps is peaceful.
- Be grateful for everything, and little secrets will grow into big fat answers.
And a smile amid the stress feels like a miracle – but when you face your fears to tear down your own doings to fight for what you know is right, it’s not a miracle. It’s you!
Don’t give up. Stay busy and leverage those popcorn moments. My fear kept me up at night, but more importantly it kept me up working.
- Seleni, Nicole Caccovo Kear, An Emotional Survival Guide for Single Moms