Find Out Before You Flip Out

A Canada good stands on the shore near the water and hisses.
Hissing Canada goose at Lake Willastein. Photo credit: me

Ted Lasso. I love that show. I enjoy the sweetness of it…the truth it shares about the power of being vulnerable and kind. Without sharing specifics so as to avoid possibly spoiling an unseen episode for you, I just want to quote one of the characters. In response to something Ted is going through, Leslie Higgins suggests, “If anything, you should find out before you flip out.” Find out before you flip out! Such simple and good advice. And so difficult to do, right?

You likely know the experience. You get a text or an email or voicemail with just a bit of information about a situation and your mind takes you to the worst possible conclusions. It’s an experience I know well. Usually there are two things happening almost simultaneously. There’s this physiological response that happens almost instantaneously. It’s as if the fear shoots through my whole body. Then my mind kicks into high gear and starts filling in the information gaps with all kinds of stories about what has happened. For me, it usually involves me thinking I’ve done something or not done something and that someone is upset with me about it.

So “find out before you flip out” is about interrupting this wild ride of emotions. Here’s a little wonder though. That initial rush of energy that feels like electricity coursing through my body…hat little bit of flipping out that first happen…That seems to be a sort of reflexive.… Read the full post “Find Out Before You Flip Out”

Emerald Eyes

A light brown spinner with long thick legs sits on grassy ground. Two black eyes look toward us.
Wolf spinder.

She carried a flashlight to make the ground brighter.
And there she spotted us, around and beside her.
Some of us glowed emerald and some a bit lighter.
What are we?

When I go outside at night, I often wear headlamp to keep an eye out for snakes. Recently while out in the yard, I got a real treat. All across the yard were green sparkles. These tiny sparkles were the shining eyes of wolf spiders. Wolf spiders have a structure called a tapetum which reflects light onto their retina, allowing them to see better at night. Try it yourself. Go out with a flashlight and shine it on the ground. When you see a greenish sparkle, follow it and it will lead you to a spider. Sometimes the beauty around us reveals itself in subtle but spectacular ways.

To the dull mind nature is leaden. To the illumined mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Read the full post “Emerald Eyes”

Our Regrets

Recently I was talking with a friend and she shared some regrets she had as a young mother. Her reaction revealed that she was still pretty hard on herself for some of the decisions she had made. Her regrets were for things that most people would think were fairly benign in the grand scheme of parenting mistakes. But I appreciated the depth of her emotions. It revealed her sensitivity to the effect this might have had on her daughter. It showed a real understanding of the difference between intent and impact.

Her tearful reaction to talking about these memories struck me deeply and has remained with me.

There are a lot of ways we typically respond when people share regrets. We say they should let it go. We tell them it wasn’t that bad. We say they shouldn’t feel bad about things. But as well-intended as those responses are, I’m not sure they honor the depth at which such feelings run within us. Some experiences just live inside us so deeply they cannot simply be extracted. And maybe they shouldn’t be.

Maybe such regrets live inside us as teachers in a way. Perhaps they are one of the sources of our wisdom and compassion.

I realized that it is these two things that staying with regrets offers: It can become the seed of compassion and empathy so that you can stand in the shoes of other people because you’re feeling exactly what they feel. And it spurs you on to help people in the future rather than hurt them.

Read the full post “Our Regrets”

On Noticing

Small purple flowers on several thin branches of a tree
Eastern Redbud Blooms 
( © earl eliason)

Each spring I look forward to the splash of purplish-pink that the eastern redbuds bring. From a distance, it is as if the colorful petals emerge directly from the gray bark. they come on quickly and with an intensity and contrast that is striking against the green, gray and brown background of the trees that surround them. These trees herald spring for me. I am always a bit sad when the purple flowers give way to the green leaves. I recognize though that in any season there are always a thousand other wonders that will arise if I remain aware and maintain a posture of discovery. I simply have to notice.

Spring is a perfect time to begin to be intentional about noticing the tangible wonders that add joy and intrigue to our lives.

