Manifest

The first hug in a year

I gave my first hug to a friend I hadn’t hugged in over a year. I felt a mix of tenderness, joy, relief, sadness, and distance. The feelings surprised me. I expected sheer delight – I love this person SO much! Instead, I think the hug was exactly what is meant by the word bittersweet. 

I recognized something else in that hug and subsequent first hugs after. My feelings right now are different than I assumed. They are milder and murkier than I expect. I think this is because for the last year, I was not able to have many nuanced emotions.

My mind has been locked down tight. I was focused on attending to the safety and wellbeing of my family and the community. I watched Covid take people’s lives, wellbeing, and livelihood.  I witnessed the racial reckoning of our country with held breath and continued to find what I must do and undo professionally and personally to be a part of ending racism. I observed friends navigating hardships from a distance and did my best to send love. I supported clients in their huge lifts to carry on their missions.

This last year I felt sad, and angry. At times I felt grateful and glimmers of sweet joy. And that was it.

My focus was tight and that was necessary, but it had its repercussions.  

I did not make room for a larger reflection on what was missing.

My spectrum of thinking, feeling, and experiencing was constrained to attend to the immediacy of survival and to respond to immediate personal and societal concerns.

This is not a new thing for humans. We all close in our emotions, and perspective in our daily lives in moments of pressure, trauma, conflict, violence, and loss. 

As tender and quieter thoughts and emotions emerge, I can feel the shape of the cold, exterior container I built to get through the last year. I do not want to be in that container but I know it will take awhile to set it down.

I want to share with you the slow ways I am dancing with the re-emergence of a fuller spectrum of emotions and thoughts. (I am not a trauma-expert, so I am including other resources below.)

You can better see and support others in your work and life, if you tend to where you are emotionally, mentally, and even physically, in this transition.

Here is what is supporting me:

  • I am paying attention to how I am feeling in the moment.
  • I am moving at the speed I can and trying to understand what others may be feeling or experiencing (i.e. go at your own pace and support others in their own pace.)
  • I am building connections with people who can listen without judgement or shame and whom I can offer the same to.
  • I am reflecting alone with walks, movement, and writing. 
  • I am finding moments of appreciation, thinking “I appreciate this… I appreciate you for…” and then letting the appreciation sink in.

The cliff notes:

  • Notice your feelings.
  • Go at your own pace.
  • Know and understand other peoples’ pace.
  • Connect with others who can listen, and you can listen to.
  • Reflect alone.
  • Appreciate the people, moments, the things you can.

Reflection questions to go deeper alone or together:
– What have I been feeling about…
– What am I feeling now about…
– What do I need? What do you need?
– What am I experiencing right now?
– What do I want to take with me from last year?

May you have moments of real connection with others and with yourself this month.


Here are two guides from the past months to support in this continued time of transition:

5 steps for grounding during instability
How to prepare for reopening


Trauma, grief & tending to emotions – a mix of resources

People on Insta for support & resources:
@nedratawwab – Nedra Tawwab
@Alex_elle – alexandra elle

Websites
Self-compassion – Dr. Kristin Neff’s resources & meditations
Cloud Sangha – facilitated mindfulness groups, including groups for people of color and women
Spell for grief & letting go – adrienne maree brown

Movie
The Wisdom of Trauma movie – Dr. Gabor Mate

Books
The Body is not an apology, Sonya Renee Taylor
The Body keeps the score, Dr. van der Kolk
No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, Thich Nhat Hanh
Walking each other home: Conversations on loving and dying, Ram Dass & Mirabai Bush
The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, Nadine Burke Harris

Thank you to my social work colleagues for these resources! 
Have others I should include in my list? – Please send your recommendations.

Rheanna SmithThe first hug in a year
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Facing big change

I am going through a really big change right now. My husband is starting graduate school out of town and we will be commuting back and forth on the weekends. Sitting on the edge of change and the unknown, I can say I am nervous. I don’t really want to face the inevitable.

At the moments when I glance sideways at the coming change, I see only fearful shadows and whispering worries. So much could go so wrong. But at times, light blinks through the shadows and I can see all the good that is going to arise from this change. I am excited and expectant, too.

I am not the only one in my community going through major changes right now.

In my professional and personal life, I know dozens of people who are facing tremendous change. Relationships are beginning and ending, people are leaving jobs, starting new jobs, or are leaving the working world altogether. New babies are on the way. People are moving, beginning new schooling, or taking new career risks.

