In January, we see the same headlines every year: Get in Shape now! Organize your life! January is all about culling out and setting up for a brand new year.
The first year after Hugh’s brain injury, I wrote in my journal, “Happy New Year. So glad 2002 is over!” After spending nine months that year in the caregiving trenches, I wanted to leave a few things behind. I didn’t care about dust bunnies that had accumulated. And I hadn’t gained weight over the holidays, I was slim from constant stomach problems and lack of sleep. What I wanted most was to get rid of the fear that never left my thoughts.
Fear of this New Year and what it would bring: more progress or heartache? Fear of financial strain, of the medical bills that kept coming and coming. Fear of bad weather, of driving in bad weather, of car wrecks. Fear of what all this was doing to my family, to the kids, to me. Fear. Fear. Fear.
It would take a few more months for me to develop shingles from this unrelenting fear of mine, over which I felt powerless. I got sick because I was told to seek more counseling but didn’t make the time. “Counseling won’t help,” I thought. I was told to do yoga, to breathe, and I tried to try — is there such a thing as trying to try? — but really, I did nothing. I was too lost in my fear. It took over my life. Fear paralyzed me.
Coming down with shingles was my wake-up call — the angry red rash across my midsection reminded me that I had not been taking care of myself. Every itch reminded me that I needed to take action and stop holding everything in. It was time to clear out the dust bunnies in my mind and heart and reorganize my thoughts.
I did. I read, asked for, and received advice. I not only listened this time, I took the advice. I made an appointment with a LCSW and asked for help with my anxiety. I wrote out my fears and tore them up into shreds. Throwing them in the wastebasket felt empowering. I sat cross-legged on the floor and practiced deep breathing while letting my thoughts float across my mind, unable to rile me. My bedtime story was The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I read a few chapters before listening to guided imagery tapes before bed to focus on soothing words rather than the fearful mantras I usually created in my mind. I practiced mindfulness in the car, while doing the dishes, while going for a walk. Slowly and miraculously, I began to feel calmer inside. One by one, my fears fell away.
This new year, why not try to feel new again. Write down what’s bothering you most. Put your fears on paper and see them as manageable problems instead of monsters stalking you. Look at them, and decide if you will let them take over your life or if you’ll make a plan to help yourself, then tear up the paper into tiny little pieces and in a quiet celebration all your own, throw them up like confetti.
Happy New Year!