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. there is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.  ~Albert Schweitzer

Read the full post “On Noticing”

A Change of Venue

In my first post, Walk 20 Blocks and Call Me in the Morning!, I talked about the role that walking played in my healing journey. Initially, I walked in my mom’s neighborhood, and then my friend’s neighborhood. And, once I moved to an apartment, through the apartment complex parking lot. A friend of mine asked if I had visited a nearby park—Lake Willastein. At her recommendation, I started walking there. It was summer, so I got up early in order to avoid the heat. My early start offered me the chance to experience many a gorgeous sunrise on the lake.

A sky with pink, purple and orange clouds reflect in a body of water below. Silhouettes of trees like the shore on the opposite site of the water.
Sunrise at Lake Willastein Park

Soon I realized that the benefits of walking seemed to be even greater as I walked among the trees in the park, enjoyed the water fowl at the lake, and witnessed the purple, orange and yellow colors of the sky reflecting on the lake. Soon after starting this morning practice, I picked up The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. In it, she cites a study by Yoshifumi Miyazaki in which he discovered that: “leisurely forest walks, compared to urban walks, deliver a 12 percent decrease in cortisol levels.” His research team also “recorded a 7 percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, a 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure, and a 6 percent decrease in heart rate.”

That resonated with me. The change from walking in the neighborhoods to walking around the lake felt like doubling the dose of medication I had been taking to heal from past traumas.… Read the full post “A Change of Venue”

Seeing Things as They Are

This morning after my walk at the park, I was beginning to pull out of the parking area when I saw a little bird fall over. It then began flopping around. I was so sad. I thought to myself, “What can I do to help it? Should I take it to have it put to sleep? I could at least move it to a grassy area where it would be more comfortable.” I stopped the car and started to get out. Then I realized that the little bird was actually a leaf.

A thin horizon of black separates a bright orange sky above reflected in the bright orange water below.
Lake Tawokoni at sunrise, Melanie

I felt mostly relieved…and also a bit silly.

I started thinking about how often I do this in life. I have an experience and without having all of the facts, I build a whole storyline about what is happening. I may make assumptions about someone else’s intentions. I react to what I’m assuming is happening. I may even have strong feelings about the situation, even though I don’t really know the truth about it.

Mindfulness has helped me with this. It has helped me slow down and allow myself to experience the feelings without acting on them. It has helped recognize that when my emotions are running high, I may not see things as they truly are. It has helped me to recognize that in the absence of information, I may fill in the gaps based on my own experiences.

Of course, I still have work to do. I always will. Sometimes I’ll see a dying bird, when it’s really a leaf.… Read the full post “Seeing Things as They Are”

Novelty and the Brain

The lens of my camera moved from branch to branch, following a black-capped chickadee that was desperate to avoid having its photo taken.

A small bird with a black head and throat, white belly and grey wings rests on a small brach with purplish-pink flowers on it.
Black-capped Chickadee perching on a Redbud Tree, (Because I didn’t get the photo. Grin.)

“What you got there?”

I looked over my shoulder to see a man and woman approaching me.

“A couple of black-capped chickadees,” I said as I turned back to the tree and pointed.

We all peered at the tree together.

The woman broke the silence. “I was just thinking that I hadn’t seen any birds yet.”

I thought about the tufted titmice I had seen earlier—the sound of their song as they took turns calling out to each other. Two turkey vultures were circling above the nearby lake just minutes ago. A pileated woodpecker cackled in the distance.

I started to tell her about them but stopped myself. “I bet you’ll see more in this area of the gardens.” We were in a wooded area of Garvan Woodland Gardens at this point.

It’s actually not surprising that she hadn’t noticed the birds. She was there to see the tulips. We all were. The striking colors and magnitude of the 150,000 tulips was breathtaking. And it was novel.