Some of these changes are chosen and deliberate. Some have been foisted on people. Some changes arise from blessings. For those people, gratitude is mixed with trepidation. Other changes come out of hardship—hardship piled on top of hardship—and bring on anxiety and even fear. Whether we choose it or not, change is hard work. Change always causes learning and growth, and this may be the hardest part. The learning and growth increase the more consciously we move toward the change.

I don’t like change. I would rather hunker down in my cozy, comfortable ways. Ironically, my work is all about change. I work alongside people who are carrying out massive community change, people who are changing their business, organizations, and lives.

Here is what my experience teaches me: Every time I have learned deeply or seen improvements in my life and in my community, it has come through people changing, me changing.

If the good stuff comes from the ending of things, the rethinking of things, the confronting of things, then I guess I need to move toward change. I may not embrace it joyfully at first. I will probably be scared, but I can still step toward it.

Working with people who are facing big changes—and being mindful about changes in my own life—has shown me that there are techniques we can use to move through life changes. In my next post, I’ll talk about some healthy, positive ways to move toward change.

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Question for reflection:

What is the one change occurring in your life right now that you may not even be thinking about?
Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

Annie Von EssenFacing big change
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How to have confidence during a downturn

I am working with multiple clients who are making huge life and career changes in the midst of our anxiety producing economy. One of my clients is in graduate school, more than a few years over 40 and completely changing his career trajectory. When we meet, I am inspired by his courage and his determination. I can only imagine how jolting it is too know so much and be treated like you are just beginning again.

Many of us in the United States, in the changed economy, are beginning again. And if we acknowledge it, we know that we are going to have to begin again fifty more times in our lives.

As my client gets ready to enter a new job market he also has a depth of skills from his old career. He is combining a past career in a creative field with a current Masters in a technical field. He has demonstrated persistence, adaptability, and stick-to-it-ness. It is clear to me that he has a multitude of skills to offer and is developing a clever response to a lay off and the downturn economy.

Yet he is still not getting noticed.
Even in his intern position people are not making use of the skills he has to offer.

Why?

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I know that it is very hard to get a job in this economy. I have seen the statistics. And it can be difficult to prove how your other skills apply in a new field. But, I think something deeper is happening. The sticking point is not just the skills we have. Rather I think it is the energy we project as we try and get the gig.

Once you have been turned down 3, 4 or 14 times during the resume, internship, or application process it is very hard to keep your head up. I was depressed and held little faith when I graduated in 2008. Rejection is exhausting. And future employers and colleagues can sense when you have already given up on yourself.

The job hunt, the career change, applying for school, finishing school, starting a business, maintaining a business requires two things: Persistence and confidence.

The very same two things under attack when you are beginning something new.

Does it feel like the universe is testing you a little? A lot?
Getting to the next level, the next step, your next dream is hard.

But the more confidence you project and persistence you display the wider the door opens.

Here are two practices I use for keeping persistence and confidence going:

1. Be endearingly annoying (persistence)

Do not give up. Go for one more interview. Ask for a meeting for the fourth time.
The trick is to be endearing while you ask – tap into the part of you that people like.

Ask yourself – what do my close friends and family like about me?

Now use this characteristic energetically. Hold on to that while you pick up the phone and ask directly to speak to the person in charge of hiring, or in charge of student services.

(My friends like my positive energy, joy and ability to see the possibility in a situation. I call on that when I have to call back about a project I applied for.)

2. Challenge the negative the minute it enters the scene (confidence)

You know that voice that plays over in your head when you do not get the interview. Or even as you try to fill an online form? The one that says “Why bother? You’re not going to get it.” And, “You must be really stupid.” And “You’re too young.” Or, You’re too old.”

Catch that voice in the act.

RESPOND with a positive truth.

Say, “I got you!” Then answer the fearful voice with another truth, a positive truth about yourself or a story from the past that deflates the nasty voice. “I have worked before and I’ve done great work for organizations.” “I am young and flexible.” “I am older and have years of experience.” “I am smart, savvy and courageous.”

Oh, and it helps if you find a cheerleader or two. Someone to keep the flame burning when you’re down.

Keep doing the work!

How do you keep persistent in spite of set backs?
How do you convey confidence when you’re pushing up hill?

Annie Von EssenHow to have confidence during a downturn
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