A hard bright light dawned on moving day. Dozens of brown, cardboard boxes filled with my belongings were stacked everywhere in my otherwise empty house. My entire history was packed up, ready to be hauled off to San Francisco where I would reinvent myself. My 33-year marriage was over. I was single again.
And I was terrified. Even though I'm a strong woman, a leader, a person who normally doesn't break down, I cried tears of desolation. With red, swollen eyes, I looked at my friend and whispered, "Oh, Michael, I'm so scared."
He grabbed my shoulders, placed me squarely in front of him and said, "Look at me, Kat. If you're not scared, you're not doing it right."
He was right, of course. Not only is it OK to be terrified, it's necessary. It was a lesson that helped change my life.
Participating in the great human drama
What does that mean, "doing it right?" It means admitting to bona fide fear -- painful, incapacitating angst. Dealing with big life change means that you're one of the millions with broken lives and hearts who, at this moment, don't know where to begin, how to start, or even how to move.
Whether it's divorce, the death of a family member, or your kids leaving home, it means you're participating in the great human drama, the whole of life. Remember "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran?
"The deeper sorrow carves into your being,
the more joy you can contain."
That may be little consolation when you're paralyzed by fear. We're not dealing with garden-variety fear, mind you. We're talking about the apprehension that comes with reinventing yourself from scratch.
Our brains contain more than 50 years of wisdom-gathering. When a challenge erupts, they go into Google mode and scan for solutions. Usually, they find them. But not so when reconstructing our lives after a significant life change. We're now in unknown territory. The message we get from our brains: "no information available." That's darn scary.
Good news! As my mother always declared, "This too shall pass." And it will. You know that. You will encounter stops and false starts, but you will figure it out. You will come out the other side a happier and calmer person. You will realize that you are a much stronger person than you thought you could be.
In the meantime, how do we cope with uncertainty and insecurity as we redefine ourselves? Here are a few guaranteed tactics that I share with clients to kick out the demons of doubt!
Know who's running your ship. Is it you or your ego? Our ego is a nasty little devil who, if left unchecked, will have its negative way with our thoughts. Ego is responsible for those 3 a.m. gremlins who wake you, jump up and down on your bed, and shout, "You can't do that! Who do you think you are?"
Feed your brain loving thoughts. After all, your brain believes everything you tell it! Sit up in bed and tell the ego, "Go away and leave me alone. I need to sleep." If that doesn't help, change the energy.
Keep a journal next to your bed and start writing. You'll either reveal a gem that helps you, or you'll get tired and fall asleep. Either way, you'll dump your fears onto the written page and out of your brain.
Did you hear the one about the guy who goes into the bar? Keep humorous reading material on your nightstand. My favorite: "Anguished English" by Richard Lederer. ("Milton wrote "Paradise Lost." Then his wife died and he wrote "Paradise Regained.")
Listen to music or inspirational tapes. Next to your journal, stash your iPod, MP3 player or other portable music system. Insert your earphones and turn up the volume. My favorites are the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and Janis Joplin's "Bobby McGee."
Take a brisk walk. Or dance! For some of my high-energy women (not me - I'm too darn lazy!), it helps to take an invigorating walk or turn on jazzy music and dance. Guaranteed to spur feel-good endorphins - and smash gremlins!
Blinding flash-of-the-obvious: You don't have to wait for the 3 a.m. gremlins to do any of these.
Cry. Hard and often. Cry those fears out. If you can't cry, rent a tear-jerker of a film like "Beaches." A good hard cry releases toxins and allows you to get your fear in perspective. There's a reason your mother said, "Have a good cry!" She knew.
Fear is a big bully. Stand up to it and call its bluff. Years ago, I watched terriers compete at Westminster Kennel Club. The judges faced them nose to nose to see which one would back down. Go nose to nose with fear. Say, "You can't get me down. I can do this!" Watch it shrink as all bullies do when you call them out.
Let fear be your teacher. It turns out your trepidations, middle-of-the- night panics, and free-floating anxiety can be the best life instructors of all. My high-school Latin teacher, Miss Galloway, struck fear in me and my classmates. She was one tough cookie and taught me endless axioms for life. Did I "like" her? Did I enjoy her class? Indeed not. But I still quote her wisdom today. The same is true of our fears as we reinvent ourselves.
What is fear trying to tell us? Listen to the assignment it's giving you. Fear is a critical component for change, giving you a chance to change the "hole" you feel to the "whole" of a new, re-invented, re-defined you.
My friend Michael was right. If you're not scared, you're not doing it right.
Visit Kat at www.katherineforsythe.com.