The Power of Novelty

Deep purple flowers shaped like cups with straight green stems
Purple tulips at Garvan Woodland Gardens, Melanie Thornton

I had been reading about the power of novelty in The Nature Fix (See the Resources Page). Novelty is good for our brains. Research shows that novel experiences result in the release of dopamine.… Read the full post “Novelty and the Brain”

Our Brains on Anniversaries

Our brains are wired to protect us from danger. When something traumatic happens, our brains use all the senses to gather data around us during that event. We may not be able to voluntarily remember all of those details, but our brains store them.

A green plant is in a large light colored pot with a rainbow shaped decoration that is tan.
Bird nest fern

This is why our reactions to anniversaries of an event can catch us off guard. Even when we are not consciously thinking about an upcoming anniversary of a traumatic event or loss, there are many things that remind our brains that it is coming and then our brains kick into gear to warn us that danger may be around the corner. It might be the smells of certain flowers that bloom that time of year or the decorations for a holiday that was near that anniversary.

Many people refer to these cues in our environment as “triggers”. I prefer to use the word “stimulus” or “stimuli.” (The topic of a future blog entry.)

Sometimes we don’t recognize that our reactions are connected to a past event. We may feel anxious or irritable for no apparent reason. We may have a sense of dread but not know why.

I’ve been around many people who have very strong anniversary reactions to past trauma and loss. I’ve never had as predictable a pattern as that. So as I approach the first year anniversary of my separation from my partner, I’ve been a bit caught off guard by my strong emotions. I’m not sure if it is due to stimuli in the environment or all my own processing, but my emotions this week have been big.… Read the full post “Our Brains on Anniversaries”

Love Rules

As I discussed in my last post, Being Okay, we live in a society that has rules for how and who to love that discriminate against members of the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve come to expect the attitudes and language that reflect those heteronormative beliefs. I’m a bit surprised, though, at some of the attitudes and beliefs I run into within the LGBTQ+ community.

Being a single lesbian comes with challenges. I ran into some interesting views years ago that I knew I would encounter once I was single again. One experience I had in my thirties was when a lesbian friend who was in a relationship came to visit me from out of town. At the time, I was also in a relationship, but was living alone. She informed me that she was not “allowed” to stay in my house and had to make other arrangements. I felt hurt because I thought she and her partner did not trust me.

I also experienced people saying that they could not do things with a single lesbian unless their partner was also there. They were basically saying that they would not engage with the person individually, only as a couple. Clearly, their intention is to protect their relationship, but at what cost? If you do the math, you realize that if everyone thought this way, it would mean that single lesbians can only form close friendships with other single lesbians. Sure, you can form close friendships with a couple, but face it, we don’t always like or connect with both members of a couple, and sometimes it’s easier to have meaningful conversations one on one.… Read the full post “Love Rules”

Being Okay

Hands cut out of many colors of paper come together to form a heart

Phrases like “Love is love” and “Love is never wrong” are deeply significant to us as members of the LGBTQ+ community. These phrases push back at the messages we received growing up. I grew up hearing all sorts of denigrating messages. As a lesbian, I’ve heard my brand of love and attraction described as: disgusting, sick, sinful, perverted, abnormal, and deviant. Many of these descriptions came from people I knew and loved. No matter how clear I am that these messages are wrong, they have still left a mark. In fact, research is revealing that continuous experiences of discrimination and microagressions* have an impact on the brain that is similar to that of other types of trauma.

As a young person, I rarely heard positive messages to counter these hurtful words. On an emotional level, I translated these messages into negative beliefs such as “I am not okay,” “I’m a bad person,” and “I am unloveable.” Sure, these beliefs are untrue, but they have operated on a subconscious level. These negative beliefs have had a huge impact on me throughout my life. I’ve placed other people’s happiness and importance above my own. I have held back. I’ve lived a smaller life than I might have otherwise. And I’m certainly not unique in this regard. In fact, many of my friends have experienced much more intense levels of rejection and hurt.

The Power of EMDR

As I mentioned in my previous post, Old Wounds Heal, Pal, I’m working with a therapist who is skilled in EMDR.… Read the full post “Being Okay”